Science, Religion, and Superstition

My cousin referred me to this article.

Losing Religion

It is incorrect to believe that people "lose their religion" with education.

In the US, the big issue has been that the scientific study of evolution and the fossil record proves that the world was not created in six days as written in the Old Testament of the Bible. As people accept modern science, they certainly lose fundamentalism--the belief in scripture as the literal historical truth.

Most teachers and public curricula stress the importance of critical thinking--questioning everything and demanding logical explanations. This is especially important for democracy to work. As people begin to value and practice critical thinking, they certainly lose blind faith, especially in individuals who have accumulated economic or military power.

Scientific education is very good at separating the known from the unknown. However, many traditions, rituals, ancient writings and superstitions remain relevant to what is still unknown--or difficult to know. (In particular, Vedanta and other mystical traditions are relevant to questions about personal identity.) In some cases, they promise explanations. These elements of religion will continue to be embraced until more is known by science and made easier to know by educational systems.

Furthermore, every good computer scientist must accept Godel's Theorem, that statements can be true but unprovable. I have come to believe that Ayurveda might be a collection of such statements. Their truth is known by their medical benefit, but they are unprovable because of the complexity of the biological systems involved in human health. Isn't it blind faith to believe things are true without knowing they are provably true?

Superstition

A given superstitious ritual may have none of the physical effect you think, but may nevertheless confer a psychological benefit to performers and observers, and the benefit may exceed its cost. (Sometimes only to those with blind faith.)

For example, there is no real science of astrology, but when rejecting a marriage proposal, it is easier to say, "Our family astrologer told us the horoscopes didn't align." as compared to "I'm not attracted to you." or "I don't like you." or "I found someone better than you." or even, generally speaking, "I found someone who will pay more dowry than you."

Unfortunately, by using astrology for this convenient purpose, educated people encourage others to visit astrologers who are seeking money or social status. Others may be willing to devote themselves and their resources to astrologers. Hence, it is a public service (at personal cost of convenience) to reject astrology.

Despite what people may think, द्रुष्ट काढणे is nothing but an expression of blessing or good wishes. However, that doesn't mean it has zero benefit. It has been proven scientifically that a person's ill will is reduced if they express good will by physical action. Furthermore, asking someone to perform a ritual (for example, asking for a ritual blessing or expression of good wishes) is a kind of persuasion that has been proven scientifically effective.

I doubt that Dr. Dabholkar wasted his time trying to eradicate harmless rituals like द्रुष्ट काढणे. He opposed individuals who exploited the ignorance of others for personal gain.

Kundalini and Chakras

Even in science we introduce models that are overly simple or incomplete but nevertheless have predictive power under specific conditions or within certain limits. The classic example is Newtonian physics, which breaks down at extremely large and extremely small scales.

I often wonder whether we will some day think of chakras and kundalini as such models.

The issue is that science generally encourages the delineation of limits. It encourages continued refinements that can eventually revolutionize theory. However, fundamentalist religion discourages any kind of questioning. It asserts universal applicability, and rejects all proposed changes.

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Updated at: 2015-03-10 21:23:27 UTC