Today's news paper carried a picture of ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair going for a "pooja" in a temple before the launch of Chandrayaan-1. Whatever little science I know has made me see how big a fraud religion is. But here we have a rocket scientist, who is far more knowledgeable in science, "praying" for the success of a mission. What hope is there for India when its brightest refuse to think rationally?

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Hi Lije. This is exactly the kind of thing that puzzles me as well. It is odd (and disturbing) that some self-taught people can see through the BS while some highly educated academics cannot. I think the current consensus is that the brains of believers and non-believers have fundamentally different qualities in regard to some types of emotion and thought. Madhavan Nair is a good example; another one is Francis Collins, leader of the human genome project.
One of my fellow writers has written about the issue of smart and educated people who believe in irrational ideology here: http://nirmukta.com/2008/09/15/smart-and-superstitious/
I think it has got to do with our society's attitude towards authority. Hinduism has all these "-devobhavas" for teachers and parents where authority figures are elevated to the status of gods and questioning their views is regarded as taboo. Children are indoctrinated from an early age to believe that the ancient texts are the ultimate in authority and are above questioning. That is why we have this bigotry. In my opinion the Indian civilization is biggest success story of browbeating the general populace into mindlessly accepting authority. It's a process which has started over 4000 years ago and is still running quite successfully. In contrast the European civilization has started to question religious authority in the 1500s and maybe that is why most scientists in the west are either agnostics or atheists.
Most surveys from eminent groups of scientists and thinkers like the National Science Academy in America ,or from people who received the Noble prizes in the sciences ,have shown a higher than average probability that the said scientist has agnostic to atheistic belief systems.
A prominent survey shows that 93 percent of scientists who are members of the National Academy of science either disbelieve or are agnostic regarding the existence of god.
I would assume this is the situation prevalent across Europe as well. However when it comes to scientists from the Indian subcontinent ,its highly likely that they would believe in a supernatural god.A similar survey in India on a sample size of 1100 scientists showed that only 25 percent were atheistic or agnostic in religious belief!
with even some believing in Ghosts !I remember reading Dawkins about how our minds can harbor two entirely conflicting world views with apparent ease ,how the rational and irrational can coexist in our heads.

Whats really sad is that we have extremely brilliant people who have the necessary tools already at their disposal to chisel away at the fragments of superstition that is clouding their lives.The tools of rational thought ,science and reasoning with evidence.
here are some scientists who probed into the very basic structures and fabric of our universe ,but couldn't realize the folly of a man in the sky.

Abdus Salam (Noble prize winning physicist )
George Sudarshan( missed the noble prize many times!!Theoretical physicist ,tachyons anyone?!)
Abdul kalam (rocket scientist who is extremely spiritual)

but i guess for every 10 scientists who do believe we have one or two like Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an avowed atheist till his death.I sincerely hope that at least in the scientific community ,the numbers of atheist-agnostic increase ,for what hope do we have for the rest of India ,if the very brilliant of the lot don't even see the light?
i dont think there is hope for india, india has always been the land of superstition.
What I believe you are trying to say is that Atheism does not have it's place in 'modern India'. If you try to research history a little bit, you may find out that India has the oldest tradition of Atheism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_in_Hinduism

Also I doubt that you will believe me but Atheism has more tolerance in India than a lot of other countries. I always thought that atheism was knowledge and do not understand why it would matter if your fellow beings were not atheists unless you were in danger of social/physical abuse because of your beliefs.
I agree with Ravi that atheism has a long tradition in India. I've studied about the old atheistic traditions (which were destroyed over the years, btw). However, my cynicism comes not from the lack of understanding of our philosophical traditions in the past, but from the pitiable state of critical thought in the present.
Very few Indians are aware of what science actually constitutes and postmodernist mystics have convinced the majority that pseudoscientific garbage is real science. India may be more tolerant of atheism than many Islamic countries but I would like to see her be smart, not just tolerant. Also, the tolerance does not extend to freedom of speech in its entirety. Prabir Ghosh has faced 9 assassination attempts. I found this article one my first google search: http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-21749218_ITM
There are many more examples of the dangers that atheists face in India and the trend towards right wing religious fundamentalism is only increasing.
I could go on...the point is that we have a long way to go.
regarding Atheism in India,it seems it just adhered to the basic tenet of atheism ,namely rejection of a creator-god as central to the philosophy ,however irrational rituals and other beliefs existed if i am reading the article correctly (please correct me if i am wrong)
even today most branches of Buddhist philosophy denounces any sort of creator-god but belief in re-incarnation and unorthodox birth of Buddha (apparently he was born from a slit on the side of his mothers stomach ,no doubt retrofitted by his followers later)still hold in some sects.
so if i did not believe in a creator-god ,but felt that patterns of numbers have some sort of mystical control over my life (like some who believe in numerology),would that still make me an atheist?i guess its just a question of semantics
Maybe this is exactly the reason so many definitions of Atheists exist, there cannot be a single definition of an Atheist, it is just how our brain works. To explain this point, have you ever woken up at night and felt that there was another person in the room even when you knew you are alone, sometimes it is difficult to convince our own self. You are what you choose to be, no definition can exist for a person only generalizations.
Ravi,

The definition of "atheist" is not a subjective feeling. Maybe you are confusing "theist" with "supernaturalist". There are rational explanations for the kind of subjective experiences that you talk about. For example, I often experience presences that grab me and lift me when I know that I am partially asleep at night. These experiences are categorized under "sleep paralysis" experiences. These experiences are known by different names in different cultures....most notably, "old hag syndrome". Please look it up.

The actual definition of atheist can be honed down to "one who does not believe in a supernaturalist creator of natural reality". Of course this is my version, but I think most atheists would agree with me.
so just to clarify again, other than the literal dictionary definition of Atheism ,what other behaviors and beliefs are exempt from the atheistic philosophy?
Is it a perquisite to be skeptical ,rational or materialistic? or is that another philosophy entirely?
can i not believe in a supernatural creator ,but simultaneously believe in ghosts?or say souls?would that still make me an atheist
or is atheism nothing but a default position when you employ materialistic evidence based rational thinking to the universe at large?
any thoughts?
"can i not believe in a supernatural creator ,but simultaneously believe in ghosts?or say souls?would that still make me an atheist"

Yes.
This is very common in countries like Japan and Iceland. In Iceland, the majority do not believe in god. However, about 65% believe in elf like creatures that supposedly live in rocks. It is geographical- Iceland has some of the weirdest geological formations in the world. People have a propensity towards superstition. In the absence of a strong religious tradition, such tales of ghosts and fairies become popular.

Also, in response to Ravi again, it is true that our brains have this tendency to extrapolate about the unknown and the mysterious by evoking the fears from myth that we have cultivated. For example, a tendency to make up scary things about the dark has an evolutionary role- to help primitive man stay away from dark places and not roam around at night because he could not see as well as the predators, snakes, poisonous insects etc that could attack him. Darkness was dangerous to people and evolution gave us the capacity for superstitious imagination in order to avoid it. That is why we may wake up at night and feel a "presence" when we rationally know that there is no one there.
when there are 6.7 billion people in the world ,its only inevitable certain fringe elements arise without a modicum of moral decency .I blame humanity's inherent capability of fucking things up.Its a shame.

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