“Nothing divides like religion.” “Everyone is broad minded as long as you do not say something they do not believe in.” “Everything was good in the olden days.” “Our way of life is better.”
Scientists have earned their place in human existence like no other group of people. Science is often mistaken, however, as merely a body of knowledge. It is taught in schools with the help of examples to demonstrate each concept, theory and law. Each day as a child undergoes the indoctrination of a scientific education, there runs a risk of science becoming yet another religion, the risk being that we might end up with the replacement of one set of laws, theories and concepts with another.
Religion started with humans becoming aware of nature around them. Newly acquired intelligence needed to be used and curiosity needed to be satisfied. The concepts of gods and God were introduced to explain everything. Thunder, rain, wind and the sun all became a part of the religious escapism.
Somewhere along the way, it was forgotten why it was that such religious ideas came into being in the first place. However limited the capability, they were the result of human reasoning. Instead of building up on the reasoning, however, these ideas took on a life of their own and matured into religious beliefs.
On the other hand, as science developed, various natural phenomena were understood better, and clearer reasons were attributed to them than the blanket concept of God’s wrath or pleasure! Slowly, science has increased its volume of knowledge to root out religion from many nooks and crannies of human belief. Thus science continues to grow without killing human reasoning in the process inasmuch as the focus is always on the process and methods, and the outcomes are deemed transient, thus making sure that the current set of knowledge will not take on a life of its own.
Ironically, as opposed to politicians and religious leaders who have made the biggest blunders in human history and yet are sometimes deemed infallible, scientists can always make mistakes. And they have made them. It is the scientific process, itself, that has always come to its own rescue.
The scientific process enlists a series of steps of a problem, an observation; a theory, a hypothesis; experiments, tests, validation, rejection. Science has always expected mistakes and has always been ready to undergo close scrutiny. And that is why these processes and the knowledge that is the outcome of these processes continue to increase our understanding of nature.
Nothing divides scientists like a theory that cannot be verified. Scientists will stand on each end of the divide and tear each other’s arguments to shreds. But for each theory that remains unverified, there are many more which can be tested against observations and experiments. There are no dividing lines in such cases. As long as you bring along something with which others can tinker, you can say anything that contradicts whatever theory is currently held.
Religion does not lend itself to such close examination and change, thus rendering everything under its umbrella a tool for division.
But there are places where science cannot go, and these are the places where religion has rooted itself well. These are the concepts of morality, the coincidence of human existence, the reason for the misery of the human condition, and all that which exists in the human mind.
Wherever science has been unable to seep, philosophers have failed to provide any process analogous to the scientific method which would help the human mind to understand itself as much as we understand nature, thanks to science.
When did belonging to one particular religion become more important than being a human being? When did belonging to one particular religion make one individual superior over another? When did human life become expendable at the cost of the deliverance of the human population in the name of religion? When did one set of morals become more moral as compared to another set just because some religion certified it so?
It all happened when the philosophers failed to ask the right questions and suggest a method which all could follow to find the answers.
In one way or another, at one time or another, all religions have proposed a way. But then, religions no longer are a process. They have become a set of knowledge. They have become a set of static knowledge around which human progress and intelligence is wrought rather than vice versa.
A religion is composed of three parts: the ritualistic part, the social part and the philosophical part. Creation of new ritualistic ceremonies in modern times only reaffirms that our Stone Age heritage continues. We should understand that rituals are an intellectual vestige. But they are also a basal necessity. Superstitions are there not to guide our lives but to provide short term relief from having to figure out whatever appears strange.
Religions have a powerful weapon against change: their antiquity. Human tendency is to romanticize the past, respect things old, and revel in nostalgia, all of which has created a unique “moisture” in which human reasoning has developed signs of rot. The more the past antiquates itself, the more the “rosy” takes on the form of gloriousness and righteousness–an easy seduction into the world of religious escapism.
As long as philosophers do not provide answers to the questions for which humanity turns to religion, the statements made at the beginning of this article will continue to haunt us.
The next century will not belong to those who lead the scientific progress, the next harbingers of human progress will not be those who lead scientific progress but the philosophers who dare to go where only religions have gone before.