Science & Philosophy

Science Versus Religion: A Report From The World Atheist Conference

I celebrated the New Year (going by the Julian calendar, I mean; not the Malayalam New Year, my favorite!) by attending the 7th World Atheist Conference held at Vijayawada in the first week of January 2009. The conference was organized by the Atheist Centre founded by Gora, the Gandhian atheist and the center is now run by his children and grandchildren. It is the second time that I have attended the conference – now a biennial one. Although it was called the “World Conference”, all of the foreign delegates were from Europe, making the conference more of a Euro-Indian one, than a “world conference” proper.

The most important aspect of being a delegate of the conference is, in my opinion, the opportunity that the conference gives to an interested delegate to meet and interact with fellow atheists from various parts of India.

For that, at least, we should be grateful to the Atheist Centre for organizing the conference on a regular basis. Since I have written elsewhere about the conference (see the e-zine, Bangalore Skeptic, February 2009), I do not want to dwell on that here.

[smartads]Instead, I would like to share here with the readers of Nirmukta the gist of an interesting lecture delivered at the conference by Ms Chandana Chakrabarti. Ms Chakrabarti is a former Communications Officer with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad. She is also a co-author (with Prof Pushpa M Bhargava, Founder-Director of CCMB) of a recent book on scientific temper – Angels, Devil and Science, published by National Book Trust, a Government of India undertaking. (Prof. Bhargava revealed at the World Atheist Conference, which he inaugurated, that the first edition of the book had now been sold out! That definitely gives hope for the rationalist movement in India!).

Here I reproduce the essence of Ms Chakrabarti’s talk that, in my opinion, succinctly brings out the differences between science and religion. Can the readers of Nirmukta come out with any more?

Religion

Science

Belief in Supernatural

No place for supernatural beliefs

Has godmen

Does not accept godmen or anybody unquestioningly

Essence of religion is miracle

No miracle in science

Based on revelation

Based on Method of Science

Makes predictions that cannot be tested, as in astrology

Makes testable predictions

Religion is static – once formed never changes

Science is dynamic – evolves continuously

In religion, truth represents the opinion of its leaders

In science, truth is not somebody’s opinion. It can be verified, tested and validated.

No built-in correction

Built-in correction present

Questioning is not permissible

Questioning is one’s fundamental right

Godmen have answer for everything

Scientists do not have any hesitation to admit that they don’t know

Parochial

International

Divides the people

Unites the people

Inspired by emotion

Guided by logic

About the author

Manoj TV

10 Comments

  • Manoj,

    Thanks for the update. Although it would be nice to hear more about different speakers and their perspectives. Are there any videos of the event and is it available in the public domain? When I searched for it, I could only find 3 videos entitled “7th World Atheist Conference in Vijayawada – Magic Show Narendra Naik” and I could hardly make out anything from the audio.

    In this youtube era, I think that would be helpful in spreading the message of the rationalists if we could have the videos uploaded. I understand that such conferences do not have a lot of sponsors and financial constraints are real. So maybe there is a workaround.

    As for the differences between science and religion, I think such differences should be taught more often in schools as many people are not aware what science constitutes. Although frankly, I know many believers who would claim that astrology is testable and hence scientific, religion is an unifying force and is based on logic and reason.

    • To my knowledge, there are no videos on the proceedings of the conference uploaded on to the web, though videos were indeed shot thorought the conference. I hope Atheist Centre will upload some of these videos. I also hope that some of the readers of nirmukta who attended the conference will upload their views on the conference.

      I agree with you that the difference should be taught in schools. Not necessarily to disparage religion, but as part of teach Critical Thinking.

      – Manoj

  • so far not a single religion has become succesful to prove that they know the realities beyhond nature even religion were unable to tell the realities of the nature also.they did not allow logic and testimony even rationality is also dissallowed . Many religious belief are proved wrong by science like earth is round and revolving around the sun copernicas, gallilo bruno were jailed and burnt alive by the than king along with priest it is not a heinous crime commited by religious priest. religions are compelled to agree with the science because they did not know the truth of the nature they hire from science but did not give credit to science and scientist.science is unanimously accepted throughout the world while religions are not. proved theory of science never prove wrong while religions are highly critical and appose rituals and ceremonies of other religion .every religion has its own theory distinct from other and did not accept other religion for granted. God is imaginary concept thats why there are many forms and belief about god. there is No scientific basis of god .some believe in idole workship while others not some perform puja while others not.more than 10 millian people did not believe in god even though there life is running same as others. There are terrorism in the name of religion in the world .history is evident of blood shed in the name of religion .magical tricks are beding used to make ignorant people fool and they often cheated in the name of god and godman .religion are being used to exploit and divide people by cunning people and it prove to be threat for peace and tranquality. It is high time to teach religious principle in the school curriculam to understand the real motive of religion. there should be debate on every forum on the science and religion .in this way people will understand the real face of the religion and hypricy of crooks like godman.Religions should be accountable to the people also.
    Thank you.

