Why “Innovate, Achieve and Lead” isn’t enough – A BITSian’s Perspective

Written by February 2, 2013 12:52 pm 68 comments

Pranab Mukherjee, the country’s present president, mentioned at the Indian Science Congress of 2012 that “Another Nobel Prize in the sciences is long overdue for India.”

Now this claim is by no means unreasonable. But if we are to go by the present scenario of ‘scientific temper’ in India, which the Indian Science Congress boasts as its guiding ideal, it looks as if they have their work cut out for them.

(Public domain Image) Source: Wikipedia

I am a proud sophomore student of BITS-Pilani, Goa. Like most students of BITS-Pilani, Goa, I always look forward to good food, a day well spent with friends, and the simply lovely Goan climate (especially during winter). Additionally, I am also a very big fan of freethinking, and the rational worldview.

And that’s why I’m going to talk about something that’s been a thorn in my side for over a year.

The offending party in question is the ‘Divine Vedic Youth Association’, a student’s organisation affiliated with ISKCON.

I first noticed this student’s organisation back in my first year, when I read a plain notice put up by them that detailed a series of seminars to be held. The second in this series caught my attention. “Does God exist?” was the topic for this session.

Now, I was, at that particular point of time, relatively aloof and distant from the heated battle-ground that atheists and the pious fence upon. I was what one could call the ‘Inoffensive atheist’. I would say that I didn’t believe in God, and promptly leave it at that, without any desire to argue or defend my position. Naturally, therefore, I passed off the invitation to ponder on this big question. At the behest of a friend though, I finally decided to go.

The seminar began with the speaker glibly mentioning his CGPA: 9.2. He then went on to introduce his other friends, with similar 9+ CGPAs. I thought this rather odd, because, while commendable, their CGPAs didn’t have anything to do with the existence of God.

He then began the presentation.

The speaker showed us a slide that had an image of Lord Krishna. Juxtaposed with it was a diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum, with the visible range indicated. He made the following comparison: “Just as the human eye is incapable of seeing all the other EM waves outside the visible range, so too is the human mind incapable of recognizing the omnipotent energy of God.”

He then went on to arrogantly claim that Darwinian evolution is false, citing the apparent lack of fossil evidence (I’m serious!) and the fact that all (yes! All!!) available fossil evidence that suggests that humans are an evolved species is fake. But his criticism of the Big Bang theory takes the cake. He said: “We all know that it is impossible for a car that explodes to yield two cars. How then, can an explosion have created the entire universe?”

I was yet to recover from this assault on the senses when he continued with his pathetic diatribe: “Look at this rose. It is very beautiful. Clearly it is a natural creation, and something like this couldn’t possibly have come into existence at random. It must therefore have been created by an intelligent designer.” Then came the usual creationist checklist: “Have you seen a building without a builder? Have you seen a watch without a maker…?”

A story he recounted was as follows: “One day, a man passed by a patch of water melons. He wondered why they grew on the ground, and then sat under a lemon tree for a nap. A lemon fell on his head, waking him from his slumber. His eyes opened, and then his ‘inner eye’ also opened, and he realised the answer to his question.” Apparently, according to the speaker, melons don’t grow on trees because otherwise the fellow in the story could have had a serious injury. And thus there are laws by which this universe operates. I ventured the question: “Why then, do coconuts grow on trees?” And to my immense surprise, out came the answer, “Because that is the law of this world, and we cannot wish for it to be otherwise.”

They then played a video that implored the viewers to recognise God’s good intentions in bestowing upon humanity fruits with skins to protect them, and sweetness that humans can savour.

The final bit included various misquotations of a number of prominent figures in science, from Issac Newton, who apparently read the Bhagvad Gita and thereby understood the gyroscope, to Einstein. Misquoting Einstein is a staple for the godly and pious, and I wasn’t surprised.

But what really worried me was not this credulous garbage that was inflicted upon the 40-strong listeners in the classroom, but the fact that practically no one bothered to question their delusions throughout the entire seminar. There was not a single voice of protest or inquiry, not a single demand for evidence or references. Nothing. These people had already been won over, because the speaker appealed not to their sense of reason, but their fear of failure. He asked how many people were worried about their grades, and went on to sell his religious fervour and supposed ‘knowledge’ as a mantra for success. Indeed, the other seminars in their schedule were all about how to absolve oneself of fear and focus on studying. A noble effort, perhaps, but I think not.

