The Scientific Fundamentalists

The book ‘The God Delusion’ is one of the most widely debated books in recent times in the West. Its author Richard Dawkins is a professor at Oxford and has taken to popularising science (to be more precise, his version of science) all over the world. Professor Dawkins sees religion to be a huge obstacle on his mission and therefore has written this book with the stated aim of converting a religious believer into an atheist. So as the title says, if you believe in God you are deluded. In other words, what is perhaps one of the most important parts of your life is based on completely false thinking and this may have something to do with mental illness. Dawkins, along with others like him such as Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have an agenda to show how bogus religion is. And they surely have plenty of followers. Why do all these people think so? Because there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God, or of a purpose to human life.

The question of scientific evidence is clearly interesting. From scientific evidence we know that Earth revolves around the sun, that it is round, and that it is the 3rd planet from the sun. It is also from scientific evidence we know that all matter  contains electrons, which further contain protons and neutrons. To know this is wonderful and we didn’t know this till a few centuries ago. But what kind of scientific evidence do we need for the existence of God? Surely, our beloved scientists would never find God if they searched outer space for a guy with a big beard sitting on a throne managing earthly affairs. There are people who believe God to be some such being but there are also several who don’t.

Surely, there are areas of existence where scientific enquiry is not quite applicable. Whether life has a purpose or not is one such question. Whether you love your baby or not is also one such question. Scientists still struggle to come to a complete theory of emotions based on brain functioning. I believe that they will never reach one simply because it rests on a flawed assumption. If there is a over-activity in part X of the brain when I feel pleasure, is it that part X made me feel pleasure, or did my pleasure (which could be from having won a scholarship) activated part X? Psychiatrists often prescribe anti-depressants to people purely because they ignore the second of these possibilities.

Hence, the point is that the world may be divided into to convenient categories – quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative categories – why we cannot fly, why we have high blood pressure, etc. – are amenable to scientific explanation. The qualitative categories are more difficult to be explained scientifically. For most deeply religious people, their religiosity comes not from quantitative reasons but from qualitative ones – an unwavering commitment to a cause, unbounded compassion for a fellow human being, dedication to promote a certain line of work, inspiration to create a piece of art that uplifts the spirit. A microscope, a telescope or a MRI machine cannot explain and reproduce these realities. They may tell you how matter – neurons, neuro-transmitters, melatonin, serotonin – were functioning when the individuals concerned were doing their civilisation-changing tasks, but that is not an explanation of the cause, it is only a description of the ongoings.

Someone who believes that science can explain everything, and moreoever, science is the ONLY valid explanation for everything, is wrong for the above reasons. For such a person, the only way you can know something to be true is if you see it empirically, test it materially and know it using a microscope, telescope or MRI machine. The episteme – the valid sources of knowledge – for such a person is firmly fixed to the empirically observable world. No other means of knowledge – experiential, for instance – is acceptable. Just like some religious persons believe that God created the world in six days “because the Bible says so and we only go by the Bible”, the scientific person clings to certain ideas “because science says so and how can you not accept what science says?”. Science is the new God. That is scientific fundamentalism.

Another reason why we put so much stake on science is that unlike religion, it is not based on pure belief but on objective observation. Let us daydream a bit about this. Mr. A goes to a Buddhist teacher and asks him, “how do I know that there is any truth in nirvana?” The teacher tells him, ” learn to meditate, read the Buddhist views on how emotions enter our mind, become intense and dissipate, only to come back later, and other such things. When you have done this for about ten years with great sincerity and commitment, you will come to an experiential understanding of what nirvana is.”

Miss. B goes to a scientist and asks him, “how do I know that the universe came about because of a big bang before which it only existed as an infinitely dense point around which there was nothing? And how can there be nothing around anything? How was time created?” The scientist replies, “in the early 20th century it was observed (by astronomers trained for several years, on a telescope made by engineers trained for several years) that the galaxies are moving away from each other. Further, it was noticed that radiation from that time – cosmic microwave background radiation (whatever that means)-is still to be found in the universe (by other astronomers and astrophysicists).”

Both Mr. A and Miss B. agree to the answers and then meet and have a debate about whether religion and spirituality are true or false. But the problem here is that both of them believe what they have been told. This is clear for Mr. A, but for some reason, the scientific fundamentalists would not agree that the lay person has to believe the scientists. To actually see the theoretical foundations of the Big Bang, from knowing how a telescope works to how to observe galaxies and calculate their movements to what microwave radiation is, you need years and years of training. Till then, one can only trust the scientists and believe what they say, not what we have seen. And this is exactly Mr. A’s position. Till the time he trains his own mind enough through meditation and the Buddhist path, he can only believe what more experienced people on the path say. This is not just true of Buddhism but of all religion. For the Christian monk God is known in experience and not only by pure belief. Belief is only the starting point, whichever path you follow.

Finally, I may say that for all this warring between those who attack religion and those who defend it, there is an important point to consider. Human beings need something to live by. They need meaning in their lives, a cause to work for, a reason to love for, a passion to give them the will to live. In much of the modern world, it is difficult to have faith in the idea of a creator, the idea of an afterlife, in the efficacy of rituals, in prayer, and so on. Scientism and rationality have pervaded  modern consciousness far too much. So the next philosophy of life to live by is the scientific one. Irrespective of whether it is true or not, science explains religion, human behaviour, the motions of the cosmic bodies, and everything else. If it cannot explain it today, there is full faith in it to explain these things tomorrow. And hence we see books like The God Delusion which cannot leave the religious to themselves but try to convert them, with utmost sincerity, for their own good, just like the old missionaries of the Church.

~ by tdcatss on December 19, 2009.

7 Responses to “The Scientific Fundamentalists”

  1. I do agree that scientific conjectures can lead into the abode of fundamentalism–however, true science acknowledges the impossibility of ascertaining absolute knowledge. In my perspective, it has been the globalized, missionized effort to convert the world into a religious prison–for that, the age of enlightenment still has some catching up to do.

    Nice read.

  2. Dear Kaif

    your blog is very nice but plz select a template in which heading cud b seen in better way. i hvnt read dawkins books so i cud nt make any remark. bt write up lucid and clear.

  3. Kaif,

    Your writing is so simple and explanatory. I was lead to your blog on searching for tag – philosophy.

    While reading this post, I could recollect my dad’s words who often tells us (sisters and brothers) about bhagavadgita, “No matter how much ever science emerge, it cannot cause any harm to any religion. Because the more the science lives, the more the religions survive.”

    I agreed for his words because no religion lies to its people.

    • thanks for the comment chandrasekhar. i like what your father said. he was probably right. science is the search for truth. but i think scientism is quite another thing. an ideology in itself which regards science as the correct way of thinking. look forward to reading your blog.


      • For me many times, it seems, as the science grows on its way, it slowly converges with the theories of our religions. Many times I feel like that, I dont know why! :)

        You are most welcome to read my blog!

  4. Kaif, quantum physics and physicians are slowly reaching a stage where they no more can trust what they observe because the observation changes when they are observing something.

    Finally, they have started realizing the truths hidden behind limited words in upanishads and other rich spiritual texts. Plus, Richard Dawkin’s only point of attack on religion is on God-fearing people and on creationism. He has never read ancient scriptures nor has read anything on Sufism which is the heart of Islam.

    There are different worldviews, different belief systems, and different thoughts. Obviously, these will clash. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

  5. i agree… let’s see where the future takes us!

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