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Science and Scientific Attitude
Submitted by admin on 30 June, 1999 - 12:06
Justice R A Jahagirdar chaired PLENARY VIII -SCIENCE, SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE AND THE ANTI-SCIENCE MOVEMENT.
Georges Liénard spoke on the Ethical Implications related to advances in Biology. He represented the IHEU at the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (2-4 December 1998) and has participated in the biomedical group in the Council of Europe.
He stressed the need for a critical approach to the questions of bio-ethics - there are ethical choices involved in the development and application of new biological possibilities. Genetically modified agricultural plants are not easily detectable in their products. There are dangers such as the spread of pollen to other species. Economic interests tended to predominate. It was imperative to organise an ethical input into this area. The practice of genetic testing of embryos for heritable diseases is likely to develop. The report from the UNESCO Bioethics Committee stated:
UNESCO?s aim is to make human rights progress in matters that could not have been envisaged fifty years ago. But is an extension to objects that are not persons such as embryo, human genome, and other life(?) legitimate? Are they not being made sacred in a new way? Putting the ?human genome? under the protection of human rights which aim to protect persons and not abstractions has previously prompted questions on the legitimacy of such a step.
Professor Jayant Narlikar, one of India's best known scientists, novelist and science populariser, and director of the Inter University Centre for Advanced Astrophysics, Pune, spoke on the desirability of "Popularizing Science and Scientific Temper". Science had once been developed and funded on an individual basis; now with large costs and team work society must understand science - which is sometimes paid for by the tax payer.
Ignorance often produces anti-science. People in high office consult astrologers: but is astrology in any way empirically testable? People who practice yoga are able to travel to the moon and Jupiter and bring back vivid reports of what they see but when I ask them to travel to the next room by the same means to read something I have written on a piece of paper they won?t do it. The new fad of Feng Shui (geomancy) - which lays down rules about the layout of a house for a beneficent outcome - is spreading. We need to understand science and bring comprehension of it to the community.
The final speaker of the session, Dr. Jean-Claude Pecker, professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at the Collège de France, discussed "Science and the Paranormal". He outlined some of the characteristics of science. Science is based on the principle that there is a real, self-consistent world, that scientific experiments are reproducible, that they are accessible to falsification, and they should not contradict established laws of science. Science should not be distorted to fit the prevailing views of the time. The Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe was not devised to fit the scriptures but to explain the evidence. There is some unknown, but as science advances the unknown becomes part of the known - but more unknown comes.
Science teaching is essential, he said, yet some Muslim countries give children no science teaching.
Paranormal events from St Teresa levitating to the image of Christ on the Shroud of Turin had no basis in science. Soft medicine such as homoeopathy could not be distinguished from auto-suggestion. People like mysteries or to be entertained, but the physical and chemical explanation must lie behind the understanding of all observable phenomena.
He questioned the validity of the Big Bang describing it as a false science - "it doesn?t exist". It was originally propounded by Pope Pius XII to support the churches position on creation. Another false science is creationism.
He referred to the stones in France and Europe that fell from the sky. Originally dismissed as impossible by scientists they are now known to be meteorites. The scientists were wrong when they said that it could not happen. All that this indicates is that science is progressing. We should all be skeptical enquirers a priori.