Archive | February, 2012

Footprints on the Pale Blue Dot

Can Everyone Be A Texan?

Many opponents of the RH Bill and of population management in general deny that the world is overpopulated. To support their denial of overpopulation, conservatives usually claim that everyone alive today can fit inside the state of Texas, leaving the rest of the planet blissfully empty of humans. A moment’s thought is enough to come up with definitive arguments against this everyone-can-be-a-Texan scenario. Unfortunately, the said scenario keeps on getting parroted, and by no less than our own anti-RH senators like Tito Sotto.

So how do we elegantly debunk the we-can-all-fit-in-Texas scenario and other similar baloney “arguments” commonly used by RH Bill opponents? The answer comes from the environmental sciences.

 

My Very Own Patch of Earth

How does your lifestyle affect the environment? To answer this question, environmental scientists William Reese and Mathis Wackernal invented the simple but powerful concept of ecological footprint. Your ecological footprint is the total area of bioproductive land and sea needed to sustain your lifestyle. The name ecological footprint is therefore well chosen because it essentially measures how heavily you tread on planet Earth.

The Energy Library gives the following definition of a bioproductive patch of Earth:

 1. able to produce and sustain living organisms

2. specifically, describing land area that is capable of providing natural substances that support human activities; e.g., land used for growing food crops

In other words, a bioproductive patch of Earth is an area that produces goods and performs services that have economic value to humans.

Now, let us get back to ecological footprint. I wanted to know what my ecological footprint was, so I went here to take a test that gives me a rough estimate of its value. After taking the test (I tried my best to give the most accurate and honest answers possible) I found out that my ecological footprint is around 1.8 hectares. That’s 18,000 square meters of the Earth’s sea and land that’s dedicated to support my lifestyle. (I tried other tests, and they gave me answers ranging from 0.90 hectares to 5.5 hectares. I think 1.8 hectares is the most accurate. I encourage the reader to take other tests, for example this or this.)

How do I make sense of my 1.8-hectare footprint? To make it easier to explain my ecological footprint, I tried splitting it into several divisions. (The divisions that follow are mine. Environmental scientists have yet to reach a consensus on how to divide the ecological footprint.)

A meat-eating diet translates to a large dietary footprint.

One portion of my 1.8-hectare footprint consists of the total land and sea area needed to grow and process everything I eat. This is called my dietary footprint. You can think of my dietary footprint as the total area of all the farmland, orchards and fishing areas where the things I eat are grown or caught.

Of course, I need water too. A good fraction of my ecological footprint consists of my freshwater footprint. This is the area covered by all the freshwater sources tapped to give me water for drinking, bathing, washing my clothes, flushing the toilet and many more.

The Angat Dam and Reservoir is part of our freshwater footprint.

Another part of my ecological footprint is the patch of forest and shallow seas needed to absorb my yearly carbon emission. My carbon emission is the total amount of carbon dioxide I directly or indirectly add to the atmosphere every year. For example, when I commute from home to work, I use buses, cars, and trains that run on the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is one byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels. The area needed to absorb my carbon emission is the now well-known carbon footprint. Notice that your carbon footprint is only a subset of your ecological footprint. Reducing one’s carbon footprint is good, but it’s not good enough. (Carbon footprint is more naturally measured in metric tons.)

Stanford Kay's carbon footprint infographic.

And yes, let us not forget all the waste products I produce. The area in the landfill taken up by all the non-biodegradable garbage I produce in a year can be lumped under my waste footprint. Other parts of my waste footprint include the total area required to recycle my recyclable waste and decompose my biodegradable waste.

What you throw away is still here to stay. And it becomes part of your garbage footprint.

In my day-to-day life I also need go to school, to work or to some places of leisure. To do all of this, I need to use roads, railways, airports and seaports. The said places I mostly share with other people. My share in all these built-up areas I want to call my built-up footprint. Also included in my built-up footprint are my shares in government buildings and other public structures such as shopping malls and places of recreation.

My energy footprint is my share in the area taken up by all the power plants, refineries and LPG factories built to produce the energy I consume in a year.

Ecological footprint is a measure of how heavily we tread on planet Earth.

The connections in the web of nature are delicate and intricate. Just because an area in the Amazon Rainforest remains “untouched” by humans does not mean that it is unaffected by human activities. Similarly, when we overfish one species, we are not affecting only that species but are affecting an entire food web. Overfishing tuna, for example, may greatly affect countless other marine species. My share in the human impact on habitats I’d like to call my biodiversity footprint. Biodiversity is a measure of the richness of life. There are several ways to measure biodiversity. One way is to count the number of unique species living in an ecosystem. Another measure called the Simpson index takes into account the percentage of each subspecies or breed in a given habitat. Sometimes, the number of unique habitats in a given region is also used to measure biodiversity.

What else can one find in my 1.8-hectare ecological footprint? Let me see. How about that patch of forest cleared to supply me all the paper and other wood products I use in a year? And how about that patch of mountain quarried to mine the minerals required to supply me all my metallic needs? The area needed to produce the raw materials and the goods I use in a year I’d like to lump under my goods footprint.

The foregoing breakdown of a person’s ecological footprint is far from exhaustive (and even farther from authoritative). However, I tried to outline the major components of an average person’s ecological footprint to provide the issue some perspective.

Other environmental scientists have other ways of dividing the ecological footprint.

According to estimates published by the Global Footprint Network in the National Footprints Account 2010 Edition, the ecological footprint of the average Filipino is 1.3 hectares. This is a bit higher than India’s 0.90 hectares and nearly five times lower than the Netherlands’ 6.2 hectares. The United States’ average footprint is a whopping 8.0 hectares. (Other estimates peg the average Dutch footprint at 5.9 hectares and the average American footprint at an unbelievable 9.7 hectares.)

The average citizen of the world has a footprint of 2.7 hectares. However, the average citizen of a developed country has a 6.1-hectare footprint while the average citizen of a developing country only has a 1.2-hectare footprint. This disparity comes from the differences in lifestyle and available technologies. People living in poor countries don’t have a small footprint by choice. If you barely have enough money to feed yourself, then you cannot consume much. This translates to a small footprint. However, it is known that as a developing country makes its way out of poverty, the average footprint of its citizens sees a dramatic increase.

 

How Many Earths Are We Gonna Need?

If everyone on Earth lived like me, how many Earths would we need? How about if everyone on Earth lived like the average Dutch? What if everyone lived like the average American? And is it true that everyone alive today can live comfortably as Texans? Before we can answer that, let’s go through some preliminaries.

It is first important to understand the concept of biocapacity. The biocapacity of a region is a measure of the population it can support. In more technical terms, biocapacity is a weighted total of the area of bioproductive land and sea in a given region. Being a weighted total, when we count the biocapacity of the world, the Sahara Desert will not contribute much even though its area is quite large. On the other hand, the biocapacity of the seas in the Philippines would be exceedingly high even though their total area is less than that of the Sahara Desert. In terms of biocapacity, two of the biggest giants are the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef system. The Philippine seas are not far behind.

The Philippines has a relatively high biocapacity.

