A friend of mine once stated his utter disbelief in our deities and rituals by simply declaring “I am an atheist, I only believe in science..”. To which I replied “Aren’t you oversimplifying it a bit?” What followed was a verbal volleyball with all sorts of tricky metaphors and subjective arguments that basically led us nowhere. You might say why would I waste my time like that? Well, apart from the fact that friends do waste a lot of time in arguments, it is exactly the kind of mind numbingly stupid discussion that I find quite refreshing. If he had said that he was a devout worshiper of certain God or Goddess or believer of a vague, almighty force that supposedly encompasses the universe, then I would have argued on the contrary and convinced him that science, not faith was the only truth! Yes, I like debating and can probably argue on any side. But more than the conflict between binary possibility of yes or no I’m more interested to know how many sides there are? It can be said that anything can be (and should be) seen from multiple perspectives. I don’t think there is a single, ultimate reality in this or any realm. It’s all ‘Maya’, the multiple layers of illusions manifested in the form of our cosmos and even what’s beyond. Yes, my views are pluralistic to say the least but surely, there must be a simple way to explain existence. To just proclaim that there is no God is lazy thinking.
The basis of philosophy is confusion and chaos. We begin searching for answers only when there is confusion. Clarity and order appear when we test our feelings and begin forming a philosophy. We investigate the present reality and decide if a philosophy is agreeable to us or not. Religion uses a certain philosophy (or a mix of philosophies) to form social rules that tell us how to behave. Same is with science. Only difference is that while religion applies philosophy on an emotional level, science applies it on a logical level to test its validity. The result is that religion takes on the psychological aspects while science deals with more physical aspects of reality. In essence, both are an effort to define the unknown. Ultimately, both are just lenses to look at the world, albeit superficially. While our awareness constantly keeps expanding, there will never come a moment when we will know everything about everything. Thus, a religious expression of a philosophy is as important as the scientific interpretation. Unfortunately, with passing time, we tend to get more rigid in our beliefs. This is the same tendency that made Einstein reject the idea of an expanding universe despite all evidence in support and instead forced him to invent a cosmological constant to justify his belief. That’s real madness!
To my friend who was adamant about the superiority of science over religion, the infinite possibilities that surround us are an overwhelming anomaly that has to be reduced to numbers and conquered through technology. To him his immediate circumstance are the only reality. Money, his only logical solution to most problems. In many ways he is right. It is not coincidental that his understanding of religion itself is superficial and literal. There is a reason why youth today is increasingly disenchanted by religion. That’s because we have not allowed it to evolve at the same pace as science has in the past century. We have mostly allowed religion to narrow our view of the world, to counter the rapid changes in the society instead of using it as a catalyst for change. In our effort to achieve materialistic modernity, we have reduced religion to a tool for justifying our conscience; as a way to maintain the status quo, instead of challenging it. Faith today is treated as a mere gauge for morality, not a gateway to spirituality. That leaves us with little scope for experimentation.
Ironically, while our youngsters shun our mythology and deities as orthodox and outdated, there are scientific institutions that surprisingly embrace their true meaning with an open mind. CERN operates the Large Hadron Collider or the LHC project to seek out new particles in hopes of discovering the nature of dark matter and energy. Quite interestingly, their office premises houses an impressive statue of Natraja. You might say that the dancing idol of Lord Shiva performing ‘Tandava’ is out of place at such an establishment but the scientists working there might beg to differ. Those at the forefront of science see it as a reminder of the fact that there is so much of the universe we don’t know about. To them, religious iconography is humbling; not threatening. It is inspiring; not judging. Being said that, I do realise that people don’t always build an association with a philosophy for such benign intentions. Thule society purposefully sought out skewed versions of spiritual doctrines that suited their political agendas. It’s a corrupt form of inspiration but effective nonetheless. It only reminds us that everything in our life can be corrupted – beauty, innocence and even love can make us do terrible things. Science, for that matter is not free of corrupting influences either.
We live in an amazing age of innovation and self realization. We are finding more and faster ways to conquer our surroundings. Sometimes, that tends to make us overconfident about ourselves. We are all entrepreneurs with access to more information than we can process. We realise the importance of dominance and we know what motivates us. That gives us incredible incentive to be materialistic. Our technologically advanced society keeps on inventing newer ways to appease ourselves. Many times it is neither rational nor morally justifiable. Yet, we follow the trends. Our natural reaction is to reject whatever we deem traditional and boring. However, by doing so, we may lose a lot of valuable insights about our existence and origin. We keep re-discovering things because we don’t pay attention to what we already know. Isn’t Elon Musk talking about Maya when he tries to answer the question “Are we living inside a simulation?”(I still think he got pulled into that discussion unfairly). We must use science to expand our understanding of the universe but without a healthy philosophical tradition, we will limit our imagination, creativity and intuition. Without those, we can’t hope to advance as human beings. No matter how technologically advanced we get.