Pseudoscience & Religion

Managing Stress Without God and Religion In The Twenty First Century

This is the second part of Dr. Prabhakar Kamath’s latest series on Managing Life Without God and Religion In The Twenty First Century. Part 1 can be found here.

This was not to be my next article, but I felt compelled to write it after I received three comments in response to my last article on managing life without religion in the twenty first century in Nirmukta dated February 9th, 2011. The first comment reveals the internal (mental) conflict that sometimes goes on in the minds of some highly educated religious people. The second comment relates to the interpersonal (relational) conflict some orthodox religious people have with their progressive-minded children. The third comment pertains to bridging the gap between the stuck-in-the mud past generation and the progressive-minded future generation. I decided to discuss these three issues in this article as they defined the very purpose of my articles to come.

1. Mental Conflict

Below are parts of what “Sadhu,” a U. S. educated victim of Brahmanic brainwashing, wrote on Nirmukta on Feb. 11th, 2011 in response to my first article on managing life without religion. I recommend everyone to read his comments in full in Nirmukta. If you truly appreciate the mental conflict that went on in his mind before he began writing his comment, you would certainly feel empathy for him. The fact that he even read Nirmukta is significant:

Dear Atheists and Rationalists of Nirmukta,

I have an identity crisis and would like your viewpoint as to who I am: a theist or an atheist or a rationalist or an irrationalist (sic). I am completely guided by logic and reason my entire life. I studied in one of the top Universities to be an engineer, I have an MBA from a US University, and even today shun everything that is so called superstitious, blind-faith, etc. I find the Hindu religion extremely logical – including its definition of Brahman, the supreme… I believe that the Hinduism is partly Atheist in its approach!”

If you read his commentl carefully you would realize that there was a struggle going on within this man’s mind. A small rational part of his mind, which represents his education and exposure to science later in life, was hopelessly pitted against the powerful irrational Brahmanic part of his mind, which was the product of relentless indoctrination during his formative years. The rational part was desperately looking for validation from rationalists of Nirmukta. This part of his mind wanted to assure him that he was a rationalist. To prove this, he had to declare that all the nonsense dictated to him by Brahmanic part of his mind was indeed logical, and some of it was even atheistic. Even though he believed in Brahman the supreme, the Vedas, and rituals to thank gods for water and air, he asserted that he shunned superstitions and blind faith. He desperately tried to deny any dissonance between my anti-Brahmanic assertions and religious tenets of Brahmanism. He thus denied its most fundamental beliefs.

Then suddenly the powerful Brahmanic part of his mind (the Dictator) became alarmleed. It thought that the rational part of his mind had gone too far. This internal revolt against Brahmanism must be ruthlessly crushed! The Dictator now sent in his troops with ‘shoot to kill’ order:

Where will you guys even understand what is Moksha about when you are so much trapped in the physical body living a life of ignorance – while talking about rationality of all things! This ignorance has followed you for millions of years and lives – and you are going on committing karma that is going to make it practically another million lives before you come to your senses to understand about the cosmic science of Moksha! Your minds are trapped in life on earth – how are you going to understand what kind of life exists in other worlds that are embedded deep in cosmic dark matter that makes up 99% of this universe we live in! When will you understand that life moves on from this planet to others where there is more suffering and the world of Sri Vaikuntha (Means World of no diminishment) is the only abode where we can live a life of abundance in happiness! So long and good luck Stupid Irrational People!”

It is important to note here that the Brahmanic part of this man’s mind was chastising not only rationalists, but also the rational part of his own mind for rebelling against its dictates. In other words, it was playing the role of his harsh conscience. He began his comment with his rational mind’s rebellious statement: “I have an identity crisis and would like your viewpoint as to who I am.” And he ended his comment with his Brahmanic mind’s admonishing statement: “So long and good luck Stupid Irrational People!”

In the end his Brahmanic mind’s victory over his rational mind was complete. Having resolved his conflict, he is now at peace, at least for now.

2. Interpersonal Conflict

The second comment I received was equally thought provoking. It has to do with an on-going conflict a highly educated, rational-minded woman living in the U. S. has with her orthodox Hindu parents living in India. An orthodox Hindu is one who has accepted the dictates of orthodox Vedic Dharma a. k. a. Brahmanism without any reservation. S/he believes in the sanctity of the Vedas; Varna Dharma and Jati Dharma based on doctrines of the Gunas and Karma; rituals to worship gods to fulfill desires and protection from evil, and supremacy of Brahmins over other classes. Orthodox Hindus have no internal (mental) conflict regarding their beliefs. They are very comfortable with themselves, living in 21st century A. D. with the mindset of 1000 B. C. In fact, they believe that there is no religion like Hinduism. It is the greatest gift of god to mankind.

Orthodox Hindu parents, however, often face another kind of problem: Interpersonal conflict with their liberal-minded children. Children growing up being exposed to the liberal ideas of the 21st century and broader world-view often rebel against their orthodox parents. The result is the War of Value Systems: The New Value System of children based on rational thinking, personal ethics, secular humanism, and doing what is right according to one’s conscience, is pitted against Old Value System of parents based on irrational beliefs, Amoralism, religious fanaticism, and doing what one’s Dharma thinks is right. The family of the orthodox parent becomes the battleground. This rebellion against the orthodoxy is the microcosm of hundreds of rebellions Brahmanism had crushed in its 3,500 yearlong history. The consequences could be very serious to adult children of orthodox parents. Brahmanic loyalists brand their defiant children as suffering from Ahamkara (egoism, self-centeredness), shun them, attack them emotionally, verbally and physically, or even kill them. All victims of “dishonor killing” go through this sequence of abuse before their death.

Let us now read parts of the comment written by this modern rationalist woman regarding her on-going battle with her orthodox parents, published here without alterations with her written consent:

After all, I am a humane, socially conscious, scientifically inquisitive, successful and pleasant person in my own right. I have not hurt anyone intentionally, and go out of my way to help others, and also contribute significant time and effort in volunteer work.”

This quintessentially modern woman of India described the dissonance between her highly orthodox Brahmin parents’ faith (rooted in 1000 B. C.) and their keen interest in 21st century science.

What is confusing to me is that my parents also like and appreciate science, logic, the wonders of the universe, astrophysics, the difference between scientific method and faith-based belief and all that. They listen with great interest when I take them to science lectures, and immensely enjoy watching educational programs on astronomy, math, physics, logic, etc.”

And yet, when she told her parents that she wanted to marry a wonderful, highly ethical, non-Brahmin divorcee living in the U. S., her father, who lives in India and visits her in the U. S. from time to time, threatened to kill her:

My parents vehemently believe that all Hindus must follow the Hindu Dharma; especially two tenets as they apply to me: heed to the wishes of Mata, Pita, Guru & Daivam; and that every marriage is sacred and eternal (i.e. divorces are not valid).

One of my friends even told my father that he was acting like the Taliban, when he declared that he will kill me and there will surely be bloodshed if I marry against his choice. So much violence in thought from someone who preaches Advaita philosophy and surrendering to the ‘ParamAtma.'”

She describes the difference between her (guilt-oriented) behavior dictated by her conscience, and her parents'(shame-oriented) behavior dictated by Brahmanism. If one’s behavior is guided by one’s conscience, one does what is right regardless what the society thinks. If one’s behavior is guided by one’s religion, one indulges in behaviors, which conform to what everyone else thinks, even if what one does is blatantly antisocial or even criminal. So, if you ask a highly corrupt orthodox bureaucrat with a huge Nama over his forehead why he mercilessly extorts bribes, his ready answer would be, “Everybody does it.” So he has no shame in doing it.

In the social circle, I am seen as a stray unethical immoral waif, while they are treated as knowledgeable elders. I have never cheated (don’t even buy pirated software or watch ripped movies), but they gladly do anything because everyone does it and we won’t get caught. My response that I have a personal compass to decide right from wrong gets tons of verbal abuse.”

She explains how they shunned her because of her New Value System:

They look down upon my volunteer work because it is secular and not religious ashram related. They are very vocal in advising everyone within my earshot that it is better to raise a child as a deeply religious individual who is extremely obedient to parents even at the cost of education. They actually said so to me directly that they wished I didn’t go through higher studies (it has made me too egoistic and selfish) and instead was more like another cousin who is a stay at home mom with two kids. Not surprisingly, my parents are extremely affectionate towards my orthodox younger sister and her husband who spend several hours every day reciting prayers, while exactly the opposite with me.”

