Response to my critics

Social Epistemology 19 (1):147 – 191 (2005)
“The day the Enlightenment went out”, is how Gary Wills described the re-election of President George W. Bush in an op-ed column in the New York Times (November 4, 2004). Reflecting upon the conservative religious vote that put Bush back in the White House, Wills wondered if there was any connection between the fact that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin’s theory of evolution and that 75 percent of Bush supporters actually believed—without an iota of credible evidence— that Iraq was directly responsible for the terrorist attack on 9/11. Wills asks if a people that have lost respect for evidence and critical reasoning can still be called an enlightened nation. “Belief that does not require proof or evidence” is how the Webster New World Dictionary defines the word “faith”. It also defines “faith” as “faith in God”. The American elections, then, turned out to be a massive faith-based initiative in both these senses of the word. Belief and policies backed not by evidence, but by religious values wedded to an aggressive nationalism are driving American politics. In this America is not alone. India, the subject matter of much of what follows, has had its own brush with faith-driven politics in which an aggressive Hindu nationalism came to color public policies, including science education.1 The question is: how do secular democracies like the United States and India (the world’s first and the world’s largest democracies, respectively), manage to square off their official commitment to enlightened values of openness and religion–state separation with the realities of faith-based politics? How do matters of fact—that is, questions that in principle can be decided by empirical evidence—end up getting decided on the basis of religious faith. This alchemy of turning secular matters of fact into religiouscivilizational matters holds the key to understanding the democratic-populist route to religious fundamentalism..
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