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  • Subject area(s): Science
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  • Published on: 15th October 2019
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Collin Sinclair

Ms. Amy Joyner

English II

22 February 2016

Science in Terms of Religion in Life of Pi

Religion came into existence because of the lack of understanding in purpose, beginning, and end in humanity. Early humans began to have more time to think about what they were, and who they were, and thus was born religion. In more recent years, science begun to disprove many concepts that used to be taken as fact, such as the Egyptian or Greek pantheons. However, science and religion do not always have to be opposing. In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the main character and protagonist, Pi, beautifully meshes the two into a wonderful tale of being stranded at sea for 277 days with a Bengal tiger. As Pi relives his story for an interviewer, he displays the way that human knowledge and feeling are able to coincide to keep a person, and their spirit, alive. Martel maintains that science and religion fit into one another and work hand in hand.

Martel sets up a wonderful contrast of religion and science, via allegories both under the same name, suggesting almost explicitly that they are in unison. [Mr. Kumar to Pi:] "There are no grounds for going beyond a scientific explanation of reality and no sound reason for believing anything except our sense experience. As a clear intellect, close attention to details and a little scientific knowledge will expose religion as superstitious bosh. God does not exist” (27). Contextually, Pi does not know how to respond. It is obvious that Mr. Kumar undoubtedly rails against religion, and, while Pi admires Mr. Kumar, he simultaneously practices three religions himself. For Pi, these tools don't necessarily mean that God does not exist; they harmonize in his democratic mind.

Not only to religion and science work together, but Pi needs both to be present concurrently in order to fully take in a situation. “I am not to projecting human traits and emotions onto animals, but many times during that month in Brazil, looking up at sloths in repose, I felt I was in the presence of upside-down yogis deep in meditation or hermits deep in prayer - wise beings whose intense imaginative lives were much beyond the reach of my scientific probing” (5). Pi often sees a deep spirituality in the animal world. At one point, Pi even compares Richard Parker to a yogi. It is the calm engagement of the sloths and tigers that Pi admires. Obviously, though, a sloth is just an animal. It is natural for them to hang upside down in trees! Even though science leads Pi to these discoveries, it does not quite explain them. Pi needs religion and imagination to usher him into the spiritual lives of other beings. Science and religion do not combat each other; they enhance each other.

In another example, Pi himself directly equates science and religion. The “prophets” of his childhood cancelled out each other’s views, yet Martel uses Pi as a sort of translator to help combine the two into a greater idea. “His name was Satish Kumar. These are common names in Tamil Nadu, so the coincidence isn’t very remarkable. Still, it pleased me that this pious baker, as plain as a shadow and of solid health, and the communist biology teacher and science devotee, the walking mountain on stilts, sadly afflicted with polio in his childhood, carried the same name. [...] Mr. and Mr. Kumar were the prophets of my Indian youth” (61). The biology teacher and the Muslim holy man have the same name, as stated before. It is coincidentally wondrous and unexpected for an Indian boy from Tamil Nadu to have a Muslim and a biologist as the prophets of his “Indian youth”.

After Pi’s journey, he is interrogated by two Japanese businesses about the reason behind Tsimtum’s demise. When Pi relays his tale, the men essentially laugh at him. Within the conversation, though, Pi disproves both Mr. Okomoto and Mr. Chiba (not mentioned here)’s arguments by relating them to their own Japanese culture and the fundamental ideas of science and religion. He also employs a historical example in which a man believes an idea to be true, even though no one else will support it. “[Mr. Okamoto:] ‘Your island is botanically impossible.’ [Pi:] ‘Said the fly just before landing in the Venus flytrap.’ [Mr. Okamoto:] ‘Why has no one else come upon it?’ [Pi:] ‘It's a big ocean crossed by busy ships. I went slowly, observing much.’ [Mr. Okamoto:] ‘No scientist would believe you.’ [Pi:] ‘These would be the same who dismissed Copernicus and Darwin. Have scientists finished coming upon new plants? In the Amazon basin, for example?’” (294-295). To Pi, Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba have a limited view of science. The Japanese investigators think that science's method of rational inquiry discredits the miraculous. However, Pi thinks of science differently. He sees science as yet another gateway to the wondrous and miraculous. When Copernicus removed the earth from the celestial center of the universe, people were shocked. Because science brings us to new and undiscovered things, Pi thinks science encourages faith in the “hard to believe”.

In conclusion, it is easy to see that science and religion are to work together to enhance the other’s existence in Pi’s mind - or is it heart? Regardless, without one, Pi begins to question his surroundings. However, with both, Pi accepts what he sees as fact and what he believes as truth. Yann Martel spreads this message of the universal understand of both extremes of human knowledge and faith through Pi, and preaches that as a race, humans should strive to see both as they coexist in our world.

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