Scientific Outlook

Scientifc Outlook

Written by Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

Superstitions caused many obstacles in human progress till man invented 'Scientific Outlook' that cleared his vision and illuminated the path of progress. He found a new way of looking at happenings around him. It says -there is a cause behind all that exists or happens; human intellect can grasp this cause; some causes may not be discernible for a while but man now knows the way to find them and this is the most reliable way of acquiring and enhancing knowledge. Whatever a person has to suffer is not the making of god, his fate, time of his or her birth or sins committed in the earlier births. There is always a cause behind the exploitation of any person which can be diagnosed, established and remedied.

However when an attempt is made to draw attention to these exploitative superstitions and remedy them, even those at the receiving end of exploitation ask you, "Who gave you the right to make these abrupt changes in our lives?" and  "does your science know everything?"  To be able to answer such questions, the activist should understand the philosophy of social change that supports scientific outlook. Although it is not possible to remove all the obstacles in the path of progress, one can certainly light the path and cautiously avoid the pitfalls. Past history tells us that man had to face such innumerable obstacles and pitfalls till the thought of 'Scientific Outlook' struck him and lighted his path.  The Polish Astronomer Copernicus proffered two theories; one that the earth and all planets revolve round the Sun and the second that the earth rotates on its own axis from east to west and completes a full rotation in one day. This turned the cause-effect relation between the sun and the earth and the planets, as was spelled out in the Bible, topsy-turvy. The Bible had said that all this is caused by the will of the Father in the Heaven. People did not take notice of Copernicus' theories then. But when Bruno confirmed Copernican theory he was burnt alive and Galileo had to beg for pardon for experimentally confirming the truth. But this proved to be the beginning of a new age of science. It enabled man to discard the religious theories of god, providence, destiny or the Hindu theories of Praktan, Prarabhda, Karmavipak etc. For the first time man became independent of the Word, the Book and the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God controlling every human thought and action. It gave man a new self assurance, and confidence.

Scientific Outlook blessed humanity with three more boons. In India women and Dalits were not allowed to acquire any knowledge. But this new way of thinking was available to all irrespective of caste, creed or gender. Secondly Science does not claim to possess answers to all questions and to know the ultimate truth, as do most of the religions. Thirdly, so far, there is only one means or technique, available to mankind, of getting valid knowledge and that is Scientific Outlook. It has proved that whatever knowledge becomes accessible to mankind will be through Scientific Outlook and not revelation.
In simple words Scientific Outlook means believing anything to the extent of the evidence available for it.
Observation, reason, inference, verification and experiment are constituents of Scientific Outlook.
Scientific Outlook is not a mere mathematical process. Its core contains values. Those values are modesty, independence, exactitude and fearlessness.


It is the duty of every Indian citizen to Adopt Scientific Outlook. Inculcating this outlook is mentioned as one of the core elements of education. It is also an important value that has to be inculcated in the minds of students in their school days. An activist should note that adopting and inculcating Scientific Outlook that helps eradication of superstitions is mandated by our constitution and National Education Policy. So ANiS' activities are recognized legal activities, known for their uprightness and have unequivocal support of the constitution.

Scientific Outlook can be defined as: any logical statement that can be universally validated by observation, examination, rigorous logic, mathematics, verification and experiment. This new outlook came into existence only 400 years ago. But it has completely changed mankind's outlook towards the whole universe. It is not just a mathematical process but has an intrinsic value system in it (as stated above) although practicing all those values in everyday behavior is very difficult for common people. Yet talking about rationalism, eradication of superstition, discarding or reforming the age old traditions and customs cannot be called pretense; because such mere discourse too requires courage and can lead to confrontation.
Reasons why Scientific Outlook could not spread its roots deep into the Indian soil:
1. Caste system and subordination of women: This system debarred women and Dalits from acquiring any knowledge. Casteist psyche emerges from the dishonest logic of determining an individual's status by his birth. It hampers the advancement of Scientific Outlook that is based on reason and experiment.
2. The philosophy that 'the invisible Brahma alone is true; all the visible material world is illusory'
3. The age old unchanging system of education that does not encourage asking questions
4. Dictatorship in the family
5. Idolization of individuals and avoiding criticizing them out of reverence
6. Lack of progressive movements

India had a long tradition of independent thinkers who propounded their own theories. 'Zero' was conceived in India and the mathematics progressed by leaps and bounds all over the World. Nagarjun, a renowned chemist discovered how to make mercury compounds. Aryabhatta had proffered the theory that the earth revolves round the sun, a thousand years earlier than Copernicus and Varahmihir knew ages before, that the sun is a star. Though this knowledge was derived from observation, investigation, exploration, scrutiny, discourse, use of elementary mathematics and the genius of those ancient scholars, it was yet not the Scientific Outlook as we see it today. There are reasons why this tradition disappeared without developing into the modern Scientific Outlook.
Such factors as the caste system, subordination of women, restriction on propagation of knowledge, prohibition of independent thinking, validity of and reverence for the word and the book and negating dignity of labor stopped not only the spread of knowledge but also stopped rational free thinking altogether.