Biocapacity is measured in global hectares (gha.). The global hectare unit of measurement was invented to accommodate the fact that not all patches of Earth are equally productive or capable of sustaining life. However, on average, 1 global hectare is equal to 1 normal hectare. Therefore, when I say 1.30 global hectares, you can simply think of it as 1.30 normal hectares. (As a matter of fact, I have been using this simplifying assumption in the previous paragraphs.)

The total biocapacity of the Earth is estimated to be 12 billion global hectares. That is, the Earth has 12 billion hectares of land and sea that is capable of sustaining human life. If human civilization uses less than 12 billion hectares, then it can exist for an indefinite period of time. Humans can exist for very long if they use up less than 12 billion hectares of Earth because nature has the ability to repair itself even after human damage has been done. A civilization that uses less than 12 billion hectares of the Earth has a sustainable existence.

Recall, however, that the average person on Earth has an ecological footprint of 2.7 hectares. There are more than 7 billion people alive today. If every one of them has a footprint of 2.7 hectares, this puts total footprint of humanity at around 19 billion hectares. In other words, human civilization is currently exploiting around 19 billion hectares of the Earth’s land and sea for all of its operations.

But wait, something seems wrong. Didn’t I just say that the Earth has only 12 billion hectares of sustainably useful land and sea? But why is human civilization using 19 billion hectares? What’s going on here?

The discrepancy in the Earth’s total biocapacity and human civilization’s total ecological footprint results in what is called unsustainable existence. At present, human civilization is degrading the Earth’s capacity to support life by operating with a deficit of 7 billion hectares.

If you divide 19 billion hectares by 12 billion hectares, you’d get something close to 1.5. This means that to sustainably support human civilization’s current operation, we’re going to need 1.5 Earths – that is, 1½ Earths. But we’ve only got one planet. This doesn’t sound good.

And it only gets worse. Remember that the world’s population is growing at an alarming rate. The human population growth rate in the year 2011 was estimated to be 1.8%. If this does not decrease significantly, then by the year 2016 the world population will be at 7.4 billion! Assuming the average ecological footprint per person remains at 2.7 hectares, by 2016 the total ecological footprint of human civilization is already 20 billion hectares. By then we’ll need 1 and 2/3 Earths!

But the assumption that the average ecological footprint per person remains at 2.7 hectares is unrealistic. All indicators show that as Third World countries emerge out of poverty, their ecological footprint will increase by as much as 400%. Assuming a steady rate of development in the Third World, the ecological footprint of the average person in the year 2016 will increase to 2.9 hectares. If 7.4 billion people each have a footprint of 2.9 hectares, this means that by 2016, humanity’s total footprint will reach 21.5 billion hectares. By that time, we’re going to need 1 and ¾ Earths to sustain such an operation!

One and three quarters Earths is hardly the size of the state of Texas. There goes the everyone-can-be-a-Texan scenario down the drain!

Here’s another way to play the game. It is widely known that for most people living in the developing world, the American lifestyle is the paragon of progress. For example, middle and upper class Filipinos show all the signs of wanting to live like Americans. But what does the American lifestyle cost planet Earth? Recall that the average American has an ecological footprint of 8.0 hectares. If all the 7 billion people alive today were to live like Americans, the total ecological footprint of human civilization would be a gargantuan 56 billion hectares! To support such a footprint, we’re going to need 4 and 2/3 Earths!

But what if we live like Western Europeans? They’re not as consumerist and wasteful as the Americans, after all. If we all live like the average Dutch, then our footprint per person will be 6.2 hectares (this will include the area of all the cannabis farms, oh yeah). If all the 7 billion people alive today were to live like the Dutch, then our total footprint as a civilization will be 43 billion hectares. We’ll be still running a huge deficit since the Earth has only 12 billion hectares to offer. To support 7 billion people living like the average Dutch, we’ll need 3 ½ Earths. It’s not as bad as the 4 2/3 needed when we’re going to live like Americans. However, 3 ½ Earths is still something we don’t have.

We have but one planet Earth. We have but one Pale Blue Dot.

That pale blue dot is all we have for now. And we are overtaxing it.

 

How Many Philippines Are We Gonna Need?

Now let us take the numbers game to the local level. Recall that the average Filipino footprint is 1.3 hectares. That is in fact a small number. If all of the 7 billion people alive today were to have a footprint that size, we’re going to need less than one Earth.

Sounds great? Nope. Here are the reasons why.

First, the fact that you are reading this implies that your footprint is probably larger than 1.3 hectares. How do I know this? Well, you have Internet connection at home, don’t you? If you don’t, at least you have money to spend on computer rental. Either way, the fact that you are reading this implies that you are more affluent that the average Filipino. As of November 2011, there are 101 million Filipinos alive. A person who can go online and read this essay is certainly in the upper quartile of that 101 million and even probably part of its upper 10%. (Yes, you don’t have to be rich to be part of the Philippine’s most affluent 10%. After all, ten percent of 101 million is more than 10 million.)

So yes, to have a 1.3-hectare ecological footprint you have to live like the average Filipino, which means you have to be really poor. Of course, Mr. or Ms. Average Filipino does not exist in real life, but if you take a quick look at the standard of living of most Filipinos, you will get an idea of how our hypothetical Average Filipino will live if he were alive.

Second, even with the seemingly small 1.3-hectare ecological footprint, we are already over taxing our beautiful country. According to the National Footprints Account, the Philippine islands and its surroundings seas have a total biocapacity exceeding 115 million hectares. That’s pretty big for a country the size of the Philippines. As a matter of fact, the Philippines contains nearly 1% of the world’s total biocapacity. This should be a small wonder given that the Philippine seas are among the richest in the world. However, all this richness is being degraded because we are running on an ecological deficit. If all the 101 million Filipinos alive today were to have a 1.3-hectare footprint, the national footprint of the Philippines will be 131 million hectares. This is obviously larger than the 115 million hectares we have. The difference between our national footprint and our national biocapacity translates to environmental degradation. Environmental degradation includes but is not limited to deforestation, land and water pollution, habitat and biodiversity loss and resource depletion. Also, because of our current economic set-up, this also translates to social inequity.

The Philippines is 3rd best in the world. In terms of deforestation, that is.

 

How Can We Save the Earth? How Can We Save the Philippines?

There is an umbrella answer to the questions above: We must reduce our ecological footprint. But how doe we do that? Now that is the subject for another post.

For now, the lesson I want all of you readers to take home is this: We can all fit in Texas, but we can’t all live in Texas. Since one obvious way to reduce our ecological footprint as a nation and as a civilization is to curb the population explosion, population management measures like the RH Bill are both important and urgent. Anyone familiar with the quadrants of priorities knows that such important and urgent bills must be top priority. Unfortunately, many people in power have very skewed sense of priorities. For those of you who know how to prioritize properly, I urge you to keep on supporting the RH Bill. The fight for the RH Bill is a fight not only for the Filipina mothers, it is also a fight for Mother Earth.

 

Image Sources:

Posted in Science, Society3 Comments

The Filipino Freethinkers Go to Church! And Meet a Carabao with Wings in Los Banos!

