A Plea for Rationalism

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, rationalism
means (a). reliance on reason as the basis of establishment of religious truth,
(b). a theory that reason is in itself a source of knowledge superior to and
independent of sense perceptions, (c). a view that reason and experience rather
than the non-rational are the fundamental criteria in the solution of problems.
I am using rationalism approximately in the sense of (a) and (c).

There are many religions in the world and the followers of
each religion believe and profess that their religion is the only true one in
the world. Others have reasons of their own to reject that religion. Let me
give you an example. Hindus believe in the plurality of God; they are
polytheists. One of the articles of their faith is derived from a legend that
is described in the following (1):

‘There is a legend behind Shiva’s
phallic form. It is believed that once Brahma and Vishnu, the two pillars of
the holy Trinity were having an argument as to who was supreme. Brahma declared
himself to be the Creator of all and thus more revered. Vishnu claimed that
since he was the Creator of all and the Destroyer, he commanded more respect.
At that moment, a huge lingum ablaze with flames appeared from nowhere.
Both the gods were so overwhelmed by its constantly increasing size, that they
forgot their quarrel and decided to determine its size. Vishnu took the form of
a boar and went to the netherworld while Brahma in the form of a swan ascended
to the skies. Neither could ascertain the size. Just then, Shiva appeared out
of the lingum and proclaimed that he was the progenitor of both of them. He was
the Creator, Preserver, and the Destroyer. He demanded that thereafter he be
worshipped.’

And he is. Can any one seriously believe in this fairy tale?
I am posing this question without malice and ill will towards any particular
group of people. It is also not my intention to provoke any intellectual
hostility and insensitivity. Millions of Hindus believe in it without ever
questioning it. It does not make any rational sense to me literally or any
other wise.

Compare this with the old Greek conception of Creation.
According to Reale (5), ‘At first ‘Chaos was generated, then Gaia (Earth), in
whose bosom all things reside, and in the depths of the Earth the dark Tartarus
was generated, and finally, Eros (Love) who then was the origin of all other
things. From Chaos was born Herebus and Night, from which was generated the
Aither (the High Heaven) and Hemera (the Day). Uranus was generated (the starry
Skies) from the earth alone, as well as the mountains and the seas; then,
united to the Heaven, Earth generated Ocean and the waves.’ It is doubtful if
any body including Greeks believes in this legendary story of Creation now.
Human thought has evolved from fiction, superstition, observation and
reasoning. Some fictional beliefs which made a lot of sense at one time in the
remote past have been abandoned and replaced by others; it appears that nothing
is permanent and perpetual.

Two of the great rationalist of all times, were the Greek
philosophers, Xenophanes (580 BCE -‘ )
and Protagoras (480-411 BCE). According to Russel (6), ‘Xenophanes asserted
that ‘Mortals deem that gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like
theirs, and voice and form’yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and
could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would
paint the forms of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies
in the image of their several kinds’The Ethiopians make their gods black and
snub nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.’ And again
according to Russel (6), Protagoras proclaimed, ‘With regard to the gods, I can
not feel sure either that they are or that they are not, nor what they are like
in figure; for there are many things that hinder sure knowledge, the obscurity
of subject and the shortness of human life.’ He (Protagoras) also said, ‘Man is
the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of things that
they are not that they are not.’

Among the divinely revealed books, the Holy Bible is
probably the only book that has been scrutinized very closely by the skeptics
and rationalists. By far the majority of these critics originated from the
Christian backgrounds with the result that their scrutiny cannot be ascribed to
religious bias. Without going into too much discussion, only a couple of
examples are discussed herein. Consider verses 12 through 14 of Chapter 10 of
the Book of Joshua in the Holy Bible (2).

12. Then spake Joshua to the Lord
in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the Children of
Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon;
and thou Moon, in the valley of Aj-a-lon”’

13. And the sun stood still, and
the moon stayed until the people had avenged”’
themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of
Joshua? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go
down about a whole day.

14. And there was no day like that
before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the
Lord fought for Israel.

