ISKCON News Weekly writer Madhava Smullen interviews Lalitanatha Dasa, author of the forthcoming BBT book The Darwin Delusion.
Did you believe in evolution before becoming a devotee, or did you have doubts about it?
I was a convinced believer of evolution from childhood and never doubted it. I was trained in science in college and was absolutely, even militantly, atheistic. But instead of continuing my science studies at home in Denmark, I travelled around the world for a few years. My experiences with nature and other people finally convinced me that God does exist, and from then on I was completely into spiritual life. By this time I had forgotten all about Darwin and evolution and didn’t even consider whether or not it was consistent with what I had recently realized.
I came in contact with ISKCON through Srila Prabhupada's books in 1982 when my sister gave me Beyond Birth and Death and a few others. I was basically convinced from the first day and quickly joined the devotees.
Darwinism only reentered my life when I read Srila Prabhupada's critique of it in books such as Life Comes From Life, and when I heard the devotees discuss evolution and science. That immediately caught my interest because I could see how Darwinism had made me turn away from God and religion, and I became convinced that if we want to establish a religious Krishna conscious culture, Darwin has to be cleared away. So although I didn't become one of ISKCON's scientists in those days, I always had scientific preaching in mind and read everything that came out of the Bhaktivedanta Institute and more.
At what point did you start to consider writing a book on Darwinism?
It evolved – no pun intended. Due to my interest in scientific preaching, I became good friends with Madhavendra Puri Dasa, who was a research assistant for the Bhaktivedanta Institute and for Drutakarma’s book Forbidden Archeology. And we discussed evolution and how to refute it for many hours. I also regularly wrote articles on the topic in a congregational magazine myself and my wife published.
Around 2003, I started to wonder: Why don’t we have any current critique of Darwinism? Of course there had been Forbidden Archeology, but ISKCON’s last all-around publication on the subjection had been the magazine Origins in 1983. A lot had to have happened in the twenty years since then. So I started reading, and began to develop an interest in literature coming out of the Intelligent Design movement.
In 2004, the American mathematician and Intelligent Design proponent Bill Dembski lectured in Copenhagen. I went along to interview him for the local Radio Krishna station, and afterwards spoke with him for hours over dinner at Govinda’s restaurant. I kept in contact with him ever since, and gradually started getting more into Intelligent Design and studying it in depth.
Then in 2007, I suggested to the North European BBT’s managing director Brahma Muhurta, “In 2009, it’ll be Darwin’s 200th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of the Species. Why don’t we take advantage of all the publicity and publish a pamphlet containing our take on Darwin?” Brahma Muhurta agreed, and I set to work on the project, which soon gathered enough material to become a 200-page book.
What research did you do for the book?
For the past ten years I have studied a lot of what has come from the Intelligent Design people, reading dozens of books, hundreds of papers and tons of webpages. I have also been debating with Darwinists on the Internet, which is a great way of honing one’s arguments. And while writing the book, I have been in ongoing contact with a number of ID scientists - as well as Drutakarma Prabhu, who has been a consultant all the way.
Is the title of the book, The Darwin Delusion, a response to the current deluge of God-hating bestsellers, headed by Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion?
Not directly. Actually the original title was “Darwin and Intelligent Design from A Vedic Perspective.” But that works better as a subtitle than as a title – it’s clumsy, and not catchy enough. So our editorial board discussed different ideas, and we finally came up with The Darwin Delusion. It is a play on the title of Richard Dawkins’ book, but its not a specific reaction to him.
Can you explain the book’s premise?
It follows the same outline as previous Krishna conscious science publications, such as the Origins magazine and Sadaputa’s Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science. There’s a critique of Darwinism and evolution from the biology, biochemistry and paleontology viewpoints. And then there are discussions on consciousness, and evidence for reincarnation. The final chapter introduces the Vedic paradigm that in order to understand nature, you have to understand inert matter, the soul and the supersoul.
You have obviously drawn a lot from Intelligent Design for the book. What is your opinion, as a Vaishnava, on their message?
