Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation – Religion and Governance in Sri Lanka (Updated)

The work-in-progress article of Prasad Mapatuna, Mahasen Bandara (Co-Author), Religion and Governance in Sri Lanka, has been updated, with a new section on the “Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation” and the section “Laws based on religion vs. scientific reasoning” expanded.

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Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation

It is interesting to note that the core philosophy of almost all major world religions survived humankind’s relentless pursuit of determinism by way of scientific enquiry. Defenders of these religions always found ways to stay above science or, at least, to be even with the propositions of the scientific modeling of the universe. The origin of the modern scientific approach is found in cultures with a Judeo-Christian background. In those cultures, most scientists treated their efforts as a pursuit of finding the ultimate equation of God. The theories, like the Big Bang beginning of the universe, in fact, were supportive of the argument of the creation of the universe by a personal God. The laws of nature seem to break down at the Big Bang singularity and scientists agreed that only God knows what happened there. On the other hand, with the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum theory, and modern concepts of subatomic physics, the wisdom traditions of the East found their way into the minds of the scientific community. The concepts, like ‘observer-created-reality’ in quantum theory go hand-in-hand with Buddhist philosophy. Also the modern notion of ‘an undivided universe’ where the observer and the observed are treated as a single system, and every observed phenomenon is treated as manifestations of ‘an underlying wholeness’, goes well with the Hindu philosophy of undivided wholeness of the Brahman Paramaathma.

The philosophical base which serves as the seed for the intellectual discourse within and among religions has often little or no bearing to the way the religion is practiced in the field. The people rally not around the philosophy, but around the institution. The leaders who run the institution hold the key to the emotion-buttons that they can press to mobilize the followers in a direction that they please. A dangerous mob can be easily and quickly organized using power of custom or arbitrary authority. This is the danger of endowing religious institutions with more and more resources and authority.

In most of the religious implementations, relationship between the underlying philosophy and the practice of the intuition is similar to the relationship between the Koran to Taliban OR the Communist Manifesto to Stalin’s regime OR Eugenics to Nazi Germany. It is true that it is unfair to judge The Koran, The Communist Manifesto or Eugenics by Taliban, Stalin’s regime or Nazi Germany respectively. We all can hopefully agree that the seeds (Koran, Communist Manifesto or Eugenics) were not evil by themselves, but these three institutions were.

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11 Responses to Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation – Religion and Governance in Sri Lanka (Updated)

  1. pravnj1408 says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong. What you are essentially alluding to is that everything that is wrong with religion has to do with the implementation of its tenants (the practice of religion) and we should not blame the “philosophical” foundation for this. A classic argument.

    In the beginning of this post your ideas sound a lot like what Prof Nalin De Silva has been talking about in the recent past. This is my problem and I never really understood the point of this argument. Could you please compare and contrast classical physics which you arbitrarily assign to be “western” and modern physics (post 1920s quantum theory etc) which once again you deem to be “eastern”. Could you demonstrate that quantum theory is “more eastern” than classical physics or alternatively that classical physics is “more western” ?

    Is there an inherent benefit of classifying physical theories merely as eastern or western skewed? isn’t this a form of intellectual hegemony? and from a scientists point of view this argument is irrelevant. A scientists mind can be influenced by a number of “philosophies” and to demarcate and say this particular idea is western (or eastern) is in my opinion an attempt to establish a form of scientific hegemony. When it comes to philosophy western and eastern philosophy do overlap. If I follow your chain of reasoning I would also say that David Hume pointed out things that Lord Buddha did…but who really cares? it belongs to the collective struggle of human beings as a species. Are you saying that people like Bose from India (a classical physicist) had a Judeo-Christain world view which led to his success in the field of classical “western” physics together with the great “Jewish” scientist Albert Einstein? they wrote papers together. According to your argument either Einstein was more “eastern” than his Jewish counterparts when he formulated the theory of photo-electricity..or Bose was more Jewish than his Indian counterparts when he co wrote a paper on condensates with Einstein. You see where I’m going with this? its a stupid debate and has no merit.

