In the 1970s Srila Prabhupada spoke forcefully against the philosophical materialism which for some time has functioned as the dominant philosophy behind the sciences, and most other academic fields (1). Prabhupada insisted that consciousness and life itself could not be reduced to the unconscious mechanics of material objects and processes. As a direct result of this teaching that “life comes from life” and not from dead matter, the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (BIHS) was formed to engage devoted scientists in the task of rationally demonstrating that materialism does not fully explain the phenomena and origins of life and consciousness.
Over forty years later, history has powerfully moved in Prabhupada’s direction. More and more scientists, philosophers, psychologists etc. reject the notion that philosophical materialism is the natural or necessary philosophy of rational and scientific thinking. Many brilliant scholars in a variety of fields now oppose the dogmatic insistence on philosophical materialism (2). Although it may be argued that the scientific method must, by its definition, apply itself solely to the physical, that does not justify the presumption that the only reality that exists is the physical; or that all aspects of our experience, objective and subjective, must be explained solely in terms of the physical.
While this development is very encouraging, it raises an important question. In a world in which hundreds of excellent scholars are powerfully arguing against materialism, what is the specific role of the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (BIHS)? Prabhupada emphasized that the BIHS must make its points on the basis of reason and science. Among scholars, it is expected that one first studies what other scholars have already said and written before claiming an original contribution. That is why Prabhupada wanted educated devotee scientists and philosophers to work in the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Scholarship is a conversation, and in any conversation, people are not inclined to listen to a person who speaks without listening to what others are saying.
Thus, the BIHS must monitor and understand the significant contributions of other scholars so that we can better understand and articulate our unique contribution. To do this, the BIHS urgently needs to ‘map’ the quickly growing “post-materialism” movement (3) in science and philosophy, and the attempts by materialists to refute it.