Science and Religion have always worked together. As we bask in the glory of the success of India’s moon mission Chandrayaan-3, the Catholic Church in India has a good reason to rejoice. Long before, we could imagine our moon missions, a Catholic Church in Kerala gave its land on which one of its important Church building and adjacent bishop house was standing for the setting up of the first unit of the Thumba equatorial rocket launch station (TERLS). TERLS later came to be called Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre ( VSSC), after the father of Indian Space Research. This is why we have to acknowledge this unique generous act of the Catholic Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram, especially the parish of Thumba, which was a hamlet of poor fisher folk that gave wings to the dream of a nation in space science. In the 1960s prominent scientists like Vikram Sarabhai and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam requested the Church to give the place where the Church of St. Magdalene established by St. Francis Xavier was standing. It was found to be suitable for setting up a rocket launch station due to its proximity to the Earth’s magnetic equator. The then Archbishop Peter Bernard Periera wholeheartedly agreed and even dialogued with the parishioners of St. Magdalene Church who also readily agreed to hand over the land where the church was standing for our country’s space program.
This unique generous act is indeed significant at a time when majoritarian politics is looking with suspicion at the minorities in our country. Our country has always had a healthy dialogue between Science and Religion and this act of the Catholic Church is great but not surprising. Indeed, mathematics grew in the arms of the Hindu faith which required calculating the auspicious time to conduct ritual ceremonies as well as construct agni kandas to conduct the same. It has been credited to the Jesuit scientists for bringing the very first telescope to our country. Indeed, it was used for the very first time at the College of Salcete ( Rachol Seminary) and the Jesuit Seminary on the island of Chorao, Goa to study the night sky. Jesuits are credited for calculating the latitudes and the longitudes and perfecting the science of cartography that drew the map of our country. Besides, the Jesuits and other religious men of that time are credited with the enriching of our ecology. Chillies, Mangoes, Chicos, Pineapple, Cashews and a host of fruit-bearing trees are said to be brought by the Catholic religious men of that time. Thus, while we acknowledge the name of the generous Archbishop and his people, it is in order of things to remember the contribution of the Catholic Church to the development of Science in India. In fact, even a specialization of graduation in pure Science is credited to the program developed by St Xavier College in Kolkata.
As we celebrate the great success of India’s moon mission Chandrayaan-3 and its Catholic roots, the giant leap on the moon opens us fresh opportunities to look at the dynamic and vibrant relations between Science and Religion. This dialogue can indeed, influence our society at several levels. It has true emancipative power. India is sinking fast into the ocean of blind religious fundamentalism and is even claiming that India knew Science and Technology that the West has come to know today. In this situation, Science can become an antidote that will open our minds and eyes to several of our superstitions and obscurantist beliefs and practices. This blindness considers West as its teacher. It considers Science that developed in the West as its benchmark to dig out its mirror images from the ancient past of our society. Hence, a genuine dialogue between Science and Religion is indeed a great channel for the progress of our country that can save us from such illusions. The dialogue of Science and Religion is a two way process. Both Science and Religion can learn from each other. Both raise different questions and seek different answers. Neither Science nor Religion need each other. Yes, Science does not need Religion and Religion does not need Science. It is we humans who need them both. Besides, Science or Religion cannot fail humans, it is we humans who can fail them both. Because of this, we need a dialogue between Science and Religion. A vibrant dialogue between these two pillars of our society will transform our ways of being human in the world. The success of the mission Chandrayaan-3 is indeed a great impetus for Science and Religion dialogue in India.