As a “dinophile” since childhood, it was a delight to watch my favourite monsters in action in the BBC’s “Walking with Dinosaurs” on Monday evening.
The narrative of this documentary reminded me of the old couplet:- “We both read the Bible day and night, while you read black and I read white.” This phenomenon is not confined to religious study, it also applies to the interpretation of archaeological evidence.
There is an astonishing correspondence in the descriptions of universal time and planetary measurements in both ancient Hindu scriptures and modern scientific calculations. But, the conclusions they reach are very different.
There’s been life on earth, says Hinduism’s oldest texts, for nearly two billion years and these form a hierarchy from simple-celled creatures, through aquatics, reptiles, mammals to humans. They acknowledge how a species can develop from improvements in habitat and feeding. Natural selection is hinted at in a Puranic phrase – jivo jivasya hi jivanam –the weak are food for the strong. But, although, it is clear that nature will favour the fittest, that doesn’t lead the Puranas to deduce that one species actually changes into another.
Neither, is it suggested by the fossil record. Our diggings have unearthed only fully-formed species, often appearing and disappearing suddenly in the geological strata, or else lingering on, unchanged, to the present day. So, instead of dubious speculations about possible dinosaur evolution, it would be more honest just to state what we know for certain – that at some period in history, a creature flourished, but later on, another type became the dominant population.
I generally enjoy nature documentaries and Walking with Dinosaurs was no exception. They reveal intricately complex animals with organs and biological processes that defy explanation by gradual evolution. It’s, therefore, more logical to give credit to intelligent design. But, such a conclusion has serious ramifications. It would mean humans are not the top of an evolutionary pile. And, that there may be some purpose – even responsibility – towards life; and, particularly, towards the intelligence behind our creation.
The Hindu view is that the huge range of living creatures has been created with the purpose of facilitating the karma and desires of all the souls within the world. As our consciousness and karma improves, we evolve through reincarnation. What is ironic is that the dinosaurs with their limited sensibilities were able to rule the world for 150 million years. But, we humans need to improve ours, if we are to guarantee survival through the next millennium.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today program Radio 4.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies