Pseudoscience & Religion

A Report on the Interactive Session with Narendra Nayak – BITS Pilani K.K. Birla Goa Campus

Much has been said about the culture of ‘lite’ that permeates the psyche of the average BITSian. Yet, after witnessing the proceeds of the much awaited interactive session with Narendra Nayak on the 24th of February, I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated and energised by the enthusiasm and support shown by the freethinkers of our campus. We successfully held the interactive session in the evening at 6:00 PM, after the TEDx conference of BITS Goa. Narendra sir had come to the campus as a TED speaker, and this presented to us the ideal opportunity to hold this session. We were joined by Mr. R.G Rao, better known as Somu, President of the Goa Science Forum that is affiliated to FIRA, and Mr. Sanket Pai, also from the Goa Science Forum. The session began with Mr. Nayak introducing himself to the students. He explained what freethought means, what it represents, and why freethinker societies exist and are being set up in educational institutions all over the world. He also talked about Humanism, and the recognition of Humanism as an accepted and legitimate position held instead of religion. He talked about the beginnings of his work, his mentor Basava Premananda, and his experience in deconstructing the miracles and cures of faith healers in the 60s and 70s. There was mention of how the Beatles were instrumental in making Vedic faith healing popular the height of the counterculture revolution in the west. He narrated an anecdote about his encounter with a swami selling transcendental meditation, and how Mr. Premananda managed to leave the swami flummoxed.
We then went on to watch a series of video clips that sir had brought for viewing. The first was an introduction to Sathya Sai Baba’s popular vibhuti trick, where he materialises ash seemingly out of thin air. Narendra Sir candidly performed this in just after, much to everyone’s surprise. He also materialised a 100 rupee note, explaining how easy it is to fool seemingly credible people. The second clip was footage of a public conjuring by Sai Baba of a gold necklace, that was viewed by the then Indian PM and various important government officials, and was broadcasted on Doordarshan. Controversy over the legitimacy of this miracle led to the video being pulled off air. The final clip was the most important, as it presented the most fundamental harm that faith healers do to their followers. It featured Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swami, who claimed that he could diagnose diseases such as cancer and aids using his crystals, and asked his patients to stop visiting their regular doctors. The fact that people who fervently believe in such pseudo-scientific claims give up on scientifically credible medical advice was cited as the most dangerous outcome of the influence of faith-healers. The latter part of the session focused on interaction. Students actively brought up various popular topics of discussion, and asked Mr. Nayak about his views on God and religion itself, and his worldview as a skeptic and atheist. There were many who held similar views on freethought, and identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. The topic of Hinduism and the Hindu identity also came up. It was heartening to see everyone come out and enthusiastically participate and support the idea of having a freethought group on campus. Initially, we faced many technical problems and administrative hurdles in organising the event. I must add that the event would never have been successful without the active involvement of Saurabh Sharma, Harith Makkapati and Sumedh Kaulgud, as well as our General Secretary for the Council for Student Affairs, Hargun Oberoi. We ended the event by showcasing a logo for the proposed freethinker’s group.
The name of our group is still in discussion, and we hope to finalise a number of things by the end of March. We hope to create a group that is for the BITSian, by the BITSian and of the BITSian. And I think we shall be very successful.

About the author

Kartik Sreedhar


  • I am praveen from one of the top engineering colleges of the country. I feel that while my institutes boasts to be most secular and liberal, there are firmly held cultural and religious biases in administration and faculty here. Please tell me how you contacted narendraji and organized the event, as i would like to organize similar event in my institution and invite him for the discussion

  • More power to efforts like these!

    Here is an important historical consideration regarding the choice of logo and motto though. While Descartes did indeed emphasize ‘doubting all things’ in The Discourse on the Method, the conclusions he reached on dualism and a deity are not quite compatible with freethought as it is conceptualized today.

    “Cogito ergo sum” is itself stated in a metaphysical context where res extensa (matter) and res cogitans (consciousness) are seen as irrevocably separate, and where individual existence is treated as a function of non-material consciousness. A good deal of freethought advocacy is against this very notion of an immaterial ‘soul’, and practically all of the neuroscience that is serious science is based on eliminative materialism. This Yale University clip explains how central ‘eliminative materialism’ is to the current understanding of the ‘mind’.

  • It is heartening to learn that so many young students participated actively and engaged in serious thought on rational lines, questioning pre-conceived notions and positions thay may have taken for granted till now. Best wishes to them in their new endeavour. Debunking charlatanry, eradicating superstition, and deterring the exploitation of human gullibility are tasks that can never end.

  • Cogito ergo sum is totally a stupid name for Freethought group. Rather than be anything about thinking, it purports to establish the existence of an ‘I’. As it is a syllogistic inference it does not even fulfill that.

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