Sunday, 18 March 2012

A quick message for those that come to Birmingham SitP

What makes a good Skeptics in the Pub?  This is a question that, believe it or not, gets a lot of debate amongst SitP organisers. There’s a variety of potential factors that are believed to make a difference. These range from the location of the venue, the range of speakers on offer and the quality of the advertising. I don’t doubt that these things, difficult to quantify as they are, nonetheless have an effect. But last Wednesday at Deborah Hyde’s talk at the Birmingham SitP I had a bit of a revelation on this.

 The talk was a real pleasure for a number of reasons. For one she was wonderful to have as a guest. Great to talk to, mixed easily with the crowd and all through the failing projector episode she never flustered or panicked unlike my good self.  Also her talk was expertly prepared, flowed and was entertaining and informative. She conducted a mammoth Q and A with patience, humour and the confidence of somebody that really knows their subject. But that’s not all that struck me.

 On that Wednesday I’d had a horrible day and had arrived flustered and stressed. By the end of the night I’d got a big grin on my face and was feeling good. Deborah, like many speakers we have had, was struck not only by the size of crowd we get but the warmth and the interest. There is a definite good vibe in the room, if that doesn’t sound too hippyish. That’s when I had my moment of realisation.

By talking about choice of venue, speakers and all the other stuff we are in some ways missing the point. I don't doubt it makes a difference but what really matters is the people that turn up. I know that you can argue that without those things being right we wouldn’t get the people in the first place, but I don’t care. The good humour and friendly expectancy of the Birmingham crowd  is great. If it wasn’t I’m not sure, as organisers, we would be as motivated to get all that other stuff right in the first place. Just looking through my Facebook contacts there are so many people that I now count as friends that I’ve met there or at the socials in the last couple of years it’s remarkable.

This unusually unskeptical and somewhat schmaltzy blog post is therefore a long winded thank you to all the fantastic people that come to Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub. We really appreciate you and you’re great.

Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub.

Friday, 9 March 2012

NASA and the Sikh's Sri Guru Granth Sahib

A Blog Post by Bayani Mills (@bayanimills)

In June 2007 a story began to circulate that NASA was testing various Holy Scriptures for their scientific integrity, and that NASA was stunned by a specific book about its "answers" about their questions about the Universe.

I first heard of this from a Sikh I work with, he explained to me that 
that NASA “consults” the SGGS for answers to their questions about the cosmos, and that the SGGS had divine knowledge not known to man at the time, referencing the heliocentric model as a specific example, he assured me that it was a Sikh Guru who first suggested the Earth was not the center of the solar system – no one else.

When questioned, he was adamant that the story was true, declaring that his source was a news website, though despite repeated attempts, he never came through with a link to it.  So, I started to have a look around for the source - And found it:

Since the initial post, the story has been recycled in a number of different ways with mixed reactions by Sikhs; some are rightly skeptical, others apathetic, and some quite credulous about the whole matter.

In 2008 the instigator of the myth, Manpreet Singh confirmed he wrote the article without evidence to support his story -:

Thanks Manvir I had written an article on NASA taking Guru Granth Sahib help..last year..and many people asked me to back it up with some proof..Today you have given it to me..” -

Manpreet was referring to audio on where, according to the website, the host, Bhai Bhagwan Singh is said to be recounting a meeting with Banarsi Lal Chawla. Banarsi Lal’s daughter was Kalpana Chawla, a space shuttle mission specialist and was the first Panjabi to travel into space. She died on the 1st of February 2003 with the six other crew members in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Bhai Bhagwan Singh recounts Banarsi Lal telling him that his daughter performed daily prayers in the morning, was a vegetarian, recited Japji Sahib whilst she worked, and recited Japji Sahib while in space.

The host tells the story of how Banarsi Lal had an opportunity to visit the NASA centre at San Jose and that it was during his visit there he was shown a volume of an English translation of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, kept at the NASA library. It was also while there, Banarsi was told “when scientists get tired of searching and searching the universe, when they seek inspiration and need to uplift their souls they turn to read the translations of Guru Nanak’s poetry and divine-songs which describe the awe and wonder of the Universe.”

Despite the claims made by Bhai Bhagwan Singh about Banarsi Lal and Kalpana, I came across a post by JeanPierre Harrison, Kalpana’s husband, where he stated the following at this forum.

It is a mystery - as well as dishonest - how people dream up this nonsense. Kalpana was antagonistic towards and had absolutely no interest in religion. She is the last person one would ever find studying any religious text. It is also quote obvious that researchers at NASA Ames do not search Guru Granth Sahib for "inspiration". NASA Ames is a scientific institution, not a wasteland of superstition.”

I got in contact with Jean Pierre to verify that it was him that made the statement. He confirmed that it was, explicitly expressing his anger that people would use Kalpana’s name to peddle their superstitions.

Ultimately, the fact is NASA does have a massive collection of books in their numerous libraries; while I was not able to verify that ANY religious book formed part of these libraries, it certainly would not surprise me - It would not also surprise me that men of science would enjoy a bit of poetry about the universe; but what would be surprising is if NASA was getting answers about the universe from a 500 year old text, rather than the instruments they spent millions putting in to space.

When NASA scientists want to know specific answers about the cosmos, they look up to the skies – they don’t read religious books.

Bayani Mills is an amateur skeptic with an interest in science and technology. More of his promotion of critical thinking and skeptical activism can be found at his website.