Science Should Have the Last Word
Winner Of CSC May 2018 Essay Competition : Ritika Joshi
Scientific issue are courting controversies recently. In 102nd Indian Science Congress, one of the thinkers was quoted as saying that plastic surgery was invented in India. And he stated that the existence of Lord Ganesha in mythology proved his statement. One of the orator questioned Darwin’s evolution theory as he said, that no one saw ape turning into a man! The orator went further and stated that Darwinian Theory should not be taught in schools and rather mythological stories Ramayana and Mahabharata should be taught and promoted. The Darwinian Theory is not the perfect theory but in contemporary times, it is the best. Because though it leaves many questions and phenomena unanswered, it still explains the relevant points.
Science is the study of knowledge based on demonstrable and reproducible data. It should be empirical in nature. Science is the systematic undertaking that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of empirical explanations and predictions.Science seeks to use the scientific method which explains the events of nature in a reproducible way and in an objective manner. Though, the Darwinian method of origin of life in earth is unexplained, it is the best model defining evolution until we get an alternative idea on origin of life.
In this essay, I will talk about why we need science in our society. How science can help us in maintaining our scientific temper and its uses. And can science be looked upon as the solution of all our problems, i.e. should it have the last word?
Science has brought revolution and renaissance since its inception into our daily lives.Its effects can be observed in many aspects, namely the way we speak, write and observe what’s around us. These observations help us in finding the interesting facets of science, which help us in comprehending how innovative designs and specific discoveries can influence human behaviour and thought process.
Science and technology affects the way we converse with one another. The introduction of proficient communication such as teleconferencing, video call and almost instantaneous messaging has enabled us to overcome the constraints of time and space. As a result, the acceleration in the transmission speed of information has shaped us to receive information and covey ideas to others quickly, such that traditional means of communication are replaced by newer alternatives.
Science and technology has also affected our literacy- reading and writing abilities. Technological innovations have improved the accessibility of information, altering existing platforms and creating newer models that allow us to obtain information conveniently. For example, the World Wide Web hasmade it possible for us to seek information efficiently. On the other hand, the use of instant messaging (e.g. WhatsApp) and micro blogging platforms (e.g. twitter) has influenced its users to read and write in short forms, resulting in the modifications of the language.
Science has also shaped the way we perceive things and issues around us. This means that we look at things through the glass of scientific innovations, thereby influencing our perspectives. For instance, the incessant influx of information or fake information have crumbled or biased our thought process. This also can be witnessed in the widespread use of social media and online news networks, which have contributed to the desensitization of news. As a result, desensitization hinders our ability to empathise with others, and we tend to think what is unreal as a reality.
Is science only about new inventions, new technology and new medicines? This brings us to the topic of scientific temper, which is now as necessary as it was before. In a world where, information is coming in tons of data, science is useful in separating the chaff from the wheat. That is, it is useful for testing the correct factual information.
So, what is scientific temper? Let me cite a quote from Jawaharlal Nehru’s book, The Discovery of India: The impact of science and the modern world have brought a greater
appreciation of facts, a more critical faculty, a weighing of evidence, a refusal to accept tradition just because it is tradition. He then went on to say: But even today, it is strange, how we suddenly become overwhelmed by tradition, and the critical faculties of even intelligent men cease to function Nehru concludes with the hope that, only when we are politically and economically free, will the mind function normally and critically.
As a result of the significance attached to scientific temper, it was duly constituted as a Fundamental Duty in the Indian Constitution. Science plays an important role in applying scientific knowledge to problems, to ask questions arising from these problems and to create a method of scientific inquiry to work for social transformation.
However, despite Jawaharlal Nehru’s advocacy of Scientific Temper, in recent times we are witnessing a phenomenal growth of superstitious beliefs and obscurantist practices. People are flagging to self-proclaimed god men, Sadhus and Babas. False information and propaganda is being used to give an impression that there is a quick fix solution to our every problem.
Myths are being created about the past. Our ancient history is being interpreted in such a way that is creating false pride; the medieval period is being interrupted in such a manner to fan communalism. Origin of caste system is explained in a way which would justify that some castes are superiors than others, thereby creating caste conflicts.