She describes their selfish motive in all this and their rigid thinking:

What’s tragically funny is that while my parents and several elderly relatives genuinely believe that I am selfish for wanting to live my life with someone they do not approve of, they very openly beg me to live single and unmarried so that they can die peacefully! Noting that if such a selfless act on my part can truly bring them peace and happiness, it would a worthwhile dilemma for me; I advised them that they should instead peg their peace and happiness on things they can control rather than on whether their daughter or niece is married or single.”

The War Of Value Systems

This War of Value Systems is going on right at this moment in thousands upon thousands of families in India. This is far more common these days as India is becoming more liberal in all spheres of life. Here are four of many possible outcomes of such clashes between secular humanist children and their orthodox parents:

i) Alienation from parents leading to guilt, grief, liberation and growth: This person decides to do what his conscience dictates him (or her), and lets go of parents. He will go through a period of guilt and grief. He recognizes that he cannot change his parents’ belief system. He realizes that problems such as this will need great sacrifices to solve. He lives out his life based on the New Value System. If his parents want him in their life, they should recognize him as an individual, not as their tail hanging from their behind.

A case study: A Brahmin young man fell in love with a fine woman of another caste. His angry father did not attend his wedding and cut him off from all communication, and wrote him off from his will. When the young man had a baby two years later the father relented and made up with his son. This reconciliation was more out of his own selfish need to have a grandchild in his life than out of any enlightenment on his part.

ii) Reluctantly falling in line with parent’s wishes leading to emotional disorders and interpersonal problems: This person meekly submits to his parents’ force, suffers chronic stress because of accumulating resentment, anger and hatred for them. This mental conflict often leads to various stress-related disorders such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and the like. He becomes chronically unhappy with his life. Marital problems, divorce, custody battle, etc. follow. I know quite a few young men and women in such predicament.

A case study: An orthodox Brahmin man, IIT graduate working in the U. S., fell in love with a Brahmin woman from another caste. His highly orthodox parents living in India resorted to emotional blackmail to force him to marry a Brahmin girl from an unorthodox Brahmin family of his own caste. The father always treated his son as his own appendage. When the daughter-in-law could not bear children, the boy’s father repeatedly crossed his boundaries and began to discuss personal matters with his daughter-in-law. When she protested, the gutless young man made excuses for his father. The son dared not ask his father to butt-out because he had been blackmailed by the father that he needed him in his life to “pour water in my mouth at the time of my death” so he could go to heaven. The daughter-in-law attempted suicide twice to force the son to take a stand with his intrusive father. Even though the son resented his father as the cause of all his problems, he could not let go of him lest he would not be there to “pour water in his mouth at the time of death.” The couple ended up in divorce after ten years of acrimonious and highly stressful marriage.

iii) Suicide to escape from the trap: This “boy” does not have what it takes to do what he thinks is right (#1 above), and risk losing parental love and support. On the one hand he cannot think of living without his parents in his life no matter how evil-minded or stupid they are. On the other hand, he cannot think of living without his lover in his life. So he decides to end his intolerable agony and punish his parents at the same time by the act of suicide.

A case study: Two years ago a Brahmin young man in my hometown in India hung himself by the ceiling fan because his orthodox parents opposed his decision to marry a non-Brahmin girl. The father was a retired professor of a local college. This young man did not have enough coping skills to deal with this personal crisis. He did not have the courage to tell his parents, “Look here. I am an adult and I want you to treat me as such. I want you to respect my views and wishes just as I do yours. You are the product of Old Value System and I am the product of New Value System. You live your life, and I will live my life. Please do not impose your views on me.” The problem here was that the stupid father did not know how to cope with his own shame in a highly conservative society if his son married a girl from outside his caste. He could have said to people in his community, “I respect my son as an individual in his own right. He is quite capable of making decisions for himself. As long as he is happy, I am happy. I shall not impose my view on him in the name of caste.”

iv) Killing of children to save family’s honor: “Dishonor killing” is on the rise in India. Those of you who read NDTV.Com regularly cannot fail to read incidents of killing children by parents to escape from the shame brought on by their children’s rebellious behavior. Dishonor killing is a socially sponsored desperate act, slightly different than Sati in the medieval times. In both these cases, the murderers and society enhance each other’s “prestige” by sacrificing their victims.

3. Bridging The Generational Gap

Here are parts of two comments I received from a young man. I recommend readers to log on to his blog. I am publishing here his comment with his permission. He wrote:

I had recently written a post indicating my feelings and decision
about being a Brahmin on my blog (link below):
http://vinaychaganti.org/2011/02/02/i-am-not-a-brahmin/

Ever since I published it, I knew I would face challenges from people
around me. However, that is not really concerning to me; perhaps it is
easier to face strangers than it is to face parents. My toughest
challenge now is to convince my parents on why I had to take the
decision I had taken, and try and make them understand that I am only
de-labeled but not changed as a person. Could you suggest me a
strategy, like you did in your articles
.”

Vinay continued in his next comment:

But the biggest challenge seems to be in my newly discovered role. We
would be the bridge between our future and our past generations. How
do I satisfy my past generation and make my future generation at the
same time? I do not want to pay too heavy a price on human
relationships.”

There is no simple solution for this problem. Much depends on what level of orthodoxy one’s parents are. For the sake of discussion, I divide Hindu parents into three categories: Orthodox, Unorthodox and Indifferent (Chalthahai).

Dealing with orthodox parents: Rationalist youngsters who think they could change their orthodox elders’ thinking should accept the reality that deep-rooted religious belief system cannot be changed. If they persist, they could create serious conflict with their parents, leading to alienation and break up of relationship. Rationalists, Atheists and Secular Humanists who criticize religious people for their ritual-worship behaviors based on delusion of gods must have empathy for them for they are merely victims of early life brainwashing of such finesse and thoroughness that no amount of education or scientific training of later life could eradicate them. The delusion of religion is hardwired into the brain to a far greater degree than the temporary delusion associated with Stockholm syndrome. It has extremely high order of value for one’s survival, social acceptance, and social status. Ordinary people cannot give these up easily without suffering serious emotional crisis.

Even if we present to them the irrefutable evidence from scriptures themselves that over one thousand five hundred years the ancients successively created nature gods (Indra, Varuna, Vayu, etc.), Brahman, Ishwara and Parameshwara to address specific social issues in the ancient times (as I explained in my series on the Gita), and having served their original purpose they have no place in our current circumstances, they won’t believe us. They would rather believe the misleading interpretations of these scriptures by duplicitous Brahmanic Acharyas.

The truth is that many orthodox people are uninformed about their religion. In fact, most of what they believe is utterly false. For example, they worship Brahman side by side with Vishnu or Shiva. They do not know that in the Bhagavata part of the Bhagavad Gita, Brahman was permanently retired and swallowed up by Parameshwara. Because Brahmin editors scrambled the Gita to hide the Upanishadic and Bhagavata revolutions to overthrow Brahmanism, reading the Gita gives one the false impression that these two entities exist side by side in Hinduism. And because orthodox people’s ritualistic behaviors are perfectly consistent with their firm religious convictions, they consider themselves perfectly rational. It is as if the virus of religion had disabled some aspect of their software of reasoning. This is no different than a mentally ill man believing that he was perfectly rational when he killed in self-defense someone he believed tried to control his mind by relentlessly bombarding his brain with radio signals.

Dealing with Unorthodox Hindu parents: This is somewhat easier on rationalist children. Most Unorthodox Hindu parents participate in Hindu ceremonies not knowing their true significance. As a matter of fact, to them it is “Just a way of life.” Not much thinking is involved in their ritualistic behavior. These parents go to temple and offer Poojas; perform Ganesha Chathurthi, Krishnashtami, Varshika Kriya for parents, etc. at home because, “Our priests told us to do so.” These rituals are mere traditions. If they did not perform them, they would feel quite guilty about it. These parents might be open to learning something about the origins of these mindless routines. I think rationalist youngsters could explain to them the following aspects of Hinduism when they are in a mood to listen:

The belief system: The entire farce of Hindu religion is based on the following belief system:

There are gods somewhere out there who are all-powerful. If we please them with prayer and ritual-worship, they would fulfill our desires and protect us from evil.

