Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 49

}Chennai Freethinkers{

Annual Report
A compilation of reports of the monthly meets January 23, 2012

}1{
email: chennaifreethinkers@groups.facebook.com 1

internet already contained loads of

The First Meet


26th January 2011
- by Bala Subramaniam

information and it only required that we use the net to obtain required info and of course cross verify from more reliable sources. Bala Subramaniam offered to arrange for a recording studio for those interested in making short films on Rational topics / Science. Adithya continued by saying that the concept of an Atheists meet up is sort of funny as we have nothing in common other than our disbelief in god. ( in this context, Gaurav said that his friend on being told about the get together commented: So what are you atheists going to do? Meet and not pray?) He felt that though we already have the Nirmukta banner under which we can organize ourselves, Nirmukta lacks an identifiable face. He insisted that we should think of identifying a strong person who could act as our spokesperson and who would be able to get the message across and respond to criticism in the media. He offered to provide backend support on this. He recounted a debate on the Nithyananda episode in which he participated in the channel NDTV Hindu and how a young participant commented about the incongruity of Sri Sri Ravishankar preaching simple living and him traveling in a Mercedes Benz. Elanchezhian told that when people asked Periyar what he would do, if god appeared
3

I endeavor to give a report of the Chennai meeting. It would not be in the form of Minutes of the meeting. It is rather a summation of what each member contributed at various points of the conversation throughout the discussion and finally how it was proposed to take the free thinkers movement further. Fifteen people attended the Indian Atheists Meet-up at Chennai today. Bala Subramaniam gave an introduction and talked about the agenda for the day. He mused how relevant the 4 points in the agenda were and also indicated that there was a request to discuss about the inefficacies of homeopathy. He felt that discussing the four structured points would help break the ice and would also help us know where each of us stood so that we could arrive at a consensus to go ahead. He talked about the importance of making available study material on Science in the form of lectures and short videos for those who are interested. Adithya interceded to point out that though this was a good idea, the

before him, Periyar replied simply that he would start believing. Elanchezhian also informed that a new TV channel called Periyar TV which proposed to propagate rationalist ideas and free thought was to be launched in Tamilnadu shortly and felt that it would go a long way in opening peoples minds. It was felt by the participants that if we organize ourselves well, we can get slots in TV channels and spread the movement and the ideas.

posted in Nirmukta. It was agreed that it would be a great idea to get some well known media personality to lend his voice for the video and Adithya offered to get the same arranged provided there were no copyright infringements. Bala Bhaskar also informed that Nirmukta was in the process of obtaining NGO status and this would help us go ahead with our plans. He also expressed his concern that a site called nirmuktafrauds.info was spreading canards about Nirmukta and it was imperative to counter such attempts.

(Tony) felt that the reason for closet Atheists not coming out into the open was because of the stigma attached to the Atheist tag.

Sanjay started on a philosophical note about the perils of consumerism but soon got into the groove. He lamented about the fact that the so called Sri Sri Ravishankar was addressing the IITians , on the topic of climate change. He talked about bringing people like Narendra Nayak and making them address gatherings and exposing frauds perpetrated in the name of religion. Religion is a form of child abuse, he felt, as children are indoctrinated and not allowed to think for themselves. Tony Stanley talked wistfully about how he was inspired by the Turning point programme in Doordarshan of yore and stressed the need for more such programmes. He felt that the reason for closet Atheists not coming out into the open was because of the stigma attached to the Atheist tag. He suggested that instead of calling ourselves as
4

Bala Bhaskar discussed in detail the educational value of the short videos that could be posted in Nirmukta website. He suggested that we should post 10 minute videos on the lines of the web site scienceofscams.com to counter the innumerable frauds such as reiki and so on. He suggested that we could bring out a video of Carl Sagans Pale Blue Dot in tamil; the translation has already been attempted and

Atheists we may adopt a different label. There were a few suggestions Freethinkers, Humanists, Naturalists. Adithya took a dig at the creationists calling themselves as believers in Intelligent Design we too could call ourselves as Humanists. But no conclusion could be reached on this front though there was some inclination to be labeled as Freethinkers. Chakrapani , in a specific response to a report recounted by Aditya that Amritanandamayi , by licking the wounds of lepers was capable of curing them, sarcastically commented that instead of taking sick people to healers like her, she can visit hospitals on a daily basis or rather there would be no requirement for hospitals at all. Harsha pointed out that in any group there would be radical people as well as moderate people and that radical people are needed to take the views forward. He talked about the importance of taking the message to children and told about the fiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and about Lesswrong wiki. He also offered to start a dedicated facebook page to further our cause. Rajendran impressed upon the importance of logical thinking and how to tickle people into thinking. Neethi talked about promoting scientific temper and inculcating critical thinking skills;

he stressed that it was the most important aspect to be looked into. His wife Barathi talked about how she got introduced to Atheism. She also said that teachers could be approached and educated to develop the critical thinking skills of their students. Their daughter Nikita was an avid listener. It was nice to see a family of atheists. Gaurav stressed about the need for inculcating inquisitiveness in children and also about the importance of forming a stable group of freethinkers to provide a sense of belongingness to people who come out of organized religion and look to be part of a group. Geetha talked about the possibility of reaching out to the fence sitters by organizing more such meets and also the importance of equipping oneself with the list of logical fallacies listed by Carl Sagan which would aid in debating with a believer. Ganesh said that we need not bother about hurting the religious sentiments of people as only inciting religious violence is a crime. Adithya chimed in by saying that calling religious belief as stupid is no crime. Ganesh talked about the importance of talking to children about the various creation myths apart from teaching them about evolution. He suggested that everyone should watch the 40 minute video Here Be Dragons which

related to developing critical thinking skills. Ganesh also told about his dream of writing a book for children explaining the various view points and pointing out the fallacies in religion and how he gave up after hearing about Richard Dawkins next book targeted at children as he could never hope to match Dawkins. The group encouraged him to write his book as Dawkins would mostly focus on Christianity and that Ganesh would have better scope given the richness of Hinduism. Of the four points listed in the agenda, it so happened that the participants were more interested in discussing the third point viz., How should the freethinker movement proceed? Goes to show the social consciousness of the group. There was not much dwelling on when they realized that god was imaginary nor whether any of them were closet atheists. As regards the question when, it was broadly agreed that it cannot be pinned down to one moment but was a gradual process. The group by and large decided that it was essential to have a well known face from the media to propagate our views. It was also agreed that school going children have to be inculcated with the ideas of free thought, critical thinking etc. This had to be done

without using any tags like atheism, religion, god etc. so that they or their teachers/parents are not intimidated. It was also agreed to have a web page for the group to interact and exchange views. Those present were: Tony Stanley Adithya Balamurugan Bhaskar Bala Subramaniam Gaurav Himkar Harsha Svrs Sanjay Kumar Rajendran Elanchezhian Chakrapani Geetha TG Neethi Barathi Nikita Ganesh Veluswami

Nirmukta group took the initiative and

Next Steps
30th January 2011
- by Bala Subramaniam

encouraged us to have a meet in Chennai on the lines of other city, we should leave the naming task to them who are actually in touch with the likeminded people of other cities. However, we shall give our opinion. If I am not mistaken, all of us felt the tag

Fifteen people randomly by chance with no particular objective assembled at the caf, with just one common characteristic we have, that is rational thinking. I was enthralled to see the group started discussing what to do, when to do and how to do, even before we could know each other. When I started the introduction with the four questions, we already felt like we all knew each other for a long time. Such is the hurry, because each one of us in our own life would have realized the urgency, and also seen in many places and many times the irrational thinking of people creating hurdles to self as well as to the humanity We have been discussing much on the name for quite some time. I would like to stop here and to just look back and see what actually brought these 15 likeminded people together here. Its the effort of the Nirmukta group which created the Indian Atheist page in FB. As I had mentioned once during our conversation, it is our decision to click Like on that page has brought us here. Since the

Atheist is too narrow with respect to our ideas. We wanted a broader area to apply our rational thoughts against and not stick just to theism. Therefore the word Freethinkers came out unanimously, which we are able to see happening in other city meets too. So my proposal is as follows, I request the other 14 to say whether its comfortable. Request Ajita, Siddharth and others who have been trying to build this for past 2 years to share the guidelines, common goals, agenda, etc if any. Also come out with a common name and structure. Circulate a brief history of all the activities so far done and any future plans drafted. Who are the people playing pivotal roles nationally and globally now? Now coming to chennaites (includes Tony, Harsha and Gaurav ), now that the un-cool activities are given off, lets chill.

