In Good Faith: Pranam vs Pramana — why faith and science must co-exist

Source– The post is based on the article “In Good Faith: Pranam vs Pramana — why faith and science must co-exist” published in The Indian Express on 27th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS4- Ethics and human interface

Relevance– Conflict between values of scientific approach and faith

News– The article explains the difference between faith and science. It also explains how scientific understanding is being undermined today. It also suggests the way forward for harmonious coexistence between faith and science.

What is the difference between Pranam and Pramana?

Pranam– It is derived from Sanskrit with “pra” meaning “forward” while “ānama” means “bending or stretching”. Together, pranama means “bending, bowing in front”.

Pranam is a common Hindu traditional custom of greeting a person where one often bows to a superior person. Bowing to an eminent person and God is considered as a show of faith in them. It denotes faith, tradition, and dogma-based decisions.

Pramana– It is also a Sanskrit word, meaning “proof”. It refers to the concept of objectivity and science. It is the means that can lead to knowledge.

Three of the pramanas, which are almost universally accepted  are pratyakṣa (eyewitness or personal experience), anumāna (logical inference), śabda (expert opinion).

What is the difference between science and faith?

In a science-based society, people have the freedom to question things, and seek answers. Then, they can choose their way forward based on their own understanding.They are free to exchange notes and learn from each other. But this is not the case with faith.

The other important difference pertains to acceptance of change. Faith and dogma are constants and do not accept questioning.

As new discoveries occur, our understanding is updated. It is quite possible for scientifically appropriate thinking to change with update.

We can take the example of the health sector. Our attitudes towards menstruation is a case in point. Rather than treating it as a biological phenomenon, a lot of semi-religious customs have been built around it. They adversely affect a girl’s health.

Most parents and teachers are very uncomfortable discussing human biology with children. This is also reflected in health issues around childbirth, breastfeeding, and contraception.

The approach to promote traditional medicine reflects this fault line. There are conflicts between promoting traditional medicine just because it is our tradition, and insisting that it be subjected to the rigours of modern science.

How is scientific understanding being undermined?

Today, evidence based thinking is under threat. The overload of information and our inability to process them appropriately has resulted in faith being promoted in the presence of abundant information.

Evidence is manufactured to suit one’s point of view. Rejecting scientific institutions and scientists wholly is unfair.

The current Covid-19 pandemic provided a fertile ground for promoting faith and questioning science. Today, the teaching of science itself has become a ritual. It is more of rote learning than understanding.

What is the way forward for society?

Faith will always have a place in any society but should not be at the cost of science.

It is also important for faith-based organisations to understand the limitations of faith and not undermine the importance of science in daily life.

There is a need to learn to coexist by understanding the need for both for our societal wellbeing. Both need to be promoted but not at the expense of the other.

Teachers or parents should encourage children to ask questions and not only memorise theorems and formulae like mantras. Health professionals must also learn to not belittle faith.

Platforms for constant dialogue and harmonious coexistence between these two critical pillars of a society are needed in the current times.

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