Statesman – DENNIS OVERBYE, The New York Times – Aug 13, 2011
Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego are at work synthesizing molecules in test tubes. Although molecules have been created that can propagate themselves and evolve, after a fashion, they’re not considered self-sufficient enough to be alive.
Here in a laboratory perched on the edge of the continent, researchers are trying to construct Life As We Don’t Know It in a thimbleful of liquid.
…Biologists do not agree on what the definition of life should be or whether it is even useful to have one.Go to story
No one can create life with only matter, and matter cannot create itself
PRABHUPADA: The whole world of science and technology is running on the false idea that life is born from matter. We cannot allow this nonsensical theory to go unchallenged. Life does not come from matter. Matter is generated from life. This is not theory; it is fact. Science is based on an incorrect theory; therefore all its calculations and conclusions are wrong, and people are suffering because of this. When all these mistaken modern scientific theories are corrected, people will become happy. So we must challenge the scientists and defeat them. Otherwise they will mislead the entire society.
Matter changes in six phases: birth, growth, maintenance, production of by-products, dwindling, and death. But the life within matter, the spirit soul, is eternal; it goes through no such changes. Life appears to be developing and decaying, but actually it is simply passing through each of these six phases until the material body can no longer be maintained. Then the old body dies, and the soul enters a new body. When our clothing is old and worn, we change it. Similarly, one day our bodies become old and useless, and we pass on to a new body.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.13), dehino ‘smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara/ tatha dehantara-praptih: “As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death.” And a little later (2.18): antavanta ime deha nityasyoktah sharirinah. This means that only the material body of the indestructible and eternal entity is subject to destruction. This material body is perishable, but the life within the body is nitya, eternal.
According to the Vedas, the measurement of the soul within the body is one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair. This is very small; in fact, it is atomic. Yet because of that atomic spiritual energy, my body is working. Is it so difficult to understand? Suppose a man thinks himself very stout and strong. Why is he stout and strong? Only because within his body is a small spiritual spark. But as soon as the spiritual spark is gone, his body dies, and his strength and vigor become void. If scientists say that matter is the cause and origin of life, then let them bring just one dead man back to life by injecting him with chemicals. But this they cannot do.
DR. SINGH: Since scientists cannot see the spirit soul, they say its existence is very doubtful.
PRABHUPADA: How can they see it? It is too small to see. Where is such seeing power?
DR. SINGH: Still, they want to sense it by some means.
PRABHUPADA: If you inject just one grain of deadly poison into someone, he immediately dies. No one can see the poison or how it acts. But the poison is acting nevertheless. In the same way, the Vedas say that because the minute particle called the soul is within the body, the whole body is working nicely. If I pinch myself, I immediately feel it, because I am conscious all over my skin. But as soon as the soul is absent, which is the case when my body dies, you can take this same skin and cut it and chop it, and no one will protest. Why is this simple thing so hard to understand? ls this not detecting spirit?
DR. SINGH: That is the soul. But what about God?
PRABHUPADA: First of all let us understand the soul. The soul is a small God. If you understand the sample, then you can understand the whole.
Now here is matter. [points at a dead tree with his cane.] Formerly leaves and twigs were growing from this tree. Why are they not growing now? Can the scientists answer this question?
KARANDHAR: They would say the chemical composition has changed.
PRABHUPADA: All right, then if they are so advanced in knowledge of chemistry, they must supply the proper chemicals to make branches and leaves grow again.
BRAHMANANDA: Knowledge means that one must be able to demonstrate his theory. They should be able to show in their laboratories that life is caused by a combination of chemicals.
PRABHUPADA: Yes, the scientific method means first observation, then hypothesis, and then demonstration. But these scientists cannot demonstrate their hypothesis. They simply observe and then speak nonsense.
Scientists say that the chemicals are the cause of life. But all the chemicals that were there when the tree was living are still present. And life energy is also there. There are thousands of microbes in the tree, and they are all living entities. No one can claim that life energy is lacking in the body of this tree.