We shall start talking about what we shall do and when we shall meet next, where, what would be the agenda etc. A small suggestion, if everyone likes, I shall arrange for a hall with projector, etc and we shall watch some videos like The Four Horsemen (just an example), etc together and just chat for some time informally, discuss science, logic and reason. We shall also invite people of other cities (Pune, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc) if they could join.

respective circles who shared a similar

Second Meet
24th March 2011
- by Geetha TG

outlook. We recognized the importance of having such a group of friends and that made us almost affectionate towards each other. The last time we all met at Cafe Coffee Day, most of us were quiet, trying to gauge the others and were slightly uncomfortable to be part of a distinctly diverse group that was yet to forge a bond. However our exchanges in the virtual world FB in general and Chennai Freethinkers page in particular had helped us to form a comfort zone with regard to fellow members of the group. And so when we met last Sunday with the agenda to discuss 1) how Nirmukta would grow after registering as an NGO and how Chennai Freethinkers would function under the umbrella organisation and 2) the modalities of organizing a workshop akin to that conducted by the Bangalore Freethinkers, we did not take long to open up. Though we could not talk to Ajita Kamal and Sidharth Singh on Skype as planned, we talked to Adithya Manthramuthy of Bangalore Freethinkers about their experiences in conducting the workshop. A good lot of ideas and points were tossed about. Dr.Nagalekshmi and Girish Shankar, a First year B.Tech. student
9

It is universally recognized that we human beings have an innate need to form groups / socialise. Forget about the instantaneous rapport, cutting across all divisions, that men seem to strike while talking about cricket there is definitely more to life than just cricket or movies for most people. I am sure there are groups all over the world dedicated to meeting regularly and discussing about topics ranging from space shuttles to taphophiles discussing their love for cemeteries . There is something appealing to be among likeminded people, where you can unwind to be your natural self, express your opinion without getting curious glances or talk without fear of being branded weirdo. Coming to think of it, those of us who met at 3p.m on Sunday, 20th March are not all that familiar with each other. And nor were we much interested in personally getting to know each other. But we were very comfortable in inter-acting with each other content in the knowledge that in our perspective of life we all shared a narrow band of ideas and views and that there were not many in our

attended the meet for the first time. Dr.Nagalakshmi said we should not project ourselves as atheists conducting a workshop as this might put off people. She also suggested that we could have a session on Alternative medicine. Bala S clarified that the workshop would be to promote scientific temper. Girish came across as an intelligent, soft-spoken person and extremely well read no wonder he was considered to be weird by his peers. He was given the task of roping in students to participate in the workshop.

effervescent doctor regaled us with funny anecdotes and his experiences in dealing with superstitious people. He said he would request Dr.Ezhilan Naganathan of Youth.org to speak in the workshop. Bala B, the creative genius of our group was the sobering effect reminding us of the vision of Nirmukta and also about what was practically possible at this stage. He clarified that there would be no bar in calling our workshop too Yukti and explained that the word meant reasoning or deduction. In fact Yukti could be the title of all the workshops that would be held under the banner of Nirmukta. He also talked about his work in designing the logo for Freethinkers. Bala B also suggested that we could watch documentaries / debates during our monthly meetings, which was agreed to be held at 4p.m on the 1st Sunday of every month.

...for me it was satisfying to mention Richard Feynman and get a broad smile in response.

Sanjay, the big picture guy as usual talked about the ill effects of consumerism the group agreed what he said was perfectly true but reminded him that it was better to tackle one issue at a time. Bala S was the idea man who came up with a lot of ideas, ranging from conducting a series of workshop, holding debates and discussions (in the Music Academy!) and so on and so forth. He too had to be reminded that we are still taking baby steps. Ganesh, the bubbly and

Though all of us had watched several lectures and debates by ourselves, the prospect of watching as a group, Christopher Hitchens taking on Dinesh DSouza or Sam Harris taking on Deepak Chopra was enticing. Personally for me it was satisfying to mention Richard Feynman and get a broad smile in response and also information about his Messenger Lectures from the group members contrast this to getting this response from a friend when I mentioned that Feynman was
10

my favorite scientist You have a favorite SCIENTIST??!! Though a lot of details about organizing the workshop like whether it would be for one day or 2 days, what could be the topics, possible speakers, venue etc., were discussed at length , we did not consolidate and arrive at any concrete conclusion. The ideas thrown up in thebrain storming session would be mulled over and discussed in the forum in days to come. The members of this group are requested to come out with topics and probable speakers for the workshop tentative planned to be held in May. Finally the easy camaraderie of the group where we could, on the one hand, have cerebral discussions about the evolution of religion, the impact of Adi Shankaracharya, Gautama Buddha etc., and crack jokes, talk and laugh on the other hand without much inhibition showed that the Chennai Freethinkers have arrived and bonded well as a cohesive group under Nirmukta. Well then, maybe, just maybe, we Chennai Freethinkers can gain some visibility as a respectable community and thereby hope to contribute something to the cause of Science, logic and reason.

11

Third Meet
4th April 2011
- by Bala Subramaniam

wonderful science where we got lost. Ganesh didnt like me referring the god men Avar (to refer someone respectfully in tamil) he prefers Avan (to refer someone disrespectfully) I should try that (habituated). Could there be different laws of physics in different planetary system asked Sandeep Sanjay beautifully explained (Membrane) Mtheory and said not possible in the same universe, probably its possible in another universe. Adhitya wanted to know what to answer if the irrational asks what is the purpose or meaning of the whole universe. Ganesh said why should there be one? then we said the meaning and purpose are needed only if we view the universe from an anthropocentric point. We also discussed about how the universe can still exist without life. Of course in between we took some tea break discussion on god men. We are still waiting for some development in Nirmukta being formally organized. We exchanged some videos and books digitally before we reluctantly parted.

We missed our fellow freethinker, who used to do the reporting with grace. I cant present as beautiful as that, but will try my best to at least convey what we discussed during this meet in a nut shell. It was pleasure to have Sandeep and Anbalagan the new faces (outside facebook). Also to have Aditya Manthiramurty and Krishnan Parthasarthi of Bangalore Freethinkers with us today. Regarding Chennai Yukti the following were decided - 15 th of May 2011 is the tentative date. - It will be a 1 day workshop including lunch and tea. - A nominal fee shall be charged - We shall seek for some sponsorship. - Sanjay has taken the responsibility to identify the hall Rest of the meeting was fun, we discussed usual Darwin, Dawkins, Dennet etc. Then Isha yoga, Art of living, Ramdev and certain other similar nonsense. Certain controversial topics among us like Politics, democracy, Cricket (for sometime) Then the last few hours, the topic went to the details of cosmology, physics and other

12

Fourth Meet
5th June 2011
- by Bala Bhaskar

Ganesh reminded us of Prof. Narendra Nayaks schedule in Chennai and urged us to attend his meet on the 11th of June at Periyar Thidal at Vepery. Bala B suggested at this point that we have a proper introduction session since there were many first time members . Balu S stared us off by introducing himself. He is an interior designer with a keen interest in science. It was critical thinking that led him to renounce religious beliefs. Neethi is working at Tata Consultancy Services. He mentioned that his wife used to be a believer and would waste hours on end performing rituals. However, he never used to stop her and allowed her to continue with the practice but requested not to compel him to participate. Years later when she reasoned herself into being an atheist, she asked him why he didnt stop her back then from wasting her time. Ganesh noted that one can never covert someone to Atheism. At best we can de-convert the person. Girish is a 2nd year B.Tech student studying Nuclear Science at SRM University. He said he has been an atheist for the past one year. Blaize Leslie, a first timer for CF meet, is a software developer for a French Multinational Corporation, which produces aerospace and defense hardware. He used to be a staunch Roman Catholic Christian for 25 years. He said he had a strong urge to understand the religion and did extensive research into theology. The more he read about Christianity, the more the chances of the Bible being factual quickly diminished. Pretty soon he realized it was man made. However
13

The 4th meet of the Chennai Freethinkers happened on Sunday the 5th of June 2011 at Birla Planetarium, Chennai. We met at 1500 hrs in front of the auditorium. Fifteen members participated in this meet, which is our second highest participation since the inception meeting. Due to initial problems finding a comfortable spot to settle down, it was suggested by Sanjay that perhaps next time someone could scout for a good meeting location a few days before the meet. Once settled down, Balu.S began by giving an introduction about Nirmukta and its objectives. The immediate job of filling up key posts within the group was quickly brought up. After few discussions it was decided that, - Ganesh Veluswami will be President, - Bala Bhaskar will be Secretary and - Balasubramanian S will be Treasurer. It was also noted that in the future, a proper protocol for electing key members should be drafted.

he still wanted to know why it is that people made up such stories. He opined that humans are basically afraid of death and need a mental crutch to hold onto to cope with it. He described how his parents thought it was Satan's work that made him question his beliefs. Anand Boopathy, also a first timer to the CF meet, is an Engineering Graduate. He said he never used to believe in the supernatural. He follows science and since childhood has a habit of questioning beliefs. He reads as many science books as he could and wished to be a scientist. However he said now its too late for that. Others including Bala S and Sanjay said he still has a very good chance of becoming a scientist, as he has just finished his Undergraduate course, and asked him to be hopeful. Anand said that though his parents are believers, they supported his nonbelief. Einstein Deepakraj is a 4th Year Engineering student from a Catholic family. This is his first meet with the CF. When taught about the Big Bang in school, the teachers pointed out to him that science cannot answer what happened before the big bang and that God started the universe off. When he asked who started God off, he was put down and told he would understand as he grows up. He said he used to pray as a child but was never convinced if he is being heard. He even thought he is not good enough and there might be something wrong with him. His family is close to the Church and his grandparents have been helped by the Church to a great extent. He was told that it is because of the Church that he is what he is today. So although he stopped believing in God, he thought perhaps the existence of the Church is a good thing. About a year ago he

saw a video of the "Intelligence Squared" debate on BBC. The motion was The Catholic Church is a force for good in this world. In this classic Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry debate, Fry says that justifying the RCC by the charities is like a robber pleading before a judge that although he committed robbery and murder, he did give his dad a birthday present! This was the final nail in the coffin for Einsteins dissociation with religion.

