NERD, the campus science magazine, organized a talk by Prof. Narendra Nayak, India’s most active anti-superstition activist, on ‘Are all scientists rationalists too?’ on January 6, 2012, in a jam-packed L8. Winner of the 2011 Distinguished Humanism award by the International Humanist and Ethics Union (IHEU), Prof. Nayak is the President of the Federation of Indian Rationalists Association (FIRA). In his talk at IITK, Prof. Nayak talked about how the lack of scientific temper and rationalism is being used by so-called ‘godmen’ to exploit the masses of India, including the intellectuals and scientists. He said, “My problem is not with God, but with the agents of God, who claim to have been enlightened or incarnated and show ‘miracles’ such as materialization of holy ash from thin air. I can also show all of these miracles, and I have come here so that you can join our movement for rationalism.”
During his presentation, Prof. Nayak produced ‘holy ash’ from thin air and distributed it among the audience. He later produced a 100-rupee note and a chain from thin air, and then questioned —“Can any of your ‘gurus’ or ‘swamis’ produce anything which is greater than the size of two fingers, say a pumpkin? No. Because all of this is just sleight of hand. They hide the object in their fingers, move their arms, distract the audience and then give out these things hidden between their fingers.” He substantiated his claim by showing videos of an eminent ‘god-man’ who hid ash rock or chain in his hands before giving it out to devotees who saw this as a miracle.
Prof. Nayak also showed videos in which many eminent scientists were shown to believe in these miracles, thus pointing out how successful these god-men are in exploiting even the best minds. Thus, the message he gave was to apply the scientific method — the principle of not believing without evidence — in our daily lives too instead of expressing such blind faith. He said, “No one has ever had or can have supernatural powers. The ‘black’ money that is made due to our gullibility in the name of religion is much more than that in politics in India.”
Prof. Nayak also explained how one can walk on burning embers, stand on a bare sword, walk on a bed of nails, put one’s hand in hot boiling cooking oil, all without harming oneself in the least. According to Prof. Nayak, all these tricks can be learnt easily by even a layperson. He has conducted workshops teaching such tricks to people all over India as part of his ‘miracle exposure movement’. He offered to conduct a similar workshop on campus for those interested in learning to debunk so-called miracles, which are most efficiently used as a system of medical quackery all over India.
Prof Nayak’s lecture was under the aegis of the SCoPE (Science Communication and Public Engagement) lecture series, in which eminent people working on the interface of science and society share their views with the campus community. An initiative of NERD, the campus students’ science magazine, SCoPE has brought to campus speakers such as Mr. Gauhar Raza (Expert on Public Understanding of Science), Mr. K P Madhu (Producer, Turning Point), Prof. H C Verma (Professor, IIT K) and Mr. Arvind Gupta (Eminent science toymaker) among others.