P V Indiresan

Faith in the age of science

P. V. INDIRESAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on July 13, 2012

There must be some force that manages this huge universe as well as the tiniest component and which goes by God’s name.

This is the week of the God Particle. Actually, Ledermann, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote a book entitled The Goddamn Particle: If Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? His editor, either because he was a sincere Christian and hence considered the word ‘goddamn’ blasphemous or merely because he did not like the profanity, changed the name to ‘God Particle’. So, it has remained since.

The discovery of the God Particle, has naturally raised the question whether God exists or not. There are many scientists, so euphoric about the successes of science that they deny His existence, or may be, they think they themselves are God. On the other hand, some lesser scientists like Albert Einstein or our own Raman believed in God.

Let me explain: our nearest star, the sun, is a mere eight minutes away as measured with the speed of light. The next closest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. That means if our solar system were reduced to the size of a small bungalow in Chennai, its nearest neighbour will be in Bengaluru. That is how empty our universe is.

In fact, our galaxy has a billion stars, most of them far larger than our sun and there are several billion galaxies in our universe, the farthest being some 13-14 billion light years away. The question is who manages that vast expanse?

Science has answered many questions. It says the lowest temperature we can have is 273 degrees centigrade below zero but does not explain why that particular temperature.

Unanswered questions

Science also says that our huge universe started from a point billions of years ago. It does not say what happened before that. Scientists admit they do not as yet know everything.

For instance, why Satyendranath Bose did not get the Nobel Prize but Higgs of the Higgs boson, now known as the God particle, deserves it. They cannot explain the universe either without postulating dark matter which cannot be observed at all but should comprise some 80 per cent of the universe.

It appears to me that there must be some force that manages this huge universe as well as the tiniest component and which goes by God’s name. Is that God?

Frankly, I do not know what God is. How was He (or is it a She?) born? How does He control this universe? I do not know. There are many people (most people in fact) who pray to Him (sorry if it should be Her!) for many, many things.

For instance, people supporting both teams pray to God during cricket matches. Whom should God please? Does he calculate the numbers or measure the intensity of their prayers?

Frankly, I do not know. I feel that He is not interested. It is possible He leaves it to, what the Hindus call, prarabhdha karma. But then whose prarabhdha karma should that be — that of the players or of the spectators? Frankly, I do not know.

However, any visit to a temple, a church or a mosque will tell anyone that virtually everyone believes in God, in prayer; they have faith that He will grant their wishes if only they follow the rules properly.

That includes the Al Qaida who think that they will go to heaven and will be served by many houris (I wonder why women are left out) when they destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan or the ancient temples and libraries of Mali.

I have heard of the story of a businessman who went to Allahabad and asked the boatman to take him to Prayag. When the destination was reached, he dipped a big bag he was carrying three times.

When the boatman asked him why, he replied: “This is black money; I am making it white!” So, God can not only do many things but he can do so only in certain holy spots.

Basic difference

There is a basic difference between faith and scientific spirit. Faith applies to what we do not know but believe in.

In contrast, scientific spirit does assume a few hypotheses like, for instance, for the electromagnetic theory to be true but only till experiments prove them false. One single experiment is enough for a scientist to give up his theories.

For instance, scientists gave up their belief in the ether once the Michelson-Morley experiment disproved its existence. On the other hand, for a person of faith, even one confirmation — however accidental — is enough to reinforce that faith.

When I was Director of IIT Madras, I invited Zail Singh, the then President of India, to address the Silver Jubilee Convocation. He agreed to give the address at 5 p.m. on that day, a Sunday.

I could see the consternation on the faces of the deans when I told them the news. (In South India, but not elsewhere, there are certain periods every day when it is considered extremely inauspicious to do anything; on Sundays, that period falls between 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m.)

It so happened that on the day of the Convocation one of the local parties called a bandh to condemn the Sri Lankan Government’s actions against the Tamilians there. Although I did not want to, I was ordered to postpone the Convocation.

When another day (incidentally a Sunday) was proposed for the visit of the President, I had a delegation of senior professors requesting an hour be chosen outside the rahu kaalam. Their relief was immense when they heard that it was at noon.

I am afraid faith is stronger than the scientific spirit. So, superstition does exist but does God? God alone knows!

(This is 333rd in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on June 30.)

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Response to [email protected] and [email protected])

Published on July 13, 2012
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