Archive | March, 2012

On Pleasure and Pain

Every conscious thing we do or choice we make is somehow motivated by the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. The only variables are the kinds of things that bring varying degrees of pleasure and pain to each individual, the premises on which expectations of pleasure or pain are based, and the ability to delay gratification.

For example, many nature lovers go to work instead of spending the entire week at the beach because the former guarantees some future comfort that outweighs the immediate fun the latter brings. Some smokers quit because they’ve decided that the pleasure they get from cigarettes cannot compensate for the pain of a present or potential respiratory illness. Most people do not normally steal because the initial gain will be quickly neutralized if they get caught (or their conscience takes the fun out of taking things that don’t belong to them). And if they believe in an afterlife, getting away won’t even matter.

Which brings us to a common theistic argument against naturalism-based morality: If there is no eternal punishment, there is no ultimate justice and evil people like Hitler and Stalin can get away with atrocities. But there are many answers to this. One, the fact that there can be no ultimate justice without an afterlife does absolutely nothing to support the existence of either Heaven or Hell. Two, if most people believe in the afterlife, civilized societies will have less reason to be vigilant in preventing another Holocaust because they can just leave justice to God. Three, if Christianity is true, a serial killer who rapes and tortures his victims can still enter Paradise if he repents and accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior just before he dies (while his atheistic albeit innocent victims’ suffering will resume in the Lake of Fire).

As the Holy Week approaches and Christians prepare to meditate on the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, many of them claim to worship Christ not out of fear of damnation or the expectation of eternal reward, but because of an overflowing gratefulness for His great love and “ultimate sacrifice.” If this is really the case then why won’t they worship the sun as well, or at least give it some devotion with the same level that Catholics give to the Saints considering the sun is the ultimate sustainer of all life on Earth and that we all get to survive because it burns itself up? Could it be because the sun can be expected to rise every morning and set every evening regardless of what people do or don’t do? If they argue that the sun is just mindlessly burning itself without intending to sustain life while Jesus purposely died so we could be saved, would such salvation be available to those who reject Christ?

No matter how people rationalize worship and obedience to God’s supposed commands, it still all boils down to pleasure and pain. It’s just a matter of adopting the premises set by one’s chosen religion and delaying gratification by giving up on earthly pleasures for the sake of some greater eternal pleasure in the next life. As a response to this, my fellow freethinker Andy wrote a short but profound piece on materialism:

The master passed by a minister preaching against materialism. He was exhorting the congregation on the virtues of sacrificing their earthly desires for the rewards of heaven.

“Our treasure does not lie here on earth,” he said, “But it lies in the bosom of our heavenly Father.”

“Interesting,” remarked the master. “You preach against materialism but yours is even worse because you desire to bring it to the next life. You tell people not to cling to their possessions here by guaranteeing that they will have all those and more in the next life. You are after intangible rewards, but a reward nonetheless. What is so virtuous about that?”

Indeed. And as Bertrand Russell said, “The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others.” In this country, people who officially gave up sexual pleasure preach that couples should not have too much fun while avoiding pregnancy and the consequential responsibilities and sacrifices that come with bearing and raising children. But in fairness to them, they are probably just acting on good faith based on the premise that God does not want us to enjoy life in this world too much because His plan is to give us the ultimate pleasure in Heaven. I just wish that our supposedly secular government would treat this premise with a little skepticism especially when crafting our reproductive health laws.

_________________________

Image by Jong Atmosfera

Posted in Religion0 Comments

RSVP to the 3rd Filipino Freethinkers Forum!

It’s been three years since the Filipino Freethinkers began their quest to uphold reason, science, and secularism (RSS) in the Philippines. To celebrate this fact and set the course for the future of RSS, we’re holding our 3rd official forum this Sunday, April 1, from 1:30 PM to 6:30 PM at Tech Portal Conference Rooms A and B at the UP-Ayalaland Technohub (directions here). Entrance is absolutely free–simply RSVP here!

Apart from presentations by FF’s various advocacy directors and allies, we’ll also be presenting very special awards to individuals who have truly championed reason, science, and secularism in recent years. Moreover, we’re also giving an extra-special award to the person voted Philippines’s Biggest Bigot 2012! Click here to cast your vote!

This is a special occasion for those of us who truly value our rights and our freedoms. Join us as we celebrate a new chapter for freethought here in the Philippines!

(Download the press release/press kit here.)

Posted in Announcements1 Comment

Who is the Philippines’s Biggest Bigot? Cast Your Vote!

In the last few years, the Filipino Freethinkers have encountered a number of big bigots in the local scene whose words and actions truly show an unwillingness to embrace fact instead of fiction, and equal human rights instead of being selfish and dictatorial. From Senator Tito Sotto’s literal laughter in the face of maternal deaths, to Eric Manalang’s plea that our mothers should have aborted us, we’ve gotten to know quite a few bad eggs.

For the 3rd Filipino Freethinkers Forum this coming April 1, we will be handing out the 2012 Biggest Bigot Award to the person YOU think has worked hardest at being a close-minded douchebag. As our prize, the winner gets to have money donated in their name to the cause they are directly opposed to! Isn’t that nice? Everybody wins!

To vote, simply click here and cast your vote! Some of your choices include Senator Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquiao, Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Archbishop Teodoro Bacani, Eric Manalang and Rizalito David.

Follow your heart and vote away! Voting ends March 31, and we’ll announce the winner right after the forum. And for those interested in attending the forum, please RSVP here.