This is the group shot from the meetup last February 5:

 

 

There were over 80 attendees that afternoon, and our usual haunt at Starbucks Ansons Ortigas was barely able handle all of that sexiness. So, we felt it was high-time to try out a non-commercial venue the next time around, and what better place could there be to house a bunch of heathens for some sweet, sweet sacrilege than this —

 

 

For the following Sunday meetup, the Freethinkers went to church. But it was a very special one — the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Makati, which is the home church of FF’s Reproductive Health Advocacy Director Kenneth Keng and his family.  The Episcopalians — basically the Anglican Church when set outside of England — are a more liberal bunch compared to Catholics. They have female and homosexual members in their clergy, and generally have a more progressive stance on social issues.

 

 

It’s very refreshing to see a church with a sense of humor.

 

 

Kenneth and his sister Michelle were awesome enough to arrange for a meetup in their church’s parish hall, a large room where they usually tag-team as Sunday school teachers.

 

 

Lot of great discussions that day. Thanks to the hall’s acoustics, which was an honest relief from all that blender-whirring from coffee shop meetups past, we could easily converse on several rich topics, from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ controversial new advertisement, to the current Republican war on contraception in the US.

 

 

Bishop Arthur Jones, the Presiding Rector of Holy Trinity, even dropped by to say hi. We very much enjoyed his short speech about always being inquisitive and open-minded. I personally would like to hear one of his sermons — tales of fire and brimstone they’re likely not.

 

 

And it seems the Episcopal god took kindly to us, what with the rainbow that appeared when the meeting was adjourned!

 

 

 

And then Red got insecure and started levitating to put us in our place. We’re sorry we doubted you, Red!

 

 

The following day, a few of us from FF’s Coordinating Council made the trek to Los Banos, Laguna to attend the meetup of the group’s burgeoning UP- Los Banos Chapter. Chapter director Api, along with LB Freethinkers Ryan, Peter, JM, and Karl were very, very kind enough to take us on a tour that afternoon. We started at the International Rice Research Institute, where we saw a 6,000-year-old grain of rice at the museum; then visited the UP Carabao Center for a quick snack; then took a leisurely trek by the woodsy roads near the Forestry.

 

 

We also saw an Abueva sculpture called the “Pegaraw,” although we were smart-asses and pointed out that the winged beast was more of a Pegasus-carabao hybrid, hence it should be called a Pegabao instead, but Kenneth was obviously delighted by it regardless.

 

 

Later that evening, we met up with the rest of the chapter for a nice meetup, where we discussed conspiracy theories, Red’s Satanic Challenge, and the chapter’s exciting new projects, which include accreditation in the university. We had dinner and drinks after, and while we had to head back to Manila at the end of the night, we knew we’d definitely be visiting more and more often. Awesome job, FF UPLB!

 

 

And I’m so sorry you had to see that.

Photos courtesy of Frank III Manuel, Patrick Charles Rigonan, and Chris Villanueva Sienna

Posted in Meetup, Organization, Personal, Pictures8 Comments

Contraception, Corona, and Unimpeachable Dogma

The Hypothetical Case of Corona

Imagine that by some miracle, the prosecution managed to provide overwhelming evidence that could convict Corona. But for some reason, the senator-judges arrive at a surprising verdict: not guilty.

When Senator-Judge Enrile (still our hypothetical presiding officer) is asked about it, he explains that like the other Senators, he, too, was convinced that Corona should be convicted. However, Enrile explains, conviction was impossible.

Why? Because if Corona is guilty, it would mean that Ex-President Arroyo made a mistake in appointing him Chief Justice. And if Arroyo made a mistake, it means that presidents aren’t perfect. And if presidents aren’t perfect, then democracy is doomed. Therefore, Corona is not guilty.

Unless you are a Corona cultist, you’d think that such a verdict is insane. Corona himself would admit guilt instead of letting such a mockery of the legal system stand. (OK, maybe not.) In any case, you’ll surely admit that no one would find such insanity reasonable.

Yet many find insanity reasonable when done in the name of religion. This is what happened when Pope Paul VI confirmed that contraceptives were evil.

The Actual Case of Contraception

In the early 60s, many Catholics started suspecting the innocence of an old teaching: the evil of contraception. They expressed dissent so strongly that Pope John XXIII (and later Pope Paul VI) formed a commission to investigate the original teaching’s innocence, so to speak.

After 6 years on trial, the commission reached their verdict:

  • 9 of 12 bishops found the original teaching wrong
  • 15 of 19 theologians found the original teaching wrong
  • 30 of 35 lay members found the original teaching wrong

The commission had found evidence — from Scripture and Tradition to Science and Experience — to conclude that the original teaching on contraception was wrong; contraception was not always evil.

The commission submitted their official report, and Pope Paul VI agreed with it — contraceptives were not inherently evil. I emphasize “official report” because a small group of conservatives unofficially submitted what is now called (mistakenly) the minority report. Regardless of its official standing, the other report contained the argument that changed the Pope’s mind.

Infallible Defense

While the official report was comprehensive and complex — arguing from different perspectives, providing both traditional and modern evidence — the other report was simple and single-minded. It relied primarily on an old (yet relatively recent) Catholic teaching: that Popes can’t be wrong when it comes to faith and morals because Jesus magically protects them from the mere possibility.

All the rational and scientific arguments of the official report were trumped by the other one’s appeal to the miraculous. And the writers of the unofficial report were unashamed of resorting to this defense:

If we could bring forward arguments which are clear and cogent based on reason alone, it would not be necessary for our Commission to exist, nor would the present state of affairs exist in the Church… The Church could not have erred through so many centuries, even through one century, by imposing under serious obligation very grave burdens in the name of Jesus Christ, if Jesus Christ did not actually impose these burdens.

As one minority member put it, if the original teaching is wrong, what will happen to all those Catholic souls the Church previously sent to Hell ? To this a member of the majority had the perfect response: “Father Zalba, do you really believe that God has carried out all your orders?”

Pope John Paul II, then a Cardinal who was also part of the conservative minority, argued as follows:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error.

This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.

When he became pope, he explained why infallibility was crucial to Catholicism:

I am convinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.

In short, the conservatives used logic similar to that of our hypothetical Corona case:

  1. If the original teaching on contraception is wrong, then 2 previous popes were wrong.
  2. If 2 previous popes were wrong, then there’s no such thing as infallibility.
  3. If there’s no such thing as infallibility, then the Catholic Church is doomed.
  4. Therefore, the original teaching is correct.

Of course, other arguments were used in the so-called minority report. But those were the same arguments that had already been refuted by the commission. In the end, infallibility was the only argument left unanswered.

Unimpeachable Dogma

To this day, the Catholic Church still stands by its anti-contraceptive stance, and on the doctrine of infallibility that defended it. If the same kind of insane defense were to clear Corona’s name, an EDSA III would not be unlikely. Although surveys show that many Filipinos have already lost interest, I’m sure such an attack on common sense would motivate even the most apathetic to action.

Regardless of how the actual impeachment trial turns out, Filipinos should already be thankful for one thing: our public officials — unlike Catholic doctrines — are impeachable.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society335 Comments

If Catholics Worshipped Satan, Would They Know?

“The Devil lives in the Vatican. He has won over the confidences of people but naturally its difficult to find proof but the consequences are visible.”

