Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Science Fanaticism and Anti-Religion Fanaticism displayed in Post Theistic Society Article

Last updated on October 13th, 2013

At the outset, I beg the reader's pardon for using strong words like science fanaticism and anti-religion fanaticism but I think they accurately describe the tone and words used in an article in The Hindu, "Let’s aim for a post-theistic society", http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/lets-aim-for-a-posttheistic-society/article5154603.ece. [I am a software technologist who has very high degree of respect for mainstream science & technology. I am also a lover of various religions of the world that do not approve of hatred and aggression, except in self-defense. I believe, I have a good balance in my strong and enthusiastic interests in both software technology and religion.]

I managed to get a couple of comments of mine shown on the above web page. The first comment referenced an earlier comment by a Nikhil which said that the article was a science vs. religion one and gave some pro-religion points of view. It is the second comment from the bottom of all comments shown in the article above (you need to click "Show all comments" to get to it).

Now for my comment (7th comment from bottom of all comments):

@Nikhil: Very well said.
Natarjan writes, "What supernatural powers? Let us first realise that there is no supernatural MIRACLE that has withstood the scrutiny of science." But that does not mean that science has shown that supernatural MIRACLES were, are and will be impossible! Science has to either prove well known MIRACLES to be false or simply say that it is not known whether these cases are genuine miracles or not. The strident words which Natarajan uses tries to convey an impression that supernatural MIRACLES like those reported in Christian and Hindu scripture are impossible [I do not know Islamic scripture well enough to mention it in this context].

People with genuine supernatural powers may not have been examined in a controlled scientific laboratory environment. But large number of reliable witness accounts of these very, very rare paranormal phenomena are certainly available across religions, countries and centuries of time.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Sep 23, 2013 at 14:35 IST

--- end my comment (on The Hindu article web page) ---

Later a Raamganesh commented to me (10th comment from bottom of all comments) that there is "paucity of evidence" for miracles and that when scientists have tested miracle-claims they have always come up short on evidence.

My response comment to him (15th comment from bottom of all comments):

@Raamganesh - Parapsychology scientists have investigated and found some reliable witness accounts evidence for paranormal phenomena. But most mainstream scientists do not accept such parapsychology work and demand extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary paranormal claims.
The late Dr. Karlis Osis said it very well in the context of one such person with extraordinary paranormal powers, "Nothing would have clinched the matter so well as, say, a week or two spent in the best parapsychological laboratories in the world, and that we offered." Unfortunately for science, the concerned person declined the offer.
I think scientists like Natarajan need to take a balanced view of the matter and not go overboard by trying to convince people at large that paranormal phenomena (miracles) reported in the holy scripture of various religions are fake. Science does not know for sure, one way or the other, and scientists like Natarajan must adhere to the truth by stating that clearly.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Sep 24, 2013 at 16:21 IST

--- end my comment (on The Hindu article web page) ---

I feel quite satisfied with this comment appearing on The Hindu web page for this article. I think it settles the rationalist scientist going overboard with his science fanaticism & anti-religion fanaticism bit, for the discerning reader. BTW the above comment refers to the offer Dr. Karlis Osis had made to Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the 1970s as mentioned in Prof. Haraldsson's book on Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

I had tried some other comments which got rejected by the moderator. I would like to put down below some points from the comments rejected by The Hindu moderator.

Till we have a miraculous Jesus Christ or a Krishna like person/god-man who is willing to co-operate with scientists for such investigation under controlled conditions, science will not accept the existence of such supernatural/paranormal phenomena. That is the way of science and I have no issues with that. Many mainstream scientists do not accept results from parapsychology investigations and even question its status as a science.

Human knowledge is not limited to mainstream science. IMHO, we should be open to both scientific and non-scientific knowledge.
...
For more on this matter (reliable witness accounts of paranormal phenomena) please read Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson's new/updated book, "Modern Miracles: The Story of Sathya Sai Baba: A Modern Day Prophet". A review of it is available at: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/09/review-of-modern-miracles-story-of.html.
...
The article (Natarjan's article in The Hindu) lacks scientific temper and smacks of science fanaticism and anti-religion fanaticism.

--- end points from comments that got rejected by the moderator ---

A line that I would like to add which I did not mention in any of my attempted comments, and which was also sent to me by a correspondent (in a slightly different form), is:

Science is not the be-all and end-all of life.

An important point that struck me later:
The article in The Hindu referenced at the beginning of this post states, "But modern science has been able to explain almost all natural phenomena so that the purview of the unknown has shrunk considerably and the fear of nature is largely irrelevant."