Children can try to educate them with the following facts:

This belief system is rooted in the belief system of Arya immigrants who came to India 3,500 years ago. They worshiped various nature gods by means of Yajna to thank them for their natural bounties (BG: 3:10-14). Later on Brahmins and Kshatriyas corrupted these Yajnas for their own benefit rather than to please gods (BG: 3:16; 2:41-44; 16: 10-20). So Upanishadists kicked out these petty gods and installed Brahman as the Supreme and replaced Yajna with Yoga. Later on, after Brahmins destroyed the Upanishadic revolution, Bhagavatas kicked out Brahman and replaced It with Parameshwara. Brahmanism overthrew all opponents, and reinstated its ancient worship-rituals in disguised forms, such as Poojas, Abhishekas, etc. All that we see in our temples and homes are these methods of pleasing gods.

The method of pleasing gods: Since god is invisible, first make him visible by making an idol of him. Put him on a pedestal and build a structure over him to protect him from nature. In the morning wake him up from sleep by ringing bells and beating drums. Then bathe him with Abhisheka, deodorize him with sandalwood paste, dress him with Peethambara, adorn him with flowers and jewels, entertain him with song and dance routine, praise him with Mantras and Bhajans, warm him with Aarthi, feed him with rice, coconuts and bananas, offer him smoke of Yajna, take him for a ride on palanquins and chariots, bribe him with donation, so on and so forth. If these activities are not plain stupid, what is?

Thus deluded by Brahminic shenanigans, millions of people visit these temple-casinos hoping in vain that these gods would somehow fulfill their desires and protect them from evils of life. And the Brahmins operating these temple-casino complexes are having a good laugh at the stupid people lining up to get a Darshan of their stone idols, while they are lining up their own deep pockets with rupee notes.

Now Unorthodox parents might ask: Is this all there is to Hindu Dharma? Is there no wisdom or ethics in it? The answer to this is: There is not one naya paisa of ethics in these rituals. The entire wisdom that can be distilled from the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, which is applicable to life in the 21st century, could be found in two secular shlokas of the Bhagavad Gita:

BG: 2:62-63: If a man becomes obsessed with sense objects such as person, wealth, power, people and honor, his mind becomes disconnected from his inner wisdom (memory, judgment, reasoning, insight, knowledge, ethics and virtues) and he will ruin himself.

These two shlokas were designed by Upanishadists of post-Vedic period to warn corrupt Brahmins and Kshatriyas of Brahmanism who were ruining themselves and India by their greed. There is not one politician, bureaucrat or businessman in India today who understands this truly astonishing wisdom of Upanishadic Dharma. There is not one naya paisa more wisdom in Hinduism than this. All the rest is hocus-pocus. Case closed.

Just as the Saraswati River, which is holy to Hindus, lost its way into the dreary desert sand of Rajasthan some three thousand years ago, as Tagore put it, in Hinduism, “the clear stream of reason has lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”

Dealing with Chalthahai Hindu parents: This is just a piece of cake or Jelebi. The choice is yours! All you need to do is to tell your parents not to waste their money on rituals. If they have excess money, they could donate it for a worthy cause.

World Is Flat And Shrinking

The conflict between the Old Value System and the New Value System is likely to get worse in the years to come as the world is not only becoming ‘flat’ but also it is shrinking rapidly. Western values, for better or for worse, are creeping into ancient lands of the East, often resulting in violent reaction by the orthodox religionists. Looking at India today, the divorce rate in youngsters of middle and upper classes is perhaps a hundred times higher than it was fifty years ago. Youngsters working in Call Centers and Technology Industries of India suffer from the same personal issues as their counterparts anywhere in the world: Break-up of relationship, betrayal of trust, divorce, alienation from parents due to differing value systems, unhappiness with job, sexual harassment at work, stalking, assault, spousal abuse, etc. “Love marriage” and “inter-caste marriage” are on the rise, and consequently conflict between orthodox parents and their open-minded children is on the rise. Celebration of Valentine’s Day among the middle and upper classes of India has become common, arousing indignation in the orthodox, right wing sections of India such as RSS and Shiv Sena. The causes of stresses of everyday life are increasingly becoming identical all over the world in spite of significant cultural differences, and sometimes because of them. What we are witnessing in India today is a society in a great flux, and ominous days are ahead for young people of India.

Even Coping Ways Have Become Identical

Even the ways of coping with stresses of everyday life among the young are becoming alike: Indulging in pleasurable activities such as drinking alcohol to excess, taking street drugs or tranquilizers, promiscuity, overspending, and whatnot. Others take to jogging, weightlifting, doing aerobics and other mindless physical activities as coping methods, not realizing that stress is a product of the mind and not the body. Still others get away from it all by traveling, cruising, trekking, and the like. Some youngsters resort to religion, spirituality and meditation to escape from the hounding life-problems. They run after Swamis, Gurus and Sadhus seeking “spiritual solace.” All these and many other coping methods have one thing in common: They have no rational bases. They merely help to numb or distract the mind on a temporary basis. Once their benefit wears out, one has to face the music once again. For example, a young woman upset over emotional abuse by her husband, his parents, or even her own parents, cannot expect to cope with her serious life problem by any of the above mentioned inappropriate coping methods.

New Knowledge And Result-oriented Methodology

Our energies are best spent in teaching India’s youngsters whose brains have not been corrupted by Brahmanic hogwash. I have written this series of articles with the purpose of giving youngsters new knowledge about various causes of misery in the modern world; how they might affect them; how they might react to them; how they could cope with them by appropriate means, and how they could manage life wisely to prevent these miseries from occurring. If we succeed in imparting this knowledge to them, hopefully they would not feel as helpless in the face of evils (life-stresses) as their religious-minded elders did, and they would feel empowered enough to take charge of their own lives, and not resort to religion, Babas, Swamis, gods and mindless worship-rituals on one extreme, and suicide at the other extreme, to deal with them.

In the next chapter, we will review the fundamentals of mind’s functions knowing which one could be better prepared to deal with life in 21st century.

(To be continued)

About the author

Prabhakar Kamath

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About To Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.

Links to all articles in Dr. Kamath's earlier series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries can be found here. Dr. Kamath' series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita can be found here.

40 Comments

  • Fantastic Prabhkar Bhavaji. I see these things happening around us now. But, one thing I must say is that many of of my friends and relatives around my age have started accepting these things. I have seen quite a few intercaste marriages being celebrated by the family with all pomp and splendour without any element of guilt at all!

  • Fantastic article. Totally strikes a cord with me (brahmin boy with parents who are in between orthodox and unorthodox, meaning they dont believe in the caste system, and similar things, but believe in the sanctity of the vedas and perform yagna s at home, etc). I have heard many stories from brahmin and brahmin hindu people, as well as muslim and christians ( I go to Texas A&M University).

    I would like to note the strategy that worked for me. Me and my dad are both argumentative and the whole family likes to talk and reason once in a while. So once I knew that I was atheist, I wanted to let them know. BUt, I did not want them to know at once the fact that I was no more a brahmin or a HIndu, that I have started eating meat and beef, drink, and am not OK with arranged marriages and would definitely like to go out on dates and even date a few before finding the right person. I planned to phase it out over some months. Whenever the chance arose (when everybody is happy), I would just ever so slightly start some topic of discussion and attach and tackle the basic problems in our religion (astrology, idol worship, crowd behaviour) and slowly upped the ante over a few months and finally drove them to the point where they realized what I was saying. This took more effort on my part, researching and reading various topics, but it was worth in the end because, our relationship is unstrained and same as before. Though they dont completely agree with what I am doing, they at least see why I am doing it, the rationale behind my decision.

    Apart from this the young people should definitely be a part of some rationalist or atheistic associations, that can be a great support group.

    Dr. Kamat, though I agree with everything that you have said, on a seperate note I want to point out that the aryan invasion thing is completely debatable and not just so straighforward to say that the aryans invaded 3500 years ago. I just finished reading this good book that investigates evidence on both side of the theory and mentions the strong arguments and lunacies on both sides. Worth a look.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=Y2jfHlinW4UC&pg=PP10&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

    • Ambarish said: Dr. Kamath, though I agree with everything that you have said, on a separate note I want to point out that the Aryan invasion thing is completely debatable and not just so straightforward to say that the Aryans invaded 3500 years ago. I just finished reading this good book that investigates evidence on both side of the theory and mentions the strong arguments and lunacies on both sides. Worth a look.

      My response: I never said Arya people invaded India. I think they migrated to India in waves over several centuries. There is a tremendous debate going on on the issue of Arya people. It is an on-going debate, nothing more, nothing less.