— Father Gabriel Amorth, Chief Exorcist of Pope Benedict XVI

If Satan possessed the Pope, and his horde of demons took over every priest, bishop, and archbishop in the Vatican, would Catholics find out? What kind of evidence would be necessary to prove such a claim? And would any Catholic investigate or even suspect that such Satanic control is the case? What if this has been the case for hundreds or even thousands of years?

This is not a conspiracy theory. As a naturalist, I don’t believe in demons or Satan or any of the creatures and characters in Catholic mythology. What I do believe is that regardless of your religious beliefs, skepticism and doubt is necessary, especially when it comes to claims made by religion. I hope to convince you with the following intellectual exercise that even if you believed in God, you’d be better off believing as a freethinker.

If you’re a nonbeliever like I am, please humor me by playing along. If you’re a believer, however, I hope you’ll agree that the question is of utmost importance.

What if the deity you’re praying to is the Devil? What if the tenets you’ve been told to believe and the orders you’ve been told to obey have been devised to sound convincing but calculated to result in more evil than good? If faith can be used to justify belief in Satan in the same way it’s used to justify belief in God, can you possibly tell the difference?

The Devil’s Best Trick

Satan?

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” This line from The Usual Suspects is a rephrasing of a line from a prose poem by Charles Baudelaire titled “The Generous Gambler.” In the story, the Devil says that the only time he feared for his power was when a preacher exposed his best trick: convincing others of his nonexistence.

But I think Baudelaire doesn’t give the Devil enough credit. What would suit the Devil more is if he managed to convince the world that he and his minions were God’s representatives, and that God’s true representatives were sinners and demons.

If Satan existed, this would be his most effective tactic to win the War on Heaven. And he’d be doing it in a way that would insult God the most: What could be more blasphemous than glorifying Satan and demonizing God?

If Satan is as devious as he’s made out to be, then it’s exactly the kind of thing he would do. If he’s as powerful as he’s made out to be, then he could certainly do it. And if Satan could and would do such a thing, how can anyone tell whether he’s already done it?

The Satan Hypotheses

For the sake of this intellectual exercise, let’s consider the following hypotheses:

  1. Satan exists and he is extremely evil and extremely powerful.
  2. Satan and his demons are disguised as the Catholic Church hierarchy in the Vatican.
  3. Satan has been convincing Catholics of this fact since the first century.
  4. Satan would do everything in his power to maintain the deception.
  5. Satan’s goal is not to bring the world to a perfectly evil state but to keep the world at its most evil state possible at all times.

I’m sure that many of you would think that such things are so implausible they’re not even worth considering. But remember that even the Vatican considered the possibility: The Vatican’s resident expert on demons said that the clerical child abuse scandals were caused by Satan infiltrating the Church:

‘The Devil lives in the Vatican. He has won over the confidences of people but naturally its difficult to find proof but the consequences are visible.

‘We have cardinals who don’t believe in Christ, bishops connected with demons. Then we have these stories of pedophilia. You can see the rot when we speak of Satan’s smoke in the holy rooms.’

‘The Devil is invisible, he is a pure spirit. But in the people he possesses he can be seen through pain and blasphemies but he can also remain hidden.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist of Rome

The Vatican takes Satan seriously, and will surely agree with my first hypothesis: Satan is extremely evil and powerful. And if our other hypotheses are true, saying that their no. 1 goal is to defeat Satan is a good tactic because it effectively deflects suspicion.

Aside from the clerical abuse scandals, there are historical atrocities — such as the Crusades and the Inquisition — that are so evil they can easily be attributed to Satanic infiltration or influence. There are also atrocities like slavery and the Holocaust that, although not directly done by the Church, were condoned or justified through Catholic dogma. On an interesting note, Father Amorth said that Pope Pius XII attempted a long distance exorcism of Hitler.

One thing these atrocities do is counter a common objection to the Satan hypotheses: God will never let anything so evil happen. If history has taught us anything, it’s that regardless of the possibility of God’s existence, great evil is not only a possibility, it’s a reality.

Another objection to the Satan hypotheses would be a similar theistic response to the Problem of Evil: God allows evil so that good can be done. Although some good certainly came out of these — people learning lessons, helping others, etc. — Satan’s goal is not to prevent all good but to lead others to commit a lot of evil. And seen from the perspective of the Satan hypotheses, such an objection is the kind of justification consistent with Satan’s deception. What would be a more devious way of promoting evil than convincing people that Evil is good for Good?

The Inquisition: Godly or Satanic?

Now consider the fact that even though such evils were caused by the Church, Catholics still believe that the Vatican represents the voice of God. This fact would still be consistent with our hypotheses. And if Satan has been using his power to deceive Catholics since the first century, then ignoring Catholic evils (or interpreting them as good) would be the response we could expect of Catholics who’ve been brainwashed for centuries.

“But what about the Bible?” some would object. “If such a thing were possible, wouldn’t God warn us by writing it in his Holy Book?”

Remember that if this scheme is to work, Satan would have been there from the beginning. And convincing people would have been a lot easier back then when people were more credulous and skepticism was not held as a virtue. All Satan would have to do would be to convince uneducated desert-dwellers I’m certain that even the least educated modern-day criminal is capable of such deception. What more the Prince of Deception himself? Even if Satan managed just this and then kept his distance, time and tradition could have done the rest. What more if his influence was present in each step of a process that took two thousand years?

I’m sure that more than a few Catholics reading this will start to feel some doubt. What if all this is true? What if I’ve been praying to Satan all my life?! Most — if not all — will probably respond with the following word: faith. If you doubt anything that the Church teaches, you fight it with faith. If you can’t do something the Church commands, you fight it with faith. If you doubt the Church — let alone Jesus or God himself! — you fight it with faith.

If our hypotheses are true, how do you think faith would fit into the picture? Would Satan convince people of the virtues of having faith? Would Satan’s scheme work better with people having faith in the Church?

Consider the following statement: I don’t fully understand what the Church commands, and it runs contrary to my logic and common sense, but I have faith that God — in his own mysterious way — has a reason, so I will believe, I will obey. Is this the kind of statement that would support our hypothetical Satan’s scheme?

The God Hypothesis

If a good God existed (in addition to the version of Satan above) he would know what his adversary was up to and would try to counter it. He would also know that his adversary would try to distort whatever teaching he tried to impart. So this good God would beat Satan by embedding in his human creation something to counter Satan’s deception: doubt.

And he wouldn’t have to take a thousand years (and countless lives) to write a single book to hold all his teachings. It would be enough to give short and simple reminders such as this:

“It is proper for you Kalamas [the people of the village of Kesaputta] to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill, abandon them.

“…Do not accept anything by mere tradition… Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures… Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions… But when you know for yourselves—these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness—then do you live acting accordingly.”

This is taken from the Kalama Sutta, what one Theravada monk calls the Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry. I’m not trying to say that Buddha is God and Buddhism is the right religion. But within the context of our hypotheses above, this type of religious message makes Satanic infiltration less plausible. And even if people religiously adhered to this kind of message, I’m sure more good than evil would come of it.

