Sunday, December 04, 2011

On Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion

Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion seemed like a unique book as the author's background is extremely unique, and the concept of blending two completely opposite lines of thoughts, is what attracted me to this book (and I guess several others got attracted too, making this book into a bestseller).

It had an interesting start, but the later chapters failed to live upto the promise. So much could have been written on amalgamation of the two disciplines in the past by people like Mendel who were trained philosophers/theologists but carried out scientific experiments on evolutionary, genetic and natural phenomena; the growing distance and discord between the disciplines at present; Darwin's unique position in the scene, etc. But there's not much that's not been said already. Almost all of it has been said before, and in much eloquent words. I am not even going to mention the parts where he brings in creationism

In one of the few interesting pages of the book however, he talks about the general attitude of scientists. I am quoting here a few lines from the book, which I have come to believe for some time now, and have had interesting debates with friends and family, most of who are ardent scientists. Ayala says, "Science is a way of knowing, but it is not the only way. Knowledge also derives from other sources, such as common sense, artistic and religious experience, and philosophical reflection...In the Math of Sisyphus, the great French writer Albert Camus asserted that we learn more about ourselves and the world from a relaxed evening's perception of the starry heavens and scents of grass than from science's reductive ways...Astonishing to me is the assertion made by some scientists and others that there is no valid knowledge outside science. I respond with a witticism that I once heard from a friend: "In matters of value, meaning, and purpose, science has all the answers, except the interesting ones"...

I am borderline offended by some of his comments, but that's because his observations are correct. We as scientists are indirectly trained to practice my way or the highway philosophy towards people outside science. As open as we are to anyone from our own profession - even to those contradicting us - we are dramatically closed toward people from disciplines outside science. That is one aspect on which the book fares well, sometimes humorous, sometimes offensive, and mostly very correct in its observations on today's science practitioners. If you want to look at science through the eyes of a trained scientist who has spent considerable time outside science, this is a good book. And who knows, if you don't have as many expectations from the book as I did, and you are a beginner in the subject who hasn't read Dawkins, and other vehement authors, there's a chance you would like overall content of the book too.

2 comments:

Rathchakra said...

This intrigues me sufficiently to read it. Seen this? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0974014/

Interesting premise but left me underwhelmed.

A said...

You could easily give it a miss. Instead, you could read The Selfish Gene/The Blind Watchmaker/The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Amazing books.

Haven't seen the movie...