Sunday, May 11, 2014

God debate in Malayalam -I

For the first time,, I heard a debate about  religion in Malayalam. (Part 1; Part 2) When people say that one should ignore the wacky aspects of religion and debate about concepts that nobody is bothered about, I am reminded about a story regarding Lincoln's assassination. Lincoln was shot while he and his wife were watching a play. Afterwards Mrs. Lincoln was asked, ' "Otherwise how was the play?"

The theist in the debate, Rahul Eashwar, keeps talking about Einstein's God and Spinoza's God saying that these are the concepts that atheists should argue about and not the ideas of the more simplistic believers. I have never met anybody who has talked to me about these concepts. If I have met anybody who is bothered by these concepts,, they have been been very quiet. A friend told me that he has only come across Jeeves and me reading about Spinoza. The criticism of religion by the atheists happen in a particular context where the ideas that Rahul Eashwar calls simplistic or childish predominate by a wide margin. I have written a bit about this tactic of theists.

People will keep telling you that making the right propositions and donations will cause medical miracles, increase marks during exams, fix cricket matches....Nobody will tell  you that Krishna is the Indian version of Dennis the menace. There are powerful politicians, bureaucrats, army commanders etc. who believe implicitly in these ideas. (Advani's letter to religious leaders before the 2009 General Elections was disturbing) There are millions of subscribers of Rahul Eashwar's "childish" beliefs.The ASI digs for  gold based on a sadhu's dream.

Movies, TV channels and the print media give you a constant stream of superstitious beliefs. There will be advertising slots on TV where you will be told about various threads and lockets which can be easily purchased (all credit cards accepted) which are capable of affecting tremendous miracles.  There are a number of religious channels in which folks in various uniforms give gyan. (A saving grace is that in Tata Sky, all these channels are classified under the head 'Entertainment'.) Songs like this or talking to statues is a common feature in Indian movies.

The indoctrination continues in schools where the children are often made to learn Sanskrit slokas whose meanings they don't understand.(It would be interesting to see if the adults who look on approvingly understand the meanings or not. Having said that, the atheist in the above-mentioned debate Prof. Ravichandran. quotes Sanskrit slokas.) You will be harassed if you don't follow religion mandated drills. Nonsense is often peddled in schools. For eg., some years ago, Sujit told me a story that was related by a biology teacher. It was about a man who could turn into a snake to get into a narrow hole. From what I could make out, it was related as a true story.  If a biology teacher believes that then you don't have to go far for your daily dose of rubbish.

Reputed institutions of higher learning are used to spread mumbo-jumbo. During a talk at IIT Madras, a Hindutva activist said, ' “God send his prophet to Saudi Arabia and God sent his son to Israel. God came here 10 times”. You don't have to look further than that to know what is wrong with India. Public funds are used to encourage universities producing priests. Jairam Ramesh was absolutely correct when he said that the country would be better off with more toilets than temples.

I have never been in a discussion where Einstein's God or Spinoza's God (both are the same since Einstein said that his God is Spinoza's God) were the topics of discussion. Einstein makes his views about organised religion clear in a letter which was auctioned recently. Here is Einstein's descirption of his idea of God:
Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.”
What's to quibble with that? If that is all it takes to be classified as religious, then I would be one too. So I am sure would be Dawkins. If you tell an audience that Spinoza was "god intoxicated", they are likely to think that Spinoza was referring to some version of an anthropomorphic god which is far from the truth. In the Beyond belief conference, Steven  Nadler talks about Spinoza's idea of God (from 47:30 to 1:22:38 ). He says that Spinoza's God is synonymous with nature, that Spinoza thought that conventional religions are organised superstitions, etc. If you tell this to most believers, you will be laughed away. And if you are in an Islamic country, the result may be more unpleasant.

There are people from both sides of the argument - atheists (who Dawkins calls the 'athiest, but...' folk) and moderately religious people - who find ways to excuse all the ills of religion. Franz de Waals, who has done a lot to show continuity in behavior between humans and other animals, is one of the religion-excusing atheists. In this debate between two Oxford dons Richard Dawkins and John Lennox, the latter finds the mysteries of physics as evidence for his version of God.Both types illustrate an XKCD cartoon. In The tell-tale Brain, V.S. Ramachandran writes:
Many of the greatest physicists of this century - Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Arthur Eddington and James Jeans - have pointed out the basic constituents of matter, such as quanta, are themselves deeply mysterious if not downright spooky,with properties bordering on the metaphysical. So we need not fear that the self might be any less wonderful or awe-inspiring for being made of atoms. You can call this sense of awe and astonishment God, if you like.
As Richard Feynman said, scientific knowledge adds to the beauty of nature; it doesn't subtract.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Suresh,

    My name is Edie, and I live in Augusta, Ga, the home of the Masters Golf Tournament. I enjoy reading your posts.

    I read another blog I thought you might enjoy. It is written by a neurological ICU nurse named Jo. Here is an interesting post by her: http://head-nurse.blogspot .com/2010/03/two-stories-two-songs-one-bottle-of.html