Intelligent Design in a Modern Vedic Context

( – By Leif Asmark Jensen

(Lalitanatha dasa)

Consciousness is our most immediate experience. Yet, when it comes to studying consciousness beyond one’s own conscious experience, we can only study circumstantial evidence. One such category is studies of the symptoms of a conscious action on events or physical objects. This is known as the argument from design.

An argument from design refers to the inference that a feature cannot be explained as solely the result of physical processes or attributed to chance, but is due to conscious activity. Such inferences are commonplace. For instance, archeologists study flints to see if everything can be explained as the result of natural geological processes, or if certain features, such as a series of parallel strikes, must be the result of conscious activity. If archeologists conclude the latter, they can be said to have inferred ”design” or ”intelligent design”.

Design arguments applied to nature and the universe are old stuff within philosophy, theology and science, tracing back into the pre-Christian Western world, as well as being found in other contexts, such as India’s tradition of Vedic philosophy. Appeals to design have generally been used to substantiate the existence of a Deity, adding a controversial feature to design arguments.

Cicero (106–43 BC) wrote:

“When you look at a picture or a statue, you recognize that it is a work of art. When you follow from afar the course of a ship, upon the sea, you do not question that its movement is guided by a skilled intelligence. When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?”[1]

Similar arguments were made by Socrates and Plato and other Greeks, by Augustine, Aquinas and other Christian scholastics, and by founders of modern science such as Bacon, Kepler and Newton (Newton: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”[2])

The term ’intelligent design’ has also been known in the West for centuries. Even Darwin used it: “One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions and man without believing that all has been intelligently designed; yet when I look to each individual organism, I can see no evidence of this.”[3]

From Scientific American in 1847: “Where must we look for this fountain but to the great storehouse of nature — the innumerable and diversified objects there were presented to our view give evidence of infinite skill and intelligent design in their adaptation to each other and to the nature of man.”[4]

Oxford scholar F.C.S. Schiller wrote in 1897: “It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.”[5]

Even Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-developer with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution, came to believe that “a Higher Intelligence”[6] guided the process.

Design arguments in India

Another ancient and rich philosophical tradition is the Vedic tradition of India, which arguably is even older than the Western, and design arguments are commonplace. Sankaracarya (app. 800) wrote:

“In the case of such things as a lump of earth or a stone, no power of contrivance is seen, but the design of special forms out of such things as clay is seen when they are superintended by potters and the like. In the same way, Material Nature transforms itself only when connected with a superintending, external intelligence.”[7]

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