How important is rational thinking ? It’s a matter of life and death !

22 Aug

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In the UK the sceptic movement has become very ‘rock and roll’ in the last few years with it’s own resident stand up comedian (Dara O’Briaian), and one of it’s biggest stars (Prof Brian Cox) having been a pop start in a ‘previous life’. Against this background it’s often difficult to keep in mind that in some countries scepticism can literally be a matter of life and death.

This week a leading Indian rationalist Narendra Dabholkar has been shot dead whilst campaigning for a law to ban black magic. There seems to be a range of things here that would be worth discussing with western students. The idea alone that ‘black magic’ might be something that one of the world’s leading economies might consider it necessary to legislate against seems to me to be seems worthy of consideration (especially as so many of my students can trace their family origins back to the Indian subcontinent). In the West we are so used to there being legislation which limits the promotion of patently spurious medicines etc that I think we forget that even in highly developed countries like India superstition is hugely powerful. Equally, the next time a student questions why what I’m teaching is relevant to their psychology degree I’ll role out this story.

The real irony of the story of the murder of Narendra Dabholkar is that following his death the government of the State of Maharashtra have passed an emergency law banning ‘black magic’.

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