Has modern science been able to explain death? IMHO, mainstream science is quite clueless about what happens to a person's mind-personality/mental-being on death, and whether reincarnation is possible.

Has fear of death become largely irrelevant? IMHO, mainstream science is quite ineffective in giving man strength of mind to face death and bodily & mental suffering. Spirituality and religion have over millenniums given billions of people the world over, mental strength to face suffering and death. By trying to destroy the faith of billions of people the world over in religion and spirituality, scientists like Natarajan are essentially trying to destroy the source of mental strength these billions of people have to combat suffering and death.

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading the defense of religion articles that appeared in The Hindu on October 13th 2013 as responses to the post-theistic society article by Vasant Natarajan mentioned at the top of this post. Given below are the article links and comments I submitted on the associated web pages (don't know if they will pass the moderator and get shown).

1) Einstein misquoted, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/einstein-misquoted/article5229386.ece

It is wonderful to see the correct and full quotation of Einstein being provided thereby correcting Vasant Natarajan. Misquoting famous scientists views on God to suit some writer's personal agenda is deplorable.

2) Blame it on politics, not religion, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/blame-it-on-politics-not-religion/article5229388.ece

"But we should not forget that so much humanitarian service is carried out by religious organisations. So it is not religion that has to be discarded but religious politics." "He is outside your jurisdiction. If you want to meet Him, you have to undertake a spiritual odyssey or do some out-of-the world investigative journalism." So very well said, sir. I thank you for this superb response article to Vasant Natarajan's emotional and unbalanced attack on religion.

3) Science tells us what is, and not what ought to be, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/science-tells-us-what-is-and-not-what-ought-to-be/article5229392.ece

"Blaming religion for all the violence in the world is not knowing history. The two World Wars had nothing to do with religion, yet together they have brought more suffering than all the history of mankind. You cannot blame religion because of a few misguided individuals and do away with it." "It is wishful thinking to say that the post-theistic society will be a bliss." Very well said, sir. The thirst for religion and spirituality in former communist countries like Russia shows how vital religion and spirituality are for the well being of society.

4) Both science and religion have a place under the sun, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/both-science-and-religion-have-a-place-under-the-sun/article5229402.ece

"Therefore, Prof. Natarajan’s claim that “modern science has been able to explain almost all natural phenomena so that the purview of the unknown has shrunk considerably” is preposterous." Thank you so much for crisply bringing out this point. In my humble opinion, some intellectually bright scientists tend to get carried away by their knowledge and intellect and end up making preposterous statements. Sometimes they start lecturing these preposterous statements to the world at large!

...


"We may not need a sun-god as the professor argues but we cannot deny people’s right to be wonderstruck by the apparently inexhaustible solar energy that sustains life though we have not fully comprehended the origin of the sun and various stars and planets." It is my belief that prayer has immense power. If a person is able to tap into the power of worship & prayer by imagining a sun-god the effect of the worship and prayer are real even if the sun-god is imaginary. A scientifically knowledgeable person may pray and worship a formless God and achieve the same effect. Why deny the less scientifically knowledgeable/inclined person the power of worship of a nature-God?

---- end Hindu article links and submitted comments ---

Later I felt that I should have used stronger words instead of the last sentence above. A better version would have been: Who has given the brilliant atheist scientist the right to deny the less scientifically knowledgeable/inclined person the power of worship of a nature-God? I consider freedom of worship of even a so-called imaginary God like a nature-God a fundamental human right.

Some more words on nature-God worship: Feelings of awe and joy are vital for worship. Nature is a tremendous and free source of awe and joy. The sun is such a vital natural force/phenomenon that without it one cannot imagine life as we live now. Using the sun to get into a mode of awe and joy, and worship it as an embodiment of the Divine is such a natural and easy thing to do. It does not need any sophisticated education for the sun to create the feeling of awe and joy in people.

Vedanta tells us Isa vasyam idam sarvam - God lives in all this. So the sun is also an embodiment of divinity/God. Viewing the sun as a nature-God therefore does not go against core Hindu Advaita philosophy. The acid test of sun-God worship (or any God worship) is whether such worship gives the worshiper happiness and joy, and even help him/her when in distress. If the worshiper is getting what he/she wants from such worship who is the atheist scientist to stop him/her doing sun-God worship? What does the atheist scientist know about the power of faith (in any God including a nature-God) to give happiness and joy, and even work miracles? The atheist scientist is free to practise his/her atheism but he/she has no business whatsoever to enforce his/her atheism on other people and prevent them from worshiping nature-Gods and other Gods.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review of Modern Miracles: The Story of Sathya Sai Baba: A Modern Day Prophet by Erlendur Haraldsson Ph. D.