The 'Adwait' doctrine of identity of the human soul and the divine essence taught us that the emancipation of a human being lies in uniting one's soul with the divine essence (whatever it means!). The material world that we see and experience is Maya, not real but illusion. Our education system also discourages inquisitiveness. Asking questions, on the part of the students is seen as an affront to his teachers or elders. Idolization has become so rampant in our society that self respect is replaced by pride and arrogance; criticism is impossible as it is construed as insult or abuse; because of intolerance the individual and the society has become over sensitive and aggressive. To add to this tense, volatile situation, there are many religions, each with many sects and deities or hallowed saintly persons and the multitudes of their worshippers. Another and more important reason is the lack of political strength and will that can straighten out the fabric of the disorderly society. We are not prepared to give up the obsolete, senseless and exploitative customs and traditions or even to re-examine them. Politicians reap benefit out of pampering these orthodox people and pandering to their chauvinistic demands. Such atmosphere cannot promote Scientific Outlook.

Objections raised against Scientific Outlook

Scientific Outlook is accused of not answering any questions regarding the existence of god or Atma (soul). These people do not know what is meant by Scientific Outlook. Atma and other similar concepts are beyond the pale of human observation and experiments. That is why its stand is that of an agnostic. Moreover it believes that it is not possible for human beings to obtain any knowledge that is not accessible to observation and experiment. Another accusation is that common people are not capable of assimilating scientific outlook; they need support of the religion instead. This is not true. The common man believes in any phenomenon, incident or a thing only to the extent he gets the proof of its validity. In fact understanding scientific outlook is much easier than understanding any religious doctrines. The third objection is that because of science, morality declines and indulgence increases. This too is not true for it is possible to be moral and evade indulgence without the aid of religion for, not religious tenets but reason, gives rise to morality. Religionists also claim that religion does not mean the religious rituals. Religion is the philosophy that is based on morality. Scientific Outlook too is not just mathematics. It is the cause-effect relationship - the reciprocal relationship that is revealed in the Biblical adage 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Scientific Outlook gives your thinking a moral turn. As one adopts Scientific Outlook, he begins to question the accuracy and reliability of all the fancy concepts like magnet therapy, Reki, Vastushastra, astrology, revealing what is in store in the future as well as the spiritual ideas like Moksha, Brahma, Parabrahma, Swarga, Atma, Paramatma, etc. and eventually discards them as useless.

 

God and Science Don't Mix

Written by Lawrence Krauss

 

God and Science Don't Mix .

The idea was first published in 1934 by J.B.S. Haldane in "Fact and Faith" and is quoted as follows:

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.

Yet many scientists say that they are Christians or believe in some other Religion.  How can that be?

When doing their scientific work they are rational and don't assume that there is any mystical force at work. Yet on Sundays and whenever the subject comes up, they about-face and say (in effect) "Not everything is subject to the rules of reason! I have Faith".

There is no easy answer to this although Lawrence Krauss does discuss the issue and in debating with two Catholic theologians, he discovers they resort to arguments that things like the Virgin Birth are not to be taken literally. Tell that to a Fundamentalist!  But it is becoming generally accepted that we must be rational so modern Christians have to resort to picking and choosing which things in the bible to believe.  How do they decide?  Well "the Church" or the "overall bible teaching" or even the "Pope"  provides the answers.  And the answers depend on the religion, the context and even who exactly you are talking to.  All this is a totally foreign concept to a rational scientist - hence science is indeed incompatible with religion.

Picking up the thread, PZ Myers of the blog Pharyngula comments that religion " (is) a set of answers, and worse, a set of procedures, that don't work. That's the root of our argument that religion is incompatible with science."

"Religion keeps giving us different answers. Very different answers. They can't all be right, and since no two religions give the same answers, but since science can generally converge on similar and consistent answers, I know which one is right. And that makes religion simply wrong."

