Science above all

Aug 28, 2015, 08:53 IST | Maleeva Rebello

As new twists emerge in the self-styled godwoman Radhe Maa story, scientists talk about the need to develop a scientific temperament, healthy scepticism and logical thinking

It may be the 21st century, the age of reason but in Mumbai as well as in India, faith in fake godmen and women overshadow science and rationality. Education levels are improving but when it comes to moments of crisis and desperation, these so called ‘miracle workers’ are the only source of succour for many.

People lack scepticism and are vulnerable to mumbo-jumbo which they think is the only way out at times when they are most vulnerable. The voice of reason, scientific outlook and temperament is lost in the midst of all this.

Scientific awareness
Arvind Paranjpye, Director of the Nehru Planetarium in the city says, “I think there is reasonable scientific awareness amongst people in Mumbai.

Radhe Maa leaving from Kandivali police station after interrogation. Pic/Sharad VegdaRadhe Maa leaving from Kandivali police station after interrogation. Pic/Sharad Vegda

People are aware of the comfort that they enjoy, that means everything around them, from flush toilets to the pressing of the button to switch off the TV before they finally close their day and go to bed is all due to the technological advent. And this would not have been possible without Science.

What really is needed is scientific temperament. Which basically means that if you do not understand, ask questions until you get satisfactory answers.” There is a need for scientific awareness across the country, feels Shivaprasad Khened, Director of the Nehru Science Centre (NSCM) and National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in the city.

He says, “Curiousity and quest for understanding have driven human society to discovering wonderful things and collectively gaining new knowledge, the scientific and technological benefits of which have been useful for society. Curiosity stems from asking probing questions — why, what, how, which is an innate, evolutionary gift that nature has bestowed on mankind.”

Rajendra Choure, professor at The Institute of Science, Mumbai, a postgraduate education and research institute managed by the Government of Maharashtra says, “Not only Mumbaikars, but all Indians should have a scientific sense.

Scientific awareness comes with logic. The way of thinking on the basis of previous information is essential. One must come to rational conclusions after thinking over a concept. This is the need of the hour.”

Unfortunately, the nature of asking questions, which is central to science and is predominantly visible in the early years of childhood, goes down as the children grow, feels Khened. “Spread of scientific awareness will go a long way in encouraging this innate human nature of curiosity,” he adds.

To do
“A scientific mind will never buy something considered holy just because it is believed to be sacred. It will ask questions about its worthiness and then only decide what to do. A person with a scientific mind will never walk barefoot to a place.

Many such unscientific traditions prevail but a scientific mind will not buy those. Scientific logic is a way of thinking. We must apply the available knowledge and strive to get new knowledge by reading, observing and listening,” says Choure.

The need of the day is to inculcate scientific temperament. Paranjpye adds, “As we grow, our views become progressively rigid. Therefore, we need to start teaching kids at a very early age to think and to ask questions.

This is the first step. The second step is to answer those correctly and if you do not have the correct answer then you should be telling the child, honestly, that you do not have answers and shall seek it from more knowledgeable sources.”

Khened says, “Scientific knowledge is the domain of scientists. Even I would not claim to have scientific knowledge, in the true sense of it. Expert domain knowledge should be left to specialist practitioners.

Scientific awareness will help eradicate the innumerable unscientific and illogical practices plaguing Indian society like fate or luck, astrology, destiny, miracles, auspicious or inauspicious, observances and what not.

Most of these illogical traditions are blindly followed by people largely because of lack of scientific temper. We should therefore aim at creating scientific temper, which in a sense will help society apply scientific and logical methods in one’s day to day life.”

Paranjpye adds, “Teachers themselves should believe in scientific temperament. Certain scriptures have certain views which directly contradict present day scientific knowledge. Now if the teachers have unquestionable faith in those writings how can we expect the teacher to do justice to the job at hand?

But if we understand that theology and science are two different branches of studies, and they need not cross paths with each other but run parallel. Then, inculcating scientific outlook would not be difficult. For example, one can teach a lot of science during certain practices like how a coconut breaks to how a candle burns, to give light.

The key point is to ask and satisfy yourself with the answer given, if not, then ask again.” “Schools must teach science the way it is meant to be taught not as an abstract but in a process what is called the method of science. Science cannot be taught as an accumulation of facts.

Good science education is true to the child, true to life and true to science. This simple observation leads to some of the basic criteria of validity of a science curriculum. School and college teachers should aim at engaging their students in joyfully exploring the world around them and in harmonising with it.

They should facilitate their students to think and act in a rational and logical way,” feels Khened. There is a need to change the education strategy at the pre-primary and primary levels, according to Choure. He says, “We kill logical thinking of kids and then complain about them when they reach adulthood.

Teach the student to think scientifically. Science asks for proofs. It helps to weigh the facts and never believes blindly. We must ask students to seek answers to common questions. Science students have the responsibility to inculcate scientific thinking in the community. ”

Nehru Science Centre has been and will continue to foster scientific and rational thinking in the city, according to Khened. He says, “We have a plethora of programmes and activities designed to do this and the nature of these activities change according to the target audience.”

Of Nehru Planetarium, Paranjpye says, “We have been fostering scientific and rational thought through our programmes and shows. Recently, we started a special programme for school students in the city — a lecture or demonstration programme where a scientist gives a lecture on a scientific topic which was complemented with onstage demonstrations.”

Choure feels schools and colleges can do more to help science bloom in the minds of students. He says, “Over reliance on notes and ready made material is the cause of logical thinking going to seed. Students are not allowed to think independently. Many teachers themselves are products of this education system which stunts scientific thinking and questioning.

“They don’t allow students to ask questions which are beyond their limits. As teachers, we must inculcate the habit of reading. We must teach students to read for fun. We must motivate the child to ask questions, to experiment, to fail and try again. This will make them strong enough to tackle the real problems of society.”

Radhe Maa controversy
>> The godwoman in red has been accused of dowry harassment by a woman, who filed a police complaint in Mumbai in late July.

>> The woman said that her husband’s family tortured her on the godwoman’s advice and forced her to serve Radhe Maa, do chores for her and give her massages.

>> This was followed by a Mumbai lawyer who attended Radhe Maa’s satsangs filing a complaint of obscenity against her in early August.

>> The lawyer claimed that Radhe Maa and her associates were ‘conning people in the name of religion’.

>> Television actress Dolly Bindra, who was once an ardent follower of Radhe Maa, filed a police complaint against the godwoman, a few days ago.

>> She accused Radhe Maa and her followers of threatening her.

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