    Sure the Copenhagen interpretation may look like something out of Buddhist philosophy maybe Niels Bohr was influenced by it who knows? but is it Buddhism? Buddhism is concerned with the ultimate liberation of the self from the viscous cycle of karma while quantum theory has to do with the subatomic mechanics of particles which cannot be explained by classical physics. This like the old argument we used to hear about Newtons laws of motion and karma (action reaction) utterly ridiculous.

    From the beginning of civilization mankind has attempted to make sense of the universe it inhabits. We started off with religion. Trying to worship the forces around us (weather lightning etc) which we did not understand. As time progressed people needed even more complex religions (consider the switch from pagan religions to Christianity) then we moved onto philosophy which tried a more advanced approach of speculation but ultimately speculation can only take you so far. Then we moved onto to science and presently our best understanding of the universe comes from theories, empirical evidence and experimentation. Whats next? who knows but I’m pretty sure it wont have anything to do with religion because religion is PRIMITIVE.

    On the argument “that the practice of religion is the real problem here” enough has been said by a lot of people to disprove this. Just pick up any book by Dawkins or Hitchens.

  2. pravnj1408 says:

    Oh yes one more thing the perceived interest that western scientists have for Buddhism and eastern philosophy is just a fetish. This is like ayurveda and that yoga fetish, and we Asians get duped by these pseudo scientists who come here and talk about universal energy and whatnot. Weve been duped a number of times, take the hijacking of the national Buddhist movement by the theosophist and crackpot Col Olcott(who probably had PTSD) together with his “partner” Madam Blavatsky..these people believed (among other things) that Atlantis was real and that it harboured an advanced civilization who came here from Sirius (which is a star mind you and not a planet-but theosophists had no regard for this “minor” detail)..Europe and America was awash with crackpot beliefs at the time which were very popular amongst the rich and affluent like Olcott and Blavatsky..they come here and our poor losers mistake these myth loving crackpots to be Buddhists..good thing we chased off the scientologists..but I’m sure it wouldn’t have caught on any way. Scientology is not eastern enough 😀

    During the early stages of particle physics the classification of particles using a symmetric matrix was called “the 8 fold path” by its creator not because it had anything to do with nirvana mind you but because the creator had read a lot on buddhism (and the bhagavand gita) and noticed that the matrix had 8 components so he just called it “the 8 fold path” this is the equivalent of naming heavenly objects in space after characters from your favorite Shakespearean play (eg: Miranda)

    You must admit that anything that is 2500 years old cannot be taken seriously…just as we don’t take Platos idea that the the universe consists of concentric spheres seriously, be democratic, apply the same reasoning that you apply to dismiss Plato and you’ll see that Buddhism is also nothing but an age old attempt to understand the universe and that now we are far better off..

    • Prasad Mapatuna says:

      Pravnj, not sure whether this comment comes as a surprise to you. Perhaps not since you have already read my other comments in other parts of this site and you must have noticed an inconsistency with the contents of above article and my individual posts.

      The reasons are these:

      1. The article concerned is not really targeting ‘atheist’ crowd. Atheist crowd does not need any convincing regarding the things that I painstakingly wrote. They are already convinced. So I am treading carefully in the article not to hurt the religious feelings too much.

      2. The article above is not my individual effort by I have a co-author. We do not agree on all of the points regarding religious philosophy.

      3. My personal views are very much closer to that of yours (judging by your post). However, we have epistemological disconnect regarding a few points. Those points will lead to an interesting but tedious philosophical tangent so I guess best is we avoid it for the time being. I will briefly mention what I am taking about but may not have time to go in to details.

      During the effort of trying to understand Prof. Nalin De Silva, RT, I managed to comprehend two different popular worldviews regarding knowledge.

      – We ‘discover’ phenomena and then form theories to explain laws of nature which causes these phenomena. So knowledge is ‘the discovery of the laws of nature’

      against

      – We perceive phenomena (our minds) and then we create knowledge systems which attempts to explain why we perceive such things. In this sense ‘knowledge is a creation of collective minds’. In other words, a set of minds agree on a knowledge system and subscribe to it. Thus Knowledge is created.

