Being a scientist, unfortunately, does not always equal a rationalistic outlook, says Ankur

Not long ago, the Bombay High Court shockingly dismissed a PIL petition that challenged the adoption of astrology as a science in India. The news sank soon after it was made, and there was surprisingly little debate about the strange verdict.

But not so among a small group of student rationalists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), who regularly indulge in light conversations and heated discourses on dogma and blind belief over cups of coffee.

Our informal discussions led to the inception of a Facebook group ‘IISc Freethinkers', the goal being to promote the atmosphere of free thought among the IISc. community.

Rationalist organisations have existed in the city for a while now but they have never been more visible than they are now. And for that, we have to thank the social networking revolution.

Where to find them

In Bangalore, Nirmukta is one such organisation that aims to promote a scientific temper. Such organisations thrive on the passionate efforts of their members, for whom juggling their demanding careers and their extracurricular obligations is no mean feat.

This is our modus operandi: we post pseudo-science ‘alerts' where news of regressive and irrational claims or unscientific incidents are brought to everyone's attention.

To be a scientist by profession, unfortunately, does not always equal having a rationalistic outlook. For instance, a premier scientific institute like IISc. too has its share of people whose views are steeped in dogma and orthodoxy and whose lack of a questioning attitude is complete.

Hot topics

Quite predictably, being such a heterogeneous community, we have seen interesting debates on a wide spectrum of topics: ‘Is science a paradigm shift from evidence-based learning of our ancestors?'; ‘Does astrology have any logical basis?'; ‘How can free thought influence women's rights?'; ‘Homoeopathy, Naturopathy: science or pseudoscience?'; ‘Is the concept of God irrational?', and so on.

Lively interactions

We screen documentaries which are followed by lively discussions. The diverse student community in IISc. ensures a dozen different interpretations of the same question. And, of course, there are the Facebook group interactions, the informal coffee and chai meetings with several long hours of charged up debate.

People with every shade of belief and disbelief are welcome to take part. The only condition is: no matter your belief system, your arguments have to be substantiated by sound reason and logical principles.

I come from a traditional family and was raised on a staple diet of chastisement on how curiosity kills the cat. I was a late convert. That was until I realised how I would be disrespecting my own intellect if I didn't question the world I live in. So join our facebook group http://facebook.com/groups /iiscfreethinkers

(Ankur Pandey is a research scholar in Computer Science at the IISc. and founder of rationalist group IISc Freethinkers)