Saturday, September 22, 2007

Science and Mythology: Ram Sethu

A lot of people asked this question: “Why do you question mythology? Is Science good enough to answer all the questions? Is Science infallible?”

Science is not infallible. In fact, the basic premise on which science is constructed is on questioning: “Really?”, “Are you sure?” “Where is the proof?”

The onus of explaining a theory and proving it has always been on the person proposing it. And everyone else sits around asking lot of questions. Science by its innate nature questions itself all the time. If a certain practical result is found to contradict a theory, then that theory has to be rejected or modified. And even when a theory seems to work fine for hundreds of years, such as Theory of Gravitation, we still cannot say with 100% confidence that this theory works forever and in all places. There is always a possibility that it may not work in certain places and in certain times. Then we go about enhancing it or confining it or rejecting it or modifying it.

The beauty of Science is that it accepts (at all times) that it does not have answers to all the questions. Since it asks itself lot of questions, it questions others with the same rigor when someone proposes a solution to a practical problem. If you say that a crystalline energy coming from an amulet will heal you of cancer, it will ask you questions, such as ‘How?’ ‘Where is the evidence?’ ‘Did you conduct enough experiments to suggest this?’ ‘Can you explain it to us?’

Science is not good enough to answer all the questions. Though it attempts to answer many questions to the natural phenomenon and is even able to predict the events in certain cases, it has no role to play in the works of art, fiction, mythology, fables, stories, etc. Can someone prove or disprove there is Middle Earth in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Can someone prove or disprove whether Harry Potter can fly by sitting on his broom? Can someone prove or disprove the existence of Mickey Mouse? Can someone prove or disprove if Hanuman lifted a mountain and flew in the sky?

Science is not good enough to answer these questions because such stories exist in the minds of the people. People are entitled to believe anything if that belief gets them entertained. However, it will start questioning you when you go to court and obstruct construction of a building because you contested it will violate the airspace when Harry Potter flies through that space. Science will ask you a question- ‘Does Harry Potter really exist? Or is he in the minds of people?’

Ram Sethu Episode

During the current episode of Ram Sethu, some people claimed that Rama is real, because he exists in the ‘collective conscience’ of millions of Hindus. So, then Superman should be real because he exists in the minds of millions too. So should Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus.

Nobody wants to question mythology and verify its authenticity just for the sake of hurting your sentiments. However, when some people believe that their Harry Potter is so true that the book written by JK Rowling itself is considered the evidence to prove his existence, then all we ask is, ‘Are you sure?’

Imagine a court scene:

Petitioner: You cannot dredge this Ram Sethu.

ASI: Why not?

Petitioner: Because it is a monument of our ancient heritage.

ASI: Really?

Petitioner: Yes. It is man-made construction and hence we need to preserve it.

ASI: And can we ask who made it?

Petitioner: Lord Rama made it along with vanar-sena (army of monkeys).

ASI: Well, we don't believe it is man-made. How can you say it is made by Rama? Do you have a proof for that?

Petitioner: Yes. We do. Here is the Ramcharita Manas written by Tulsidas and here is Ramayana written by Valmiki. Right in there, it clearly says that Rama built Ram Sethu using vanar sena.

ASI: Yeah, thank you. But we believe Ramayana is a mythology. It is not historical evidence. This does not prove Rama existed and built a bridge.

Petitioner: No. Lord Rama exists. And we know that. And we know that from these books. In fact, Lord Rama existed 1.75 Million years ago and he built this bridge with vanar sena.

ASI: Sorry, thank you for producing this evidence. But this is not acceptable. As far as we are concerned, from what we know, there is no evidence to suggest Rama ever existed.

The next day newspapers flash the story [emphasis mine]:

The Ramayana may have moved millions since civilisation took root, but for the Centre, Valmiki’s immortal tale of Lord Ram lacks scientific and historical veracity.

"Valmiki Ramayana and Ramcharitmanas admittedly form an important part of ancient Indian literature, but these cannot be said to be historical records to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters and occurrences of events depicted therein," the government said in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, instantly setting the stage for a political showdown with the Sangh Parivar.