The more he read about Christianity, the more the chances of the Bible being factual, quickly diminished

Senthil Kumar is a software engineer. He said he developed a habit of questioning traditions and wanted to meet like-minded people. His wife Pradeesha, who is a nurse by profession believes in a higher power although she rejects all religions and
14

traditions and superstitious rituals. Ganesh responded by saying it is not necessary for a freethinker to be an atheist and that Atheism is a subset of Freethought. Veluswami, Ganeshs father is a retired Assistant General Manager of Reserve Bank of India. He said he is probably the only person in the group who has visited all the temples in Tamil Nadu or even perhaps India. This was because whenever he used to visit banks for inspection, the bank manager inevitably would take him to a nearby temple. His wife is a believer and there used to be healthy debates between Ganesh and his mother. He described how the pooja room in their house is unused due to Ganeshs piercing questioning of rituals. He seems to be very influenced by Ganeshs outspoken atheism.

Naveens father passed away a while ago and he does the yearly Hindu rituals. Not because he believes that it is going to help is father in heaven but just to satisfy his living mother. Similarly he takes his children to temple on their birthday on his wifes request. Madhavan is a journalist for The Hindu Business Line. He said we as a group needed some sort of a badge to identify ourselves and for others to recognize us. He couldnt stay with us for long and had to leave early. Ganesh is a pediatrician and has been the most vocal in our group since our first meet. He narrated an incident where his Chief Doctor was once going through a rough patch and asked him if she should convert to Atheism to see if it works. He then explained to her Atheism is not an equal alternative set of beliefs to religion that she can simply switch to. It is a way of looking at reality which one has to reason themselves into. He said people accept irrational beliefs because they are comforting and easy to grasp. For instance a patient with a kidney stone is more likely to believe a Homeopath who says he can cure him through Homeopathic solvents than a Medical Doctor who says the stone is large and needs to be operated on. He quipped that in this case the Homeopath may be right as Homeopathic medicine are nothing but water and consuming water is essential to erode kidney stones. He emphasised the need of conveying the awe and beauty of science to the masses but conceded that doing so in a style that appeals to the general audience might prove difficult. Bala B is a visual effects artist working for a production studio. He used to be an
15

...it is not necessary for a freethinker to be an atheist. Atheism is a subset of Freethought.

Naveen is an Orthopedic Surgeon and Ganeshs friend. He opined that people need role models in life and most of the role models we see today are theists. He is a fan of Sachin Tendulkar and was distraught to see him weeping in front of Satya Sai Babas corpse. He also opined that change should come from childhood and we should stop threatening children using irrational beliefs like ghosts and gods in order to make them behave.

apathetic believer for most of his life. Few years ago he met with a road accident and was hospitalized for a few months. During his hospital stay he used to get religious groups visit him everyday to pray for him. This annoyed the Doctor who banned all visitors citing infection risk. Subsequently all the religious paraphernalia like pamphlets, offerings etc., were collected by the nurse and delivered to him in the evening every day. One day there was a copy of The God Delusion within the pile. He read it and started questioning his beliefs one by one. Pretty soon they all fell like dominoes. Rajendran is a trainer at Infosys. He is a NeuroLinguistic programmer. He was interested in psychology which led him to study religion. He realized too much of it was made up. He opined that all immoral activities in society are committed by religious people, to which Ganesh replied saying one cant generalize like that. He quoted Steven Weinberg saying Good people will do good things. Bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things, it takes religion. Blaize opined that even when helping people, they thank God instead of thanking the person helping. When asked why, they say God is working through you. Ganesh replied that Blaize should slap that person and say God slapped you through me. Ganesh narrated a similar incident where he gave a lift to someone in his car. Once inside the car the person thanked God for sending him. Ganesh did a U-turn and dropped the person where he picked him up.

concept. He said all religions are rife with misogynist ideologies. He has a keen interest in physics. He emphasized the need for combining sociology with science in order to bring about change. He also opined that we as a group needed to have a political agenda. The introduction session lasted a good hour and a half with stories of personal journeys and humorous anecdotes. The security person at the park requested us to leave as it was well past their closing time. We took a few photographs and exchanged contact details. We tried to record the session but due to lack of proper audio device the sound quality was pretty bad. The next meeting will be on the 11th at Periyar Thidal for Narendra Nayaks speech. Everyone was requested to be present and to bring their family and friends.

Sanjay is an Environmental Engineer working on the Climate Change program. The amount of poverty and inequality in society made him turn away from the God
16

Fifth Meet
11th June 2011
- by Geetha TG

by Babu Gogineni and by Dr.Ezhilan Naganathan.

On 11th June 2011, the Chennai Freethinkers and The Rationalist Forum of Tamil Nadu jointly organized a meet titled Science Behind Miracles. Around 70 people attended the meet, which was held at Periyar Thidal in Chennai. A TV film crew for Channel Nine in Australia was filming the event as part of their 60 minutes program. While the crew was setting up their equipment, Professor Narendra Nayak explained about his experience over the past few days filming at Vaitheeswaran Temple and exposing Naadi Astrologers.

Babu Gogineni talked about Satya Sai baba and also Baba Ramdev relying on modern medicine when needed. He described a particular news in the inner pages of the days Times of India about two new elements having been added to the periodic table. He described the profoundness of the news, which was sidelined by other news about Baba Ramdev on the front page. He emphasized the importance of the clause in the Indian Constitution about developing scientific temper among citizens. Dr.Ezhilan described his experience with irrational beliefs among his patients. He outlined his work with Youth Organisation that he set up to spread rationalism and critical thinking in rural Tamil Nadu through street corner theatre and drama. He said, after some demonstrations, the members would collect horoscopes and burn them in front of a temple. He noted that till date he has not experienced any notable resistance. He conferred that rural Tamil Nadu was already primed for rationalism by Periyar, however it was difficult to get the message across to the urban middle class. He also described his work of reaching out to schoolchildren in the suburbs and helping them to think rationally.

The program began with a welcome address by Prince Ennares Periyar of the Rationalist Forum. This was followed by a speech by Justice Paranjothi, who was invited to preside over the event. He talked about the rationalist movement in Tamil Nadu and the practice of not affixing the caste to an individuals name, which is being followed in the State. The gathering was then addressed

17

This was followed by a demonstration debunking miracles by Prof. Narendra Nayak. He produced ash and a chain apparently out of thin air. He lit a camphor and placed it in his tongue. He then had an audience member perform the trick. He also showed video clippings exposing Sai babas miracles and

Babu Gogineni emphasized the importance of the clause in the Indian Constitution about developing scientific temper among citizens.

another godman advocating crystal-gemmusic therapy. Bala Bhaskar and Sanjay introduced themselves as office bearers of Chennai Freethinkers and described our agenda and requested people to join our monthly meets. Bala Subramaniam explained what freethinking means and told about Nirmukta and its activities. Ganesh proposed the vote of thanks.

After winding up the meeting, there was an interactive session between members of The Rationalists Forum and Chennai Freethinkers. This took place for about an hour at the Periyar Museum. It was inspiring to sit amidst the photographs and artifacts of the great rationalist Periyar and discuss how the two groups can come together and move forward. The members of The Rationalists Forum suggested that we could provide inputs and content for their magazine Rationalists and for their childrens magazine. All of us agreed that children should be our target group and that we have to invoke scientific temper in them. Finally they promised to invite us to participate in their activities and requested us to do the same.

18

Babu Goginenis Speech


11th June 2011
- by Babu Gogineni (International Director, IHEU) during the Chennai Freethinkers and Rationalist Forum meet.

talks about secularism, and whose article 51AH exalts all the citizens of the country to promote social reform, scientific temper and humanism. I dont believe there is any other constitution in the world, which is so heavily in favor of the ideals and the values that we stand for. Yet science, humanism and social reform are in peril today in our country. Take for example the response that was given by the Government of India, which said, that Jyothishya saastra and Vaasthu were ancient sciences. We ask, can science ever be ancient? We wonder, that the Government assisted by tens of thousands of technical workers, (because India is supposed to have the largest pool of technically qualified scientific workforce), that one has the temerity, that one has the courage, that one has such scorn for modern scientific achievement that one should say that these are ancient sciences. Science is ever fresh. Yesterdays philosophy of science, yesterdays conclusions of science, are already challenged by todays discovery. That the earth was a sphere was unknown to those who talked of vaasthu saastra, And yet it persists. That the sun is a star was unknown to the Jyothishyas, who in their navagrahas dont even have the earth, and they have two imaginary planets. And yet, the country that has the largest population of scientists says, that anti science can survive. They are happy to tolerate nonsense. The other rude shock that people in India got was this extraordinary case in Gujarat when a fellow rationalist and humanist approached the High Court pleading that there cannot be any religious functions performed in the High Court of the state, as that would take away from the secular tradition of the state, because bhoomi pooja was conducted in the premises of the High Court. The High Court considered the matter and said, that the petition was a frivolous one because the
19

Dear friends and colleagues. It is indeed a great pleasure to be amongst you. Just a few months after Geetha mentioned in Bangalore that there was the Chennai Freethinkers Group, there is this opportunity to be amongst you. I acknowledge the hard work that went into bringing this meeting together, Dr.Ganesh and everyone else who was involved. In the last 12 months, people in India have had a few rude reminders, that the spirit of science and the principles on which science is based is under serious threat today in Independent India. The Mumbai High court received a petition from an atheist, asking the high court to ban astrology and Vaasthu. The High Court considered it and asked the Government of India to respond. The Government of India submitted an affidavit and said, that vaasthu and Jyothishya Saasthra (astrology) were ancient sciences and therefore the Government could not regulate them. This is the response from the Government of India which functions under the constitution of India whose very preamble

prayer made to the earth was a secular activity and fined our colleague Rs.20,000 for having wasted the time of the court.

