By Dr. S. M. Rahman
From time to time human vanity has received grave shock at the hands of science. Copernicus (1473-1543) drew the first nail in the coffin of ‘geocentricism’. The concept of Aristotelian universe was based on the dogma designed by Ptolemy which had placed heavens at the outermost of the Astronomical regions, whereas earth was placed in the center. The ptolenical geo-centric system was in harmony with the Church dogma, which existed for thousand years. None dared challenge it except at the cost of heresy. Copernicus defied the ‘unscientific’ belief and the Church violently reacted and his book was immediately banned and the ecclesiastical censors continued till 1835. Copernicus characterized as “Neo-Platonist, provided the heliocentric system that the inhabitants of earth – the humans – were not occupying the central place in the universe, as earth was devoted to be just a planet like several others orbiting the ‘sun’ which had the pivotal position.
The Copernicus contradicted the cherished dogma of the Church, and stressed the need for simple physical and mathematical principles, which could explain the complexity of nature. Astronomy considered the ‘queen of sciences’, was the battleground between the fundamentalists – the believers of religious dogmas and the emerging scientific sensibility, representing Renaissance. Besides Copernicus, there were outstanding men like Galileo in Physics, Descartes in mathematics and Paracelsus in Chemistry. The new transformation in thinking was essentially to run down ‘faith’ and replace it with rationalistic point of view and that all the branches of natural philosophy were deemed to be scientific. Distinct polarities existed, one representing the divine and the spiritual as the source of knowledge and the other was logic, unearthing the mechanistic laws of the universe. The polemics took the lives of many who challenged the church dogma, for instance Bruno, a great follower of Copernicus was burned to death on the plea that he was a heretic, Socrates had to swallow a cup of poison for advocating logic as the determinant of truth, Galileo was put under arrest until his death. This did not, however, lower the passion of the Renaissance thinkers like Keppler who remained a staunch follower of Copernicus. It is in this duality that lies the great urge to seek what, in essence, is the nature of human being. According to a poet (Asghar Gondavi)
Kabhi sunna keh haqeeqat hay mairi lahoti
Kaheen yeh zid keh haioula-e-irtika hoon main
(Often I heard that in reality mankind’s existence was divine. But there is also a persistent proclamation that our structure is the product of ‘biological’ evolution)
Darwin was another shock giver. Not only the dwelling place of human beings– the earth – was at the centre of universe, but mankind’s existence was not at all divine. Darwin’s famous book, The Origin of the Species, replaced God’s hand in the creation by substituting random evolutionary chance for ‘Divine will’. Darwin saw no evidence of ‘beneficent design’ in the creation of the universe and as such he remained ‘Agnostic’. The concept of “struggle for existence” and the “survival of the fittest”, was elaborated by Herbert Spencer, who was the exponent of social Darwinism. While Darwin gave attitudinal shock, that the closest forefather of human being was ‘ape’ in the ladder of evolution, the Atlantic, nations and USA in particular, took the lesson of the ‘survival of the fittest’ quite seriously and opted for seeking military power as insurance against domination by any other rival. Soviet Union was to be contained. Cold War symbolized that sensibility. Unipolar world and its perpetuation remains the dominant strategic thought among the so called proponents of pragmatic strategic thinking – realpolitik – as it is known is essentially outcome of value-free secularism. Moral and ethical values were not enter the domain of power preponderance. Affairs of state should be separated from ‘faith’, which was to operate in the personal realm of the individual. Reason and faith were the dualities, as were mind and body (according to Descartes) an ardent follower of science. Darwin’s concept promoted the human image to be highly individualistic, which in turn, became selfish and greedy, with no compassion for the poor and deprived segments of humanity. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the manifestations of humanity – drained – sensibility. After World War II, USA took command over the world and each successive President waged at least two wars within his tenure.
The third great shock came in the writings of signed Freud who postulated that human beings were controlled by the unconscious mind, of which they were not even conscious of. Thus the entire concept of volition and choice was illusionary as one’s behaviour was determined by biological instincts – again the duality-between Death instinct (Thanatos) and life instinct – (Eros). The more one repressed the biological pleasure seeking instinct, the more he strayed away from normal existence towards abnormality. Thus liberated individual is one who gives vent to one’s libidinal (sexual) urges, which transform one into a libertine type of character seeking freedom from social taboos. Only quite recently A US student Karen Owen detailed her exploits with 13 men (22 year old student from Connecticut). She graduated from Duke University, North Carolina and her detailed exploits were reported in the Daily Telegraph, which became a global viral hit The 42-page document titled “An education beyond the classroom, excellence in the realm of horizontal academics.” She graphically reports her inner experiences and rates her 13 lovers in term of their sexual prowess on a ten-point scale along with their names and pictures. This is what modern liberalism has brought about in the secularistic ethos, as a much too coveted value called “freedom of expression”.
All scientists have not gone all out to debase the human image, Isaac Newton (1642-172) was a great scientist, and his ‘law of gravity’ occupies a position comparable to that of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Despite his mechanic view in which the “smallest particles as well as the largest celestial bodies all moved in accordance with the same mathematical principle”, had not renunciated faith and was deeply religious. His mechanistic universe was likened to a beautifully made clock, and if there were a clock, there must be clock maker – a creator. He strongly believed in revelation, and was of the view that “knowledge of God could be obtained through study of natural order.”
Science can not explain all aspects of reality and can be dangerous to humanity too. It was on this account that Einstein gave up his association with Manhattan Project, targeted to making atomic bombs. Einstein said: “I wish I were a cobbler rather than a scientist.” Prof Rotblat also dissociated himself from the dangerous project. Einstein also repudiated the “Big Bang” theory on the contention that God never gambled. Every thing in the universe was so precise and accurate that a chance explosion could not explain it. Science is no longer a sacred cow. It is both a saviour and sinner. Two parallel paths to knowledge – science and faith must find a means to co-exist. Scientific fundamentalism is as irrelevant as is theocratic dogma.
Secularism must be tempered with religious values: “freedom, justice, honour, duty and mercy” as these are the imperatives for promoting spiritual secularism as the paradigm for new global order.
Dr S. M. Rahman is Secretary General FRIENDS founded by General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan. He is widely acclaimed for his intellectual and scholastic contributions through various mediums. He is widely travelled and has lectured in many renowned universities of the world and Think Tanks.
He has authored several books in global and regional issues. Now he is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.