But what does the Catholic Church think of such messages? Right from the start, such relativistic and individualistic ideas have been demonized — the first infallible pope included such statements in the Syllabus of Errors. Which is exactly what we’d expect if the Satan hypotheses were true.

If You Worshipped Satan, Would You Know?

If you’re a Catholic, I’m sure you’d agree that there’s something to gain by knowing how to verify that you are indeed praying to the proper God. Ask your priest and I’m sure they’d agree that such skepticism is a good idea. If they don’t, then, well…

If you do find a way to disprove the Satan hypotheses (even if you’re not Catholic) please post it in the comments section below. I have sincerely tried to think of a way to disprove them, but have failed. In the end, all I could think of was faith.

 

UPDATE: A fellow freethinker told me that Stephen Law has posed a similar challenge earlier as the Evil-God hypothesis. I haven’t read it entirely, but it seems like a more comprehensive and sophisticated version of the Satan hypotheses above. You can read about the Evil-God hypothesis here.

Posted in Religion107 Comments

PETA, Sex, and Shock: A Note on Misguided Marketing

Over the past few years, I’ve evolved from a staunch carnivore to someone a bit more understanding of why some people shun eating meat. In fact, I was able to stay more or less pescetarian for the good part of a year, up until I got sick of my very limited choices when eating out (bangus sisig, bangus sisig, calamares, bangus sisig, shrimp tempura, sizzling squid, bangus sisig, bangus sisig, bangus sisig, tuna sandwich, bangus sisig).

And while I am back to gorging on slaughterhouse stock for the time being, I can still grasp why those with far leafier diets choose to eat the way they eat, with a stance against animal cruelty and/or the desire for better health being the main reasons. For the sake of my own health, I do wish I were as disciplined (and rich) enough to go pure vegetarian for the long haul. (And damn it, longganisa, you sweet, garlicky temptress!)

This, then, is why I felt perturbed after watching the following commercial for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

Confused? Underwhelmed? A vague sense that you were somehow violated? Yeah, I felt those, too.

(If you can’t see the video here, check it out on Youtube.)

 

People for the Exposure of Tits and Asses

PETA has long been known for their provocative campaigns. Most everyone have seen the ads featuring naked celebrities with the caption, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Also, the organization has long been caricatured as that angry little group of people throwing red paint at fur coats. These actions, among many others, have caused quite a backlash against PETA, for however good their intentions may be, accusations of being sexist, or sensationalist, or just plain asshole-y, are thrown in their direction quite often.

Some may justify their tactics by saying that shock and awe are necessary to catch people’s attention, especially considering today’s collective apathy-tinged attention deficit disorder. And sure, it will catch people’s attention, but that’s only a fraction of what it takes to truly promote a cause that you believe in. That’s what PETA—especially whoever’s running their marketing and PR arm—doesn’t seem to understand properly.

After you get people’s attention, you have to give a reason that’s legitimate and substantial, a reason that will make people really, truly think about the decisions they’ve been making. Should people opt for PETA’s advocacy, it should not be because a physically attractive celebrity is speaking up for it, or because throwing paint at rich, fur-encased people satisfies their monthly schadenfreude quota, but because these people were actually compelled to sit down and assess the information offered them through these campaigns.

 

A sore point

The recent commercial, for instance, only seems to proffer the following message: men who go vegan instantly become healthy and virile enough to be experts at incredibly rough, night-long sex, so much so that their partners’ bodies become bruised, battered, and very, very sore due to all that vigorous fucking, but the partners kind of like it anyway, so it’s all good then, join PETA, yipee-ki-yi-yay.

Now, I like a good dirty joke as much as the next pervert, but watching that video just left me cold. And vaguely angry. All those shots of the girl’s butt—especially the ones with the sunlight winking in between her legs as she stumbled sorely up a flight of stairs—that insinuated a very violent night of sex, was not that funny, nor that sexy. My natural reaction each time I saw those shots was to wince. And question whether the girl was a masochist, an unwitting victim, or an idiot.

These kinds of shock tactics come off as tacky, juvenile, ineffective, and sometimes, like in the case of this particularly crass, frat house joke of a commercial, even counter-effective or distractive. Did PETA seriously think that violent tantric sex was a universal selling point for a major lifestyle switch? Did PETA seriously think this was going to win them serious members? Did PETA seriously think that watching that commercial would make people think about going vegan, and NOT about masochism or female objectification or domestic abuse or all the countless other issues that the commercial actually brings up, albeit in a frustratingly coy way? Electrocuted pigs, environmental sustainability, and my Body Mass Index were the very least of my concerns after seeing that commercial.

 

The smarter sell

There are far more reasonable, dignified, and downright compelling ways to promote what I think is a solid advocacy, so why can’t PETA just go down that direction and avoid pissing people off? Imagine if PETA’s campaigns focused more on really detailing the actual health and/or ethical benefits of adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. (Snazzy animated infographics campaign on Youtube, anyone?) If they scrapped all the gimmickry and promises of sore vaginas and focused on solid evidence, then they would deserve positive attention and respect.

Documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Earthlings, which focus on revealing what really goes on in the food industry, made me think twice about what my meals were made of. These films’ harrowing footage of live pigs hanging from hooks and getting their necks slit open, or cows riding what I can only describe as the Ferris Wheel of Blood and Pain, do rely on shock value to a point, but they also serve the purpose of informing and educating viewers. Yes, these films are biased—many documentaries are—but at least they try to treat their viewers as intelligent creatures with the capacity to form opinions, and not as a bunch of horny morons.

Again, I’m not a vegan, and I highly doubt that I ever will be. I’ve weighed my options and have sided with the caveman in me, but I respect and admire vegans/vegetarians/pescetarians all the same, because I was exposed to decent media that helped me to understand why there is veganism/vegetarianism/pescetarianism in the first place. A cause I am behind, however, is making PR, marketing, and advertising even just an iota more intelligent than it currently is. I would very much like to see more campaigns that rely on solid evidence; that have an earnest desire to inform rather than provoke; that challenges people to make their decisions based on fact, not fiction; and that have fewer close-ups of asses in post-coital distress.

Images from id-wall.com, triplexbooks.com, and critical-thinkers.com

Posted in Personal, Society3 Comments

February 19 (Sunday) Holy Meetup

The last Starbucks meetup had so many people that the staff tried to kick us out saying that we had essentially gotten a free function room and that the spirited discussion of fifty odd people was bothering the customers.

With no regular source of funds and no desire to require people to support Starbucks’ global empire by buying some minimum amount of overpriced coffee while there, we began asking around for places that would welcome us with open arms, while having full knowledge of who we are and what we intend to do.

We’re happy to say we have secured such a place! Centrally located (ish) in McKinley Road, Makati, we’ll have the hall on the otherwise quiet unnocupied grounds all to ourselves, and there’s even a small food center across the street. The people who run it like some of our members so much that they’ve offered it to us free of charge. Truly it is an ideal place to talk about reason, science, and secularism.

Isn’t it?

You can find the address and a map to the place here.

That’s right people. We’re having our meetup at Holy Trinity Church.

Location: Holy Trinity Church (Google map)
Date: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Time: 2pm – 5pm

Please note that the meetup is 30 minutes earlier than our regular meetup time, at 2PM rather than 2:30PM.

