Once Twin Sister


Religion and Science, twin sisters who once were cordial and cooperating, both vibrant  in the quest to know and understand, both exploring in unison what is human existence, both intrigued by questions like whence this Cosmos in which we find ourselves? Why life and love rather than nothing at all? What causes thought and thunder, rain and rainbow, and a hundred other questions that have never ceased to jolt the human mind.

But Science and Religion are loving sisters no more, at best reluctant partners sometimes, often unfriendly antagonists, one still experiencing the magic and mystery of existence and consciousness, the other trying to reduce every facet of feeling and frustration to stark ultimate particles and processes that sustain the physical universe. But this is so only in cultures and among people who have been fully awakened to the framework of science. Where science is as yet only technology, and religion only for prayer and celebration, and not matters for inquiry and reflection, people are generally at ease with both science and religion.

It is  primarily in the Western cultural matrix  that  we have a deep divide where the gladiators are champions for the two sides: thinkers and seekers most of them. One group is inspired by inner convictions as to the nature of the unknown and of partially perceived flickers of a realm beyond reasoned reality, while  the other is wedded to a rationality that fetters it to a flatland that cannot imagine a higher dimension not fashioned by logic, experiment and verifiable verities.

Here I stand in awe, another meager mind confronting the nebulous contours of Ultimate Reality. I am not puzzled by the intractable cloudiness of the Ultimate. Borrowing  phrases from a ditty and a poet, I exclaim, “What chance have I, an ordinary guy, what chance have I to hold infinity with a finite mind and eternity in an hour!” What is puzzling is that the realm beyond human physical experience  seems to be recognized with sparkling clarity by some who affirm the correctness of their conviction with consummate confidence, while such unhesitating formulations of the Beyond are  repudiated as impossible even in principle, and trivialized as no more than the phantom of fantasy by others.

I have moved with both groups, and I have never had reason or occasion to doubt the honesty or the integrity of the ardent members in both groups. I am often inclined to empathize, if not agree with them all who hold on to their truths with deep feelings in their hearts that their own convictions are the absolute truths. Both groups find immense fulfillment in the firm grasp of what to each of them seems to be the Truth. I am happy for them for their inner comfort, but I move away from them when they adopt a high-ground in their respective stance and look down upon the other, especially when they regard themselves as the spokespersons for the God of their choice or indoctrination.

I completely resonate with the religious ones when they are in their worship mode, celebratory phase, or charitable behavior, but I cannot dance with them when they rush in to offer explanations in cosmology or anthropogenesis.  Likewise, I am in unison with the scientifically inclined when they explain how radio and  radioactivity work, how the neuron fires and earthquakes occur, but when they are insensitive to or ridicule hope and faith and prayer, I feel sorry for them as I feel sorry for the beast that cannot appreciate Beethoven’s fifth.

So I rejoice in the best that religions offer without sharing their interpretations of natural phenomena, and I delight in the scientific revelations of the roots of perceived reality offered by serious and systematic science, though I know full well that these may not be the last words about the world we live in and share. The person who enjoys a gourmet dinner can also prove a Euclidean theorem.

October 10, 2013

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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