Author Archives | hgamboa

Sanctity of "Sanctity"?

Sanctity of "Sanctity"?

A news article at The Daily Tribune narrated a story about a woman having been conned by a “fixer” who was supposed to ensure her marriage annulment. The victim, who has been separated from her husband for about four years, paid the suspect Php85,000 in exchange for the suspect’s services to facilitate a “sure thing” and “hassle-free” annulment ruling. When the victim received the document for a favorable court ruling, she was very happy as this would enable her to proceed with her new life with her British boyfriend. However, her happiness was cut short upon learning that the court ruling document she received was a fake.

I see a couple of tragedies here. First, we have a victim who lost a huge sum of money from a scam. Second, we have someone whose hopes for having a new and promising life get crushed. While losing hard-earned money from a scam is a painful experience, I feel that having one’s hope crushed compounded with a feeling of helplessness is even more devastating. The Philippine government is certainly not helping out in preventing such tragedies from happening with its zealous Family Code. The Code aims to preserve the “sanctity of marriage” but when a marriage is irreparably broken what is the point of being confined in a mere nominal union if not to merely preserve the sanctity of “sanctity” itself?

Cavite Congresswoman Lani Mercado-Revilla said that people should work in preserving the holiness and purity of marriage. Marikina Congressman Marcelino Teodoro expressed his surprise upon learning of an increasing number of annulment filing in the country. Teodoro said that the figure: 

“…is an alarming percentage for a predominant Catholic country. There is a need to strengthen the law on the family as an inviolable institution.”

 

He further states:

“The problem with couples getting married is the lack of informed decisions which should have been provided by the seminars required before marriage…What couples fail to realize before getting married are the legal implications of their actions as husband and wife which entails deep thought and understanding. These obligations stretch out from co-habiting, obligations of the man to woman and vice versa as well as supporting the family. These are vital legal obligations that must be fully understood by couples and strictly informed to them by legal and Church-related seminars… Annulment should not always be the option. We must not relax the rules on annulment but make the provisions of the Family Code be clearly informed before entering the marriage. Marriage should not be done out of impulse or mere feelings but both parties should be psychologically prepared and legally informed for the lifelong commitment that it entails.”

 

I feel that it is this kind of thinking that is to blame. While Teodoro and Mercado-Revilla may believe that marriage is a holy sacrament according to their religious inclinations, preserving this religious ideal may not spell justice and promote happiness to the many lives trapped in an irreparably broken union. Granting that it is an assumption on my part to assert that a marriage involved in an annulment application is irreparable, I submit that it is also an assumption for the respectable lawmakers to say that the root of the problem stems from couples’ lack of psychological preparation and lack informed decisions for what is meant to be a lifelong commitment. We simply are not gods to have omniscience and omnipotence to ensure and maintain order in our lives all the time.

Is it a sin or is it wrong to have a marriage annulled by estranged couples? Why is this so wrong? Is it because of the perception of the “sanctity” of marriage? What does “sanctity” mean, anyway? When the marriage itself becomes a problem where can we find this “sanctity”? It may have been forgotten in bed the very moment the actual “sin” was committed!

I see marriage as a contract between two persons to love and honor one another till death parts them. Suppose that a man and a woman get married and everything is all nice and happy. Then after 10 years things in their lives have changed. Let’s say the man changed. Let’s suppose that he refuses to protect his wife; that he abuses, assaults, and tramples upon the woman he wed. Is his wife under any obligation to him? He has violated the contract. And despite all the counseling and intervention done to make the marriage work, the woman is still being hurt and tormented. Don’t we see that the husband has failed to live up to the oath in the contract, to love and honor his wife? In addition to physical injury and mental anguish, the kids are being affected by the constant violence they are seeing from their father. Is the wife under any obligation to the husband in that case? Is she bound by the contract the husband has broken? Must the wife live with the husband for the husband’s sake? Must the wife live with the husband and stay married to him for the sake of a religious ideal? Should we insist upon a wife to remain with a husband who torments her? Even married women have a right to personal security, don’t they? Do they lose their right of self-preservation the moment they say “I do” in the wedding ceremony? Does the woman have the right to seek a new life and a new happiness? Do we picture God, with His infinite wisdom and compassion, insisting that His child remain the wife of a cruel man? If our honorable lawmakers insist that marriage is a sacred inviolable union under God, even for a marriage that threatens the happiness and self-preservation of an individual, then I can only wonder why God could be so cruel as to limit and permit a person to live in a living hell. It’s easy to say that “God will find a way to make the marriage work if you just have faith” as well as “Having faith in God will make changes in the cruel partner’s ways, thereby saving the marriage”. It’s easy to say that those who opt to annul their marriage do not have faith and are immoral and so on. It is easy to condemn and judge these people but it is another story to actually feel their pain by walking in their shoes.

Those who oppose relaxing the annulment requirements or any bills with a shade of divorce may invoke religious beliefs or even quote Biblical passages to support their contention. That is fine and dandy and they have every right to express themselves. However, it is quite ironic that the only time Jesus was known to have actually written anything was the time when he wrote something in the sand when he challenged any sinless accusers of an adulteress to cast the first stone. Do all of our honorable lawmakers know how it actually feels like to be helplessly trapped in a miserable married life? Perhaps some of them do. But if they choose to remain in such a life, what makes it right for them to dictate how others, who perhaps don’t have the same means and privilege, ought to pursue their own new happiness and self-preservation?

To our Philippine lawmakers, please read the writings on the wall. Please look at the facts and please look at pragmatism once in a while instead of being overly fixated on cultural or even religious beliefs that are just simply too archaic and out of touch with the present reality. Laws are made for the sake of promoting and accommodating justice, not for the sake of promoting and accommodating laws.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society10 Comments

Battle Line for a Misplaced Cause

Battle Line for a Misplaced Cause

“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

In an article I came across at fairly recently, the Catholic Church as represented by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is preparing to draw the battle line against the Aquino government should the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill gets passed into law.1 While I do not wish to join the bashers of the Church or Christianity as a whole who insist that the Church’s involvement in the debate itself is a Constitutional violation of Church and State separation (which I do not particularly agree with), I would like to submit a critical assessment of the Church’s stand and its battle’s misplaced cause.

Critics of the Church have been rooting “delusion” on the part of the Church as reason why the Church seems to hold on to beliefs that go contrary to reason and evidence. Just yesterday, one of my Facebook acquaintances, Ms. Rish Velasco, shared an interesting link that seems to correlate religiosity and psychosis.2 While I do agree that some of the aspects of religiosity such as “hearing divine voices” or zealotry may have some psychological kink like “Schizophrenia” or “Cognitive Dissonance”, I think it is important that we be careful not to jump into the conclusion that all people of faith are necessarily deluded or psychotic. I think it is important to understand why these folks, many of whom are quite normal and rational individuals, embrace some aspects in life outside of reason.

Filipino boxing sensation Congressman Manny Pacquiao said that he is against the RH Bill because “it is against God’s law”.3  While I do admire Pacquiao’s humility, passion, and excellence in the sport of boxing and even in some cases, outside of boxing, I think that Pacquiao, like many people who support his view, just do not understand the purported “God’s law”. It is one thing to know what the Bible says but it is quite another case to understand what it says.

Of course, Congressman Pacquiao was referring to Genesis 1:28 where God was claimed to have commanded Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply”.4  However, what Pacquiao and many others do not see is the history and purpose behind the verse. Readers of the Bible need to ask what the words meant to those who wrote them. How were these words first understood? What was the human experience that caused our ancestors to express these words?

The book of Genesis was said to have been written from 922 BC to 587 BC. It is also worth mentioning that the writer of the part in Genesis where the Creation story was described lived within the period before the destruction of Jerusalem in circa 586 BC5,6, which also covers a period in the ancient Jewish history when they were under Babylonian Exile.7  Putting the Genesis verse into historical perspective, we can say that the Jewish writer was part of the generation when the Jews were captives and deportees to the foreign land of their conquerors (Babylon). So it is not too farfetched to reason that the captive Jews had dreams about returning to their sacred land of Judah and/or at least for their culture to survive and realize this dream. However, since they were merely captives, they had very limited rights (if any) and they had no realistic hopes. According to Bishop John Shelby Spong:

“To reproduce and to grow their tribal numbers so that some of them might someday return home was keenly important.”8

The words behind “Be fruitful and multiply” came out from the human experience and instinct for survival and the enhancement of life; that is the universal context from which one must understand the verse. That should be the basis for reasoning out that the verse is a testament of loving and valuing life. The Church and many of its adherents see the surface about the love and value for (human) life. Unfortunately, they fail to see the message underneath the surface.