Discussion Topics

  • Obama’s “War on Religion”
  • Approaches at popularizing veganism or Why Some People are Turned Off By Vegans
  • Star Wars: Is it okay for artists to fundamentally change classics that they made?
  • Chris Brown and the Grammys: Should the personal lives of artists affect how their audience perceives their art?

After the meetup we usually go for some dinner and drinks nearby, so if you can’t make the meetup but would like to catch up, let us know in the comments.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

Confessions of an Impeachment and RH Bill Fiend

Published February 12, 2012 in Business World

 

 

 

Sin number 1: My productivity is much diminished these days because I am addicted to watching the impeachment. Every boring detail. I seethe at every bone-headed move by the prosecution, at every legal victory of the defense. I think Juan Ponce Enrile is a vampire. He can’t be that good. Especially as I hated him during martial law. I think Serafin Cuevas is brilliant. But I don’t like his bombastic oratorical style. It reminds me of all those men thundering at us during the dictatorship, chief among them, macho Marcos himself.

And so, I am now in search of my ideal man, one with the soft rhetorical style of Neil Tupas and the competence of Cuevas. My ideal man would have argued that nothing prevents the Senate from conducting the impeachment more like a fact finding mission or a truth commission and less like a court.

Sin number 2: I am obsessed with the reproductive health (RH) bill and see connections between the impeachment efforts and the effort to pass the RH bill. I may have imbibed the conspiracy theory paranoia of the religious fanatics who keep claiming pro-RH people are drug company and imperialist lackeys.

I hope that Renato Corona is convicted. (Parenthetically, those who accuse me of not abiding by the rule, “innocent until proven guilty” are to be condemned to 20-minute tongue lashings by Miriam Defensor Santiago. That rule is meant to regulate the police power of the state. It was not meant to substitute for individual discernment and not meant to prevent the social disgrace of scoundrels. Taking that rule out of context would mean that citizens should not be concerned with graft and corruption since very few people get convicted anyway.) I believe Corona is an ally of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who would uphold all her leanings including her refusal to pass an RH bill during her term. It was during GMA’s term that the Supreme Court junked the petition of 20 affected women to invalidate Lito Atienza’s egregious order banning contraceptives in Manila. From the anti-RH camp, even from some of the legislators we hear it often: “if the bill passes we will take it to the Supreme Court”. They say it with confidence.

So, long before the impeachment, I knew something had to be done to uphold the independence of the Supreme Court. It must be freed not just from GMA’s influence, but also from the unholy alliance of the Catholic Church and GMA.

The GMA-Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines connection on the RH bill has bothered me endlessly. Ricky Carandang decided to resign from the Catholic Church when he was still a journalist. He had interviewed CBCP’s Melvin Castro who, in so many words, said it would not condemn a corrupt politician as much as it would condemn a pro- RH one.

Thus I was not surprised when the Bishops agreed to mediate the escalating war of Pres. Aquino against Chief Justice Corona. The rest of the nation was going, “go, go, go Pnoy!!!!” while the CBCP was admonishing towards dialogue.

And so, while the CBCP called rallies against the corruption of Pres. Estrada, the Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas gave Corona a PhD in a manner I would describe as “wala lang.” Asked whether the CJ had earned his degree properly like the rest of us plodders, the public got less than satisfactory answers, and an argumentum ad hominem against Marites Vitug.

“To everything there is a season” according to Ecclesiastes. Except that while most of us are in the season of justice and retribution— the CBCP is in the winter of contradictory morality.

I am thinking, if the RH bill finally comes to a vote, all this tension between Pnoy and the CBCP would lessen. I am thinking, that for the sake of my Catholic friends, perhaps the Church no longer needs to go on its moral fugues once we can unstick the RH bill from its craw.

Sin number 3: I am guilty of extreme pettiness. I am upset at Corona’s cooptation of the color purple. Those who consider him innocent him are asked to wear purple. He just made my wardrobe defunct. My cabinets are full of purple things because, dear Chief Justice, THAT HAS BEEN THE COLOR OF PRO-RH ADVOCATES. As my friend and colleague Jonas Bagas says, “kung dilaw ka, dapat purple ka rin.”

 