Why question mythology?

No one set out to challenge the mythology. When mythology was confined to movies, to bed-time stories, to go and celebrate festivals, and do fasting, it is all fine. But when those stories are produced as evidences to stop an activity that the government is undertaking, then questions are asked. That’s the only reason why mythology was questioned here.

Some people ask: “Why question belief systems of Hindus alone? Why not Muslims and Christians? Why don’t we ask the authenticity of existence of their religions? Ask if Jesus existed, if Abraham existed?”

The answer is very simple. Normally nobody goes around questioning mythology and belief systems. One questions them only when someone produces these mythologies as evidences to stop certain activity which the government is undertaking.

Suppose if some Christians cite Bible as evidence to stop sending PSLV into space, then ISRO would question the mythology and say, ‘There is no evidence to suggest the angels you are talking about actually exist’.

28 comments:

  1. Well said Sujai.

    There is no reason for us to go about challenging the virgin birth. It requires public rebuttal only when a pregnant girl today makes the same claims for her citing Bible.

    All nonsense comes into the way of rational thinking sooner or later. It is only natural that someone living in a hindu majority country will encounter hindu non-sense more often than others. If you are living in the US, no one goes on to question your hindu non-sense. Being a minuscule minority, it is dismissed as of no consequence

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  2. hello?? jews and moslems have been killing each other for decades now because the judaism believe that jews are the 'chosen people' and that jerusalem is the 'promised land'.

    i think attacking hindu mythology re rama sethu should be the last in the list of priorities of the 'science'* warriors.

    * in quotes because i am not convinced that any attack on religion supports or aids science.

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  3. Jellicles:

    Look outside your window. Do you see Jews and Moslems killing each other in your city?

    When I look outside my window I see supporters of Rama Sethu enforcing bandh and burning buses right at my door step. Whom should I worry more about? A Cho killing 32 people in Virginia Tech or a Pandher killing 30 kids in Delhi?

    I do not think that science has any business attacking hindu mythology or any other mythology as long as followers of those mythology do not start forcing their beliefs as science. But when they do, it is moral obligation of everyone to call their bluff.

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  4. vivek behal, i still dont see what role science has to play in the solution of a social and cultural issue.

    science has become the handmaiden...a false appeal to authority...for all people who want to squash the personal freedom of others. denying god or the rights of others to follow their god does not make one a rational person. so, please stop including 'science' as if the mere inclusion of the word gives any credibility to a personal prejudices.

    secondly, i dont know how old you are, but i am old enough to hazard a guess that the 'crowds' that march in india are usually those who are paid to do so by politicians for a political agenda. i give such demonstrations the importance they deserve during the analysis of said problem. if you find that marching crowds screaming slogans and engaging in hooliganism bring you grief, please work on fixing the political landscape and strategies of our great country before attacking deeply and closely held personal religious beliefs.

    for every paid hooligan stomping the concrete in support of rama sethu remaining intact, there are hundreds who continue to hold their religious faith dearly to themselves...silently and peacefully.

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  5. jellicles,

    If I may answer your question,

    i still dont see what role science has to play in the solution of a social and cultural issue.

    An enormous role. Science, and the scientific method is a way of studying nature. It's the only method we've got which makes predictions with unerring accuracy. For any social and cultural issues, the facts are best determined by the scientific method. For a simple example, suicide, which is a social issue, was studied using the scientific method by Emile Durkheim, and he obtained results which are very relevant to this social issue.


    science has become the handmaiden...a false appeal to authority...for all people who want to squash the personal freedom of others. denying god or the rights of others to follow their god does not make one a rational person.


    That is a load of nonsense. Science DOES NOT prevent people from believing in a personal god. You can believe in whatever God you want. However, when you are making a claim which is in contradiction to current scientific evidence, and is a matter of national policy, Science plays an important role. What it does, is to separate fact from fiction, and enables us to judge the accuracy of claims based on faiths and beliefs when making a decision of national policy.

    for every paid hooligan stomping the concrete in support of rama sethu remaining intact, there are hundreds who continue to hold their religious faith dearly to themselves...silently and peacefully.