Our instinct for survival and life enhancement has pushed us to achieve scientific and technological (even moral) advancement. Medical breakthroughs have helped increase human life longevity. Agricultural and animal husbandry sciences and technology have helped us secure food supplies so that we can prevent hunger. All of our advancement paved the way to enhance our rate of survival resulting to the exponential rise in our population.

The increase in population comes with it the increase in the demand to use more resources to ensure survival and the enhancement of life. Unfortunately, we do have finite resources and as our resources get depleted this situation brings with it a threat to our survival and quality of life. Bishop Spong states:

“So the need to “be fruitful and multiply” has over the centuries slowly but surely lost its urgency. But if you have been programmed since the dawn of conscious time by a survival mentality and are convinced that this injunction was somehow the command of God, then the power of the injunction lives on when the need to obey it is no longer relevant. That is where we are today. The command originally given to enhance life has now become a command that threatens to destroy life.

Once the supposedly divine command to “be fruitful and multiply” was seen as necessary to enable the human race to survive. Now it must be seen as nothing less than a prescription for human genocide. Once it was accepted as the “Word of God”. Now it must be viewed as a terrible and life-threatening text.”8

To give a closer picture of the issue in the Philippines, I would like my readers to visualize this situation.

Suppose you have a devout Catholic couple with very minimal means. The husband does not have a steady job while the wife is focused on taking care of their 4 kids. The husband, so overburdened with the anxieties of his life and the absence of any hope drowns his pain in alcohol and drugs. The wife, old and haggard before her time, beaten down by the combination of inadequate diet and constant pregnancies and enduring traumas that a woman in those circumstances has to confront, is unable to care adequately for her kids. A doctor’s assessment of the wife reveals a case of post-partum depression from their fourth child. The doctor urges the couple not to have any more kids because the financial and emotional resources of their family were simply not adequate to cover another pregnancy. But the couple believes that the “Word of God” must be obeyed by them – “to be fruitful and multiply”. Like many human beings and couples they do have sexual urges but they hold on to the dogma that the act of sex must be for procreation; this makes them rule out the use of artificial contraceptives because the use of such tools is a “sin” in the eyes of the Church and God. After a while the wife becomes pregnant again and gives birth to their fifth child. The depression has sunk in so low that the wife one day snapped and decided to kill all her kids.

The story above comes from a combination of stories told by Bishop Spong in his book “The Sins of Scripture”. Some of the details are inspired from the award-winning novel “Angela’s Ashes” and the true-to-life story of Andrea Yates.9,10  Stories like these are not uncommon in poverty-stricken countries such as the Philippines. We may not hear of extreme cases such as killing one’s kids much but stories of hardship, burden, and misery that come with having so many mouths to feed with very limited means and hope are very much common. Are institutions, such as the Church, responsible for expressing what they believe are divine laws, even if those laws turn out to increase or even cause enormous destruction? As Bishop Spong stated:

“Ignorance has certainly never been declared a crime. But this question does raise the issue of the responsibility of an institution that becomes obsessed with its ability to tell the gullible and easily manipulated what God thinks.”9

Can the Church, by placing its rules ahead of a woman’s health and her children’s safety, honestly say that it is acting on women’s best interest and their children’s? I do not think so.

So the CBCP is preparing to draw its battle lines against the government’s push to pass the RH Bill. The RH Bill is intended to ensure the people valuable information that may very well be life saving and enhancing – which are the very same values behind the biblical message discussed. The cause for the Church’s fight against the RH Bill is so misplaced that it actually threatens human life’s enhancement and even survival. Would the glory of the Church be worth the blood of many poor women and children? Heaven help them.

===============

Background References:

1 http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/hl/hl110094.htm

2 http://www.bharatvani.org/books/pp/ch1.htm

3 http://www.usnewslasvegas.com/national/cbcp-elated-over-manny-pacquiaos-pro-life-stand/

4 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

5 http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/genesis.htm   

6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora

7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_captivity

8 The Sins of Scripture, pp. 33-35, 39, John Shelby Spong (2005), Harper Collins

9 The Sins of Scripture, pp. 29-32, John Shelby Spong (2005), Harper Collins

10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Yates

Posted in Politics, Religion13 Comments

The Gospel According to St. Dawkins

The Gospel According to St. Dawkins

DISCLAIMER: The following article expresses the views of the author (hgamboa) and does not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

* * * * *

Last night, after weeks (which felt like years) of screening and deleting the emails I get from the Pinoy Skeptics facebook group, I decided to participate in a discussion with a few folks there. When my friend John Paraiso invited and included me to join the FB group, I loved the idea and mandate of their FB page. But as soon as the FB page got established, I noticed that a lot of the posts there focused on god or religion bashing and I also noticed quite a few rabid self-professed atheists. It’s sad because that FB group could be a great group. The presence of a few rotten apples in the basket seemed to have tarnished the image of the group as I believe some folks have decided to leave the group (including myself).

Well, in my discussion, I recognized a Dawkinian flavor in statements made by some of the participants. I also noticed the use of a few Dawkinian favorite words such as “delusion” (from his book “The God Delusion”, which many atheists hold dearly as if it is some sort of bible). That is fine and dandy; however, what is it about Richard Dawkins and his work such as “The God Delusion” that seem to induce polemic with rabid atheists such as some folks at the Pinoy Skeptics FB page? I wonder.

In a forum I used to frequent, we discussed the (in)famous [depending on which side of the fence you are in] atheist-scientist, Richard Dawkins (RD) and his book – “The God Delusion”. I would like to share with my readers some comments I had with the book. Please note that my comments do not in anyway imply that I subscribe to the beliefs and mindset that RD attack. However, I would also like to point out that I also do not necessarily embrace everything that atheist saint Richard Dawkins says.

In the first chapter, page 18, of the book, Dawkins laid out his definitions of terminology on theist, deist, and pantheist. He referred to deism as a “watered-down theism” while pantheism as “sexed-up atheism”. Of course, with theism, he refers to the belief in the traditional supernatural deity who created everything and comes in from time to time to bend natural laws and interfere with human events. So, with respect to his definitions, I do see his point.

But I guess it boils down to what one means about theism and God. If God is reduced strictly to the word, then I guess I can see the point. But if we go beyond the word and go with the meaning behind the word, it may be a different case. Some may even say that an atheist is not really an atheist. When an atheist says that there is no God, he may mean that there is no God that he has grown up with – that God is not capable of being God for him. Theism defines God as an external being (a.k.a. Supreme Being), supernatural in power, dwelling above the sky, occasionally invading the world to split the Red Sea, to bless and answer prayers…and of course, to punish disobedient ingrates. Of course, with the advent of freethought and modern scholarship, God is now unemployed. He can no longer do what he once was thought he could do. No one needs this God anymore to explain tsunamis, hurricanes, diseases, etc. So if God is strictly captured in theism, which is the belief in this unemployed deity, then the atheist may be just saying that he doesn’t believe in this theistic God anymore.

Anyway, RD brought out a good point regarding nominal religionists who are qualified as atheists. In page 14, he points out:

“The present Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, told me that he goes to church as an ‘unbelieving Anglican… out of loyalty to the tribe’. He has no theistic beliefs, but shares the poetic naturalism that the cosmos provokes in the other scientists I have mentioned… There are many intellectual atheists who proudly call themselves Jews and observe Jewish rites, perhaps out of loyalty to an ancient tradition or to murdered relatives, but also of a confused and confusing willingness to label as ‘religion’ the pantheistic reverence which many of us share with its most distinguished exponent, Albert Einstein.”

