(Some people believe in Religion, others believe in Science. But in the mind of a common man, both are beliefs, an act of faith)
A contemporary thinker belonging to what is now called as “post-modernist” thought, makes some interesting observations. He says that what people call or believe as “Truth” is a hoax perpetuated by a small group of people on the rest of humanity. In every epoch or age of human history, a small group, who are the best minds of the age with a much more powerful mind or heart or personality than the masses, agree among themselves what is “truth” and impose it on the rest of mankind, which believes it blindly, without questioning, on faith.
In the ancient world it was Religion. A few religious men and women agreed upon what was truth and imposed it on the masses. In our modern age it is Science. Here again a group of scientific elite arrive at a consensus on what is the truth of life and matter and impose it on the rest of humanity.
There is a grain of truth in these observations. We can have a glimpse of it in the faith of our modern mind in Science. For example if a Nobel Laureate in Science says that the ultimate unit of matter is at once a particle and a wave, which sounds very esoteric and occult, I accept it reverentially without questioning. When the scientists say further that this wave is not a physical wave like an electromagnetic wave but a mathematical wave of probabilities like the crime wave in a city, I nod my head admiringly though to some part in my mind it appears as a bizarre abstraction. A wave which has no verifiable reality in subjective experience or objective fact, but exists only as a mathematical abstraction in the minds of a few theoretical physicists… what is the guarantee that it is not a hoax, perpetuated by a small group of scientific elite on the rest of humanity? The scientist may say “You need not believe. You can verify it mathematically and experimentally”. But how many of us have the scientific or mathematical knowledge to verify it? The scientist may again say that “you have to acquire it by education and training”. But this applies only to a few who are going to pursue a career in theoretical physics or advanced mathematics. But the majority of us will not go through this training in our life time and verify it, but still believe in it. What is the basis of this belief? I believe, because I have faith in the character and integrity of the community of quantum physicists who might have verified it within themselves. So, it need not be a hoax; it can be a verifiable truth, but only by a few. My faith in the words of the scientist may be legitimate, but still it is faith.
The point which I am trying to make here is that a layman’s faith in advanced science is as much a religious belief as the faith in God. The saints and sages who made great spiritual discoveries demand only a similar kind of faith. Take for example the discoveries of Upanishadic seers in ancient India regarding Atman, the Universal Self beyond our ego-self where we can feel our oneness with all creation. A community of spiritual explorers have discovered this spiritual truth and verified it among themselves and they say to us, “We have found these truths by following an inner discipline and verified it among ourselves. You can also verify it if you go through the discipline which we have followed. But the discipline is difficult and it requires much sincerity and persistence in the effort to reach the end. If you follow the discipline in the right way and under right guidance and purify and tranquilise your mind and heart, initially you will get intuitive glimpses of your higher Self in your mind, which you can pursue deeper and further in meditation and arrive at the experience and realization”.
Is this not more or less the same faith demanded in science? However, the faith of a true spiritual seeker is something different from that of the common man’s faith in science. An inwardly ready seeker, when he hears about the truth of the spirit from an illumined sage, it awakens the faith in him, which is an awakening to his own spiritual potentialities. But he doesn’t remain satisfied with his faith. He pursues the inner discipline, starts walking on the path, persists in moving forward in spite of all difficulties and arrives at the experience and realization.