    IMO, that is absolutely fine, as long as they don't force their beliefs in decisions of national policy, especially in face of contradictory scientific evidence

    -- anon3.1415

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  6. to anon: durkheim also argued that religion was essential for society to act as one cohesive unit. the question is not whether religion is necessary or not. the real question is WHY religion is central to society. i would encourage you to read emile durkheim's works on religion. i have also found pascal boyer's religion explained: evolutionary origins of religious thought an interesting read.

    further, that rama sethu was built by rama and the monkey army is not the only reason some hindus want to preserve the bridge near rameswaram. anyone with more than one brain cell can surely grasp that had they lived long enough in india to understand how politics works. if there are hindus who believe that rama sethu is a religious symbol to them that strengthens their faith, that should be reason enough to preserve it in secular india. it is an insult to the intelligence of thousands and thousands of rational hindus who rely on the strength of their faith and symbolic belief for the life they lead to suggest that all hindus take their religious mythology literally. as many fundamentalist do. as many militant atheists do. the meaning of secularism too has been convoluted. its a knife that cuts both ways. please ponder upon it.

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  7. jellicles

    durkheim also argued that religion was essential for society to act as one cohesive unit.

    That's irrelevant. Remember that the study on suicide he did was backed with empirical data, whereas this was only an opinion. The reason I mentioned him was as an example of the significance of the scientific method in social issues, and not as an appeal to authority as you have done.

    the real question is WHY religion is central to society. i would encourage you to read emile durkheim's works on religion. i have also found pascal boyer's religion explained: evolutionary origins of religious thought an interesting read.

    Those ideas, while of historical value, are believed to be outdated. For a much better analysis on the "evolution" of religion, do check out Richard Dawkins work (the one on mind viruses), and especially the theory of memes.


    if there are hindus who believe that rama sethu is a religious symbol to them that strengthens their faith, that should be reason enough to preserve it in secular india.


    By that faulty reasoning, if Sati is a religious symbol to Hindus, it should be enough to preserve the practice.

    The point is that, in the face of scientific evidence, religious beliefs are no basis for making decisions on national policy.

    It is an insult to the intelligence of thousands and thousands of rational hindus who rely on the strength of their faith and symbolic belief for the life they lead to suggest that all hindus take their religious mythology literally

    But then, the point is that some people do take it literally (and resort to violence), which you have ignored. Besides, since there isn't any way to objectively and independently interpret which parts of the Ramayana are only an allegory, and which other parts are literally true, there are going to be people (many, in fact) who do interpret it literally, and take it as an irrefutable fact which is then used to make decisions of national policy.

    its a knife that cuts both ways.

    If you look at history, the knife (actual physical ones, not metaphorical) is almost entirely wielded by religious fundamentalists to kill others, and not by "militant" (as you call) atheists.

    --anon3.1415

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  8. excuse me..an anthropoligist's take on religion is irrelevant while what the same person says on suicide is relevant here?

    this place is a total waste of time. carry on with or without lubrication. ciao!

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  9. Questioning is good, do you think a question like this (following from Krish (http://www.krishworld.com/politics/krish/indian-politics/did-karunanidhi-go-overboard-with-his-statements) is doing any good?

    Problem is not in asking questions, problem is in the way you ask these questions.




    Lemme also say the same thing publicly and I am challenging the mentally retarded Hindutva fools to issue a fatwa on me.

    Ram is the biggest lie heaped on the Indian society. Even from a mythological perspective, he is the biggest male chauvinist pig of all. He deserves the same treatment as any other male chauvinist pig. It is time this nutcase mythological character is sent to grave and India is allowed to carry on with the progressive agenda.

    It is not Jai Shree Ram anymore. It is plain Screw the Ram from now on.



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  10. Hi Sujai,
    How would you response to the questions mentioned in following post:
    http://realitycheck.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/scientific-questions-to-asi/

    ~Nastik

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  11. What about not implementing the uniform civil code just because someone "believes" that a God exists and that he wanted them to follow a certain rules. Why doesn't the center with it's science instituitions raise this issue? I am raising this issue because this is hurting people(women in particular) of that community and might be effecting people of other communities too. Whatever good the Sethusamudram project is going to do but don't forget that having a uniform civil code is going to save a few lives! Which one do you think is better?
    I am not a believer. Just had to talk about this because of the insenstive way this whole thing has been handled by Cong. and Karunanidi. I live in the USA and catholics and whites worry that no one cares if someone hurts the feelings of the majority.