Last updated on October 9th, 2013

Publisher: White Crow Books (July 16, 2013), http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/page/modern_miraclesthe_story_of_sathya_sai_baba_a_modern_day_prophet/
Amazon.com link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/190873325X

Disclosure: I am deeply grateful to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for the love he showered on me which includes vital direct as well as indirect spiritual guidance.

This review mainly focuses on the painstaking and thorough investigations by Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson into the paranormal phenomena associated with Sri Sathya Sai Baba and conclusions drawn from these investigations, as documented in this book. The review does not touch upon some other matters covered by the book and completely excludes Chapter 32, The Western Critics, of the book.

[Cautionary Note: Chapter 32, The Western Critics, has unproven and malicious allegations regarding Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Western TV media documentary/programme is referenced by Haraldsson in this chapter for these unproven and malicious allegations. But Haraldsson has omitted to mention that a major figure of this documentary had his lawsuit on the matter in a US court of law, self-dismissed and with prejudice (which means that he cannot file a lawsuit on the same matter in any other court in the USA)! 

In my humble opinion, most powerful Western media outlets have a strong bias against Sri Sathya Sai Baba and perhaps had (and may continue to have) profit, and possibly other, motives in widely publicising sensationalist negative allegations about him. In the coverage they have given of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, in my humble opinion, the Western media outlets certainly do not come across as unbiased and balanced reporters of facts.

Some Sathya Sai devotees who saw and read these widely publicised Western media unproven and malicious allegations seem to have come to believe them to be true. In Chapter 32, Prof. Haraldsson mentions a few such Western Sathya Sai devotees. Prof. Haraldsson himself seems to have come under the sway of such negative propaganda and has given his opinion on the matter seemingly based on a Western media channel's documentary and taking shelter in the word "may", which I find to be very objectionable and highly irresponsible for an academic researcher of Prof. Haraldsson's stature. I strongly condemn this statement of Prof. Haraldsson in this chapter.

In my opinion, Chapter 32, The Western Critics, of this book does not contribute in any way to the investigation of the paranormal phenomena associated with Sai Baba. So I have completely ignored it for this review. I suggest to readers that they treat Chapter 32, The Western Critics, as the effect of powerful Western media negative publicity about Sai Baba on Prof. Haraldsson as well as some Western Sathya Sai "devotees" he mentions in it. I further suggest to readers to either skip reading Chapter 32 or read it without coming under the sway of such negativity like Prof. Haraldsson seems to have come under.]

As I understand it, the field of parapsychology (psi phenomena), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parapsychology, is the scientific field that investigates paranormal phenomena like materialization and other miracles. As far as I know, in the career of the world famous god-man of India, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the best known parapsychology researchers of the world who have investigated him are the author of this book, Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erlendur_Haraldsson, https://notendur.hi.is/erlendur/english/) and, to a limited extent, Dr. Karlis Osis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karlis_Osis, http://www.llewellyn.com/journal/article/62).

Dr. Karlis Osis writes in the foreword of the book about Haraldsson's study of miracles of a religious leader to be a first of its kind and that the book "describes paranormal phenomena of extraordinary variety and strength attributed to one of the most remarkable men of the (20th) century". (I presume that this foreword was written for an earlier edition of the book in the 20th century.)

My view is that through this book, Prof. Haraldsson has made a great contribution to methodical and truthful, to the best of his knowledge, capture of evidence based on observation and experience of fairly reliable witnesses including himself, of paranormal acts/events (phenomena) related to Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and put them all together from a four decade perspective, slightly over two years after Sai Baba's passing away.

Prof. Haraldsson has taken a balanced/unbiased view of these paranormal phenomena associated with Sai Baba. He does not seem to be a devotee of Sai Baba and has demonstrated the skepticism demanded from a scientific investigator into such matters by very carefully examining various "normal explanations" for the reported paranormal phenomena. To my mind, an appropriate way to look at this book would be to view it as arguments made by a lawyer giving the testimonies of many fairly reliable first-hand witnesses (including some testimony of the author himself), providing and examining both pro (genuine miracles) and contra (not genuine miracles) views, and then putting forward the lawyer's conclusion on the matter. The reader of the book can play the role of a juror/judge and decide whether to accept the lawyer's (author's) conclusion or reject it entirely or come up with a different conclusion of his/her own.

