The Internationalization of Science
The scientific revolution of the 16th century was significant not so much in the discarding of geocentricity though this was one of its earliest steps; not so much in the discovery of elliptical planetary orbits though this opened our visions to hitherto hidden aspects of the universe, not even so much in the formulation of the laws of motion, though these led to a deeper understanding of the physical world; but because it initiated a universality which has transformed the very nature of the enterprise.
Since the emergence of modern science, the enormous range of scientific efforts in different countries, and then in different continents, have come to be subsumed under a single umbrella, made up of an abstract international body of scientific practice and culture. The various nations of the world have their own research laboratories and publications, and yet, the works carried out and published in these geographically separated places are interwoven into a web held firm by invisible bonds that know no borders, that feel no cultural differences. The meter and the kilogram in any national bureau of standards are precisely the same, no matter what the religion or form of government may be in the country.
Science certainly has its local interests, narrow nationalism, and petty fights over priorities too. After all, it is only a human enterprise. There are rivalries and races in the pursuit of knowledge and competition in discoveries. There is national pride when a prize is announced. And yet, the technical work of scientists is blind to nationalities, they overlap and mingle like sounds from different instruments in an orchestra to create and constitute the grand symphony that science is. The true strength and stature of modern science lies in its universality. Science is no longer bits of insights here and there, nor imaginative speculations by keen minds in particular cultures. It surely is not parochial ethnic interpretations of natural phenomena, nor narratives from sacred books. Rather, science is a collective quest, a restless drive to eradicate every misunderstanding in the interpretation of every occurrence from the micro to the macrocosm, to unravel every mystery and dispel every doubt and darkness from the inquiring mind.
What characterizes modern times is transnational science, and the ubiquity of modern technology. There is no member state of the United Nations Organization where science is not taught, or planes don’t land. Whether one understands science or decries it, no serious thinker or leader in the twentieth century can ignore science, or function without its technological offshoots. The primary contribution of science has been the quenching of curiosity through disinterested search, the providing of intellectual satisfaction through its explanatory successes, and the enhancement of creature comforts through ingenious technology.
In spite of all our national differences and cultural diversity, no matter what language we speak and what creeds we subscribe to, the one common thread that connects the minds of men and women in today’s world is international science. So too, the commonalties in the towns and cities of the modern world are electric lights and communication systems, automobiles and computers.
We live in a world where science and technology hold the sway. If we look around any spot on earth that has found its way into the mainstream of human history, we cannot escape the presence of wheels and wires, of gadgets and generators, of vaccines and pills. The material impacts of science, the magic and madness of machines are omnipresent and inevitable. Science and technology are here to stay, and their influences are likely to grow even more in times to come.
In no other context: not in art, nor in music, not in sports, much less in politics, do men and women of all races, languages and religions, hold hands as comrades in a common pursuit. This speaks as much to the glory of the science as an enterprise, as all its technological triumph do. It is important to realize, whether one is from the East or the West, from the North or the South, of India or of the globe at large, that modern science is not Western any more than that the zero is Hindu or that gunpowder is Chinese, except in the accident of their geographical origin. For better or for worse, the scientific revolution merged diverse streams of search into a single surging river, as it were.
Religion, Separate and Universal
But nothing of the kind happened in the realm of religion. Here the ancient roots stayed separate and sturdy, and the trees grew taller and vigorous too, shooting out branches along different directions, but the branches of the trees drew nourishment from their respective roots. Whether it was Judaism or Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam, each gave rise to different sects and schools, but in each instance, there was a core which was safe and secure.
Unlike with science, there arose no common religious institution to embrace all the faiths of humankind to form a single superstructure unto which all would come and pray. True, there have been efforts to repair old divisions, attempts to heal historical wounds, even movements to bring out the best from all religions. But Din Ilahis and Unitarians, Bahais, and Brahmos have been elite groups, rather than major religions with mass followings. If anything, over the past few centuries, newer groups have come and gone, new prophets and cult leaders have forged more movements still.
One reason for this is that science is concerned with the external world of cold reality, whereas religion is linked to inner warmth, to local moorings, trusted traditions, and close community. Every religion is affiliated, not only to ancient prophets and personages, but also to time-honored rites and rituals, which have acquired the weight of centuries and the wisdom of ages. To reject all this and embrace a global network is more difficult than to switch from the geocentric to the heliostatic model. To resonate with prayers from alien faiths is more difficult than to use telescopes and microscopes to explore the world. It is a fact of cultural irony that on the issue of Divinity which all religions worship as omnipresent, the local variations are unable to merge.
So we find that in schools everywhere the same laws of nature and the same mathematics are taught, the same facts of anatomy and the same genetic structures are explained, but in places of worship different symbols are venerated, different eschatologies expounded, and different days prescribed for fasting and feasting.