Thursday, April 21, 2011

Science for Man or Man for Science?

Is the origin of the universe accidental or planned? This was the topic of a seminar organized by Malayalam Society in Houston, and the presenter was Mr. Philip Thekkel, a High School Science teacher. He concluded that the origin of the universe is accidental, and not planned by any external force. The participants listened with great interest to all the scientific information he presented and they were fully in agreement with all of them. However, they couldn’t wholeheartedly agree with his approach toward science and its role in human life. To the pointed question by a participant whether he was a theist or an atheist, he evaded giving a direct response, and said that the question itself was irrelevant. When he was asked by another participant how he would relate scientific knowledge to the life of humanity, he responded that science evolves as a result of human curiosity, and it helps us raise our standard of living, but beyond that he couldn’t see any other connection between science and human life. Asked about his worldview, he didn’t have anything to say; even the term worldview sounded unfamiliar to him.

Underlying the approach of Mr. Thekkel, there is a loaded question-- is science for man or man for science? He seems to believe that man is for science. Science for him is the only reliable and unprejudiced pursuit of truth, and it exists for its own sake. The well-being of humanity cannot be a goal of science. The motto must be science for science, not for man. If mankind understands this, it will be free from superstitions that inhibit human development. This belief that man is for science is supported by secularism, empiricism, and naïve realism. Secularism is a view that religion and religious considerations should be ignored or excluded from social and political matters. Empiricism is the epistemological principle that all ideas and categories are derived from sense experience and that knowledge cannot extend beyond experience. Naïve realism is the ontological view that what appears to our senses is what really exists.
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ asserted that man is not for religion (Sabbath), but religion is for man. Whenever religion gets corrupted and becomes a dehumanizing force, a reformer or a reform movement arises with this message. Protestantism was such a reform movement in response to the corruption in the western Christianity. But it is very little known that secularism and Marxism were also reform movements against the corruption in Christianity. Although these movements do have value as reform movements, they do not provide a comprehensive worldview as a replacement. Secularism emphasized the role of science to revolt against religion, but it overemphasized this role to the extent of asserting that man is for science. Today we need another Jesus to assert that science is for man, and not man for science.
Paulos Mar Gregorios points out three different attitudes toward science in our world.
  1. A blind faith in science
  2. A blind rejection of Science
  3. A balanced view
According to the first, Science and technology are potentially capable of solving all the problems of mankind. This view is popular in the developing countries. According to the second, Science is good for nothing because it has been lionized out of all proportion by the necessities of urban-industrial life and by the political opportunism of the technocracy. This counter-culture view is popular in advanced industrialized societies. According to the third view, Science is a useful tool, which helps us to predict certain aspects of reality and therefore to control them. It may also help us partially to understand the nature of reality, but cannot give us an adequate picture of it. This is the view of the philosophers of science from the English-speaking world.
The approach of Mr. Thekkel seems to be a blind faith in science. He represents the general approach of the developing countries. This blind faith in science seems to have developed in revolt against a blind rejection of science in the name of preserving the culture or of counter-culture. But what we need is a balanced view of science. Science is one of the ways in which we seek knowledge, and it is a very useful way indeed. But placing science in the seat of God will jeopardize human existence.
Science in the Seat of God
Paulos Mar Gregorios has explained clearly why human existence can be in jeopardy if science occupies the seat of God. What follows is a summary of his argument.
Modern Science is comparatively new in the history of humanity, only a few centuries old. Science had once to fight for survival against the unjust onslaughts of the dogmatic western Christianity. That period is now happily over. Science has overcome the resistance from religion and it can stand on its own. However, Science itself had been tempted to claim certain dogmatic certainties for itself in the light of some of her spectacular achievements in the last century.
Medieval European society unquestioningly obeyed the Roman Catholic Church as the ultimate arbiter of truth in all fields. The notorious medieval dictum: Roma locuta est, Causa finita est (Rome has spoken, the matter is settled) represented this unquestioning obedience. A revolt against the medieval church’s authority occurred in several stages. First there were the pre-Renaissance protests of simple peasants against the exploitation and domination by the Church as major landholder. Then came the European Renaissance which counter-posed the authority of ancient Greek philosophers and Classics as an alternative to the authority of the church, especially in art, music and literature. Then came the Protestant Reformation which lifted Scriptural authority against Papal authority. Finally, the French Revolution and the European Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries fully repudiated the authority of King and Priest, of Church and Tradition, and set up human rationality as the final arbiter of truth. Man became the measure and centre of a1l things, with Humanism, liberal and Marxist, becoming the dominant ideology. This is the context in which Modern Science developed and flourished.
Medieval priests in their black robes and Cross in hand have been today replaced by Modern Scientists in their white smocks and computer at hand. The uncritical devotion of both scientists and lay people to Modern Science and Technological Rationality as the ultimate arbiter of truth is similar to the uncritical obedience of the medieval Europe to the Roman Catholic Church. Today the dictum has become: Scientia locuta est, Causa finita est (Science has spoken, the matter is settled).
The scientific rationality assumes dogmatically and unscientifically the given-ness of a self-existent entity called 'Nature'. It also assumes that things are what they appear to be. This assumption is called Naive Realism, which refuses to ask questions about the ontological status of phenomena due to the inability of science to answer those questions. Worst of all, it assumes that man, the knowing subject, can stand outside the nature, and objectify, know, and manipulate it. By overvaluing objectivity and underplaying subjectivity, this approach has distorted human personality; disciplining oneself to be always objective renders human beings very inhibited in their subjective human relations.
