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Zoroastrianism and Science1

Religion & Science


Cama, Dr. Lovji D.



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Albert Einstein once said: “If something is in me, which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

While some of his other quotes suggest that he did not believe in a personal God, Einstein considered himself to be religious. The “structure of the world” that amazed Einstein is analogous and possibly synonymous to what we as Zoroastrians call Asha.

A personal God, who rules at will and the workings of whose mind can not be comprehended or questioned is a concept that is rather difficult for a scientist to accept. What about the Zoroastrian concept of Ahura Mazda? Here is a concept of God whose main attributes are absolute wisdom and absolute goodness, a God who is incapable of evil and in that sense not absolutely powerful. This is a God who is completely predictable. Ahura Mazda, who is Vohu Mano (the Good Mind) and Asha (Righteousness and the Divine Law), has a perfect plan for the universe that he has created. The nature of this perfect plan is subtle and intricate but it is not capricious. Its intricacy arises from the infinite nature of its Creator but it can be understood and unraveled, though perhaps not completely. The understanding comes from the use of the Good Mind that has been granted to mankind. This endeavor of understanding Asha is science when applied to the physical world and is religion in its truest sense when applied to the moral world. When we look at the universe in this way the distinction between science and religion becomes blurred and the conflict disappears.

Where does the conflict between religion and science come from? In the absence of knowledge about the physical world, religion creates myths that temporarily may satisfy humanity’s need for understanding the mystery of the physical world. Over time, these myths do not stand up to critical examination via a scientific approach. When religion insists on the validity of these myths, there is conflict. Such is the conflict between the theory of evolution and the Biblical myth of special creation. In fact, at face value, most of the stories of creation as described by various religions are in conflict with the theory of evolution, including our story of creation in the Bundahishn. Does evolution then conflict with the teachings of Zoroastrianism? In my opinion, no. It is possible to take these myths, not literally, but as attempts to explain the nature and origin of man in God’s plan, in which case the conflict goes away. Evolution in my mind is the Law of Asha unfolding to create mankind, this is the real story of creation. The laws of nature which are part of the Divine Law of Asha, have created a sentient being that is aware not only of itself, but also of the creation around it. A being willing to attempt to understand the Creator, and if the Law of Asha is the Plan of God for the universe, then evolution is the only way this could have happened.

The pursuit of science is the pursuit of understanding the mystery of the physical world. Two of the greatest mysteries are the origin of the universe and the nature of life.

According to the Big Bang theory, the our universe started from a point of inconceivably immense energy and following the predictable laws of physics gave rise to all the stars and galaxies as we know them today. One cannot but be amazed at the order that is present in the universe. Biologists and physicists alike have found that our universe is very finely tuned.  The slightest of deviations of the laws of physics would have prevented the events leading to our present state and would have produced a very different universe in which humans would not have evolved. If our universe is a product of intelligent design, then this order that one can see and measure is the order introduced into the universe by the designer, for a Zoroastrian, this is a manifestation of Asha.

In the last hundred years man has made great strides in understanding the nature of life, to the extent that the entire genomes of quite a few species, including our own, have been mapped. Though the blueprint for life appears to be laid out in a very simple fashion, we have not been able to figure out all the mechanisms by which even a simple bacterial cell functions. That is not to say that we do not know many of the biochemical steps. Even our limited knowledge has been useful, for example, in defending ourselves with antibiotics against bacteria. However, the more we learn, the more there appear to be phenomena left to discover. The complex systems of chemical reactions that are a living cell require an order that we can only begin to decipher. In the absence of this order, there is no life and as we have said, for a Zoroastrian, this order is a manifestation of Asha.

Ecology is a relatively new field of science. Its genesis is the belated realization that man in his progress has disregarded the effects of his endeavors on the rest of nature. The success of this specie has taken a great toll on other species whose habitats man has destroyed. Man has come to the realization that the power that science has given to man over nature must be used wisely, i.e. with the Good Mind to establish Kshathra Variya (a just dominion, in which all species can thrive). Ecology is our attempt to do that. Zoroastrianism teaches us a great respect, and even a reverence for nature. This is demonstrated by our rituals and our prayers dedicated to various aspects of nature. If the world would have the same reverence for nature that Zoroastrians are supposed to show, ecology would always be a part of the decision making process.

Science, the methodical pursuit of trying to understand the universe as perceived by our senses, and religion, the attempt to understand our Creator and the universe through our spirituality, are not mutually exclusive. Especially for Zoroastrians, science and religion answer questions at different ends of the spectrum of Asha, The Divine Order. Often, when their spheres overlap, they provide each other with important insights and thought-provoking questions. For an example of this, we can return to the Big Bang theory: where did the initial energy come from? Is it God who put it there? Or even more stirring, is that energy a manifestation of God? Finally, as Zoroastrians, we are expected to use our Good Mind to reconcile our ancient myths with our new scientific findings.

[1] This article is also featured in the FEZANA journal of Summer 2001.  Reproduction of the article has been done with the permission of the author and that of the guest editor of the Summer 2001 issue of the FEZANA journal, Mrs. Dina McIntyre.