Darwin effectively freed colonial science from the clutches of fundamentalism and in his own way contributed to the end of racism.
The colonial pseudo-scientific race theories still form the basis for teaching ancient Indian history, culture and religion.
As Darwin Day approaches this year, it will be a great leap in civilisational bonding if Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets the US President Donald Trump on this occasion.
Since Trump came to power, the science educators in the United States (US) have been noticing some disturbing trends. What actually allowed the US to beat the erstwhile USSR (1917-1991) in the space race, which in turn had tremendous propaganda value for the rest of the world, is a concerted effort in the society to create an awareness of science.
The 1958 National Defense Education Act, which was in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, led to a nationwide upsurge in scholarships and investment in science education. All these made the United States make history for humanity, by landing its astronauts on the moon. It also dealt a propaganda blow to the USSR showing that democracies can do science better and more effectively than socialist regimes, which claimed themselves to be ‘scientific tempered’.
However, parallel to these developments, what lurks in the underbelly of science education in the US is the threat of creationism. Bursting upon the national conscience and media attention the notorious Scope's 'Monkey' Trial of 1925 in Tennessee, brought to the attention of the civilised world the laws that existed in the American states, which penalised the teaching of evolution.
In 1960, coinciding with the revitalising of science in education and popular culture, Stanley Kramer made a movie, a fictionalised account of the trial. Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy became a box-office hit, and more importantly, allowed popular culture to accept both evolution and the Bible, as part of the heritage of the US, in a way similar to what biologist Stephen Jay Gould would later term as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’.
Only if things had ended that way, it would have been a ‘science and religion lived happily ever after in their own circles’ story. However, the worldview which science unveils does have an impact on the worldview that religion advocates. Hence to this day, religious forces in the US try to ‘sneak’ in creationism into the science curriculum.
In a landmark judgement in 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional any attempt to bring in creationism, as it "endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind”. Even then attempts to bring creationism into the curriculum with terms like ‘the Intelligent Design’ have been continuing for the last two decades.
In terms of political alignment, the forces which favour anti-evolution pro-creationist educationist policies align themselves with the Republican Party. Interestingly, the liberal left which is rightly opposed to such religious fundamentalist junk science tendencies creeping into the science curriculum does not hesitate to join hands with Islamist forces, which are as against evolution as, or more virulently so than Christian fundamentalists.
Now Trump seems to combine an anti-Islamist rhetoric with pro-Christian fundamentalist forces in education. Already Jerry Falwell Jr, president of the largest Christian University in the world and a creationist who teaches creationism in his institutions along with evolution, is set to take charge as Trump’s task force on higher education reform.
In such a situation, the worldview of Indian ‘right’ (if at all it can be called that) can offer some enlightening guidelines to American right-wing by pointing out that right-wing and progressive liberation of educational institutions from state control should not mean the takeover of education by anti-science fundamentalists. In India, teaching evolution has never created any confrontation with the religious worldviews in particular and Indian culture in general. The reason is the epistemological and ontological pluralism that the six Vedic worldviews and the so-called heterodox schools of Buddhism and Jainism have created in Indian culture. Most of the visions of nature and self in Indian culture and spirituality have evolved through the schools of Vedanta strongly based on Sankhya system, which in turn is essentially and entirely evolution-based.
There do exist fringe voices from eccentric groups like The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) which mimic Christian creationism clothed in Vedic jargon. A few years ago, during the UPA rule, a Jeeyar spoke at IIT-Chennai mouthing with the arrogant certainty of ignorance, the same anti-evolution theory attributed to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1860, which even Christian fundamentalists would think twice before repeating. Yet, the mainstream Vedanta scholars and seers have no problem with evolution. The Hindu nationalists also are traditionally pro-evolution.
However, there exists another clash in curriculum on India, both in India and elsewhere. The colonial pseudo-scientific race theories still form the basis for teaching ancient Indian history, culture and religion. In the US, a pro-India advocacy group, ‘California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials’ (CAPEEM), has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court this morning against public school officials at the California Department of Education, State Board of Education, and several school districts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Here again, the so-called left liberals have sided with scholars entrenched in colonial Indology and some even contended that the denial of Aryan invasion based on sound genetic evidence as similar to creationism.
Interestingly, it is the other way around. Christian, Islamist fundamentalists and regional racists like Dravidianists in India join hands with Marxists and stand by the Aryan race theory which actually has its roots historically in what is called Mosaic ethnology, which has been demolished by the science of evolution based anthropology.
Given these fault lines, it will be a great triumph for India if Prime Minister Modi, perhaps becomes the first head of state to wish the citizens and the world heads, a Happy Darwin day. For, Darwin effectively freed the colonial science from the clutches of fundamentalism and in his own way contributed to the end of racism. He also made it impossible - the literal interpretation of scriptural poetry, which has always been a deep Hindu stand.