Believe in god, trust in science is new crisis

Believe in god, trust in science is new crisis

There is archaeological evidence about the Mahabharata war. In a hyper-religious political environment, science is the false religion.

Remember the old movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which an African tribe worships a Coca-Cola bottle dropped from an airplane as a gift from the gods because it fell out of the sky? This is how most mythology is born. Many claims, and not just BJP politicians, that Indians knew about airplanes because of the pushpak viman mentioned in the Ramayana. The ancient Greeks invented fire because Prometheus stole it from heaven. They knew how to fly since Icarus did. Early Romans had missiles since Jupiter hurled thunderbolts. The Mayans of antiquity conversed with aliens in UFOs, as ancient drawings show.

Sometime in the 13th century, a literary Scandinavian gentleman named Snorri Sturluson wrote Prose Edda, which exemplified euhemerisation: a system that projects gods and supernatural entities as authentic humans with superpowers. Mythology is the prodigal son of history; before writing, there existed heroes who attained mythical status through ancient oral tradition. For example, Hercules of Greek mythology was an actual man who was exceedingly strong and courageous and was given demi-god status in the epic, Aenid. Samson and Delilah were probably honest-to-god people living in 2nd-century Canaan.

There is archaeological evidence about the Mahabharata War. In a hyper-religious political environment, science is a false religion. While most Christians believe in Noah’s Ark, many Republicans deny the existence of climate change. Though ISRO has sent spacecraft to the moon, there are worthies who believe classical India had airports. The oldest stone tools in the world were invented by Africans who also obey witch doctors. Plant-based cures are a multibillion-dollar industry while once women healers and herbalists were burned or drowned as witches.

For centuries, science and superstition, which comprise the semantics of mythology, have led to a contradictory co-existence. Science is slowly losing trust as conservative politics supercharges education. People are turning to god to rediscover their identity in a bewildering new world of AI and crypto. Hence, education alone can’t restore faith. Good IQ and intellectual integrity perhaps will.

Science is not an easy sell: though everyone is familiar with a car, nobody knows the science behind propulsion is Δv=uln(mi/m), which essentially means that the total mass of a rocket goes from ‘mi’ down to ‘m’ when its velocity increases. We may write a thesis on ChatGPT, but we still think as a tribe: it is a primordial default mode that helped us outlive the dinosaurs. So the veracity of a scientific invention (like vaccines) will be distorted in challenging times to fit with the cultural values of the time.

A study by psychologists Nejc Plohl and Bojan Musil pointed out that education alone does not promote acceptance of science. “Scientific information can be difficult to swallow, and many individuals would sooner reject the evidence than accept information that suggests they might have been wrong,” said a 2022 study.  The world is dynamic and convictions change with fresh discoveries: people who change their beliefs are jeered at as switchers when it would have been stupid for a 16th-century Catholic priest to believe the sun revolved around the earth. People are wired to stick to their beliefs, and only what conforms to their worldview is credible. But the world is constantly changing. Science is spurring that change. Unless governments build trust between scientists and individuals, consoling yourself that the ancestors knew about splitting the atom millennia ago, when Kim Jong Un triggers a nuclear holocaust, is hardly comforting...

Ravi Shankar

ravi@newindianexpress.com

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