It might be mentioned here that according to the medieval
Christian belief, Earth was stationary and centre of the universe, while the
sun revolved around it; remember the Galileo episode. This issue came under
discussion at the Great Monkey trial at Dayton, Ohio, USA, in 1925. The defense
attorney was Clarence Darrow and William J. Bryan was the chief attorney for
the prosecution. Darrow put Bryan on the witness stand as an expert on Bible
and Biblical studies, and cross-examined him as follows (7):

Darrow: Can you answer my question
directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it
must have been the earth?

Bryan: Well,’. I should say so.

D: Have you ever pondered what
would naturally happen to the earth if it stopped still suddenly?

B: No.

D: Don’t you know it would have
been converted into a molten mass of matter?

Darrow cross-examined Bryan on the creation of the Earth in
six days as described in the Holy Bible. Some extracts are given in the
following:

”””””’ D: You
think these were not literal days””’.

B: No. But I think it would be just
as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in
six years, or as in six million years. I do not think it important whether we
believe one or the other.

D: Do you think those were literal
days?

B: My impression is they were
periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against any body who wanted to
believe in literal days.

D: Have you any idea of the length
of the periods?

B: No; I don’t.

D: Do you think the sun was made on
the fourth day?

B: Yes.

D: And they had evening and morning
without the sun?

Bryan mopped his skull. I am simply
saying it is a period.

D: They had evening and morning for
four periods without the sun, do you think?

B: I believe in Creation as there
told and, if I am not able to explain it, I will accept it’.

Accepting it as a personal belief is one thing but using it
to discriminate, torture, and massacre those who choose to have different
beliefs or no belief whatsoever, is inhuman and indefensible.

Finally, according to the opening verse of the Surah Qamar,
Chapter 54 of the

Holy Quran (3) :

”””””’ The Hour
(of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder.

Maulana Maudoodi (4) has described this incident in his
Tafheem-ul-Quran and has commented (in Urdu): ‘It was the fourteenth night of
the lunar month. The moon had just arisen. Suddenly it got rent apart and one
of its pieces appeared on one side of the hill in front, and the other piece on
the other side. This situation lasted only momentarily and both pieces came
together again to re-form the moon.’ Justifying the physical occurrence of this
miracle, Maudoodi offered to argue rationally in these words: ”it is quite
possible that a sphere may get torn apart (in two parts) due to its internal
violent volcanic activity and both of its parts may be thrown afar and then due
to its nuclear magnetic attraction, both of the pieces come together.’Maudoodi’s argument using scientific
terminology is flawed but without any contention, it may be stated that it goes
beyond what has factually been described in the Holy Quran. The quoted verse
states that the moon was cleft asunder; it is nowhere mentioned in the Holy
Quran that the broken moon came together again.

It may be observed here that the other religions that have
not specifically been discussed herein are not any more reasonable nor
self-consistent than the ones to which attention has been drawn above. The
intention is to point out some of the many inconsistencies and unrealistic and
miraculous beliefs that are the hall- mark of all the religions. Any one single
religion has not been targeted here as an object of critical and hostile
inquiry; the criticism which is applicable to Hinduism, for instance, is also
attributable to all the other religions which invoke belief in the irrational
and divine God(s) and deities, and irrational incidents and miracles. Man has
lived under a cloak of mysticism, myths, superstition, and faith in the
otherworldliness for far too long. It is time to examine critically the nature
of the things that he is called upon to believe in by his upbringing,
tradition, peer pressure, and just by a routine habit.

REFERENCES

  1. http://india-indiagov.org/culture/festival/shiva.htm.
  2. ‘Holy
    Bible’, King James Version, Dicksons, Bible Book Stores, Livonia, p. 154.
  3. Ali,
    A.Y., ‘The Holy Quran’, Dar-Al-Arabia Publishing, Printing, and
    Distribution, Beirut, Lebanon, 1968,’
    Chapter 54, Surah Al-Qamar, p. 1454.
  4. Maudoodi,
    A., ‘Tafheem-al-Quran’, Tarjman-al-Quran, Lahore, 1984, p. 230.
  5. Reale,
    G., ‘From the Origins to Socrates ‘ A History of Ancient Philosophy’,
    State University of New York Press, 1987, p. 29.
  6. Russel,
    B., ‘A History of Western Philosophy’, Simons and Schuster, New York,
    1972, pp. 44, 77.
  7. Sprague
    de Camp, L., ‘The Great Monkey Trial’, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden
    City, New York, 1968, p. 407.