Why should we care about the  incompatibility of science and god? Because the world would be a better place if it was based on reason and not faith.  As Krauss concludes in his article: "The current crisis in Iran has laid bare the striking inconsistency between a world built on reason and a world built on religious dogma.

"Perhaps the most important contribution an honest assessment of the incompatibility between science and religious doctrine can provide is to make it starkly clear that in human affairs -- as well as in the rest of the physical world -- reason is the better guide."

By Lawrence Krauss

 

Science and Reason

Written by John Draper

Science and Reason - The Human mind Written by John Draper Friday, 06 August 2010 07:10

Scientific studies have shown that Intelligence has risen in developed countries and simultaneously belief in religion has declined. The obvious conclusion is that people are getting smarter;  smart people tend to reject irrational beliefs, hence with increasing intelligence more people become nonbelievers. But a paper by psychologist James Allan Cheyne  at Waterloo University suggests it's more complicated than that.

But first, let's note that the effect is significant -  in England, for example, church attendance has dropped to less than one-third of prior levels and atheism is no longer rare.  Also, because many are reluctant to call themselves atheists but prefer "non-believer", there may be more atheists than what the many surveys show.  Further,  studies have shown that the effect is more pronounced amongst elite scientists - only around 7% of them are believers.  Is there a connection between science and the rejection of religion?

Cheyne (photo right) shows that the teaching of science (for example in developed countries) actually teaches people to be able to handle abstract concepts and to accept the possibility that they may be wrong. After all, a basic fundamental scientific concept is to wonder whether an idea is right.  They then become able to think more rationally and to reject absurd ideas like religion.  This tendency was amplified by the need of the average population to be able to do Abstract, Categorical and Hypothetical thinking (ACH thinking) so some degree of scientific education was needed by everyone.  The peasants in many underdeveloped countries do not need this skill so can't think this way.  Hence only people in developed countries  get "smarter" (by IQ measurements which require ACH thinking) and only people in developed countries reject irrational religions.  Note that ACH thinking really is superior - it produced all the achievements of our time.

So as the world is educated and learns to think better and is able to cope with scientific concepts and knowledge - even if it's in a rudimentary fashion - people will gradually come to see that their religion does not fit and does not make sense.

Cheyne thinks that improvement in thinking in the developed world may have reached its limit but that improvement will continue in the developing world.  The implication is that long term, religion will still appeal to around 20% of the population (e.g. as now in Scandinavia).  That's a big improvement over approx 80%.  The question I have is, why does this not seem to work in the U.S.?  Do they fail to teach science in their schools?  Or is it that only an elite get access to a  Science education?

The next thought is that once religious zealots understand that a science education truly leads to a rejection of religion, guess what they will lobby for!    I guess they don't want running water, electricity, cell-phones, TV, cars, etc - in short they want to go back to being cave-men.  The good news is that science education does not have to be superb to be effective - it just has to teach the fundamentals of science, the value of experiments and the merit in asking questions.

If you are interested in  this topic and concept, I recommend you read the full article - it's quite readable and does not use highly technical terms.

 

 

Albert Einstein

Written by Albert Einstein

Letter to Eric Gutkind (partial) by
Albert Einstein (1954)
Translated from the German by Joan Stambaugh

...
... The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.
In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the priviliege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolisation. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.
Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, ie in our evalutations of human behaviour. What separates us are only intellectual 'props' and `rationalisation' in Freud's language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.
With friendly thanks and best wishes
Yours,
A. Einstein.

