Sunday, 24 February 2013

Shankara, Creation and the First Antinomy

Some elements of Shankara’s arguments are clearly of a pre-scientific nature. In discussing the topic of Brahman’s creation without materials he replies to the objection that to make something material requires source material, potters require clay and the tools of their trade, rod, wheel, string and so on. He asserts that this is not a universal rule for in the case of milk turning into curd (yogurt):

That fault does not arise, since on the analogy of milk it can be reasonably maintained that this can happen on account of the peculiar nature of the thing itself. As in the world milk or water gets transformed into curds or ice by itself without depending on any extraneous accessory, so it can be here ((creation)) as well.

In other words it is out of a pure potentiality that milk can become curds and the external aids such as starter, heat etc "only perfects the capacity of milk".

He takes this argument even further in claiming analogies in nature for creation out of nothing.

The spider also creates its threads by itself, the crane conceives without mating by hearing merely the roar of the clouds; and the lotus stalk moves from one lake to another without waiting for any vehicle. Similarly, Brahman, conscious though It is, may well create the universe by Itself without looking for external means.

To the continued objections of the opponent he simply answers that these examples of creation without external accoutrements are merely illustrations and :
Therefore what is implied (by the aphorist/author of the sutras) is that there cannot be any such invariable rule that the power of everybody must conform to that somebody we are familiar with.

Therefore to coin a phrase, in the final analysis, illustrations have no persuasive power and do not establish anything because definitive knowledge that is valid and reliable comes from the vedas. This is the sabda pramana, one of the 6 means of valid knowledge as accepted in Advaitic vedanta. The fact that Shankara is wrong about things that every schoolboy knows is not relevant to this. He holds therefore to the non overlapping magisterium view. Likewise if the Vedas were to state that fire does not burn nor water wet we should not accept that to be the case.

Preserving that cordon sanitaire is more difficult for the subject of Darwinian evolution. According to Vedanta cosmology creation is beginingless. Not only that but there seems to be the belief that things have always been the same as they are now and the same species have always existed.

In a reply to an opponent’s position that freshly minted creation would be without variety due to their being no karma to create that variety, Shankara replies:

Vedantin: That is no defect, since the transmigratory state has no beginning. This defect would have arisen if transmigration had a beginning. But if that state has no beginning, this is nothing contradictory for the fruits of work and the variety in creation to act as cause and effect of each other on the analogy of the seed and the sprout.

Kant deals with this conundrum in his Antinomy of Pure Reason first Antinomy being:
Thesis: The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited in regard to space
Antithesis: The world has no beginning and no limits in space, but is, in relation both to time and space, infinite.

‘That all depends on what you mean by infinity’. Yes, with that sage nod I must leave Kant for another time.

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