Sunday, November 22, 2015

An exchange on need for proof/evidence for belief in God/mystical powers

Given below is an exchange I recently had (slightly edited) with an old friend & former software industry colleague going back around three decades to my first software company, Datamatics Ltd., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datamatics_Global_Services, in SEEPZ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SEEPZ), Mumbai, India. [The friend gave her approval to share her part of the exchange publicly].

In the course of an exchange with multiple persons on faith and evidence/proof for faith, the above-mentioned friend/correspondent wrote:

I am ever curious and continue my quest to understand better but will not accept and believe until proven.

It is possible that there is something out there beyond the comprehension of my simple mind. While I respect other peaceful believers, I condemn those who impose their beliefs on others. I would be happy to reconsider my beliefs if a counter is backed by science.
--- end correspondent message extract ---

Ravi response to correspondent:

I can empathize with your view as that was my view prior to me first reading about accounts of mystical power of Sri Sathya Sai Baba which seemed to me to have a ring of truth about them (especially those written by Western authors), and then having SUBJECTIVE experience of mystical power of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, MYSELF. That, over a period of around two decades, changed my view of Avatars and deity-like-figures in non-Hindu religions like Jesus Christ in Christianity, dramatically.

I have given below the contents of a blog post of mine, Swami (Sathya Sai Baba) made Jesus, Rama and Krishna real for me, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/02/swami-sathya-sai-baba-made-jesus-rama.html, dated February 12th 2015:

A Sai devotee told me that Swami, i.e. Sathya Sai Baba, made Jesus real for him. He had read parts of the New Testament earlier but it was not with faith that Jesus was a real person. It was after he came to Swami that Jesus (of the New Testament) became real for him.

I think it is similar for me. In my youth I had doubted the reality of divine powers attributed to Rama and Krishna. Reading about Swami and becoming part of the Sathya Sai fraternity gave me some degree of faith in the reality of not only Jesus, but also Rama and Krishna. Later, as a teacher in his university at PrashantiNilayam, I had direct experiences of Swami's divine/paranormal powers, which has convinced me that Jesus, Rama and Krishna were real figures with divine/paranormal powers. So Swami has made Jesus, Rama and Krishna real for me.

I am now reading leading historian of ancient India, Romila Thapar's book, "The Past Before Us. Historical Traditions of Early North India", http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725232. I just finished reading the chapter on Mahabharata. The next chapter is on Ramayana. What is striking for me about the Mahabharata chapter is that divine powers of Krishna are not considered to be real, even if she considers some part(s) of Mahabharata like the Kurukshetra war to be a historical event. As a historian, I guess, she cannot go by belief like me. What a great difference faith makes in readings of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. The same is the case for the vital book for Christians, The New Testament.

--- end blog post contents ---

I think your view is like that of Romila Thapar, perhaps the most eminent ancient India historian today. [She responded to one or two emails of mine some months or maybe a year or so earlier. So she is still very much active and accessible.] I respect such views (especially as I had similar views in the past), and there is no question whatsoever of me trying to impose my view on folks like you (or anybody else).

The limitation of science in such matters is that it limits itself to OBJECTIVE evidence. But so much of our life deals with SUBJECTIVE experience. The love that one gives & receives to/from one's loved ones in family & friends circle of ours, is not OBJECTIVELY measured, is it? It is a SUBJECTIVE experience. When we read about love in books written by others we do not demand OBJECTIVE evidence before we are willing to consider it as possibly true. As we have had such experiences of love WITHOUT OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE we are able to relate to those SUBJECTIVE experience accounts of others. We do not say that science has not declared them to be proven (scientific fact) and so we will not believe it.

[About Objective & Subjective:
From https://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/thinking/claims.html: "An objective claim is a statement about a factual matter-one that can be proved true or false. For factual matters there exist widely recognized criteria and methods to determine whether a claim is true or false. A subjective claim, on the other hand, is not a factual matter; it is an expression of belief, opinion, or personal preference. A subjective claim cannot be proved right or wrong by any generally accepted criteria."

Ravi: I think the subjective claim definition above should also mention individual emotional experience besides belief & opinion. The emotional experience may not be scientifically established fact but cannot be said to be fiction/false.

And here's a nice and quite easy to understand  "Objective versus Subjective Claims Video", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYjIUC9Ppu4, 10 min 35 secs, published in Aug. 2013. The objective claim considered is "This dog is dressed up like Yoda." and the subjective claim is "This dog is adorable."]

For those who have not had experiences of mystical powers and do not have faith in scripture, I think a balanced stand on these matters related to mystical/supernatural powers mentioned about Rama, Krishna and Jesus, in scripture, is to say that it may have been true or it may have been false/exaggerated. To say that believers in such mystical powers related to Rama, Krishna and Jesus, are stupid, since there is no scientific evidence to prove that they had those powers, is, IMHO, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept that there can be anything grander than what science tells us, and a rather sad fanaticism limiting one's understanding of human experience to the boundaries of science.

You wrote, "It is possible that there is something out there beyond the comprehension of my simple mind." I applaud your stand. That's the right view to take and that, if & when you do encounter mystical/divine experiences, will enable you to appreciate the SUBJECTIVE TRUTH of those experiences.

Now I must also say that it is certainly possible for some mystical experiences to be wild imaginations of hysterical people. And there is a lot of exaggeration that goes on in spiritual and religious circles associated with such matters. But, based on my individual experience and journey in the Sathya Sai movement, I assure you that all such mystical experiences are NOT wild imaginations or hysteria. Now I do not have OBJECTIVE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE for it. You will have to view my statement on the basis of how genuine and authentic a person you view me as, now and in the past. In other words, like in a court of law, the matter boils down to, is the guy a reliable eyewitness or not? Of course, I will not impose my views on you. You are entirely free to not believe my statements on experiences of mystical power :-)

About science: I do have my rather reasonably informed views now about how science itself is not so crisply black-and-white especially the frontier research areas, with competing (sometimes very aggressively competing) schools of thought among leading scientists in these research areas. Science does go wrong at times. However, science has shown that such erroneous "scientific facts" get exposed and reversed later by other scientists. So the self-correcting mechanism of science seems to be not just good, but excellent.

[I thank www.butte.edu and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above small extract from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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