The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Emerging Internet Civilisation

By Dr Moorthy Muthuswamy, PhD

Many sociologists and internet pioneers have begun to realise—societies for the first time across continents and on large scale are becoming part of a new civilisation—an internet civilisation. Will America continue to its science and technology dominance in this era or will it be upstaged by a resurging China or any other nation? These questions are not merely academic as security, wealth or even global order will be determined depending on an answer. I argue here that current trends and outlook indicate an upstaged America if certain policy decisions are not taken now to strongly promote science education in America.

Merriam-Webster an on-line dictionary defines civilisation as “a relatively high level of cultural and technological development”. Implicit in this definition is the critical role of scientific knowledge driving technology development. Even if one were to use the term “progress” or “development”, it becomes apparent that this is first achieved by understanding nature and then manipulating it to suit our needs.

Internet has brought unprecedented level of access to wide ranging and up-to-date information. This information was previously accessible mostly to exclusive domains—through print media. Of course, internet impact is far more than that—the level of access and connectivity has led to forming communities and commerce that transcend physical boundaries! Is there any correlation between increased information access and progress?

Let me first address the issue of which institutions had limited information access in the recent past. Organised religious institutions have relied on “revelations” given to “God’s messengers” several hundred to thousand years ago to indoctrinate masses, and to limit the masses’ information access in order to keep their power base and control. A case in point: The dismal scientific output of Islamic societies correlates with Islamic clerics’ iron information control over their societies—mostly restricted to a narrow interpretation of a certain “God’s revelations”—at least a thousand year old. A study of past several hundred year history shows a direct correlation between civilisation advancement, and diverse opinions and ideas available through various types of media. These diverse opinions limited the influence of organised religions’ directives on how masses should live. Hence, this encouraged people to investigate, develop ideas and manipulate nature to achieve progress.

Emphasis on science and technology over religious ideologies is also a win-win war-on-terror strategy.

In this era—real wealth, national confidence or even security comes down to creating and owning intellectual property in the form of patents. In 1950s, America generated over 70 per cent intellectual property worldwide. Now its share has reduced to about 55 per cent. Even as internet opens up America to achieve the next level of progress the grip of religious theology can be a retarding force. A survey released by Rasmussen Reports in April 2005, found most Americans—63 per cent—believe the Bible is literally true and the Word of God—just 24 per cent thinking otherwise.

In my opinion statistics bare open the weakness of American society to new knowledge and ideas in this era and also shows a lack of American appreciation of scientific knowledge in building modern civilisations—probably due to negative influence of Christian evangelists. Such a civilisation doesn’t attract enough bright students to specialise in science and technology. Indeed, at least 30-40 per cent of graduate students in American science or engineering graduate programmes are of foreign origins.

All of this contrasts with China or even India where younger generation has realised lucrative career paths through learning science and technology. Importantly, the majority in these countries are not dominated by an outlook that puts emphasis on book(s) of “God’s revelations” to guide them. In the era of information-based internet civilisation, this is a significant advantage over America that is clearly theology-influenced. America was able to out-compete and bankrupt the atheist former Soviet Union because unlike America or even China Soviet Union never focused on wealth creation for its citizens.

Instead of going in the direction of less religious theology and more science, now American schools are in danger of offering “alternate” ideas on evolution based upon theology. The proponents of “Intelligent Design” on the development of human race have not understood that this (content less) “theory” was formulated and handed down by civilisations that had far less understanding of nature than what we have today. Admittedly, modern science does not offer a complete or some say a satisfactory answer to the question of human evolution. But the modern science is based on a solid footing; it is the basis of the civilisation we live today. Besides, we continue to improve our understanding of nature.

How credible is the theological understanding of nature? It is well-established that building an extensive understanding (“theory”) of nature requires sophisticated experimental verification that in turn requires highly complex infrastructure—like we have in the modern times. We know from archeological studies that medieval civilisations that existed thousands of years ago had far less sophisticated infrastructure. Hence, there exists little basis that medieval civilisations could have come up with a credible all-encompassing “theory of origin” and governance called religion when they had a very primitive, mostly shown to be false, understanding of nature around them. Given their state of ignorance, it is highly unlikely that they could really appreciate any of “God’s revelations” or distinguish the “real” ones. Also even if “God’s revelations” had been made it is an open question how accurately these were taken down, preserved and converted in the form of books or any other form of information storage—when we know from archeological studies that thousand years ago humans lacked credible technology for processing and storing information.

In 1950s America generated over 70 per cent intellectual property worldwide. Now its share has reduced to about 55 per cent. Even as internet opens up the grip of religious theology can be a retarding force for America to achieve the next level of progress.

Finally, archeology tells us that evolving humans had thrived for hundreds of thousands of years, well before “God’s revelations” arrived to “guide” humans within the past several thousand years. Thriving are other forms of living organisms that do not appear to follow any theology!

Emphasis on science and technology over religious ideologies is also a win-win war-on-terror strategy. As discussed previously, it has become apparent that religious clerics have suffocated Muslim communities from embracing new ideas—a must for development. In addition, these deprived communities have been brain-washed by clerics into looking for scapegoats in the form of non-Muslim “non-believers (of Muslim theology)” and to extend the frontiers of Islamic theological control at the expense of non-believers.

The current religious and social dynamics in America are such that America is unlikely to put strong emphasis on scientific education—as it did when Soviets put man for the first time on space. Given its size and the track record of wealth creation during the past twenty years, China is likely to emerge as the most powerful nation in the new era of internet civilisation.

What about India? A bright future holds for India only if it can break away from the shackles imposed by militant Islam and if it works to shield its population from America-based evangelical soul harvesters, trying to sell a retrogressive and outdated religious theology through discrimination on poor and unsuspecting Indians.

(The writer is a nuclear physicist based in America and can be contacted at

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