      If Arya people were not immigrants to India, one will have to explain why their culture appeared on Indian soil so suddenly and why it was so distinct from others, whom they referred to as Dasyus in Rig Veda. In Rig Veda, they refer to themselves frequently as Arya, not only as noble people but as noble race of people. The entire Varna Dharma was designed to keep the purity of the noble classes. The word Varna initially stood for color (white versus black). Later on it came to mean class. There are references to people coming from afar in Rig Veda: Book 6:XLV:1. If Arya did not come to India and attempted to overcome Dasyu (whom they often referred to by their personal names) as mentioned in Rig Veda, then Rig Veda is nothing but an elaborate fraud, which suits me just fine because the whole Brahmanism is a fraud anyway. Brahmanic loyalists should either admit Arya as outsiders entering India or Rig Veda as a fraud. Let them choose.

      Aside from all this, I, a Brahmin by birth, had my DNA tested by National Geographic Genomic project. It traced my DNA Czech Republic and to Central Asia. I shall gladly send you the entire report, which is several pages long and very interesting.

      • On the Aryan Invasion Theory controversy, Dr. Kamath’s response represents to me a historical or dialectical method of analyzing the issue, which is a more logical and reasonable way than all the academic huffing and puffing that is going on, by flogging the dead horses of philology and linguistics and then wrangling over the gaps in them and archeological findings

        Vedic/Aryan civilization is still widely accepted to be of an Indo-European or Proto-Iranian origin (Nothwithstanding the Aryan Invasion theory controversy and debate). Inspite of Hindutva posturing about a fusion between Indus Valley and the Vedic ages, archeological findings from the Harappan remains do not support any conclusive cultural/ethnic link with the Vedic civilization.

        Most opposition to western evaluation of the historicity of the Vedic civilization and beyond is mostly of a polemical nature and most attempts to re-interpret history of such periods is largely motivated by political and religious considerations (Hindutva-inspired)

        Also whether you go the AIT or OIT theory it does not make a whit of difference to the regressive nature of current state Hinduism.

        Whether Rig Veda was a fraud or not, Vedas have surely inspired religious and intellectual frauds of mind-boggling proportions ever since they come into being.

  • Dear Prabhakar,

    While I agree to most of your points made here, I think declaring:

    “Others take to jogging, weightlifting, doing aerobics and other mindless physical activities as coping methods”

    is untenable. For instance jogging, weightlifting(or strength/resistance exercises), aerobics are not mindless.

    In medical community, the benefits of exercise in treating clinical depression and as a general coping mechanism for stress has been getting proven time and again.

    Some links of interest:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/14/AR2009091402163.html

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/

    • The claim that exercise increase production of “endorphins” in the brain and helps depression is age-old. Like many “scientific discoveries,” which have fallen in the dustbin of history, this claim will also follow suit. If any improvement in depression is seen in exercising subjects it is because these strenuous physical exercises distract one’s mind and all the painful emotions in the conscious mind become repressed (go underground) giving one temporary relief. I will discuss this little known phenomenon in the articles to follow. I have explained this phenomenon in my book IS YOUR BALLOON ABOUT TO POP?, which is on Amazon.com. To understand this phenomenon, one needs to know how the mind works. Because most psychiatrists do not know the exact mechanism of the mind, and do not know how to tackle real life problems, they do the next best thing they know: Tell depressed people to exercise. After treating nearly forty thousand seriously ill patients over forty years, it is my opinion that the benefit of exercise to depressed patients is at par with offering Pooja to a stone idol. I will discuss some aspects of how the mind works in my forthcoming articles. And don’t believe everything you read in “scientific articles.” In the U. S., anything can be bought for a few dollars.

      • There is absolutely no doubt that endorphins are released in the brain in response to physical activity, but I’m not sure how much these can help in alleviating depression.

        Dr. Kamath, I respectfully disagree on a couple of points in your comment. Firstly, “scientific discoveries” (in scare quotes as you put them) are not meant to be absolute truth, simply because science is not concerned with absolute truth so much as with the evidential truth- that is, the truth that we can best acquire given the evidence. There is a long tradition of those who do not understand science dismissing scientific endeavor on such misunderstanding. Secondly, some scientific “facts” are much more likely to change as new evidence is discovered, compared to others. This is the key point here. Some ideas are so robust that there are multiples lines of evidence and multiple other scientific “facts” that are grounded on them. For example, in your own chosen field, there is almost no chance that we will someday discover that neurotransmitters are not real. There are multiple lines of evidence suggesting that they are indeed real, and that their effects are vital in the functioning of the brain. Similarly, given the evidence we have today it is undeniable that endorphins are released during exercise (as during other activities such as sex and, for some, binge eating).
        The other point I disagree with you about is your dismissal of “scientific articles”. Proper scientific articles do not ask the reader to simply “believe” on faith, but offer data and experimental design/protocols that can be replicated and tested. There is no question of simply believing these articles. Science in combination with the peer-review process is the best system that we have for eliminating subjective bias and fraud. The scientific community is not limited to the US, and hundreds of thousands of scientists worldwide are scrutinizing each and every study published in scientific journals.

        Now I am aware that scientists are human and prone to the same biases that we are all subject to, but this is not about the people. This is about the scientific process. It is simply the most robust method we have of comprehending objective reality. All the conspiracy theories about the ruthless scientists who will do anything for grant money are flawed because of the lack of understanding of the scientific process. These flawed arguments are misdirected at the science when almost always the primary cause is political ideology.

      • I find physical activities incredibly refreshing, especially because they give me time to myself, when I can think, sort my life out and leaves me healthier at the end of it.

        Sports/playing music involve a lot of mental focus and are never ‘mindless’. This is the only point I disagree with in the otherwise great article.

  • Dr kamath, From what I gather this series of yours is creating quite a stir in the young online secular community (for good!). Looking forward to the rest of the articles.

  • Astrology to me is a perfect science. It is a super science. Why then do predictions go wrong? They have to, when self-styled astrologers with superficial ideas shoot predictions from the hip or when those with incomplete knowledge and the intention to extort money, predict with nefarious and commercial motives.

    Astrology is growing in popularity; the media reflects, magnifies this trend. Big money is to be had from telecast of hyped up programs of predictions. People are waylaid and made to believe what, in a true sense, is not astrology. Wrong predictions are being unleashed on the gullible. All you need to look like an astrologer is a kurta and a tilak.

    Predictions also go wrong when even the serious astrologer, at best, reaches a sketchy picture of things in store. We can perhaps with sincere study, arrive at a range of eighty percent knowledge of the subject. The balance twenty percent needs to be achieved by an astrologers’ intuition and insights acquired through spiritual practices. The dasha of the astrologers at the time he is predicting is also important. Wrong predictions could also result from incorrect birth data provided by the consultant

    In view of this, before announcing predictions, it is the moral duty of the astrologer to make his consultant aware of these limitations. This advice may appear unviable for the commercially inclined astrologers, but it makes for sustainable and credible astrology, and is an essential statutory warning for our trade for, like nuclear buttons and surgical instruments, some astrological predictions too leave deep scars. Astrology should therefore be allowed to be practiced by those who are conscientious and have the stamp of qualification from a recognized training school. The fact that so many seek astrological guidance should make the policy makers introduce astrology in the universities and devise ways to help institutions like Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, which imparts the best training in astrology.

    With interest in astrology developed since childhood and having learnt it and practiced it in an organized way under the guidance of Mr.K.N.Rao for the past 18 years, I can advocate with conviction that astrology is a science that works very well.

    The paths may be numerous but the goal remains one-a correct prediction. I can say with confidence that many systems being practiced all across the globe can deliver the same correct prediction when perfected. Vedic astrology has a definite edge over other systems due to the numerous dashas developed by great rishis, perhaps through their yogic practice.

    How the planetary position in the sky unravels, up to the day, when an event is to take place, is as amazing as many of the myriad mysteries of our universe- how the human body works at the physical, mental and spiritual levels simultaneously through sensory perceptions; the nature that surrounds us with beauty and magically regenerates itself, also fills us with awe and admiration for the creator.

    Let us understand the nuances of astrology with verified horoscopes of three Chief Ministers.

    Shri Yediyurappa, Chief Minister
    The horoscope has the basic promise for rise in life as Venus, the 11th and 6th lord, strong in digbala, exalts in the 4th house of Rajsimhasan. It forms the Malavaya mahapurusha yoga. The 4th house is a crucial house for state or a country head. Mars, the 5th lord is in the Lagna in mutual aspect with the Lagna lord Jupiter. This also forms a strong Rajyoga. Vargottam Sun aspects its own house of fortune, the 9th which also promises rise in life.

