You never know what They’ll say next.. 2

I was having this discussion with this person. Let’s call him Veeru(name changed). Veeru has the reputation for being the most ‘liberal’ in my extended family. He is often at odds with his brother who is an unashamed Hindu supremacist fascist. We were trying to discuss state of Indian society, creeping fascism, repression and violence against minorities.

During the discussion I decided to establish a baseline from where to take the discussion forward to demonstrate the systematic repression of minorities and Dalits in the Indian society. To start this off I ask if Veeru thinks the opposite, that is, instead of acknowledging repression of these communities does he think these communities were given more than their due by the state & society. That is, if there was any appeasement?

To my utter horror Veeru proceeded to say the following.

“The biggest appeasement of the minorities is that they have been allowed to live. The fact that each one of them hasn’t been murdered is appeasement(giving them more than due).”

Veeru

My goodness. I couldn’t recover from this whole day. What does one say to something like this.

How does one proceed to have a discussion about justice and fairness when the standard of UC(upper caste) magnanimity is set to not murder every woman, child and man belonging to the 200 million religious minorities and ~170 million Dalits.

Also during the discussion about the normalised lynching of Indian Muslims on the streets of India, Veeru shot back saying what about all these people doing 9/11, terror blasts, so on.

This betrays a medieval mindset of the idea of collective punishment. For the crimes of Saudi born, American 9/11 bombers Indian Muslims must be lynched and taught a lesson as a collective punishment.

This confirms my growing belief that the core myths and stories of even the most liberal upper caste Hindus are detached from reality and provides perfect bedrock for the RSS’s fascist ideas of avenging the imagined historic injustice to Hindus in the past by murdering, raping, oppressing current everyday Muslims.

A man is defined by the thoughts he has. I cant believe I used to look up to Veeru all these years. I am ashamed of myself for that.

If this is what the so called liberals of this country have to offer then there is no stopping the fascist takeover of this society.

‘God did it!’ approach to the Universe and its mysteries

I’ve noticed a lot of people somehow see God as a “magical default.” That is, unless there is no natural explanation available for a phenomenon OR even if all the evidence in the world is available for a naturalistic explanation, but they are either unaware of it or never really understood it is simply assumed “God did it!“. This article hopes to only examine how ‘God did it! is a terrible explanation for the questions about the natural world and the universe. I see people on a daily basis killing their own and more importantly their children’s natural inquisitiveness about the natural world with the intellectually lazy ‘God did it!/God made it this way’ answers. With the ‘God did it!’ approach, the net increase in knowledge is nothing. What they don’t realize is that, they are still standing exactly where they were before getting this ‘answer‘.

The levels of scientific ignorance in our society alarming. Most(Yes. Most!) of the ‘educated’ adults in our societies don’t have understanding of elementary science. I think in part the reason for this is the way science is taught. Very few school level science teachers are able to expose the seduction of science to children. Thus, many develop this notion of science being too boring! Which is just not true. Science(i.e., understanding the nature of reality of the universe) is magical in the truest sense of the word. The other reason for this widespread scientific ignorance is that our education system is broken, i.e., it is possible for students to pass; not just pass, but even ace in terms of marks and still have no appreciable understanding of the concept. This widespread scientific ignorance makes the ‘God did it’ pill easier to swallow.

Whenever I have casually asked theist why do they suppose that a God exists, most often than not, I get an answer which is a variance of:

Who/What else do you suppose {made / created / makes} the { (humans,plants and animals) / (magnificent Mountains,Massive oceans,Earth,moon,Sun,stars) / (seasons,tides,monsoons,day-night keep coming and never missing a beat) / (etc..) } ??

But now science knows so much!

We now have a very good understanding of:

  • How did the mind boggling variety of plants animals came about? How complexity such as the human eye/brain or a butterfly’s wing arise naturally?
  • How and when did Earth and our solar system form?
  • How long back the the universe came into existence?
  • How did the stars and planets form?
  • ..and all the other big questions religion pretended to know answers to.

Thankfully for our species this list is now massive(and grows everyday). Modern science is less than 400 years old; and in its beginning science didn’t have a large and strong edifice of knowledge and techniques. But modern science is a force to reckon with. Although, there is still so much that we still don’t know! But this doesn’t automatically imply God as a ‘magical default’. Ill let one of my favorite astrophysics Neil deGrasse Tyson put it:

Neil Degrasse Tyson on God of the gaps argument

Religion was the discourse that we had when:

  • All causes in the universe were opaque. We didn’t know the basis of anything.
  • We didn’t know why we were here, we didn’t know how diseases spread or what disease was.
  • We didn’t know why some people died early and others flourished.
  • We didn’t know what’s causing thunderstorms or causing the crops to fail.

Then very naturally, as a cogitative and behavioural imperative, we formed descriptions of the world in order to figure out what’s going on. We told ourselves stories about our origins and about where we are going and about the causes in the world. These stories, given our pervasive ignorance and our disposition to see agency in the world and to see our selves in relationship to the world, entail being in relation to invisible friends and enemies. So we have this parent figure in this guy who is going to take care of things if you live rightly.