Scientific Attitude and Religion

Written by D.D.Kosambi

In what follows, some social aspects of religion are considered in so far as they serve to keep India a backward country. The methods of cure suggested are by legislation, education and improved social conditions, with a brief example or two to bring out the basic idea in each case.
Reports by great religious leaders of the past, show that they regarded their own experiences and revelations as the most exhilarating and profound happenings of a lifetime. But the details show that exactly similar and often-identical experiences may be had by the use of certain drugs, electrical stimulus of the brain, lesions of the cerebral cortex and in dreams. The trouble begins when people impose their views, on the basis of such experience, upon others.
My treatment of the phenomenon is purely materialistic, no matter what the source of the revelation. Argument with men or religion on their own ground implies that their sacred books or some other sacred books have a peculiar intrinsic validity, not to be challenged by experiment or reason. I am not prepared to admit that religion cannot be understood or discussed by a man of no faith, This comes to saying that only a confirmed drunkard can be competent to deal with alcoholism. Whenever reform from within succeeded in India, the result was the addition of one more sect to the innumerable existing sects.
The figure of speech about alcoholism has been deliberately introduced. Not only wine but also mescaline and other drugs have formed the core of ancient or primitive modern religion. The potent soma of the sacred Vedas was a drink of this sort too. Hashish was a reward for and stimulus to the murder of inconvenient opponents, as used by a fanatical Muslim sect of the Middle Ages in Asia Minor. The drug and its use gave rise to the word assassin. The sect itself changed into the more innocuous one of the Aga Khan. Religions have recognized kinship and rivalry between the spiritual and the spirituous. Thus Buddhism and Islam banned wine. If such a ban can now be defended on grounds of social necessity and prohibition be made part of a democratic constitution, why should other hallucinogens not be treated on the same basis? And what more powerful hallucinogen than religion?
There is one difference that drugs can generally be relied upon to produce exaltation. Its purveyors are taxed and subject to regulation, while the individual who uses them has to observe public decorum and, is severely punished for breaking law and order. Curative treatment is given to addicts. We have been very slow and hesitant in dealing with the purveyors of religion on the same basis. Only the most gruesome malpractices have been banned: sati (widow burning; defended as ‘voluntary’ by many pundits), hook swinging, and the most obscene features of the holi festival are now forbidden. The last comes directly from prehistory; even Asoka had trouble with the institution, But we have stopped halfway. Pilgrim taxes are levied by many places whether the visitor is a pilgrim or not. Why not tax all income from any religious source, including the ‘voluntary’ contributions from the pious? Why are temples and mosques not taxed on the same basis as many buildings reserved for the use of a special group? Marriage and divorce are now regulated to some extent by civil procedure; monogamy has become a legislative measure, regardless of religion. Why not secularize these social institutions completely and compulsorily?
Some people, although willing to admit that Indian religion has its harmful aspects, insist that education is the sole remedy. It is not, of course, but there is every advantage in educating people out of their superstition. That is one way of improving Indian education and social conditions, provided education is understood in a sense far wider than that of the schoolroom. The crudest of Indian superstitions is faith in astrology. Millions still bathe at a solar eclipse, not as a hygienic measure but to free the sun from a demon of darkness.
It is known, however, that there is no longer a risk of perpetual darkness if the ritual bath be omitted. The precise time and duration of the eclipse is predictable long in advance, not by the Brahmin’s stock in trade but by Newtonian theories of the universe. It is not enough to make this fact public, namely that the Indian almanacs surreptitiously borrow their information about eclipses from foreign sources, while retaining the tripe about planetary influences upon horoscopes.
The panchang almanacs sell by the hundred thousands all over, the country, each area having one or more of its own. Their very existence must be turned to good use by inserting useful information: first aid hygiene, element of legal rights for the citizen, possibilities of getting aid from sources other than the blood-sucking money lenders in time of need and so on. Let the planets stay, and give their positions by all means; but make the traditional almanac into a really useful educational document.
Here the modern educator is definitely at fault. He works through a bureaucratic mechanism originally imposed by a foreign government and allowed to continue by inertia. His own education has, more often than not, consisted in learning foreign books by rote where his grandfather might have recited Sanskrit texts with as little understanding. Often, he can teach the latest scientific theories in school and maintain outside the classroom that his ancestors three thousand years ago could fly through the air by the power of yoga and see the atomic nucleus and viruses by their inner sight. He never turns scientific methods upon the study of superstition. Why did the superstition arise? Did the Indian almanac ever perform any useful function at all? If not, how can one account for its rise and spread?
The basic fact is that the whole of Indian agriculture turns upon the monsoon. The annual rains begin at about the same time every year in any given part of the country, but the land has to be prepared for the sowing well before then. Similarly, the harvest has to be taken in after the last normal rain has fallen. But the calendar is a very advanced scientific concept in primitive life, determined mainly by long observation of the positions of the sun, moon and planets. We know that these heavenly bodies merely mark time: for primitive man, they made the weather as the very word meteorology indicates. So, they also seemed to control man’s destiny. These all-powerful stars would have to be propitiated according to the priest’s instructions.
