Eminent evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins today deplored the absence of Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival, using his session to demolish the idea of faith and religion while defending the Midnight's Children writer's right to express his views.
Dawkins, who is known for popularising the gene-centred view of evolution and for his strong criticism of the theory of intelligent design, read out a modified version of his statement issued after the fatwa against Rushdie in 1989, in which he had without even mentioning the author had lashed out at the idea of faith.
"Faith is a state of mind that leads people to believe in something - it doesn't really matter what - without a whisper of doubt or a wisp of evidence; and believe it so strongly, in some cases they are prepared to kill and die for it without the need for further justification.
"This is the terrifying thing about faith," he said during a session.
"Faith is powerful enough to immunise people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feeling," he had written in his original reaction to the Satanic Verses ban.
Asked specifically to comment on the issue, he said it was a "lamentable disgrace" that Rushdie couldn't attend the festival.
Later speaking to reporters he again said he believed it was "deplorable" that Rushdie did not come and spoke strongly against indoctrination of children.
"The antidote to any kind of religious indoctrination is education specially scientific and critical education and protecting children from indoctrination."
Dawkins, an atheist and a strong proponent of atheism was asked about the influence of Christian values on policies in America and when does he expect the country to have an atheist President.
He said he believed it the US has already had an atheist President though no one has been open about the non-believer status.
"Obama is an extremely intelligent man, he can't be a believer" he said in jest and laughed.
On scientists at the CERN experiment finding hints of a particle travelling faster than light Dawkins said that it is established it would be a very serious revolution in physics but an experiment like that which produces results so contradictory to existing theory need to be repeated again and again.
"Only then will we be able to establish whether it was a breakthrough or an empirical error," he said.
When asked if would ever like to be immortalised by Science, the author said he found the concept of eternity very frightening.
"If I ever had to I would prefer to spend eternity under general anaesthesia," he said.
"The root cause (of fundamentalism) is bad education; the assumption that any child belongs to the religion of its parents is wicked. Children should be allowed to choose their own religion."
He also said he strongly disagreed with the idea of state being associated with anything religious and religion being given any privilege.
Rushdie's Absence a 'Lamentable Disgrace': Dawkins
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