      According to Nalin De Silva this “discovered” vs. “Created” dichotomy is what distinguishes ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ world views (BTW these are not his words but my own. I hope I have understood this argument properly.

      According to the “knowledge is created” worldview, a caveman in 10,000BC having the same intelligence as a modern man, contemplating on the world around him is at a better position understand the nature than one of us. Since we have created so much of “baggage” in terms of knowledge, we are at a disadvantage and need a lot unlearning to do before “understanding” anything. So even at the time of Lord Buddha, the baggage of knowledge is so much that it required “eightfold path” to do sufficient unlearning to understand the nature. The “understand” here is technically not a correct term since what need to understood is not a “concept” but a “non-concept” (I know… now this starts to sound ridiculous)……… so I will stop at that and say that these are not my personal views and I have no interest in further study or defend any of these argument. I will just say “sounds cool” and move on 🙂

      • Prasad Mapatuna says:

        I however decided that I am going to append the following text as an “Further Reading/Appendix” to my article.

        ——————————-

        In the chapter “Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation” I argued that philosophical base of religions has little to do with how religious institutions function, and how the people who rally around those institutions behave. There is a remarkable similarity between the attitudes religious institutions towards matters of governance. For example almost all religious institutions oppose abortion, but either support or is silent about capital punishment. If we try to trace these attitudes towards the core philosophy of different religions, we’ll figure out that these are not really based on religious beliefs, but they are typical to “conservative institutions” of any kind.

        In private, (in public, now that I stated it here) I dismiss any philosophical tangents along the core-philosophy of religion, as “intellectual chewing gum” that feel good to chew on but has no other useful outcome. However, in a scholarly forum, I cannot use my chewing gum argument and bail out. I thought it is necessary to acknowledge a few things in point form.

        I do understand that my arguments are not absolute but relative to the knowledge system and the worldview within which I operate. The concept of “separation” is often attributed to the worldview of classical physics (pre-quantum), where the methodology of study is to reduce complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. This is perhaps the only methodology available to the science until the turn of the 20th century. With the advent of quantum theory and specifically the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the scientific worldview changed. The quantum theory dictates that we cannot separate the observer and the observed and treat them as separate systems. They are part of the same system, and every observed phenomenon is influenced by the act of observation. At the sub-atomic level, this concept has remarkable and non-intuitive implications as demonstrated by the famous “double-slit” experiment. In the double-slit experiment, the behavior of a subatomic particle (like an electron) tends to vary in a remarkable manner when not being observed vs. when being observed. The results of this experiment shook the very base of classical notions such as “particles”, “waves”, “location”, and “movement from one place to another”.

        Despite the implication of quantum theory, when science is taught is classroom, students are forced to think within the classical framework and use the classical methodology of reducing complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. In Sri Lanka, the likes of Professor Nalin De Silva, has been very vocal critiques of the “Sri Lankan intellectuals” who were taught within Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview and who does not seem to be aware of any other worldviews outside of it.

        While acknowledging and commending the good old professor or Nalin De Silva for his contributions to the Sri Lankan intellectual discourse; I have my concerns about the tendency to the professor and his disciples to label things “eastern” / “western” or “Judeo-Christian” / ”Buddhist’ and oversimplify the complex systems; and by doing so contradicting their own stances against some of their own teaching.

        I am not going in to details as to why I think the concept of “separation” as discussed in this article cannot be dismissed as a rhetoric base on outdated Newtonian classical mechanics. I just like to acknowledge the existence of different worldviews and the fact that my arguments are relative to the worldview that I entertain and the knowledge system that I care for.

      • Prasad Mapatuna says:

        clicked the submit button too soon again…….. here is the same post again with some typos corrected

        ————–

        In the chapter “Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation” I argued that philosophical base of religions has little to do with how religious institutions function, and how the people who rally around those institutions behave. There is a remarkable similarity between the attitudes religious institutions towards matters of governance. For example almost all religious institutions oppose abortion, but either support or is silent about capital punishment. If we try to trace these attitudes towards the core philosophy of different religions, we’ll figure out that these are not really based on religious beliefs, but they are typical to “conservative institutions” of any kind.

