Former Rajasthan High Court Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma’s recent comments on the chastity of the national bird need to be seen in a broader perspective. The onslaught of irrationality continues and we are told by yoga gurus that they can treat anything and everything from a foot corn to cancer. The public shunning of allopathic medicine, promotion of herbal treatments for AIDS and the papers to show the near universal usefulness of cow urine continue unabated.
Regrettably, when all this was unfolding, the scientific community opted for silence, a silence which was more deafening then this din of absurdity. It is this silence which leads to the easy elimination of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare with minimal public outcry.
It is important to realise that there is a thin line between logic and irrationality and between faith and science. If we believe (and we have the right to continue to believe), in the existence of Ganesh, we are following a faith. The moment we try and explain him through science, we are not only misusing science but we are also putting a question mark on our faith in him. Faith does not require the reasoning of science and hence we should always keep the two at a safe distance.
The use of science to prove faith is not exclusive to one religion. I find it amusing when my Muslim friends tell me the scientific benefits of fasting. During Ramzan, fasting is done not because it is scientifically proven to be good for the body, but because it is one of the pillars of faith in Islam.
The government should ensure that scientific discourse is not derailed even at the cost of electoral and political gains. An example of this commitment to science is seen in many Western countries which provide abortion laws despite the rigid anti-abortion stance of the Church and its followers.
Promoting science over faith is necessary as the presence of a scientific culture helps in the scrutiny of facts, both ancient and modern. While countries like Japan, South Korea and China have deep roots in tradition and culture, they rank among the highest in studies assessing scientific attitudes and scientific education as they constantly invest in science. Data shows that in 2014, China spent four times more than India on science and technology. It may be worthy to note that science provides knowledge but traditions manufacture our response to that knowledge. In the absence of scientific objectivity, societies run the risk of turning into illogical black holes.
It is thus important that no effort or opportunity should be lost by the state to expand the base of science among the people. In India, there are many government organisations which help in the promotion of science. The Indian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Indian National Science Academy, Indian Science Congress Association, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, are just a few of them. The government should make concerted efforts to channel the scientific aptitude of the masses through these organisations. The biggest service which the political leadership of the country can do to science is to refrain from making instinctive statements in matters of science and technology.
To conclude, in a deeply religious country like ours, it would never be easy to inculcate a comprehensive scientific culture, but the least we could do as custodians of rationality is to believe in the sanctity of science, keeping our prejudices of faith at a safe distance. For most among us, faith would be bigger than science but faith masquerading as science is what we should all be wary of.