Image from cosmicsnark.com

Posted in Announcements, Humor1 Comment

Rage for RH!

The last years have clearly shown that the Reproductive Health Bill and its provisions are in demand and have been approved by a majority of our population. The best scientific evidence has shown its measures’ efficacy and safety.

Despite this, its opponents have sought to undermine our democratic processes and perpetuate the suffering and death of our women through lies, misinformation and the blatant use of the influence of the Catholic church hierarchy on our elected officials. We would therefore like to invite any and all who wish to push back against this insidious trend by attending the following activity. It’s organized by the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN), a coalition of dedicated NGOs and advocates that includes groups from within the Catholic Church like Catholics4RH, that have declared that its ruling body the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)no longer represents their interests.

Come on by if you’re tired of watching the CBCP delay while women die.Warm greetings from the women and men of the Purple Ribbon for RH Campaign!

In celebration of women’s month, we would like to invite you to join RHAN’s “Rage for RH! —
Rally against Gender Discrimination, for Women’s Empowerment!” on 30 March 2012, from
3:30 to 7:00 pm, at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Grounds, Quezon Avenue corner EDSA, Quezon
City.

While celebrating the many victories women have gained throughout our herstory, this gathering of
women and men aims to: 1) unify women and women-supporters on the central place of reproductive
health and rights in women’s lives; 2) creatively and collectively express our outrage at the capture
of health policy-making by religious conservatives; and 3) highlight the value of women’s lives and
empowerment in nation-building.

The event will include an art exhibit showcasing Agnes Arellano’s sculptures on women’s bodies,
booths/stations where participants can enjoy several means to creatively express their frustrations
over the ongoing delays in the passage of the RH Bill, a ritual of commitment through dance, chants,
noise-making, and a cultural program of poetry reading and performances by pro-RH artists and
personalities (Final Program and Event Details to follow).

Knowing your ardent support for women, we would like to enjoin you and your colleagues to join in
this festive yet meaningful celebration of women’s lives. Your presence will be a big inspiration.

Posted in Announcements0 Comments

Atheist Spring

Red Tani’s guesting on Bottomline with Boy Abunda was the first time in my memory that atheism was covered in the Philippine mainstream media. Atheists in the Philippines are considered a minority, and although there are no surveys conducted as to how many atheists there are in the Philippines, we surely are growing. There are presently around 5000 atheists scattered across various groups on social media. The actual number could be higher as most of them in social media are from the younger generations.

Numbers aside, Filipino atheists, being a minority, are still a misunderstood group of people. We usually suffer discrimination and prejudice, assumed to be anti-Christ, immoral, or worse. But atheists as a demographic are also like any group where there is diversity. We also have different mindsets and ways of thinking. There are even positive and negative atheists. On issues like euthanasia or divorce, we also have differing ideas.

Being an atheist is a choice; unlike religion, you are not recruited into atheism. You can’t become an atheist by being baptized or converted. Being an ex-Christian, I discovered atheism by myself; I did not even know that the word “atheist” existed to convey my nonbelief until later. But what lead me to atheism may be comparable to other atheists. Like Red, I was very pious before, studying the bible, going to church every Sunday, while at the same time learning other fields of study like philosophy, sociology, and science. I became an atheist rather gradually. There was no “Aha!” moment. But being a skeptic really influenced my change to nonbelief. I also suffered discord with my relatives and friends, even losing some along the way. Since I didn’t believe in god and treated the bible just like any other book, some questioned the basis of my morality. To quote Michael Martin in the article on Atheism from Microsoft Encarta 2006:

“Over time, several misunderstandings of atheism have arisen: that atheists are immoral, that morality cannot be justified without belief in God, and that life has no purpose without belief in God. Yet there is no evidence that atheists are any less moral than believers. Many systems of morality have been developed that do not presuppose the existence of a supernatural being. Moreover, the purpose of human life may be based on secular goals, such as the betterment of humankind.”

As a social person, I also looked for other like-minded individuals. Even during the reign of Friendster in social media, I was already a member of internet forums, but being a seafarer, I only recently attended one of the meetups of my chosen group: which was very different from my past experiences attending religious masses. Although I consider an hour-long mass boring, meetups, which can last for hours, are very enjoyable. In fact we run out of time during most meetups, so we continue our discussions into post-meetups which can last up to late at night. We also have Wii parties, protest actions, etc., which I can say are truly fun. And being freethinkers, attendance is always voluntary.

What makes me proud as an atheist is that we are mostly the opposite of what is assumed of us. We are mostly fun-loving and law-abiding citizens. We abhor violence and corruption. And we also have the diversity and plurality of any group. The airing of that Bottomline episode, I hope, will usher an era where atheists are accepted and misconceptions corrected. As one call center’s slogan says: “The future is friendly”.

Photo c/o Frank III Manuel

Posted in Personal, Religion, Society2 Comments

March 18 (Sunday) Eastwood City Meetup

Location: Amberbase Solutions, Inc., Eastwood Avenue, Eastwood City, Quezon City
(Google map)

Date: Sunday, March 18, 2012
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

We’re meeting at Quezon City this week at Eastwood City. Please head to the Amberbase Solutions building and ask for Filipino Freethinkers.

Discussion Topics
Lucy Liu as Watson: Changing Genders in Timeless Classics
Kony 2012: The Lesser Evil?
Banning Sharia Law: Infringement of Freedom of Religion?
Women’s Month: How Are Filipinas Faring? 