        In private, (in public, now that I stated it here) I dismiss any philosophical tangents along the core-philosophy of religion, as “intellectual chewing gum” that feel good to chew on but has no other useful outcome. However, in a scholarly forum, I cannot use my chewing gum argument and bail out. I thought it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of counter arguments based on worldviews different from mine.

        I do understand that my arguments are not absolute but relative to the knowledge system and the worldview within which I operate. The concept of “separation” is often attributed to the worldview of classical physics (pre-quantum), where the methodology of study is to reduce complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. This is perhaps the only methodology available to the science until the turn of the 20th century. With the advent of quantum theory -and specifically the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics- the scientific worldview changed. The quantum theory dictates that we cannot separate the observer and the observed and treat them as separate systems. They are part of the same system, and every observed phenomenon is influenced by the act of observation. At the sub-atomic level, this concept has remarkable and non-intuitive implications as demonstrated by the famous “double-slit” experiment. In the double-slit experiment, the behavior of a subatomic particle (like an electron) tends to vary in a remarkable manner when not being observed vs. when being observed. The results of this experiment shook the very base of classical notions such as “particles”, “waves”, “location”, and “movement from one place to another”.

        Despite the implication of quantum theory, when science is taught in classroom, students are forced to think within the classical framework and use the classical methodology of reducing complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. In Sri Lanka, the likes of Professor Nalin De Silva, has been very vocal critiques of the “Sri Lankan intellectuals” who were taught within Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview and who does not seem to be aware of any other worldviews outside of it.

        While acknowledging and commending the good old professor De Silva for his contributions to the Sri Lankan intellectual discourse; I have my concerns about the tendency of the professor and his disciples to label things “eastern” / “western” or “Judeo-Christian” / ”Buddhist’ and oversimplify the complex systems; and by doing so contradicting their own stances based on their own teaching.

        I am not going in to details as to why I think the concept of “separation” as discussed in this article cannot be dismissed as a rhetoric base on outdated Newtonian classical mechanics. I just like to acknowledge the existence of different worldviews, and the fact that my arguments are relative to the worldview that I entertain, and the knowledge system that I care for.

  3. pravnj1408 says:

    “Despite the implication of quantum theory, when science is taught in classroom, students are forced to think within the classical framework and use the classical methodology of reducing complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. In Sri Lanka, the likes of Professor Nalin De Silva, has been very vocal critiques of the “Sri Lankan intellectuals” who were taught within Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview and who does not seem to be aware of any other worldviews outside of it.

    While acknowledging and commending the good old professor De Silva for his contributions to the Sri Lankan intellectual discourse; I have my concerns about the tendency of the professor and his disciples to label things “eastern” / “western” or “Judeo-Christian” / ”Buddhist’ and oversimplify the complex systems; and by doing so contradicting their own stances based on their own teaching…”

    This is why I think that we should be moving on. Yes the classical intellectuals needed to smell the coffee and Prof Nalin did an admirable job, but I think its high time we moved on. Philosophical issues aside quantum theory is hardly cutting edge anymore. And as you point out labeling only leads to oversimplification just as I pointed out in the Bose/Einstein example.

    • Pravnj, I “stole” some of your idea and incorporated in my article. The second param of the topic “Philosophical base…” now reads:

      The links between scientific theories and religious views of the universe however can be just superficial, poetic or metaphorical. For example, Albert Einstein often used the word ‘God’ in his literature. However, Einstein use of the word ‘God’ is purely metaphorical. The ‘God’ can easily be replaced with ‘Nature’ and Einstein’s statements still retain its meaning. (As in his famous quote ‘God does not play dice’ which refers to his concern towards randomness in events in quantum mechanics). There still are many theists today who take Einstein’s statements out of context to “prove” that he believed in God. It is true that Einstein has never been a vocal critic of creator God concept like Richard Dawkins, nor did he subtly ridicule ‘God’ in his writings as Stephan Hawking did; However, Einstein’s can be anything but a theist. He could be an atheist, agnostic, deist or apathiest but not a theist. In another instance, Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel price winning quantum physicist named one of the mechanisms in quantum theory the “Eightfold way” (with obvious reference to the Eightfold Path in Buddhism.) This is only indicative of Gell-Mann’s interest in eastern eclectics, and not an argument for a relationship between quantum mechanics and Buddhism.