DR. SINGH: But what about the life energy of the tree itself?
PRABHUPADA: Yes, that is the difference. The living force is individual, and the particular individual living entity which was the tree has left. This must be the case, since all the chemicals that are necessary to support life are still there yet the tree is dead.
Here is another example: suppose I am living in an apartment, and then I leave it. I am gone, but many other living entities remain there—ants, spiders, and so forth. It is not true that simply because I have left the apartment, it can no longer accommodate life. Other living entities are still living there. It is simply that I—an individual living being—have left. The chemicals in the tree are like the apartment; they are simply the environment for the individual living force—the soul—to act through. Thus the scientists will never be able to produce life in the chemical laboratory.
The so-called scientists say that life begins from chemicals. But the real question is, “Where have the chemicals come from?” The chemicals come from life, and this means that life has mystic power. For example, an orange tree contains many oranges, and each orange contains chemicals—citric acid and others. So where have these chemicals come from? Obviously they have come from the life within the tree. The scientists are missing the origin of the chemicals. They have started their investigation from the chemicals, but they cannot identify the origin of the chemicals. Chemicals come from the supreme life—God. Just as the living body of a man produces many chemicals, the supreme life (the Supreme Lord) is producing all the chemicals found in the atmosphere, in the water, in humans, in animals, and in the earth. And that is called mystic power. Unless the mystic power of the Supreme Lord is accepted, there is no solution to the problem of the origin of life.
DR. SINGH: The scientists will reply that they cannot believe in mystic power.
PRABHUPADA: But they must explain the origin of the chemicals. Anyone can see that an ordinary tree is producing many chemicals; they cannot deny it. But how does it produce them? Since they cannot answer this, they must accept that the living force has mystic power. I cannot explain how my fingernail is growing out of my finger; it is beyond the power of my brain. In other words, it is growing by inconceivable potency, or achintya-shakti. So if achintya-shakti exists in an ordinary being, imagine how much achintya-shakti God possesses. The difference between God and me is that although I have the same potencies as God, I can produce only a small quantity of chemicals, whereas He can produce enormous quantities. I can produce a little water in the form of perspiration, but God can produce the seas. Analysis of one drop of seawater gives you the qualitative analysis of the sea, without any mistake. Similarly, the ordinary living being is part and parcel of God, so by analyzing the living beings we can begin to understand God. In God there is great mystic potency. God’s mystic potency is working swiftly, exactly like an electric machine. Machines operate by certain energy, and they are so nicely made that all the work is done simply by pushing a button. Similarly, God said, “Let there be creation,” and there was creation. Considered in this way, the workings of nature are not very difficult to understand. God has such wonderful potencies that the creation, on His order alone, immediately takes place.
BRAHMANANDA: Scientists don’t accept God or achintya-shakti.
PRABHUPADA: That is their rascaldom. God exists, and His achintya-shakti also exists.
KARANDHAR: Scientists say that life was created biochemically.
PRABHUPADA: And I say to them: “Why don’t you create life? Your biology and chemistry are very advanced, so why don’t you create life?”
KARANDHAR: They say they will create life in the future.
PRABHUPADA: When in the future? If the scientists know the creative process, why can’t they create life now? If life has a biochemical origin, and if biologists and chemists are so advanced, then why can’t they create life in their laboratories? When this crucial point is raised, they say, “We shall do it in the future.” Why in the future? That is nonsense. Trust no future, however pleasant. What is the meaning of their advancement? They are talking nonsense.
KARANDHAR: They say that they are right on the verge of creating life.