To counteract this, education is the best method. Just as eclipses can be predicted, the onset and strength of the monsoon can also be predicted. Not as accurately as astronomical phenomena, but much better than the varsha-phala (‘yield of the rains’) given in every Indian almanac. It is easier to send out storm warnings by radio and much quicker too. With radios in every key village, the farmer could be advised - given an efficient weather bureau - when to sow and to harvest. But this means leaving the panchang almanac alone.  If we do this, superstition will survive much longer, and may be perverted to strange uses by some interested people.
The best way is to have a reasonably efficient long-range weather forecasting system. This is now well within our reach with air-mass analysis and observation satellites. The information must then be put into every almanac and the basis of calculation carefully explained in simple language. The peasant will see for himself that the stars have nothing to do with the weather or the monsoon and will be willing to listen when other bits of really useful scientific information are given.  Even now he knows that fertility rites are much less effective than the proper use of fertilizer. But we must not throw away the magnificent chance of utilizing an old institution like the almanac to cut down the very superstition it promotes.
The last section says in effect that tout comprendre is by no means equivalent to tout pardonner. Let us try the method on the most obscurantists of all Indian religious and social institutions, caste.   The evils of the caste system are known, but no one asks himself why the system originated and why it has held on in spite of so ·great a change in Indian life. Why should the Brahmin’s pretensions be believed when he puts his sons to work in an office, which uses only English, not Sanskrit, and is perhaps headed by a beef-eating sahib?
The answer is quite obvious. Caste was socially useful at one time, when production was at a much lower level. It was the one way of keeping people together in co-operative effort rather than have every man strike out for himself with the common ruin of all. The village was the firm basis of caste, because a kinship group generally held land. Tenure of land and membership of the group went together. Whoever was outcast could no longer survive in the village. With feudal tenure, caste was still powerful as a common bond against unlimited oppression. Whole villages would desert en masse if the baron bore down too hard. Their caste-fellows were bound to help these peasant strikers in distress. Further, the village need for a potter, blacksmith, carpenter or barber was fulfilled by artisan castes when the level of commodity production was low.
Today, factory production, overcrowded cities, road and rail transport have changed all this. Caste persists only because some people gain from it, namely, those who possess land, hold the priesthood, and so on. Caste disabilities persist in spite of legislation and - in many places - mass conversion as to Buddhism. The root cause is the abysmally low economic status of the lowest castes and their total lack of opportunity. Neither legislation, nor conversion, nor schoolroom education can remove this. The sole possible cure is more efficient production and distribution of the product in a manner equitable for all; most people call this socialism. But equality on paper and the adult franchise will not be enough, when politicians can use caste for vote catching and distribution of patronage.
To take an allied but smaller point: most economists see no future for India without birth control. The national income and production are not rising at a faster rate than the population, so that the net gain is virtually nil. But why do people want children in a poor country? The usual answer is, ‘superstition’. A son is essential so that the parents may go to heaven and be given the annual oblation to keep them there.
Silly as this is, it contains an ancient historical truth. Archaeology tells us that it was a tremendous and extremely rare achievement in the older Stone Age for any human being to reach the age of forty years. Food production instead of food gathering made it possible for a substantial number of people to live longer. This only meant that some people lived to an age where they could no longer fend for themselves and had to be fed by others as in childhood. The offering to the manes (pinda) is simply an extension of this practice, when the ancestors have entered upon the long sleep of the grave.
If, now, birth control were by some miracle enforced, it would mean that every person who reached a certain age and physical condition would have no one to feed him in the present social set up. Children are necessary precisely because Indian parents have no other means of subsistence in old age. Insurance, savings, landed property, pensions or other means of income would not suffice, at a guess, for as much as five per cent of the population. So, the birth control expert is in fact asking people to starve to death in old age so that some other people will be better off.
Most of us are not likely to listen to the argument. Where food was very scarce, e.g., in Rajasthan until the last century, a dreadful form of population control was affected by female infanticide. Today, population control will be successful only if people are convinced that there would be enough for them to live on in their old age even if they have no children.
The real stupidity lies with the ‘planners’ who try to regulate the total numbers of the people by theory, without assurance of a reasonable livelihood for the people in existence. The expert who talks of epidemic and famine as natural checks upon the ‘population explosion’ himself runs to consult the doctor the moment he has a fever; and never goes without a full meal if he can help it. There are modern superstitions in the guise of science, quite as deadly as those of religion.
The need is less for reform or even the abolition of religious superstition than for basic changes, which can only be described as revolutionary. Unfortunately it is possible to have a revolution without its promised benefits, but never the benefits without a revolution.
DD Kosambi

 

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