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  12. Scientific Destroyers check this out http://kalyan97.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/880/

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  13. Here is my take,

    I agree that as of now, we may not be able to prove conclusively about Shri Ram, but there is no proof that he did not exist either.

    My point is this, as a Hindu and rationalist, I am fine if you tell me he is a mythological figure only. Question is, can you tell me who the person who first wrote it ? When did he live ? What was his genealogy ? How did he get a grasp of a wide geography to imagine this bridge between India and Lanka.

    Our accurate knowledge of world history and especially Indian history dates to only 2000 yrs. Nobody has been able to come up with a date for when the Vedas were written. Aryan invasion was considered Science, now it is considered Humbug.

    I am perfecly OK with science. I havent found a religion as sceintific as Hinduism, and even if Rama and Krishna are all declared mythological, Hinduism will not be much affected. My issue is how much does Science know, and if they know, chart out the whole story without any ambiguity. Else tell I dont know

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  14. Rationalism, Sentimentalism, Ram Sethu and Harry Potter

    Let me have another poser - if it is that Shri Ram's army really built the bridge, so what ? Its served its purpose, better economic development would happen with the canal, lets get on with it !

    For all you rationalists, what is the framework for your rationalism ? Why why value sentiments, morality, humanism etc. First let us understand the basis for your framework, then we can discuss rationaly. I mean it.

    I am going home at night, have a pretty girl with me whom I have to drop off. She is all willing, and the probability of my wife finding out is almost nil. My science and rational brain says - go ahead.

    Can I bump of a person because afterall all, all that dies is just a bunch of neurons punching chemicals at each other ?

    How does one value sentiments ? Is it the loss of productivity and economic impact. OK, so be it.

    India has one of the lower homicide rates in the world, including the U S of A. I can comfortably walk at 9:00 pm at night in any part (almost) of my city, I cannot say the same for U.S. of A. And we have a corrupt police force, a non effective judiciary and glaring economic inequalities, no way to compare. Has anybody done the research and aksed why ? Is there a correlation between the Ramayana story and this, and what is the coefficient ? Suppose there is a correlation, what is the cost of chipping away at this mythology(or history), if you will. Is there a cost-benefit analysis.

    If JK rowling story helps in building character, characters have been worshipped for more than thousands of years by millions of people, I would still value their sentiments. But my gut feel is it wont get that far.

    I am all for a rational and scientific discussion. But then, we have to be able to look beyond our noses and see the big picture.

    Otherwise, in any case it is just a bunch of neurons firing chemicals. Why bother ?

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  15. Good post Sujai.

    Since I have recently converted myself to the Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster, I believe that my new theory of Rama Sethu, which will be released soon, should also be taken into account and given due consideration. :))

    I have found a significant corelation between the age of layers of sediments and the decrease in the population of apes. A significant and extinct variety of which is "Vahvah naaraancy" which should have made the bridge under the command of a negroid tribal leader 'Komkomkara' for designing a huge marathon track from N.India till Sreelanka. I strongly argue that my theory too be accepted as it is my faith and it does not require any proof. Or you cannot disprove it if I state it rigourously. :))

    Jokes apart, you did hit the nail.

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  16. Good post Sujai.

    Since I have recently converted myself to the Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster, I believe that my new theory of Rama Sethu, which will be released soon, should also be taken into account and given due consideration. :))

    I have found a significant corelation between the age of layers of sediments and the decrease in the population of apes. A significant and extinct variety of which is "Vahvah naaraancy" which should have made the bridge under the command of a negroid tribal leader 'Komkomkara' for designing a huge marathon track from N.India till Sreelanka. I strongly argue that my theory too be accepted as it is my faith and it does not require any proof. Or you cannot disprove it if I state it rigourously. :))

    Jokes apart, you did hit the nail.