Preying on the insecurities of first-year students was their real weapon. And they were doing it year after year, I later realised. Grabbing hold of people who are emotionally vulnerable to pernicious suggestion in the competitive environment of an institution such as BITS is the tragic consequence of a society that de-emphasizes in-depth understanding of core ideas in science in favour of a superficial, result-oriented model that ultimately serves no purpose in developing constructive and rational thinking.

The question naturally comes up: why in the world is pseudoscience still present in our institutions? I’m going to attempt to answer this question.

BITS-Pilani’s punchline is “Innovate, Achieve and Lead”. Fair enough. That sounds just about right, except for one small thing. It’s simply not enough.

All our technical universities seem to have one thing in common: their constant refrain to us to be ‘successful’. Be it the IITs, BITS or of course, the myriad others, anyone observant enough can make out that ‘success’ is the buzzword. ‘Achievement’ is a virtue, and dreams of 50 Lakh p.a. starting salaries seem to be the bench mark of the student who has ‘used his time wisely and worked hard’. And somehow, somewhere down the line, the real point of it all seems to have been lost.

It is simply not enough that universities exhort their students to make something of themselves. It is not enough that they churn out well-educated young professionals who still seek solace in astrology, continue to hold conflicting views about the universe in the face of scientific evidence, and continue to cling to crippling fears and insecurities about themselves and their purpose in life.

The cat is already out of the closet, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that a spurious understanding of science can co-exist with academic brilliance in higher education. If we are to really get anywhere to begin with, we must shed our collective cultural tolerance for faith-supremacy and stop riding on the popular bandwagon of Appeal to Antiquity. This manifestation of Karmic Capitalism comes at the cost of the rational worldview, and feeds off modern insecurity. It festers in a vacuum of discourse and open debate about what it means to be successful, or how we can overcome our anxieties thoughtfully.

Apart from the punch line, BITS subscribes to the motto “Knowledge is power supreme”. I like it. It’s simple and it’s true. And it’s what we need more than ever. Our emphasis needs to shift from the necessary but insufficient “Innovate, Achieve, Lead” to a culture where critical thinking trumps faith-supremacy, where the march to prosperity is complemented by freedom from ignorance, and where our institutions can operate without the interference of pseudoscience and superstition.

This post was written by:

- who has written 2 posts on Nirmukta.

68 Comments

  • Dear Nitish,
    That is clearly said that evidence can be accepted regardless of its labels. I was only pointing out at the futility of such labels and the methodology of labeling and the legal positions in the matter.
    Just because a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian made a discovery of any scientific fact it does not mean that the religion takes the credit for it.You can make it clear when you argue with some one. Another point to be made is that these were not made because of the religion but in spite of it like those of Galileo, Darwin etc.

    • Sir,
      Thank you very much for your reply.There is a site called ‘agniveer’,when I viewed its content I was taken by astonishment that how people took claims for granted without the demand for evidence when the scientific or scientific sounding claims are linked with hinduism(eg-they have quoted in there that nowadays science and vedas are synonymous and also that the thought in vedas calls for rational and scientific thinking).They don’t even stop in there cherishing their ‘beautiful culture’ making claims that scientists like Sir Isac Newton,Albert Einstein were heavily influenced by vedas to think rationally and they none other than vedic things.I would like you to visit that website at least once and you too will be amazed and sometimes ridiculed by their claims.I also wanted to ask you about your viewpoint towards Swami Vivekananda much of the people consider him as their inspiration(especially young Indians).However, I don’t consider him to be so.For me rationalists and scientists are better inspiration than him.He along with Dayananda Saraswati began this mindset of ‘Science in Hinduism’ Isn’t it.I am eagerly awaiting for your reply.

      • Yes. But, I think they were reformists in the sense that they wanted to elevate the levels of superstitions from a very low level to higher levels!
        They are the inspiration for many young people because they have no others to look up to. Probably I would look up to Bhagath Singh or Netaji Subash Chandra Bose or even Jawaharlal Nehru to some extent.The ideological icon that I would really look up to is M.N.Roy who brought up the concept of radical humanism.

  • We could discuss these things when we meet on Sunday the 24th.

    • Sir,
      I am waiting for your reply.I have read an article about status of women in manusmriti.When I said about it to my they said that this is not actually the case because the British made corrupt translations of the scriptures in order to deliberately deceive the people about hinduism.What are your views on it.Please reply.

