Facing false truths

Huxley spoke amiss, Jay Gould at fault and now these saffronizing nincompoops.

“Every great scientific truth goes through three phases. First, people deny it. Second, they say it conflicts with the scripture. Third, they say they’ve known it all along.” – Neil Degrasse Tyson

Thomas Huxley: First people deny it.

I have to flog myself to cite the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its allies with great thinkers and scientists like Huxley and Jay Gould in one breath. By that account I can say without self-pity that I comprehend the emotional turmoil of the people who think it’s profane to adjoin ‘human rights violation’ in the same sentence that has ‘Islam’ in it. English biologist Thomas Huxley, known at the time as “Darwin’s bulldog” is famous for his debate with Wilberforce at Oxford university museum in 1860 which publicized that Darwinian ideas could not be dismissed easily. The blemish came in 1869 when he coined the term ‘agnostic’. He used it to describe his own views on theology often saying “I’m too sceptical to deny the possibility of anything”. But the term served as a label for other non-believers to settle down from the quest or sometimes as an escape route from theocratic bullying. As a result a large number had depleted from the opposition of theism. If one doesn’t know the truth about something, then suspension of judgment about that subject is the best rational decision one could make. This sounds like a fair argument if we are playing the game on a level playing. With politics, power and a belief that god is on their side, they(the religious) think they can dictate what we should wear and what not, what we should eat on what day, with whom we should have sex with, in what way and sometimes even what to think and how to think. Personal freedom is shattered by the parties of god, they are the ones who say they know about anything and everything (those who have to leave the table first before the argument becomes mature). Yet they accuse the other side for being rude.

With more public intellectuals starting to put on the cloak of agnosticism, the impression of that tag changed from what Huxley expected it to be to a label of uncertainty and even worse that of a fifty-fifty chance. Unbelievers after Huxley had difficulty in explaining their position without going through this paradox that is, every rational person will agree that any idea with a greater degree dearth of evidence or no evidence at all to prove it cannot be dismissed absolutely no matter how ill-advised it is, that negligible probability of it being true makes one agnostic about that. Great intellectuals like Bertrand Russell had to wrestle with it and even inventing a description like tea-pot agnostic on the process. Dr. Richard Dawkins had to come up with a 7 degree scale on that 1 measures as absolute belief to 7 as absolute disbelief and describing himself as falling on 6.9. All because of the term ‘Agnostic’, it provided a comfort zone for non-believers who didn’t want distress by articulating what they believed.

Stephen Jay Gould: Second, they say it conflicts with the scripture.

As science progressed immensely over the last century, Huxley’s slip-up almost seemed irrelevant because of the hammer blows that science dealt on religion disclosing the inaccuracy of religious description about the world. One of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation American palaeontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould was the one to offer solace to the religious quarter. In his 1999 book, Rocks of Ages, he put forward the concept of NOMA (Non-overlapping magisteria). Which advocates the view that science and religion each have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” and these two domains do not overlap. Even though the concept was around for a long time, nobody popularized it like Jay Gould did. 12th century thinker Averroes (Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd) dealt with Aristotelian problem of conflicting truths of real world and that of scripture much like the way Jay Gould did, by defining two truths, one different from the other and proceeded on long different courses and suggesting that we need not be concerned with their conflict.  Maimonides, the proponent of apophatic theology, discarded it by saying truth is unitary and hence, it must be reconciled no matter how imperfectly. I am not sure this theologian would  have said it if he lived in this era because of the overwhelming evidence to prove which among the two comprehends an accurate description of the real world where Jay Gould committed intellectual suicide by proposing NOMA. Science and religion are irreconcilable, one is corrosive to other.

It is true that one can go through a scientific curriculum keeping his or her faith untouched, or there would not be an explanation why the 7% of the world’s elite scientists are believers. But appending a fault vindication like NOMA for what they are doing is a treachery to intellectual integrity. The concept NOMA provides a safe shelf for people who always wanted to keep two sets of books without swallowing the hypocrisy.

Tejomay Bharat: Third, they say they’ve known it all along.

This copout that ‘scriptures encompass science’ is the oldest trick there is. But it has never showed its foulest face until recently in India. All the major religions invariably verbalize this, aiming at some validity for their Bronze Age books or in an attempt to stay relevant in the science age by hedging bits of scientific facts and trying to correlate them somehow with their beliefs whether it is pi or the divider between fresh and salt water etc. But none senseless than what the prime minister of the largest democracy in the world said on October this year “genetic science existed in ancient India”. For most people it won’t be daunting to hear, even for some secularists. But the text he took it from is the real fiend.

Tejomay Bharat (Glorious India) is one of the nine books which has recently introduced to public schools in the state of Gujarat run by BJP. It has been distributed over 42,000 elementary and secondary schools earlier this year. According to Gujarat State School Textbook Board these books are aimed to teach children “facts” about history, geography, science and religion. These “facts” include – The first airplane in the world was ‘Pushpak Viman’, a flying chariot used by Hindu God Rama., Prehistoric Indians had invented television for their use etc… in these books these are presented as facts. Even if you are presenting it as myth or a religious belief then you will wind up with the problem of, why Hindu mythology and religion? Why not Greek mythology, Christianity or Islam? But it seems that Vidya Bharti, the educational wing of the RSS has no difficulty with these raising concerns around the country.

State and federal government has equal responsibility regarding education in India. A state must follow the guidelines specified by National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) which these nine books clearly doesn’t follow. In order to overcome this difficulty these are introduced as ‘supplementary reading’ in the curriculum and students are told to do assignments on their subjects keeping these books as reference. Majority among those books are penned by Dina Nath Batra, founder of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti and the one responsible for forcing Pengiun India Publishers to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’ saying it is “hurtful to Hindu religious sentiments“. Even though he declines the onus of writing about the ‘Pushpak Viman’ and other non-scientific nonsense in those books, he doesn’t seem to find the racist contents like “Negro” reference and the statements like “It is better to die for one’s religion. An alien religion is a source of sorrow” hurtful. The underlying agenda of RSS, ruling party BJP’s mother organization is promoting anti-western ideology in the education system, they meekly call it indianization. Seems like lying and racism aren’t the only way these books perch saffronization there are contents like, “An Englishwoman said (to Vivekananda), ‘Swamiji! You are insisting on wearing Indian clothes but your shoes are foreign’. Vivekananda (showed his feet and) said, ‘In our view, the place of a foreigner is here’. The woman was dumbfounded.”(As translated by Indian Express) which promotes hatred for other cultures. These books are distributed free of cost to the students using taxpayers money. A government does these without public consent or any legal authorizing then it is not really a republic it’s a banana republic.

If these texts really want to promote respect and love for the country and of other people as Batra claims them to be, then instead of teaching them pseudo-science in class rooms and depriving them the opportunity to know the real science in its full sense. Teach them how this country flourished with new ideas and innovations when it was open to discussions and debates, at the time of Aryabhatta and Ajita Kesakambali the 6th century BCE philosopher and debater who proposed agnosticism and Akṣapāda Gautama the proponent of Nyāya Sūtras(the Science of Debate) and the way he deals with the problem of conflicting truths. What Huxley and Jay Gould proposed was there in our philosophy for many centauries which we throw away when we stopped being receptive and became dogmatic. If you want to claim something our country achieved in those era claim these instead of teaching falsehoods and injecting anti-western ideology. Let the children have these ideas and let them learn the ups and down’s of these arguments. Teach them there are no western and eastern ideas there are only good and bad ideas. And teaching these children lies and twisting facts to create aversion for other countries and cultures is a bad one.

Anoop Chandran

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