A dangerous rhetoric is that people are following these practices blindly. They are once again turning to religions and superstitious beliefs, thus suppressing their scientific temper. While it is important to understand their origins, the immediate and the pressing problem is to understand why these questions and issues are still relevant. How these issues are causing damage to the society.
Scientific temper gives us the answer to these questions. It tells us that sustenance of such beliefs and superstitions must be due to historical and social process. Poverty, Illiteracy, Unemployment, and Frustration of hopes and aspirations of millions, lack of quality leaders and denial of any vision and hope to escape their realities has led to people rushing to any faith or beliefs which allows them or give them a bare of hope of escaping.Thus, when one believes that his/her miserable personal situation cannot be improved, acceptance of fatalism becomes natural. These beliefs then give birth to fatalistic doctrines and status quo. In such a situation, scientific temper comes to aid. It revises our confidence and hope and gives us the beliefs that good things are coming over the horizon. It also dispels the fatalistic outlook. Scientific temper should inculcate values of equality and dignity of all human beings, dignity of labour, distributive justice, and social accountability of one’s actions. All these elements are essential for bringing about social, economic and cultural transformation of our country.
Then comes the next question, whether science can provide solution to all the problems in the world, whether science has all the solutions. It has been a proven fact that science does solve most of the problems. Science gives way to research and cost-effective solutions which leads to problem solving. Many of the ‘big’ problems are solved by the scientists. Whether it is a food researcher who wants to use biotechnology to create foods that last longer and subsequently reduce the worldwide need for food productionor a medical researcher that works on a malaria vaccine, they both solve important problems relating to health and disease. But what if the medicine is too expensive due to extensive research and development and it can’t be bought by majority of people? Thus, we can also say that science leads to marginalization.
Thus, it gives us an important insight that science cannot be the solution for everything. There is a huge difference between theory and practical, between knowing something and acting on it. People need to have an understanding to solve the problems. Because, what we see in recent times, that even though these self-proclaimed Babas and their beliefs were proven to be fraud,people refused to believe it. In fact, they even claimed conspiracy theories against their beliefs. For example, even when AsaramBapu was convicted of rape charges, his followers refused to accept the charges.
Another example is, according to scientific evidence regular exercise can lower our risk of heart disease. But until and unless we take action and exercise regularly, it will do nothing for our personal heath. Therefore,in this sense, science solves no problems at all. Problems can only be solved when people are ready to accept the facts and this recipient to the thought process. This can only be achieved when people have the required scientific temper.
Secondly, science tells us what exactly is happening in the World and what exists. It can even tell us the problem but it is not necessary that it have the solution. Some people know that pollution level is increasing and climate change will bring in devastation. But it doesn’t purely answer how we as an individual should do to prevent it. Such questions depend on an individual want. Different countries and humans want different solutions suited to their needs. Science even gives an alternate to the best possible solution but then it comes down to what we want. Because science can’t force us to take action and it can’t satisfy everyone.Science has a limitation to the subjective problems.
Lastly, different areas of life are simply non-physical and questions of metaphysics can’t be addressed by science satisfactorily. Love, hate, poetry, art, music, literature, relationships, and spirituality are all outside the realm of science. Any problems that arise in these areas cannot be solved by science completely.
If India wants to regain a prominent place in the World, then scientific temper should be inculcated in millions of Indians. The idea of scientific temper which our ancestors thought of and then embedded in our Constitution should be adhered to. Scientific temper should be nurtured so that poverty, superstitions, caste based prejudices are removed. People should undertake practice of asking questions-how, why, what, so that relevant questions are asked on priority basis.Also, science cannot solve all of our problems. Scientific understanding can battle social problems such as hunger, disease, illiteracy, and poverty when applied in a systematic manner but it does not do so completely and automatically. For it to completely absolve, we need scientific temper and a basic understanding on how to apply the scientific applications. As we are fielded with serious problems, science allows us to find out about things and questioning every practice and its implications.
All the pseudoscience and superstitions should be removed. So, next time when someone sneeze when one is going out or cat crosses the path, we should demolish those superstitions and go along. Going out in solar eclipse doesn’t entangle our horoscopes or planets; rather it’s the harmful rays which should be avoided. After all scientific evidence doesn’t prove anything. Science has the answer, superstitions doesn’t.