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.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

The Beauty of Doubt

Photo by Michael Caven

I grew up in a Christian environment where doubt was hardly encouraged. Faith was a virtue. Doubt was not. The foremost illustration of this is the biblical story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas who claimed not to believe in his resurrection unless he saw his risen body and touched his wounds. When Jesus did appear to him and erase his doubts, Jesus said, “Blessed are you because you see and believe, but more blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” And from those words sprung up an entire culture of faith, of not seeing yet fervently believing.

The first thirty something years of my life were spent aiming for this kind of faith. The urge to doubt would always be attributed to my human weakness or even to the wiles of the devil. But the deeper I went inside Christianity, the more discordant I would feel. Yes, there was always the heat of the moment in worship, and there were days when I felt that I was indeed in god’s loving arms. But these we’re also peppered by moments of doubt. I would always wonder if answered prayers weren’t just coincidences; if the faith I felt wasn’t just leveled up wishful thinking; or if the feelings I had for god’s presence weren’t just that — feelings.

Then a thought came to me: if I believe that god created me, then he must also be responsible for creating this machinery in me that makes me doubt and think and reason. And since this is so, why should I not then trust this thinking and reasoning of mine? What if all I ever believed in was just other people’s beliefs imposed upon society for generations? What if my doubts were the way to truth even if a lot of people (at least in my circles) didn’t seem to share them? Didn’t Jesus say that the gate was narrow and only a few people ever find it?

Ultimately, I was confronted with this question — would I be willing to let go of all I ever believed in my search for truth — yes, even Christianity, the bible and the concept of god that Christianity has imposed upon me? And for me, this was harder than it sounded. It was like being in the middle of the ocean hanging on to a piece of wood, without any land in sight, and deciding whether or not to let it go so I could swim faster to where I wanted to be. I also realized the irony of it — that it takes so much more faith to doubt than to believe. So I took a leap of faith and began my journey of doubt.

In that journey, I went to church less and less because church for me had just been a meaningless habit and the sermons were just rehashed ideas that I heard over and over throughout the years. Even the idea that “we go to church not to receive from god but to give him our worship” seemed stale because if god were everywhere, then I could most certainly worship him anywhere, even in the toilet. Conversely, I could be in church every Sunday with my mind wandering elsewhere and it wouldn’t amount to an iota of worship. So I decided to give up this false pretension and would not go to church unless I really wanted to, but not for reasons of appearances or habit or to “be a good influence” to my kids. (Yes, I got flak for this when my eldest daughter decided she didn’t want to go to sunday school also, but that’s another story).

I began to read books and listen to other teachings that were outside the norm of Christian propriety, and my horizons were widened and I realized that there were also a lot of people like me — much more than I thought there would be — and in the midst of my doubts, it was a reassuring thought. At this point, I also started my own blog (zenbananas.com) where I compiled different stories that I found helpful, as well as my own reflections of my spiritual journey.

Of course, I could not avoid the whispers going on behind me — Christian friends, relatives and acquaintances talking about me, reading my blogs and saying that I was going astray — but I got most of this information third-hand. These people I heard about never approached me and asked me head-on what was going on with me — except for a couple of them — and I appreciated their willingness to listen and their acceptance (of me, not my way of thinking). Although hearing the words, “I’ll just pray for you,” is grating to my ears. I know they mean well but it just sounds so condescending — like “I know something you don’t. I’m someplace better than you, so I’ll just pray for you until you realize that.” I know they don’t mean it that way, but still, it does sound that way.

In the tail end of this journey (which means just about over a year ago), I discovered freethinking and a group called Filipino Freethinkers through a close friend of mine. And when I read about it, realized that this was me (I just didn’t know what it was called). Though this group has been closely linked to atheism, it actually isn’t and its members are a mixed bag of different believers and unbelievers. The basic creed of a freethinker is that you may have your own set of personal beliefs but you don’t go around imposing them on others as if it were THE truth. “To a freethinker, no idea is sacred; all truth claims are subject to skepticism, rational inquiry, and empirical testing.”

A freethinker embraces doubt as a way of life, for it is through doubt that one gets to really dig in and think about what one believes in — not just to swallow everything the church, priest, imam or rabbi says. One of my favorite quotes comes from Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, who says “to doubt is infinitely more important than to adore. To question is infinitely more important than to believe.”

Some time ago I took a step of faith into doubt, and have never regretted it since. I feel more spiritually and holistically in tune with myself, my thoughts and my emotions than I have ever been before. There is less fear and guilt, and more love and compassion for me and for everyone around me.

Such is the beauty of doubt.

Posted in Personal, Religion2 Comments

It’s International Women’s Month! Share Your Stories with Us!

 

March is International Women’s Month! If you have a story to share about fantastic females, send them to us! Commemorate your mother’s strength, narrate your best friend’s journey, or divulge your very own struggles. Or if you have in-depth commentary on the fight for women’s rights, we would love to hear it, too.

Simply email your tales and essays to [email protected] with the subject “Women’s Month Submission.”

Posted in Announcements, Society0 Comments

Is Faith Compatible With Science?

Whenever faced with the challenge that science is incompatible with faith, theists often point to their faith’s own cadre of accomplished scientists to refute this frequent atheistic claim. And they would not want of examples. Just grabbing from the Roman Catholic Church’s litany of scientists will give you many luminaries of the sciences, many with the honor of being called “father of” such and such science or their name being used as units of measurement.

  • Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was an Augustinian friar.
  • Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, named oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Alessandro Volta was a physicist who invented the battery and is the namesake of the measurement for electric potential.
  • Louis Pasteur was a chemist and microbiologist who is often regarded as one of the fathers of the germ theory of disease.
  • André-Marie Ampère was a physicist and mathematician who helped discover the link between electricity and magnetism and is the namesake of the measurement for current.
  • William of Ockham, the namesake of Occam’s razor, was a Franciscan Friar.
  • René Descartes, most famous for cogito ergo sum, was a mathematician as well as a philosopher.
  • Blaise Pascal, the originator of the Pascal’s Wager, was a mathematician and physicist, who is the namesake of the measurement of pressure, stress, and tensile strength.
  • Georges Lemaître was the first person to propose that the universe was expanding, but he is more famous for proposing what we call the “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe.

This is but a smattering of all the Catholic scientists who have contributed greatly to the progress of science. Some of them had overtly pious intentions for their work—in order to more perfectly understand their Creator’s work. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the biggest patrons of the sciences dating back to the Middle Ages with precisely this purpose of appreciating the design of the Intelligent Designer. With such intellectual giants who profess faith in Catholic dogma and such explicitly religious motives, how then can the atheist even suggest that faith is in conflict with science?

 

Is pseudoscience compatible with science?

The existence of religious scientists only proves, as Sam Harris observes, that good ideas can live with bad ideas in the same head. The proponents of the compatibility of faith-based religion with science seem to miss the fact that the acceptance of scientific discoveries of religious scientists is because these findings have survived the rigorous testing of the scientific method. Lemaître’s Big Bang theory is accepted by scientists not due to any purported theological consistency but because it is the best explanation for our observations. That he was religious was purely incidental to the value of his scientific insight.

It is also important to point out that many scientists are religious simply because most people are religious. Centuries ago, only those with the power and wealth of their Churches behind them had the luxury of spending their time reading and experimenting. Not to mention, atheists (often lumped by those in power with worshippers of foreign gods) have been persecuted since the name was coined.

When the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé said that the cyclic structure of benzene came to him in a dream involving a snake biting its own tail, his idea wasn’t accepted for its esoteric merits, it was accepted on the strength of the scientific evidence he presented after this strange epiphany.

One of humanity’s greatest minds, Isaac Newton, was quite the dedicated alchemist. He wrote over a million words on the topic. His work on alchemy was even integral to his work on optics. But, none of this suggests that the pseudoscience of alchemy has no conflict with science.

We find that to the extent that religious scientists are not dogmatic and employ reason and evidence, they are good scientists. That is, we expect religious scientists to cut away all semblance of religiosity from their output before we deem them credible. This does not speak well for the argument that science and faith are compatible.

 

A brief digression on Galileo

 

No essay on the conflict between science and faith would be complete without a mention of Galileo Galilei. Apologists dismiss the Galileo affair as a trial of his arrogance rather than of his ideas, which they found erroneous not just based on scripture, but also based on empirical facts.

Galileo published the first scientific work based on observations through a telescope. He saw that, contrary to the Aristotelian idea that all celestial bodies are perfectly smooth spheres, the moon had mountains. He was also able to discover four moons orbiting around Jupiter. From these, he contested the prevailing Aristotelian and Ptolemaic dogma that all celestial bodies revolved around the Earth. He further proposed, though none of his observations directly suggested it, that Copernicus was right that the planets, including Earth, orbited around the Sun.

Even scientists such as Tycho Brahe found Galileo’s endorsement of the Copernican heliocentric model to be misplaced, saying that it was not supported by the evidence. And, truly, there was a problem with Galileo’s science. Using circular orbits, Copernicus’ solar system relied even more on ad hoc mathematical corrections called “epicycles” to match observations, suggesting that planets would revolve around separate axes all the while traveling in a larger orbit around the sun. It was even more complex and unintuitive than Ptolemy’s geocentric model.

However, Galileo was censured by the Inquisition not because of his bad science but mainly because he contradicted the geocentrism of the Bible and the documents of his trial attest to this. Apologists tend to parade around his errors and “arrogance” in promoting the Copernican system as the central reasons behind his eventual condemnation and house arrest, but this is clearly not the truth.

The Inquisition in 1616 saw heliocentrism as “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts many places the sense of Holy Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words and according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of theology.”

Galileo went on to write Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632, which lampooned geocentrism by writing about an ignorant proponent, named Simplicio, debating with an intelligent heliocentrist, named Sagredo.

His persecutors themselves were clear that Galileo’s crimes were not of arrogance or for faulty science, but of heresy. Upon sentencing in 1633, Galileo was condemned for heresy “of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture.” He would be able to avoid penalty provided that he “abjure, curse, and detest the above-mentioned errors and heresies, and every other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, in the manner and form we will prescribe to you.” He eventually did so. Dialogue was banned by the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo spent the last years of his life in house arrest.

 

The real conflict between science and faith

At the heart of the conflict between faith and science are their contradictory value systems. Science requires evidence for any and all claims looking to be accepted. Faith holds unquestionable belief even when evidence is nonexistent.

Science relies on self-correction. Scientists must admit to their errors and argue only with evidence. This is why science is the best method of knowing the human race has ever produced. No religion has ever come close; no religious explanation has ever replaced a scientific explanation.