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  17. I believe that Rama did exist. Let us for a moment assume he constructed the bridge.

    Today, the bridge needs to be broken in order that ships pass through. This will save a lot of time and fuel for ships, as the Suez Canal did.

    A bridge is after all a bridge - a passage to help cross the waters for a purpose - doesn't the army construct poltoon bridges only to be dismantled later? Why cant we think of Adam's bridge as a poltoon bridge that was constructed for the troops of Rama to cross across to Lanka? It was abandoned by Rama once Sita was rescued, why make a big issue out of this?

    Why can't we Indians be practical?

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  18. @Sanjay

    "I can comfortably walk at 9:00 pm at night in any part (almost) of my city, I cannot say the same for U.S. of A."

    This is an unsubstantiated statement. I can't say any authentic statistics about US of A, but Delhi is one of the most "unsafe for women" city in India. If you move south (Kerala/TN where I belong to), an average parent of a girl won't allow her to go even in at a late evening time (a prevention better than cure logic or what!). You can have your take over that, but the fact remains.

    I won't say Indian societal values too degraded, but surely affirm that there are a lot more aspects which require improvement. Also this example is no argument to the issue in question.

    Last but not the least, your woman and man analogy is again far off the mark. We are talking about apples and not oranges! Has this analogy anything to do with Ram Sethu? If so be specific.

    From my best guess what I got as what you intended is this - because we might not have any clue regarding Ram/mythology should we hurt "people's sentiments": is it ethical?

    My answer to this question is to ponder this question- Ravan is a hero for many a Dravidian people (not all). Nobody possess a right to deny that, because they are against the belief of the majority. I can't ban "beaf eating" because a majority feel offended and also it is illogical to the core to ban just "cow slaughter" (what about other animals? let us talk about vegetarianism and that is another issue.). Human beings are not just "rational", I agree. None of us are. But rationality alone is that tool by which we can judge from a more impersonal level. All we need is to agree up on this frame work- 1) X, Y or Z, as an Indian has the same right of expression. 2) As citizens we need to agree up on our national priorities which should evolve through a democratic process or consensus 3) X, Y or Z need to agree (or at least not disrupt) any activity which is a national priority unless it denies his/her basic human right which cannot be/will not be compensated.

    Now, if this project is not a national priority or something affecting an individual/groups' human rights, then it is another debate. Sujay has not stepped into that. But wagging a war against this for a "theological reason" in a court is just absurdity. What else should any court look into? Your faith? If I claim myself to be "pastafarian" and argue from my "flying spaghetti monster church's" doctrine can you counter it? If so what was the reason? Was it because I "my claim of faith" was not born in India? Then we have a lot of other issues coming up ......

    This is simply not about rationalist vs religious, but about the perspectives and priorities ....

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  19. Burden of proof lies where?? Majority populace seems believe (or have faith on) existance of Ram. Is the burden of proof on them or on the other set of folks (scientific/atheistic or whatever)?

    I am just curious..I do not believe Ram built the bridge (but I am not an expert in this subject). But I know/believe these:

    1. Ram is revered by Hindus (majority).
    2. Ram is believed to have built the bridge under question by those ppl who believe in his existence.
    3. Indian political and religious connections are not going to let an expert (archeological/historic/any other scientific) evaluation of Ram's existence (and hence his connection with the bridge construction). I am certain that, this political climate isn't going to change in the near future.
    4. I agree that 1.75 M years etc aren't the best way to state about the existence of Ram. That is a mistake. That doesn't everything attributed to Ram's existence is a mistake. "Ram might or might not have existed ~3.5K years ago and he might have made a bridge, not necessarily with monkeys. We don't have any proof to educate our people otherwise. Since it is ppl's belief and since we do not have any proof otherwise, we have decided not to offend our ppl's belief" - if this is what Indian Govt. says and withdraws the project, what would you have to say?

    I have no way of knowing the result of a complete scientific research on Ram (whether it is relevant to building the bridge or not is a different aspect. I agree that it is irrelevant as stated by jellicles). I do feel the burden is on the questioners (in the name of science/atheism/theism or whatever 'ism') rather than the believers.

