One reader at TOI writes [21 February 2009]:
Theory of evolution isn’t all the logical
It has been a much-debated topic between the theists and atheists/rationalists. Darwinism has many missing links in it, for example, the theory says man evolved from monkeys but it does not answer the question as to why monkeys still exist on earth while intermediate forms like Australopithecus (primitive form of man) do not exist. As far as Hinduism is concerned, the Bhagavad Gita mentions the creation of 84,00,000 species by Lord Krishna. While atheists/rationalists boast they are logical, it is evident that there is nothing logical in Darwin’s theory.
For a half-baked literate of Science, the above argument sounds scientific and therefore quite credible. There are many people who have learnt about Darwin’s theory from some popular magazines and they get amused by such refutations. Such criticism involves use of scientific terms but is based in shallow arguments, wrong assumptions and clever-talk.
Theory of Evolution does not suggest that man evolved from monkeys. That is patently wrong. Instead it observes that the ancestors of the current generation of chimpanzees and humans are the same. The species which gave rise to humans and chimpanzees does not exist. It has gone extinct around 5 to 7 Million years ago. The ancestors of chimpanzees went on a different path of evolution while we took a different path. The way our ancestors (Homo erectus, Homo habilis) are extinct, the preceding ancestors of chimpanzees are also extinct.
Time and again, the critics of Theory of Evolution discredit it using assumptions and conclusions which are patently wrong. Even Fred Hoyle’s famous criticism is based in wrong understating of Theory of Evolution. He said:
A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing-747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there?
Anyone who understands Evolution well will not come up with such a hypothetical situation to question Evolution. There are many assumptions which are patently wrong here.
Akin to what the reader wrote to TOI, we see many pseudo-scientific detractions that can be explained away by those who understand Theory of Evolution. It’s easy to create such gobbledygook and pass it off as ‘scientific’ argument.
Here is my attempt take on Helio-centric model of Solar System (Sun is center - not Earth).
Copernicus model of Solar System, called Helio-centric theory, is flawed. Everyone, including scientists, agree that it is just a theory, not a fact, whose explanation is based on another theory, called Theory of Universal Gravitation. Theories are unproven. One should understand that scientists themselves call these models theories, not facts. If it was a fact they would have called Fact of Universal Gravitation.
No scientist can explain how planets move in the thin vacuum. Even great scientists like Maxwell said that we need ether in the space so that Gravitation can work. Albert Einstein himself used cosmological constant in his equations to explain ether, but later was pressurized by other atheist scientists to remove it because it indicated presence of God. This missing information on how planets move in vacuum and how Gravitation works in space is still unclear to even great scientists and they disagree with each other. It is very clear that this whole Helio-centric theory is not logical.
Actually, according to Rig Veda, first there was nothing, then there was everything, which is how Western Scientists got the idea for Big Bang.
Most pseudo-scientific arguments are like that. They can easily create gibberish using scientific words. Just because it uses scientific words doesn’t make it science, the way using stars, planets and mathematics as symbols does not make astrology a science, or the way using wind energies, magnetic forces as symbols does not make vaastu shastra a science.
There is a need to make our education more scientific. Kids should be given the tools of rationality and logic to dissect an argument and make up their mind. They should not be given convenient, comforting and magical answers that sound elite but are in reality are hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo. Many literate people in India (and New Age West) fall prey to such pseudo-scientific arguments. Deepak Chopra, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, et al, make fools of people and feed on their credulity. Such people do not quench the thirsty mind, instead they dumb down the curious mind with pseudo-scientific bullshit all with an aim to profit from such people. Charlatans, quacks, homeopath doctors, astrologers, etc, are roaming streets of India to make a quick buck from such dumbed-down Indians.
Are you one of them?
Here’s a site: Postmodernism Generator. Each time you refresh it, you generate a new article that sounds elite but is actually gibberish. If you happen to read any pseudo-scientific bullshit you should know that this is how it generated. Have fun!
A commenter has presented a thought experiment to show the inherent deficiency in our support for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. I present the abridged version here:
Suppose, in distant future, all living species on earth's surface become extinct...