 

~~~

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a fellow of AER. She is a medical doctor and a PhD in Psychology. It would be her pleasure as an official of the University of the Philippines to show to Marites Danguilan Vitug the written rules and guidelines for attaining these degrees at the time these were conferred in order to remove any doubt that she earned them on her own merits.

 

original post ]

Image from keywordspeak.com

Posted in Personal, Politics, Religion, Society0 Comments

Make Every Filipina Your Valentine

The Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) sent each legislator a copy of the Valentine’s Day card below.

Click for larger image

 

Click for larger image

Posted in Politics, Society1 Comment

The DOH: Does the ‘H’ Stand for Health or Holiness?

Yesterday the Department of Health (DOH), the institution that is supposed to be raising the standards of health for Filipinos, caved in to an institution that is very adamant on lowering the standards of health for Filipinos: the CBCP. It seems that when the bishops say “jump,” the DOH asks “how high?”, instead of doing their job for the Filipino people:

Here’s something that some Catholic bishops will be happy about with respect to the DOH on Valentine’s Day.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Monday said the DOH will not be distributing free condoms on Tuesday as couples nationwide mark Valentine’s Day with dinner dates, lavish gifts and other gestures of affection.

No Free Condoms from DOH on Valentine’s Day: CBCP Pleased

While DOH Secretary Ricky Ona pays lip service to Catholics who use contraceptives despite the Church, he seems to miss the point that the DOH is supposed to be concerned about the health of the Filipino people and not their holiness:

“Responsible sex means you engage in sexual practices that are acceptable to you and your religious beliefs,” he added. “But still the use of condoms and other artificial contraceptives, which the Catholic Church rejects, was still upon the discretion among couples,” said Ona.

“If they want to use it, then they should buy it themselves,” he added.

The lack of reproductive health education in the Philippines makes the DOH’s condom distribution not just about giving away condoms. The DOH’s condom distribution is a way for the DOH to educate couples who might not know about safe sex. The taboo of sex (thanks, Catholic church!) could also make couples less likely to buy contraception out of the needless guilt the Church inspires. The poor also might not be able to afford contraception. That secretary Ricky Ona would tell people to buy condoms makes it seem like he doesn’t know the DOH’s mission:

To guarantee equitable, sustainable and quality health for all Filipinos, especially the poor, and to lead the quest for excellence in health.

So, DOH. What does the H in your name stand for? Is your mission to serve the health needs of the Filipino people? Or are you here to enforce the “holiness” imposed by the Catholic church?

If you’re angry after reading about the capitulation of the DOH to the Catholic bishops who could really care less about the health of the Filipino people, do something with your rage. Call the DOH, email them. Let them know that they serve the Filipino people. Remind them about their mission. Tell them to work for our health, not the conception of holiness held by the CBCP.

Here are their contact details. If you’re able to call them at (+632) 651-7800, do it. If you can’t, write them an email. Just give them a Valentine’s Day that would remind them that they work for the Filipino people. Not the CBCP.

Image from Instructables

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science, Society9 Comments

More Important than the God Question

In The Bottomline episode aired last February 4, Red Tani agreed with Boy Abunda that no one actually wins in debates on the existence of God. And I concur because the god concept has too many facets lumped together and discussions often shift from one facet to another.

For example, in order to prove the existence of God (or at least the high probability thereof), apologists like William Lane Craig put forth logical arguments like First Cause and Fine-Tuning. Even granting that these are based on correct premises and sound reasoning, they only support the deistic concept of a generic creator that does not necessarily intervene in the affairs of the universe, while God with a capital “G” is a proper noun referring to the Judeo-Christian god who gave specific instructions on how to live our lives.

As such, I think what’s more important than the God/creator question is whether we have immortal souls, and especially if the welfare of our souls depends so much on us believing in God’s existence. Can the apologists offer evidence or even philosophical arguments for Heaven and Hell (as well as the entrance rules) that are at least as challenging to refute as the cosmological and teleological arguments?

Going back to Boy Abunda’s interview with Red Tani, I think it would have been more interesting if the discussion focused on secularism instead of atheism. As Red said, the only difference between believers and nonbelievers is their position on the God question, and this is really not a big deal because most of the day most believers act and make decisions without thinking of God, so belief (or nonbelief) does not necessarily dictate our actions, politics, or morality.

But if there is a specific god we are talking about, like the Roman Catholic god who abhors contraception, divorce, and gay marriage, then the issue is no longer about theism and atheism, but which religion or sect correctly represents God. And here the debate would degenerate into disarray because unlike the discussions on the existence of God where the contenders at least try to stick to the rules of logic in the absence of empirical evidence, different religions would simply attempt to ram their opposing “revealed” doctrines into each other’s throat.

While I do not mean to assert the logical positivist position that any unverified proposition is meaningless, being a freethinker compels me to require evidence that is more than circumstantial before accepting something as true. And such skepticism is one of the foundations of secularism, which is “a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life.

So going back to the question of souls and whether nonbelief or even doubt jeopardizes them, I think an even more important question would be, whose representation of God, assuming God exists, should we follow for the sake of our souls, assuming we have souls? And if we cannot figure that out, doesn’t this demand that we give precedence to our welfare in this life instead of denying ourselves carnal pleasures for the sake of some imaginable spiritual pleasures in the next life?

We really don’t know if there is an afterlife, and we have absolutely no idea how to secure our welfare in it – unless we seriously believe that the Bible is the true word of God (which is highly questionable given its circular claims) and that God revealed his will to certain individuals as claimed by the popes and some charismatic ministers (which is mere hearsay). All we really know about is the here and now, that there is real joy and real suffering in this world, and that we humans have the capacity to multiply this joy and reduce the suffering. Isn’t that a lot more important than trying to convince each other that there really is or isn’t a god?

* * * * * * * * * *

Image from Starmometer

Posted in Personal, Religion0 Comments

Science By the Wayside: DepEd’s Wrong Choice

Science By the Wayside: DepEd’s Wrong Choice

The DepEd decided to remove Science subjects in Grades 1 and 2. This was reported in the January 24, 2012 Manila Bulletin article entitled, “DepEd drops ‘Science’ for pupils”. Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, FSC explained the rationale of dropping Science subjects in Grades 1 to Grade 2 by saying that such a move was to “decongest (the) Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) and to make learning more enjoyable to young learners.” He claimed that the new curriculum is “more child friendly” and is based on the idea that “we should be taking the students where they are.”

Basis for choice
The justification of DepEd’s head is unoriginal, especially since the word “decongest” was the same word used by former Sec. Raul Roco in item 6 of DepEd Order 25, series of 2002 on the Implementation of the BEC (http://www.deped.gov.ph/cpanel/uploads/issuanceImg/DO%2025_6-17-02_00001.pdf). This seemingly uncritical acceptance of a rationale that’s 10 years old makes one wonder: How exactly did DepEd come up with such a decision? And why, of all the subjects, was science singled out? Why couldn’t it have been any other subject? If DepEd really had to make a drastic choice, why couldn’t the choice have been M.A.P.E., considering that Grade 1 and 2 students are naturally active, and that one real practical challenge is to keep such students focused on seatwork?

One likely consideration is the prior 2002 decision to implement the BEC, which the current DepEd administration is only implementing as a matter of compliance to a previous DepEd commitment. Still, it’s not as if the policy is set in stone. If the present DepEd admin believes that implementing such a decision may have negative long-term impacts, they could invoke a precautionary stance and decide to hold the implementation while reviewing the issue further.

In addition, though it’s certainly within DepEd’s purview to make such a decision, in the process of deciding, did they even consult with the DOST on their opinions, albeit even cursorily? Perhaps DOST might have thought that postponing the teaching of Science until Grade 3 wouldn’t be a good idea.

Start them young

We often underestimate what children can do, but as a homeschool mom and educator, I feel that even young children should be taught science at least as early as kindergarten. There are many reasons for this. For one thing, young children are naturally curious. Second, children’s brains are capable of learning science. In addition, children come in all shapes and sizes, including those who are interested in and/or are gifted in the sciences. More importantly, science, which DepEd purports to be a less child-friendly subject, encourages children to learn more by allowing them to put in additional effort.

I have noticed that children are innately and naturally curious about the world around them, especially the physical world. Many parents would agree that children tend to ask about how things work, including natural phenomena. Some of them, like my son Sil, seem to have an endless trove of questions. Once I’ve finished answering one question, he’ll just have another one, and another one, until oftentimes, I lose patience or ask him to do something else. Suffice it to say, having a nature walk with a plant, animal, or insect book can be very informative and stimulating for little children.

