Science and religion

It is empiricism which lies at the heart of what we know and practice as science. No matter how beautiful the edifice or how appealing a theory is, if it doesn’t stand the test of experimentation and does not correspond to the facts of nature, it has to be discarded and replaced by a better structure. Ideally, nothing should be untouchable in the domain of science. There should be no high priests and no gods that are infallible. One must question the acquired wisdom if there is a room good enough to inquire. The main goal of physical sciences is to arrive at some numbers for the “observables” via some manipulations of symbols and mathematics. The numbers predicted by a theory must be corroborated by the measurements performed with the help of certain instruments in order for a theory to be acceptable. This sounds like a perfect objective system with unbiased approach to the truth. Is it?

One of the greatest mathematician in the recent century, Henri Poincare, had  opined that one must fit the facts to suit the intuitive understanding of order observed to be inherent in nature (I could be wrong in understanding his statement though!). Modern quantum physics hints at the very idea that mind and matter are united and there is no fundamental material reality. The human mind, i.e. the observer, is a very important part of the experiment itself. The interpretation of data is after all something that needs a human touch. The machines in a certain aspect are the mere extensions of human senses. The interpretation of highly abstract mathematical theories of nature are more deductive in nature and the crux is to find the ways in which it applies to the physical world in a intuitively comprehensive manner. The interpretive part of the theory, say Quantum mechanics, bring something new into the picture that is not manifest in the mathematical formulation itself. Here comes the subjective take on the matter at hand. This encompasses a broad area of one’s personality, outlook and probably idiosyncratic world view as well. There are certain cases where scientists who would agree on the data but differ on the interpretation. This leads to a creation of chasm between the phenomena that is “under study” and the interpretation of the data from calculations.

Philosophy has played a major role in shaping our thinking. Einstein was ensnared by the positivist approach and could not come to terms with Bohr’s interpretation of Quantum mechanics, who in turn was probably influenced by danish culture and philosophical leanings emanating from it. The two had unresolved series of debates and Bohr could never convince Einstein of the otherwise. For him – God did not play dice!  This disagreement, however, was not in any sense akin to the disagreement between the two religious leaders about God…they both do not know anything about anything and indulge in debate about everything! The religious irreconcilability leads to other forms of activities; possibly or a riot or a war. Religion has a huge emotional appeal rather than an intellectual inquiry into the things as far as most of our human history is concerned. We first assume a God and build everything around it in order to justify the concept and tie ourselves down to the very ideas we create.

Once a colleague on mine, while on an evening walk through the forest asked “Do you think everything came out as an accident? You , me the trees are just an accident? Why do not we see a car being assembled on its own? Allah is there and he made Humans…how can you not believe?”. This set me thinking for a while and I replied- “We see around us things in order, working in sync, the massive interconnectedness and a highly complex system…it is no wonder that we think that since “it exists” there must be a maker a doer of things. It “is how our mind works because as humans we make things, we build them and we manipulate objects around us to create new stuff. This makes us assume that everything must be the doing of some entity. Then we assume that this massive universe needs a powerful being (in anthropomorphic terms) and we call this entity the Almighty God. We bestow every conceivable power to it and specifically we attribute all the qualities of the human being tweaked to infinity to that entity. Our God is just Us multiplied by infinity. ” He said “But you cant deny that “it” doesn’t exist? can you?” I  said “Can you prove “it” exists? Please do not make statements but prove in an infallible manner that “it” exists. How are you sure that there has to be One and not a bunch who created the universe? How would you pin it down quantitatively ? You are a man of science and its all about numbers”. He replied “Oh! He is beyond numbers…” I interjected “He is beyond numbers…? if he is beyond numbers which are the purest form of symbolic system we have then how come “it” uses language to communicate and talk about itself? The language which is ambiguous and when translated meanings get lost?” ….well from here on the things went downhill into the pit of nonsense.

You see, the lot of nonsense that goes on in the name of religion is because we start with our inane assumptions about the world around us and fortify it without looking for contradictions in our own outlook. For instance a lot of religious and E.T. claims sprouted about the human face on the Mars when the first pictures arrived. Later, with improved pixels the image was resolved to be a set of mountains that look like a face in the blurred image. Science avoids such nonsense because no matter how celebrated your name is, no matter how prophetic you were in predicting new phenomena, if your theory doesn’t reflect in the nature then it has to be dropped for something more useful. The English physicist and Nobel laureate P.A.M Dirac famously predicted via his theory the presence of anti-particles in 1930’s and yet the same person’s theory about magnetic monopoles is still looking for a confirmation. Just because P.A.M Dirac wrote a mathematical formula doesn’t mean it is something sacred. If it fails the scrutiny of experiments then it is null. The same should be the search for something which is described as spiritual. One should begin with no baggage of preconceived notions and borrowed ideas but with an open mind. If there is something that is beyond matter, it would manifest itself before you. There is no point arguing about things, that nobody can evaluate objectively, and banging fists of chopping heads. The need is to change the way we have been doing certain things. Human species have come to a point where the things must change for good or else another dark age will ensue taking with it everything we have struggled for as a species. Science is not the end of everything, however, scientific outlook is something very precious to begin your journey of the unknown. I am not a trained philosopher, maybe there are mistakes in my reasoning, if you find them, then please do enlighten me.



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