      Enlightened religious scholars are wise enough to state that science and religion belongs to different knowledge systems, and to downplay the relationships.

  4. docsdone says:

    I have been stunned to witness such a display of intelligence and solid understanding of science and other world views.However,it is obvious that the observed is entirely dependent for it interpretation on the observer,and we not rely on quantum physics to illustrate.It must be understood that there are limits incurred on us to know the truth,for example,we have objective restraints that limit our perception(which we have over come to a certain degree thanks to out machines),circumstantial restraints that does not permit us to access all the information necessary to conclude some explanation of some phenomena as the truth and also because our limited understanding of our own mental functions,fundamental mental facilities and the principle tools we use to analyse and think about the world,such as language,and the real nature between them and the degree that such tools impact the apprehension of the truth.( Noam Chomsky has done a great deal of work relating to this issue)
    I”m not suggesting that the truth can not never be comprehended but that what ever the world view may be the only reliable and productive method that we have adopted so far is the the test of objectivity subject to,of course,the reference frame of the observed,which is also know as the scientific method within the context of methodologies employed to ascertain the truth.

  5. lstlee says:

    I have been stunned to witness such a display of intelligence and solid understanding of science and other world views.However,it is obvious that the observed is entirely dependent for it interpretation on the observer,and we need not rely on quantum physics to illustrate.It must be understood that there are limits incurred on us to know the truth,for example,we have objective restraints that limit our perception(which we have over come to a certain degree thanks to out machines),circumstantial restraints that does not permit us to access all the information necessary to conclude some explanation of some phenomena as the truth and also because our limited understanding of our own mental functions,fundamental mental facilities and the principle tools we use to analyse and think about the world,such as language,and the real nature between them and the degree that such tools impact the apprehension of the truth.( Noam Chomsky has done a great deal of work relating to this issue)
    I”m not suggesting that the truth can not never be comprehended but that what ever the world view may be the only reliable and productive method that we have adopted so far is the the test of objectivity subject to,of course,the reference frame of the observed,which is also know as the scientific method within the context of methodologies employed to ascertain the truth.

    • I am reciprocally 🙂 amazed in your understanding of the subject matter (docsdone and lstlee are you the same person?)

      I am not familiar with Noam Chomsky’s work. If you are to recommend one article or a book that captures the essence of his work, what would that be?

      There is one finer point I need to comment briefly on. The dichotomy of (a) Inability to reach “truth” due to objective constraints vs. (b) the absurdity of assuming the existence such hypothetical “truth” that we cannot reach.

      If I understood the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics correctly (it could well be that I didn’t), it points out that reality (truth) is created by the observer and observed combination. There is no ‘truth’ that lies outside of the observations. There is no hypothetical “God’s eye view” of nature. There is only “man’s eye view”.

      This is far reaching than the observer impacting the measurement of truth phenomena at macro level. E.g. when you measure the blood pressure of a patient, you impact the blood pressure of the patient due to the process of measurement. Yet, we assume that there is actually a “true” blood pressure that exists when the patient is not affected by the process of measuring although we cannot really measure it with our tools. This is not what Copenhagen interpretation is about. Cophenhangen interpretation suggests that “blood pressure” is a phenomena that comes in to being with the act of measuring(observation) there is no point in referring to a blood pressure of a patient if you cannot measure it. It does not exist. And for that matter the ‘patient’ herself does not exist if you cannot observe her :). For those who are not philosophically oriented, this may sound ridiculous at this point in time.

  6. Lahiru. says:

    Yes we are both one.lol
    I suggest you google about Noam since there are volumes of his work.
    What the Cophenhagen interpretation reminds me of what Confucius said that ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it,did it happen.But this hangs-on the question how did he got to know about it.lol

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