Scientific Temper-not Science But A Way Of Life

Dr. S.S. Verma, Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal, Distt-Sangrur (Punjab)-148106

2019-03-08 09:07:02



Government of India at every level is putting its best efforts to inculcate scientific temper in its people. It is well accepted that even being illiterate people in villages always used to live a life full of scientific temper. The Scientific temper is a way of life (defined in this context as an individual and social process of thinking and acting) which uses the scientific method and which may, consequently, include questioning, observing physical reality, testing, hypothesizing, analyzing, and communicating (not necessarily in that order). Scientific temper is to lead a life which is environmental friendly, free of superstitions and efficient towards the use of natural resources.

Scientific temper describes an attitude which involves the application of logic.Discussion, argument and analysis are vital parts of scientific temper. Elements of fairness, equality and democracy are built into it. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (first prime minister of India) was the first to use the phrase in 1946.  Nehru believed that scientific temper would play a crucial role in the nation’s socio-economic development. The government at that period adopted various measures to inculcate scientific temper in a society ridden with superstitions and social evils like female infanticide and sati. He later gave a descriptive explanation: What is needed is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind -all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems.

The genesis and development of the idea of the scientific temper is connected to ideas expressed earlier by Charles Darwin when he said, freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science and Karl Marx said that religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. Nehru wrote that the scientific temper goes beyond the domains to which science is conventionally understood to be limited to, and deals also with the consideration of ultimate purposes, beauty, goodness and truth. Nehru also contended that the scientific temper is the opposite of the method of religion, which relies on emotion and intuition and is (mis)applied to everything in life, even to those things which are capable of intellectual inquiry and observation. While religion tends to close the mind and produce "intolerance, credulity and superstition, emotionalism and irrationalism", and "a temper of a dependent, unfree person", a scientific temper "is the temper of a free man". He also indicated that the scientific temper goes beyond objectivity and fosters creativity and progress. He envisioned that the spread of scientific temper would be accompanied by a shrinking of the domain of religion, and the exciting adventure of fresh and never ceasing discoveries, of new panoramas opening out and new ways of living, adding to life's fullness and ever making it richer and more complete. Nehru states that it is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people.

Progress towards inculcating scientific temper

To develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform is one of the fundamental duties of the people of the Republic of India, according to the Constitution of India. The Government of India, through the National Council for Science and Technology Communication, dedicated the 28 February National Science Day of 2014 to the theme "Fostering Scientific Temper" to spread vision of scientific temper. According to Article 51 (A) sub section-H of the Indian Constitution, every citizen is obligated to develop scientific temper; but this is not put into practice. Not just the general public, even the scientists and the government have ignored this concept. In the medical sector, for example, there are a large number of irrational systems. Homeopathy, which thousands of people believe in, is completely unscientific and irrational. We must make people understand the method that science uses to acquire knowledge. Superstitions and irrational beliefs are widespread in India and can be removed only by creating awareness among children about the lack of logic and reason in such beliefs. The process of creating such awareness should begin at home and continue in school. Unfortunately, this does not happen in India. Right from the very beginning children should be educated to avoid superstitions and irrational beliefs. They should be taught to analyze and deal with superstition on a scientific basis. Teaching scientific methods of thinking doesn’t take much time and should be a part of the school curriculum. There are number of organizations working in the country which have hundreds of thousands of members spreading scientific temper.  People need convincing answers to their qurries that are reasonable and logical. For example, people argue about the importance of Vaastu which figures in the ancient Indian texts. But the fact remains that what is written in books is not always the truth. So these organizations spread awareness about the fact that though concepts like Vaastu are followed around the world, there is no proof of how these concepts make people happy.

Scientific temper is the habit of coming to conclusions and making decisions based on evidence, reason and logic and not, having blind beliefs, being superstition and believing in supernatural powers. We unfortunately project science merely as a body of knowledge where as science is not a body of knowledge but is primarily a set of methods, a tool-kit which we use to generate knowledge. In the method of science we make observations and experiments and use evidence, logic and internal consistency to make decisions. We must create a situation where everybody can be a scientist when it is necessary to use a scientific method and everybody can afford to be a non-scientist when it is not necessary to use the scientific method. If we want everyone to make evidence-based decisions, we must make it possible for everyone to have access to and be able to understand the evidence. And that is why we must teach science as a set of methods and not merely as a body of facts that scientists have discovered by some kind of magic and happen to believe in. Only then can we create scientific temper in the society and remove blind faith and superstition.  Overall education (not only science education) should empower a child to apply the scientific method – observation, experiment, logic, internal consistency and a questioning and disbelieving attitude – to decide whether what he or she has been told is plausible.