There have been so much faith and hopes upon Science. Once it was thought by some at least that Scientific Rationality would provide us with the right morality. Every attempt so far has failed to yield the desired fruit. Again, once it was thought that scientific reasoning would open all the doors to all knowledge. We now know that science has its limits, and that much of what we know does not come from science, but from other forms of experience, including human relations, art and music, literature and drama, pain and pleasure, and perhaps even from religious experience. Many of us believed that scientific knowledge is objective and therefore true, while other convictions, which are subjective, are prone to error. Today we know that totally unsubjective objectivity is unattainable, for subjectivity is an essential aspect of all knowing. And we know that current scientific knowledge is subject to revision in the light of future knowledge, and that there is no "finally proved" status to any scientific proposition.
A ridiculous dogma was held by the 19th century European Positivists that all human knowledge passes through three stages: theological, metaphysical, and scientific. It was held that the scientific is the only true knowledge which supersedes the two previous stages, which are the infant and adolescent stages of human evolution. This dogma concluded that science makes all theology and metaphysics obsolete. Today this is recognized as a dogma produced by the European Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Most of the philosophers of science see science as a way of seeing our world using paradigms. The paradigms are in a process of constant revision and change, not in accordance with any rational law, but almost randomly. These philosophers agree that Science is not proven knowledge, but only a way of seeing reality, a very successful way indeed. But no infallibility can be claimed for science, nor can it be given any monopoly over human knowledge. Such a modest evaluation of science is common among the Philosophers of science today. Toward the end of the last century, dogmatic scientism was slowly becoming outdated and unfashionable.
The revolt against scientific rationality has only begun. The protest will take at least several decades to mature and gain sufficient momentum to compel attention. When the protest matures, the foundations of a new civilization will also come to light.
Science-Technology Needs to Become a Tool for Doing Good
There was a time when pure science was distinguished from applied science, but today more than 95% of science is applied. Scientific research is so bound up with improving technological capability that the distinction between science and technology is difficult to maintain. Scientific research is no longer an open possibility for all societies because the cutting edges of scientific research are tied with unaffordable high technology. There was a time when scientific knowledge was public, open to experimental confirmation or refutation by any competent scientist. This is no longer so. The world scientific community today is divided into two classes: One class of scientists are employed by defense or military establishments and the other by large profit-oriented corporations, who are sworn to secrecy and are not allowed to share their scientific knowledge with others, for security reasons or for monopoly considerations.
As a result, war and profit-oriented establishments corner the best scientific talent in the market by paying them extra incentives. The cutting edge of current scientific research thus looks for greater killing capacity or greater profit and power for the few. Science is thus prostituted and misused. Not much scientific research is available for humane purposes like healing, healthy and economic housing development, unmonopolizing and non-chemical food production, and for good education in a healthy environment.
Science/technology itself has become a commodity and private property. Since high-tech is much in demand by all people, its high marketability becomes a new tool of exploiting and oppressing the poor. Patenting and copyright laws make knowledge itself a commodity for trade, profit making, exploitation, and enslavement. The commercialization and prostitution of science and technology for mass murder and easy profit is a deviation from its original nobility.
Modern science and technology have immensely increased the capacity of humanity for good and evil. Such an increase is a challenge to the human will to direct its abilities towards the good and not towards evil. This is a demand for greater moral and spiritual effort, but unfortunately, we let ourselves morally disintegrate, by choosing a culture of meaningless affluence and instant gratification of all urges. Even religion and its leadership, instead of setting high standards, seem to fall below the prevailing moral standards of ordinary people. Scientists themselves had at one time an enviably high moral level, in their commitment to the truth and in their pursuit of knowledge. The link between science and integrity seems to grow weaker day by day.
This has been a quick overview of the various attitudes and approaches toward science in our time. In some parts of the world, Science is placed in the seat of God and is seen as a panacea for all human existential problems. In some other parts, science is placed in the seat of Satan and is seen as the cause of all human existential problems. But fortunately, in many other parts of the world, science is neither divinized nor demonized, but is seen as a tool. Those who see it as a tool are in two camps: those who want to use it for the good of humankind and those who want to use it to destroy humankind.  Which side are we? Do we choose the path of life or of death?
Gregorios, Paulos. (1993). The Role of Science in Society

This article will be included in a forthcoming book introducing the thought of Paulos Mar Gregorios.


G. Puthencruz said...

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow is good read in conjunction with the topic discussed in Malayalam Society. The blind faith of Mr. Thekkel is resonated in this book. This book covers various topic.
1. The mystery of being
2. The rule of law
3. What is reality
4. Alternative histories
5. The theory of everything (M- theory)
6. Choosing our universe
7. The apparent miracle
8. The grand design.
According to Hawking The M-theory will be able to explain everything and he doesn't believe that a supernatural force is behind the creation.

Philip said...

It is true that there was a decline of religious faith among scientists following the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Nevertheless, Darwin’s work does not seem to have shaken the faith of the great physicists of the 19th Century. Michael Faraday, James Joule, Lord Kelvin, and James Clerk Maxwell, for example, were all devout Christian believers. In the 20th Century, the astronomer Arthur Eddington, Charles Towns and William Phillips, Nobel laureates in physics, and Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project, have publicly affirmed their belief in God. Collins has expressed the spiritual wonder of scientific research in these words: “When something new is revealed about the human genome, I experience a feeling of awe at the realization that humanity now knows something only God knew before.” (Forwarded from CS Lewis Foundation Journal)