Tehuti -- God of Wisdom, also of Science
 The Kamitic God Tehuti (Thoth), who represents the wisdom principle

On Science Vs. Religion: An African-Centered View Explodes Western Myths

By Grisso

There is an unfortunate misconception to the effect that religion in general -- traditional African religion in particular -- is in some fundamental sense opposed to science. This is a view that may be sustained only to the extent that one's view of religion is flawed, or one's view of science is wrong, or both.

If spirit is the transcendent reality about who we really are, then it should in principle be possible to learn the laws governing spirit. This learning process must however itself conform to the laws of spirit, so if one takes the approach that would be taken by Western science -- which inevitably would limit itself in its observations only to that which may be reduced to one of the five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, and typically at that only to that which may be seen -- it is doubtful that either acknowledgment or sense could be made of spiritual phenomena. Thankfully, our African ancestors were of broader mind. As with people everywhere who live in close proximity to nature, and who attune themselves to its cycles, and to its subtle fluxes of energy, the ancient African came to know a lot about spirit. There is indeed a whole science, in the generic sense deriving from the root word scire = "to know", of spirituality. And the African science of spirituality, in particular, is precursor to all religion and religious systems, as well as to moral and ethical values deriving from a deep understanding of the laws of spirit. It therefore deserves our attention and study. For certain, it is a grave error to dismiss African spirituality as "devil-worship," "fetishism," "witchcraft," "ancestor-worship," "animism," "native superstition," or any of a host of other disparaging descriptions, generally contrasted to the supposed superior enlightenment of Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tenets and faith.

Certain religions have dogma, and assert beliefs based on faith alone. That is not a necessary characteristic of religion, however, properly understood. The etymology of the word "religion" is instructive. Literally it means to "tie back" [to God], from the Latin re (prefix meaning "back", or "again") + ligare (to tie, bind, or yoke). The word "yoga" has the same root meaning. Now, re-yoking oneself to God does not require dogma as a prerequisite. In fact, one could be stranded on a desert island with no knowledge of the pope, or of any organized religion, and do quite well indeed in the religion department, taking the term literally as a re-yoking. The corruption of religion has been so thorough, however, that it is a common and understandable error for most folk to equate religion with hierarchy and dogma, as with all denonimations of the Christian church, Islam, Judaism, etc. True religion, however, is not based either on dogma or received wisdom, at least not necessarily. It is based rather on experience, exactly like science is supposed to be. Reyoking oneself to God is an experience available to all who seek it, and one does not need to be a declared Christian, or Muslim, or anything else, to partake of that experience. When it happens, it is no longer a matter of faith in any received dogma, but a matter of personal knowing.

Likewise, science, as that term is popularly understood in Western culture, is fatally flawed. It shies away from talk of God, yet is on a perpetual search for the Order in the universe that is the work of its Creator. That might possibly have worked except for the fact that the universe, also God, is more than energy/matter; it is also consciousness. And consciousness is not a phenomenon that yields to "scientific" forms of understanding. That would be like trying to reduce sex to a system of describing mathematical equations. No matter how exquisite, the mathematical equations would fail to capture its essence. So too with consciousness. It falls logically within the realm of science, because it is an aspect of the Universe as we know it, but it is quintessentially an aspect of the Universe that falls to religion to explore. It is an indictment of Western Religion -- which shies away from spirit and spiritual phenomena as surely as does Western Science -- that it doesn't even do that very well, substituting mere dogma to make up the lack. It seems a fair conclusion that Western notions of science and religion, both, are lacking. To close the gap in each would be to come to a place where there is no conflict, qua principle, between the two. Science in the true sense ought to encompass all phenomena, not merely those of the energy/matter variety. It ought to encompass the phenomena associated with consciousness as well.

It used to be that way in ancient Kamit, where the priests were the scientists and the scientists were the priests, and their holistic world-view did not permit much of a distinction between the two. It remains so today, that in the African tradition, the African priest is a "a man of science" -- although the converse may no longer strictly hold, given Western accretions -- as it once did in Kamit.

We do not usually remark the cognate relationship between the words theory, and theology. The former belongs to science, and the latter to religion, but as is implied within the root theo- common to both words, both belong in some sense to God. The Kamau were clear on this point, and there is some reason to believe that the Greeks, who learnt both their science and their religion from the Kamau, inherited the words and the concepts, but did not quite grasp the full understanding.

