Recently, well-known YouTuber Gaurav Taneja posted this tweet, repeating the tired old rhetoric of Hinduism being a "scientific" religion.
This reminded me of a Quora answer I wrote in 2017 in response to the question: Is there any scientific explanation behind the Indian/Hindu rituals and traditions? What are they?
Below is my answer in full.
Yes. But perhaps not in the way we sometimes think. There is a reason human beings engage in rituals and it applies to all rituals across all religions and even secular rituals. I have written about this before.
The sense in which this question was perhaps asked reveals a somewhat disturbing tendency that has prevailed for some time now — the seeming inability to distinguish between the scientific method and specific scientific findings.
When a proud Hindu claims that Hindu rituals are scientific, he or she is usually just drawing a parallel between the ritual and a certain known scientific fact. This parallel is often forced and a result of wishful thinking.
Science is not a position. It is a method. It is an ongoing sequence of experiments and deductions through observation that reveals truths about the world we live in. If these truths had been revealed without using these methods, they would not deserve to be called scientific. And it is for this exact same reason that Hindu rituals cannot be called scientific, no matter how strong the parallel drawn.
Every argument defending a ritual on the basis of what “the ancients knew” can be readily dismissed on account of there being no experimental data to justify the practice.
There is real danger in such behaviour too. Once we begin considering a body of knowledge as valid because it corresponds with modern scientific findings, there is no end to the evils that such an intellectual surrender can be put to.
If you care to look, “scientific” justifications of female genital mutilation (of the Islamic variety) are available. As are “scientific” reasons for drinking cow urine and “scientific” explanations of how the Biblical flood actually occurred.
Falling in love with the “science” label without engaging in critical thinking and understanding how the scientific method works is a slippery slope. Are we really going to leap off that cliff?
The next time someone makes a claim like this — “Hindu rituals are based in science” — please ask them to justify that claim. And if they can’t tell them that they cannot expect to be taken seriously. If they persist, tell them they are doing a disservice to Indian culture and are the reason behind its downfall.
The engineer who says a "scientific" ritual protected people from gas that killed thousands won't put his family in a gas chamber after the same fire ritual has been performed there. This isn't about science. It's about selling garbage to one's followers with zero accountability.
The doctor who says rubbing cow dung on your body or drinking cow urine will protect you from a deadly virus won't do the same when his own family gets the virus. He'll go to the hospital like everyone else. It's not about science. It's about selling garbage to other people.
Science education can only go a certain distance. People under the influence of the religion they were born and brought up in are more prone to be heavily biased in favour of the superstitions they were fed as children. These same people, had they belonged to some other religion, would be peddling the superstitions of that religion as "scientific". In either case, science has very little to do with it.
It's always about the fond feelings one's own religion inspires in one's heart and the mistaking of beauty with truth. Just because something makes you happy, does not automatically make it true. Truth is established using experimentation and verification. That is what science is. Or at least what it is supposed to be. But hey, perhaps I missed a memo. Perhaps the definition of science now in Hindu Rashtra is just - whatever.