 

On page 18-19, RD says:

“There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like ‘God is subtle but he is not malicious’ or ‘He does not play dice’ or ‘Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?’ are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic….Einstein was using ‘God’ in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense…Let me sum up Einsteinian religion in one more quotation from Einstein himself: ‘To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense, I am religious’. In this sense I too am religious…”

 

Of course RD differentiated himself from Einstein with the reservation that “cannot grasp” does not have to mean “forever ungraspable”. RD doesn’t prefer to be called religious because he feels that the term is (destructively) misleading as according to him “religion” implies — “supernatural”.

I also do not think Dawkins is necessarily giving Einstein a “pass” because Einstein was such a hotshot. I think this is more of an emphasis of what RD feels of a belief that has a “Deserved Respect”, which is what the section is all about (pp. 11-19). He just gave Einstein as an example.

Further reading took me to what RD said on page 14. He said:

“An atheist…is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles — except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand”.

 

Granting that atheists (may) espouse the words above from RD, but are those words necessarily sound? At first glance, sure. Afterall, RD rightfully posits the improbability of God. The issue is probability, not certainty. The justification for one’s judgment is anchored from the point that observational evidence can never make a prediction or a generalization certain; it can however, gauge merely the ‘probability’. Now the question is – how probable?

RD seems to recognize only two options – 0% probability (blind faith) and 100% probability (from overwhelming empirical evidence). On page 48, he said:

“The view that I shall defend is very different: … Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability”.

 

This reminds me of RD’s lecture at the 1992 Edinburgh International Science Festival. This is how he ended the dismissal of the “God Hypothesis”.

“The alternative hypothesis, that it was all started by a supernatural creator, is not only superfluous, it is also highly improbable. It falls foul of the very argument that was originally put forward in its favour. This is because any God worthy of the name must have been a being of colossal intelligence, a supermind, an entity of extremely low probability–a very improbable being indeed…. Even if the postulation of such an entity explained anything (and we don’t need it to), it still wouldn’t help because it raises a bigger mystery than it solves.”

 

( For the more complete speech, please see: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Dawkins_Richard/NoNothings_Dawkins.html)

I’m just wondering… how improbable? What basis is this figure determined? RD says God is “an entity of extremely low probability”. How low? On the basis of what evidence is this probability determined? I’m not busting RD’s chops (nor his followers’) but I am just wondering how RD arrives at any figure. And when does probability determine whether or not something actually exists? He did say that he will be defending the “Either he exists or he doesn’t” view, did he not?

On page 47, RD describes Agnosticism as a “fence-sitting” position. He also wittingly dubbed it as PAP which stands for Permanent Agnosticism in Principle. The PAP style, RD says, is “appropriate for questions that can never be answered, no matter how much evidence we gather, because the very idea of evidence is not applicable”. I feel that this is somewhat misleading. If the scientific method (through empirical evidence) can neither prove nor disprove the existence or nature of God, then either we abandon the question (something RD does not choose to do) or we answer it on other grounds. I think that the question on God’s existence or nature ought to be a matter of intellectual integrity in which all sides of the debate – whether atheist, theist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever, seek to offer the “best explanation” of the available evidence. This is basic philosophy of science. It is not going away just because RD chooses to ignore the other explanations or he doesn’t like the non-empirical (e.g. supernatural).

Sure, I am with RD when he rejects the notion of giving equal probability of being right regarding the hypothesis of God’s existence and non-existence. If the scientific method cannot settle an issue, it does not mean that all answers have to be regarded as equally valid, or that we abandon rationality in order to deal with them. Maybe this just means that we have to consider looking at a different level. If empirical evidence is not enough (or applicable) to determine the existence of a non-empirical, then a person has to infer its existence by different means of reasoning. Why can’t God be demonstrated to exist, at least in principle, in the same way? Perhaps the scientific method alone cannot ultimately determine the God question, even though it has a lot of important contributions to give to the debate.

Another thing that caught my attention is RD’s objection to what he sees as the disproportionate privileging of religion. I do recognize RD’s objection to this. I mean what is it about religion that also deserves a uniquely privileged respect? I think this is about attitude. Discrimination may be a product of people’s bias or even fears. People with a strongly held belief may tend to move Heaven and Earth to protect such beliefs if they feel threatened. Just like how the Church has treated scientists in the past that threatened their strongly held beliefs and just like the example of the cop who wouldn’t help the atheist activist in the story told by RD in his book.

But I do not think atheists (or non-religionists) are necessarily the only ones getting the unfair treatment.

Alister McGrath, from his book “Dawkins’ God” tells of the case of an Augustinian monk who, from 1856 – 1863, grew around 28,000 pea plants and observed how characteristics were transmitted from one generation to the next. His name was Gregor Mendel. Now, I think most of us here are familiar with Mendel’s contribution to genetics from our high school biology so I would skip the details of his experiments. Anyway, during that time, Charles Darwin was becoming a very popular figure. Darwin’s theory had considerable explanatory force which was recognized by many at the time, even those who were afraid about the implications of his ideas for the place of humanity within nature. Yet there was a problem with the theory. How did nature “remember” and “transmit” new developments in species? How could a rising generation “inherit” the traits of its predecessor? At that time, Darwin and his contemporaries believed that characteristics were “blended” when they were passed to the offspring. But if that were the case, then how could a single mutation be spread throughout the species? It would be diluted to the point of insignificance, like a drop of ink in a bucket of water. In Darwin’s evolutionary hypothesis, variation would simply become diluted.

Now, Darwin’s theory for the mechanics of inheritance ( known as “pangenesis” ) was based on hypothetical “gemmules” – which are supposed to be small particles that somehow determine all characteristics of the organism. These “gemmules”, at that time, had never been observed; nevertheless, Darwin argued that it was necessary to propose their existence to make sense of the observational data he had. It was an ingenious solution; yet still lacking solid support. Through Mendel’s work, Darwin’s theory would (much) later get some solid support it needed. With that, adaptive mutations could spread slowly through a species and never be “blended out”. Darwin’s theory of natural selection, building on small mutations over long periods of time, suddenly became much more plausible.

Great story, eh? But it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Mendel’s studies were ignored not until 1900 when it was acknowledged and appreciated by Carl Correns et al. B.E.Bishop’s article: “Mendel’s Opposition to Evolution and to Darwin” (Journal of Heredity 87 [1996]: 205-13) offers an explanation why Mendel’s views were ignored. The article says that Mendel’s studies were seen to be in tension with Darwin’s ideas, which were rapidly being accepted as scientific orthodoxy at the time. There was hostility towards Mendel within some circles that some even questioned the reliability of his experiments. It was argued that Mendel’s studies would oppose Darwin’s theory of evolution and they questioned the reliability of Mendel’s studies given this personal agenda. I think this suggests that discrimination (or unfair treatment) is really more about human attitude and not necessarily because of religion.

Here’s another story.

In July 1954, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ordered an increased explicit commitment to atheism in its schools. Belief in God, at that time, had not yet been eliminated by argument or force. The only option seemed to be an indoctrination of the country’s children. Soviet schoolbooks repeatedly asserted the malevolence of religion and credos such as “The Marxist must be a materialist, i.e., an enemy of religion” flourished. For more information on this, please see:

http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2002/2/022mail.html

and

http://www.uiowa.edu/~c16e051/porritt.doc

So, if RD’s arguments carry weight, can we conclude that atheism (or a non-religionist mindset) also had its share of unfair advantages? And would it be fair to say that such unfair advantages given are not necessarily specific to religion? Even if we widen the scope, not just about discrimination or unfair treatment, but atrocities and evil acts, are we to conclude that atheism (or a non-religionist mindset) is evil, immoral, given the case of the Soviets? No! Of course not! As McGrath says: “The institutional abuse of an idea does not discredit it, whether we are talking about atheism, theism, or democracy.” But I am somehow astonished that RD does not seem to care about this.

Going back to my discussion at the Pinoy Skeptics FB group, there was this participant who was pontificating on the superiority of science. That is fine and dandy but does this necessarily mean that science should be the ultimate determinant of truth? On page 66 of “The God Delusion” a reference to Eugenie Scott on page 66 can be seen. Scott, as RD describes, is an activist of science and is the big cheese of the National Center for Science and Education. Anyway, in an article Scott wrote from the NCSE website, a demarcation problem in distinguishing which is science and which is pseudoscience is recognized. Here is an excerpt of the article:

“First, science is an attempt to explain the natural world in terms of natural processes, not supernatural ones. This principle is sometimes referred to as methodological naturalism. In time, a consensus of how some aspect of nature works or came about is arrived at through testing alternate explanations against the natural world. Through this process, the potential exists to arrive at a truly objective understanding of how the world works.”

