It will remain one of the abiding ironies of the Jaipur Literature Festival: For an event that got the loudest publicity because of the threats of ungodly communal trouble, a number of sessions were dedicated to denouncing god and religion. The most strident among the speakers on the subject, however, was Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller
The God Delusion
At one of his three sessions at JLF, where he read out from his latest work The Magic of Reality in tandem with his wife and actor Lalla Ward, the British author said, "Religious faith deserves a whole chapter in war technology, alongside tanks and guns Religiosity usually recedes with the advancement of knowledge. In the fullness of time, we may see the death of all religions." He followed the broadside with a statement in support of Salman Rushdie, which he said was a modified version of what he had written at the time of the earlier fatwa against the author. Dawkins's eloquence on the "magic of truth in science" led a member of the audience to accuse the author of "fostering a religion of science".
It's a line of counter-attack the 70-year-old Dawkins is familiar with. The evolutionary biologist has been called 'Darwin's Rottweiler' for his passionate defence of the subject in works such as The Selfish Gene, the bestseller from which he read out in another session at the festival. Not long ago, he won a bruising battle against the British government to keep out religious Creationist myths from school science texts.
Off stage, when asked whether he would want to be immortal with the help of science, Dawkins said, "Eternity is a frightening thought whether you are in it or not. I can only go through it under general anesthesia." He parried a question on why faith and emotion spurred humans to greater efforts - such as love and war - than reason ever could.
Such questions were straight down the line for AC Grayling, whose quote, 'Religion and science have a common ancestor, ignorance', features at the top of the quotes page of the Richard Dawkins Foundation website. At an earlier session in Jaipur, 'In Defence of Enlightenment', Grayling said, "Earlier, doubt about the existence of god was seen as a sin. This is what changed with the Enlightenment in the 18th century, which taught us scepticism; that humans can be fallible."
"One of the best known examples of this divide between emotions and reason was Dr Spock of Star Trek. He thought he was a poor logician because he was always in love with someone or the other. It's another matter that he was suspected to be in love with Captain Kirk," Grayling told to a ripple of laughter. "But seriously, the rights of the individual are not in exclusion to his deep emotional bonds with family or society."
Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, who was on the dais with Grayling, addressed the 'faith-versus-reason' question head-on. He told Hindustan Times, "Emotions can be very destructive. And reason even lets you choose the right belief."
The last throw on the subject, however, was Dawkins's. At the last session of the festival on Tuesday, a debate on whether man has replaced god, Dawkins said, "You are utterly wasting your time - all of you who are indignant at being attacked about your god - because there is no god."