18-May-2011, 04:55 PM
Quote:Eminent cosmologist Stephen Hawking will deliver a keynote today at Google Zeitgeist meeting in London where he’ll address the question: Why are we here?
But before that he’s already stoked the fire. In an interview to The Guardian yesterday he said the belief that there is an afterlife or a heaven (or even hell?) waiting for us is a “fairy story”. Famous for his views on religion, he once again rejected the theory of life after death.
Pope Benedict XVI greets British professor Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican. The eminent scientist rejects theories like afterbirth and heaven after death. Osservatore Romano/Reuters
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Though this piece in The Guardian isn’t much of an interview, the journalist could have probed him further to find out if the brain is the hardware (as components refer to) then where does the software, or the algorithms that make a computer what it is, fit? But Hawking made an interesting point when asked how we should live. He said: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”
The debate between science and religion is always explosive. Without getting into the “for and against” battle, I’d like to ask a simple question: Does being overtly religious serve any purpose in science? Let me give an example, though there are plenty from Indian science.
Why does the Indian Space Research Organization pay homage (thankfully it doesn’t carry its satellites and rockets) to the temple in Tirumala before every launch? Mind you, it’s not a personal homage (and I have nothing against that as long as it is kept private); it’s an institutional ritual.
Is it the Tirumala blessing that ensures foolproof launch or is it the exacting standards in technology development or stringent review process? (Some of them are losing their rigour as I wrote in this recent piece in Forbes India.)
Or, why does even the highest level of scientific conference when organized in India have to start with an invocation to some god or goddesses? If the organizers so wish, they can start their day by private prayers at home. Why make it a ritual in official events?
Most eminent scientists worldwide are known to be non-believers. In fact, even today all good scientists in the West are non-believers. I think atheism, or even agnosticism, works better for science. You work with universal principles and aim to achieve results that can be verified by all, nothing is, or should be, left to God.
The Institute of the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) of Trinity College in Connecticut, US, and the Centre for Inquiry India, Hyderabad, did the largest sociological study on Indian scientists in 2008. It found Indian scientists are divided down the middle.
Does that symbolize a lack of scientific temper?
On a side note: Holy Christ on popsicle, I didn't know ISRO pay homage to Trimula temple before every launch? Interesting comments on the article, there are people who still believe it is just a cultural tradition.