What Do Hindus Think About the Big Bang? The Cyclic Universe?Hinduism posits a creator God but assumes the creation of cyclic universes
In last week’s Mind Matters News podcast, “Hinduism and the beginning of the universe,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu in New Zealand.
The first podcast looked at what the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus generally think about the mind and the second explored the Hindu view of free will and evil.
Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which has featured many guests discussing the spiritual dimension of our lives — for example, philosopher David Bentley Hart and neuroscientist Mark Solms (along with Egnor).
A partial transcript, notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow:
The Big Bang and cyclical universes
Michael Egnor: How do Hindus understand creation? Is the universe eternal? Was it created at a moment in the past?
Arjuna Gallagher: One unique and defining feature of Hinduism is definitely the idea of eternity, with cyclical creation and destruction. With regard to the Big Bang, there’s this explanation of how creation happens in the Bhagavatam and it’s pretty intricate. You have Mahavishnu, who is a form of God, lying down on the Causal Ocean and exhaling and inhaling. And with every exhale, all of the universes come out of his body. And with every in inhale, they all come back into all of the pores of his body. These are correlated with the creations and destructions of the material universe.
This would be all the way back to the Big Bang and then all the way up to the Big Crunch … If we were to make the assumption that’s talking about what the Bhagavatam is talking about, then those would map onto one another. And then you get further creation from that. It gets quite fantastic from there. There’s Lord Brahma governing. I don’t know how much I should get into the explanation of how the cosmos exists.
Michael Egnor: Are these taken generally to be metaphorical or is there a belief that these are substantially real, these explanations?
Arjuna Gallagher: There’s a belief that this is actually how things are going on. If someone wanted to say, “This is too fantastic, I can’t believe you actually believe this”, then my reply would be, “There’s actually only one fantastic claim, which is the existence of God.” Once you’ve assumed that God exists, you have a being full of the potencies that are capable of producing all of this. The real fantastic worldview is atheism, where every step is a miracle.
Michael Egnor: I don’t subscribe to Hindu theology, I’m a pretty mainstream Catholic, but the really crazy stuff is atheism.
Michael Egnor: I don’t think any theist is really crazy, meaning that just the existence of anything in itself is a miracle, a remarkable, astonishing thing. I’m open to all kinds of ideas, except the idea that there is no God, which I think is crazy.
Hinduism and the quantum universe
Michael Egnor: There’ve been a lot of advances in cosmology and in basic physics over the past century. Particularly, for example, in quantum mechanics and general relativity. Is there anything in Hindu theology that reflects on those advances or relates to them?
As an example, Werner Heisenberg, a physicist who was very important in the development of quantum mechanics, commented that the phenomenon in quantum mechanics of a collapse of the quantum wave form — that is that quantum systems exist in multiple states of potentiality and with measurement or observation coalescent to a single actuality — really is a reflection of Aristotle’s understanding of change, of potency, and act. That Aristotelian metaphysical perspective was embraced by Thomas Aquinas, so it’s really part of the Catholic or Christian way of looking at metaphysics. Is there anything that you can think of in modern physics that has a parallel in Hindu metaphysics or Hindu theology?
Note: Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976) was best known for his Uncertainty Principle and his theory of quantum mechanics. According to the Uncertainty Principle, both the position and momentum of a particle in quantum mechanics can never be exactly known, which was blow to the belief that science can attain an exhaustive understanding of the universe. “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” – Goodreads
Arjuna Gallagher: With regard to quantum physics, my favorite explanation is that it’s like the pixels in a video game that don’t render until you actually move the screen there, or maybe it renders a little bit ahead of time so that it can predict where you’re going to move and not have any lag. Similarly with quantum physics, if you’re not looking at the particle, it hasn’t selected a state.
This is done in computer processing and video games to save on computational power, and perhaps something similar goes on with the universe. Of course, we [Hindus] would put the observer in every living entity, not just in humans, so that changes things somewhat. But I guess some living entities aren’t actually affected by the change in state of certain quantum functions, so the wave state might not change until a human looks at it in many cases.
I’m not sure where you’d find that in the metaphysics of the tradition. We have this idea of the material energy that God is the largest and the smallest, so he’s both containing the universe and inside of every atom in the universe, and everything’s going on. [We use] the Sanskrit word shakti for God’s powers and energies. With that, miracles and all sorts of things are possible…
But it does seem to make sense because the idea here is that the material universe is meant to deliver sensory experiences to living entities in order to have effects on their consciousness, which ultimately brings them back to God and helps them overcome their selfish desires and so on. If you see the universe as meant for that purpose, then matter could be explained as — rather than something out there that exists independently — like an algorithm that governs the deliverance of experiences to living entities.
Michael Egnor: It sounds like it’s an idealism of sorts. What really exists is mental and that the physical is just a state of mind.
Arjuna Gallagher: Yeah. I used to think that idealism meant that things are only existing in minds. But after studying it a little bit more, I think it could be compatible with that Vedic world view… There has to be something out there that we’re both interacting with because we have a shared experience of reality. I guess idealism is just saying that the foundation of what’s out there is in the mind of God or something of that sort.