Faith is most visibly at odds with science when religions make baseless scientific claims such as those concerning the efficacy of prayer, the origin of man, or the nature of the mind. If science finds that prayer is ineffective, that there never was a “first” man or woman, or that free will is an illusion, someone with an honest scientific mindset can only reject their preconceived notions in favor of a better understanding of the universe. The improvement of knowledge is the hallmark of science—a feature religious faith can never share.

Faith is incompatible with science because science requires freedom of thought. In principle, science has no heresies, blasphemies, or sacred cows; the only limit is reason. Science can only thrive when scientists are not intimidated or forced to shy away from difficult answers that may contradict long-held beliefs.

The example of Galileo is often shrugged off by apologists as anti-Catholic spin or, at best, that it is not representative of the Church’s relationship with science. And, to be fair, it is true that this event is atypical. The Roman Catholic Church is not antagonistic to all science, just the parts problematic to their ideology. In order to soothe the congitive dissonance caused by their enjoyment of the fruits of science, apologists must conveniently gloss over the real conflict between science and faith. Science will always be hostile to the restraints of the religious mindset. In order for faith and science to coexist, science must be neutered, declawed, and defanged.

It is only fortunate for us who live in this day that faith has fallen so far now that it has been forced to ingratiate itself with modern secular society. It no longer holds the power to execute heretics or punish those who dare to think for themselves. We must never forget how the Churches acted when their power was more than just ceremonial.

Galileo may have been wrong (or not completely correct), but so have thousands of other scientists who have never faced the wrath of the Inquisition, whose books have never been denied to the public. It was only because Galileo had the gall to challenge scripture that he faced the consequences. Faith is only chummy with science insofar as it does not challenge core beliefs. In this way, religions are not patrons of science, but of science products. They are open to enjoying the spoils of the critical nature of science without appreciating exactly what makes science worth a damn—its complete lack of dogmatism. It is the very character of the scientific attitude that makes the clash between science and faith only inevitable.

Image credit: Ies Dionisio Aguado

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science13 Comments

FF Forum 3: Reason, Science, and Secularism

Half of the FF Forum 3 Venue

Spend April Fools’ Day wisely! Attend the third Filipino Freethinkers forum!

  • What: FF Forum 3: Reason, Science, and Secularism
  • When: April 1, 2012 (a Sunday), from 1:30 – 6:30pm
  • Where: Tech Portal Conference rooms A & B of UP-AyalaLand TechnoHub in Commonwealth Avenue (directions here)

Join us as we celebrate our journey with the following activities:

3 years of FF

Through talks and discussions, videos and presentations, we share the story of FF’s first three years, remembering how we fought for the causes we believe in:

  • RH Bill
  • LGBT Rights
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Secularism

State of Freethought Address

We tell you what we think of the current state of reason, science, and secularism in our country, and invite people — through official membership and recruitment — to join us in our cause.

Freethought Awards Ceremony

We give out the first annual Freethought Awards to those individuals and groups in the Philippines who champion the ideals of freethought (and those who don’t):

  • Reason Award
  • Science Award
  • Secularism Award
  • Bigotry Award

More information about the event will be posted in the coming days. The venue can hold 200, but only fifty slots are left, so if you wish to reserve one, please do so soon using the form below. Be sure to answer the question at the end of the form to let us know that you’re a freethinker who’s serious about attending the event.

Posted in Announcements, Meetup, Organization3 Comments

Science Education: Where Values Go To Live

DepEd, Y U No Teach Science to Kids?

The news that our Department of Education decided to remove the ‘Science’ subject in the first and second grades released a flurry of criticism and commentary in the past two months. Since science education is one of the main advocacies of the Filipino Freethinkers, the issue was tackled in a couple of articles on this site. To read the articles, go here or here.

Now, if there’s one thing worse than DepEd’s dropping ‘Science’ in the first and second grades, then it is their reason for doing it. In the words of Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, they decided to jettison science in order to “decongest the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) and to make learning more enjoyable to young learners.” In other words, they believe that in postponing the teaching of science, they are doing the students an act of kindness.

 

Science, the School Bully

That many people believe science is not “child friendly” is sad on so many levels. The other levels have already been excellently discussed in the other articles on this site. I want to concentrate on this one level in particular: DepEd and the Philippine public as a whole view science as a congestion because they do not understand the first thing about it.

Given how they view the subject, I am in fact happy that DepEd dropped ‘Science’ in Grades 1 and 2. I don’t want an institution that views science as a congestion to teach it to the future generation because if they do, they will only end up alienating the kids to science.

In fact, we are better off with a public ignorant of science than a public alienated to science. Scientific ignorance can be remedied by a few years of quality education and public information. I know this because I am the product of our public elementary school system, and when I entered high school I was almost a science ignoramus. A few years of good education cancelled all my years of bad education.

 

Bad science teaching causes alienation toward science.

Before we move on, let me illustrate how bad my elementary education was. I had one science teacher who taught us that a monkey-eating eagle was a monkey. I also had one science teacher who was a creationist, and another who was a moon hoaxer. I also remember being scolded by another teacher for bringing encyclopedias to school and allowing my classmates to revel in them. The encyclopedias were “too advanced” for us, that teacher said. To be fair, I had good elementary teachers too. Sadly, the effect of one bad teacher requires the correction of five good ones.

