The NZ government has decreed that science classes have to be taught that Maori Ways of Knowing (Matauranga Maori) have equal standing with Western sciences. Representational image/Pixabay
"The path to the waters is tough
You stumble on sand-pit and stone
No hardship is ever enough
God has left us humans alone
Determined to get to the source
Of that which refreshes the soul
We follow the sweet Ganga’s course
The quest makes the shattered one whole!"
From Japan to Jaipur: Teriyaki to Terimaaki, by Bachchoo
In my time in the early 1960s, Poona University required all science undergraduates to adopt one "Arts" subject and, if memory serves, for the Arts-wallahs to take on a "science" subject. These universally went for "logic" as their science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Maths being inhibitive.
All my science undergraduate class chose "Civics" as their Arts subject. I was the only dissenter who chose to do a course called "Ancient Indian Culture", or AIC. It wasn’t just that I wanted to stand out amongst the crowd, or that I thought I’d find learning about the Indian Constitution and local government excruciatingly boring, it was that I was genuinely interested in finding out what these ancient texts said. I went onto the course not knowing the difference between a Veda and a Vada… okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration!
While there were two classes of over a hundred pupils on the Civics course, there were in all nine students in the AIC lectures, eight of them genuine Arts students and myself singularly from the science side.
Our professor was called Arjunvadkar, and he openly and suspiciously enquired as to my presence in his lectures. My fellow students were possibly Brahminical boys and girls pursuing some necessity to master this field of knowledge. So, what the "flip" was a Parsi adolescent, majoring in Physics, doing in his class?
I said he should put it down to curiosity.
He was an enlightened one. From his attitude towards me, as he instructed the class week after week, it became clear to me that he regarded his subject as operating in a totally different dimension from the Physics, Chemistry and other sciences being lectured about in the separate grey-stone building of the college. He was absolutely aware that myth and religion were nothing to do with and shouldn’t be equated to the mundane understanding of how fast light travelled or what happens when acids are mixed with alkalis.
Of course, he taught us that the zero was invented by Aryabhata and that there were "Sutras" -- treatises -- on drama, political strategy, sex and other classificatory topics.
I learnt, if only in a cursory and shallow way, about the Upanishads, about Buddhist philosophy, about the Gomateswara at Sravanavelagola and much else, and knew that this learning was strictly distinct from Newton’s laws of motion or the third law of thermodynamics. Myth and science, equally intriguing, but not the same.
Now I read that Richard Dawkins, the apostle, if not the "pope", of atheism, has visited New Zealand to promote his latest book. While there, he says he walked into a raging controversy. The NZ government has decreed that science classes have to be taught that Maori "Ways of Knowing" (Matauranga Maori) have equal standing with "Western sciences". So, students in NZ will be taught that living organisms consist of DNA while being equally certain that life throbs with a vital force conferred by the Earth Mother and the Sky Father.
This government-enforced confounding of science and myth has caused seven professors of New Zealand’s universities to write in protest against the travesty and consequently to be forced to resign their posts.
Obviously these professors, the most prominent among them being the medical scientist Garth Cooper, of Maori descent himself, has no objection to mythology being taught and absorbed by all NZ students --Maoris, Christians, Muslims… whoever. But can one with any intellectual honesty say that the Old Testament’s pronouncements on creation should be afforded the same validity as Darwin’s theory and its developments by other scientists?
Professor Arjunvadkar could have told his AIC classes, though he didn’t, that, for instance, the Sutras were based on the distillate of experience and perhaps even experiments. So, the Kama Sutra would have been composed through the trial of different sexual activities and then classified -- certainly the way science verifies and classifies experience.
Even so, one recognises that while Pythagoras, Archimedes, the grammarian Panini and Aryabhata ought to be acknowledged as the pioneers of enquiry, modern science was one of the products of Protestantism breaking away from strict Catholic doctrine, under which Copernicus’ and Galileo’s scientific pronouncements were denigrated and prosecuted. Myth put science on trial in that age.
Does the government of New Zealand want to bring such trials back? Don’t they know "eppur si muove"?
The perpetrator of this idiotic attempt at claiming to be super-virtuously-inclusive, this nonsensical demand to corrupt education was Chris Hipkin, then minister for education and now the Prime Minister. One hopes that the opinion of scientists in the native country of Ernest Rutherford, father of atomic science, will cause him to relent and reverse the diktat, for the sake of the education of NZ’s present and future generations.
Yes, Professor Arjunvadkar taught me a great deal and long may the tradition of keeping the ancient culture of every civilisation be kept alive as a study; but confounding mythical theories with those of modern science which has proven itself in every human endeavour -- positive and destructive -- will inevitably end in confusion, if not tears.