Is Karma consistent with reality?

Karma

We often hear people talking about Karma and many of them loosely use it to refer to someone getting payback for what they did in this lifetime. This puts us in an awkward spot if we want to talk about sin and how Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. To share the gospel, we would have to argue how the teaching of Karma is inconsistent with the real world that we live in.

But what is the actual meaning of Karma? The word literally means ‘action’ and the original teaching of Karma, or the proper meaning of Karma, is the idea that whatever you are in this life is just the consequence of your previous life choices.

The principle of Karma is that your good deeds loosen the grip of the sense-world and your bad deeds tighten its grip, throwing your soul deeper into corruption. Karma tries its best to explain the differences that we see in human beings, it implies that humans are what they are because of what they did in their past lives, as the majority of Hindus believe today. If some are blessed more than others, it would mean that God is partial, but this teaching lets him off the hook as God would not be responsible for any of the events happening today. It is simply the outworking of the Karma.

Eternal World?

As we go deeper into understanding Karma, the eternal nature of this doctrine becomes apparent. In the book The Crown of Hinduism, J.N. Farquhar explains,

“As every occurrence in the world is the effect of foregoing action, and as every action is followed by its retributive expression, it is clear that the process can have had no beginning and will have no end.” [1]

This leads to the conclusion that, if Karma is eternal and an absolute feature of the world, the world must be eternal as well. However, we have philosophical and scientific reasons to believe that the universe is not eternal. The following argument demonstrates how one cannot affirm both: that the doctrine of Karma is true; and that the universe had a beginning.

  • If Karma is true, then every action is the result of the foregoing action.
  • If so, then the world has no beginning and no end, in other words the universe is infinitely old.
  • We have scientific and philosophical reasons to believe that the universe had a beginning, that it is not infinitely old.
  • Therefore, one is not justified in holding both that (1) Karma is true and (2) that the Universe had a beginning.

If it is the case that one finds them self in agreement with the best of current philosophy and of current science, it follows necessarily that one cannot hold the teaching of Karma to be true.

Philosophical argument

Let’s try to wrap our minds around the concept of the ‘universe having a beginning’. The best philosophical argument presented to refute the claim of an infinitely old universe is the impossibility of an infinite regression of causal events. If there were an actual infinite number of past events, then “today” would’ve never come to be. J.P. Moreland in his book LOVE YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND explains,

“It is impossible to cross an actual infinite. For example, if a person started counting 1, 2, 3… then he or she could count forever and never reach a time when an actual infinite amount of numbers had been counted. This is due to the nature of infinity – it is infinitely larger than any finite number. The series of numbers counted could increase forever without limit but it would always be finite. Trying to count to infinity is like attempting to jump out of a pit with infinitely tall walls – walls that literally go forever without top edges to them. No matter how far one counted, no meaningful progress would be made because there would always be an infinite number of items left to count.” [2]

He further adds,

“If the universe had no beginning, then the number of events crossed to reach the present moment would be actually infinite. But since one cannot cross an actual infinite, then the present moment could never have arrived if the universe had no beginning. This means that since the present is real, it was only preceded by a finite past and there was a beginning or first event!” [3]

This establishes the fact that actual infinites do not exist in reality. Thus if this is applied to the teaching of Karma, its absurdity is exposed from a philosophical point of view.

Scientific Support

We just learned a good philosophical argument for the fact that the universe had a beginning. However, what about the scientific evidence of a finite past? The big bang theory, as well as the second law of thermodynamics, points us towards the fact that the physical universe had a beginning. The Big bang theory is currently the only established theory that is consistent with the observed physical universe in all scientific literature.[4] We also know that the universe is expanding and if we were to go backwards in finite time intervals, we would reach a point where time, space and matter cease to exist.

Then we have the second law of thermodynamics. It states that the universe is running out of useful energy. The second law is also known as the law of entropy. Frank Turek in his book I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST explains this,

The second law is also known as the Law of Entropy, which is a fancy way of saying that nature tends to bring things to disorder. That is, with time, things naturally fall apart. Your car falls apart; your house falls apart; your body falls apart. But if the universe is becoming less ordered, then where did the original order come from? Astronomer Robert Jastrow likens the universe to a wound-up clock. If a wind-up clock is running down, then someone must have wound it up. This aspect of the Second law also tells us that the universe had a beginning.”[5]

At this point, some might consider a cyclical or oscillating model of universe, where it is argued that the universe is expanding and contracting from eternity past. However, these models have been routinely rejected in the scientific literature for suffering from the physical law of thermodynamics, causing each cycle to reduce the amount of useful energy. Entropy makes every cycle longer than the previous one, meaning if we were to go back in time, the cycles would become smaller and smaller until we come to an absolute beginning. This principle has even been proven in the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, where any universe which expands on average into the future, cannot be infinitely old, but must have an absolute beginning. [6]

From the aforementioned evidences, it is clear that we have good scientific reasons to support the claim that the universe had a beginning.

Conclusion

We have reasonable evidence that the universe had a beginning and thus the truth of Karma faces a strong defeater, both philosophically and scientifically. This leads us to the conclusion that if one follows the evidence available to them, they must abandon the teaching of Karma to believe what is evident, rather than what is akin to a made up fairy-tale.

References:

[1] Farquhar, J. N. 1913. The Crown of Hinduism. Miami, FL: HardPress., p. 139

[2] Moreland, J. P. 1997. LOVE YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Colorado springs, CO: NAVPRESS., p. 162

[3] Ibid., p. 163

[4] Vilenkin, Alexander. 2012. “Did the Universe have a Beginning?” Accessed April 29, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A

[5] Geisler, Norman L. & Turek, Frank. 2004. I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to be an ATHEIST. Wheaton, IL: CROSSWAY.,p.77

[6] Vilenkin, Alexander. 2012. “Did the Universe have a Beginning?” Accessed April 29, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXCQelhKJ7A

2 replies
  1. Seth Clement
    Seth Clement says:

    Hi Enan, thanks for the post. I wonder – do any believers in karma reject your first premise? One might instead suggest that, though every occurrence in the world since an initial state is the result of foregoing actions, nonetheless there was an initial neutral state in which beings freely chose their actions. What do you think?

  2. Enan Christian
    Enan Christian says:

    Hi Seth! Sorry I just saw your comment. No, I haven’t seen anyone believing in an initial state yet. If anyone does, he would be going against their own teachings. Samsara, as the process is called, is eternal. The soul is as eternal as God.

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