Bertand Russel on Religion being left over from infancy of intelligence

So why is the ‘God did it!/God created it!’ idea so popular?

I could think of 3(which are actually variations of just 1) reasons other than the obvious fact the its much easier to simply think that ‘God did/created it’ than to actually read/research about the real explanation.

1.) Things aren’t always what they look like to be:

Also, our brains are pre disposed to see agency in the world. That is, if we see a car, we assume there is a car maker. When we see a phone, there has to be a phone maker. As our understanding of the nature of reality of the Universe increases, it becomes clear that things are not always what they seem.

The Earth seems flat but is a sphere.

We seem to be in a state of rest, but in fact, you, me and everything on Earth(incuding the Earth)  is moving at the crazy speed of 107826 Km/hr around the Sun, while spinning on its own axis at around 1600 Km/hr. While Earth,Sun along with our entire Solar System is revolving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at around 80,000 Km/hr and our galaxy, the Milky Way along with its 400 Billion stars(our Sun among them) is moving for a huge galactic head on crash with our nearest galaxy, the Andromeda at the speed of around 400,000 Km/hr. (Luckily for us Universe is Big, so this collision is due in 3.5 Billion years!) Not just this, Milky Way and Andromeda + 52 other galaxies; together known as the Local Group are moving towards a much bigger supercluster of galaxies called the Virgo Supercluster consisting of several hundreds of galaxies. Now Local Group + Virgo Supercluster + hundreds of other Superclusters of galaxies are all moving toward the super massive gravitational anomaly called the Great Attractor!

the neighbourhood

On a side note this makes me think about the supreme arrogance of religious thinking: That a carbon-based bag of mostly water on a speck of iron-silicate dust around a boring dwarf star in a minor galaxy in an under populated local group of galaxies in an unfashionable suburb of a super-cluster would look up at the sky and think, ‘It was all made so I could have a personal relationship with the creator of the entire Universe’

The plants, animals, etc and the natural beauty in the world looks as if it was designed, but science tells us that isn’t the case. Just a little more than high school level biology is needed to understand that this apparent illusion of design in things like feathers of a bird, the human eye, etc, is explicable by understanding evolution via natural selection. To our naïve eyes it ‘looks’ as if its designed by a designer.

This is what legendary naturalist David Attenborough has to say about it: “When Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind. And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball! Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”

Here is a video of a guy in an evangelical Christian video spreading his ignorance of biology in order to support his flavour of ‘god idea’:

Banana! The atheist nightmare!

If you didn’t watch the video, read the transcript here: “Behold, the atheists’ nightmare. Now if you study a well-made banana, you’ll find, on the far side, there are 3 ridges. On the close side, two ridges. If you get your hand ready to grip a banana, you’ll find on the far side there are three grooves, on the close side, two grooves. The banana and the hand are perfectly made, one for the other. You’ll find the maker of the banana, Almighty God, has made it with a non-slip surface. It has outward indicators of inward contents – green, too early – yellow, just right – black, too late. Now if you go to the top of the banana, you’ll find, as with the soda can makers have placed a tab at the top, so God has placed a tab at the top. When you pull the tab, the contents don’t squirt in your face. You’ll find a wrapper which is biodegradable, has perforations. Notice how gracefully it sits over the human hand. Notice it has a point at the top for ease of entry. It’s just the right shape for the human mouth. It’s chewy, easy to digest and its even curved toward the face to make the whole process so much easier. Seriously, Kirk, the whole of creation testifies to the genius of God’s creation.”

Quick response to the banana man:

Wild banana

The modern banana is a cultivated fruit, i.e. present day banana has evolved as a result of 50,000 years of selective breeding. This is how the actual wild banana is. This banana argument was a embarrassingly poor variation of the classic ‘argument from design’. 

2.) Science is tough:

The human brain did not evolve to understand the mysteries of the Universe, it evolved to survive on the African savanna. Thus is the reason after a point science starts getting very complex. Theoretical physics at the level of string theory, relativity, quantum physics gets incredibly tough. Quantum physics is said to be so weird and counterintuitive that one of the greatest theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once said ‘if you think you know quantum theory you don’t know quantum theory’. But quantum theory yields experimental predictions which have been verified to an accuracy; number of decimal places so accurate that Feynman himself compared it to the accuracy of predicting the width of North America to the accuracy of width of one human hair. That is why quantum theory has to me taken seriously and it doesn’t matter that quantum theory is deeply mysterious and tough.

Science is tough !

3.) Big numbers stop making sense:

Space is BIG! Really BIG. We just cant comprehend how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly BIG it is. It’s difficult for us humans to truly realize the scale of the universe as very big numbers stop making sense to the human mind.

When somebody says the universe has more than 400 billion galaxies, each with over 100 billion stars, everybody realizes that’s a lot of stuff but it’s difficult to get a feel of ‘how much stuff’.

Human brain can easily feel the difference between 17 sheep/books/houses/trees and 4 sheep/books/houses/trees. Even a few thousand is ok. But when things go into millions and hundreds of millions, billions, suddenly things stop making sense.