PRABHUPADA: But that is also the future, in a different way. They must accept that they still do not know the truth about the origin of life. Since they are expecting to be able to create life in the future, presently their knowledge must be imperfect. Their proposal is something like giving someone a postdated check. Suppose I owe you ten thousand dollars and I say, “Yes, I will pay you the entire sum with this postdated cheque. Is that all right?” If you are intelligent, you will can see something tangible.” Similarly, the scientists cannot produce even a single blade of grass by biochemistry, yet still they claim that life is produced from matter. What is this nonsense? Is no one questioning this? We can prove that life began from life. Here is the proof: when a father begets a child, the father is living, and the child is living. But where is the scientist’s proof that life comes from matter? We can prove that life begins from life, and we can also prove that the original life is Krishna. But what evidence exists that a child is ever born out of a dead stone? The scientists cannot prove that life comes from matter. They are leaving that aside for the future.
KARANDHAR: The basis of what the scientists call “scientific integrity” is that they talk only about what they can experience through their senses.
PRABHUPADA: Then they are suffering from what we call “Doctor Frog’s philosophy.” There was once a frog who had lived all his life in a well. One day a friend visited him and informed him of the existence of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Oh, what is this Atlantic Ocean?” asked the frog in the well.
“It is a vast body of water,” his friend replied.
“How vast? ls it double the size of this well?”
“Oh, no, much larger,” his friend replied.
“How much larger? Ten times the size?”
In this way the frog went on calculating. But what was the possibility of his ever understanding the depths and fur reaches of the great ocean? Our faculties, experience, and powers of speculation are always limited. The frog was always thinking in terms relative to his well. He had no power to think otherwise. Similarly, the scientists are estimating the Absolute Truth, the cause of all causes, with their imperfect senses and minds, and thus they are bound to be bewildered. The essential fault of the so-called scientists is that they have adopted the inductive process to arrive at their conclusions. For example, if a scientist wants to determine whether or not man is mortal by the inductive process, he must study every man to try to discover if some or one of them may be immortal. The scientist says, “I cannot accept the proposition that all men are mortal. There may be some men who are immortal. I have not yet seen every man. Therefore how can I accept that man is mortal?” This is called the inductive process. And the deductive process means that your father, your teacher, or your guru says that man is mortal, and you accept it.
DR. SINGH: So there is an ascending process of gaining knowledge and a descending process?
PRABHUPADA: Yes. The ascending process will never be successful, because it relies on information gathered through the senses, and the senses are imperfect. So we accept the descending process.
God cannot be known by the inductive process. Therefore He is called adhokshaja, which means “unknowable by direct perception.” The scientists say there is no God, because they are trying to understand by direct perception. But He is adhokshaja; therefore the scientists are ignorant of God because they are missing the method of knowing Him. In order to understand transcendental science, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master, hear from him submissively, and render service to him. Lord Krishna explains this in the Bhagavad-gita(4.34): tad viddhi pranipatena pariprashnena sevaya.
DR. SINGH: There is a scientific journal called Nature. It contains articles concerning natural products like plants and animals, but it does not mention God—only nature.
PRABHUPADA: We may correctly observe that plants are being produced by nature, but we must ask, “What has produced nature?” To ask this question is intelligence.
DR. SINGH: The scientists don’t think about that.
PRABHUPADA: So they are fools. As soon as we speak of nature, the next question should be, “Whose nature?” For instance, I speak of my nature, and you speak of your nature. Therefore, as soon as nature is mentioned, the next inquiry should be, “Whose nature?”
Nature means energy, and as soon as you speak of energy, you must accept that there is a source of that energy. For example, the source of electric energy is the electric powerhouse. Electricity is not produced automatically. We must install a powerhouse and a generator. Similarly, in the Vedas it is said that material nature is working under Krishna’s direction.
DR. SINGH: So do you mean to say that science has started from an intermediate point—not from the original point?
PRABHUPADA: Yes, that is it exactly. They are ignorant of the origin. The scientists start from one point—but where does that point come from? That they do not know, in spite of vast research. One has to accept that the original source is God, who is full of all mystic powers and from whom everything emanates. He Himself says in the Bhagavad-gita(10.8): aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate, “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me.” Our conclusions are not based on blind faith; they are most scientific. Matter comes from life. In life—in the origin—there are unlimited material resources; that is the great mystery of creation.
