The Scientific Temper

Our age is essentially an age of transition where all things are changing, and changing so rapidly that many feel somewhat lost. There is much of bewilderment, a feeling of insecurity, and a sense of fear and anxiety, and these make for restlessness. This need not be so if we understand what it is all about, and if we retain a true sense of direction. Old forms must die to make room for better ones. Progress means change and we all need greater flexibility of mind and preparedness to face all changes, while retaining our faith in that which changes not. Adaptability is essential to meet the challenge of our era, the era of science and technology, with both wisdom and courage.

There is so much of confusion as to the role of science itself, and we hear contrary views. Some say: "Science will save us from superstition and fraud." Others declare: "Science is the greatest menace yet invented by man. It will destroy the human race." Some blame all the evils of gross and brutal materialism on science. Science is responsible, they claim, for the threat of total war, for the contamination of our planet by artificial increase of radiation, for the squandering of our earth's resources, for the destruction of wild life, etc. Others worship at the shrine of science, and firmly believe science will free us from all evils and usher in an age of social justice, democracy and well-being for all.

Both these extremes views, however, are erroneous. Science has given us vast knowledge, and this knowledge has brought us immense power. But it is man who uses that knowledge and man who wields that power. Science is neither good nor evil per se. But man is a moral being, and on his choice depends the course of science and the future destiny of humanity. The crisis we face is a moral one, for it is the outcome of the conflict within man himself. Bertrand Russell has rightly said:

We are in the middle of a race between human skills as to means and human folly as to ends....Unless men increase in wisdom as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase in sorrow.

True moral values, which alone can survive the outward changes brought about by the impact of science, the explosion of scientific knowledge, belong to wisdom. The need of the hour is for men of wisdom. Mere knowledge without wisdom to guide us in the utilization of that knowledge will make for greater sorrow.

We have grasped the mystery of the atom [General Omar Bradley once said] and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, and power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

The real danger then is that of knowledge without wisdom and power without conscience. We need that moral perception which will enable us to resist the temptation to misuse power.

The spectacular advance of scientific knowledge has shaken, nay, swept away, beliefs and dogmas rooted in ignorance, and with these have gone surface moral values with no permanent basis. Revealing the errors and false dogmas of narrow theologies, it has left many with no religion at all. But if the false values have gone, the true moral values remain. If man wishes to do so, he can purge himself of egotism; he can turn from a life of self to a life of service. The things that obstruct man's true progress are of his own making: his greed, his ambition, his selfishness. These are his enemies which he must fight and conquer. Gandhiji tells us:

All selfish desires are immoral, while the desire to improve ourselves for the sake of doing good to others is truly moral. The highest moral law is that we should unremittingly work for the good of mankind.

True moral values thus spring from the vision of the oneness of humanity. We need to abandon moral values based on the false parallel between nations and individuals and follow instead those eternal values based on the recognition that all men are brothers. Such values have nothing to fear from science. If the religion we follow is that of Brotherhood, science will give us the means of appliying our moral principles more effectively in the service of our fellow beings.

No, we need not fear science! We need fear only our own folly and stupidity, our greed and selfishness. The power which science has put into our hands can be used beneficently and constructively if we become wise and unselfish. Let our moral values be those eternal values which transcend all sects and creeds and belong to the realm of the spirit. Anchored firmly in the One Spirit, we can meet all challenges with confidence and with courage. True morality lies in the awareness of the Spiritual Reality and calls for a disciplined life, a clean and useful life dedicated to disinterested service.

Such a life is not opposed to science. In fact we should all cultivate a truly scientific attitude, which makes for tolerance and, breaking artificial barriers, enables us to eradicate sectarianism, provincialism, isolationism. The scientific temper blends modesty and humility with self-reliance and initiative.

Science has dominated the Western world and everyone there pays tribute to it, and yet the West is still far from having developed the real temper of science. It has still to bring the spirit and the flesh into creative harmony. In India, in many obvious ways we have a greater distance to travel. And yet there may be fewer major obstructions on our way, for the essential basis of Indian thought for ages past, though not its later manifestation, fits in with the scientific temper and approach, as well as with internationalism. It is based on a fearless search for truth, on the solidarity of man, even on the divinity of everything living, and on the free and co-operative development of the individual and the species, ever to greater freedom and higher stages of human growth.

All men are responsible for one another.


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