In this connection, I remember participating in a debate held on the internet, on the question to what extent Greece borrowed or stole its ancient learning from Africa. The debate was sponsored by Harper-Collins, publishers of Mary Lefkowitz's (1996) Not out of Africa. (See The Black Athena Debate.) In the discussion, I made reference to the fact that Plato, in the Phaedrus, has Socrates say that he learned that the (Egyptian) god Thoth -- Tehuti -- was the inventor of arithmetic, calculus (my emphasis), geometry and astronomy. This was a quote from Diop's (1981) Civilization or Barbarism, and it occasioned the query what kind of "calculus" was referred to, as it could not, anachronistically, have been the (differential and integral) calculus of Leibniz and Newton. One of the classical scholars in the discussion helped by informing us that the word translated as "calculus," was "logismos," in the original Greek. This prompted me to make the observation that the obvious hypothesis would be that "logismos" might mean "logic," raised to an "-ism", or a formal logic. Hence the "calculus" or "calculation" offered as translation of logismos would seem to refer to logical calculation or reasoning, and since the suffix -ismos has the effect of raising it to a formal sort of logic, it suggests also axiomatic method, or explicit, formal reasoning from premises to conclusion. It is the sort of reasoning with which every student of geometry becomes quite familiar, and we see reference to geometry, also arithmetic and astronomy, in the same sentence that refers also to logismos as having been invented by the Kamau. Surely those who invented geometry must also have had a good grasp of axiomatic method, given the cumulative nature of knowledge, and reasoning, in this field. Yet translators of the original Greek find difficulty calling logismos what it appears clearly to be, instead giving us vague renditions such as "calculus" and "calculation," moreover unqualified. Hence it is not distinguished from calculation of the arithmetic sort, to which reference is made in the same sentence. If I was correct, the quote from Plato was offering evidence, that would credit the Kamau with the invention, not only of arithmetic, astronomy and geometry, which had been the point of the quote, but also, at least inferentially, for axiomatic method, which Western scholars have long held to be the exclusive invention of the Greeks.

I raise this question to get to the other one already mentioned, namely the spurious dichotomy, at the level of principle, between religion and science. The Kamitic god Tehuti gave us logismos, which I will take to mean formal logic. We know in formal logic that there is no rule of logic that would establish the truth of logical premises. These must be taken as being in some sense self-evident. They must be intuited. Ra Un Nefer Amen makes the intriguing point that the word "intuit" derives phonetically from "Tehuti," the god who, not incidentally, gave us "logismos," (along, notably, with geometry, among others). This makes sense: every time we intuit the premise of a logical argument, we pay homage to Tehuti, who, also not incidentally, is the Kamitic deity that represents the omniscience faculty of the Creator. That seems to me too much to be mere coincidence. Which brings me back to the point: theories, scientific or otherwise, may only ever be intuited, never deduced in any formal logical sense (although logic may be used to test theories, since a well-posed theory or hypothesis will allow predictions, which may then be compared with reality to see how well the theory corresponds). The point? In conventional science, theories are a matter of (intuitive) speculation, and Western Science ever trumpets the brilliance and genius of its best theoretical speculators. In Kamitic science, "theories" were viewed as the revealed word of God, accessible to those able to tap into the wisdom faculty represented by Tehuti, the oracle, or God's mouthpiece. (In the Yoruba pantheon, the same oracular faculty is ascribed to the god or orisha called Orunmila, the ruler of Ifa divination.) Moreover, is it not the case that a well-honed "intuitive" sense is but a way to tap into knowledge that lies beyond the grasp of the everyday five senses? There are indeed other ways of knowing. The Greeks understood some of what the Kamau taught them, but not all of it, which is why today we use the word theo-ry without usually remarking on its cognate relationship with theo-logy. Religion and science are fused in the core words deriving from Kamit, yet commonly seen as being at odds. How wrong. At a fundamental level, religion and science cannot be antagonists, and if they are, then either the science is bad, or the religion is bad, or both. In Kamit, and in the African tradition, the two were, and are, fused.

Let me turn now to cosmogony, the story of creation. Westerners have a bifurcated view of the creation story, one from religion, the other from science, both deriving from the same basic world-view. On the one hand, Western religion teaches what has been described as a form of creatio ex nihilo, or "creation out of nothing." On the other hand, Western science teaches both (1) biological evolution, under which Man is deemed to have "ascended" from lower creatures, and (2) "big-bang" physics, under which the creation of the universe may be traced back to an initial "big-bang" from which the universe still continues to expand. In either case, Western science, like Western religion, would seem to require "creation out of nothing" at the bottom of its story of creation.