At this time a alien space shuttle lands on earth surface...
Soon the intelligent aliens who discovered Earth start to study our possessions, trying to piece together the history of their new discovery. They might notice that all of our cookware the pots and pans and plates and bowls and observe that all seemed to be related some how...
Over time, the bowls evolved into plates and coffee cups and stainless-steel frying pans. Eventually, the aliens would create compelling charts showing how the dishes evolved… Some scientists would be bothered by the lack of intermediate dishware species... but they would assume it to exist somewhere undiscovered…
While the above scenario almost sounds to reflect our own scientific thinking, it is not. ‘Almost’ is the key word here. In fact, we can create many thought experiments, for the fun of it, say, we are actually not living beings, that we are just characters in a software program [Matrix], that in reality earth is only 6000 years old while God is fooling us for amusement by planting dinosaur fossils, creating false geological patterns, manipulating radioactive dating, to make us believe that this planet is around 4 billion years old.
There is no end to such thought experiments. Each of them can be constructed in such a way that it is self explanatory. In fact, if you think about it Religion does the same.
Thought experiments can themselves be categorized into plausible and whimsical. Some are created to bring clarity, reason and question some of the assumptions, while some are created to obfuscate, confuse and mesmerize people.
It’s easy to suggest that Man never landed on the Moon, that all the rockets into space did not go to Moon, that the video relayed was in fact from NASA station in Texas, and that the samples can be easily obtained here on earth itself. All that slow motion moving is just camera trick, and so on.
There are lots of people who are ready to believe that Man never landed on the Moon. So how do you prove that Man landed on the Moon?
Aren’t scientists the same as religious priests who ask people to just believe them without giving any proof? Why should we believe a scientist who says he went to Moon and not the religious priest who confesses he met an angel the other night?
Why is scientist more credible that a religious priest? They both look honest and sincere. Isn’t belief in Science same as belief in religion? Isn’t belief in Darwin and his theory same as belief in St. Peters and his gospels?
Aren’t we in awe of Charles Darwin the same way we are in awe of St. Peters? Why should the story of Charles Darwin be more credible compared to story of St. Peters?
The commenter writes:
I just want to point out that a person's admiration of Darwin can make them believe in his theory blindly just like another person's perception of an invisible god.
To answer his questions, I have to go back to defining Science and show how it is different from Religion. Unless we see the difference between the two, there is a very good chance that many educated people will confuse the two.
Charles Darwin was not an atheist in the conventional sense. He believed that God was responsible for the First Cause. And yet, Charles Darwin is a poster boy for atheists nowadays.
We run into these situations again and again – Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of United States of America, wrote at lengths on freedom, equality and liberty and yet he had slaves in his household. Abraham Lincoln, who waged war against the Confederates, thus abolishing slavery in the South, was not ready to concede Blacks were equal to Whites. Isaac Newton, who discovered Universal Law of Gravitation, thus setting the trend for removing God from affairs of Man, was a firm believer in God.
Liberalism or Atheism or any such progressive thinking is different in different times. Thomas Jefferson may be a liberal thinker for his times but when we look into the past and measure his liberalism from our yardstick he fails the test. Charles Darwin or Einstein may not qualify as atheists from our standpoint and yet they were closer to atheists of their times. When Judaism came on board, atheists were non-believers of God of Moses. When Islam came on board, atheists were believers of other religions – like pagan religions and other unknown religions. During Spanish Inquisition, Protestants, Jews, and non-believers in God were all put in the same league and called atheists.
Charles Darwin believed in a Creator. He may not have expressed enthusiasm for Christianity as it is practiced, but he still believed that a Divine Creator existed who have might have started it all, set the laws in motion and let the Universe take care of itself without intervening further.