 

(For the complete article, please refer to: http://ncse.com/rncse/23/1/my-favorite-pseudoscience )

Now, this makes me wonder again (as I have wondered about this before) about making the distinction between science and pseudoscience. Is there a science that is responsible for making this distinction? Which science is tasked to know what science is and what pseudoscience is and differentiating the two and providing the criteria for doing so? (e.g. Physics? Biology? Chemistry? Psychology?)

Professor Steven Schafersman, in his article from: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/schafersman_nat.html said:

“Naturalism is, ironically, a controversial philosophy. Our modern civilization depends totally for its existence and future survival on the methods and fruits of science, naturalism is the philosophy that science created and that science now follows with such success, yet the great majority of humans (at least 90% of the U.S. population) believe in the antithesis of naturalism–supernaturalism.”

 

Naturalism, as Schafersman tells, is a philosophy, and the opposite of naturalism is supernaturalism (which is also a philosophy). Granting that science is the ultimate determinant of truth, going back to Scott’s article, if there is no science to distinguish science (materialism and/or naturalism, whichever side you are in) from pseudoscience (supernaturalism) then how are we to make a judgment call on the two? I think, as rational individuals as we claim to be, such questions can be a very humbling question to ponder on. When we talk about metaphysics and spiritual issues, and think of them as useless, non-sense, and illogical, we may have to think twice.

Moving on with RD’s book, after RD gave his objections to the privileging of religion, he went on to attack the God Hypothesis. The very first words on that next chapter are:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction…”

 

He then supported his assertion with a whole series of derogatory adjectives from parts of the Old Testament. But he doesn’t mention the compassionate love of God in Hosea, the justice of God in Amos, the tenderness of God in the twenty third Psalm, the suffering servant in Isaiah.

The New Testament was not given some slack either. Dawkins asserts that the doctrine of atonement is a “vicious, sado-masochistic repellent, barking mad”. However, he shows minimal thought on the life and teachings of Jesus nor with Christian understanding of the death and resurrection. Sure, I am not a fan of the Christian theology of atonement either, but RD should have at least looked at why Christians live by the theology of atonement by looking at its Jewish roots (Yom Kippur).

Then RD goes on to attack the many failures of religious people. The fundamentalists, the foolish experiments of believers, and so on and so forth. Nothing really new there and I do recognize he is just making a point. However, RD seems to overlook the good contributions of religious people in the world and the harm perpetrated by atheist regimes.

In the third chapter, RD gives us a survey of arguments for the existence of God. For those who are not familiar with the counter-arguments, I’m sure they will find RD’s rebuttals to be spectacular. But for those who are familiar with them, there is nothing new. I do not have any major objections for chapter 3. For me, I think RD gave a nice rehash of the counter-arguments on the issue of God’s existence. I give him two thumbs up for sending the message that the arguments by theists (the ones he gave out as examples) do not prove anything. But then again, a theist may ask, who says these should be about proving God (as if it were all that possible)? A theist may say that the value is not in proving God but in exploring the rational implications of faith in terms of our experience of causality, beauty, purpose, morality, and so on. I think believers of RD may need to think about that should theists decide to throw them that curve ball.

On page 79, RD says that the mature Darwin blew William Paley’s Natural Theology out of the water. Well, I think RD maybe getting carried away with giving Charles Darwin too much credit. The theology has already been rejected by many leading theologians during that time (before the time of the mature Darwin), such as John Henry Newman (1801-1890). Sometimes, I think RD and his fanatical legion (who may very well be Charles Darwin worshippers as well) just get too carried away with their anti-religious rhetoric, as seen in RD’s book and posts in web pages such as the Pinoy Skeptics FB page.

Posted in Religion, Reviews22 Comments

A Tragedy from Victory Liner

A Tragedy from Victory Liner

Last January 7, Philippine Coast Guard member Richard Padua, resident of Taguig, married with one four year old child, met his gruesome and untimely demise caused by the very same Victory Liner bus he boarded from Olongapo to Pangasinan. The story hit the local tabloids early this month and for a backgrounder on the story, you can visit http://bomboradyo.com/index.php/news/latest-news/35486-miyembro-ng-pcg-patay-matapos-mahagip-ng-bus-sa-pangasinan. Although Victory Liner Inc. promised to shoulder the expenses for the wake and burial of the victim, their promises were not acted on and the family of the victim is left without any feedback from the culprit company. I am writing this article to air the side of the Padua family about what happened; to give the reading public more information about the evidence that were not made available for the public to peruse, and to open for discussion the lessons we (including operators of public transportation) can learn from behind this tragedy and injustice.

When the Padua family spoke with the police station officers who covered the investigation, they were told that the Victory Liner driver and conductor claimed that Richard Padua was a “balut vendor” who decided to jump out of their moving bus which resulted into the tragic accident. The bus driver reportedly testified that he did not notice Richard Padua jump out of his bus and his testimony was reportedly supported by the bus conductor and a bus company inspector who happened to be in the bus at that time. The police reportedly obtained a testimony of another passenger who supported the claims of the three Victory Liner employees. Since the driver’s claims are corroborated by three people, is it then reasonable to say that Richard Padua, a “balut vendor”, jumped out of the moving bus and that Victory Liner Inc. should not be held liable for the tragic accident?

Any thinking person worth his salt should weigh all the evidence. In this case, testimonial evidence is not the end-all-be-all. The physical evidence need to be looked at as well in order to see if the testimonies of the four “witnesses” hold any water.

The accident occurred at Richard Padua’s final destination (Sison, Pangasinan). After the incident, Richard’s left side of the body was heavily damaged; the kind of damage that is consistent with damage sustained from force and friction after being dragged and trampled on by a heavy moving body or object. The strap located in the upper section of Richard’s backpack shows tears consistent with tears caused by force exerted to pull away from being stuck. There were also no “balut” found within the immediate scene of the accident, nor in Richard’s possession.

Based on the physical evidence, let us revisit the statement and the testimonies of the Victory Liner employees and the one passenger “witness”.

Was the driver’s claim and the witnesses’ testimony that Richard Padua was a “balut vendor” correct? No! During the time of the accident they had no knowledge that Richard was a member of the Philippine Coast Guard. Did they have reason to believe that Richard was a “balut” vendor? No! Richard did not have any “balut merchandise” in his possession and no “balut” meant to be sold were present at the scene of the accident. Does being a “balut” vendor even matter in this case? I do not think so.

Was the driver’s claim and the witnesses’ testimony that Richard Padua jumped out of the moving bus correct? This is a trickier one to answer but I submit that it does not matter heavily on this case whether Richard indeed jumped or not to establish culpability of the driver and the bus company. However, if we look at the physical evidence, it is more reasonable to believe that Richard asked the driver to stop so that he can disembark from the bus at his final destination in Sison, Pangasinan. The only way Richard could have disembarked from the bus was through the door closest to the driver (typical of many airconditioned province-route buses). When he disembarked from the bus his backpack must have gotten stuck when the driver closed the bus door. Realizing his situation, Richard probably attempted to forcibly pull his backpack from being stuck or another explanation is that the tear in the backpack was caused by being stuck as Richard’s body was dragged by the moving bus. These explanations seem to fit the physical evidence well.

So now we come to the questions regarding culpability. Even if we grant the witnesses’ statement corroborating the driver’s claim that Richard jumped out of the moving bus, isn’t it the bus company’s policy to ensure the safety of its passengers? Didn’t the driver, the conductor, and even the inspector make sure that their passenger was safely out of the bus before the bus door was closed and before it started moving? The driver claimed that he didn’t notice Richard jump out of the moving bus. Somehow this doesn’t make sense because wouldn’t he have opened the door of the bus first before Richard could disembark? This accident seems to be the result of either negligence or incompetence or even both! The claim of the driver seems to touch perjury and the corroborating statements of the other Victory Liner employees seems questionable if we consider the factor of “conflict of interest”. As for the passenger witness, how can that witness attest to the fact that Richard jumped out of the moving bus without the bus driver’s knowledge given the fact that the door to disembark the bus is immediately on the right side of the driver’s and that the driver needed to open the door of the bus before anyone can disembark? Even if we grant that Richard did jump out of the bus after the bus pulled over, there is no way the witness can attest that the Victory Liner employees in the bus exercised all due diligence to ensure the safety of passenger Richard Padua.

