Towards a time of blind faith in the age of reason
Posted on 06.16.21, 00:06 AM
During the time of Covid, we all live in a state of heightened uncertainty and anxiety. There are issues related to our health that each of us must deal with. There are fears for the health of our loved ones. Doctors and scientists are doing their best to provide solutions for us in the form of treatment and protection against the deadly disease, although many questions remain unanswered. We are concerned about the strain on our woefully inadequate health infrastructure. We are worried about our children and their education at home. We are relieved by the technology which still offers some continuity in the learning process, although not all children have equal access to smart devices and the Internet. We are more concerned about whether the learning can continue at all, and not what is going to be taught. The nation is in the process of shifting to a new educational policy with new programs. In the midst of all these uncertainties and unanswered questions about the future, the nation is also experiencing the political rise of majority religion, with its new forms of domination and subordination. Unchallenged faith seems to be the last resort to seek answers. Many politico-religious gurus are ready to push the will towards the altars of the supernatural superpower. In what is supposed to be the age of reason, we are heading more and more towards an age of blind faith.
Faith and reason give birth to beliefs. The crucial difference being that the former is based on some immutable scriptures and ancient texts whose veracity cannot be verified, while the latter is based on evidence which can be questioned with new evidence. Indeed, beliefs based on reason are by their very definition falsifiable and therefore modifiable. Knowledge accumulates on the basis of empirical evidence. Reason-based beliefs have shaken many old faith-based beliefs, such as the world is flat or the sun revolves around the earth, which was considered the center of the universe. It took a while but they have changed. It gives us hope that the age of reason has not yet been eclipsed, even though religions and militant beliefs are on the march not only in our nation but in many other places around the world as well. There are people in all religions who are ready to kill you or kill me for the sake of the highest ideal of their faith.
Why must faith be constantly questioned and challenged? The answer lies in the fact that societies founded on blind faith are necessarily violent, with centralized power and ancient laws governing our daily lives. Faith-based beliefs invariably come from unchanged ancient texts which are considered holy although they were most likely written by ancient tribesmen with very little knowledge of the physical world. Today the texts are considered holy precisely because they are old and unchanged. It cannot be anywhere near the argument of proving that age makes beliefs true and relevant. The texts of all religions guide daily behavior on the basis of the benefits to be received in the afterlife: whether in heaven, in a higher rebirth, or free from the need for rebirth.
Beliefs based on faith in God have different ways of explaining the presence of life on the planet and how the universe came into being. The laws of physics and biochemistry explain with sufficient logical evidence the being of the universe and the emergence of life and its subsequent evolution. A belief in the divine creation of humans and other forms of life negates the laws of nature in their entirety. Creationism demystifies all science. In fact, empirical evidence is requested by religious believers to show that apes can transform into human beings. Not having actually seen a monkey transform is considered the absence of evidence and therefore the rejection of the theory of biological evolution. However, the same people claim to have a solid knowledge of the existence of god even though an overwhelming number of human beings have not even claimed to have seen the Almighty.
Faith-based beliefs that cannot be falsified invariably show a tendency to mark as enemies those who do not share that faith, whether they are scientists or those who belong to other faith beliefs such as people from others. religious identities. This “otherness” is based on the perception that people not belonging to their beliefs are somehow inferior – subhuman beings. Therefore, it is not difficult to be cruel to them. Killing or torturing them to enslavement is acceptable. No religion has a completely comfortable position with non-believers, including modern interpreters of Hinduism.
This brings us to the other argument against faith-based beliefs. Since such beliefs find it difficult to plead their case with conviction, there is always a set of power brokers – religious leaders – who interpret and guide daily rules and regulations. Their power is absolute. They are not to be called into question since they are the representatives of God. The more people believe in themselves, the more power they have to control and lead. They control lives: what people can eat, wear, who they can marry, what can be done in the privacy of their bedroom, when and where things need to be done. The endless list defines every moment of our life.
Finally, a strong argument is given in favor of religions in terms of human values ââand morals. It is claimed that science is amoral. Objective evidence and the laws that flow from it are distinct from our sense of right and wrong, or right and wrong. Moral values ââare ancient wisdom read in the scriptures. This is where we come to the social utility of science versus the social utility of religion. Our senses of right and wrong, right and wrong are constantly sharpened, challenged and altered by experiences perceived by the brain, which is part of the human body. Here, scientific evidence plays an important role. Take for example this question: would it be good or fair to put arsenic in the drinking water supply of a city? If you knew what arsenic is, you would say “no”. Science teaches us what arsenic is and its consequences in terms of human suffering when it is ingested by the body. Science also explains that suffering would be the same for all people regardless of their faith.
We are living in difficult times. Science does not yet have all the answers for Covid. There are debates and disagreements among scientists. This is expected and is a good sign that every scientific effort tries to gather new evidence. Debates and disagreements should not make us skeptical about the scientific method. However, we need to doubt every piece of evidence and keep getting new data and making new testable hypotheses. Taking advantage of these debates, the powerful new are pushing people to become anti-science. Some claim that all science is contained in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Hindus knew about the internet and plastic surgery a long time ago. A sadhu claims that allopathic medicine is stupid. A congregation in a mosque may be a super-spreader, but the Kumbh Mela is not. Cancer can be cured by drinking the urine of cows. Cow dung has healing properties for almost all ailments. Such statements are not made by lunatics on the sidelines, but by political influencers and opinion leaders giving speeches at meetings of professional scientists. Can religious faith and scientific reason coexist? It’s an old question. The answer depends on what we teach our children today and what our grandchildren will learn from them in the future.
Anup Sinha is a former professor of economics, IIM Calcutta