The Debate on Scientific Temper
ON 19 July 1981, a document entitled "A Statement on Scientific Temper" was issued at the Nehru Centre in Bombay. The signatories to the statement constitute a varitable "who's who" of the established and adminstratively strategically placed intellectuals, academicians and scientists of the country. Gathered together "to share our common concern at the accelerating pace of retreat from reason", they issued the statement with the intention of generating "a nation-wide discussion" and "hopefully... a movement for the much needed second renaissance in our country" (P N Haksar's fore-ward to the statement). A complicity with the objectives, if not with the formulations, has prompted this critique of Bombay statement, on the one hand, and on the other, of the counter-statement, published recently in some leading dailies, by Ashis Nandy.
If the Bombay statement is a muddle-headed and logically contradictory attempt to understand the process of growth and development of science and society, the counter-statement issued by Ashis Nandy is both phoney and pernicious. The former, paying lip-service to the significant role of science in creating an egalitarian society, believes that the Indian ruling classes can deliver the goods provided only that the logic of planning and the logic of our socio-economic structure are "scientifically" harmonized. The latter is an unashamed defence of the status quo which couches its glorification of obscurantism in a presumptuous philosopy.1
To take the Bombay statement first, a crucial, generalized question to be posed is why, despite the political thrust provided by a major leader of the national movement and certainly the dominant figure of post-independence India, Jawaharlal Nehru, the attempt to "inculcate scientific temper" not only failed but led to a situation where "we are witnessing a phenomenal growth of superstitious beliefs and obscurantist practices". The statement notes but makes no genuine attempt to provide an explanation for this fact. It identifies two apparent causes for this failure: i) the lack of appreciation of the relationship between objectives to be achieved and the methods and instrumentalities to be adopted, and ii) a "lack of systematic and sustained effort". The first is a lapse on the part of what the