From Lisiane Müller
More than ignoring the sensitive debate, there is a need to broaden it
In the Greek myth of Pandora’s box, it is said that Titan Prometheus aroused Zeus’ wrath by stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans. In order to take revenge, the god of all gods sent Pandora, the first of women, into the world and handed her a box with the recommendation never to open it. After a while, as Zeus had expected, she succumbed to curiosity and peered into the box to let go of all the sicknesses and diseases in the world. Zeus had taken revenge on men and Prometheus.
Pandora’s curiosity is considered an inherently human trait. If on the one hand its accidental use can lead to loss, on the other hand it has led us to explore nature and the universe and make great discoveries. And inspired by that curiosity, I suggest a look at the following question: Are science and religion at odds? Enemies? Would exploring the intellectual boundaries of this debate open a Pandora’s box?
I venture to assume that it is not, and in this secular scenario of divergence, I add a reflection to the debate: How did we scientists deal with this issue? Do we have to give up all religious beliefs in order to understand Darwinian evolutionary processes? The debate is delicate, but its importance is measured in numbers: the growing negationism in our society and the more than 170 million Brazilians who declared themselves religious in the last demographic census.
The answer to a scientist may be somewhat obvious: any religiosity that is not the subject of research must be outside the laboratory. But ending the debate here can be dangerous. If scholars neglect or ignore the existence of religious beliefs, they may be able to take even greater advantage of the breakdown in communications promoted by some religious sectors in Brazil. The result can be moral and social pressure for affected groups to choose sides.
What happens when we leave our work environment? Diversity is the answer. There are scientists who are Catholics, Candomblecists, Evangelicals, Atheists in their personal lives and this does not affect their professional scientific ethics. Understanding the importance of excluding religious ideals in science, but without neglecting the country’s cultural and religious realities, is perhaps the key point. And more than ignoring this discussion, we need to broaden and diversify it.
As a practical example, let’s consider a daily situation for many Brazilians: taking a medicine. Is it necessary to discredit God in order to swallow a pill developed by scientists? Is it necessary to choose between religious belief and medication? If your answers were no, the same thought should be applied to evolutionary theory, since medicine and evolutionary studies, strange or not, are based on the same science and scientific objectivity.
At this point, scientists and religious people in Brazil have gotten into major conflicts, which has led to one-sided discussions and worrying social distancing. And how are we Brazilians and scientists doing in this debate? Do we know what our family, friends and co-workers think? Encouraging a wide public debate involving diverse voices to expand the intellectual boundaries of this topic is fundamental for us to see other scenarios and new avenues. It is also important that research in the areas of the humanities, which have produced extensive and thorough scientific knowledge, be given greater prominence.
Today, Pandora’s box of science and religion has possibly become the closed box itself – without debate – and no longer in terms of content. With the box in front of us, why not use our curiosity to open it and explore it? And I am sure we will accept the letter: isn’t asking and answering questions one of the fundamental aspects of science?
Lisiane Müller is co-founder of the scientific project “Evolução para death” and a master’s student at the Laboratory for Environmental and Evolutionary Archeology and Anthropology (LAAAE) of the USP Biosciences Institute.
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