The way Theory of Gravitation had an effect on humanity much beyond what Newton comprehended Origin of Species has an effect much beyond what Darwin stands for in his personal life. Many such great scientists are still human, mortal, time-bound, looking at the world from their narrow window of their time on earth. Some of them displayed idiosyncrasies which are completely irrelevant to Science. And if they are unimportant to Science they are not included in Science. Newton refused to admit certain results his own theories proved, even Albert Einstein turned out to be smaller than his own theory refusing to accept the byproduct of his own theories. What is important is what they have contributed to – in unraveling Nature – giving us a tool to understand the laws of Nature and how it worked, without resorting to miracles, divine intervention and omnipotence of God.
Would Darwin be an atheist if he was alive now? Can’t say! May be, may not be. Would he have come up with Theory of Evolution if he was born elsewhere, in another time, as someone else? Can’t say! Such speculations are irrelevant. His being an atheist or theist has no impact on what he discovered. If it was not Charles Darwin, some other scientist or a series of scientists would have come up with that theory in the next few decades. If the other scientist happens to be gay, atheist, murderer, communist, woman, it doesn’t make much difference to the overall contribution to Science.
What is important is how that theory fits into grand scheme of things. Does it make sense? Not to a narrow set of whimsical and fanatic individuals but to everyone who has studied that topic in great detail irrespective of their political, social, ethnic, or sexual identity?
In that respect, Darwin gave atheists a tool to make their case. His theories have implications far greater than what Darwin imagined in his lifetime – though he had a hunch that he was up against religion in many ways. His Theory of Evolution is how Nature works, and that’s the beauty of it – which is universal – at least as far life on this planet is considered. And that theory gives more credence to atheists than to theists and therefore Darwin remains a darling to atheists, and an anathema to theists.
Recently the world celebrated Darwin’s bicentennial birthday. Charles Darwin, a British scientist, is one of the great minds that humanity has produced in its few millions of existence on this planet. What did he do that is so great?
Charles Darwin is one of those individuals whose contribution of Science has changed the way Man has looked at himself. Science has profoundly affected humanity in the last five hundred years though we don’t concede that. Prior that, for nearly thousand years Europe was blanketed in Age of Darkness. Those were the times where there was no room for reasoning or objective thinking. Heresy, witchcraft, superstition, blind belief held sway, and one could be put to death for crimes such as harboring thoughts which were considered blasphemous. Irrationality reigned supreme, and it was sanctioned by the king with support from religion.
When we say Europe was going through Age of Darkness, it does not mean India was under age of light. We were in fact wrapped in Pitch Darkness. Our darkness was darker than in Europe. It is just that we have never seen light later on to compare ourselves with.
Age of Enlightenment
In Post-Renaissance Europe, Art, Religion and Philosophy were back in action and making strides along with Science. Age of Enlightenment also referred to as Scientific Revolution set in motion a set of reforms that would change humanity forever. Rationality and debate, was given a place in society. Law and order based on reasoning, commonsense became a state instrument. Freedom for people, emancipation of slaves, women and ‘inferior’ races was now a debatable topic.
Now, when someone accused the other of witchcraft just because they were given the message in a dream, people started to question the credibility of such a witness. You can imagine why such a reform was anathema to religious people. For centuries, religious people had convinced everyone that a virgin gave birth to a son, which will now be considered implausible. Little bit of reasoning can make the whole story incredible.
Theory of Gravity
One of the greatest landmarks in Science came with Theory of Gravity discovered by Isaac Newton, another British scientist. It changed our perspective on Universe and God. The implications of that theory were far greater than giving equations to launch a rocket into space.
Earlier, humans didn’t know how or why things moved, why planets moved in the empty space, or how Moon revolved around Earth, or why things fell when dropped. The easiest explanation as to who set planets and the firmament in motion was God. Though our ancestors knew something in the earth was attracting the falling objects towards it, they could not explain it. Throughout humanity, anything that was unexplainable was attributed to God. That was easiest thing to do – it also suited the religions who positioned themselves as sole authority on the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God.
Newton’s theory changed many things for us. He discovered that there was one underlying law which was the same for objects on earth and for objects in the Universe including planets and stars. That is a mind boggling discovery – stars and planets were no different from a mere apple on this planet – when it came to force called gravity. It was not intuitive – in fact it is counter intuitive – as most laws of nature are.
