Does it surprise you that the ISRO chief feels the need to seek the divine blessing before a satellite launch?
If you say ‘no’, you are not alone. And you may very well be living in a part of Asia, where religion dominates and encompasses virtually all aspects of life.
In the much-acclaimed Hindi movie ‘Vicky Donor’, the hero wants to marry a divorced girl and faces stiff opposition from his parents.
He is, however, surprised to see the readiness with which his old grandmother supports his wish to marry a divorced lady.
He exclaims, “In Delhi, there are only two things modern- one the Metro, the other my grandmother.”
From my limited experience, I have been able to acknowledge a striking fact. That knowledge of methods of science and scientific temperament are two distinct things.
How rational and science-based your conduct is has no connection whatsoever to your qualification or mathematical abilities. You may be a mathematical genius, yet a highly superstitious person.
On the other hand, one may be a completely illiterate person, yet be a very rational person. Rationality has no connection with scientific exploits, educational qualifications and academic achievements.
I respect democracy. So I respect everyone’s right to hold any or many beliefs, ideas and thoughts. One is also free to act according to his own belief system. There are no doubts on that score.
So any top scientist is free to hold any religious belief and act accordingly. There is no bar anywhere.
However, if scientists and doctors start indulging in ostentatious religious and superstitious beliefs and acts, it is certainly time to look at the lacunae in our educational system and science culture.
In our education system, we do lay an emphasis on teaching science and its methods. However, there is hardly any attempt to inculcate and promote rationality and reason.
On the other hand, there is a lot that promotes religious and superstitious beliefs, in the name of history, morality and ethics. Go through the school textbooks. You will find examples everywhere.
It is my personal belief that most of the critical problems that our nation, or other nations for that matter, suffer from can be solved only through a science-based, secular and rational education system and through spread of rationality. Reason seems to be the only savior in an age where irrationalities and outdated belief systems are continuing to torment mankind.
This headline in Times of India did draw my attention. However, I was not surprised. I have come across many engineers, doctors and scientists who are deeply religious, and also superstitious.
Once I saw a doctor who instead of attending to an ailing child, waiting at his doorstep for medical help in a very serious condition, rushed to a temple with a coconut.
That is because he starts his day with a puja. No doubt, he does a roaring business.
It is true that scientists and technocrats too are a product of a set of circumstances. It is not very easy to shake off beliefs that are deeply ingrained in one’s psyche.
It is not that such beliefs are unique to only India or ISRO.
It was interesting to read about a few peculiar and superstitious beliefs prevalent even in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Russian space missions.
It is my personal understanding, based on my limited experience, that like myriads of scientific theories, existence of a supernatural being, or god, and for that reason religion, too is a theory. Only it is unproven, and to a large extent already disproved, even after centuries of existence.
However, in science, any theory that cannot be tested and proven using scientific methods is called a superstition.
Scientists have no problem in junking unproven or disproved theories.
However, some of them do show some problem in junking the theory of god.
It seems environmental and cultural conditioning is much more deep rooted.
And, I feel, the only practicable solution lies in adopting and implementing a completely secular and rational educational system, which instead of emphasizing on religious harmony and brotherhood, in a broad manner, actually talks about irrationality of religions. Of All religions.
So, should all scientists also be atheists? I would presume so. If atheism is negation of the theory of god, then science too is atheistic in nature. And by extension, scientists too should be atheists.
So why do we see so many scientists reveling in deep and sincere religiosity?
The reason lies in the basics.
If a doctor sacrifices a cock for treating his child suffering from malaria, it certainly is not a weakness of medical science.
However, it certainly says a lot about the quality of medical education he has received.
Don’t you think, it is reason enough to think of revising and revisiting the curriculum?