Tag Archives: Carl Sagan

Ancient Hinduism enlightens modern notions of evolution?

Shiva

Did Hinduism predict the findings of modern cosmology?

I came across an article in the Washington Post by a Hindu believer claiming that Hinduism had predicted the findings of Big Bang cosmology. Of course, comments weren’t allowed, so I am adding them here. In order to lend credence to the distorted article, author Aseem Shukla cited the late Carl Sagan:

“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang.”

Yes, Sagan was intrigued with Hinuism because it fit best with an atheistic worldview of cosmology. However, Sagan also recognized that cosmology was going to solve the question of whether Judaism/Christianity or Hinduism fit true cosmology better. In 1985, he predicted that the answer would be found within our lifetimes:

“Now, what happened before that [Big-Bang]? There are two views. One is ‘Don’t ask that question,’ which is very close to saying that God did it. And the other is that we live in an oscillating universe in which there is an infinite number of expansions and contractions. The former of these views happens, by chance, to be close to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic view, the latter, close to the standard Hindu views. And so, if you like, you can think of the varying contentions of these two major religious views being fought out in the field of contemporary satellite astronomy. Because that’s where the answer to this question will very likely be decided. This is an experimental question. And it is very likely that in our lifetime we will have the answer to it. And I stress that this is very different from the usual theological approach, where there is never an experiment that can be performed to test out any contentious issue. Here there is one. So we don’t have to make judgments now. All we have to do is maintain some tolerance for ambiguity until the data are in, which may happen in a decade or less.” (Carl Sagan, 1985 Gifford Lectures).

Unfortunately, Sagan died in 1996, two years before the definitive answer to the question was known (although it was pretty clear, even by then, that Hinduism was going to lose). In 1998 scientists discovered dark energy, which was a new force of physics that was causing the universe to accelerate at an ever increasing rate. These data showed that the universe began to exist at one point in time and would never contract to be “reborn.” So, Hinduism was wrong that the universe went through cycles of birth and death. It is clear at this point that the universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago (not 8.6 billion years ago) and will never contract again, but will continue to expand until it undergoes heat death trillions of years in the future (if God did not intervene). Instead, it was the Bible that accurately predicted the universe was created and is expanding as a result of God’s actions.