Now, should the culpability be limited to the involved driver and not extend to the bus company? The Philippine Law on Torts and Damages, Article 2180, mandates that the employers are also responsible for the negligence of their employees in the performance of their duties. The rationale for this rule is as follows:

“What has emerged as the modern justification for vicarious liability is a rule of policy, a deliberate allocation of a risk. The losses caused by the torts of employees, which as a practical matter are sure to occur in the conduct of the employers enterprise, are placed upon that enterprise itself, as a required cost of doing business. They are placed upon the employer because, having engaged in an enterprise, which will on the basis of all past experience involve harm to others through the tort of employees, and sought to profit by it, it is just that he, rather than the innocent injured plaintiff, should bear them; and because he is better able to absorb them and to distribute them, through prices, rates or liability insurance, to the public, and so to shift them to society, to the community at large. Added to this is the makeweight argument that an employer who is held strictly liable is under the greatest incentive to be careful in the selection, instruction and supervision of his servants, and to take every precaution to see that the enterprise is conducted safely.”

Of course, Victory Liner Inc. may invoke a defense of having exercised due diligence in order to be relieved of the responsibility. The case for Pestao vs. Sumayang on December 2000 (G.R. No. 139875) tells that employers may be relieved of responsibility for the negligent acts of their employees acting within the scope of their assigned task only if they can show that they observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage. The Pestao vs Sumayang case ruled that the employer involved in that case failed to show due diligence. The scenario is very similar to the case with Richard Padua’s accident as there is no way Victory Liner could say that due diligence was exercised by putting in place inspectors who monitor the performance of its drivers at random places along the route. In the Pestao vs Sumayang case, the defendant employer used this defense but was junked by the Court. How much more weight can this defense hold in the case of Richard Padua’s accident when one of the witnesses who corroborated the driver’s claim was a Victory Liner inspector present at the time and scene of the accident? Obviously the presence of an inspector there and then was not enough to ensure and monitor the performance of the driver!

The Padua family tells that the expense for Richard’s wake and burial was not shouldered by Victory Liner Inc and they also say that the company has not provided them any updates or any feedback. When dealing with the media, Victory Liner Inc., as part of damage control, makes promises to show that it cares. However, it is one thing to say that they care; it is another to actually care. Last I heard, this practice that Victory Liner Inc. is engaging in is called “lip service”. If the victim was as prominent as someone like a Jaime Zobel or even a Kris Aquino, would Victory Liner Inc. still engage in lip service? I wonder.

The Padua family does not need lip service. Richard was a young poor public servant who was the breadwinner of his family. He left behind a wife and a four year old child who now have no one else to depend on except each other because of the negligence and incompetence of Victory Liner Inc. I hope through this article people would realize the pain of the Padua family, the physical evidence to consider, the injustice of engaging in mere lip service by Victory Liner Inc., and the reasons why Victory Liner Inc. must be held liable for the tragedy.

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References:

http://www.chanrobles.com/scdecisions/jurisprudence2002/dec2002/154278.php

http://www.chanrobles.com/scdecisions/jurisprudence2000/dec2000/139875.php

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (hgamboa) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Others, Society23 Comments

Evolution-based morals? Don't pick up the soap!

Evolution-based morals? Don't pick up the soap!

So I seem to have opened up a can of worms when I tried to point out the absence of empirical evidence support on accounting morality to evolution propelled by natural selection at the Filipino Freethinkers site. One good thing out of allowing such a topic to be published in the Filipino Freethinkers site is that it brings opportunity to show the reading public that the site is not just an atheist or a militant atheist site. One bad thing about it is having “fans” or “stalkers” (depending on whether the person is good-looking or not). My understanding of evolution (and perhaps even science itself) may be frowned upon by some of my atheist friends and acquaintances there but that’s okay with me. If they think that I do not know anything about science or that my understanding of evolution and science is plagued with so “many errors” or “stupidity”, because uhm… well… my articles do not fit a certain framework of what they think science and evolution ought to be then there’s nothing I can do about such a sentiment. I certainly do not feel the necessity to prove to any “scientists” or “science teachers” there my science background. Besides, scientific grandstanding in order to bolster credibility when it comes to discussions touching on science is just so… well… not my style. 🙂

Anyway, marching onward…

I’ve encountered a few self-professed atheists in the past who account morality to evolution. For these folks, at least the ones I encountered, they do not subscribe to universal values and truth. Also for them, there is no objective truth. I guess it is perfectly understandable for the atheist position to reject objective truth. Bertrand Russell, author of the “Why I Am Not a Christian”, although known for his “philosophical agnosticism and practical atheism”, also contended that with God out of the picture, no other objective standard for morality (which he called “The Good”) could be found. J.L.Mackie, one of the greatest minds of atheism in recent times also admitted, in his book “Miracle of Theism”, that moral value is most unlikely without a God to ground it. He wrote that if there really is objective value, it would make God’s existence more probable than if there weren’t. He said this is a defensible argument from morality to the existence of God. Mackie rejected the notion of a universal value because as an atheist, well… he had to. He adopted the evolution-based morality model and believed that we all have the feeling, the sense, that there is objective value but that this is only a feeling developed over a long evolutionary process.

Perhaps there is more to evolution-based ethics than meets the eye. Let’s assess, shall we? However, before my atheist “fans” or “stalkers” go ballistic on me again for seemingly going against the choir, let me first state that this article does not intend to make any claims on the existence of an objective truth or value or even universal truth. It does, however, present some arguments against some questions we may have in mind. It also intends to incite critical thinking and assessments on what we may already adhere to and some ideas that the readers may consider under an open mind.

In our assessment, I would like to touch on something that I feel is important to the subject matter. Is there such a thing as a “universal value/morality/truth”?

I was once told that:

“Man has evolved in such a way that he relies less on his instincts (which have gone subterranean) and almost fully on his consciousness (his most fallible organ, if I may say so). Values are important for the enhancement of human life and culture, for creativity and creation. They are important for the enrichment of human life, that is why value-creation is one of mankind’s most wonderful activities and experiments.”

So our moral sense was basically a result of our value creation stemming from our evolutionary process for the enhancement of our lives. So if that is the case, does this make truth a creation of the mind? If we accept this, as well as the notion that truth is merely passed on from one generation of human beings to another, one could say that this truth must be nothing more than a human invention. It originated from humans and could have been thought up differently from the way it is. Like the idea that a red light means stop and a green light means go; humans invented that and could easily have reversed that if it was favored by the human mind. However, not all things we have learned from humans (e.g. our parents and ancestors) are human inventions that could have been different from what they are. There are some things that we learn from others that are not human inventions; humans teach them but we don’t necessarily invent them. They could not be different from what they are. Take for example, basic logical truths such as “a whole is greater than any of its parts” or “a thing cannot both exist and not exist in the same sense at the same time”. We learned these from our schools, our parents, other people; but it doesn’t follow that these people (or the people before them) invented these or that they could be different from what they are. We only recognize them as truths that exist apart from us and pass them along to other people.

The next question I have is: Is truth relative?

Before we get into this, I think it is important to distinguish two types of truths I have in mind. There is the objective/absolute truth and the subjective/relative truth. I think it is a mistake to think of truth as a case of “either/or”. Anyway, looking at relative truth, please have a look at Theodore Schick Jr.’s “Is Morality a Matter of Taste?” ( http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/schick_18_4.html )

Other types of Relativism can be seen in:  http://www.iep.utm.edu/c/cog-rel.htm

Now regarding absolutism, there are various kinds of absolutism as well. Most commonly, absolutism refers to the view that says, for example, that the government or the head of that government has complete rights and powers over the citizens. Absolutism also commonly refers to the belief that there are moral absolutes that are valid universally, and in the case of various denominations of Christianity, for example, that God is the ultimate moral authority. Thus, some or a good number of Christians, and Muslims I presume, are ethical absolutists, but may or may not be absolutists in other aspects.

