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Deccan Herald » Edit Page » Detailed Story
God fails the laboratory test
By Khushwant Singh

Daniel Dennett is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University (US). He looks every inch a philosopher: bald as an egg-shell, long silver white beard and wistful twinkling eyes. He uses his laboratory to test his theses. He does not examine frogs, mice, or insects under a microscope but elusive subjects like God, soul, faith, love, anger, hate and other non-material subjects. His latest book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a National Phenomenon has created a storm of controversy in the United States. He was interviewed by a lady journalist.

She put it to him! “Your book is about religious belief which cannot be dissected in a lab as if it were a disease.”

He replied: “That is a scientific claim, and I think it is false. Belief can be explained in much the same way that cancer can. I think time has come to shed our taboo. People think they know a lot about religion. But they donít know.”

“What can you tell us about god?” she asked.

He replied: “Certainly the idea of a god that can answer prayers, and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world -- thatís a hopeless idea. There is no such thing.”

The lady persisted, “Faith by definition is something whose existence cannot be proved scientifically. If we know for sure that god existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in Him.”

The Professor hit back : “Who do you want to take that leap? Why does our craving for God persist? It may be we need it for something. It may be that we don’t need it, and it is left over from something we used to be. There are lots of biological possibilities.”

“You do not subscribe to the idea of everlasting soul, which is a part of almost every religion,” she asked.

“I certainly don’t believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul,” he replied.

Finally, she asked him if he ever went to Church. He replied, (and I concur with him about going to temples, mosques, and gurdwaras); “something I do to hear the music. Churches have given us great treasures.”

Haryanvi Humour

I’ve often complained about the difficulty of translating humour of different regions in English : it loses most of its rustic flavour. Even when it comes to English you have to tell cockney jokes in cockney accents to get the best: they sound utterly flat in Queenís English. I find the same problem translating Punjabi and Haryanvi jokes. Haryana has a distinct dialect of its own. Most of its humour centres round chaupals - open air meeting places under a big tree where villagers gather in the evening to exchange gossip. They also have their own fun figures. Punjabis have Santa and Banta; Haryanvis have Natthoo and Surja; their elders are Taoo or Chaudhary. Women are often named Rampiyari. Many jokes are similar to the Punjabi based on naive simplicity bordering on stupidity of one or the other character meeting city slickers. I read Rajbir Deswal’s compilation of Haryanvi humour in English. Now I have Shamim Sharmaís Chaupal Kay Makhaul in Hindi. For me reading Hindi is hard enough; to read Hindi in Hissar dialect made the task doubly difficult. However, I managed to to through her compilation and enjoyed it. The one I thought most representative of simplistic rustic humour was in her forwarding letter. ‘Natthoo climbed up a neem tree. A monkey sitting on one of its branches asked him “Natthoo what are you doing up here in my tree?” Natthoo replied, “I have come to eat some apples.” The monkey said: “Natthoo you are a gadha, a donkey! This is not an apple tree; it is a mango tree.” Undaunted by the snub Natthoo replied “Never mind, I’ve brought an apple with me.”

A matter of choice

An English Padre was seated next to a Sardarji on a flight to Mumbai. After the plane was airborne, orders for drinks were taken. The Sardarji asked for a rum and coke, which was poured and placed before him. The flight attendant then asked the church minister if he would like a drink. He replied in disgust, “I’d rather be raped by a dozen whores than let liquor touch my lips.” The Sardarji then handed his drink back to the attendant and said, “Me too. I didn’t know we had a choice".

(Contributed by Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)

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