Intelligent Design just means that life has features which are best explained by an intelligent cause and cannot be explained simply by the laws of physics. I think it’s a valid approach, and the valid approach from an empirical point of view.
The design argument is a standard philosophical argument, not something new – ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada has used it too. And in a conversation with Srila Prabhupada in July 1976, the famous ISKCON scientist Sadaputa Dasa presented the bacterial flagellum as an example of something in nature that seems designed to fit together to perform a certain function. Interestingly, ID proponent Michael Behe gives the same example in his 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box.
What do you say to the scientists’ claim that Intelligent Design is just closet Christian Creationism?
Many people do have that impression, since the Darwinist propaganda is so vigorous and all-pervasive. But Intelligent Design actually arose from the scientific community, not from the Christian community.
In the early 1980s, the biochemist Charles Thaxton wrote a book called The Mystery of Life’s Origin, in which he critiqued the theories of chemical evolution and hinted at intelligent causation. This was followed in 1985 by Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by Australian molecular biologist Michael Benson. Finally in 1991, American law professor Philip Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, which attracted a lot of attention and caused a lot of controversy. These three books, as well as a general dissatisfaction with the theory of evolution amongst scientists, proved the catalyst for the Intelligent Design movement. More books, such as Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and Bill Dembski’s The Mathematician, followed.
Of course, atheists are not drawn to ID – only people who are at least open to the concept that God exists. So naturally some are Christians, but many come from other backgrounds and are not particularly religious.What’s more, many of the leading Creationists have actually spoken out against Intelligent Design.
How do you respond to scientists who reject God as a hypothesis, saying that he is an unscientific answer to the big questions of life?
It’s a completely valid scientific hypothesis to claim that the order in nature points to God. Take for instance the principia, the main work of Isaac Newton, founder of modern science. In it he lays out all the mechanics of science, such as action and reaction. But his purpose is not really to just investigate the laws of nature. His real argument is that nature contains such order that there must be intelligence behind it. So Newton himself used scientific experiments and observation to argue for God. And who’s willing to exclude Newton from science?
And while you’re at it, you might as well exclude Darwin too. Because he argued against species being created separately, and for them evolving by numerous slight modifications from one, or a few original life forms. So if you can argue against the possibility that species were created, then you can also argue for it.
And if you rejected God as a scientific hypothesis, you’d also have to exclude practically all evolutionary biologists, because when you get down to it, one of their main arguments for evolution is that no sensible God would have created a world like this – therefore it must have come about by evolution. It’s Darwin’s own argument, an argument that goes all the way through evolutionary biology, up to the present. So if they can introduce God into their hypothesis, why can’t we?
One of the topics you discuss in your book is how we don’t see species evolving before our eyes. Can you tell us something about that?
Yes, we discuss how one species evolving into a different species has never been observed. You can’t follow a species of dog and breed them until they’re something other than dogs. Even bacteria, which multiply and reproduce in 20 minutes, have never been observed evolving into a new species. The fossil record doesn’t show any clear evidence of speciation either. And the books quotes some very prominent Darwinist evolutionary biologists who admit these facts.
Can you talk about some other interesting ideas discussed in the book?
Well I’ve written ten of the book’s chapters, but the remaining four are by guest authors. Three are Intelligent Design scholars – Bill Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells – who, although Christians, where happy to contribute a chapter each to a Hare Krishna book on Darwin. The fourth is by ISKCON scientist Drutakarma Dasa.
Drutakarma’s chapter discusses the research for his book Forbidden Archeology. Bill Dembski’s chapter defines Intelligent Design and gives different arguments for it. Michael Behe explains irreducible complexity. And Jonathan Wells contributed a very interesting chapter wherein he goes through all the standard evidence for the theory of evolution and shows that it’s actually fake. For example, drawings of embryos evolving which are still used in biology books today were faked by German scientist Ernst Haeckel in the 1800s.