The third rude reminder is what happened when Sathya Narayana Raju, also known as Sathya Sai Baba died over 20 days in a hospital. Clearly he died because he was being given medicine. Sathya Sai Baba would have lived if he had been administered Vibhuthi. The medicine that he gave to people around the world, was not the medicine he wanted, or was administered to him. We had the additional solicitor general of India who made a public statement saying he had a dream and in his dream the dying baba told him that he had deposited his will in a silver box and he asked everyone to go into Yajur Mandhir (Sai Babas residence) and open the doors and go into Sathya Sai Baba bedroom and find that box, open it and find Sathya Sai Babas last will and testament. People went, and discovered that there was no silver box and there was no testament. Look at the comedians in public life. Look at what is happening today in complete and utter disregard to the very basic principles on which science is based, that there must be evidence based on which we must come to conclusions about facts. That is the foundation of science. That any claim about the reality of something can be questioned, examined and verified. And yet, that seems not to matter anymore in our country. If it did, why would we have state government

after state government after state government performing varuna poojas and varuna yagnas to make it rain? Why would we have ministers for endowment and religion, perform Shaanthi poojas on the day there is an eclipse in the country? In fact, two years ago, when there was an eclipse, and the minster for endowments in Karnataka ordered all the temples to be closed and asked special prayers to be performed to ward off the evils of the solar eclipse. When he was asked, what was the logic of his doing it, he said, I am not the minister for science! He is the minister for superstition. People who are in positions of power today, who have a responsibility to uphold the high values and the great ideas in the Indian constitution are failing it every day.

Clearly he died because he was being given medicine. Sathya Sai Baba would have lived if he had been administered Vibhuthi.
Its in this context that people like us who work to promote the spirit of science, to popularize the great achievements of science have to fight. Todays Times of India announces I am not interested in the thamashas of fasting by babas. Im talking about what was in the inside pages of the TOI. Two more elements have been added to the periodic table. Man, the human being has discovered two more things about the universe, in a country, which still sticks with the panchaboothas. 117 elements are there, but these fellows know only five and it is on the basis of these five they construct their worldview.

20

The ones who have no idea about modern medicine are the ones who are now victimizing Indian society by peddling their wares, these snake oil charmers who tell you that by drinking Lauki ka juice, you can cure yourself of cancer. Its these people who will tell you, not only they can tell you, they can sell the art of breathing as the art of living and make money out of it. Who said human breath has no power? Human breath created an empire whose turnover is 439 crores of rupees for the double Sri Ravi Shankar. And who told you that bitter gourd juice and bottle gourd juice had no power? It has created empire worth 1100 odd crores of rupees in our country. No, it is not the power of Lauki ka juice. It is not the power of breathing. It is the strength of ignorance and stupidity. India has been caught in this terrible cesspool of ignorance and superstition. And even the scientists are not willing to defend their worldview. Indians are the victim of a life denying superstitious religion and the constitutional functionaries who are enjoined to uphold it are the ones who are attacking the constitution day in and day out and are defeating the principles that uphold a modern society. It is a matter of life and death. Near Hyderabad, one of the High tech centres of India, 50 kms from the high tech city, you have witch-killings. Human beings are suspected to have special powers, which can hurt or harm your neighbors. They see a piece of cut lime, and a bit of turmeric, and a dead chicken. These are things that each of us uses in our kitchen in our homes. In most home the Sunday does not go without chicken. When it is hot people drink limejuice, and they put chilly in their curries. And yet, chilly, chicken and lime can kill people, and it IS killing people. In a country, which uses the concept, the idea of the material nature of existence, we come into the situation that India is today. People can sell us the technique of breathing. Some tell us that they can give us bliss by hugging us. If

there are some maathas who can hug, there are some swamis who can kick.

Indians are the victim of a life denying superstitious religion and the constitutional functionaries who are enjoined to uphold it are the ones who are attacking the constitution day in and day out.
One fellow told us that he can teach us the art of flying. And starting from John Lennon and the others, the Beatles, Pundit Ravi Shankar, and all the enlightened people of the world, the educated people of the world, believed that just by holding your breath you could fly. Transcendental Meditation it is called. And yet the same flying yogi bought for himself a helicopter. Why? If he could fly why did he need the helicopter? You have these Sarva Sangha Parithyaagus, the ones who have given away everything in their lives, who have led an ascetic life, avowed to do that, even changing the name by which they were born they require, like in the case of Rajneesh, 54 rolls royces. Like in the case of the great Sathya Sai Baba, who is unique because Sai Baba told us, that he is not an avatar, he is god himself. He said, Jesus was a holy man, he may be the son of God, but I am god himself. When Gods corpse was in the hospital for 20 days and the whole country was doing a tamasha. That tells us where the country stands, and that tells us, we have to awaken ourselves and the others, and what better way to do that than moving onto Prof.Nayakji who has been educating people all over the country, the length and breadth of the country, by exposing the ignorance behind superstitions. Thank you very much.
21

some time to set up the projector, screen and

Sixth Meet
18th July 2011
- by Bala Subramaniam and Geetha TG

camera. Slowly the room filled up and we had to ask for extra chairs! There were about 25 of us and quite a few new faces at that. Balasubramaniam gave a brief introduction and thankfully made the point that those who were making the presentations were not experts but just wanting to share what they know and what they feel passionately about. Reminded me of Carl Sagan saying in his 'Demon Haunted World': Not explaining Science seems to me perverse. When you arein love, you want to tell the whole world.

The 6th Chennai Freethinkers Meet was an experiment. For six months, since that first meeting in January 2011 we have been taking baby steps meeting every month, sometime at the beach, sometime at the Planetarium and if there was nowhere else to go, we had a safe haven Balasubramaniam would welcome us to his office. And so our journey went on - not knowing each other too well but sure that somewhere we shared a common world view and a passion for logic and reason. There would be 5-7 of us attending the monthly meetings and whenever the figure reached double-digit, it was a cause for celebration. It was not that after six months we had formed a solid cohesive group and were confident in taking the plunge to organize a full fledged programme with presentations et al; but we did take the plunge and oh what an experience it was. We had booked a Hall at Hotel Park View (Hotel Park, not too far into the future, Srinivasan Madhavan). The meeting was scheduled for 3p.m but we took

We started the programme with an invocation to Science, actually, by watching Alom Shahas video Why is Science important? This was followed by a skillful and informative presentation on Social Equality by Dr.Ezhilan Naganathan of Youth.org. Geetha Tg made a presentation on Does Science rob us of our Sense of Wonder? Dr.Ganesh Veluswami made a thought-provoking and entertaining

22

presentation on Is Astrology a Science? Sanjay Kumar made an interesting presentation on Is Quantum Physics a mystical subject? Bala Subramaniam made a neat and scholarly presentation on Is Evolution a theory or a fact? Bala Bhaskar could not attend the meeting and make his planned presentation as he had to go outstation on an urgent work. Geeta Charusivam has written a wonderful review of the presentations and has given highly useful suggestions which I assure would be taken into account in the future. This was followed by a lively discussion and what was heartening was that first timers like Geeta Charusivam, Johny, Johnson and Habeeb Rehman participated and put forth their views. When Johnson detailed the questions on Evolution that he frequently faced from theists and wanted to know how he could tackle them, he was asked to check out talkorigins.org from where he could get the resource material. When Johny said he was an agnostic and he was looking for answers to several questions he was encouraged to continue with his search for truth. It was a touching moment when a member confided that he was estranged from his family as a consequence of his atheism and the group responded saying that he had a family in them and that he could ask for any help any time. The discussion went on for more than an hour

and it was nearly 8p.m when we reluctantly wound up the show- but not before Udhav Naig talked about the elephant in the room The Rebecca Watson-Richard Dawkins episode. Of course each one of us held different views and Sanjay pointed out that the incident proved that for the world atheist community, atheism might be the only common thing and it could be seen that some of us were sexists, racists, etc., He was told that we do not claim to be Chennai Atheists but Chennai Freethinkers and hence we need to base our world view only on science, logic and reason.

It was a touching moment when a member confided that he was estranged from his family as a consequence of his atheism and the group responded saying that he had a family in them and that he could ask for any help any time.

23

I do not know if the meeting could be termed a grand success. Those making presentations were obviously novices we fumbled for a word here and rushed with our words at times. But the experience has made us more responsible we were able to point out the strength and weaknesses in our presentations to each other and we resolve to take steps to better ourselves. We realize that we were facing a mostly sympathetic crowd this time but in future we may face a hostile crowd and it is then our thorough preparation would matter - to face the onslaught of criticisms and counters. But then we have already started planning for our next meet - Neethi Seenivasagams family (their daughter is the youngest freethinker in

our group) has extended an invitation to hold ourAugust meeting in their house. And so we make plans for tomorrow - how we can ask the obviously intelligent youngsters like Einstein Deepak Raj, Girish Shankar, Blaise Leslie, Johnson, Udhav Naig, Johny and Habeed Rehman to either make presentations on various topics or share more about their experiences; how we can ask Geeta Charusivam to share with us her experiences in social activism and devise means to reach out to children; how we can benefit from the expertise of Dr.Jagan and Dr.Nagalekshmi and so on. Thank you, Chennai Freethinkers we sure have a long way to go, but the journey promises to be fun and interesting.

