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More World Views

July 28, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 30

Ivan Amato's editorial describing Stuart A. Kauffman's book was deeply disturbing (C&EN, June 2, page 5). The editorial lavished fulsome praise on Kauffman's effort to promote what amounts to an updated version of scientism and scientific atheism, albeit with a "spiritual" twist. Such musings have no place in a magazine whose mission is to keep its readers up to date on the latest news in the industrial and academic chemical communities. The promulgation of personal philosophical views will be offensive to many and will only serve to impede C&EN's accomplishment of that very important mission.

Jeff Greeley
La Grange, Ill.

Kauffman's book is new and bold. However, the God is not the new kind, as suggested in Amato's editorial. There is a very old philosophy in India that I would like to bring to your attention. More than 100 ancient texts called Upanishads propound the tenet that Kauffman expounds—that is, the concept of "Universe as God."

The central tenet of the Upanishads is that "everything truly is Brahman," which means that everything, living and nonliving, is God. These books have an elastic framework that allows one to seamlessly transition between science and faith. The Upanishads are part of the scriptures of Hinduism. Through Hinduism and many religions that are not along the Judeo-Christian-Islam axis, a nondogmatic approach to God and religion has existed for a long time. Unfortunately, and it may happen to Kauffman's proposal too, this approach may not become popular in sections of society that are used to dogmatic religions, despite their popularity in other parts of the world.

An anthropomorphic God has always been loved by us, whether it be with form or formless. Historically, we want God extrapolated into a more powerful human form. As Swami Vivekananda, who visited and lectured in the U.S. in 1890s, said, "If tigers had a God, he will look like a much bigger tiger." Through this approach, God will be as diverse as humanity, leading to exclusivity and superficial differences of belief systems. This anthropomorphizing is what makes one's God and hence religion exclusive and seemingly "superior" and others become "inferior" by definition.

On the other hand, believing that the universe is God has the potential of making us respect and revere the universe in which we live. What is more, we are born in the universe, sustained by it, and eventually absorbed back into it. That is a nice definition of God. Once we believe this, the universe is not just material but an entity with a life of its own that needs to be sustained much as it sustains us. Accept that we are one with universe as God, and environmental concerns and conservation will follow in its wake.

Scientists, too, will have a lesser objection when they no longer have to choose between science and religion because universe as God lends itself to empirical examination of God. Einstein himself is known to have become a nonatheist as he became aware of how little we truly understood the universe. Maybe other scientists also understood universe as God but would not or could not express it!

Bhupen Trivedi
University Park, Ill.


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