Wed, 26 Jun, 2019

India’s mythology-science confusion

To highlight the strengths of our culture is our pride and privilege, but often this mutates into exaggerated rhetoric that cannot stand the test of reasoning

Story: Dr | Manoj | 11th January 2019, 02:01 Hrs

Dr Manoj Sumati R. Borkar

The Dassault Rafale, French make twin engine fighter aircraft may have been the epicenter of a political storm sweeping the country just now, but on 4th January 2019 a key-note speaker at the 106th Indian Science Congress and incumbent VC of Andhra University Prof. G. Nageswara Rao sullied his executive position by willfully peddling pseudoscience clad in national pride, asserting that the demon king Ravana had in his possession 24 types of aircrafts, besides several airports! He also declared with unshaken conviction that the 100 strong Kaurava siblings of the Mahabharata were but a product of Stem Cell Technology that existed 1000 years ago in our country.   

Controversy often elicits curiosity, so I was dumbfounded to see that Prof Rao has been a National Biotechnology Associate of the DBT, besides having had post-doctoral stints at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and University of Durban, South Africa. 

A qualified chemist that Prof. Rao is, he was seemingly not content with the uncalled for trespass he committed into the unfamiliar domains of Aeronautical Engineering and Biology; he went on to belittle the Darwinian theories of Evolution, contending that Dashavtar (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) offered a more convincing proof of evolution than the classic Darwinian treatise ‘Origin of species’. 

Even biblical literalists of the conservative Roman Catholic Church have demonstrated a willingness to reconcile to the overwhelming evidences in support of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Pope John Paul II addressing this ostensibly blasphemous issue before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996, sanctioned the acceptance of evolution, while gently appealing to his Christian affiliates that many questions which confront us in our spiritual life are beyond the realm of science.   

This unempirical profanity brazenly dispensed from the dais of the Indian Science Congress a much talked about event in Indian Science arena merits a dispassionate discussion, censure and correction from the rationalist and intelligentsia. Such irrational claims have also been made in earlier editions of Indian Science Congress, inviting rebuke from established scientists, academia and rationalists across and beyond the country, but to no avail. Sometime back yet another retired IPS officer with M.Phil and PhD degrees in Chemistry sought to heap posthumous disparagement on Darwin by asking if anyone had ever seen a monkey turning into a man!   

There almost seems to be a contagion of craving among some in positions of authority to repackage mythology and present it to the gullible ‘theo-cultural fanatic’ in endorsement of our country’s ancient wisdom and glorious past. To highlight the strengths of our culture is our pride and privilege, but often this mutates into exaggerated rhetoric that cannot stand the test of reasoning. This urge of overstating mythology by purported intellectuals could possibly please the ‘illicit sentinels of our culture’ as well as a segment of political class on which they wield reciprocal influence, but it destroys the very tenets of rational thinking which is the bedrock of scientific temper .    

We must be cautioned on the pitfalls of validating mythology and attempting to rationalise it in modern context. While it is perfectly fine to ponder over our cultural connects with history and get immersed in the epics, such super-naturalist propaganda shall surely mar our reasoning faculty as a nation and lower our hard earned global stature in areas of Science and Technology.   

And after all there is little to gain by talking about our past glory as reflected in our mythology, as a nation’s progress is influenced by its contemporary conduct for prospective success. A nation must hold its cultural legacy in high esteem and feel proud about it, but not entirely base its roadmap for growth and development on its past. Past should be a mirror that reflects our mistakes and shortcomings so that we can learn to avoid them in our quest for excellence.   

Mythology has a religious and socio-cultural side to it, and is specific to one’s faith. As a follower of the Sanatan Dharma I too revere the cow, but my bovine admiration is not because it is an object of divinity. Neither because the mythological cow Kamdhenu was the abode of an astronomical number of celestial deities in its body! But to me all forms of living beings are entitled to dignity of life, as a matter of ethics. Also, the cow is worthy of respect for the inimitable role it has played in our country’s agro-based rural economy by providing food, fuel and the power to till the fields! The religious symbolism only consolidates that well deserved reverence for this constituent of livestock. Mythology could well inspire science fiction and fantastic ideas, and the latter can be the inspiration for science ! But this does not grant to mythology parity with Science.  

 Finally this also inevitably compels us to reflect on quality of science education and educators in India, and the sanctity of Indian Science Congress in present times. As a young undergraduate student of science way back in 1985, I was invited to present my research at the 72nd Indian Science Congress held at Lucknow. Again as a young member of teaching faculty, I attended the 80th Science Congress in Goa in 1993. With passing years, this event has deteriorated into a socializing and networking event for scientists and academics, where very little serious science is discussed. And when the event and participants are compromised, the occult premises like mythology can be dispensed and dubbed as scientific.   

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