Wonderful for the soul and necessary for the society

RICHARD

Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist by Richard Dawkins, Random House, US $28.00, Pp 448, August 2017, ISBN 978-0399592249

The conflict between religion and science or between dogma and reason is very old. It can be traced back to the day when the human beings started wondering about the world and sought questions that were not easy. As there were no easy answers, human beings satisfied their curiosity by explaining the world in a religious/dogmatic way. It was only a few centuries ago that humans started employing science to explain the world. But the conflict still continues. Although science has gained a lot of ground in the last couple of centuries, there is still a lot of more ground to be covered. In Science in the Soul, leading advocate of science Richard Dawkins argues science is both wonderful and necessary. It is wonderful for the soul but also necessary for the society, for our well-being, for our short-term and long-term future. Dawkins explains this in his 42 essays written over the last three decades and collected in Science in the Soul.

Dawkins says that science works by rigorous adherence to objective values. There is objective truth out there and it is our business to find it. Science has in place disciplined precautions against personal bias, confirmation bias, prejudgment of issues before the facts are in, experiments are repeated, double-blind trials exclude the pardonable desires of scientists to be proved right — and more laudable bending over backward to maximize our opportunity to be proved wrong. An experiment done in New York can be replicated by a lab in New Delhi and we expect the conclusion to be the same regardless of geography or the cultural or historic biases of the scientists.

Can any other academic disciplines such as theology make a similar claim? The answer is a big ‘No.’ Philosophers happily speak of ‘continental philosophy’ as opposed to analytical philosophy’ Philosophy departments in American or British universities might seek a new appointment to ‘cover the continental tradition.’ Can you imagine a science department advertising for a new professor to cover ‘continental chemistry’? Or ‘the Eastern tradition in Biology’? Of course, the answer is again ‘No.’ The very idea is a bad joke. That says something about the values of science which are not the same as those of philosophy.

Scientists often disagree with each other. But, Dawkins says, they are proud to agree on what new evidence it would take to change their minds. The route to any discovery will be published and whoever follows the same route should arrive at the same conclusion. If you lie or fiddle with your figures or publish only that part of the evidence that supports your preferred conclusion, you will be found out. In any case, you won’t get rich by doing science, so why do it at all if you undermine the only point of the enterprise by lying. A scientist is much more likely to lie to a spouse or a tax inspector than a scientific journal.

Science in the Soul is a necessary collection of fascinating and insightful essays in support of science against religion/dogma by one of the leading advocates of science and reason, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins conclusively shows that the scientific way of thinking is critical for better life. He has beautifully explained the differences between science and religion/dogma and explained why the scientific way of thinking is superior. These essays were written over last three decades but they are as relevant and timely today as they were ten, twenty or thirty years ago. It is a must-read for everybody.