24

us feel comfortable and for overwhelming us

Seventh Meet
14th August 2011
- by Geetha TG

with their hospitality what with the tasty snacks and fresh coffee. While we expected around 10 to 12 members, it turned out that 22 of us attended the meet. A brief on those who joined us for the first time: Karthikeyan Guruswamy, is an IT professional. He said he was brought up in a family of non-believers. He found the group on Facebook and decided to attend the meeting to meet like-minded people. Ramya, his wife, is also an IT professional and a non-believer. She said they had a secular marriage without any priest chanting mantras. At this point Ganesh regaled us describing how his marriage, due to family compulsion, took place with a priest chanting mantra, though he made it a point not to repeat the mantras, as is customary. In fact, for as long as the priest was chanting the mantras, he was listening to Christopher Hitchens God is not Great audiobook in his iPod. Basil Joseph is a Keyboard player and runs a piano school. He is an online friend of Habeeb Rehman who was present in the last meet. He found the discussion on our Facebook page interesting and decided to join us. He expressed his desire to learn more. Soorya Sriram is a final year engineering student at SRM College. He introduced
25

If the Chennai Freethinkers Meet that took place last Sunday (14.8.2011) has to be described in one word, it would be this: Substantial. Whichever way you think about it - the number of people who attended the meet, the amount of discussion that went on, the quality of contributions that were made or the involvement of the new members to the discussion - I am sure that key word would do justice to it. It was a crucial meet in many ways after progressing gingerly for a few months since January 2011 we attempted a programme with a few presentations last month and it turned out well.

The present one was our 7th Meet and the response to the call for this meet, we thought, would decide whether our last programme could be counted as successful. While we were having our meets in coffee bars, offices and other public places so far, this was the first time a member graciously offered to host the meet for this month. And that was a good sign. Many thanks to Neethi Seenivasagam, Bharathi and their daughter Nikita for making

himself with aplomb saying he was like Richard Dawkins, a militant atheist, although he was brought up in an orthodox family. It was interesting to know what turned him towards atheism a five day training session on Vedas under the erstwhile seer of Kanchi when he was all of eleven years old. He gave a few examples of the things he was taught there.

faint on his way to the Sun god, every time they perform the ritual. The reason for the black thread worn by some Hindus around the waist, he was told, was to separate the good parts of the body from the bad parts. Ganesh noted that time and again it has been proved that a thorough study of scriptures is what is required to make a person see truth and adopt the rationalistic way of life. Blaise added that though he had studied Evolution and watched many documentaries what made

In fact, for as long as the priest was chanting the mantras (during his marriage), he was listening to Christopher Hitchens God is not Great audiobook on his iPod.
First was the reason for wearing the poonol, the sacred thread that Brahmins are supposed to wear. He was taught that wearing the poonol gives him the right to be a warrior for God. Then there was the reason for performing Sandhya Vandhanam. He was taught that there is an epic battle between the demons and the Sun God. Since the demons are many and the Sun God is just one, anyone who does Sandhya Vandhanam is helping the Sun God by making one demon

him an atheist was a thorough study of the bible. Every time a supernatural explanation is given to a wonderful and well understood natural phenomenon, it offends our common sense noted Soorya. He also enlightened us about a new Passport Ganesha that has been added to the list of existing Ganeshas. His bubbling enthusiasm was infectious and provided a lot of lighter moments during the entire session. Arulprakasam runs a small business and has been an atheist from childhood. He came to know of this meet through his son, who could not attend as he was busy elsewhere. He was very knowledgeable and provided good perspectives and told us about the impact Periyar had created in Tamilnadu. He shared with us his difficult experience in getting his rational views published in a newspaper. His daughter Yamini is studying at the National institute of fashion technology and is

26

also an atheist. She mentioned how she is looked down in college by her friends and teachers when she says that she doesnt believe in god. She was told that being an atheist is nothing more than a fashion statement. When she objected to the slogan God helps those who help themselves for a College programme she was opposed and silenced. However she said there are a few like-minded people among her friends. Balu outlined the structure of the Nirmukta and its objectives to the new members. He also explained the word Freethought and said that it is not necessary for freethinkers to agree on every topic. However it is important that we argue using logic and reason. Ganesh said meets such as this are an opportunity to bring together like-minded people. Balu announced that Habeeb had setup a Freethinkers group within the Madras Christian College since the last meet and has around 30 members already. Both Ganesh and Anbalagan agreed that there are a lot of freethinkers who simply did not know that such organisations exist. Anbalagan said a few of his friends were pleasantly surprised to find out about the Chennai Freethinkers group. The main agenda for the meeting was to plan for a workshop on October 1st and 2nd when Prof.Narendra Nayak would be in the city. A brain storming session for possible venues

and speakers ensued and we decided to form a core committee and assign responsibilities to members to organise the workshop. The topic of registering Nirmukta as an NGO in Chennai was also discussed. Balu had taken certain initiatives in this regard and it was decided to discuss the issues with the Nirmukta central command.

...a five day training session on Vedas under the erstwhile seer of Kanchi when he was all of eleven years old, turned him towards Atheism.

Thanks to Habeeb who reminded us that the new comers should be made to voice their thoughts lest they get bored this was when the meet was in danger of being hijacked by us regulars who could not contain our enthusiasm. The first timers were then asked to share what they were looking for in this group and what they would want to be part of this group. Karthik mentioned that he was really drawn in by videos on evolution on the Internet and would like to learn more. Bala B suggested that we create a central media

27

library from where members can borrow documentaries and lectures on DVDs. Anbalagan wondered how we could reach out to others who have not given much thought to such big questions. Balu agreed that our method of outreach should be different for ingroup and out-group. Bala B also said that once we have enough resources we could even produce our own videos in Tamil, which would reach a wider audience. Habeeb suggested to the students in the group to start a Freethinkers group in their own institutions and address issues such as dress code and teachers propagating religion. Johnson who evinced keen interest in learning about Evolution said he had benefited from the resources pointed out to him in the last meet. He also said that he was studying some of the religious texts as he felt that it was necessary while debating theists. Basil Joseph said he was not an atheist and that he was confused about a few things. He described himself as a seeker and he found the social purpose of religion beneficial. He said he had not studied much Science. When he was at a loss to explain what exactly he was seeking, Balu suggested that he could replace the word seeker with learner. Girish recalled Dawkins saying that Religion was an evolutionary misfire. Neethi explained that uncertainty in life was part of nature and that

religion is not required for people who were not guilty about their past or anxious about their future. He also paraphrased the need for religion as explained by Desmond Morris in People watching namely the desire for immortality, the need for an eternal parent and the urge to surrender to a clan leader. Basil raised a specific question, I am a seeker. Is it in harmony with this groups outlook? If I say I read Paramahamsa or Ramana Maharishi is it wrong? Many members eagerly answered this and the sum of it was that we were not against any particular person; we just do not accept attributing divinity to any of them. We simply do not believe in any supernatural stuff. And once again Science was the best method for gaining knowledge. The meet generated a lot of discussion and sharing of ideas. There was not much structure in the discussion but Balu took upon himself the job of a moderator to ensure that everyones voice is heard and nobody would feel left out. We reluctantly wound up the meeting at 6.30 p.m after profusely thanking the hosts and left hoping to meet soon. And so we find ourselves at crossroads now. We had made a commitment while forming this group and we have been working towards it. Now we see that more and more people are
28

joining us and our responsibility is growing. It would no longer be suffice to share our personal experiences or discuss our thoughts amidst like-minded people though it definitely has its place during the meet. We now have to carry the movement forward for which we need to strategize now. This strategy would fall under two different categories: 1) How to gather people who are already in line with our thinking In this group we need to share resources; learn from each other; help each other in accessing material to further our knowledge. This is a very important activity as we have seen in the last two meets that members have come up with specific queries regarding improving their knowledge in specific areas. So we need to build some kind of database where we can categorize and store the material that can be pointed out to members who are in search for knowledge. 2) The other category is to reach out to people at large. In this regard all of us agree that it is the younger generation we need to address. For now we can ask the student members in our group to bring in more students for the meetings and workshops. But we also have to reach out to school students. And then there is also the question of making an impact in the media whenever there is a superstition doing the rounds we need to be

the voice of sanity. Of course none of it would bear fruit immediately but then we realize that and we need to be making a mark somewhere and therein lies our hope. I would like to end this brief by sharing what Greta Christina has to say in her recent blog post about attending a Freethought conference: (http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ greta_christinas_weblog/2011/08/midwesthumanist-and-freethought-conference.html) But I've been to a lot of conferences now... and these conversations among old friends and new are almost always the best thing. You never know when the good ones are going to happen: ...... But whenever and wherever they happen, they are worth it. This movement is becoming a real community; this community is becoming an extended family. It makes me happier than I can say.

Isnt it true for us too? What say Chennai Freethinkers?