Is Earth flat?
It is much easier to believe that Earth is flat. Humans believed it for centuries. Even though ancient Greeks calculated the circumference of Earth clearly predicting that Earth is round, that knowledge was lost for many generations.
As a kid, I believed that earth was completely flat – I had constructed many models in my mind to picture it. I imagined the land to be flat, like a thin sheet, and each time I knew a city, I added it the imaginary flat land I had in my mind – the flat land started to become distorted as new cities were being added to my knowledge. When I saw a well being dug, I realized that world cannot be a thin sheet. It had to be little thicker – like a thick chapathi. Many a times I wondered what happens if we reach the edge of our flat world. I thought the edges were gated with barbed wire to keep people from falling. I was enthralled when I saw a globe for the first time in my life. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment which I can never forget. I just kept staring it and moving it. So many of my questions got answered in just few seconds! For many days, I kept imagining the globe in my head, it made all sense now. You can never reach the edge- because there is no edge – there is no need for barbed wire now. May be, that’s the reason why I never saw the edge.
And of course, now I started to have new set of questions. What happens to those people who are on the bottom side of the earth, why don’t they fall off? Since India is somewhere half way why don’t I fall sideways as this globe suggested? Those questions were answered later in my life.
Universal Law of Gravitation
What Newton discovered was more profound. It was not just a special case or an exception that works in a narrow scheme of things. Sitting here on earth, he discovered that the law that governed apples falling from a tree is the same as the one which governed planets in motion. That suddenly meant that there was nothing special about planets and nothing special about apples. They were all guided the same law something which works the same everywhere in the Universe - nothing special about Earth (and therefore nothing special about Man living on it?)
All of sudden, the Nature started to make sense. The flowing rivers, the waves in the oceans, the winds, the rain, the wheels of the chariot, and everything that our eyes could see in our daily life, were governed by one Universal law, which is not complicated but simple and elegant, something which was not beyond human’s comprehension, but something that is very much within the grasp of a thinking and observing man.
What does it mean? Does God work in mysterious ways, or does God work within certain guiding principles never contravening them. If God himself cannot contravene these laws, then either God is not omnipotent as we thought, or may be, God created these laws and left everything else to unfold itself. Either way, it doesn’t look like God created Earth as a special place.
Anyway, such thoughts were still lingering in the minds of philosophers who saw the implications of such a science, but we still had to wait for future minds to unravel more about ‘The Life, The Universe and Everything’.
Science and Technology
Study of Age of Enlightenment is quite interesting. One guy made observations; another guy published the observations, while another developed a theory around it; someone created technology and the use case for humans to benefit from it. In turn, the gadgets that were developed helped the scientists to make better observations, and so on. Science and Technology fed each other to develop one another – more people contributed to it since the results were being accessible to many others, through books, media, and publications. It just went on an explosive growth resulting in modern times – where we have Electricity, Airplanes, Trains, Telephone, TV, Internet, DVD players, etc.
Origin of Species
Charles Darwin was an ordinary man who went a step further to asked some deeper questions. He made many of the observations himself. When he set sail on Beagle, he had some questions. But after his historic trip which covered many observations including the famous ones from Galapagos Islands, he had many answers.
Many of his theories are mind boggling and counter-intuitive just like any other scientific theory. Nothing is obvious and yet it was the how Nature worked.
Charles Darwin published his famous book Origin of Species after many years of deliberation –he knew implications were quite serious. In that historic book, he observed that the animals and plants evolved over a period of time – not just ordinary time of days, months or years, but mind bogglingly big numbers of millions of years. He observed that certain species on the planet are closely related to each having the same ancestor. He took the step further and explained how this evolution happens. Natural Selection is the mechanism that Nature uses and is the same for all life on earth – plants and animals. Life on earth evolves guided by certain mechanism that Nature imposes on us. Those who survive the onslaught of nature go onto produce future generations while those who cannot cope up will wither away and go extinct. It works at individual level and at species level. Some species just go extinct, while the successful ones survive or in turn evolve further to a different set. Mutations which are far from being perfect, which are in fact anomalies that happen at a genetic level, are actually the whole reason why humans exist on the planet today.