Srila Prabhupada used to say that if life is chemistry, then scientists must be able to take chemicals and produce life in the laboratories. So there’s a chapter that presents the very latest take on the origin of life from scientists of different schools, each of whom dismantle the other’s position until there’s nothing left. It makes for a pretty strong case.
I also got permission to include research by British biochemist Rupert Sheldrake, which suggests that dogs know when their masters are coming home. He made these far out experiments where he puts a video camera on the dog alone at home, and gets the owner to note down when she starts driving home. When you watch the video, you see that the dog spends between 5% and 10% of its time by the door when the owner is not on her way home. But when she is on the way home, the dog spends 50% to 60% of its time at the door. This, I feel, points towards the Supersoul, or God in every living being’s heart.
Would you say discussion of the Supersoul is one of the things that makes this book stand out amongst other books for the case of God, such as Intelligent Design literature?
Definitely. Their philosophy is not complete, because so far they haven’t discussed consciousness very much. That’s where ISKCON is ahead. On February 12 – Darwin’s birthday – Torchlight Publications will be releasing another book by Isvara Krishna Dasa from Hungary, called Nature’s IQ, which gives hundreds of examples of evidence for the Supersoul in nature. Take birds for example. How do they know how to fly from the North to South Pole and back again and end up in the same place every time? And how do butterflies know how to fly from Canada across to the Mexican Gulf? The book includes many very nice arguments, some of which I include in The Darwin Delusion.
When will The Darwin Delusion be released?
We originally wanted to have it out by February 12, Darwin’s birthday. But sometimes book production doesn’t go as fast as you want it to. We’re working towards a summer release, probably May or June.
What will the book look like, and how will it be sold?
It will be in black and white, but will have beautiful illustrations by Ramaprasada Dasa, who worked on the Origins magazine. And it will be low cost so that many copies can be printed and distributed, but with good quality paper, printing, and softbound binding.
Because it’s a BBT book, it will be available through all the standard devotee channels. We also hope that book distributors will pick up on it and distribute it on the streets. And it will be available on Amazon.com and other regular book channels.
Will you be trying to establish any dialogue with the scientific community to publicize it?
Yes, I’m connected with a lot of scientists, who I will inform about the book. I know someone who writes on a very popular science blog, and one journalist who will definitely write about it. If the book attracts any critique or propaganda against it from scientists, that will be a great advertisement!
What do you expect the reaction from ISKCON devotees to be?
Well, those who like this approach to preaching will appreciate it. And those of us that were brainwashed with Darwinism will need it as an antidote. But there are some devotees who just very simply accept that Krishna is God and have no need for any intellectual exercises like this. And to those devotees I pay my humble respects – they are great souls.
For those that are interested, I will be happy come to their temple if they are interested in holding a seminar on the subject.
The battle against atheistic scientists, and Darwinism in particular, is something Prabhupada talked a lot about. How important is it that the Hare Krishna movement get in and have our say on this subject today?
I think it’s very important. First of all, if we want to attract a certain section – possibly even the majority – of intellectuals and educated people, we have to address the issue of Darwinism. Of course, it might depend which part of the world you come from. I’m from Europe, which is very secular. At least here, if you don’t address this subject, you’re missing out on the majority of the educated people. They might think, “You Hare Krishnas are really nice people, I like your food, I like your festivals, but that’s all.” So I think it’s crucial for our preaching in many parts of the world.
Darwinism is even rampant in India -- one Indian biologist I happened to know was about to move into the temple, but when he found out that we were against Darwin, he decided against it, saying “These people are not scientific.”
Devotee scientists such as Sadaputa, Drutakarma, and Bhakti Svarup Damodar Swami have done a lot of work, but I think we have neglected this area a little in our daily preaching over the years, and could certainly give it a more prominent place.
The fact is that Darwinism is, more than anything else, the singular cause of atheism in our time. And that’s why Prabhupada singled out Darwin above anyone else. Prabhupada said our mission is first to prove that God exists, and then to prove that Krishna is God. So The Darwin Delusion is trying to accomplish the first part – to scientifically demonstrate that God exists.[ darwin ] [ evolution ]