For the purpose of this essay, I would like to clarify that ‘senses’ as mentioned above, refer to the senses of touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste. In my opinion, truth is something that can be justified by the three theories of coherence, correspondence and pragmatism. We should trust our senses to give us the truth only when they are backed by solid reasoning, and when our senses give us truth that can be considered true when all the three theories of truth are taken into account.
Delving into history, there are many examples of situations wherein the senses have provided us with something ‘unbelievable’. On September 21st 1995, an Indian priest dreamt of Lord Ganesha craving for milk. Determined to quench the Lord’s thirst, the priest offered a spoonful of milk to an idol of the elephant god. Quite unbelievably, the god drank it up. This is not just the verdict of one man about one particular idol. All the Ganesh idols all over the world were drinking milk.
Scientists from India’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) explained this phenomenon as capillary action: the surface tension of the milk was pulling it up from the spoon, and before it could rise further, gravity would pull it down along the surface of the idol like a thin invisible film. Hence people would think that the god was ‘drinking’ the milk. However, the devout believers shunned this case by arguing that if this was the truth, then the god idol should drink milk every day; however, he was drinking only on that particular day.
The senses of nine hundred million Indians were pointing in one direction. They could ‘see’ the milk being sucked up though the trunk and they could ‘feel’ the spoon getting lighter. Scientists from the MST said that this was a case of mass hysteria. Mathematically, the probability of nine hundred million people observing the ‘false’ is very low, and that of people witnesses seeing the same thing across the globe is even lower, but it is not zero. Furthermore, we must consider the role of perception and emotion in observing this phenomenon. Thomas Aquinas said: ‘The light of faith makes us see what we believe’.
Coming from India, I know how much faith people have in Ganesha, and how emotionally attached they are to him. Every year, crores of rupees are spent on making clay idols of the Lord during the season of Ganesh Chaturthi, to celebrate the lord’s birthday. Even the poorest of the slum dwellers pay every penny to contribute to the making of the idol, hoping that he will obliterate all obstacles from their path. For people with such strong faith, emotion could have easily shrouded their judgement, and their perception of the truth. Furthermore, how could we say that it was the god drinking the milk?
Strictly speaking, it the idols of the god were drinking the milk. The idols were made of non-living things, like clay, sand and stone. Science has thought us that non-living things do not exhibit qualities of living things. But in this case, the molecules of sand and clay seemed to be drinking the milk, which does not seem intuitively correct. However, reasoning did not occur to the millions of people who spent ten times the actual amount to buy milk to please the lord. Politicians from the Bhartiya Janata Party said that this was morally incorrect.
In a country like India, where starvation eats up children before they can walk, wasting milk on a god is criminal. This idea of Ganesh drinking milk is proven false by all theories of truth, the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theory respectively. The clay idols don’t drink milk in reality; our overall sets of beliefs do not concur with the idea that non-living things can consume milk, and since it happened only once it does not really work in practice. So regardless of the accounts of the many people who ‘saw’ this happen, this miracle of 21st of September 1995 was not the truth.
But, it happened again on 21st August 2006. Although Scottish philosopher David Hume said that the witness to an alleged miracle is more likely to be mistaken than the laws of nature falsified, with the same even occurring twice, there is something mysterious about this event. Certainly the probability of this case being attributed to mass hysteria again is very low, but there is no other plausible explanation. However Through the next three months, priests tried to feed the Ganesha a teaspoon of milk every day, but it seemed like his thirst was satiated.
The scientific method follows a trend to find the answers. The trend was clear: the idols drank milk on only two occasions. In science they would be called anomalies. But then again, it is their senses that provided them with the knowledge. Maybe their senses were not providing the truth. Maybe Ganesh was drinking milk every day and their senses are deceived them. If the probability of all their senses being flawed on the day Ganesh did drink milk is low, then the probability of their senses being flawed on the day Ganesh didn’t drink milk is also equally low.