    The aspect of lagna lord and the 4th lord Jupiter on the Lagna strengthens the Lagna. From the lagna the 11th lord Venus strong in the 4th house aspects the 10th ensuring gains. Considering the strength of the horoscope, Shri Yediyurappa had to be in command during favorable dashas. It was a simple prediction as he was to get the dasha of Sun/Mercury/Venus. Sun, the 9th lord is vargottam, Mercury, the 10th lord is strong and unafflicted in the 2nd house and Venus the 11th lord exalts in the 4th house and aspects the 10th house. This reading was not only from Vimshottari but from other dashas also.

    Octogenarian Narain Dutt Tiwari has a similar promise in the 4th house of rajsimhasan as Jupiter in its mooltrikona Rashi is in the 4th house. Rahu in the 11th in Cancer is a rajyogakaraka and promises steep rise in life. Sun is Vargottam in this case also. The Saturn is exalted though it gets debilitated in the navamsha. Shri Tiwari was fortunate to receive an excellent dasha pattern. Rahu and Jupiter dashas built a political career for him in the youth itself.

    Late Shri YSR, Former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YSR also has a strong Sun though not Vargottam as in the case of other two Chief Ministers. But the Sun in his horoscope, as the 7th lord of pada prapti (attainment of position) is in the 5th house with the 5th lord Mercury, giving rise to an excellent Raj yoga. It exalts in the navamsha in the 11th house and is the 10th lord of the dashamansha. Vargottam Rahu gave him steep rise but a tragic death as it is in a maraka 2nd house and by nature deceptive

    • If astrology is a “perfect science” or “super science”, then why aren’t you using the standards of science to support your claims? Do you even know what science is? If so, where are the experiments which show that astrology performs better than guessing and that its apparent predictive power cannot be explained away by saying that it makes vague predictions that pander to human biases? Otherwise you are just being intellectually dishonest in calling astrology a science.

    • “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra
      No wonder most of the astrological ‘success stories’ you present are mostly about past events.

    • Dbisaria,This article by Dr. Kamath was not about astrology, and did not go anywhere close to it. So why is astrology being thrust into this to muddy the waters and that too with all kinds of specious explanations, defensive arguments and topping it all by mumbo-jumbo of raashis, doshas, gotras and sutras.Then I hear spirituality also rearing its ugly head in your brand of astrology. Can we get any respite from the onslaught of Spirituality?!!!

      • You cannot! your body cannot survive for a single second alive without the spririt (soul/atma/and the antaryami that owns it). That being the case, how can you aspire for a life without “spirit”uality? Therefore Sprititulity is in integral part of every individual on earth, atheist or theist…you cannot get rid of it however much you try! Without the “spirit” in place you cannot even talk about atheism or rationalism…because you wont even be able to talk! It is the very basis of your existence and evolution to what you are today, and what you are going to be tomorrow, all the way until death, and after … It is the the thing that lives, without which this human body is nothing but a piece of log!

  • Dear Dr Kamath

    Thank you for this wonderful series and stirring the pot in the stagnated minds of the youth and the not so young. For all those stuck in some form of groupism, brahmanism in this case, I urge you to be updated with modern genetics– the genome project and the genographic project (and no, they do not find a reference anywhere in the vedas, however much one may want to find a link to similar ideas of unity). Its time we paid heed to scientific discovery and enquiry, and begin to accept that old ideas are indeed old, based on a free floating inquiry and limited data, hence, in need of change. Much like upgrading the software (and hardware) on your computer to the one just released!

  • Dear Dr. Kamat

    Thank you for very appropriately describing my “mental conflict”. I hope to learn more rationalism from browsing this website.

    • I think the vibrations of Mantras act like a combination of Viagra and testesteron, increasing potency and sperm count. I must be careful not to listen to this Mantra too much. At my age I can’t afford to father another child.

      I was heartened by Muslim women resorting to the Constitution to correct injustice done to them by their derelict husbands. A classic example of New Dharma versus Old Dharma.

  • Dear sir, why to deviate from god for reducing stress….is it compelsory? why? u say god is useless for this..or u r saying,,,there is alternative to godly bliss?

    • Hi Rajendra banerji, Just tell us all why you need god in your life. If you are a good person, and you have no intention to harm anyone, why do you need god in your life? Are you a weak-minded person? Do you know that man invented god and not other way round? Do you know that more blood has been shed in the name of religion and god than any other reason? Do you know that there is so much of animosity among religions, which claim to represent god’s wishes? Why are people who mindlessly worship gods and waste their time in temples and rituals so reluctant or unwilling to address pressing issues in the society? Why can’t you be just a good human being and not run after gods and god-men? Where is your reasoning power hiding?

      • Some need god and that is why it was invented by man. We dont invent anything that is useless 🙂
        Blood shed ha whether god was invented or not man would have done it, it is our animal instinct that leads to blood shed. We have shed blood for women, money, power but we wont leave them because we have shed blood for them. So this is no good reason for leaving god.
        Society respects god lovers and that is why people are behind god. Actually morality was taught via religion once upon a time and that is why good people are still considered religious.
        But some atheist people use religion for personal gains and the good side of the religion is lost. So people are left only with bad part of religion but poor people who dont know it still linger to that. It is time we find new ways of teaching morality and abandon the religion and find a new name to good living.

  • with or without god managing stress and our life depends on us. I am both orthodox and unorthodox depending on situation and what I want out of it.
    I believe the most important thing in life is being happy so at any moment of life if god can help me being happy I will be orthodox and a belief that god does not exist help me being happy I will be unorthodox.
    Do only things which you feel are right you should stick to it to keep the world livable. They can be wrong for some they can be right for some, everything in this world is reletive so dont worry about it.

  • Dear Kamath,

    I long gave up on rites,rituals,festivals,ceremonies, pleasing God. Then I gave up on a supernatural entity controlling our lives (God).

    However I am still sticking on the concept of Karma. (What we do we get).

    Can you answer me this simple question:-
    1. If there is no life after death, A do-gooder and Hitler who killed 6 million in the end entail to the same?.

    • Sorry to disappoint you my friend! but there is no such thing as life after death or rebirth. All beings and creatures get only one chance at life whether it is a very few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years or decades.

      The good, evil, foolish, wise and whatever else all meet their end in death from whose finality there is no escape or respite so far.

      World as such or the way it is may have no purpose at all and it does not care about our moral judgements of good, evil, right, wrong, justice or injustice. Our existence and intelligence could itself be a happenstance and/or a random occurrence.

      But we can still make the best out of it using that intelligence and faculties of reason and sense that accompany that, instead of making futile speculations about supernatural agency and oversight of our lives and building fancy theories from the primitive insecurities,fears and default anthropomorphic reflexes of our ancient ancestors, however plausible, reasonable and well-meaning they may have been in their age and times.

      • @Ranganath,

        “The good, evil, foolish, wise and whatever else all meet their end in death from whose finality there is no escape or respite so far”

        Since part of the discussion here is about actions and their consequences, in this context, death may not be final. One’s thoughts, speech and actions continue to have consequences beyond one’s death.

        “World as such or the way it is may have no purpose at all and it does not care about our moral judgements of good, evil, right, wrong, justice or injustice”

        If world means nature excluding sentient beings, yes, it may not care. If sentient beings are included in the world, it does care about good and evil.

        “Our existence and intelligence could itself be a happenstance and/or a random occurrence.”

        Does happenstance mean an event whose probability can’t be predicted at all? A special one of a kind event and it doesn’t even make sense to talk about its probability? If someday we could come up with minimum requirements for origin of life, then we could predict the probability of life on any given planet and verify/falsify such predictions by checking on other planets. Such minimum requirements could be structural material (ex: amino acids), code preserving material (ex: Nucleic acids), etc. If these two are present anywhere, it may just be a matter of time that life is going to originate there. If there are multiple Universes, similar logic may apply on some/all of them. That is about existence part in your comment.
        About the intelligence part, we may one day be able to predict the probability of a certain level of intelligence evolving from basic life forms, once life originates.

        • Krishna,

          **Since part of the discussion here is about actions and their consequences, in this context, death may not be final. One’s thoughts, speech and actions continue to have consequences beyond one’s death.**

          Yes. If I throw a ball up in the air and drop dead right after the ball will continue to up go slowing down along the way and eventually drop back to the ground. In that sense my actions will continue to have consequences even after my death. Similarly people I know will continue to remember the experiences they had with me when I was alive. The emails I wrote will continue to stay on google’s data centers even after my death. But these are really trivial. These can not bring to question the finality of death however much the stupid sentient beings do not want death to be final.