29

Day 1 was an in-house programme. The

Eighth Meet 2nd October 2011


- by Geetha TG

morning was spent in an Institution for Children with Special needs.The group interacted with the children who cheerfully sang, danced and played games. In the afternoon there were mentoring sessions with Prof. Narendra Nayak and Mr.Babu Gogineni . Prof. Nayak shared his experiences in spreading Rationality traveling the length and breadth of the country, and the problems faced by him. Mr. Babu explained what Humanism was all about. He also gave valuable suggestions on how to make presentations in the media. A Symposium on Science and Secularism

ThinkFest 2011

Nirmukta, which was started as a website and online community, has given those of us in Chennai a platform to meet and interact with people who share our world view. We have been meeting every month for almost a year now. We finally decided to bring in experts on Science and Secularism to talk to the general public. Yukti organized by Bengaluru Freethinkers was an inspiration for this meet. The result was Thinkfest 2011, an event organized by the Chennai Freethiners on the 1st and 2nd of October.

was organized on October 2nd 2011. Dr.Ganesh gave a detailed introduction about Nirmukta and its objectives and how each topic chosen by the speakers was relevant to the present scenario. Prof. Dayanandans talk was on Chimpanzee is our cousin; so is the neem tree. He weaved magic with his words and portrayed beautifully the rich tapestry of interrelationship between all life forms on earth. The audience listened in fascination when he explained how mitochondria, the energy factory in animal cells, had evolved from bacteria; how variation in skin colour in

30

human beings had evolved as recently as 60000 years ago. He took us to the 19th century bringing before our eyes young Darwin embarking eagerly on his voyage, visiting the Galapagos islands, collecting specimens while travelling for five years, and upon returning, carefully collating and analyzing before publishing his seminal book On the Origin of Species. He made us marvel at the fact that Darwin arrived at his theory without any knowledge of genes. Then he took us farther back in time to Africa where Homo sapiens evolved and then spread to other continents. He vividly painted the picture of our ancestors trudging Out of Africa. He explained what the evolutionary bottleneck was and how the entire world population had probably descended from a small group of about 5000 individuals. He also showed some stone tools that were fashioned by our ancestors who lived thousands of years ago around modern Chennai. It was a comprehensive and engaging session that sparked of academic brilliance yet couched in simple terms for all to understand with ease. The meticulously prepared slides and the arresting photographs of nature kept the audience engrossed. Later there was an interactive session in which the audience came up with interesting questions and the session ended with the

audience wanting to hear more lectures from Prof. Dayanandan. The next talk was by Prof. Narendra Nayak on the topic of Alternative Medicine. He explained the various alternatives available including homeopathy, crystal therapy, gem therapy, and so on, and explained how they were all different types of quackery; he showed videos of conmen nonchalantly explaining to gullible people how their treatments work. He also showed videos of psychic surgery which left the audience in splits. The doctors in the audience added to the presentation by sharing their experiences and cautioning people about the dangers of alternative medicine. Prof. Nayak stressed on the fact that there is no alternative medicine there is only Science or Evidence based medicine; he talked about self limiting diseases and the placebo effect; he said it is a myth to consider alternative medicine as cheap and harmless.

31

32

The session was an eye opener to many members of the audience who had thought alternative medicine was safe and with no side effects. The first session after Lunch was by Mr. Babu Gogineni. He explained what Humanism means and who could be called a humanist. While Atheism is just a conclusion and Rationalism is an approach Humanism is a life stance and a philosophy he said. He suggested that freethinkers should take up causes and explain their stand to the public. For example, he said we can support women who want to visit the Sabarimala temple in Kerala which by tradition does not allow women to enter. This led to an agitated discussion in which many members of the audience expressed their disagreement saying that we should not support visiting temples when we ourselves do not believe in the existence of god. Mr. Babu replied that Humanism is supporting ones right to have a religion or not have a religion, and when there is a fundamental inequality it is our duty to address it. Morevoer, this step would shake the foundation of religion and weaken it ultimately. It is a healthy sign that the debate generated that day was continued by the members in Facebook. Can giving aid to welfare institutions affiliated to a particular religion or fighting for equality within religion be considered as pre-competitive?

Mr. Babus talk was, to describe in one word, poetic. The last session of the day was Science behind Miracles by Prof. Nayak. He demonstrated with utter ease several miracles attributed to the divine power be it materializing holy ash or gold chain or currency; he showed the trick of placing burning camphor on tongue. Then he showed videos of Sai Baba poorly performing cheap tricks which were caught beyond doubt by the camera. The audience were surprised by the cognitive dissonance of several educated people who fell for such tricksters. Due to lack of time Prof. Nayak could not demonstrate all the debunking in his repertoire.

While Atheism is just a conclusion and Rationalism is an approach Humanism is a life stance and a philosophy.

Mr. Bala Bhaskar proposed the Vote of Thanks and the day ended with the audience wanting more such programmes and the speakers expressing happiness to have such a knowledgeable and interested audience. It
33

was a great experience organizing a refreshing event as this. And so we dare to hope.maybe Chennai Freethinkers would in the near future begin to conduct an annual event with lectures on Science and Secularism, something on the lines of the Christmas Lectures ; organize debates between famous theists and atheists; reach out to school students regularly to teach them what skeptical thinking means; conduct summer camps like the Camp Quest and so on. Meanwhile it is time for us to concentrate on community building we recognize that we are not a homogenous group (far from it, infact!) and so think of ways to reach out to each other. We are planning a visit to the Crocodile Bank, a Turtle walk on a moonlit night in the beaches of Besant Nagar, a Tree walk with Nizhal to learn to recognize the various species of trees thriving in the concrete jungle of Chennai, prepare science videos in Tamil and distribute it to schools in rural areas to spread science and rationalism. Thus we have set out on our long voyage to Ithaka a journey full of adventure, full of discovery, our thoughts raised high and a rare excitement stirring our spirit and our body. May we enjoy the journey to the hilt!

34

and Ashwin Sriram. The normally vocal

Ninth Meet
13th November 2011
- by Geetha TG

members were quiet for a change and allowed the new comers to share their thoughts and experiences. Saravanan started by describing his progress from theism to agnosticism to atheism. He talked about the influence of Periyar, Dawkins and UG Krishnamurthi.

Scheduling a meeting at 3p.m on a Sunday calls for great optimism. What would motivate a diverse group of people (ranging from 18 to 50 years old, students to professionals and so on ) take the trouble of traveling in a city like Chennai for an informal meet on a Sunday afternoon? I wondered as I made the trip to the venue of the meeting. During the course of the meeting I got my answer. Blaise Leslie put it so beautifully. He shared his feeling of loneliness when he had realized the truth after a thorough study of the bible! Am I being arrogant he had worried. Finding Chennai Freethinkers was finally a great relief, he said, and to know that there are people like him who shared his world view was sheer happiness. It was a great feeling to Come out. The monthly meeting of the Chennai Freethinkers had three new members Saravanan Dakshinamurthy who happened to visit Chennai from USA, Yogesh Girikumar

Yogesh said that he hailed from a not so religious family and explained how he almost converted to Islam. He said that just as he found dogma in theism, he finds the same in atheism too. He talked about some science in Quran. Bala S said there is no dogma in freethought and explained what freethinking meant and what Nirmuktas objectives were.

Finding Chennai Freethinkers was finally a great relief, and to know that there are people like him who shared his world view was sheer happiness.
Ashwin said that he could be categorized an agnostic atheist and even a bit of Budhist. He was inspired by Dawkins and Hitchens. He said even if a god existed it would not be a beneficent one but a callous and malevolent one.
35

Bala S, for the benefit of the new members, described the process of coming together of the Chennai Freethinkers our first meet on January 26th 2011 and the two events conducted by us one in which few members made presentations on topics such as Astrology, Evolution etc., and one in which eminent speakers were invited to speak to the public. He also said that community building and taking it forward was very important for us to grow as a group. The topic of Science in Quran was discussed threadbare and Zakir Naiks attempts were explained. The concept of post hoc fitting of an interpretation with available data was discussed as also the claims of Nostradamus. If everything that god created was perfect why circumcision wondered Yogesh. He also shared the story of his grandmother who suffered from throat cancer and died a clean atheist. Chakrapani added that it was at death that one finally realizes that one has never had any supernatural help. It was termed the Death bed deconversion as atheism is the default position of every human being and hence you cannot convert to atheism you can only deconvert.

Ganesh explained that the goal of Science is not to formulate theories but to strive constantly for better understanding. He further added that socializing is not the monopoly of religion; all of us have an innate need to be part of groups and we learn because of such interactions. And so learning took place at different levels that day thanks to the interactions. A sample of the queries thrown around and answered by different members: Did Alfred Russel Wallace have primacy over Charles Darwin on arriving at the Theory of Evolution? No said the members and the story of how Wallace sent his synopsis to Darwin and how Darwin realized that he was about to be scooped and how both the papers were read at the Linnaean Society in 1858 was explained in juicy detail. Darwin had already arrived at the theory but was hesitant to go public with it. Are pyramidal structures special in any way do they conserve or enhance energy?

