Monday, 31 October 2011

The God Delusion

'The God Delusion' was the title of a 2006 bestseller by Richard Dawkins. I borrowed this title for the first online article I wrote, in 2009:

In my article I explained the need for having an evidence-based, scientific view of things. The article generated an enormous amount of discussion, and was reposted by several other websites. Here are some examples:

I reproduce here excerpts from the 'Questions and Answers' section of the article.

Q: No matter what science or scientists say, my faith in the existence of a prayer-answering God is unshakeable. Do you have any problem with that?

As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn’t there.
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.
(William Hughes Mearns)

Q: What is prayer?

A: Prayer means ‘to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy’ (Ambrose Bierce).

Q: How can all knowledge be acquired only by physical, objective, ‘scientific’ means? Is it not possible that some types of knowledge can be obtained only by ‘experiencing’ it in your head?

A: How can we humans be sure that such ‘knowledge’ is correct and universal? How dependable can such ‘subjective knowledge’ be, whatever that term means? Even such knowledge is bound to lead to some predictions (say about God) which are in the physical realm, and therefore amenable to objective scientific verification. That has not happened. Why not wait till science can make more progress? What is the hurry?! In any case, what can you achieve by hurrying?

Q: I have experienced God. How can you challenge that?

A: Please take the trouble of gaining a mastery over the science of modern psychology. Also, read up some good books on evolutionary theory. You will change your views.

Q: But if my God-concept is demolished, I shall feel utterly lost and forlorn. How can I cope with that?

A: Please be brave and mentally strong, and try to face reality. There are a huge number of atheists or irreligious people out there. Establish contact with them, and share your thoughts with them. There is strength in numbers.

Q: But religion has given rise to so much art and literature. Should we abandon all that?

A: No. That is also our heritage. Nothing prevents you from enjoying good poetry or music. I enjoy Sufi music, as also bhajans sung by Jagjit Singh (yes bhajans, and not just ghazals). The Ramayan and the Mahabharat are great stories. But only stories. They were aptly described by Nehru as a curious mixture of fact and fiction. The point is that we humans must move on as we acquire more and more knowledge and understanding. In the beginning there was no science; only ignorance or some fragmentary pieces of information.  And there were superstitions, born out of the fear of the unknown. Our perspective must change in the light of new insights and knowledge. As more and more people come round to the rationalist’s view of things, a new kind of art, music, and literature would emerge. Things change with time. Don’t be afraid of change.

There were several questions and comments on the online article. I was particularly touched by the following comment posted by Don Dahlgaard:

'Your article has been saved to show my daughter. It's clear and insightful. A father's words are seldom as clear. She will be returning from college next week. I also found a version of bhajans by Jagjit Singh. It is wonderful, in a sense similar to enjoying Enya. My music collection is eclectic. I had no need to know why the smoke was at the feet of the fancy lady and the cow. Thank you for the words and the music. I will share them as I assume you would wish.' (Don Dahlgaard, Norton, MA, USA)

Here is another reaction to my article (by Mike Magee):

'I came here from Richard Dawkins’ pages linking to Dr Wadhawan’s latest piece in his series on complexity. Dr Wadhawan, you deserve a good deal of praise. You seem like an excellent teacher and a likable man. This page is especially good, I think, for the purpose you designed it, as a guide for the young. I hope people will make use of it, and having just read towards the end of the comments that the page is free to use under Creative Commons, I shall put it on my own website. I have bookmarked this website Nirmukta, and shall make a point of looking in often. Many thanks for your efforts, and best wishes.'