Now let us proceed to the main point. There is a fundamental difference between being simply ignorant of science and being alienated to it. Good education can only be effective in minds that are not yet alienated to science. For my part, I am very thankful for my few good science teachers – who are, by the way, glowing embers in the dark world of our public education system – for keeping my sense of wonder alive throughout all those years of horrible science teaching. I believe I wouldn’t be writing this essay right now if it were not for the fact that my sense of curiousity survived all those years in a public elementary school.

 

The ivory tower of science: where science is exiled by bad science teaching.

However, when you have teachers believing that science is a mere body of knowledge to be handed down to the kids for their uncritical consumption, you will end up with students knowing some but understanding nothing. Worse, you might even end up with minds that acquired a resistance to learning. This is what I mean by alienation to science. If you shove scientific facts down a student’s throat without providing that fact some human dimension, that student will view science as a form of punishment. They will then be conditioned, à la Pavlov’s dog, to run for the hills whenever they smell a hint of science in the air. Sadly, such a conditioning has been going on for decades now, as indicated by the uncontrollable spread of the “nosebleed” meme. One wonders whether these people actually imagine Science as the school bully repeatedly punching them in the face until their noses bleed.

Bad Science: “I’mma make your nose bleed!”

Worse than a nation that views science class as our local equivalent of Western culture’s gym class is a public that has been so confused by bad science education that they can’t tell science from pseudoscience. A public that jumps into any bandwagon containing the words ‘quantum’, ‘ions’, ‘vibration’, ‘crystals’, and ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’ is a public that is not only easily hoodwinked by charlatans, but is also a breeding ground for such charlatans. But can you blame people who are easily impressed by ‘biodynamic agriculture’ and ‘ultrasupermegahyper-ionic water’ given that their science teachers simply flooded them with scientific jargon most of the time? Teaching so many scientific facts without teaching the scientific method and critical thinking is cultivating a culture of unquestioning acceptance of anything that sounds esoteric. Look around you and ask whether this is not what has been going on in our science education system for some time now.

 

Esoteric = Science? Unfortunately, many people think so.

 

The First Thing About Science

Earlier I made the bold claim that some of our leaders do not know the first thing about science. But what is the first thing about science? I believe we all know and agree why science must be taught to kids as early as possible. But why can it be taught as early as possible?

Well, the first thing about science is that it is founded on a set of values. In effect, science education is values education. A person cannot understand science without imbibing at least most of its virtues.

 

Science is a very human activity.

Science is difficult, yes. Science does not end in being amazed and awed, indeed. Science is not all about the happy-happy-joy-joy, true. That is why when science is taught, you do not simply teach it as a body of knowledge and not even as a body of theories. When science is taught, it must be taught as a human activity. And like all human activities worth pursuing, it requires a certain set of attitudes.

Among the virtues required by science are curiosity, attentiveness to detail, ambition, and intellectual honesty, all of which can be taught to kids as early as possible. In fact, for many kids these virtues need not be taught but only encouraged and reinforced.

Children are so naturally curious about the physical world that one should be impressed at how good our educational system is in killing their sense of wonder. Science can be a very difficult subject. This is why wonder and awe are necessities of science education and not merely ornaments or embellishes. For a kid whose curiosity has survived years of bad education, the uphill journey to scientific understanding is not only worthwhile, it is enjoyable for its own sake. On the other hand, without an eagerness to learn new things about the world, the rigors of science will be corporal punishment to a student.

 

Musing on the subtleties of bathroom hydrodynamics.

Similarly, children are naturally ambitious. Sadly, years of watching television and cultural conditioning skews this sense of ambition by a great deal. (Kid A who wants to be an artista was cheered on by her relatives while Kid B who wants to be an astronaut was pitied for being an odd little girl who’s probably a tomboy.) And it doesn’t help that science teachers do not impart a hunger for excellence, either. In most science classes, grades are the ultimate reason for listening to the teacher. Forget about discovering the cure for AIDS or solving the efficiency problem of solar energy; as long as you pass the subject or got a 90+, you’re doing fine. What many people fail to see is that ambition is what propels cutting-edge science. No matter how many practical technologies were spawned as byproducts of sending space probes to distant worlds, no one can deny that humans shoot rockets to the sky primarily to push the boundaries of what we can do.

Being a difficult subject, the rigors of science also build a character of discipline and patience. After all, science is all about looking at and dealing with the world in an orderly manner. The discipline of mind that science (and mathematics) teaches is something that is rarely matched by other subjects. It might sound like a stretch, but teaching a kid to keep her room in order and teaching her that there is order in the universe have a lot in common. I can’t think of any parent who does not want her child to imbibe the sense of orderliness that science teaches best.

Speaking of discipline, science also requires another kind of mental regularity in that it demands constant and consistent use of critical thinking and logical reasoning. From a very early age, children can show signs of these in the way they value evidence and logical consistency. For example, some kids can start calling bullshit on tall tales even while very young. However, science cannot thrive on mere flashes of critical thought. For a child to have a scientific mind, that child must be taught to consistently demand evidence for claims.

 

Demand for evidence whenever appropriate. (It’s always appropriate.)

Finally, being a human activity, science requires a healthy mix of cooperation and competition. In teaching science, one must teach both group learning and self-learning.

 

Science Education as Values Education

The whole point of the preceding discussion is to show that science is not so far from GMRC (Good Manners and Right Conduct) after all. And if we can and should teach GMRC from a very early age, the same must hold true for science.