      • Captain Mandrake

        ** When I said about it to my they said that this is not actually the case because the British made corrupt translations of the scriptures in order to deliberately deceive the people about hinduism.What are your views on it.**

        May be the British did, may be they did not. What do you think is most likely given that the status of women in Hindu society is extremely low compared to western standards even today.

    • Sir,
      I am waiting for your reply.I have read an article about status of women in manusmriti.When I said about it to my friends they said that this is not actually the case because the British made corrupt translations of the scriptures in order to deliberately deceive the people about hinduism.What are your views on it.Please reply.

      • So, the caste system also was made by British, the sati was also devised by them, child marriage was their invention etc. etc. They are also responsible for astrology and a number of such superstitions too!
        Please remember that the British rule in India was supported by the upper castes and they were invited here by the Kshatriyas who were made Rao Bahadurs, Zamindars etc.
        The law banning sati was made by them, the marriageable age for girls was also set by them. Of course they had their own vested interests but were probably better than our own indigenous class of exploiters the Rajas and nawabs.At lease we are communicating to each other because of their language.

        • Sir,
          British also introduced railways to India and they also introduced english medium schools and reformed educational systems.There are many things that we must thank to British for,but most Indians blame British for any bad things in India and take the praise for themselves for any good things.Britih are synonymous with tyranny and oppression for many Indians.Indians consider that India was a great and successful country before the British set their foot on it.They also suggest that the education system of Ashramas(I think its not of any worth)were better than that introduced by the British.Britain was the first nation to be indutrialized.Great British scientists were the pioneers of scientific revolution,the results of which still influence and shape our modern and convenient life and what comes from India’s side-it’s awful lot of bhajans,bhakti movements,theological discourses,Swamis going to USA whose speeches are praised,swamis and babas are praised for their discovery of ‘essence of science in the vedas from eternity'(like vivekananda did it and was admired).This is the Indian heritage and as said ‘Our great contribution to the world’.Sir I want to know your reply about my questions on swami vivekananda and that of the site ‘agniveer’ which I have asked you earlier.Please reply.

        • sir,
          Now I am accepting those scientific theories that are supported by evidence and those that are verified by the scientific method entirely in a secular sense being indifferent to any claims of its religious association.Am I right in my attitude towards science and its achievements.Please reply.

          • yes. That would be the right attitude but please check the quality of the evidence that it is right and logical.

        • Sir,
          Thank you for your reply.I wanted to ask you that is there a possibility that in future science will ever defy its main principle of methodology ie Naturalism(every phenomena has a natural cause).I mean to ask will science ever give a supernatural explanation behind thing(like-Indra deva makes rain fall down on earth.).If it ever does so it won’t be sounding like science at all and it be hard to accept for people like me who are secular in attitude.But what are your views on it.Will and can science,given its very nature,ever give supernatural explanation behind various natural phenomena.Another thing that I want to ask is that will science ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of any supernatural entity(God,Demon,Angel etc).Will it ever affect the methology of science as explained above and will go contrary to our free will to believe in god or follow a religion.Please reply.

          • Science needs evidence if we take the progress of science we see that as it has progressed more and phenomena have been explained.I am sure that our level of understanding of nature has gone up with progress of science.
            I am sure that though everything may not be explained our level of understanding is going to increase to higher levels than what it is now. Is it possible for any one to give a definite answer to that? Science is not like religious dogma which claims to have an explanation for everything. This is all I can say.

        • Sir,
          Please reply to my latest comment dated 17.3.2013.

  • I came across this blog after googling ‘criticism of Indian culture’ (don’t ask why) and am overjoyed to see that there are such articulate and clear thinking students like you in my old college (I graduated in 2009). Very well argued.

    By the way, do you happen to be a member of the literary and debating club (LDC)?

    • Kartik Sreedhar

      Hello :D Thank you for reading and appreciating this. Contrary to what you may think, I am not a member of the LDC (I did try getting inducted).

  • We need much more article like that because these people are not only in BITS but they are all over the prestigious engineering colleges. They are even in IITs and they have particular strategy to attack people and mold there rationalist thought or to make it numb.
    I was the member of ISKCON until my brother who introduced me to rational thinking process. I used to keep faith in these people and accept there pseudo scientific theories blindly.
    The website run by one of the devotee chaintanya charan das http://www.thespiritualscientist.com/ is the most database for pseudoscience theories
    I finally request you to write more articles like that

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. Please see our commenting guidelines

Trackbacks