Prof. LaFave offers several other types of absolutisms in http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/melchert.html

Anyway, I do not support the notion of absolute relativism that says there is no “objective reality”. I do, however, support the existence of both objective and subjective realities.

Examples of objective realities are “Airplanes exist in the world”, “I have used a computer in my life”, and “I am a human being”.

There are also subjective truths such as who is more beautiful–Ms. X or Ms. Y. These are value judgments, which depend upon the perceiver/interpreter. Such “truths” are more or less relative to the subject.

As for absolutist vs relativistic ethics I recommend you check the link below:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_pluralism

As you will read, rather than just opt for either relativistic or absolutist ethics, the link shows an alternative—value (ethical) pluralism.

Now we may ask: What about the different moral practices in the world? Doesn’t this prove ethical relativism?

I do agree that we see different moral practices by different cultures at different places. However, different moral practices do not necessarily contradict the notion of a universal truth. Anyway, given the differences in moral practices that we see in different societies, what is remarkable is not really how different these are but how similar they are. In fact what we do find are fundamental value systems around the world. But before anyone goes ballistic on me with that statement, I will try to explain what I mean.

If we take the UN Declaration of Human Rights that was drawn in 1948, as an example, we would recognize the demonstration of this fundamental similarity in value systems around the world. Human freedom, dignity, life, liberty, security, and many other things are said to be morally good. Racial and gender discrimination, slavery, arbitrary arrest, torture, all forms of degrading treatment and other acts are condemned. Some may say that the UN Declaration is relatively modern and it may have evolved through preceding generations. But as the English writer, C.S. Lewis’ compilation of a list of ancient moral codes, we see a highlight of fundamental similarities between them. The moral imperative against murder or cruel treatment of other human beings is found in the moral codes of the ancient Egyptians, Jews, Babylonians, Hindus, and Chinese. The command to honor and respect others is found in the moral codes of the ancient Hindus, Babylonians, Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, and Chinese. Values such as honesty, mercy and care are likewise found in a wide spectrum of ancient codes. I guess the point here is that despite the radically different conditions and situations we find people in, it is not the difference in moral practices that are remarkable, but the similarities.

Now, one may surely ask, “Ok, if there is indeed a universal truth (or value, if you will), and if people are truly guided by this set of objective and common moral principles, then how can different moral practices still exist?”

Well, it is one thing to recognize or know about an objective and universal moral standard, it is quite another to follow it. It is possible that when we find certain people who do things we condemn, they are acting in violation of moral standards that they recognize. But what about the societies that, without any remorse or any thought of wrongdoing, carry out practices that we condemn? A good example would be the classic case of the Eskimo societies recorded by anthropologists, as discussed in our Philosophy 101 courses. Anthropologists have found that in the past, infanticide was quite common amongst the Eskimos. They would leave their infant children out, to freeze to death. This was permitted by the parents and no social stigma was attached to it, yet we condemn this practice.

In assessing these kinds of things, I think it isn’t enough to ask what practices people do but also why they do it. We have to realize that a difference in moral practice may not always be because of a difference in moral principles held by the people. Different practices may be due to a difference in a group’s circumstances or conditions in life.

Considering the Eskimo example above on infanticide practice, people who hear of this practice may be quick to judge that Eskimos do not love their children as much as we do or that they do not have the same level of respect for human life as we do have. But if we ask the question why they did such things, we would see if they really love their children less than we do or whether they did have less respect for human life than we do. Perhaps this is just because they have different circumstances that forced them into such practice? Until we can answer that “why” question, we can’t really say for sure that they are following different moral values from ours.

The Eskimos in the anthropology study example lived in a harsh environment. Food was scarce in their region and mothers would often breastfeed their young much longer (up to 4 years). In addition, they were a nomadic people, unable to farm. They were always in a move to search for food. Infants had to be carried, and a mother could only carry one in her parka. In other words, these people lived on the margin of existence.

Let’s ask ourselves these questions:

1. What if I had more children than I could support?

2. What if I knew one was going to die because there simply was no way to keep that child alive?

3. What if neither I nor my community had the means to care for all my children?

4. What would we do in such situations?

Would we not search for the most painless way to bring about a child’s death because we do love our children? I think we might. That is what the Eskimos did, freezing to death, for them, is a relatively painless way to die. The child falls into a deep sleep and then dies in its sleep.

My main point is not that such practice is morally good but that it does not necessarily prove that the Eskimos held different moral values from what we hold. In other words, if we find ourselves in the same kind of situation as them, we would probably do the same. What we can learn from this is that infanticide did not signal a fundamentally different attitude toward children. Instead, we recognize that it was because of their love for their children and their respect for human life that they looked for the most painless way for them to die. So the question of “what” in differences in moral practices isn’t always sufficient, we also have to dig deeper and ask the “why” question.

Using another example, there are cultures in the world where it is believed that it is wrong to eat cows. This belief is held despite the hunger its people are suffering from. Such a society where killing cows is always wrong would appear to have different moral values from ours. It would appear that they have a greater respect for animal life than human life.

With a case like this, a person’s belief about reality makes a lot of difference. These people believe that after death, the souls of humans inhabit the bodies of cows. So a cow that we see may be our grandpa. But with this, can we really say that their moral values are really different from ours? No. The difference lies elsewhere. It is in our belief systems, not in our values. We both agree that we shouldn’t eat grandpa; we simply disagree whether or not the cow is or could be grandpa. The status of whether or not the cow is grandpa or could be grandpa does not have anything to do with morality.

So going back to the previous question on whether values such as moral values were invented for the enhancement of human life; if our moral convictions really do stem from the need to do whatever to promote the enhancement of human life, then shouldn’t we have the moral conviction to exterminate the sick, the aged, and the handicapped? I mean it may be said that these people do not really enhance one’s life. They can even be quite burdensome; they use up resources we need to survive. I don’t know up to what level these people contribute to the enhancement of our life but I’m guessing it may be minimal. So if we, as humans, are hard-wired to create values for the enhancement of our lives, then shouldn’t we then have a moral sense or sense of duty to get rid of anyone who hinders the enhancement of our lives? Shouldn’t we prohibit the (mentally) handicapped people from reproducing?

But we have not and do not regard these as our moral duty. In fact we have the opposite convictions. We would condemn anyone who did those and even thought about those things. If our evolution carried with our value creation activities for the enhancement of life, it doesn’t seem to support the human compassion for the sick, the aged, and the handicapped.

Now, we may also entertain the notion that morality is a necessity for the weak, that the compassion shown and given towards the weak makes life more pleasant for the weak and it would be nice for us all to know that we would receive that kindness too if we were in that position. However, this is not necessary if we go by the purpose of morality as an enhancement for human living. If it were only for human life enhancement, we’re actually better off without that kind of compassion. All those resources, funds, and energy would be freed up for use by the healthy ones. But as indicated before, this is not our attitude. We actually regard it as good to use resources to care for the weak. We do this even when the people concerned would not contribute to the enhancement of our lives; such as the comatose, the mentally handicapped, and others. And even if we decide to let the person die rather than prolong his or her life through extraordinary means, we do this with great reluctance and a deep “soul-searching”. There seems to be nothing in the evolutionary explanation which can explain these strong moral sentiments.

Now, let’s set aside the previous questions and grant that the evolution model is the most plausible explanation for morality. The question now is: “Can we condemn anything via evolutionary morality?”

Suppose aliens from Planet X came to Earth one day and interacted with us, would rape be wrong for them? Suppose that the aliens have an entirely different evolutionary history from ours, wouldn’t it be conceivable that rape would not necessarily be wrong for them? If rape is wrong for us humans, we cannot just say that rape must be wrong for the aliens as well if they have a different evolutionary history. On the evolutionary model, we cannot assume that the aliens’ morality would be like ours. It would depend on how their evolutionary process went.

Suppose that these aliens can have sex with us, how should they act towards us? Suppose they decide to begin raping humans at will and suppose we complain that rape is wrong and that they should stop, they would have a ready response to us by saying “Your morality is just a product of your evolutionary process. They are only like your other adaptations. Any other meaning is an illusion. It doesn’t affect us”.