The Kamau took a different view, searing in its logic, and moreover wholly in accord with what we know about the universe, both in its seen and unseen manifestations. Before describing the Kamitic view, which is fundamentally the traditional African view (see The Ancient Wisdom in Africa, and African Cosmology) I would first establish that "creation out of nothing" is a semantic impossibility. To see this it is sufficient to note that creation implies motion -- that which is involved in the thing created coming into being. Motion in turn requires force, as that which creates motion. Creation therefore requires force. But force cannot be exerted by "nothing." Therefore there can be no "creation out of nothing." The argument here is semantic, not material, and convinces me that, so far as we are able to imagine it, and put these matters into words, the universe simply is, and presumably always will be.

The universe may, however, change form. Amen (1990) has revealed ancient Kamitic teachings on this subject, which have been briefly summarized in African Cosmology. The Kamitic cosmology posits an equilibrium state for the universe in which there are "no things" (note: this is not quite the same as "nothing"). This state was called "hetep," by the Kamau, and corresponds to a state of bliss, or what the Hindus call "nirvana" (literally: "no motion"). The corresponing aspect of God is hidden, and unmanifest, and was called variously "Amen," "Atum," "Nu," and "Nut" by the Kamau, and the same aspect of God is called "Olodumare," by the Yoruba. In this state there is, however a sort of formless energy/matter which contains all the creative potential of the "thingly" universe before it came into being. There is also the principle of mind, already discussed, or the complementary dualities of consciousness and will. It is what the Zulu call the Itongo (see The Ancient Wisdom in Africa) which is seen as the source from which we come, and to which we are all on a journey of return. That pre-creation state is co-extensive with that which we call God, namely energy/matter in potential, and consciousness/will. God must in some sense be conscious of being conscious if there is to be an act of creation. And God must moreover have the attribute of "will" if It is to will the act of creation.

That first act of creation had to consist of a change of state: from formless energy/matter consisting of "no things" -- therefore complete stillness, and no motion, ie. the aforementioned state of equilibrium -- to a state of differentiation, in which motion occurs, and "things" therefore appear. According to this account, the reason God created our world by disturbing the primordial bliss state was so that It could have experience, specifically through the differentiated beings of Its creation. In the beginning there was the initial vibration -- motion -- which disturbed the equilibrium state that existed prior to creation. Call it the "big bang" if you will, but this scientific metaphor clearly begs the question: (1) what is the force which created the motion of the big bang, and (2) from where comes the evident Intelligence which governs the Order that is so apparent in the universe. Creationists call that force "God," and attribute that Intelligence to It. Science shies away from all talk of God, yet searches everywhere for Order. The realist in me tells me that this is a contradictory quest. A Science that focuses on energy/matter (ultimately, the laws of motion, vibration, in one form or another) will never reveal all the laws of the universe and of creation because the consciousness/will aspect of God is as essential an attribute of creation as is energy/matter, and the former is different, as a matter of existential category, from the latter.

As to the Biblical account of creation, it does an injustice to the Kamitic understanding of the question which was its source. It encourages a notion of God as a Being separate and apart from its creation, which it is not in the Kamitic. There follows the unresolvable circularity in Western thinking which attributes to God the power of creation, but does not account for God and how God Itself was created. Nonsense such as "creatio ex nihilo" then follows. The Kamau saw through the difficulty, and in effect have it both ways, and logically to boot: God is co-extensive with the universe, and always existed, but God willed a change of form from a pre-creation state of "no things" -- the primordial "mist" -- to a thingly world, put into motion by the initial vibration, or word of God, thus giving this phenomenal aspect of creation the minimal attributes of space and time. God, being omnipresent, is all things, and may be conceived as being the Order or Intelligence underlying all things -- the tacit Maintained Hypothesis of all scientific inquiry, namely of an existent Order in the Universe.

The biblical account is watered down Kamitic in the obvious sense that the Bible starts out with "In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth," and says nothing further about the state of affairs as it existed prior to creation. It leaves open the possibility of "creatio ex nihilo" which the Kamitic cosmology explicitly addresses and implicitly rejects. I am not a Biblical scholar by any means, but I believe that the Kamitic cosmology was known to the Hebrews. Moses, for instance, was reputedly trained in the "Egyptian mysteries," therefore the writers of Genesis could presumably have given a fuller, Kamitic, treatment. Interestingly, Genesis goes on to state "And the earth was without form, and void...," a notion which echoes the Kamitic one of formlessness, undifferentiation, etc., prior to the initial creative vibration that brought form to the (our) world. So, parts of the Kamitic cosmology were imported into the Bible, but not enough to nail down the concept, and just enough to create all kinds of confusion in the literalist generations that followed.

One of the characteristics of African and Kamitic cosmology, in contrast to the Biblical cosmogony, is the lack of dogma. Ultimately, the creation account is considered verifiable as a matter of knowing, as opposed merely to believing. The only question is how one attains to the knowledge that is asserted. Be that as it may, when it is that as a matter purely of semantics it may be demonstrated how an alternative account is simply untenable, then, again, belief has nothing to do with it.