Haraldsson writes about how he and Dr. Osis came to hear about Sathya Sai Baba during their visit to India in 1972, which eventually led to their first meeting with Sai Baba in November 1973. Immediately, Sai Baba showed them his materialization miracles by creating vibhuti for them and a ring for Dr. Osis. They tried to explain to Sai Baba their need to scientifically investigate such phenomena under controlled conditions. Sai Baba responded that the methods of science could not explain such miraculous phenomena and that they were outside the realm of science. Haraldsson and Osis tried to put across to Sai Baba that science had neglected studying such phenomena and that by him demonstrating his powers under controlled conditions, new knowledge about these mysterious phenomena could be added to science. Sai Baba responded that he was not a showman and that "he could use his paranormal powers only for the good of his devotees". Haraldsson writes insightfully that Sai Baba was a man of religion and not of science.

Haraldsson records the paranormal phenomena that Sai Baba demonstrated to them directly (though not under controlled conditions) in two separate visits to India by them (Haraldsson and Osis). He writes about Sai Baba paranormal power experiences related by distinguished Indians like Prof. V.K.Gokak, a distinguished academic, and other Indians.

As experiments had been ruled out by Sai Baba, Haraldsson directed his main efforts to finding and interviewing old devotees and ex-devotees who had observed Sai Baba extensively, some of them at very close quarters. Haraldsson visited many cities in India for this purpose like Madras/Chennai, Salem, Kuppam, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Calcutta. He states that he tape-recorded most interviews and ensured that the interviewees read "the relevant passages" (their documented testimony) and approved it. He has gone mainly for first-hand testimony and generally excluded second-hand testimony as second-hand testimony is considered to have weaknesses (even by courts of law). For these detailed testimonies, an entire chapter is typically devoted to testimony of one or two persons.

The witnesses whose testimonies about Sai Baba's paranormal phenomena have been captured in great detail are a scientist of a premier Indian science research institute, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, Indian royalty, long-time devotees who spent a lot of time with Sai Baba and were physically very close to him, South Indian (Carnatic) classical music singers, then college students from Madras who stayed with Sai Baba for some periods, an Economics graduate who chose to stay with Baba, and was very close to him, for 16 to 17 years after finishing his studies, and a famous Russian painter who lived in India and his famous former Indian movie-star wife. A couple of these witnesses moved away from Sai Baba after some years of association and are referred to as ex-devotees by Haraldsson.

Haraldsson also writes about the Indian rationalist critics of Sai Baba. He interviewed a famous Indian senior academic and rationalist critic. He also interviewed a senior journalist critic who got changed into a devotee after an interview that Sai Baba gave him. A South Indian newspaper's claimed exposure of materialization by Sai Baba in 1992 as not genuine, is shown to be a false exposure (debunked) by Haraldsson.

Haraldsson presents systematically collected data from most of the interviewees including ex-devotees which he got by having them answer a multiple-choice questionnaire of over 100 items. Most of the questions were about their specific paranormal experiences with Sai Baba and the number of times they had such experiences.

Parallels are drawn between Sai Baba's paranormal phenomena and that of some historical religious figures from Christianity as well as mediums. Many of these parallels are given in the context of particular phenomena like dazzling light, teleportation and bilocation. One chapter titled "Extrasensory Perception" deals with mind-reading capability of Sai Baba.

After having provided all the witness testimonies and some other material, Haraldsson searches for "normal explanations" for the reported paranormal phenomena.

In the penultimate chapter of the book, Haraldsson examines "THE QUESTION OF PROOF". He writes that science traditionally uses experiments to confirm that phenomena are genuine. As Sai Baba did not permit experiments that path was closed. However judicial systems "have evolved interrogation and corroboration of witnesses, investigating relevant contemporary documents and so on, as ways of accruing evidence". But human testimony does have weaknesses due to which courts "rely primarily on the quantity of testimony and on consensus of witnesses". That has been "our" approach, Haraldsson writes.

Haraldsson states that numerous followers including ex-devotees who have extensively observed Sai Baba give a general consensus about the genuineness "of the frequent appearance of objects in his presence, or on his body on certain occasions".

In the concluding chapter of the book, Haraldsson puts forward "a few speculative hypotheses regarding the causes and nature of the mysterious phenomena around Sai Baba" and examines their validity. Haraldsson writes that some of the phenomena could have a "normal explanation" but not the bulk of them. Haraldsson states that the hypothesis that Baba had psychic powers which allowed him to "produce various phenomena when he wants to" is supported by an "endless number of observations and experiences" and so has to be accepted for bulk of the phenomena.