    • **Then I gave up on a supernatural entity controlling our lives (God).**

      **Can you answer me this simple question:-
      1. If there is no life after death, A do-gooder and Hitler who killed 6 million in the end entail to the same?**

      That is as stupid a question as the following.

      If there is no God then can you tell me who will reward the do-gooder and punish Hitler after their death?

  • I strongly recommend all of you to read Kapil’s Sankhya doctrine before making foolish comments about Hindu Religion and Philosophy. Also after reading it meditate on the meaning of the verses. Most if you write stupid things without going in details of Hindu philosophy. If you want to know it’s conclusion in brief then please let me know, I will write it here. I am a conscious person who is an avid practicioner of Karma, Bhakti and Gyan yoga. I have been doing all this without any guru or for that matter joining any ashram. I am a brahmin by birth.

  • I am deeply hurt by such stupid comments. I used to visit a very holy Brahmin in Vrindavan and he once got very angry on me saying that without reading holy scriptures, living a life as per them, how you are going to figure out whether there is any truth in it or not. I graduated from Texas A&M University, USA, in 2003 and discovered India and Brahaminism there. Ever since then I am studying about Hinduism and It’s meaning. Most of the comments here are so superficial. It is just nothing but intellectual gibberish, without any rational basis and deeper understanding. Just playing with words and finding some reason for justifying mental tendencies and inclination. I am pretty sure that most of the brahmins on this platform are as ignorant as Dr. Kamath.

  • We are and should feel proud to be homisapiens modern humans with highly evolved brain. Why this stupidity identifying ourselves with religion. We are humans and we created religious concepts. Why should we be slaves to our created religious concept. Why somuch craving for religious identities. Religion favours hate and intolerance. Respect science literacy ,not religious dogmas.

  • Why Science Does Not Disprove God

    https://time.com/77676/why-science-does-not-disprove-god/?amp=true

    A number of recent books and articles would have you believe that—somehow—science has now disproved the existence of God. We know so much about how the universe works, their authors claim, that God is simply unnecessary: we can explain all the workings of the universe without the need for a Creator.

    And indeed, science has brought us an immense amount of understanding. The sum total of human knowledge doubles roughly every couple of years or less. In physics and cosmology, we can now claim to know what happened to our universe as early as a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, something that may seem astounding. In chemistry, we understand the most complicated reactions among atoms and molecules, and in biology we know how the living cell works and have mapped out our entire genome. But does this vast knowledge base disprove the existence of some kind of pre-existent outside force that may have launched our universe on its way?

    Science won major victories against entrenched religious dogma throughout the 19th century. In the 1800s, discoveries of Neanderthal remains in Belgium, Gibraltar and Germany showed that humans were not the only hominids to occupy earth, and fossils and remains of now extinct animals and plants further demonstrated that flora and fauna evolve, live for millennia and then sometimes die off, ceding their place on the planet to better-adapted species. These discoveries lent strong support to the then emerging theory of evolution, published by Charles Darwin in 1859. And in 1851, Leon Foucault, a self-trained French physicist, proved definitively that earth rotates—rather than staying in place as the sun revolved around it—using a special pendulum whose circular motion revealed the planet’s rotation. Geological discoveries made over the same century devastated the “young earth” hypothesis. We now know that earth is billions, not thousands, of years old, as some theologians had calculated based on counting generations back to the biblical Adam. All of these discoveries defeated literal interpretations of Scripture.

    But has modern science, from the beginning of the 20th century, proved that there is no God, as some commentators now claim? Science is an amazing, wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world and the universe. But it has not revealed to us why the universe came into existence nor what preceded its birth in the Big Bang. Biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet and how the advanced eukaryotic cells—the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms—ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things? Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture and literature? Science is nowhere near to explaining these deep mysteries.

    But much more important than these conundrums is the persistent question of the fine-tuning of the parameters of the universe: Why is our universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life? This question has never been answered satisfactorily, and I believe that it will never find a scientific solution. For the deeper we delve into the mysteries of physics and cosmology, the more the universe appears to be intricate and incredibly complex. To explain the quantum-mechanical behavior of even one tiny particle requires pages and pages of extremely advanced mathematics. Why are even the tiniest particles of matter so unbelievably complicated? It appears that there is a vast, hidden “wisdom,” or structure, or knotty blueprint for even the most simple-looking element of nature. And the situation becomes much more daunting as we expand our view to the entire cosmos.

    We know that 13.7 billion years ago, a gargantuan burst of energy, whose nature and source are completely unknown to us and not in the least understood by science, initiated the creation of our universe. Then suddenly, as if by magic, the “God particle”—the Higgs boson discovered two years ago inside CERN’s powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider—came into being and miraculously gave the universe its mass. Why did this happen? The mass constituted elementary particles—the quarks and the electron—whose weights and electrical charges had to fall within immeasurably tight bounds for what would happen next. For from within the primeval soup of elementary particles that constituted the young universe, again as if by a magic hand, all the quarks suddenly bunched in threes to form protons and neutrons, their electrical charges set precisely to the exact level needed to attract and capture the electrons, which then began to circle nuclei made of the protons and neutrons. All of the masses, charges and forces of interaction in the universe had to be in just the precisely needed amounts so that early light atoms could form. Larger ones would then be cooked in nuclear fires inside stars, giving us carbon, iron, nitrogen, oxygen and all the other elements that are so essential for life to emerge. And eventually, the highly complicated double-helix molecule, the life-propagating DNA, would be formed.

    Why did everything we need in order to exist come into being? How was all of this possible without some latent outside power to orchestrate the precise dance of elementary particles required for the creation of all the essentials of life? The great British mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated—based on only one of the hundreds of parameters of the physical universe—that the probability of the emergence of a life-giving cosmos was 1 divided by 10, raised to the power 10, and again raised to the power of 123. This is a number as close to zero as anyone has ever imagined. (The probability is much, much smaller than that of winning the Mega Millions jackpot for more days than the universe has been in existence.)

    The scientific atheists have scrambled to explain this troubling mystery by suggesting the existence of a multiverse—an infinite set of universes, each with its own parameters. In some universes, the conditions are wrong for life; however, by the sheer size of this putative multiverse, there must be a universe where everything is right. But if it takes an immense power of nature to create one universe, then how much more powerful would that force have to be in order to create infinitely many universes? So the purely hypothetical multiverse does not solve the problem of God. The incredible fine-tuning of the universe presents the most powerful argument for the existence of an immanent creative entity we may well call God. Lacking convincing scientific evidence to the contrary, such a power may be necessary to force all the parameters we need for our existence—cosmological, physical, chemical, biological and cognitive—to be what they are.

    Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one attempt to usurp the role of the other.

    Science is of no use if people become arrogant.

    Religion is of no use if people become fanatics.

    Contact us at editors@time.com.

  • Reading Into Albert Einstein’s God Letter
    Louis Menand

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/reading-into-albert-einsteins-god-letter

    December 25, 2018

    Einstein had what might be called a night-sky theology, a sense of the awesomeness of the universe that even atheists and materialists feel.

    Albert Einstein’s so-called God letter first surfaced in 2008, when it fetched four hundred and four thousand dollars in a sale at a British auction house. The letter came back into the news earlier this month, when its owner or owners auctioned it off again, this time at Christie’s in New York, and someone paid $2.9 million for it, a pretty good return on investment, and apparently a record in the Einstein-letters market. The former top seller was a copy of a letter to Franklin Roosevelt from 1939, warning that Germany might be developing a nuclear bomb. That one was sold at Christie’s for $2.1 million, in 2002. If you have any extra Einstein letters lying around, this might be a good time to go to auction.

    Although it bears his signature, Einstein didn’t actually write the bomb letter. It was written by the physicist Leo Szilard, based on a letter that Einstein had dictated. But, if auction price is at all relative to historical significance, that letter should be way more valuable than the God letter. The God letter was cleverly marketed, though. “Not only does the letter contain the words of a great genius who was perhaps feeling the end fast approaching,” Christie’s said on its Web site, “It addresses the philosophical and religious questions that mankind has wrestled with since the dawn of time: Is there a God? Do I have free will?” The press release called it “one of the definitive statements in the Religion vs Science debate.” Journalistic interest was stirred up by the question of whether the letter might contradict other comments that Einstein is recorded having made about God.