It’s like saying Man is not perfect, which could also mean God was not perfect – since He created Man in the image of God. According to Darwin’s observations, Nature created humans as one more species out of millions of other species on this planet, nothing suggesting we are any special. Also, the eventual discovery that humans are only 7 million years old on this planet while life existed for more than 3 billion years suggests that God was preoccupied with something else for all the time. It’s like God worked on creating other life the whole day and night of 24 hours and has spent only last 3 minutes in created humans.
Is Man special?
Darwin reduced Man to almost nothing like nobody before. Evolution, like Theory of Gravity, has changed our perception of the Universe and our place in it. Nature did not treat humans special. In fact, our journey has not been very different from that our nearest cousins – chimpanzees. Only in the recent past, about 3 minutes ago, did we get separated them. Before that, for nearly 23 hours and 57 minutes, God did not differentiate Humans and Chimpanzees. That is quite a discomforting thought to most religious people who conveniently believed that humans were special beings created specially by God.
Also, his theory further suggested that presence of humans on this planet is a fortuitous event, a lucky chance, reduced to a mere probability. That goes in face of many theists who vouched for the Bible.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is another of those counter-intuitive laws of nature amongst many others. It doesn’t follow naturally for humans to come up with something like that. The way it is not easy for humans to believe earth is not flat, that Earth revolves round the Sun, that the same force that makes apple fall to the ground is the one which keeps Moon revolving round the Earth, evolution is counter-intuitive, not easy for humans to accept just like that, and yet that’s how the Nature works.
For some people unraveling Nature is a magical experience. It’s something worth living for. Knowing how rainbow forms, knowing how stars burn for such long time, knowing how planets revolve and how we get eclipses, why we have seasons, etc, are beautiful things worth knowing and pursuing. There are many others who would rather take comfort in now knowing, not understanding, who would rather believe that everything is a miracle something created by God without any adherence to a simple law. Simple law is boring, while thinking that God actually heard his prayers to create wind to bring the clouds, seed it with enough water vapor to make it rain is interesting. Hence the notion that God created Humans as special beings continues to exist in spite of Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. For some of us, Theory of Evolution is another of those great discoveries, a window into understanding how Nature works.
In the last few weeks, Pramod Muthalik, head of a group called Rashtriya Hindu Sena from Mangalore, was suddenly shot into fame because of his antics which resemble Taliban style of imposing morals onto others. Everyday Times of India (TOI) covered the topic as if it is the burning issue of the day. Keeping aside the whole charade of how TOI ganged up on him, I do believe it is the burning issue of the day – not the Valentine’s Day, not its celebration or its opposition, but the way certain people take up the role of defenders of the faith and go about instructing and teaching others their moral values – opposition to Valentine’s day is just a symptom of something more sinister and insidious that is lurking in the minds of Indians nowadays.
Either it is protests against MF Husain’s paintings, or against Sania Mirza’s feet next to Indian Flag, there are many Indians who feel ‘offended’ by what others do. Not only that. They are offended by what others do in private, and what others think in private. That is the exact essence of Taliban – we will not allow you do forbidden, voice forbidden, and think forbidden, and we will stop you with all force, all in the name of a greater cause.
Many people dismiss Muthalik and his supporters and many other sister organization’s antics as fringe groups who are trying to get the limelight. They opine that one should just ignore such antics and that is the best way to fight them. Do I think the same? Not really.
Irrationality that decides to indoctrinate others and impose onto others is as dangerous as terrorism and corruption and other evils we decided to fight. There is a grave danger, always present, that we will go back to being irrational, that Age of Darkness can once again sweep over all of us. Muthalik is just one element who has decided to spearhead the campaign of that irrationality.
There are many Indians, ordinary Indians, well-educated Indians, those who have gone to top schools and work at top companies, who sympathize with Muthalik’s views, not necessarily his actions. So we get to what I call ‘agree in principle - disagree in action’ phenomenon.