36

Again no and the hoax of the speciality of pyramids was discussed. Balaji recounted his friends pathetic attempts to meditate wearing a pyramid helmet. He also wondered why none of the astrological predictions are blatantly negative like saying a person would turn out to be a sadist or murderer. Instead all they do is make general meaningless statements. Bala Bhaskar suggested it is easy to disprove astrology by knocking off each of the claims it makes There were several interesting discussions about Golden ratio and theFibonacci numbers Saravanan explained the patterens found in nature like sunflower patterns.He remarked that no conscious effort is required for the formation of patterns. (http://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/ nature-golden-ratio-fibonacci.html) Bala S talked about the beauty of Fractals. Ganesh also talked about the false claim that lack of religion in a country leads to anarchy on the contrary Scandinavian countries where religion plays a very minor role boast of a far better quality of life than countries which claim to be religious,

As always plans for the next meeting were made. Ganesh said that every year he celebrates November 24th (the day the Origin of Species was published) as gods death day! He invited everyone for a celebration on the evening of November 24th by cutting a cake. January 26th 2012 would mark one year since the first meeting of Chennai Freethinkers when a few of us met hesitantly with lot of apprehensions not knowing what to expect but hoping to build a community. We have accomplished that in good measure and that calls for a celebration on January 26th 2012 should we go on a fun cum educational trip or can we arrange yet another seminar, we ponder. Why not have an All India Nirmukta meet on 28th February (National Science Day) suggested Bala S? Sounds good but are we pushing the envelope; should we pause and take stock? The optimism of Bala S is infectious let us see what we could decide in the coming days. Personally for me the meeting was somewhat inadequate. Maybe because I had to leave a little before 7p.m while a few members lingered till 8.30 p.m. I was planning to discuss a bit of Carnatic music with Madhavan Sreenivasan and prod him a little about Jiddu Krishnamurthy; poke Girish a bit about his passion for the Zeitgeist videos and rag Soorya about his satellite launch. Well, after
37

all a Chennai Freethinkers meet is never complete without a few things a hilarious religious anecdote or two from Soorya Sriram, a shy but strong statement from Girish, a different perspective from Sanjay (a regular, who could not make it this time), creative ideas in measured tones from Bala Bhaskar and constant blasphemies from Ganesh.

joy he derives from music and Ashwin Sriram would talk more about Buddhist philosophy. I hope Saravanan would carry back good memories and hope Sripriya Ranganathan, Ramesh Nagappan and others who have expressed interest from overseas would join us whenever they make a trip home.

... what it meant to talk without having to defend your atheism at every step; what it meant to air your doubts and ask for clarification without fear of being ridiculed or treated with condescension...

As I write I realize why most of us were quiet that day. For we knew how important the space provided by Chennai Freethinkers was what it meant to talk without having to defend your atheism at every step; what it meant to air your doubts and ask for clarification without fear of being ridiculed or treated with condescension; we knew that we could trust each other to point to resources that could add to our knowledge - there was exchange of books, documentaries and movies between the members which showed that bonds have been forged. And more importantly all of us

It was a different meet in the sense that the regular members were very quiet allowing the new members to have their say without any interruption and giving them a lot of time to open up in a forum in which they need not fear any misunderstanding. But in the next meeting I am sure Dr.Nagalekshmi aka Anita would share the several interesting anecdotes she told me, Madhavan S would explain the

knew that we are going to meet next month and the next and so onand that thought gave us a lot of confidence and comfort.

38

PS: During the TAM 9 at Las Vegas, Dawkins announced that the Richard Dawkins foundation would take up funding for child care in atheists meet ups. Bala Subramaniam of Chennai Freethinkers has gone ahead and quietly done it. When you are attending a meet with your spouse and your child insists on tagging along, dont worry; for Chennai Freethinkers is an inclusive group My daughter had packed some crayons, coloring book and the book she was reading (A Faith like mine by Laura Buller, a book on world religions ) which raised the eyebrows of Girish and Soorya but I did not tell them that she had just whispered in my ears that she wanted to convert to judaism! Pretty pictures, you see. It is another matter that she came home and told her grandmother that she went for a meeting and explained confidently who a freethinker was. Well, she did not feel out of place there she was listening to our discussions while playing games and drawing pictures in the computer thoughtfully provided by Bala S. Chennai Freethinkers FTW, like Ajita says!

39

Tenth Meet
18th December 2011
- by Bala Bhaskar

We discussed a few pareidolia, like the face of lord Venkateswara seen on the profile of the Thirumala mountain, and a person getting electrocuted while taking a picture under high tension wires of the electric train. It is claimed that the flash triggered electricity to pass through light and electrocuted the person! There was also a photo of lord Ayyappas image formed by clouds. Bala Bhaskar pointed out that it was clearly photoshopped. It was pointed out the hotel conference hall setting didnt feel like a proper meet like the last time (in Balasubramaniams office) and felt more like an Alcoholics Anonymous meet. Balasubramaniam (Balu) enquired if AA is conducted mainly by the Church. Then why should Jesus convert water to wine wondered Ganesh. Soorya reminded us of a Family Guy episode where Peter Griffin drinks wine in the Church and asks if it really is the blood of Jesus. When told yes he says That guy must be really wasted! Balu pointed out an interesting status update by Jayesh - If someone converts wine to water, is he the antichrist?

The 10th Chennai Freethinkers meet took place on 18th December 2011 at Hotel Planet Mount in Nungambakkam. Eleven members attended the meet including a first timer Seshadri Baskar. He is a friend of Sreenivasan Madhavan who is a regular member to our meets. They have been friends for nearly 30 years. Many of us were still reeling from the news of Christopher Hitchens demise just a few days ago. Sanjay pointed out that the obituary article in the Times of India was highly sanitized and that Hitchens atheistic thoughts were never mentioned. Bala Bhaskar mentioned that The Hindu had an article where his atheism was mentioned right on the headline, however the article itself was from Reuters. Bala also mentioned that he is somewhat relieved that there hasnt been many cartoons of Hitchens entering hell/ heaven. That would have been offensive, quipped Ganesh.

40

Seshadri pointed out that the number of people visiting Sabarimala has dwindled dramatically this year. Balu wondered if this was because of rationalists exposing the Mahara Vilakku. Ganesh said its probably due to the Muallaiperiyar dam issue, in which case its not much of a progressive development. The devotees are just unloading their Irumudi on some temple close to the Tamil Nadu, Kerala border, and some might even courier their offerings to Kerala said Ganesh. Soorya pointed out that the wikipedia article for Mahara Vilakku even has the photograph of the platform on which the fire is lit. Ganesh noted that when this is pointed out to the faithful, they try to rationalise by admitting that the Mahara Vilakku is of course artificial, but what matters is the Mahara Jyothi which is the star which appears above the mountain. Ganeshs response is that, that star is Sirius and can be seen most of the year in the northern hemisphere. You dont need to observe stringent rituals for 48 days to see that. You can have your girlfriend in one hand, beer in another and a fag in your mouth and view the star from your terrace! Much laughter ensued. Balu mentioned that authors are now making trailers for their books to boost up sales. He said this might improve book readership

among the public. Shesadri mentioned that among Tamil publications, the magazine called Uyirmai had good quality articles. Geetha pointed out that it is probably the only magazine in Tamil that had articles about Richard Dawkins and Richard Feynman. Richard Dawinks will be speaking at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January and Geetha said she is planning to attend. She said the last time Richard Dawkins was in India was nearly 10 years ago. Ganesh lamented that Deepak Chopra and Double Mr (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) would also be there and would probably attract a bigger crowd. Bala brought up a recent news article about the UK Prime Minister calling UK a Christian country. He said the substance of that speech might as well be directly from the Hindutva brigade, as, what he seemed to be saying is that, it is only because Christianity is so tolerant and accommodating, that other religions and irreligion are coexisting peacefully. Bala said it almost sounded like a threat. Balu pointed out that it is only because the rest of them are tolerant that Christianity still exists in the UK. He said in India, violent religious clashes were fairly recent. Madhavan pointed out that it is not necessarily so. He quoted Prof.Sadhasivam,
41

who teaches Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, who said that major part of the history of Tamil Nadu is a struggle between Saivaism and Jainism. The works of Appar, Thirugnanasambandhar et al., point towards this fact, said Madhavan. Seshadri however pointed out that, their works nevertheless do have literary value. Soorya mentioned that there is a conference in Vizag on Vedic Sciences. Ganesh quickly retorted that the term Vedic Science is an oxymoron, like Ancient Wisdom. Soorya said that the gist of the conference is that physics and chemistry as we know it today were explained thousands of years ago in our vedas. Ganesh asked, then why didnt they invent electricity? Soorya also pointed out the school textbooks in Tamil which has chapters that compare Avvyaar to John Dalton. Avvayaar wrote a poem in which she describes the seven seas and all the lands locked inside the tiny mustard seed!. This, it is argued, is description of the atom! The normal way of studying History, Balu pointed out, is that first you excavate for evidence, and then from the evidence, you build the story. But those with an agenda already have their story ready and then they

go dig up for evidence to fit. If you ask for electricity, they might find something that will fit and show you how electricity was produced thousands of years ago. Bala mentioned an English version of Bhagavad Gita by P.Lal, suggested by Arvind Iyer, which is easily readable. He said that the author totally takes the side of Arjunas Humanism against Krishnas Spiritualism. The author says that for the first 10 chapters, Krishna tries to persuade Arjuna to fight using reasoned arguments. But once that fails, Krishna resorts to mysticism and magic.

...the term Vedic Science is an oxymoron, like Ancient Wisdom.

