Difa Kusumadewi: Science Rationalism Promotes Freedom and Anti-Discrimination


Modern science is still very rarely discussed on by the Indonesian people, especially when it is related to the scientific facts that is in contrary to the belief of several cultures and religions in Indonesia. Among young people, although most universities in Indonesia have many science majors, it does not mean they can accept the science in the way they think. Science is still considered only as a method of problem-solving calculations, and not yet as a way of thinking. So it is not surprising that there are ironic facts, that in the departments and faculties of science, radicalism and religious fundamentalism appear.

In the middle of “aridity”, there are still some young people who care about and try to encourage rationalism thinking and modern science. Difa Kusumadewi, on her university time at Bandung Institute of Technology and with her friends founded the Minerva Indonesia, a discussion community that want to encourage rationalism of modern science. Difa called to fight heresy discourse, the closure of the mind, and the pseudo-science that would hamper the Indonesian people towards freedom and advancement. Here is a glimpse of Difa’s interview with the Managing Editor of SuaraKebebasan.org, Rofi Uddarojat.

Difa, could you please explain the events and activities of the organization?

Minerva Indonesia is a discussion group that wants to encourage modern science in Indonesia. Some time ago we had some events in Jakarta, in cooperation with the Freedom Institute. Our events were not only discussions, but we also had podcasts to be heard by the public. The topics we discussed in Minerva were on neuroscience, LGBT, gender and sexuality, and psychology. We also have a website, and on the website we published a book called “debunking mysticism” which we translated to refute the occult practices. Our main motivation to translate the book was because we thought the Indonesian people still believe in the occult or alternative treatments that may be harmful. We hope that the Indonesian people could be aware of science, especially in medical matters because it is directly related to the public.

Is it just the occult which became the main enemy of science? Do you think, for example, the religious people accept the logic of science?

Some of them are logical, some are not. If we talk about the theory of evolution, it would be immediately challenged. Or when we talk about LGBT, it would be directly challenged. And if we refer again to the more objective scientific research, LGBT is not a mistake. Many people think that LGBT is a psychiatric disorder, abnormal, etc. However, science stated that LGBT is simply a different spectrum on a person’s sexual preferences. Or for example about transgender, many people say that transgender is a disease. However it is not, transgender is only a sexual spectrum. These cases explain that there is a phenomenon that human beings are not purely hetero or homo, they are actually in between.

How big is the discourse of science required in Indonesia? Do you think the society is not scientific enough?

If we talk about medical rationalism in Indonesia, there are many cases where people have not been thinking scientifically in Indonesia in addressing a disease. The mother of a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, and instead of being treated medically she used herbal medications and did not do anything else that the cancer went up to stage 3, so it had to be removed. Rationalism is very important because it can save lives.

The urgency of science in Indonesia is also to eliminate discrimination. Earlier we spoke of LGBT and gender, if we use rational reasoning then we do not see the sex, but their skills and capabilities in taking care of things. For example they were born as a man, then became a transgender, we do not see them as a transgender but rather look at their capabilities. We do not discriminate against homosexuals, because in a rational mind they are not wrong.

Rationalism and science encourage a more non-discriminatory society. In the developed countries that are more rational, they do not have discrimination. For example the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden are strongly without discrimination against gender and LGBT.

Are there any obstacles in promoting science in Indonesia?

There are a lot of it. For example in social media, we got all kinds of debate when we promote the theory of evolution. We were accused of being “secular, liberal, socialist!” when they could not differentiate liberals and socialists. But we were given labels to mislead the public. The main factors of people’s rejection towards science is usually because it is in contrary to their beliefs. However, in my opinion according to the right literature, religion might not forbid it.

About our activities, from the beginning we held discussions at the Freedom Institute in Jakarta, though only attended by the same crowds every time. Those who are interested in science is very limited. Mostly young people are attracted to social sciences and other sciences, not with scientific debate.

Moreover, I suspect that science tends to be considered as boring by young people. Because during their high school time, science was not taught to be interesting. Learning Physics are emphasized on calculations, Chemistry to calculate the mass number, whereas Biology to memorize taxonomy. Whereas science is broader than that.

I was more fortunate. I was born in a family who understands science. Since my childhood I was given reading materials and science encyclopedia by my parents in order to meet all the basic questions “how humans are born”, “man came out of nowhere”, and so on. My parents guided me to find an interest in science, so that my understanding of the scientific process builds up until today.

The absence of access in finding sources of science is also a major obstacle in promoting popular science. Translated popular science books are still very hard to find. Popular science books for children and young people were very little in number. So I set up Minerva to also translate some of the books to give more access to books of modern science.

Could science be used as a source of truth?

We can argue philosophically on what is called the truth. But I myself do not believe in absolute truth, I believe in the facts. Science is the best method to find the facts. In the Middle Ages, they used to believe that the Earth was flat, but later on they found a scientific fact that the Earth is round. The same process happened to the first black man who was not considered as a human being. It was all done because of their belief at that time. But if we refer to the Bible, it does not really say that the Earth was flat. But they created a religious interpretation as if in contrary to science.

Related to this issue, what is the stance of religion and science? Are they always conflicted with or complementing each other?

Science does not see religion as the enemy, even though many clergies see science as the enemy. I think that science does not have any attitude towards religion, we regard religion as a phenomenon of ordinary people. Do not oppose it at all. But I want to make them, the clergies to question the interpretation of their religious beliefs.

Religions might not be able to follow the science, but people can understand another religion. The right goal of a religion is so that the condition of the society is not in chaos and it is in peace and not to close our minds. The first verse of the Koran when it was handed in was “Iqra” which means to read and not to close our minds.

It is  also wrong to assume that science always supports atheism. My friend is a devout religionist, but believe in the theory of evolution. Although most religious people reject the theory of evolution. Because he believes that his religion does not forbid the understanding of the theory of evolution. Religious interpretations are not used to antagonize the theory of evolution so it depends on the interpretation of religion and science.

Last one for today. What can we do to promote scientific reasoning within the Indonesian society?

We should go back to education system. When I was in school I was asking or discussing with the teachers in the classroom and that was wrong. Supposedly the teachers can give the opportunity to argue about scientific matters with more equally. At university it was difficult to be able to discuss things equally. Some students and professors at the ITB are following the development of modern science. But some of them are not. One time I sat-in in a biology class and explained the theory of evolution, but instead discussed Harun Yahya and departed away from science. Supposedly if you want to argue on science, make arguments with science not with dogma. I think Harun Yahya is not science.