If morality were strictly an evolutionary product, they would be correct. If morality is only an evolutionary product, then acts like rape would not really be wrong, we just have the conviction, the feeling, the emotion that say that it is wrong. So in the case of the alien rapists, they would be fully justified and we would have nothing to say to them. So with evolutionary morality, it appears that there is no basis for condemning such acts. On the evolutionary model, acts such as rape are no more wrong for us than they are for the aliens. The fact that we are humans does not make an act any more wrong in itself. It just means that we happen to have the feeling or emotion that it is wrong because of our evolutionary development.

Why shouldn’t we rape, and maim, and steal, and lie, and do anything else that we want to do? We may have a feeling that such acts are wrong but in the view of evolution, it is merely a biological adaptation passed onto us over millions of years. It’s a feeling, nothing more. There is no reason to regard any act as really right or wrong. In fact, on the evolutionary model, it may even be argued that rape is ethically good because it gives the rapist pleasure.

An evolution-based ethics, although interesting, I think has its share of flaws as well. It appears that there may be arguments worth considering that point towards universal values or truth. It appears that there may be arguments worth considering that point towards universal values or truths not necessarily having been invented or created by the human mind. Lastly, with an evolution-based ethics we may not be able to really condemn a morally reprehensible act because such an immoral act may be merely accounted to a feeling or emotion due to our evolutionary development. So if you’re abducted by aliens and sent to some alien prison out in galaxy XYZ… just make sure you don’t pick up the soap dropped by another alien inmate when you guys are in the shower. 🙂

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (hgamboa) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Philosophy91 Comments

God's Premature Death?

God's Premature Death?

I just visited the Filipino Freethinkers site and I was pleased to read comments on my “Darwin’s Missing Link” article. However, I may have touched a nerve amongst some of my Darwinian Atheist friends. For that I hope they can forgive my “heresy” and appreciate my intent of questioning “evolution determinism” and not evolution itself.

To expand on this issue, I would like to again share a personal experience I had in a forum I used to frequent. In that forum, we had many interesting and stimulating discussions. Amongst the many topics touched on was the nature of virtues like altruism, morality, art, beauty, romance etc.

One of the forum’s contributors offered an explanation from evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller’s book “The Mating Mind”. The forum contributor finds Miller’s work as the “final nail in God’s coffin”. He avers that Darwin was able to account on how we can become complex beings without a creator guiding each step of the process. Furthermore, he goes to say:

“Darwin is right. God then is reduced to simply a being pushing a ‘go’ button to let natural process takes its course.”

Now, Geoff Miller, indeed has produced some controversial theories. However, I think he is hardly the final nail in God’s coffin. Miller, too, has been criticized for his explanations by evolutionary biologists. Miller, is a follower of evolutionary psychology, NOT evolutionary biology. Many evolutionary biologists regard evolutionary psychology as a non-science.

Miller has made a few sweeping claims which has earned the ire of many evolutionary biologists. In accounting for the development of the human brain, Miller claims, in an interview with PBS on it’s Evolution Series, that the human brain can be likened to a peacock’s magnificent tail that evolved to attract a mate and pass on genes. He says that:

“The human brain is the most complex system in the known universe. It’s wildly in excess of what it seems like we would need to survive on the plains of Africa. In fact, the human brain seems so excessive that a lot of people who believe in evolution applied to plants and animals have real trouble imagining how natural selection produced the human brain.”

Further, he says that:

“All the other species on the planet seem to get by with relatively small, simple nervous systems that seem tightly optimized just to do what the species needs to do to get by.”

“I think people are perfectly sensible in being skeptical about the ability of selection for survival to account for the human brain. I think there was a sort of guidance happening, there was a sort of decision-making process that was selecting our brains. But it wasn’t God, it was our ancestors. They were choosing their sexual partners for their brains, for their behavior, during courtship.”

“There are all sorts of things that mess up brains. And paradoxically, for that reason, brains make really good indicators of how fit you are during courtship. In fact, they’re probably better indicators of that even than, than a peacock’s tail is about how fit a peacock is.”

In summation, Miller avers that:

“I think when a lot of people produce cultural displays, what they’re doing in a sense is exercising these, these sexual instincts for impressing the opposite sex. They’re not doing it consciously, but what they’re doing is investing their products with an awful lot of information about themselves. I think the capacity for artistic creativity is there because our ancestors valued it when they were making their sexual choices.”

So, Miller pretty much reduces such things as by-products of sex. This is similar to Freudian accounts. However, not many in the science community consider the Freudian lens as good science anymore. University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne said:

“When people realized that they were not at all based on science, but were really an ideological edifice, a myth about human life, that was utterly resistant to scientific refutation. By judicious manipulation, every possible observation of human behavior could be (and was) fitted into the Freudian framework. The same trick is now being perpetrated by the evolutionary psychologists. They, too, deal in their own dogmas, and not in propositions of science.”

Coyne adds that:

“The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is “evolutionary psychology,” or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key–the only key–that can unlock our humanity.”

“Unfortunately, evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory and speculation. Unlike bones, behavior does not fossilize, and understanding its evolution often involves concocting stories that sound plausible but are hard to test. Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction. Plausible? Maybe. Scientifically testable? Absolutely not. If evolutionary biology is a soft science, then evolutionary psychology is its flabby underbelly.”

Many other scientists have criticized Miller’s specific ideas about the evolution of the human brain. University of Sheffield’s behavioral ecologist Dr. Tim Birkhead, in a 2000 review of Miller’s work wrote:

“How do we test these ideas? Without a concerted effort to do this, evolutionary psychology will remain in the realms of armchair entertainment rather than real science.”

Also, the American History of Natural Museum paleoanthropologist Dr. Ian Tattersall comments on Miller’s work ( “The Mating Mind” ) from his New York Times Book Review in June 2000:

“In the end we are looking here at a product of a storyteller’s art, not of science.”

With regards to the claim that “Darwin is right”, I think I can only go half way on that. The late Harvard University Professor, Dr. Stephen Gould, who was also an evolutionary biologist (or more accurately, a comparative zoologist) and a professing Darwinian (but not necessarily a Darwinian apologist), said that Darwin did two separate things. First, he convinced the scientific world that evolution had occurred and second, he proposed the theory of natural selection as its mechanism.

I am with Gould on this. Fossil records are indicators that evolution has occurred. However, the theory of natural selection does not guarantee the rightness on the documentary’s claim for Darwin.

Gould, in his article “Darwin’s Untimely Burial” ( http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_tautology.html ) tells:

“Natural selection is a theory of local adaptation to changing environments. It proposes no perfecting principles, no guarantee of general improvement; in short, no reason for general approbation in a political climate favoring inmate progress in nature.”

“Darwin’s independent criterion of fitness is, indeed, `improved design,’ but not `improved’ in the cosmic sense that contemporary Britain favored. To Darwin, improved meant only `better designed for immediate, local environment.’ Local environments change consistently: they get colder or hotter, wetter or drier, more grassy or more forested. Evolution by natural selection is no more than a tracking of these changing environments by differential preservation of organisms better designed to live in them: hair on a mammoth is not progressive in any cosmic sense. Natural selection can produce a trend that tempts us to think of more general progress…”

When it comes to explanations of “goodness” in humanity, or rather, rightness in moral issues, Darwin never really had any empirical evidence to back up any of his attempted explanations that fit the Natural Selection framework. Actually, Darwin also eschewed any attempts to discover an antireligious ethic in nature; he also expressly stated his personal bewilderment about such deep issues as the problem of evil. We can see Darwin’s modesty in a letter he wrote to Asa Gray, considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century:

“I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.”

I, for one, feel that considering Miller’s work as the final nail in God’s coffin, is a little too premature. If science should be regarded as an authority over non-science on pretty much all issues including “morality” or other “why questions in life”, then the claim on Miller’s work being the final nail in God’s coffin is flimsy, to say the least.

To paraphrase Mark Twain:  “Sometimes the reports of death are greatly exaggerated.”