Be that as it may, the energy/matter excitation state that constitutes the universe of which we are a part (motion implies space/time; no motion implies a state of "being" which transcends space/time) clearly need not represent all of existence or all of creation. There may be an infinity of "parallel" universes from which we are separated by cones [Note: The notion of a cone of space/time derives from the observed expansion of the universe, and the finite speed of light, which conveys the information that constitutes our observations of the universe. As we look at distant stars and galaxies, we are seeing things/events that are not only far away in space, but also far away in time past, since light travels at a constant, finite speed, and takes time to get to where we, the observers are. Consequently, the farther away in space we are able to observe, the farther back in time also. But also, since nothing -- so we are told -- can travel at a speed greater than that of light, for a thing/event to be observable, the observer must lie within a cone of space/time, the apex of which is the zero point of the thing/event in space/time. See Hawking (1988) for an exposition of this concept.] of space/time, each having at its apex a "big bang," or initial Godly "word" of vibration. Science is constrained by cones of space/time, and cannot "know" in "scientific" terms, anything not within the cone of space/time constraining energy/matter phenomena within "our" universe. To know God is however to transcend space/time, and to tap into consciousness/will. This is the realm of mystery systems such as was developed by the ancient Africans of Kamit, and such as has come down to us through the Dogon people of West Africa. The Dogon speak explicitly of parallel universes that we can "know" about through means unknown to the limited world view of conventional Science.

To see this point, think again of the primordial ocean. Now think of a "local" [Note: There is no notion of space/time in this state, therefore to speak of a "local" disturbance is to stretch a metaphor. But the sense should be clear.] disturbance (the initial vibration, or "big bang" if you prefer) in that primordial ocean which gives rise to "our" world. Now think of another local disturbance somewhere else in/on that primordial ocean. The two worlds would be separated from each other, so far as observers in each are concerned, by their respective cones of space/time. It would be impossible to use telescopes or other energy/matter instruments to "see" beyond the point of the big bang, therefore we could not use such instruments to "see" into other worlds with their own big bang. Therefore, from within our world, we must concede the possibility of other worlds, but otherwise may say nothing -- in "scientific" terms, that is -- about them. Their laws of physics need not be the same as ours, even. If, however, we have a "way of knowing" that transcends energy/matter, other possibilities open up in terms of our being able to "see" into other worlds. Now the existence of other worlds does not take away from the notion of one God, and the primordial Oneness of all, to which there remains the possibility, indeed necessity, of return.

I do not appeal to quantum mechanics for my argumentation. I do not believe that the way to God's mind lies via systems of mathematical equations that seek to metaphorize the energy/matter reality of the (our) world. In terms of the Tree of Life, Sphere 8 (Sebek), which corresponds to the intellect, is inherently limited as a faculty of knowing. My argument is a simple one: you cannot understand God unless you take into account Consciousness/Will, because that is as much the nature of God and reality as is energy/matter. Consciousness is not to be comprehended in the same way as material reality, however. Mathematics will simply not do you a lot of good if you seek to understand, truly understand, Consciousness. Ultimately, the truths at issue must be experienced, or rather, insperienced, since one must go within to come to the understanding sought. As already stated, it is a lot like sex: One may describe sex as profusely as one can, with or without mathematical equations (which it hardly needs to be said are but a form of description), but truly one can have no real idea of what it is until one experiences it for oneself. God is the same. Therefore, I confidently state that Science, as currently understood and practiced in the West, will never fully permit the comprehension of God's creation. African spirituality, on the other hand, stands at least a chance.

The remarkable astronomical knowledge of the Dogon people of West Africa helps to make the point. Finch (1998), in The Star of Deep Beginnings, has explored the topic of African Science and Technology from pre-historic beginnings down to modern times. The title is taken from the name the Dogon people of Mali, West Africa, give to the star known to Western Science as Sirius B, the invisible (to the naked eye) white dwarf star which is companion to the star Sirius. To the Dogon, who possess remarkable knowledge about Sirius B, and have had this knowledge for at least 700 years, Sirius B is known as Po Tolo, or the "seed star." This fact is by now well known. Not so well known is the astounding fact that the Dogon claim to know that there is a single axis about which spin all the galaxies. By some strange coincidence, the day after I learnt this fact (from a lecture delivered by Finch), my copy of The Economist (April 26, 1997 issue) arrived containing an article ("The cosmic corkscrew," p. 79) in which precisely the issue of twist in the universe was discussed. It would appear that Einstein's relativity theory "require[s] a universe that, when viewed on a cosmic scale, is uniform in all directions -- that is, it has no meaningful north, south, east or west." The Dogon knowledge implies the opposite of course. But it would appear that Western science may just now be coming around to the same view. "According to [Borge Nodland and John Ralston] in the latest edition of Physical Review Letters, space may -- despite the assumptions of the theory of relativity -- have a frame of reference after all."