It should be pointed out, though, that children don’t think like adults. However, this shouldn’t be a reason to refrain from teaching them science as Piaget’s theory on Cognitive Development Stages explains. Children ages 7 to 11 years (which includes the age range that Grade 1 to 2 students fall in) have been observed to not be inclined to think in an abstract manner, solve problems systematically, or use general principles to predict specific outcomes (deductive reasoning). More importantly though, these children can already think logically about concrete events, objects, or places. They can also reason inductively, that is, they can utilize specific experiences to conclude general principles. For example, one can easily explain Newton’s law of gravity by just repeatedly asking children to drop different things to the ground.

On another note, Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences asserts that some children may have innate naturalist and logical intelligences, making such children like science and do well in them. One example is my son’s interest in science, which was brought about by his grandmother who showed him an old Reader’s Digest article on the body’s immune system entitled, “The war within us.” Building on this interest, I brought him to the Microbiological Research Sciences Laboratory (MRSL) in the UP Natural Sciences Research Institute (UP NSRI). There, he was able to wear a lab gown and put on protective bags on his shoes, but the most exciting part for him was when he looked at bacteria under the microscope. As a result, I am presently saving up for a microscope. Thus, the experience of other parents whose children love science begs the question: Why should such children have to wait until Grade 3 to immerse themselves in Science while their counterparts with non-science-related intelligences have already gained at least a 2-year head start?

Finally, Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) explains the distance between what a child can do independently and what he/she can complete only with supervision. The concept explains that these two zones of competence overlap. In practice, when teaching a new skill, a teacher can build on something the child already knows while being challenging enough to require the child to exert some effort. Consequently, teachers shouldn’t merely take “the students where they are” but rather encourage students to go beyond what they presently know.

A science divide
Although the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) is required by DepEd of all primary and secondary schools as communicated in DepEd order 43, series of 2002 (http://www.deped.gov.ph/cpanel/uploads/issuanceImg/DO%2043_08-29-02_00001.pdf ), the BEC is strictly enforced only in public schools. Though many private schools adopt the BEC, these schools still have the option to include science subjects in Grades 1 and 2 while public schools do not have such an option. Sil’s homeschool, the Master’s Academy, is a private organization that provides science books even at Grade 1.

The uneven BEC implementation since 2002 could be promoting a science divide between public and private schools. It’s tempting to predict that such a disparity may mean producing more future technical professionals or white collar workers from private schools while turning up more blue collar professionals from public schools. According to Daniel Levitin, expertise in any chosen field requires 10,000 hours of practice. Educator Erik Ericsson has something similar: his 10 year principle. He asserts that expertise is gained through a minimum accumulation of 10 years of dedicated practice and immersion.This means that children exposed to science subjects early already have an advantage over children who are exposed much later. If the previously mentioned inequality is proven, it would be alarming since the present work environment is increasingly more global, more science and IT-driven, and has implications on the economy. Either way, if such a science disparity exists, it would mean that more students will be science disadvantaged since the number of students in public schools far outnumber those in private schools. It was reported in the June 5, 2011 Manila Bulletin article entitled, ‘Campus Boom’ that 14.25M public school students were expected to enroll compared to a measly 1.22M students enrolling in private schools, or where the population of public school students is almost 11.7x higher than the population of private school students. As a practice, most academic institutions need to review their curriculum every 5 years, and since the BEC is already at least 5 years since establishment, it’s up for review and evaluation. At the very least, the implications of this plausible inequity need to be studied at the soonest.

An integration problem
Granted that Br. Armin assured the public that science concepts will still be integrated in the remaining non-science subjects in Grades 1 and 2, much of the implementation still rests on individual teachers. Unfortunately, teachers with little background in science might be uncomfortable or unsure about how to integrate science concepts in non-science subjects. This integrating strategy characterizes a broad-based curriculum approach, which is a particular teaching strategy most teachers may be unaware of or, worse, not know how to do. In fact, in page 4 of DepEd Memo 35, series of 2005, it was reported that “some (teachers) however, merely echoed what they learned; thus there are still many teachers who do not have enough knowledge about the key concepts and approaches of BEC.” http://www.deped.gov.ph/cpanel/uploads/issuanceImg/DO%20No.%2035,%20s.%202005.pdf This integrated approach requires teachers to logically teach several topics under one common theme; for example, a teacher can use the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to teach the number 3 (Mathematics) and temperature (Natural Science), texture (Art), taste (Culinary Arts), animal behavior (Biology), or even the concept of trespassing on private property (Law).

The integration will also require additional work, which many public school teachers can hardly do, what with their massive workload, shifting class schedules where one classroom is used by three separate classes in one grade level, abnormally large class sizes, and public school students’ 3 to 4-hour daily schedules, among so many considerations and factors. Simply stated, out of sight, out of mind, or what does not get measured (or monitored) falls by the academic wayside. Consequently, there’s the real danger of teachers not bothering to integrate science in their subjects at all.

Taking up the cudgels for science
It’s encouraging to know that Senator Pia Cayetano decided to take up this issue with DepEd. Still, considering the possible widespread effect of such a policy, we can exercise our rights as citizens and rally support for putting Science back in Grade 1 and 2 public school classrooms. If we succeed, this seemingly small step can redound to positive effects all around, like more future scientists from the ranks of little children.

References
Coffey, H. (n.d.). Zone of Proximal Development. Retrieved January 27, 2012 from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/5075

Lind, K. (1998). Science in Early Childhood: Developing and Acquiring Fundamental Concepts and Skills. Paper presented at the Forum on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education (Washington, DC, February 6-8, 1998). Retrieved January 27, 2012 from http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v2n2/science-search.html

Malipot, I.H. (2011). Campus Boom. Retrieved January 27, 2012 from http://www.mb.com.ph/node/321369/campu

Malipot, I.H. (2012). DepEd drops ‘Science’ for pupils. Retrieved January 25, 2012 from http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/349141/deped-drops-science-pupils

Posted in Metro Manila South Chapter, Personal, Science, Society1 Comment

Filipino Freethinkers Turns Three

3 years ago, 26 freethinkers met for the first time in Shangri-la Starbucks to talk about reason, science, and secularism. Since then, we’ve been pretty busy:

  • We’ve spread freethought on social media through Twitter (over 3,000 followers), Facebook (over 3,000 group members and almost 10,000 fans), and our website, which has almost a thousand posts, has been viewed more than half a million times, and has won the overall prize at the recent Globe Tatt Awards. (And don’t forget our forum, Tumblr, and YouTube pages, too.)
  • We’ve presented the freethinker’s perspective — on secularism, skepticism, and the RH Bill — through our appearances and interviews on AM and FM radio; and both local and foreign TV.
  • We’ve hosted more than a hundred events — meetups, forums, a film fest, and an excommunication party — in Metro Manila and Davao; and in our university chapters in UP Diliman, UP Manila, and DLSU.
  • We’ve helped educate students on freethought and secularism, giving interviews and answering questions for homework and research papers; delivering talks and participating in panel discussions; and providing a forum for learning and discussion through our university chapters.
  • We’ve become advocates and activists, mobilizing creative demonstrations for causes we believe in: fighting for the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill and refuting irrational arguments against it; walking (and running) with our LGBT allies and distracting the bigots who bother them; reminding people to guard their freedom of speech from opponents who cry blasphemy and call for censorship.

And we don’t intend to stop. Just this January, we’ve presented at the World Debate Forum in Ateneo, lectured at UP Diliman and Philippine Science High School, and guested on Bottomline with Boy Abunda. (The episode will air this Saturday (Feb. 4) at 11:45PM on ABSCBN, with a replay on Sunday at 1 PM on ANC.)

To celebrate all this, we’re organizing our third forum, tentatively titled “Filipino Freethinkers Turns Three.” It will be held on March 3, 2012, a Saturday, and will probably be a whole-day event. Be sure to save the date; details will soon follow.

If you want to celebrate in advance, the best way to do so is to attend our meetup this weekend, the first of many we’ll have in our fourth year.

3 years ago

Posted in Announcements, Meetup, Organization2 Comments

February 5 (Sunday) Starbucks Anson’s Ortigas Meetup

Location: Starbucks, Anson’s (across The Podium), ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig (Google map)
Date: Sunday, February 5, 2012
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

Hi folks! This meetup marks three years since the first ever FF meetup on February 1, 2009! Thanks for being with us in all the meetups, our filmfest, our parties, and forums! Come join us in our first meetup of our fourth year on February!

Discussion Topics
Temples for Atheists
Cybercrime Bill
DepEd delays science
Ethics of artificial brain enhancement
– The Merits of Pride Marches

After the meetup we go for dinner and beer drinking at(see map). If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.
* You don’t have to buy anything from Starbucks.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments


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