MUMBAI: The lecture series at IIT Bombay's annual technical festival, Techfest, is one of the most sought out events, by both students and teachers. This year, however, some IIT students were unhappy with one of the speakers, Prof Henry F Schaefer III of the Centre for Computational Chemistry, University of Georgia, who spoke on The Big Bang theory, Stephen Hawking and God.
A signer of the Discovery Institute's anti-evolution letter, 'A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism', Schaefer has written a book entitled Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? He has invited controversy in the past for his radical views regarding religion. In a lecture he presented at the University of Colorado in 1994 (titled Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God) Schaefer concluded by quoting Hugh Ross whose views, Schaefer said, "with only minor modifications, I wholeheartedly concur". Ross himself believed: "The one and only path is to give up all human attempts to satisfy God's requirements and put our trust solely in God and in His means of redemption."
Dr Nikhil Joshi, a second year MTech student at IIT-Bombay, said, "My basic contention is that he [Schaefer] is taking science's name and propagating ideas that are unscientific. There are many places where he can propagate Christianity. The freedom to propagate your religion guarantees that. But he is using science to enter these institutes, and then packaging his idea as science and selling it." The subject irked Joshi and his fellow students enough to prompt them to distribute pamphlets in the audience.
Joshi sent an e-mail to the event coordinator expressing his displeasure on Prof Schafer's inclusion in the lecture series, and had even planned to distribute pamphlets prior to students entering the auditorium. "But when the authorities told me that the professor had promised them that he would not go beyond science [in the lecture] I decided not to distribute any pamphlets," says Joshi.
But when Schaefer started alluding to God in his lecture, Joshi decided to distribute the pamphlets anyway. As the pamphlets were being distributed, P Gopalan, Dean, student affairs, IIT Bombay, came up on stage and said, "The institute does not support any one view. It is a democratic setup. Both the views are presented."
Speaking to DNA after his lecture, Schaefer pointed out that he had not spoken in detail about Christianity in his lecture: "I think science and religion ultimately are part of a bigger picture. I don't make negative statements about anybody else's religion."