The Recursive Nature of All Religious Scriptures

Motivated strongly by my good friend Sravan’s comment in my previous post about Religious activities, I decided to write more on the subject. The best part about having a debate is that new ideas and flaws are revealed during the process. And I hit upon one such realization when I was responding to my friend’s comment. You can find the essence of it in that comment but here I shall elaborate it further.

All religions, and I mean every single established religion, have their own respective collection of books which are referred to as “scriptures” or “word of God” etc. I will be dealing with Hinduism and  its scriptures in this blog post. But the argument can be easily extrapolated to accommodate other religions as well.

Scriptures include every known collection of religious texts which is accepted by the religion as sacred to them in one form or another. They are said to contain the ultimate truth and an explanation for every single religious/spiritual/ritualistic activity that people do in the present day. I strongly believe in the second part of the previous sentence.

Scriptures definitely offer a very specific explanation for every single activity that we do or are supposed to be doing. They maybe spiritual, religious or ritualistic in nature. But each of them have an explanation somewhere in the scriptures. And I am NOT contesting this fact. But what I aim to discuss in this blog post is the ‘validity’ and ‘authenticity’ of these scriptures upon which the entire religion is built.

The scriptures claim to offer an explanation to everything that we may wonder about. And many of these explanations are quite elaborate and meticulous. So much so, it can appear convincing just because it is so elaborate and meticulous. They can also be convincing if you are ready to accept the axioms upon which they are based. (Which have really been exactly where religion stopped making sense to me.)

Now say one goes to inquire about Life, Universe and Everything with a ‘Guru’ who has actually read all the scriptures, obtained his knowledge from his Guru who is part of an ‘authentic’ chain of Gurus dating all the way back to God himself. Now such an inquiry would be deemed valid by religious or spiritual people I am sure. And so when one asks questions to the Guru, the Guru in turn replies drawing his knowledge from all the scriptures he has studied and been taught about. He cites the scriptures every now and then, for every single inquiry, thus giving the impression that the scriptures are indeed complete and ultimate.  So essentially, every single question has an answer in these scriptures and one is expected to accept that answer without any further question.This makes the scriptures as the starting point for all answers. Or in other words, the axioms to the scriptures and to the entire religion are found in the scriptures themselves.

My question here is this: Why should we assume that what is said in these scriptures is indeed the truth, let alone the ultimate truth?

The only possible answer to this question is that the scriptures themselves say so. I am sure you can find somewhere in the scriptures that the scriptures are the final word and everything that they say is the ultimate truth. (And perhaps somewhere it is also said that those who doubt it or do not believe in it will face a lot of bad consequences.)

Here is where religion loses it. So all of religion and all of the practices and beliefs are written down in the scriptures and the scriptures are said to provide the knowledge needed to ‘liberate’ one from this world. But the only source that corroborates the validity of these scriptures in the first place –  are the scriptures themselves!

The scriptures apparently validate themselves by simply asserting it in their own writings! And all the Gurus and Saints draw from THESE scriptures to guide ‘humanity’ so that they be ‘liberated’ from this world!

So you see where the Recursive part comes into play here.

The scriptures are widely considered to be the ultimate source of truth and knowledge and etc. But the only thing that says that these are actually the real deal are the scriptures themselves. Since every single piece of knowledge that is available in religion is based on some or the other scriptures, the impending  and inevitable conclusion is that all religious knowledge is drawn from a source which does not have an independent source of validation.

The only way this can be disproved is if hard evidence is presented which proves the existence of independent authorities who can validate the scriptures. And here is where religion has a problem.

It is believed that the only source from which religious or spiritual knowledge is to be gained is through an authentic chain of command. This would essentially refer to the chain of Gurus that I mentioned earlier. If the Gurus or anyone justifies the scriptures by quoting someone or something independent of the scriptures, then the whole justification becomes void because the scriptures themselves say that the only authentic knowledge is to be found INSIDE the scriptures and from the people who have read it and quote it. And so what this implies is that any proof of independent validation of the scriptures cannot be provided by religion by itself. It is some kind of a Catch 22 situation, but hey, dont look at me like I wrote the scriptures or anything!

Also one other point that my friend makes in his (long) comment is that I should not be commenting on issues of religion as I do not have the necessary expertise in the field. He gives the analogy of how a doctor should not tell a fashion designer what is right and wrong in his field because he does not have the necessary knowledge or expertise to do so.

Well, this argument is flawed at various levels. Let me continue with the same analogy but let me replace the fashion designer with a Civil Engineer (which I am one btw :P). It is true the doctor should not guide the Civil Engineer and tell him what is right or wrong in his field. But when the Civil Engineer tells the doctor that he can build a bridge across a large river using only straws and says that the bridge can withstand an aircraft, the doctor is compelled to feel apprehensive about the knowledge and awareness of the Civil Engineer. The doctor asks the Civil Engineer for proof and the Civil Engineer says that what he has said is true because some book which he refers and draws all his knowledge from says so and that the doctor should accept it as it is. The doctor (and you) knows that what the Civil Engineer is claiming is not and cannot be true.

