Revealing fact or reinforcing faith: Gravitational waves and religion in Indian society

Whenever scientists achieve a breakthrough in understanding the fundamental laws of nature, it is often accompanied by an age-old question: has science nailed its final nail on the coffin of religion? This debate was reignited in 2016 with the detection of gravitational waves.

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Merging of two black holes [Source: Wikimedia Commons]
On 11 February 2016, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) announced that the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors in the US in Hanford, Washington and in Livingston, Louisiana had directly observed gravitational waves on 14 September 2015. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 on the basis of his theory of general relativity. These waves are ripples in space-time (space and time as a continuum of four dimensions) created by large cosmic events such as the merger of two massive black holes. The 2015 LIGO detection not only confirmed Einstein’s prediction but also strengthened the emerging field of gravitational-wave astronomy, allowing us to observe early cosmic processes, including events that immediately followed the Big Bang. Does the observation of gravitational waves have any significance for understanding the relation between scientific knowledge and religious faith? What are the societal implications for this never-ending debate? Continue reading “Revealing fact or reinforcing faith: Gravitational waves and religion in Indian society”

“Believers without belief”: The curious case of atheist scientists in India

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Representative image [Courtesy: Amazon.com]

The West has always been fascinated with accounts of the East. While there is no unique “Western” or “Eastern” culture, scholars on both ends of the globe have practiced an “exoticisation” of Eastern systems of beliefs and traditions. This may limit the wider engagement with a plurality of ideas prevalent either in the West or the East.

It is this perspective that Renny Thomas brings to the discussion on ideas of rationalism, atheism and unbelief among Indian scientists, in his article Atheism and Unbelief among Indian Scientists: Towards an Anthropology of Atheism(s) published in Society and Culture in South Asia (2016). In this ethnographic account Thomas notes that several Indian scientists referred to themselves as “atheists”. But on closer scrutiny, he reveals that these “atheist” scientists neither subscribe to the “New Age” “scientific atheism” of (say) Richard Dawkins nor have they abandoned the lifestyles and practices associated with the religion of their birth. Continue reading ““Believers without belief”: The curious case of atheist scientists in India”