Madhavan has read a lot and has written about Jiddu Krishnamoorthy, and Balu wanted to know more about what drove him to the writings of JK. Madhavan said, JKs writings promote freethought. He asked people to question everything and to question him first. He said that religions of the world has caused havoc to the masses and that people are not
42

honest to admit their ignorance. He advices people to listen without preconceived opinions. He also advices for environmental conservatism.

wanted to know if JK prescribed any method or path to attain this truth, something along the lines of the scientific method. Sanjay wondered what the use of being in the peaceful timeless state is. Seshadri requested not to look at JKs writings from a utilitarian point of view. Balu said that his intention is not to deride JK but just to learn a bit more about him. Madhavan said that the state of mind suggested by JK is not dull and static but a vibrant mind. He gave the example of Gayatri Mantra recited in Brahmin households supposedly to calm ones mind. JK said that merely dulls the mind. One might as well recite Coca Cola a thousand times and attain the same effect.

Just because he happens to be a priest, we wont reject his ideas on Genetics. Same way we would reject a bad idea even if it comes from Richard Dawkins.

Balu asked whether JKs writings have changed before and after his association with the theosophical society. Madhavan said JK quit the theosophical society as they wanted him to be a world teacher to propagate their own brand of religion. Madhavan also mentioned that although JK wouldnt have liked it, his followers hold him up as a godhead. JK talked about achieving a state of mind where time doesnt exist and that everyone should endeavor to seek the truth. Geetha wondered what truth they talk about, as it is quite commonly used by spiritualists too. She asked if there can be any such thing as the one truth. Ganesh said that he is using Truth for a lack of better word. Balu

Balu mentioned that complete non-bias would be impossible as every information that we gather interacts with what we already know. It is ultimately up to the individual how he stores up the data so that it doesnt form wrong prejudices. Ganesh mentioned that the scientific method is a good tool to that end and the best way so far for attaining unbiased knowledge. He gave the example of Gregor Mendel. Just because he happens to be a priest, we wont reject his ideas on Genetics. Same way we would reject a bad idea even if it comes from Richard Dawkins, said Ganesh.

43

Human beings are incapable of performing multitasking, said Sanjay. He was referring to a TV program where an alleged master of Multitasking was not able to perform two simple tasks simultaneously. So if the scientists can prove that the subject fails in multitasking then the control group would perform much worse, since the person in question was supposed to be master multitasker. Ganesh said it depends on how they define a task. If it is listening to an audiobook and driving the car, he said he does it all the time. Balu pointed out that while one is brushing the teeth, are we really thinking about brushing? Sanjay said that it was shown that it was evolutionarily impossible for humans to multitask. Ganesh said he might think of a case where it might have been an evolutionary advantage. Balu wanted to know how this can be concluded by just a sample of one. He said there are thousands of tasks, and the two tasks assigned to the person in the experiment cannot be a proper sample size. Sanjay said that this is prejudiced thinking. He was pointing out a scientific study and Balu is not accepting it. He said since Balu is not a psychologist, he may not have the necessary information to form the conclusion. Ganesh intervened and said that sounded like appeal to authority. Balu replied that he is not refuting the study but merely questioning the methodology.

Sanjay said he would send the link to the study to Balu for his reference.

...the general beauty available to the poet is also available to the scientist, but the beauty seen by the scientist is not available to the poet.

Madhavan pointed out that, when one is listening to Carnatic Music or seeing a sunrise, one merely admires the beauty and not think of it consciously. He wondered if you have to understand Carnatic Music in order to appreciate the melody. Ganesh mentioned that, when it comes to the natural world, understanding does increase the beauty. He gave the example of the song from the film Roja. Suppose he played the instrumental version, and the tamil version, although the instrumental version is hauntingly good, the tamil version would be better because one can understand the lyrics. Same way understanding how the rainbow forms only increases the beauty of the rainbow, and doesnt decrease it. Geetha mentioned how the poet Keats derided
44

Newton for taking away the wonder of the rainbow by explaining it away using science. This formed the title of Dawkins book Unweaving the Rainbow. Ganesh noted the famous Feynman video where he says that the general beauty available to the poet is also available to the scientist, but the beauty seen by the scientist is not available to the poet.

wondered that while we dont seek the help of knowledge to wonder at the sun rise, beauty of the moon, feeling the fragrance of flowers, taking in the cool breeze etc, why many people tend to say they don't know Carnatic music hence are not interested in listening it. Why cant we listen it without knowing anything about it, as we do when we wonder at nature, he wondered.

...not a single law that prohibits people from hurting rational sentiments. However if one hurts religious sentiments, they might get in trouble.

Balaji narrated an incident in his office where a meditation and naadi particha camp was held. He said they distributed medicines for Rs.150. The practitioners of this quackery would just look at a persons face or feel their pulse and deduce their illness. However the illness is mostly common ones like back pain, headache etc. Balu pointed out how they never detect lymphoma or AIDS. Balaji noted how the pratitioners saw one employee with saggy eyes and deduced that he must be overworked. The sad part is that the people who fall for this are all quite well educated. Ganesh enquired if they gave anything in writing, as this can be used in the court of law. Balaji said it was all done orally and no records were kept. Seshadri pointed out that since this was a private office it can atleast be tolerated, but conducting Ayudha Pooja in government offices is not acceptable. There might be Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and also atheist employees. Ganesh pointed out
45

Balu noted that when it comes to music, people like different genres, and what might be music to one persons ear might be cacophony to another. Like the Kolaveri meme, noted Geetha. Ganesh pointed out that one of his colleagues who listens to Carnatic music got so interested that he started to take music lessons. He later found out that he likes one particular raaga. Ganesh too, gathered all his favorite songs, and realised that almost all of them are of a particular raaga called kaapi. Madhavan

that the views of atheist are never considered and that there is not a single law that prohibits people from hurting rational sentiments. However if one hurts religious sentiments, they might get in trouble. Venkataraman, who is attending our meet for the second time, was silent for while and was asked about his thoughts and influences. He said he was not influenced by anybody into atheism. He had an interest in science and through Girish, who is a regular member but couldnt attend this meet, got more exposure to the freethought movement. He initially thought Evolution was wrong for a reason he could not recall. When he asked probing questions to his mother, she replied that when he reads enough books, he would understand. One of the books he read was The God Delusion and that turned out to be the turning point. He is currently studying sociology in Loyola College. He said one of his professors seem to think that morality is derived from religion, and that many of his friends look down upon him once he reveals that he is an atheist. Ganesh pointed out that if you can find 10 good messages in any holy book, there will be a 100 horrible things alongside. To choose the good and to neglect the rest means that one already has a moral compass inside with which they are judging, and that could not have come from religion.

Ganesh pointed to the case of Jehovahs witness, who according to their own scripture believe that there is only room for 144,000 people in heaven. He said there are now around 6 million Jehovas witnesses and he wondered why they are converting more. He also noted that in order to enter heaven, one doesnt necessarily have to lead a good life, but simply has to accept Jesus at the very last minute. Seshadri pointed out the case of a muslim woman raped by her own father-inlaw. A religious court gave a judgement that the woman should from now on treat her father in law as her husband and her husband as her son. Sanjay noted that such morality is called objective morality.

To choose the good and to neglect the rest (from scriptures) means that, one already has a moral compass inside, with which they are judging, and that could not have come from religion.

46

The program for our next meet was discussed in detail. Since next month marks our first annual meet, we decided to do something special. The general suggestion was to have a seminar like Thinkfest but for in-group members. Other suggestions included a trip to Athirapakkam archeological site with Prof.Dayanandhan, or to the Sharma Heritage centre or Crocodile bank. Other important dates were Darwin Day on Feb 12th and National Science Day on Feb 28th. Events for these are yet to be planned.

like these can give us wider visibility. He noted a similar discussion on the Nirmukta Saturday Night podcasts a while ago. He said the the two things to keep in mind is that we should know what we are celebrating and the it shouldnt turn into a dogma over time. Balu said we avoid cermonial rituals like draping the chief guest with finery and seating them up on stage etc. It will be as informal, yet organised as possible. Blaise Leslie said the two main things that occupy much of peoples time is astrology and theism and we should be tackling them in our meets. He said he, growing up as a christian, never even heard of astrology, as he had a personal relationship with Jesus. He said he saved 3 hours every Sunday after becoming an atheist. Although he read about evolution, it was not as helpful as the Bible in turning him into an atheist. He pointed out how god has killed nearly 2 and a half million people in the Bible. Blaise wanted to know more about people speaking in tongues in churches. An equivalent can be found in Hindu practices as well as other religions. Blaise said that he went to those churches and was confused because, even though he was a devout christian, he couldnt speak in tongues. He wondered why. Listening to the way Blaise narrated these incidents, Geetha suggested that he should have become a preacher.
47

Although he read about evolution, it was not as helpful as the Bible in turning him into an atheist.

Seshadri intervened and said it is better if we stayed away from celebrations like anniversary. Geetha replied that it is necessary to look back on how far we have come in the past one year as a stocktaking exercise. Balu said this is not like a religious ritual and the dates and events are quite flexible. Bala Bhaskar said that celebrations

Balu said Blaise can give a lecture on Bible during our next meet. This would equip others to counter the logical fallacies that one usually encounters. He said we could have Ajita Kamal take up a topic and give a talk. Sanjay pointed out how he has learnt so much during the past year after he found out about Nirmukta. Arvind Iyers piercing articles and comments were particularly praised.

48

2012

49