So when you have people with expertise in one subject claim a lot of things that range from maybe-possible to ridiculously impossible, you really dont need someone of expertise in the same field to question their assumptions and axioms.

Which is exactly what I have been doing. And I am sure any reasonable open minded person can understand this.

Call me ignorant or whatever you may like. But the way I see it, questioning the very axioms which religion is based on is the real inquiry- it does not attribute to being ignorant.

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About Akshay N R

Civil Engineer by Profession; Dudeist by Religion. Also allergic to mediocrity.

Posted on September 23, 2010, in Religion, Satire, Serious Writing, The things that happen only to ME... and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Akshay,

    Let me comment on the analogy part first which you have mentioned. A doctor(a learned person) will have little knowledge on how is a bridge? What are its properties? Why it is made? What is the result of it? But he is ignorant on the construction of bridge? So if any civil engineer claims that he can build a bridge the way you have mentioned he is sure to get apprenshive and doubts the very idea itself. and if he is intelligent enough he verifies the authenticity of the books he had mentioned. If you are claiming that you are learned person enough to comment on the results of an religious practices, then i dont see the existence of your previous blogs which potrays that religious activities are intended to improve one’s discipline, self esteem etc., So you have readily missed why religious activities are performed. Any religious practitioner or student itself he may be Hindu, Christian or Muslim etc., knows why the religous practices are intended to.
    So, I can say, that you have not gone through the basics of religion i.e., What is religion? Why it is followed? What is the purpose etc.,? So if your comments on results of religious practices are intended to yield one’s discipline shows that you dont have much knowledge on the subject matter of religion?. So what analogy you have made doesn’t hold good.

    Regarding Scriptures, I really appreciate your inquiry abt the validity and authenticity of scriptures. you have commented something like “My question here is this: Why should we assume that what is said in these scriptures is indeed the truth, let alone the ultimate truth?”, You dont have to assume what scriptures say are truth to inquire about it. Infact scriptures say us to study them scrutinizingly. “The assumption theory” which is presently existing in the present day studies, i.e., Whatever the theory maybe it starts with assumptions, eg., We assume the soil to be imcompressible material and the consolidation theory starts. SO in reality most of the so-called scientific studies starts with an assumption. Why haven’t you questioned these assumptions? You haven’t have questioned it because you are keen to learn on the subject matter and want to know whether it is true or not? Isn’t it? But in scriptures nothing starts with an assumptions but still you are not keen enough inquire about them.

    If you have study any subject matter explain, geotechnical engineering, you have a set of books which explain the theories involved in the subject and other few books which present with the case studies of this theories. And under whom you inquire this subject who is a practitioner of this subject. (If you claim you can do an independent study of this subject, then you shouldn’t be doing you masters or any educational system isn’t required at all).

    Similarly the scriptures, the scriptures are divided into two sections broadly, that sruthi, that is the theoritical aspects of the subject matter like life, universe,soul,God, etc., These sruti includes Rig veda, Sama veda, Yajur veda, Bible, Islam. While Smriti refers to the case studies on how these theoritical aspects can be applied.These include Mahabharata, Ramayana etc., “Guru” is a practitioner of these knowledge and as any practitioner of knowledge he does a scrutinizing study of what the previous guru’s have said and what exactly the scriptures say. So the same educational system where a student wants to have a authoritative study which exists presently applies here also. So as long as the student claims to do an independent study on the subject, he is bound to be incomplete in whatever he studies.

    If you take an encyclopedia on civil engineering, it talks about everything about civil engineering. If you open and search for cement it will give you the defination of it. But this defination is complete and correct. So similarly all the topics of civil engineering are covered in that book are complete and correct. Similarly, the matter of subject in scriptures are soul ,supersoul, nature, life. So the scriptures entirely deal about them and the information about them are complete and correct.

    I am not saying you have to follow scriptures it is your personal view. But if you are commenting that an independent study on scriptures have to be done I don’t support on them. But still if any modern study wants to scrutinize the scriptures lets say vedas, he should have training of Sanskrit first, so you should learn the sandhis, vyakarana etc., So for that only you need to approach sanskrit lecturer or for that also you want to do a independent study on that itself?

    • You say a Civil Engineer will doubt the authenticity of the book which says that he can build such a bridge. True. And that is exactly why we dont see Civil Engineers making such claims. It is because the Civil Engineer can VERIFY the authenticity and its claims by actually attempting to build it as per the book. But unfortunately, verfication of the authenticity of the scriptures is simply and necessarily not possible. Which, as a motivation from your PRESENT comment, I shall be making the topic of my next post on religion.

      Also you have understood it wrong when I was talking about the independent study. Actually i have never mentioned independent “study”. I am fully happy with the authorities on religious scriptures giving me an independent source which says that the scriptures are the absolute truth. But firstly, such a source does not exist. And secondly, even if it did it has not been found. And thirdly, even if it did, the religious authorities cannot quote outside the scriptures. Hence, there is no independent source of validation.

      Do read my next post on religion.

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