I live in a predominantly Christian area in Mumbai. Quaint neighbourhood, old houses, some cranky old uncles and aunties. Overall, very comfortable. Reminds me almost of my home state Odisha which is almost 80 per cent Hindu.
Awww! All religions are the same!
Last week, a couple of young men knocked on my door and tried to tell me about God. I told them I was an atheist and welcomed them in. They sat for a while and read from the Bible and even made me read certain verses. After a few minutes of this, I told them we won’t get anywhere like this because I was with them as far as respect for books is concerned, but if they were going to tell me that the book they were reading from was literally true and the actual word of God, they were going to have to tell me why they believe so.
The young man without a beard said it was the word of God. I asked how he knew that the Bible was the word of God. He said he knows it because Bible says so. I told him the Bible cannot be accepted as proof of the fact that the Bible is true. That’s circular logic. He responded by claiming that the Bible has been proven true by all the prophecies it contains which have come true. I told them there are prophecies in all religions and asked why would I consider the Bible true because it has prophecies?
I told him prophecies are a volume game — anyone can make claims about the future and then claim he is a prophet if one of them comes true. It only shows that sometimes you hit the mark even in the dark. Or even that sometimes, an educated guess can pay dividends. People in the investment market do this all the time. But they do not claim to be prophets.
I illustrated my point by making a prophecy. I told the young man that he will have breakfast the next morning. I also told him that if he wished to prove me wrong, he could abstain from eating the next morning. It was within his power to undo the magic I had created. Such is the case with all prophecies. They are just things that people do and then associate meaning to in retrospect.
I told him that the Bible’s account of how the world works does not work in this day and age because we now know some things about how the world works. Our understanding has expanded. For example, there is no need to use god as an explanation for where the rainbow comes from, or why the Earth revolves around the sun, or why things fall towards the ground. We know the answers to these questions.
The young man told me the Bible contains scientific truths too and pointed me to a verse which he claimed described gravity even though it did not use the word gravity. I said it was not sufficient. We need the math, the calculations, the method, to be convinced that the Bible was indeed talking about what we understand to be gravity. Not caring about the methods through which we reach conclusions can be a slippery slope. If I am to accept that a sacred book has a scientific insight, it has to be more than a line of pretty poetry. The standards with which we judge the Bible cannot be lower than the standards we use to judge any other science book out there, especially since many followers of the book see it as a source scientific truths.
I asked if he could find mention in the Bible of Quantum Mechanics or even atoms. I told him it was because it is only too easy to read existing information into the Bible because he loves the book. The real test of the Bible’s scientific usefulness would it for it to contain a great scientific truth that we don’t yet know. It doesn’t help the book’s case when people find things in it after those things have been found in the real world.
At this point, I have to admit, I started feeling a little bad for the boys. I don’t think they were expecting this level of return fire when they decided to enter a Christian colony. So I made some small talk before asking them if they wanted their copy of the Bible back (I had been holding it as I spoke). I pointed out my collection of books (it was right behind them) and expressed hopes that I had not hurt their sentiments. I asked them if they get to have many of these conversations during their rounds and they said it was hard to get people to listen, let alone being allowed to enter homes and have discussions.
Before they left, the bearded one promised to come back soon and prove to me that god exists. I told him he should ring the doorbell twice before assuming I’m not home.