Michael Egnor: I was always fascinated by the consilience of Plato’s view of forms, that there’s a realm in which the ideal representations of things or the ideal act… that what we’re seeing are representations of an ideal actuality that exist in a separate world. Saint Augustine said that separate world was God’s mind, that reality is essentially a thought in God’s mind and that we are thoughts in God’s mind. But of course, being a Thomist, my commentary on that would be, “It may very well be that reality is a thought in God’s mind, but God is a Thomist.” That explains why Thomism works so well.
Arjuna Gallagher: That does relate to the Hare Krishna view, which is that there’s the original, pure spiritual reality which has everything you find here but in a pure state, whereas in the material world where we are, it’s a perverted reflection. So any kind of form or pleasure or anything you might chase or experience here is a perverted reflection of something that exists in a pure state in the spiritual world.
Michael Egnor: That seems to be a perspective that a lot of religious faiths have. There’s very much an aspect of that in Christianity — that there’s an ultimate perfection, which is God, and that his creation is a limited version of that ultimate perfection.
A Hindu argument for a creator of the universe and life
Michael Egnor: From your own perspective, Arjuna, or from the perspective of the Hindu faith, what do you think about the intelligent design movement in science in the Western world?
Arjuna Gallagher: I think it’s awesome. I’m a big fan of the Discovery Institute and work like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer and your own work on arguments for consciousness not being caused by the brain.
Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement in the West, gave an argument which a philosopher told me we could call a construction argument: The creator has to have all the qualities of creation, so the creation can’t have any qualities that aren’t found in the creator…
This was an argument used in the tradition to argue for the personhood of God. Because I have personal qualities, I have a name, I have a form and so on, therefore, God must also have a name and a form and so on.
He (Prabhupada) also used this argument against atheists, that we’ve got this material world with all these creatures in it and it has to come from a source of power.
Prabhupada also used an argument he called Life Comes from Life. “These rascal scientists” — Prabhupada would use words like that… when they want to tell us things like, “Matter explains life”, then that’s nonsense. He would challenge them, “Go in your lab and put some chemicals together and produce life, and then you can come and tell me that life comes from matter.”
Note: Prabhupada was echoing Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), after whom “pasteurization” is named. Pasteur demonstrated, in a famous experiment in 1862 before the French Academy that life forms come only from other life forms, not from the surrounding environment. The (Latin) phrase used at the time was omne vinum ex vivo or “Life comes only from life.”
Michael Egnor: Yeah. It seems to me that the better science gets, the more it seems to resemble engineering. I’m a big fan of engineering. I like houses and bridges that stay up and things like that. A lot of the theoretical science is absolutely fascinating stuff, but the metaphysical claims made by quite a few scientists — the materialist or atheist claims — I think are badly misguided.
Arjuna Gallagher: This reductionist world view is really good at a lot of things. Like if you get smashed up on the motorway, they’re really good at putting you back together because musculoskeletal stuff is really mechanical and engineering principles. Reductionism works well for that kind of thing, but they really fail at looking at the bigger picture.
Next: How Hindus see current culture and science issues
Here is the series of four discussions between Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher:
What do the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus think about the mind? Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Hindu Arjuna Gallagher on the similarities and differences between that tradition and Western theism. Egnor and Gallagher discuss the concept of God (or gods) karma, and reincarnation, in light of what we can really know about the world we live in.
Understanding the Hindu view of free will and evil Arjuna Gallagher points out that concepts of reincarnation and karma make both problems look very different in the Hindu tradition. Michael Egnor observes that recognition of evil is a strong argument for the existence of God, yet a key source of doubt. Perhaps the topic is simply beyond us.
What do Hindus think about the Big Bang? The cyclic universe? Hinduism posits a creator God but assumes the creation of cyclic universes. In the Hindu view, the material universe is meant to enable living consciousnesses to have sensory experiences that ultimately bring them back to God.
A Catholic and a Hindu tackle Woke culture. In a wide-ranging discussion, Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher look at Woke culture, abortion, euthanasia, and microaggressions. On Cancel Culture and euthanasia, Egnor and Gallagher are in general agreement but they find some points of difference on abortion.
You may also wish to read: Michael Egnor appeared on the podcast hosted by Arjuna Gallagher, Theology Unleashed, with atheist spokesman Matt Dillahunty Here is a link to all the segments with transcript and notes.
- 00:05 | Introducing Arjuna Gallagher
- 00:34 | Hinduism and the Creation of the Universe
- 02:03 | Are Hindu creation stories meant to be taken literally or are they allegories?
- 03:07 | Hinduism, Quantum Mechanics, and General Relativity
- 07:28 | Hinduism and Plato’s Theory of Forms
- 08:59 | Hinduism and Intelligent Design
- Dr. Michael Egnor
- Arjuna Gallagher on Facebook
- Subscribe to Theology Unleashed on YouTube
- Who was Plato?
- Definition of Thomistic Philosophy
- What is General Relativity?