Sunday, July 6, 2008

Everlasting Frontier - 1

After you cut the emphasis on personal spirituality (whatever it means), Science and Religion are two different ways of looking at the world. There are opposing qualities built into each of these two world views, which can never be reconciled.

Science always puts great value on observation. It has an evershifting point of view which always incorporates the latest experimental data. Just to illustrate science's viewpoint on cosmology it has changed from flat earth to spherical earth with sun and moon orbiting it to a rotating earth orbiting around sun in the solar system amidst fixed stars to expanding universe resulting from Big Bang to (currently the best known estimate of) increasingly expanding universe. There is no guarantee that this position will not change. In science theories are just mathamatical models to assist prediction and understanding (maybe by compactifying knowledge). The status of experimental observation is supreme.

In contrast, Religion (or at least organized religions) has a fixed orthodoxy. It often makes very strong claims about origin of universe, life, consciousness, knowledge , morality and just about everything. Actually just about every claim of religion inevitably clashes with those of science. Very often in the past its claims have not been borne out by observations. A majority of us discards the religious claims even while carrying on with religion with undiminished conviction. Religion is a force to reckon with chiefly because its proponents hugely outnumber the science proponents. So much so that survey after survey reveals the large number of religious practitioners among the community of scientists. I like to think that often this support has political causes (and shades of cowardice), the thinking being that otherwise it may alienate scientists from public. But the tenacity of religious belief among scientists has always surprised me and I must accept that their faith is not a deceptive facade in majority of them. It really comes from some corner of heart only.

Given the huge chasm between them it seems clear to me that reconciliation is simply not possible. One has to give to the other. The formidable convincing power that science has is pitted against even more formidable emotional attatchment to religion. Some of the very intelligent people are busy furthering the aims of either of these two with all the effort that they are capable of. It is no secret on whose side I am.

It is interesting to note how the hottest frontier of this battlefield has changed with time. Let me concern only with the organized religions here. I mean all those religions going under the collective name of Christianity or Islam. The other main group of religions are Indic ones (meaning Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism etc). These ones are usually so amorphous as to cleverly dodge many skeptical enquiries. Any discussion/criticism of scientific position of these religions is easier and harder to do at the same time. I will discuss these religions later.

Since it made its debut during Ptolemic cosmology, Christianity has more or less plagiarized it as scriptural (how so unoriginal). At that time it must have sounded very high tech that God's book contains all the knowledge which is 'true'. Readers please note the political intentions and implications of this appropriation. The late comer Islam also did likewise. Too bad that cosmology was not much changed even then. During the late middle ages in europe there followed a turbulent and bloody war resulting from this orthodoxy with people who were intent on testing the claims themselves. We all know the burning of Copernicus and indictment of Gallileo. It seems clear that there must be many more who remained mute against this gangster like hold of theocracy. Islamic world was too steeped in Allah (or too scared to speak just like today) to question any dogma. We see that religion was cheifly fighting against the science of cosmology during those times. Since then the ground has shifted considerably. Now science holds unquestioned respect in this field. So much so that Pope (no less) thought it prudent to rescind the charges against Gallileo.

Since then a much more bloody battlefield has opened up after Darwin's theory of Natural Selection. This time other religions have also joined forces though not by any mutual collaboration. Islam and Hinduism are also now part of this war. I believe that this is probably the last frontier of this conflict. And no prizes for guessing who would eventually win.

We will talk about it in the next part.