IOS Lecture on “Can Religion Survive in the Age of Science?”

The Institute of Objective Studies hosted an online lecture on “Can Religion Survive in the Age of Science?” on September 5, 2020. Prof. M R N Murthy, a distinguished professor at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Bengaluru, delivered the lecture. Prof. Murthy was a professor of molecular biophysics at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru. He was given the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for his outstanding contribution to physical sciences. 

Initiating the talk, Shaikh Nizamuddin, a member of the general assembly, IOS, held that the series of lectures undertaker by the Institute were being held under the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic which nobody knew where it would stop. He called for the proper understanding of the role of spiritualism vis-à-vis the emergence of science and technology and life during these times. 

Dr. Imtiyaz Hasan, who conducted the proceedings, pointed out that Prof. Murthy would speak beyond science, saying it was a duty to bring science to the common man. The lecture was aimed at connecting science with the common man, he said. 

Prof. Murthy observed that science was completely a divine and marvellous experience. Since its advancement from the 10th century, science had come a long way in making wonderful strides. Did anybody ever imagine that a plane can rise as high as 10 kms above the land with a payload of 183 kgs? Similarly, one of the marvels which the world could boast of was Burj Khalifa complex that was as one km tall. Nobody had imagined earlier that a tablet, an exhibit in a US city would say, “Please touch”. This was a stone brought from the space. He said that human intellect had a GPS which told one where to go, whither to turn. There were various things, like nuclear technology that had been brought to humans by science. 

It was due to the advancement of scientific knowledge that China was going to double its atomic arsenal. Today, it was amazing to see a machine that could see your whole body. He noted that science dealt with the physical world based on observations. Different from other fields, science was quantitative. Science could be 100 percent sure though scientific laws were tentative and based on assumptions. Science was a world of believables as knowledge from senses was believable. It was the belief on which we thought that having a number of children would lead to the problem of survival. Here logic came into play as everybody believed that a balance of population was necessary to feed people. Humans had material comfort today that was unimaginable in earlier times, he said.

Referring to the destructive aspect of science, Prof. Murthy said that due to scientific power, the Britishers exploited India to the hilt. There were certain aspects that went against religion. Science gave isolation. Religious knowledge was only qualitative and not quantitative as in the case of science. In religion, there was a demarcation between true and false. For instance, Islam was based on the Quran which was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH). In Hinduism, no particular scripture was prescribed for professing religion. He remarked that actually religion was not progressive, adding that by and large there was big difference between reality and practice among its adherents. 

Religion gave one a sense of purpose. He said that people were intolerant and violent because they practised religion. Giving the example of Goa, he observed that Christian missionaries were forcing people to convert to Christianity. Several cases of torture of those who refused to become Christian had been reported. In China’s Xinjiang province, Muslims were being stopped from performing their religious rituals and forced to shun religion. In Bangladesh, they pretended to be religious, but in practice they were intolerant. As against this, science had nothing to do with such things. He said science does not recognise the existence of God. This was also a distinctive aspect of science. Most of the religions of the world were founded before the development of modern science. He admitted that there existed conflict between religion and science. Today, the world had become a global village where a man could have breakfast in Mumbai, lunch in London and dinner in New York, he observed.

Prof. Murthy maintained that the change was so fast that the world today was different from what it was nine months ago. The whole world would look like a small unit from the prism of technological advancements. Its cosmopolitan character was manifested in the composition of population in different cities of the world. For instance, one could find people from many ethnic groups in New York. He said that science had confronted religion throughout history. That was the reason why Socrates had to consume hemlock due to his adherence to morality and ethnics. Similarly, Galileo had to face persecution from the Church. Science had made physical and biological gazing easy. The Sun’s family was our only home, though separated by 150 million kms. It was science that discovered the age of the universe which was supposed to be 13.8 billion years old. 

Listing other inventions, he said that bacteria were seen when microscope was developed. It was advantage science that most of the power needs of France were fulfilled by its atomic energy. Another feat made by science was the discovery of Molecule of our DNA which separated skin, colour, eye, hair, etc.; of one individual from the other. He observed that long, long ago, our earth was devoid of life. The most amazing thing on the earth was the human brain which showed that man occupied a central place in God’s concern.  He pointed out that lately Darwin’s theory had been challenged. Prof. Michael J. Behe was one such scientist who challenged Darwin’s theory of evolution in his book “Darwin’s Black Box”. He said that influence of science vs. religion spurred humans to look at life. Study of science came in the way of religion and the latter needed to reconcile to scientific discoveries. Herein lay the question of the survival of religion. He opined that science education was bound to become universal. 

Laying emphasis on the need for empathy mutual respect and understanding between Hindus and Muslims in India, Prof. Murthy said that this was the only way out of the current impasse. Spotting the areas where conflict between two or more communities was palpable, he observed that in India it was Hindus vs. Muslims and in the Middle-East, it was Shia vs. Sunni on one hand and Sunni vs Sufi on the other. In other parts of the world, it was Muslim vs Christian. Besides, conflict was visible between extremists and people of normal faith. While making reference to a shooting incident some ten years ago in France, he insisted that nothing should be done to hurt the religious sentiments of the people belonging to other faiths. We must learn how to adjust to the people of other faiths. He wished better understanding between Hindus and Muslims. He was all praise for the work being done by the IOS and expressed his desire to visit the Institute once to personally interact with its functionaries and acquaint himself with its activities. 

Dr. Imtiyaz Hasan, made an impassioned plea for coming together of the educated people of both the communities to find solution to vexatious problems. He said that the caste system penetrated deep into Indian society with the result that it had taken the from of an institution. But talent knew no religion or caste; it was universal. He held that science did not contradict everything in religion, but certain things one learnt in childhood were in conflict with religion. He said that many scientists were deeply religious and found no contradiction between science and religion.  Shaikh Nizamuddin pointed out that religion did recognise science and both of them were complementary to each other. The Quran itself talked about science and urged the humankind to respect morality and ethics, he said. 

In his concluding remarks, the Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Z M Khan, held that man was not guided by utilitarianism. It was the ethical values that decided what was good and what was bad, because these values were universal. If one wanted to understand religion, he must go into the essence of it. Since ethical and moral values were universal, they should be recognised by the scientific community, he concluded. 

At the end, Dr. Imtiyaz Hasan extended a vote of thanks to all attendees who were connected to the webinar in different parts of India and abroad.


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