    • You have nicely elaborated on the difference between religion and science. I too think that comparative religion with a heavy doze of critical thinking, not unquestioning acceptance of this or that religious belief, should be taught in schools.

      Thanks

      – Manoj

  • religion v/s science fight is on from ages scientist contributed Unprecedented servised for the humanity but religious mythology and their follower contributed nothing in fact they cheat society they promote hypocisy and divide people on the ground of communal hatred. look what a great scientist were there and what they given to the society.
    Father of modern astronomy nicoloous copernicus (1473 -1543)born in poland founder of copernicus theory. He was a great mathemetician astronomer also studied law and medicine.
    copernican theory is known as the heliocentric hypothesis. that means sun is the center of our solar system and earth is rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun. His views created a scientific revolution at that time as most astronomer believed in the theory of the greak astronomer ptomlemy that the earth was at the centre of the universe and stars and planets moved around it i.e. the geocentric view af the universe the copernican theory creat great controversy and try to prove earliar religion based theory wrong but he was unable to prove it correctly. later in 17th centuary Gallilio from Itly and capller from germany proved copernican theory correct and unanimously accepted by scientist through out the world .the revolutionary work af copernicus ,gallilio kepller pave the way for development of modern astronomy as well as overall deveopment of science .these scientist face lots of agony of priest and kings peacefully but after the recognition of scientific theory unanimously all over the world by not only scientist but intelectual as well. even redligious people also accepted but not openly in fact they accept indirectly .they take benefit of scientific invention but criticise the science . science and scientist done tremendous service of the society..
    Genesis theory of all religion is contradictory ambiguous untestifiable and unscientific they did not give much emphasis on old version of genisis theory after the inventions of modern science and its theory got popularity among people.They cleverly change their text of the holy book and interpretation according to the scientific theory .
    What a atrocities commited by priest and king against scientist like bruno who had been burnet alive and gallilio who put behind bars at the age of 70 . Thanks for the pope who at least offer apology for gallilio in 1992 he accepted that gallilio was correct that time but judges of church was wrong as they were unable to understand between experiment of scientific system and faith..Britain church offer opollogy to Darwin in september 2008 .
    UN is celebrating 2009 – International Year of Astronomy and recognizing „

    that the study of the universe has led to numerous scientific discoveries that have great influence not only on humankind’s understanding of the universe but also on the technological, social and economic development of society“ and „that astronomy proves to have great implications in the study of science, philosophy, religion and culture“.

    britain is celebrating 200 years of darwin.
    I express my solidarity with them in it’s participation in Darwin Day Celebration. Charles Darwin made one of the most important contribution to science and freethinking by properly articulating the process of evolution and developing the theory of natural selection. Lest we forget the contribution of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution in the emancipation of the human mind, it has become very important to celebrate Darwin Day with an aim to: “promote public education about science” and “eradication of pseudoscience, superstition and taboos from peoples mind”.

    I wish the efforts of scientific community for Darwin Day Cellebration every success

  • It would be good if one could find access to “Origin of family, private property and state” by Karl Marx and Friedreich Engels, a very good anthropological compendium

  • Dear Sirs/Ma’ms,
    “It is the nature of a hypothesis,that once conceived,all our energy, thoughts are directed towards it to prove or disprove it with all our vigour and force – rightly or wrongly.”

    This is not the actual quote but the essence of the meaning of a quote as I remember off hand as I am out of station and travelling right now. This was quoted by a well known Professor of Surgery from UK during his lecture in a surgical conference at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi sometime aroud mid-1990s. I have found it applicable in all other situations too.

    The institution and the portal created herewith is obviously directed to atheism/rationalism and in the name of science. Obviously, we have already convinced ourselves against so-called religion and in favour of so-called science. I have perused the comparative list between religion and science by Ms. Chakravarti. Please permit me to be fair and explicit that it is her own interpretation and remains to be discussed. I say it with all my humility and due respects to her.

