Science and Civilization


Science has rendered great services to civilization. It has released the forces of nature and harnessed them in the progressive march of civilization, generation after generation. It has canalized the energies latent in our environment toward raising the standard of human life through a flood of discoveries and inventions. It has changed the face of the earth, making it unrecognizable to any pre-scientific visitor, if he were to see it today. Time and space, once supposed to be the masters of human life, have been made slaves in its service today. It has made life comfortable and secure. It has brought abundance of wealth and riches, and relief from suffering and misery. In a word, science has brought about miracles. Now, on the flip side, one is justified to say that destructive aspects of science have been almost equal to its constructive efforts. Civilization has, no doubt, progressed in the literal sense of moving forward, but the destination to which it is moving so serenely is frightful to imagine. We shall first see the milestones of progress on the road which science has taken before we propose to point out the objectives that it seems to have ahead.

Civilization, as we commonly understand, is the sum total of human achievements on the plane of material existence. We judge any civilization by its relation to the wellbeing of mankind. Civilization implies settlement at particular geographical areas and so long as mankind was wandering from place to place, this was, of course, impossible. Science began its life from the period of settlement, however crude its beginnings maybe judged by modern standards. The first milestone, therefore, which science reached in its march to modernity, is the result of this settlement of mankind in particular geographical areas. The sloughing off nomadic habits brought civilization. Humanity definitely began to be civilized by the introduction, however crude, of a scientific mode of life. Observation and experiment, which are the very basis of science, began as the first milestone in scientific progress. The different points of progress made by science are all marked by material advancement. That is to say, man has mastered his environment through science, and civilization is its result. Hence, science and civilization have acted and reacted mutually, ever since the beginning of each. If science has brought in civilization, civilization has returned the compliment by promoting science. For it is obvious that science has always progressed in proportion to the civilized state of mankind.

But, all that science has done to civilization is limited to the material plane of existence. In other words, as science has progressed, it has made men efficient in exploiting natural resources and thus raising their material standard of existence. We eat well, dress well, live comfortably and fight with sophisticated weapons. But efficiency is a relative term; the question is efficient for what? While answering this question, we have to admit that science has nothing to offer anything like a satisfactory reply. Science has made men efficient in the craft of destruction. Science, like fire, is a very good servant but a very bad master. Civilization is being threatened with extinction by the progress of science. Nothing is more ironical than the fact that science, which has helped to build up a civilization, should now proceed to destroy it. As scientific power increases, it is abused. Ruinous armaments, destructive weapons, death-dealing bombs are becoming the heritage of science to posterity. The present trend in civilization is making this world less secure for humanity.

The effects of scientific progress on human civilization are seen in the fevered race of nations to equip themselves with the deadliest weapons that scientific ingenuity can invent. Is it civilization, one is tempted to ask, which tends to destroy rather than create? And if so, is it worthy of preservation? The impact of scientific progress on civilization has driven men to a stage where they seem no better than their uncivilized ancestors of prehistoric age. If the savages dwelt in caves and underground dwellings, we are living in bombproof cellars which are like the old caves. Only it is fashionable to call these caves by high-sounding words. Competition, ruthless fighting and greed are reining the minds of modern nations — all signs of the domination of the lower self in man over the higher one. If this is the reaction, and the result of scientific progress in relation to human civilization, one might doubt the advisability of allowing it to proceed. The objective that science in its present state has in view seems to be utter and merciless destruction of life.

The relation between science and civilization appears to be in inverse proportion to each other. In other words, civilization could, it appears, afford to do without science. This is an evident inference from the present situation of the world. The true end of civilization is culture of man’s heart and imagination. A civilization that restricts itself to the conquest of the material environment of man is no longer worth following as an end. Man has sacrificed his heart and imagination to the increased efficiency of intellect until at present when he has become a perfect machine as efficient as any machine invented by science itself, and bids fair to increase his mechanical efficiency to yet un-attempted heights. So long as man goes on following science in this way, he is heading toward his own destruction, which he undoubtedly deserves, if he did not deviate from this dangerous path. The Fate of Homo Sapiens, as H.G. Wells has pointed out, seems to have been doomed under the circumstances. Until mankind is prepared to change its mental structure and finds a synthesis of the intellect, the heart and the imagination, human civilization shall remain incapable of doing better than digging its own grave.

In conclusion, science is a ‘fairy’ as well as a ‘fury’. An international endeavour should be made to reject scientific knowledge for the purposes of war and destruction. Therein lies the only salvation for human civilization. Let us hope that science and civilization, instead of being at loggerheads with each other, act harmoniously to the welfare of both, and to the redemption of the human race.

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