Now, unlike Nodland and Ralston, who examine physical evidence (polarisation of radio waves coming from different directions in deep outer space) to reach an inferential conclusion, what the Dogon appear to be able to do is experience reality directly. They can tap into another way of knowing. Is it possible that they have mastered the fifth dimension -- consciousness -- the other four being the three dimensions of physical space, and time? It is the one, universal, consciousness that ties together all of physical space and time. It is where modern physics founders. Physics can explain phenomena ranging from the infinitesimal -- the world of subatomic particles -- to the astronomical -- the world of galaxies, quasars, dwarf stars, black holes, and the like. But at the mundane level of human life and existence, it cannot explain the everyday phenomena of consciousness. The Dogon do not seek to explain it. But they have sought to transcend it, in the sense of nurturing an ability to experience (insperience?) directly the oneness of all things in the universe. They have a different way of knowing.

Remarkably, it would also appear that Amen (1994: 45) anticipated the result relating to twist in the universe: "The first movement, the primeval impulse induced by the action of the will was spiral in form". (Emphasis in original). And later, p. 47: "...the primordial spiral is the reason for the curvature of space... From its center radiates two whorls which is the basis for all dualities in the world (male-female, matter-antimatter, etc.)." Still later, p. 52: "With each turn, the center of the spiral condenses until it achieves such density and develops such heat that it must burst into the Island of Fire -- the Big Bang -- from which will spin or spiral off the many clusters of galaxies making up the world. It must be said here... that this is the process behind the formation of every thought as well."

So the Kamau, already thousands of years ago, had attained to the essence of the Big Bang theory, which Western science could not arrive at until Hubbell's discovery of an expanding universe. They are now nibbling at the thought that it is not expanding uniformly in all directions, rather spiralling around a central axis. Amen (op. cit., p. 57) goes on to comment on the Big Bang theory as follows:

We are told that in this tremendous nuclear furnace, Hydrogen, the simplest of elements is created, followed by Helium, Lithium, and so on. What these ... modern cosmologists don't tell us is that in the creation of the simplest element, Hydrogen, out of this supposed random process -- an explosion -- is to be found the ordered interaction of a multiplicity of subatominc particles... These particles behave with such order, that their behavior can be reduced to a mathematically exact science...Isn't it clear that the order [emphasis in original] that directs the behavior of these dumb, physical particles of matter must have been in place before the explosion took place?"

It turns out the Dogon -- whose ancestry, like that of the Yoruba, the Wolof, the Akan, and other West African peoples may be traced to Kamit (Diop, 1987: 212 et seq., and others) -- also explicitly speak of a "Big Bang" at the origin of "this" universe. In a more insightful metaphor, the Dogon speak of a "Big Burst" (Finch, 1998). According to Finch the Dogon say that the invisible (to the naked eye) star Sirius B is the "seed" of our universe from which emanated the Big Bang. And according to Hunter Adams III ("African Observers of the Universe: The Sirius Question", in Van Sertima, 1983): "The Dogon say the po tolo (Sirius B), though invisible, is the most important star in the sky. It is the egg of the world, the beginning and ending of all things seen and unseen."

Western science (eg. Hawking, 1987) will say nothing of the world prior to the Big Bang, because it is necessarily unobservable, and therefore, to Western science, unknowable. The Dogon, having mastered the fifth dimension, claim to know. According to Finch, they say that there are 28 worlds besides our own, comprising 14 anti-worlds and their positive duals. They are all a thought (or thoughts?) of the universal consciousness (indivisible attribute of the One God) made manifest.

I have tried to make the basic point first that a true science cannot be in conflict with a true religion, and vice versa. To the extent that there is conflict, something is wrong with the religion, the science, or both. In the African world-view, there is no conflict between the two, for, as in ancient Kamit, the priests were the scientists, and the scientists were the priests. The same is evident in the Dogon, the priests among whom are the ones who are also the repositories of the astounding astronomical knowledge they possess. In the traditional African world-view, the only true science is the science of mind (see Ancient Wisdom in Africa) and this science cannot be divorced from religion, which in its most fundamental sense means a reyoking to oneness with the Source, or the Itongo, whose creative principle, as we have seen, is Mind.

Photo -- Grisso Grisso

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