After all, the contents of science are secondary to its methods and values, because the facts and theories can change but the values don’t. Concentrating on the contents of science is what causes our public’s alienation with science. Hence, the loss of two years of content-centered science education is, as Garrick Bercero also argued, not such a big loss. In fact, I even view it as a gain. A lot of ignorant but receptive minds is better than a host of minds resistant to scientific learning.

I believe that science subjects from the first grade to the sixth should be very light on their content and should concentrate on the values, especially on the sense of wonder and ambition. Grade school science should also emphasize activity (observing, experimentation, questioning, self-learning) and not knowledge.

As I have said many times, science is very hard to master. But with a sense that in doing science you are part of a human enterprise that seeks to solve the Sphinx’s riddle of the universe, all the difficulties of science becomes part of the fun of it. A proper science education should breed kids who, when faced with a difficult scientific problem, say “Bring it on!”

Hence, before we demand more hours of science education, we must first demand that our science teachers understand the first thing about science.

 

Science will go nowhere without ambition.

Photo credits:

  • knowyourmeme.com
  • nytimes.com
  • christianhumanist.com
  • ihatebullies.com
  • rickygrice.blogspot
  • blogs.discoverymagazine.com

Posted in Personal, Science, Society1 Comment

Quit Being So Butthurt, Philippines

 

Dear Butthurt Filipinos,

 

It has come to my attention that the executive branch of our government has recently asked for an apology from a Hollywood actor, as said actor has made quite public his disappointment with our country’s Customs officials, not knowing that the actual venue of his mishaps was our neighbor, Indonesia.

Now, the fact that said actor was referring to Indonesia is actually not that important. Because something tells me that even if the actor really did have an unsavory experience here in the Philippines, Malacanang and like-minded citizens would still hold out the dark, shredded ribbons of their heart to the rest of the world and demand repentance. They did it with Claire Danes, who is actually an excellent actor, and now they have done so with Taylor Kitsch, who is actually not.

Oh, Butthurt Filipinos, when will you quit being so butthurt about everything? I understand that all of us have the right to be offended, as all of us have the right to take certain ideas and principles with utmost seriousness and passion, but there are far more compelling things for us to be concerned with.

If we just picked our battles and focused our energies on making our country something others can fawn over, rather than writing stern letters to two-bit actors; or squawking at someone who cupped his palms over his ears when they could have just brushed it off and went on with the business of justice; or throwing grade-A hissy fits when the secular government proposes laws that don’t jibe with their pet hypocrisies; we would be living far, far better lives.

Too much time and energy and money is spent on this masochistic whipping of our own behinds and pointing to others as the culprit. There’s a salve for that, dear Butthurt Filipinos, and it’s called dignity. You should try it sometime.

 

Sincerely,

Marguerite

Posted in Personal, Politics, Society5 Comments

Values Ed: Where Secularism Goes To Die

A few weeks ago, Kevin, an agnostic atheist member of the Filipino Freethinkers, posted on his blog about his frustrating experience with a substitute teacher in his Values Education class. He wrote:

Our regular professor was out so we had a substitute. The lesson for that day was about different personalities. He showed us a diagram:

  1. Wise – someone who is god-fearing and is able to recognize mistakes.
  2. Foolish – someone who doesn’t love god or someone who denies him and his orders.
  3. Mocker – someone who rebels against god and mocks him.

Being a secularist, this set off alarms in Kevin’s head, and after raising his complaints and delivering an extensive explanation of his objections to his teacher…

He then went on saying, “Yes, okay. We understand that. But you still have to participate in this class. You have to understand that Values came from ‘God’. He is the root of it all. And we are defining personalities according to biblical terms and definitions.”

Read the whole article here

It’s bad enough that this happened in a school that was purportedly non-sectarian, but perhaps it was just a fluke. Maybe it was just this one teacher who was, after all, just a substitute. Surely their regular Values Ed teacher would be much more aware and sensitive of religious diversity and secular morality, right?

 

Wrong: How You’re Doing Education

 

Even with their regular teacher, the same thing happened again, only this time it was much worse. Aside from forcing everyone in the class to write “the goal of my life is to make God smile”, she reacted mockingly and condescendingly towards Kevin’s explanation of his stance, spouting the usual nonsense, such as “atheists are just rebelling against God for their hardships and pain in their sad life”. I find it quite appalling that this kind of force-feeding, where dissent and diversity are brushed aside or unthinkingly dismissed, currently masquerades as education. And all this, after a lecture that was supposed to enlighten the students about differences of belief. Such a performance deserves an award of sorts for its incredible display of sustained ignorance. Gee, I don’t know, maybe something like…

 

The Slowest Clap Ever


Fact: even their regular teacher exhibited a grave lack of perspective and competence in teaching a supposedly secular Values Education class. The question now would be: Is this a cause for alarm?

My personal experience would say yes. In my (public) high school, some teachers would have students lead prayers. Back then, however, I was still a theist and not yet aware of the principle of secularism and how holding prayers in class (or any school event, for that matter) was a violation of it.

It’s even worse when your school’s dormitory has a built-in Christian chapel. Others would argue that it’s fine if the school didn’t pay for its construction, but the fact remains that government space is being used and that not all people in the school would benefit from such a “facility”. It would be much better to have a multi-purpose “quiet area” that can be used by people of all/no religious beliefs for prayers, meditation, and/or reading.

However, this is all anecdotal speculation. I have yet to find numbers about how secular our Values Education programs are (at least for non-sectarian institutions) and how well-versed educators are in tackling morality from a secular standpoint. This is one study that I’d like to see, although my instincts tell me that I probably won’t be happy with the figures that might come out.

