By Prof Sehdev Kumar
Lately there are two groups of people who seem quite at war with each other: one group is of atheists - spearheaded by biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Steven Weinberg, and by many Humanists, Rationalists and alike - and the other of believers, who have been around, in one form or another, clinging to one faith or institution for centuries.
For atheists God is dead; indeed he was never alive. For them, any belief in him is superstition and sheer obscurantism; human ethics and morality have little, if anything at all, to do, with any religion.
In the strident words of Noble Laureate Weinberg: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
As a secular Jew, Weinberg knows well the horrors of Holocaust; if God is good and merciful, why would such horrors be inflicted on the innocent for so long and in such abundance?
In the face of evil inflicted by one people on another - whether in the name of 'ethnic cleansing' or jihads or crusades, or ideology, or nationalism, or imperialism, or out of sheer psychopathic love of war - it would indeed be difficult to imagine a benevolent God who lets such evil go on; He must either be blind, uncaring or simply non-existent.
These, and many more such arguments, hold a great sway against the idea of God however anthropomorphic or abstract. As well, there are a million reasons why and how propagators and custodians of religions and their institutions rationalize the idea of God - of a specific god or a prophet - for their own survival and growth.
I wish the battleground between these two adversaries -- atheists and believers -- were as clearly marked as the arguments suggest. I believe there is whole other realm of life - of human life, and of life in general which is 'a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma'.
A few hundred years of extraordinary achievements in science, several massive attempts to expunge the riddle and to clothe it in 'scientific materialism', the riddle of the spirit has been far from unravelled.
This riddle remains - with aching pain and beauty - not because of the religions but despite them; it did not diminish in the gas chambers or gulags, or under the blade of the guillotine; it wraps itself in a mystery before the raging tsunami, before the on-coming of new life, before the blossoming of a daffodil, before the end of life, when it sometimes cries: "Rage, Rage against the Dying of Light".
What is this riddle of the spirit then?
We have sometimes believed that by untying the knot of the DNA molecule, we will find the secret of life. We think that by knowing the alphabet of life, we will know the story of life and all its myriad characters. We have silenced ourselves into believing that the Big Bang has found the first line of the primordial story: 'Once upon a Time'.
We are over 7 billion human minds on the earth. Despite enormous similarities and conformities, are any two minds the same in their thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams and fears?
With so many degrees of freedom, we have infinite possibilities. With the same alphabet, we create different stories and poems, with different beginnings and different endings. No molecular biologist however astute, and no nuclear physicist however insightful, can create our story. This story is created in every heart alone; it is created at every moment of the day and night, in words spoken or not spoken, to others or to no one, in isolation or in the assembly of friends or strangers.
Why do they imagine there can be 'A Theory of Everything'?
Where are the words before they are uttered? Where are the thoughts before they are expressed in a piece of music or in a poem or in an embrace? Where are the feelings before they are wrapped in warmth or envy, or in disgust or in indifference?
It is thus that beyond the trajectories of planets and the moons, beyond the laws of nature and the constants of physics, through the flights and freedom of consciousness, the universe is made new every moment.
�It adorns its wings of imagination and it wanders in the realm of the supernatural; it imagines what has never been; it dances with the angels and the fairies.
No astronaut is meant to see this dancing universe unless he was the Little Prince: Voici mon secret. Il est tr�s simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."
Science, it is said again and again, is 'evidence-based'. Through reason and logic, experimentation and empiricism, the reality that science discovers is 'objective'; it is out there as a thing, irrespective of who looks at it, or does not look at it. A rock is a rock, an atom is an atom, a neuron is a neuron.
Though most scientists make room for art and poetry, music and dance, where a rock may not be only a rock, a cloud may carry a message, a rose may be more of a metaphor, they still feel uneasy that this different reality - an alternate reality - can have a meaning and truth of its own.
Societies and communities have, for millennia, created different realities about trees and mountains, water and fire, birds and rocks� -- about nature in general, and have imbued them, sometimes, with spirit and mind, intentions and consciousness.
�It is thus that for some a mountain can be 'annoyed' if certain sanctity towards it is not preserved, causing it to erupt and even to shake the earth.
How absurd that sounds to our scientific mind which finds any notion of consciousness in nature unpalatable.
For a long time, in some societies, it was believed that women do not have souls, and thus are devoid of feelings and intentions; or people of certain races don't have intelligence; or that animals don't 'suffer' when they are hurt.
What if we assume for a moment that a rock too has an intention of its own, as does a tree, and a bird, and a mosquito, and a child, and a woman, and a slave?
Would we not look at the universe with another courtesy, with different set of eyes, with new empathy, with love?
For me, this is the beginning of the true religious impulse.
�And an awakening to the face of God.
All else is mush.
A mere distraction.