Modern scientific research is just like Sankhya philosophy, which analyzes material elements. Sankhya means “to count.” We are also Sankhya philosophers to some extent, because we count and analyze the material elements—this is land, this is water, this is air, this is sunshine, this is fire. Furthermore, I can count my mind, my intelligence, and my ego. Beyond my ego, however, I cannot count. But Krishna says that there is existence beyond the ego, and that existence is the living force—the spirit soul. This is what the scientists do not know. They think that life is merely a combination of material elements, but Krishna denies this in the Bhagavad-gita (7.5). Apareyam itas tv anyam prakritim viddhi me param: “Besides this inferior nature there is a superior energy of Mine.” The inferior energy is the material elements, and the superior energy is the living entity.
bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva cha
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakritir ashtadha
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Bg. 7.4)
Krishna explains here in the Bhagavad-gitathat vayu (gas) comes from Him, and that finer than the gases is kham (ether). Finer than ether is the mind, finer than the mind is intelligence, and finer than the intelligence is the soul. But the scientists do not know this. They can perceive only gross things. They mention vayu, but where does the vayu come from? Where does the gas come from?
DR. SINGH: That they cannot answer.
PRABHUPADA: But we can answer. We have the knowledge that gas comes from kham, or ether, and ether comes from mind, mind comes from intelligence, and intelligence comes from Krishna’s superior energy, the spirit soul.
DR. SINGH: Are both inferior and superior energies studied in Sankhya philosophy?
PRABHUPADA: No. Sankhya philosophers do not know of superior energy. They simply analyze the material elements, just as the scientists do. Neither the scientists nor the Sankhya philosophers know anything of the spirit soul. They are simply analyzing Krishna’s material energy.
DR. SINGH: They are analyzing the creative material elements?
PRABHUPADA: Material elements are not creative! The soul is creative. No one can create life with only matter, and matter cannot create itself. You, a living entity, can mix hydrogen and oxygen to create water. But matter itself has no creative energy. If you place a bottle of hydrogen near a bottle of oxygen, will they automatically combine, without your help?
DR. SINGH: No. They must be mixed.
PRABHUPADA: Yes, the superior energy—the living entity—is required. Oxygen and hydrogen are inferior energy, but when the superior energy mixes them, then they can become water. Inferior energy has no power unless superior energy is involved. This sea [indicating the Pacific Ocean] is calm and quiet. But when superior force—air—pushes it, high waves are created. The sea has no power without the superior force. Similarly, there is another force superior to the air, and another, and another, until we arrive at Krishna, the most superior force. This is real research. Suppose a railroad train is just starting to move. The engine pushes one car, which pushes another, and so on, until the entire train is moving. And the whole motion originates with the engineer, a living entity. Similarly, in the cosmic creation, Krishna gives the first push, and then, by means of many successive pushes, the entire cosmic manifestation comes into being. This is explained in the Bhagavad-gita(9.10): mayadhyakshena prakritih suyate sa-characharam: “This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and is producing all moving and unmoving beings.” And a little later:
murtayah sambhavanti yah
tasam brahma mahad yonir
aham bija-pradah pita
“All species of life are made possible by birth in material nature, and I am the seed-giving father.” (Bg. 14.4)
For example, if we sow a banyan seed, a huge tree eventually grows up and produces millions of new seeds. Each of these seeds, in turn, produces another tree with millions of new seeds, and so on. So Krishna is the original seed-giving father.
Unfortunately, the scientists only observe the immediate cause; they do not perceive the remote cause. There are two causes—the immediate cause and the remote cause. Krishna is described in the Vedas as sarva-karana-karanam [Brahma-samhita 5.1], the cause of all causes. If you understand the cause of all causes, then you understand everything. Yasmin vijñate sarvam evam vijñatam bhavati (Mundaka Upanishad 1.3): “If you know the original cause, the later, subordinate causes are automatically known.” Although the scientists are searching after the original cause, when the Vedas, which contain perfect knowledge, give the original cause, they won’t accept. They keep to their partial, imperfect knowledge.