Intolerance of criticism arising out of irrational faith: Hamid Ansari

New Delhi: Amid the intolerance debate in the country, Vice President Hamid Ansari on Sunday said there is “intolerance of criticism and questioning” resulting from irrational faiths and beliefs which are based on unscientific prejudices.

He said while lack of scientific temper has often resulted in instances like individual dissenters being ostracised or killed, and banning or withdrawal of books from circulation.

He rued that even scientists succumb to practises that derogate from scientific temper and noted that our education system was insufficiently equipped to inculcate this thinking in young minds.

Emphasising that public acceptance of scientific temper in the society was a pre-condition for fostering and sustaining the cultivation of innovations and scientific research, Ansari said there was need to create the right ambiance and structures to encourage scientific research and innovation.

“Much too often there is a lack of scientific temper in our daily life. In our family life, we don’t approve of questioning. Most parents don’t like children asking questions. In schools, from nursery to high school, teachers frown upon children raising questions.

“In colleges and universities, asking questions is often considered ‘cheeky’ and an attempt by students to cast doubt a teacher’s knowledge of the teacher,” Ansari said while inaugurating a panel discussion on “Scientific Temper: A pre-requisite for Knowledge based Society.”

He said this frame of mind is reflected in our attitude to matters of social custom, inherited tradition and faith.

“Attempts to separate myth from fact, history from mythology, belief from scientifically verified facts, are often frowned upon. Pursuant to it, occult is dubbed scientific and superstition as ‘culture’.

“Such approaches have often taken unpleasant and violent turn: books have been banned or withdrawn from circulation, libraries have been burnt, individual dissenters ostracised or killed, social peace disturbed and violence inflicted on citizens,” he said.

“In each of these cases, the working assumption is that questioning will hurt sentiments, damage or destroy existing order or structures, undermine faith, disrupt social order,” Ansari said.

He added that these “dubious foundations, irrational faiths and beliefs based on unscientific prejudices and habits” still persist and “there is intolerance of criticism and questioning.”

The Vice President observed that the role of education plays a critical role in developing scientific temper, but over the years, the quantum of scientific information in the country has increased but has not brought about science-mindedness in sufficient measure.

He noted that the Constitution itself has stated that it is the duty of every individual to develop scientific temper.

“Public acceptance of scientific temper and development of a critical and inquisitive attitude is a pre-condition for fostering and sustaining the cultivation of innovations and scientific research.

“We need to create the right ambiance and structures to encourage science research and innovation. A pre-requisite is the need to develop an enquiring attitude and an analytical approach that leads to rational thinking and the pursuit of truth without prejudice,” Ansari said.