    Sadly, There is very little tolerance in the comment section. So, before bashing me, know that I am not a scientist, I am agnostic, I don't believe/like Ram, I am not Albert Einstein types, call me a fool - I can assure u I won't be offended.. This will help the basher to write some sensible bashing! Thanks.

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  20. Sujai

    Science has changed its stand on many things many times over. If we destroy the Ram Sethu now and find evidence that it's indeed manmade latter on, who will get it back. Your mind is really like asshole as you said in the top paragraph

    Anjani

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  21. Captain (retired) H Balakrishnan of the Indian Navy to know a mariner's view of the Sethu samudram
    project.It seems to be a good analysis on the sethu samudram project whether it is really worth it
    http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/oct/01inter.htm

    (I posted the same under the topic indians and awards by mistake. please delete that one)

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  22. As a digression,
    http://perveted-intelligence.blogspot.com/2007/10/sethusamudram-project-issue-or-non.html

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  23. Nice attempt to pretend to be rational while having a hidden agenda against the sethu.

    Anyways it was funny the way u presented ASI as an agency which knows what is history. Nice joke!.

    ASI whose affidavit was filed by 2 amateurs who havent ever researched on "man made origins" of the sethu, file a report saying ram does not exist. And you call that rational. Maybe u need some training on what is rational and what is not. Evidence is not visible to blind people, nor does it pop up out of the blue, it is found out by researchers through years of effort. And pls inform me what was this so called research that was done on the sethu which proves it to be "NOT MAN MADE". The evidence has to be provided by the theorist bullshit dosent stand as we are talking about a protected area and there is no way anybody except the govt can do research in that area. Everybody else can ONLY point to literary evidence to somehow get the govt to conduct a study.

    mythology ha ?? so were the structures underneath the sea around mamalapuram until a western diver decided to believe local legend and investigate. I will leave mythology at that.

    >>The beauty of Science is that it >>accepts (at all times) that it >>does not have answers to all the >>questions.

    Quite a statement to make. Science begins with the assumption that everything else is wrong except it. That is why the so called scientists propose tons of bullshit theory pretending to explain away things they dont know shit about. But they need to discredit traditional wisdom as somehow that is not mordern.

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  24. Anonymous,

    ASI whose affidavit was filed by 2 amateurs who havent ever researched on "man made origins" of the sethu, file a report saying ram does not exist.
    You have completely failed to understand what the report said. It didn't claim that rama did not exist, but merely stated that religious texts cannot be used as a source for historical accuracy.


    Evidence is not visible to blind people, nor does it pop up out of the blue, it is found out by researchers through years of effort.


    Yes. And without experimental evidence, anything you believe is on a matter of faith.

    And pls inform me what was this so called research that was done on the sethu which proves it to be "NOT MAN MADE".

    Please read this excellent post which highlights exactly why.


    mythology ha ?? so were the structures underneath the sea around mamalapuram until a western diver decided to believe local legend and investigate.


    Which is different from a bunch of monkeys building a bridge 1.7 million years ago.


    Quite a statement to make. Science begins with the assumption that everything else is wrong except it. That is why the so called scientists propose tons of bullshit theory pretending to explain away things they dont know shit about. But they need to discredit traditional wisdom as somehow that is not mordern.


    That is rubbish. I suggest you actually attend a science class!

    Here's a short description of the scientific method, and the assumptions it makes.

    anon3.1415

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  25. I have been visiting various blogs for my term papers writing research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards

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  26. Firstly, mythologies are metaphorical in nature. They were never intended by their creators to act as a science. They are motifs that reflect human nature. So pondering whether or not magical occurences that happen in myth truly took place in reality is ridiculous. Instead, you should be pondering what these magical occurences represent or reflect. Furthermore, science is constantly at play with mythology. There is a law of science that all energy transforms and never dies. This rebirth theory is something that has been at play in myths for ages. And this is just one example of the interplay between myth and science. There are far too many to list. Anyway, I would study both mythology, religion, and science in great detail before writing about them. Especially before writing to the public about them.

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