Conclusion:

Main problem with the ‘god did it!’ approach is that. It masquerades a non-explanation as an explanation. That is, if one is honest, it isn’t tough to realize that ‘God did it!’ is a non-answer. Compare the ‘God did it!/God made it this way’ approach and with a real answer(the scientific explanation) on any of the question you or your child has about the Universe and see the difference in intellectual satisfaction.

This to me is one of the main horrors of religion. It makes us feel satisfied with non-answers.One of the dangers about religion is that it can foster intellectual laziness. You need to be open and constantly question. To say that I don’t understand X so it must be magic, therefore it must be supernatural, it must be a miracle.

That is cowardly and defeatist, lazy.

Astrology is NOT science!

I have come across a shockingly high number of reasonably educated and intelligent Indians who happen to buy into the belief that ‘astrology is a science’. This article hopes to show otherwise.

Astrology 001

Last night this was thrown at me again. I am tired of going over the same thing over and over again so from now on I would like to point people to this post and make life easier. You can believe whatever you want but don’t call your unjustified/unverified claim, science. Don’t tell children that its science.

The claim:

Lets begin with the central claim here.

"The alignment of planetary bodies can significantly influence human destiny."

The very first thing we can say about this is that it is a non trivial claim.

It is a claim about physics, biology. All one needs to do is ask, Does it work? That is, do astrologers accurately and specifically predict human destiny from the alignment of the planets? No, they do not. Thus, the theory behind astrology is irrelevant, because astrology simply does not do what astrologers claim it can do.

So, if a person believes this claim to be true he is basically saying to the scientists of the world that they seem to have missed something so crucial to the nature of the universe, not just crucial, but something so inherently obvious that they with all their equations and instruments have missed But, the local astrologer/priest hasn’t! 

So many types of astrology!

It is critical to understand that unlike kinematics, electromagnetism,thermodynamics,etc there is no universal astrology, each culture/civilization has had its own brand of astrology. There is  Chinese astrology(Based upon sun-moon calendar , Mesoamerican astrology(many different versions,based upon sacrifice,different sun-moon calendars), Babylonian astrology (based upon the inspection of the liver of the sacrificial animal), Hellenistic astrology( based upon the constellations. This is the forerunner to the modern western astrology), Astrology in medieval Islam( based upon position of constellations visible from the desert),  Hindu astrology( original based upon Vedic manuscript called Vedanga Jyotisha and the modern one is the the mixed system which is hybrid of Hellenistic and the old Vedic version)

Now its important to understand that they aren’t all same. the ‘predictions’ by these systems are mutually exclusive. In fact even predictions in the same system do not always have consistency.

Read the scientific researches on the subject, if you wanna:

In case you need to go through the scientific double blind tests done on the subject, good place to start is with the Carlson’s experiment. Although unnecessary,rest are you to dig up and read.

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson asserted that "astrology was discredited 600 years ago with the birth of modern science"

Lets use the Simple common sense approach:

The common sense approach says, if it is true, that humanity has achieved such an insight into the nature of the universe, then why is it not taught in schools/colleges. I mean I remember studying the Nelson process, even though the chances of me actually using it to produce elemental sodium are close to zero, so why not teach students the ability to get an insight into the future by teaching them basics of this wonderful science. Why is it that, major corporations, major stock brokerages, etc spend millions and millions of dollars on stuff like market research, hire analysts when they can just have a team of top paid astrologers to tell them how the market will be in the future of how the customers will react to a product, etc.

Why aren’t scientific journals not taking astrology seriously?Why is it that NASA, ESA, ISRO,etc aren’t spending their money on astrology, instead of wasting all of it on astronomy?

Simple fact of the matter is, there have been countless researches on this and all of them show all of the fantastical claims made by astrology aren’t true. It is not science. Not one astrologer predicted the crash of a flight; not one astrologer predicted the 2004 tsunami(killing almost 2.5lac people),etc. Its just inconsistent, bullshit made by humans thousands of years ago. Astrology comes from a time when humanity know almost nothing about the universe and was riddled in superstitious hogwash.   

Astrology has been around much longer than acupuncture; ghosts and demons have been around longer still. They are all relics of a time when Homo sapiens faced a world they had no hope of understanding.

If you believe in this, I hope this post has given you some pointers. No single article can change a persons mind. Rest of the research is for you to do, I cant do it for you. Embrace the magnificent reality of the universe. Instead of wasting precious time of your life on astrology, just spend minutes reading about astronomy(and see your jaw drop!).

Thanks for reading. 🙂 I hope the tone of the article wasn’t condescending; it wasn’t the intention, just my poor written expression. 

 

Interesting media on the subject:

 

Carl Sagan – One of the greatest  astrophysicist on astronomy:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZB88HnlLgZ8]

 

Astrology Debunked – Sagan, Dawkins, Nye, Randi, Tyson:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1nsEtjqPg8]

 
Sheldon debunks Astrology (Funny)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhX_nXTF0Ec&feature=related]