 

Could You Point to the Part on the Doll Where He “Taught” You?

 

Given that these incidents do happen on quite a regular basis, the problem then turns into “How do we prevent it?”.

The most obvious thing we’d need is a systematic review of curricula to ensure that secular schools stay secular and that enforcement is carried out accordingly. Many Values Education programs out there include mentions of faith in (a) god and other tenets incompatible with secular morality. Values Ed programs in particular are susceptible to mentions of a deity given how the majority of our population base their morals upon Roman Catholic doctrine.* However, note that it’s ultimately up to the teacher to decide whether or not to uphold secularism in the classroom, meaning any teacher in any subject could potentially use your class time to indulge in his/her personal religious rituals.

Another important thing is the courage of individuals to voice and follow through with their dissent. I mentioned earlier that I used to be unaware of how prayers in class were a violation of secularism. I am curious however, as to how I would have acted if I was already conscious of these things back then. It’s one thing to recite your opinion in class, and it’s another to escalate and go against an entire system if the educators themselves turn out to be incompetent at recognizing their incompetence. On the part of students, this would take a lot of courage and a strong conviction that what you are fighting for is worth the trouble. And with the growing public awareness regarding secularism, I’m hoping to read more stories of students standing up for this principle and serving as a vanguard against religious domination.

 

 

 

Do you have a story to share about a similar experience in school? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

 

~~~

Image sources:

*Some avoid having to recognize the violation altogether by citing “natural moral law,” the Thomist ethical framework of the Catholic Church, which contrary to common assertions is not at all a secular argument.

Posted in Personal, Religion, Society2 Comments

The Top 10 FF Articles (So Far), and a Call for Contributions

The official website of the Filipino Freethinkers (FF) has evolved as rapidly and dynamically as the organization itself. It started out as more of a free-form community blog, where non-believers and progressive believers could rant, rave, and ruminate about faith, freethought, and all else in between. And while the current site continues to serve as a venue for this kind of free, fearless speech, it has also become much more than that, the same way FF has become much more than a casual gathering of folks who liked to share stories about their doubts and observations.

Now, the website also serves as one of the main vehicles through which FF — which, in three colorful years, has become a more polished and structured organization — advocates reason, science, and secularism. In fact, due greatly to the site’s opinion pieces, as well as its use of multimedia to inform and expose the public to the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, the government, and their various cohorts, FF has even bagged “The One,” the premier prize in 2011’s Globe [email protected] Awards, which championed groups and individuals who’ve put social media to great use.

Several of the site’s pieces have even earned viral status, “liked” and dispersed through social media, amassing hundreds — and in one particular case, thousands — of comments, and even cited by print journalists.

Here are our top 10 articles thus far, roughly arranged by subject matter:

1. Anti-RH Bill Catholics Harrass RH Bill Supporters and What Actually Happened at the Manila Cathedral: Revealing the Lies and Bigotry of Eric Manalang and Pro-Life Philippines  

These back-to-back pieces were what first fired up the site’s readership, and Eric Manalang’s ire. Our mothers should’ve aborted us? But we’re just getting started!

2. Read ‘Em and Weep: Statements Made at the ‘Faces of the RH Bill’ Forum

A disturbingly bizarre list of bigoted statements by “Dr.” Ligaya Acosta of Human Life International. Best read with Stresstabs.

3. CBCP Trademarks the Term ‘Catholic’

The uncanny power of satire — and proof that more people need to learn to read between the lines. This piece was even taken as fact and plagiarized by popular tabloid Abante.

4. Why the RH Bill is Bad: The Real Truth behind the Supposed Truth about the RH Bill

Speaking of satire and the people who fall for it, this hilarious piece is our most read, shared, and contested article by a mile, with 28,647 “likes” and 4,860 comments — and counting! A must-read, comments and all!

5. Typhoon Sendong and the Necessity of Science Literacy in the Philippines

But FF is definitely not just about the RH Bill. This piece, written by our Science Advocacy Director Pecier Decierdo, was cited in a news piece for Business Mirror, one exciting example of FF’s growing mainstream influence!

6. On Dicks and Double Standards: Misplaced Reactions to Misplaced Phalluses

When the Mideo Cruz-Poleteismo brouhaha erupted, FF was determined to defend the freedom of speech and oppose its opponents’ utter hypocrisy.

7. An Interview with Mideo Cruz

This included giving Cruz a chance to speak his mind without the usual media sugar-coating.

8. Blessed are the Poor, Said the Billionaire Bishops

Our site has always been a prime venue to publish facts and figures most mainstream outlets wouldn’t dare to. Consider this expose on our staggeringly wealthy men of the cloth.

9. Open Letter to CBCP: Donate One Billion to the Victoms of Sendong and Billionaire Archbishop Tagle Holds 2nd Collection for Sendong Victims

We also use our site to communicate directly with certain groups and individuals. Quite a few open letters and challenges, such as these two pieces, have been made.

10. [Insert YOUR Article Here]

That’s right: we hope that many of you out there can join our site’s pool of writers! We would love to hear more new, strong voices giving our readers a piece of their mind! If you are unafraid to challenge authority, tradition, and dogma in favor of speaking out for reason, science, and secularism, send us your articles for consideration. Please email your pieces (preferably in Word docs) to [email protected] We can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Image from robbieandbobby.com

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