    I beg your kind and independent attention, forgetting for a moment the dichotomy between religion and science for the sake of discussion. Etymologically, words ‘religion’ and ‘science’ mean ‘to unite’ and ‘knowledge’ respectively. The word knowledge, as far as I can make out, does not limit us to a particular kind of knowledge. And it should not. Knowledge has no limit, no age, no time, no place, no bar to sex, cast, sect/path, and I do not know if I should include the word religion in this contest or not without any malice. It is a huge subject of dichotomy between religion and science which started insidiously perhaps 2nd or 3rd CE. It has now become a burning issue in some quarters, covertly or overtly, being encouraged, both by some religious and political institutions, for their means or ends; rightly or wrongly.

    This brings us to the shelter of the behavioural sciences of average human nature of carnal pleasure and materialism limited to this ephemeral world. This is a huge subject in its own right; and dificult to get involved in this short space to justify it. Please allow me to add comment as to my own views of religion which is not what is normally understood in common parlance and contemporarily. This may be another issue. But, if, as I understand, being a man who loves to call himself an “Investigative Scientist”, the big problem appears that neither ‘religion’ nor ‘science’ are properly understood in their proper perspective. I hasten to add my humility while I say so. Both have their own separate dimensions, own fields, own necessity, own definitions and are neither substitutes nor contradictory to each other. In stead, they are both supplementary and compementary to each other, as I understand it.

    Problem has been that a bigotry in both fields due to human weakness of ‘Ego” and worldly pleasures has made it a big business to keep the dichotomy vibrantly thriving and further nurturing it to the point where we stand today – at the brink of terrorism and disastrous destruction – not only of the humanity but the entire globe itself. Global warming is a well known ubiquitous cry today.

    The need of the hour, to my mind, is a proper understanding and a patient re-evaluation of our total understanding of the prevailing social order if we have to survive. At the same time, we have to consider as to how do we lead or mislead the society by properly placed or misplaced sentiments/teachings either religious or scientific. Not to forget that the fastest speed is still maintained by “Thought” – imaginary or real.

    Before I conclude with my above obvervations, I beg to apologise if I have difered with someone in my views, but I do not have any, not the least, intention to hurt anyone. Rather I hold them with very high esteem. More so, I am concerned that the science should be allowed to progress freely without attaching any tags to it. Let not shut our doors either for incoming or outgoing views, however obsolete or archaic they may sound; simply because they do not confirm/match our own hard ingrained concepts, since we never know as to when there may be another “EUREKA”. I am glad that the recent particle knowledge in the subatomic nature of the matter and antimatter is bringing the “Physics” and “Philosophy” fairly close and the day may not be very far away when the ‘Berlin Wall’ of already started slogan of “Applied Physics” and “Applied Philosophy” is not very far away to collapse. Sooner it does, the better it will be. Let us be a bit more openly receptive, rational and scientific.

    With my loving and caring regards to all of you who are so deeply concerned for the human survival and existence. Let the mother Nature guide us and our conscience to more cuteness and acuity; towards a better understanding of the Universe.

    Om Sudrania

  • I am in confusion how to respond to the comments by Dr O. P. Sudrania, because his comments are in response to Ms Chandana Chakrabarti’s talk. Since my role in writing this blog is only that of a reporter, I have no way to assume how Ms Chakrabarti would respond to it. I hope Dr Sudrania’s comments will catch the attention of Ms Chakrabarti.

    Yet it may not be incorrect if I make an attempt to respond to it since I share in a very large measure the views expressed by Ms Chakrabarti. Hence this response.

    Dr Sudrania’s comment first reminded me of what Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion. Defining the concept of god which he criticizes, Prof Dawkins writes, “The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason. (Page 19)

    This quotation from Prof Dawkins is equally applicable when it comes to the idea of religion discussed in my blog. One who goes through the article would immediately know which religion Ms Chakrabarit was referring to. It is, to paraphrase Prof Dawkins, the religion of the supernatural, of godmen, of miracles, of revelation, of untestable claims, the religion which is static and which demands unquestionable obedience to the authority that Ms Charkarabarti targets. It will be not only incorrect, but also “intellectual treason’ – to use Prof Dawkin’s terminology, though it may sound a bit harsh – to first define the word Religion after its etymological origin and then discuss the Ms Chakrabarti’s arguments.

    Dr Sudrania writes, “Both (religion and science) have their own separate dimensions, own fields, own necessity, own definitions and are neither substitutes nor contradictory to each other. In stead, they are both supplementary and complementary to each other”. These words remind me of the writings of yet another Evolutionary Biologist, Prof Stephen J Gould, who coined the word NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) in an attempt to reconcile the “apparent contradiction” between the two Magisteria – Religion and Science. And he concludes, “If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions residing properly within the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution” (Rocks of Ages – Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life).

    Well, though Prof Gould is one of my favorite writers, here I don’t quite agree with him. But a discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of this blog. Perhaps I will revisit the topic at a later time.

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