Recently I was talking to a middle aged gentleman in the IT industry. While talking about Muthalik and his Rashtriya Hindu Sena, he said that media is unnecessarily giving publicity to these goons. He said that for a very long time now we were doing such things, harassing and whisking off couples holding hands or sitting together in parks to get them married forcefully. ‘So why all the fuss now?’ was his reaction.
Then he went on to say that we should all stay away from this media jingoism and think about ‘Indian Culture’. He said that Valentine’s Day is not an ‘Indian’ thing. What Muthalik and other outfits are doing is trying to fight the westernization sweeping over India in order to preserve our culture, which is a ‘good’ thing. He agreed with such elements in principle, but definitely condemned their actions. He said they have no right to go over there, drag women out and strip them off their clothing. He said it is not an Indian thing to insult and strip a woman like that. But then he ‘reasoned’ and ‘understood’ why Muthalik and his Sena had to resort to such things. He said, ‘Look! This whole Valentine things was become commercialized. Love should not be commercialized. Also, young women and men are concentrating on wrong things – going to pubs at late night is not our culture. Marriage as an institution is losing its sacredness’.
What is ironic is that this middle aged man was sipping tea, which he may not know was something that is not ‘Indian’ since British imposed it onto us. He was wearing a watch, which is once again an imposition of the West onto innocent Indians who were timing their activities looking at the all-natural Sun. He was wearing trousers and shirt, which is once again an imposition of the West onto the dhoti wearing Indians. The list goes on.
There are many Indians who are concerned about Indian culture. They do not agree that Valentine’s Day is an ‘Indian’ thing. They think it is something imposed onto them by the West. It doesn’t stop with Valentine’s Day. Some ardent Hindus of some fanatical breed do not celebrate New Year’s Day saying that our native new year starts on Ugaadi.
There are many people in Andhra region of Andhra Pradesh who do not celebrate Holi. The same people when living in regions where Holi is celebrated do not participate in it, saying it is an artificial thing imposed onto them by the North. While we were flying kites in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, some Muslim families forbade their kids from joining us calling the whole kite flying non-Muslim. The funny thing is that only the educated and middle class families thought in such Muslim and non-Muslim terms whereas the lower classes allowed their kids to fly kites not giving the whole thing even a thought.
India is reeling under a wave of irrationality; this time it is not out of ignorance, but because of exposure, and education that is not based in scientific thinking, rationale or reason, but something that is rooted in superstition, sophistry, and religious blind belief. Education is not always scientific – it can be used to enhance and increase stupidity and pseudo-science – through a process known as ‘dumbing down’.
Media and newspapers which do a good job of exposing Indians to the outside world put a filter when presenting it to them – they put the filter of magic, of blind belief, that of fear. They perpetuate our prejudices. They report alien abductions as science, idols drinking milk as a miracle, always leaving it ambiguous enough for saints, sadhus, and pseudoscience adherents to follow up with a metaphysical or supernatural explanation. They present technological advances made in medicine or engineering as magic or a miracle instead of explaining it as simple and explainable beauty of science.
There is a big section of Hindu community, similar to New Age groups of the West, who actually find a fantastic explanation more interesting than a scientific explanation. Indian Culture is defended using similar fantastic stories. Their arguments sound sophisticated, the reasoning almost sounds reasonable, the words and sentences are all borrowed from science and modern thinking, but the essence is that of Taliban.
Yedyurappa, CM of Karnataka, defended Muthalik’s actions saying ‘Nowadays it has become a crime to support religion and patriotism’. Many Indians have lot of problem with lot of things that are alien to their lifestyle. It is true with many cultures, not just Indians. Most cultures are xenophobic.
What is a bigger problem is not that we have problems with others cultures, other people and other ideas, but that we want to impose our ideas of morality onto everyone, forcing them into submission, gutting it down the throats of others, branding others with our mark, kicking them up, mauling them up, and if needed stripping them off their clothes, all in the name of defending our culture – which is a glorious thing to do – something like getting martyrdom in Taliban style of functioning.