Prof. Haraldsson, in my humble opinion, has been a truth-seeker and has spoken the truth about paranormal phenomena associated with Sri Sathya Sai Baba, despite many powerful people in the media and scientific circles not wanting to hear and know such science shaking truth (to be more precise, current mainstream science shaking truth).

P.S. Notes of my reading of the book are available on my blog post here: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/08/notes-on-prof-haraldssons-modern.html.

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I shared the above review (excluding the cautionary note on Chapter 32 which was added later) with Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson, author of the book, after which he wrote me, "This is a fine and fair review."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Science Fanaticism and Anti-Godmen/Anti-Religion Fanaticism of Some Indian Scientists

I thought a little reading of how some top scientists in India, let alone other parts of the world, viewed (and still view, I am quite sure) our dear Lord, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Garu, and Bhagawan's holy miracles/paranormal acts, will show how vital Prof. Haraldsson's new book on Swami is, in setting the record straight about Bhagawan's miraculous powers. [To know more about Prof. Haraldsson's new book you may visit this post, "Notes on Prof. Haraldsson's, Modern Miracles, July 2013, book on Sathya Sai Baba", http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/08/notes-on-prof-haraldssons-modern.html.]

Here is the article published in The Hindu over two years ago after Bhagawan's Mahasamadhi, by Pushpa M. Bhargava, former Vice-Chairman, National Knowledge Commission, former member, National Security Advisory Board and former founder and Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, "The phenomenon of Satya Sai Baba", http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-phenomenon-of-satya-sai-baba/article2019362.ece.

This top Indian scientist makes outrageous statements that display his ignorance:

a)  "There is not a shred of evidence of rebirth; the very idea of rebirth goes against all of science. Every claimed case of rebirth that has been investigated has been shown to be fake."

[Ravi: My God! He is dismissing all the reincarnation evidence gathered by research done by parapsychologists (which, I presume, have been published in parapsychology journal articles) as "shown to be fake" without providing any supporting statements! Some big names in reincarnation research are Prof. Ian Stevenson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Stevenson, http://www.near-death.com/experiences/reincarnation01.html, Prof. Jim Tucker, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_B._Tuckerhttp://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinical/departments/psychiatry/sections/cspp/dops/staff/jimbio-page, and the author of the Sathya Sai Baba book, Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erlendur_Haraldssonhttps://notendur.hi.is/~erlendur/english/. These are not names to scoff at! If somebody says that all their reincarnation cases have been shown to be fake then they better present some supporting statements.]

b) "In fact, no miracle has ever been performed by any one. All miracles attributed to religious leaders are inventions of the clergy."

[Ravi: What a shameful statement for a top scientist to make! What scientific or other evidence (like reliable witness accounts) does he have for his "fact" that no miracle has ever been performed by any one? How can such scientific or other evidence be given which will cover all humanity and all millenniums of the past? IMHO, what he can safely state is that well established evidence of paranormal events performed under controlled conditions has not been published in mainstream scientific journals. He could state that according to mainstream science there is no validated evidence of paranormal acts/events. And limit himself to that. What a tragedy that our ancient Bharat has such a distinguished scientist making utterly outrageous statements by logical/scientific standards!]

c) "The late Dr. Y. Nayudamma, the former Director-General of CSIR, who died in an Air India crash near Canada years ago, told me of his visit to Sai Baba with a once ardent follower, Dr. S. Bhagavantam, a former Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. Nayudamma stood in front of Sai Baba with folded hands and most respectfully, requested him to produce a blade of grass between his palms. That would have been a miracle. But, instead, Nayudamma had to leave."

[Ravi: The scientist who folded his hands and spoke respectfully was not given a demonstration of Swami's miraculous powers. So what! Did the distinguished scientist, by dint of his scientific research, have a right to expect a miracle to be performed for him by Swami? What utter arrogance of some distinguished Indian scientists! They expect to be treated like great people by everybody. How wonderfully different was the approach of foreign scientists, Dr. Haraldsson and Dr. Osis? No wonder, Swami treated them with dignity and demonstrated his powers to them (but not under controlled conditions as that perhaps would have been way, way below Swami's dignity).]

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To my mind, some Indian scientists like the distinguished scientist, Pushpa Bhargava, are not worthy to be considered as seekers of the truth. They are science fanatics and anti-religion/anti-Godmen fanatics who cannot see truth beyond their mainstream science journal articles.