    This all made the letter sound a lot more thoughtful than it is. Einstein did have views about God, but he was a physicist, not a moral philosopher, and, along with a tendency to make gnomic utterances—“God does not play dice with the universe” is his best-known aperçu on the topic—he seems to have held a standard belief for a scientist of his generation. He regarded organized religion as a superstition, but he believed that, by means of scientific inquiry, a person might gain an insight into the exquisite rationality of the world’s structure, and he called this experience “cosmic religion.”

    It was a misleading choice of words. “Cosmic religion” has nothing to do with morality or free will or sin and redemption. It’s just a recognition of the way things ultimately are, which is what Einstein meant by “God.” The reason that God does not play dice in Einstein’s universe is that physical laws are inexorable. And it is precisely by getting that they are inexorable that we experience this religious feeling. There are no supernatural entities out there for Einstein, and there is no uncaused cause. The only mystery is why there is something when there could be nothing.

    In the God letter, the subject is not the cosmic religion of the scientist. It is the organized religion of the believer, a completely different subject. Einstein wrote the letter, in 1954, to an émigré German writer named Eric Gutkind, whose book “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt” he had read at the urging of a mutual friend and had disliked so much that he felt compelled to share his opinion of it with the author. A year later, Einstein died. Gutkind died in 1965; it was his heirs who put the letter up for auction, in 2008.

    The letter to Gutkind is conspicuously short on metaphysics. It’s essentially a complaint about traditional Judaism. Einstein says that he is happy being a Jew, but that he sees nothing special about Jewishness. The word God, he says, is “nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness,” and the Hebrew Bible is a collection of “honorable, but still purely primitive legends.”

    In some news accounts, Einstein is quoted as calling the Biblical stories “nevertheless pretty childish,” but that is not what his letter says. That phrase was inserted by a translator, apparently at the time of the first auction. Nor does Einstein call Judaism “the incarnation of the most childish superstitions,” also a translation error. The word that he uses is “primitiven”—that is, “primitive,” meaning pre-scientific. He is saying that, before humans developed science, they had to account for the universe in some way, so they invented supernatural stories. (Such is the nature of our own super-scientific age, however, that if you perform a search for “Einstein childish God,” you will get thousands of hits. Einstein will be eternally associated with a characterization he never made.)

    Einstein had what might be called a night-sky theology, a sense of the awesomeness of the universe that even atheists and materialists feel when they gaze up at the Milky Way. Is it too awesome for human minds to know? A scientist from a generation before Einstein, William James, thought that maybe we can’t—maybe our brains are too small. There might indeed be something like God out there; we just can’t pick it up with the radar we’ve got. In James’s lovely metaphor, “We may be in the universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all.”

    The best thing in Einstein’s letter to Gutkind is not the grouchy dismissal of traditional theology. It’s the closing paragraph, where Einstein puts all that aside. “Now that I have expressed our differences in intellectual convictions completely openly,” he writes, “it is still clear to me that we are very close to each other in the essentials, that is, in our evaluations of human behavior.” He thinks that if he and Gutkind met and talked about “concrete things,” they would get along fine. He is saying that it doesn’t matter what our religious or our philosophical commitments are. The only thing that matters is how we treat one another. I don’t think it took a genius to figure this out, but it’s nice that one did.

    Louis Menand has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2001. He teaches at Harvard University

    Louis Menand has contributed to The New Yorker since 1991 and has been a staff writer since 2001. His book “The Metaphysical Club” was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. He was an associate editor at The New Republic from 1986 to 1987, an editor at The New Yorker from 1992 to 1993, and a contributing editor at The New York Review of Books from 1994 to 2001. He is the Lee Simpkins Family Professor of Arts and Sciences and the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University. In 2016, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama.

  • Can Science Prove The Existence Of God?
    Ethan Siegel

    The Universe is out there, waiting for you to discover it.

    There’s an argument that many people make: that the natural world, and humanity’s existence in the Universe, point towards a divine creator that brought forth all of this into existence. To the best of our knowledge, Earth exists with a plethora of conditions that allowed for our existence, and does so in a way that no other world can match.

    We live in a particularly privileged place. We live on a planet that has all the right ingredients for life, including:

    We’re at the right distance from our Sun so that temperatures are conducive to life.
    We have the right atmospheric pressure for liquid water at our surface.

    We have the right ingredients — the right balance of heavy elements and organic molecules — for life to arise.

    We have the right amount of water so that our world has both oceans and continents.
    And life started on our world very early, sustained itself for our planet’s entire history, and gave rise to us: sentient, self-aware creatures.

    If you look at the other worlds we know of, the difference is striking.

    The claim that’s often made isn’t merely that Earth is unlikely; it’s that our planet, with the confluence of circumstances that gave rise to us, is statistically impossible, even given all the stars and galaxies in the Universe. The emergence of intelligent life is so outlandishly unexpected, given all the factors that needed to occur in just the right particular order, that our Universe must have been designed specifically to give rise to us. Otherwise, the argument goes, the odds of us coming to be would be so infinitesimally small that it’s unreasonable to believe it could have happened by chance.

    This is a very compelling argument for many people, but it’s important to ask ourselves three questions to make sure we’re approaching this honestly. We’ll go through them one at a time, but here are the three, so we know what we’re getting into.

    What are, scientifically, the conditions that we need for life to arise?

    How rare or common are these conditions elsewhere in the Universe?

    And finally, if we don’t find life in the places and under the conditions where we expect it, can that prove the existence of God?

    These are all big questions, so let’s give them the care they deserve.

    Deep under the sea, around hydrothermal vents, where no sunlight reaches, life still thrives on Earth.

    1.) What are, scientifically, the conditions that we need for life to arise?

    In other words, things did occur in a very specific way here on Earth, but how many of them does life-as-we-know-it require, versus how many of them happened in a particular way here, but could have easily happened under different conditions elsewhere?

    The things I listed earlier are based on the assumption that any life that’s out there is going to be like us in the sense that it will be based on the chemistry of atoms and molecules, occur with liquid water as a basic requirement of its functioning, and won’t be in an environment that we know to be toxic to all terrestrial life. For those criteria alone, we already know there are billions of planets in our galaxy alone that fit the bill.

    Our studies of exoplanets — of worlds around stars beyond our own — have shown us that there’s a huge variety of rocky planets orbiting at the right distance from their central stars to have liquid water on their surfaces if they have anything akin to atmospheres like our own. We are starting to approach the technological capabilities of detecting exo-atmospheres and their compositions around worlds as small as our own; currently, we can get down to about Neptune-sized worlds, although the James Webb Space Telescope will advance that further in under a decade.

    But aren’t there other things we need to worry about? What if we were too close to the galactic center; wouldn’t the high rate of supernovae fry us, and sterilize life? What if we didn’t have a planet like Jupiter to clear out the asteroid belt; wouldn’t the sheer number of asteroids flying our way wipe any life that manages to form out? And what about the fact that we’re here now, when the Universe is relatively young? Many stars will live for trillions of years, but we’ve only got about another billion or two before our Sun gets hot enough to boil our oceans. When the Universe was too young, there weren’t enough heavy elements. Did we come along at just the right time, to not only make it in our Universe, but to witness all the galaxies before dark energy pushes them away?

    Probably not, to all of these questions! If we were closer to the galactic center, yes: the star formation rate is higher and the rate of supernovae is higher. But the main thing that means is that large numbers of heavy elements are created faster there, giving complex life an opportunity starting from earlier times. Here in the outskirts, we have to wait longer! And as for sterilizing a planet, you’d have to be very close to a supernova for that to happen — far closer than stars typically are to one another near the galactic center — or else in the direct path of a hypernova beam. But even in this latter case, which would still be incredibly rare, you’re likely to only sterilize half your world at once, because these beams are short-lived!

    Even a focus, ultra-energetic, nearby supernova might not be enough to extinguish life on a thoroughly inhabited planet.

    Their atmospheres wouldn’t be blown off entirely, deep-ocean life should still survive, and there’s every reason to believe that no matter how bad it got, the conditions would be ripe for complex life to make a comeback. Once life takes hold on a world, or gets “under its skin” as some biologists say, it’s very hard to annihilate it entirely. And this simply won’t do.

    Multiple scenarios for the asteroid belt may each have advantages for life evolving on the inner worlds. Perhaps none of them are prohibitive to the evolution of intelligent life.

    Same deal for asteroids. Yes, a solar system without a Jupiter-like planet would have many more asteroids, but without a Jupiter-like planet, would their orbits ever get perturbed to fling them into the inner solar system? Would it make extinction events more common, or rarer? Moreover, even if there were increased impacts, would that even make complex/intelligent life less likely, or would the larger number of extinction events accelerate the differentiation of life, making intelligence more likely? The evidence that we need a Jupiter for life is specious at best, just like the evidence that we need to be at this location in our galaxy is also sparse. But even if those things were true, we’d still have huge numbers of worlds — literally tens-to-hundreds of millions — that met those criteria in our galaxy alone.

    And finally, we did come along relatively early, but the ingredients for stars and solar systems like our own were present in large abundances in galaxies many billions of years before our own star system formed. We’re even finding potentially habitable worlds where life may be 7-to-9-billion-years-old! So no, we’re probably not first. The conditions that we need for life to arise, to the best we can measure, seem to exist all over the galaxy, and hence probably all over the Universe as well.

    2.) How rare or common are these conditions elsewhere in the Universe?

    Scientists didn’t help themselves with overly optimistic estimates of the Drake equation: the equation that is most commonly used to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Of all the science presented in Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series, his estimates of the Drake equation represented possibly the worst science in the series. So let’s run through the actual numbers to the best that science knows — complete with realistic uncertainties — and see what we come up with.

    As best as we can tell — extrapolating what we’ve discovered to what we haven’t yet looked at or been able to see — there ought to be around 1-to-10 trillion planets in our galaxy that orbit stars, and somewhere around 40-to-80 billion of them are candidates for having all three of the following properties:

    being rocky planets,
    located where they’ll consistently have Earth-like temperatures,
    and that ought to support and sustain liquid water on their surfaces!
    So the worlds are there, around stars, in the right places! In addition to that, we need them to have the right ingredients to bring about complex life. What about those building blocks; how likely are they to be there?

    Organic molecules are found in star forming regions, stellar remnants and interstellar gas, all throughout the Milky Way

    Believe it or not, these heavy elements — assembled into complex molecules — are unavoidable by this point in the Universe. Enough stars have lived and died that all the elements of the periodic table exist in fairly high abundances all throughout the galaxy. But are they assembled correctly? Taking a look towards the heart of our own galaxy is molecular cloud Sagittarius

    In addition to water, sugars, benzene rings and other organic molecules that just “exist” in interstellar space, we find surprisingly complex ones.

    Organic molecules found throughout the Universe, particularly towards the galactic center.

    Like ethyl formate (left) and n-propyl cyanide (right), the former of which is responsible for the smell of raspberries! Molecules just as complex as these are literally in every molecular cloud, protoplanetary disk and stellar outflow that we’ve measured. So with tens of billions of chances in our galaxy alone, and the building blocks already in place, you might think — as Fermi did — that the odds of intelligent life arising many times in our own galaxy is inevitable.

    But first, we need to make life from non-life. This is no small feat, and is one of the greatest puzzles around for natural scientists in all disciplines: the problem of abiogenesis. At some point, this happened for us, whether it happened in space, in the oceans, or in the atmosphere, it happened, as evidenced by our very planet, and its distinctive diversity of life. But thus far, we’ve been unable to create life from non-life in the lab. So it’s not yet possible to say how likely it is, although we’ve taken some amazing steps in recent decades. It could be something that happens on as many as 10–25% of the possible worlds, which means up to 20 billion planets in our galaxy could have life on them. (Including — past or present — others in our own Solar System, like Mars, Europa, Titan or Enceladus.) That’s our optimistic estimate.

    A young planet with the potential conditions for life could grow into an Earth-like world, or could remain devoid of life forever.

    But it could be far fewer than that as well. Was life on Earth likely? In other words, if we performed the chemistry experiment of forming our Solar System over and over again, would it take hundreds, thousands or even millions of chances to get life out once? Conservatively, let’s say it’s only one-in-a-million, which still means, given the pessimistic end of 40 billion planets with the right temperature, there are still at least 40,000 planets out there in our galaxy alone with life on them.

    But we want something even more than that; we’re looking for large, specialized, multicellular, tool-using creatures. So while, by many measures, there are plenty of intelligent animals, we are interested in a very particular type of intelligence. Specifically, a type of intelligence that can communicate with us, despite the vast distances between the stars! So how common is that? From the first, self-replicating organic molecule to something as specialized and differentiated as a human being, we know we need billions of years of (roughly) constant temperatures, the right evolutionary steps, and a whole lot of luck. What are the odds that such a thing would have happened? One-in-a-hundred? Well, optimistically, maybe. That might be how many of these planets stay at constant temperatures, avoid 100% extinction catastrophes, evolve multicellularity, gender, become differentiated and encephalized enough to eventually learn to use tools.

    Once intelligence, tool use and curiosity combine in a single species, perhaps interstellar ambitions become inevitable.

    But it could be far fewer; we are not an inevitable consequence of evolution so much as a happy accident of it. Even one-in-a-million seems like it might be too optimistic for the odds of human-like animals evolving on an Earth-like world with the right ingredients for life; I could easily imagine that it would take a billion Earths (or more) to get something like human beings out just once.

    If we take the optimistic estimate of the optimistic estimate above, perhaps 200 million worlds are out there capable of communicating with us, in our galaxy alone. But if we take the pessimistic estimate about both life arising and the odds of it achieving intelligence, there’s only a one-in-25,000 chance that our galaxy would have even one such civilization. In other words, life is a fantastic bet, but intelligent life may not be. And that’s according to reasonable scientific estimates, but it assumes we’re being honest about our uncertainties here, too. So the conditions for life are definitely everywhere, but life itself could be common or rare, and what we consider intelligent life could be common, rare or practically non-existent in our galaxy. As science finds out more, we’ll learn more about that.

    And finally…

    3.) If we don’t find life in the places and under the conditions where we expect it, can that prove the existence of God? Certainly, there are people that will argue that it does. But to me, that’s a terrible way to place your faith. Consider this:

    Do you want or need your belief in a divine or supernatural origin to the Universe to be based in something that could be scientifically disproven?

    I am very open about not being a man of faith myself, but of having tremendous respect for those who are believers. The wonderful thing about science is that it is for everybody who’s willing to look to the Universe itself to find out more information about it. Why would your belief in God require that science give a specific answer to this question that we don’t yet know the answer to? Will your faith be shaken if we find that, hey, guess what, chemistry works to form life on other worlds the same way it worked in the past on this one? Will you feel like you’ve achieved some sort of spiritual victory if we scour the galaxy and find that human beings are the most intelligent species on all the worlds of the Milky Way?

    Or, can your beliefs — whatever they are — stand up to whatever scientific truths the Universe reveals about itself, regardless of what they are? In the professional opinion of practically all scientists who study the Universe, it is very likely that there is life on other worlds, and that there’s a very good chance — if we invest in looking for it — that we’ll be able to find the first biological signatures on other worlds within a single generation. Whether there’s intelligent life beyond Earth, or more specifically, intelligent life beyond Earth in our galaxy that’s still alive right now, is a more dubious proposition, but the outcome of this scientific question in no way favors or disfavors the existence of God, any more than the order of whether fish or birds evolved first on Earth favors or disfavors a deity’s existence.

    There may or may not be other worlds very, very similar to our own out there, but neither result is necessarily an indicator of a divine presence.

    The truths of the Universe are written out there, on the Universe itself, and are accessible to us all through the process of inquiry. To allow an uncertain faith to stand in as an answer where scientific knowledge is required does us all a disservice; the illusion of knowledge — or reaching a conclusion before obtaining the evidence — is a poor substitute for what we might actually come to learn, if only we ask the right questions. Science can never prove or disprove the existence of God, but if we use our beliefs as an excuse to draw conclusions that scientifically, we’re not ready for, we run the grave risk of depriving ourselves of what we might have come to truly learn.

    So i implore you: don’t let your faith, whatever it may be, close you off to the joys and wonders of the natural world. The joys of knowing — of figuring out the answers to questions for ourselves — is one that none of us should be cheated out of. May your faith, if you have one, only serve to enhance and enrich you, not take the wonder of science away!

    Ethan Siegel

    I am a Ph.D. astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, who professes physics and astronomy at various colleges.
    I have won numerous awards for science writing since 2008 for my blog, Starts With A Bang, including the award for best science blog by the Institute of Physics.

    My two books, Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive, Beyond the Galaxy: How humanity looked beyond our Milky Way and discovered the entire Universe.

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