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (hgamboa) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Science13 Comments

Darwin's Missing Link

Darwin's Missing Link

Since my political commentaries aren’t always publishable here at the Filipino Freethinkers site, I decided to just focus on themes that seem to be prevalent here such as Religion and Science. In a non-religionist environment “Evolution” is quite a popular topic to discuss. While I do not intend to join a choir singing praises to evolution I also do not intend to throw a monkey wrench into it. The purpose of this article is to critically analyze the pitfall of reductionist thinking when it comes to Evolution.

Did you guys know that, Charles Darwin – the father of evolution, shares the same birthday with me? Wow! Isn’t that something? I used to think that my birthday was quite special because every birthday I celebrate the whole United States of America celebrates it (Lincoln’s birthday) too! Now it is even more special because not only do I have Americans celebrating on my birthday, I also have all the Darwinian atheists in the world celebrating, as well. Quite a big deal, huh?

So in one of the godless groups I used to frequent, Darwin’s birthday was always celebrated. Take note that I said Darwin’s birthday was celebrated, not mine. No one in that godless group cared enough to greet me on my birthday, but that’s alright. I certainly am not holding it against President Barack Obama for not giving me a birthday greeting, as well.

Anyway, it is just very much expected to find a discussion on evolution and Charles Darwin in an atheist forum or atheist group. Of course, in an atheist group evolution is treated as some sort of dogma. No one can question it… evolution explains everything in our lives! To question evolution and sometimes even Charles Darwin himself is a heresy! If you are stupid enough to question evolution and Charles Darwin in an atheist forum, you might end up being branded as some sort of an idiot mystic who cannot think freely outside the box of religious credulity.

So what is so special about Darwin and Darwin’s “evolution” that seems to trigger some sort of a Cognitive Dissonance amongst some “atheists”?

I came across an assertion by a self-professed atheist that said Charles Darwin’s Evolution through Natural Selection also answers the “why” questions in life. These “why” questions, he said, were once solely under the affairs of religion. Darwin has shattered religion’s monopoly for the “how” questions and now we are told that it has the “why” questions covered, as well.

I have no problems when it comes to Evolution trumping religion when it comes to the “how” questions. But I would like to take a pause for a moment and think about whether I can jump in the bandwagon with atheists on the claim for the “why” questions. So I pondered on the question whether Evolution based on Natural Selection can really answer some of the “why” questions or more abstract questions in life. Was Charles Darwin able to answer the question why humans have morals?

In the investigation, it is important to have a clearly defined scope. The empirical data needs to be within the scope of interest, which is Evolution through Natural Selection. In light of that, we need to establish a definition of terms – what is Evolution and what is Natural Selection?

As I understand it, Evolution is a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form. Natural Selection is the mechanism behind evolution and it is a theory of local adaptation to changing environments. Local environments change consistently. The Earth has become hotter and colder throughout time. Environments have become wetter and drier; grassy, more forested, more arid… etc. The empirical data we have certainly shows how different species have adopted to the changing environments. The evolutionary history of the elephant family gives a good insight for how natural selection worked. (Please see: http://elephant.elehost.com/About_Elephants/Stories/Evolution/evolution.html )

So in essence, evolution by natural selection tracks changing environments by differential preservation of organisms better designed to live in them.

Now, does Darwin have any empirical data that shows how the changing temperature throughout the planet’s history, for instance, has changed morality? Or why morality emerged from the change in our planet’s historical climate? Can fossils of Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis and Homo erectus and Homo sapiens sapiens be correlated to the changing climates from their respective periods for us to see why morality is what it is today? Does Darwin have empirical data to show that morality is directly proportional to natural selection from changing local environments?

Darwin indeed offered evidence that suggests Natural Selection as the basis for humans’ morality. In his book, “The Descent of Man”, Darwin discussed in chapter 5 of that book, the “Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilised Times”. Here is the link to that chapter:

http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-descent-of-man/chapter-05.html

I do not see anywhere from the link above any empirical evidence to support Darwin’s claim of Natural Selection accounting for morality. The chapter, however, offers explanations and rationalizations, but no empirical data is presented.

As he described somewhere in the beginning of chapter 5, the lower animals must have their bodily structure modified in order to survive under greatly changed conditions. This certainly fits well within the scope of natural selection (which is the mechanism behind evolution and the theory of local adaptation to changing environments). This can be shown through fossil records. We have empirical data to support such claims by looking at the difference in skeletal structure of similar organisms from different places with different climates/conditions. That is fine and dandy. However, when it comes to morality, we do not see any data from him that shows how, say the change in climate, has triggered the formation or even refined our moral sense. Instead, he offers anthropological data to support his theory. But the anthropological data presented merely builds up his inferences. Testing the inferences is another story.

I am not suggesting that anthropological studies are worthless. However, I would caution about depending on mere anthropological data to readily conclude on something abstract. We see the value in taking a pause in making conclusions right away with critiques to Ruth Benedict’s Ethical Relativism defense using anthropological data. Our Philo 101 course has taught that lesson already.

Anyway, around the seventh paragraph, he avers to natural selection as “survival of the fittest”. He intimates that “survival of the fittest” points to reproductive success or success in the increase in population.

“Therefore, it hardly seems probable that the number of men gifted with such virtues, or that the standard of their excellence, could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest; for we are not here speaking of one tribe being victorious over another.”

But how does Darwin define “fitness”? In the way he described it from his writing, it seems that he defines “fitness” in terms of survival success. So… the survival success of those who survive? Isn’t that a tautology? Sure, we can probably grant that tautologies sometimes are used for statement definitions ( e.g. “My father is a man.” ), but not as testable scientific statements – there can be nothing to test in a statement true by definition.

In the same book (The Descent of Man), Darwin also expressed his racism and sexism. Darwin argues that the male is an intrinsically more dominant figure than the woman. Darwin argues that because of the woman’s maternal instincts, women are more tender and selfless. But he also adds:

“It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization. The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman – whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.” ( The Descent of Man, p. 576)

Does Darwin have available empirical evidence using natural selection (featuring changing environments) to support his claim of why men attain a higher eminence in pretty much everything… including intellectual powers?

I do not see anything that gives empirical and objective data to support Darwin’s conclusions. What we can see are mere rationalization that tries to fit all observable human behavior to the Natural Selection framework. Was Darwin able to rationalize how morals could cohesively fit into the Natural Selection framework? Perhaps. Was he able to empirically and objectively test it? Well… there appears to be no evidence for it (at least not in the link provided).

Sure, we may grant that Darwin, from his “The Descent of Man”, concluded that man’s morality stems from the development of social instincts through natural selection. Sure we may grant that Darwin suggested that men are superior over women from the same book. Sure we may also grant that Darwin did write that the characteristic advantages of women are characteristic of “lower races” and “lower state of civilization”. We may even grant his explanations to be plausible. But his empirical data to support his conclusions is another story. I don’t think Darwin’s words ought to be treated as inerrant nor sacred. But then again who the hell am I, huh? For “freethinking atheists”, I’m just a stupid idiot sophist mystic who cannot think freely outside the box of religious credulity.

If that’s not the case, I guess we can just think that we just need more empirical data to support Darwinian claims on abstract questions such as questions regarding morality. With this, I guess the quest for the “missing link” continues.

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (hgamboa) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Science35 Comments

Oops He Did It Again!

Oops He Did It Again!


Let me start this article with something light. The Supreme Court yesterday rejected President Noynoy Aquino’s first Executive Order (the formation of the “Truth Commission”). I wasn’t that surprised at all of the decision.

On a level playing field, the formation of the “Truth Commission” was flawed from the very start. It was a big blunder amongst the growing list of blunders by the Noynoy administration. So when the news broke out about the SC decision, I imagined that Noynoy must have been singing to the tune of Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” hit song for his blunder.

[Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah]
I think I did it again…I made you believe
We’re more than just brats.

Oh, baby;

It might seem like I’m good,
But it doesn’t mean…That I’m really smart.
‘Cause to lose common senses…
That is just so typically me.

Oh, baby; baby.

Oops!… I did it again.
I screwed up big time.
Got lost in the game.

Oh, baby; baby.

Oops!… You think I’m so good.
That I’m sent from above…
I’m not that competent.

(Words in bold and italics changed to make it apropos for Noynoy)

Now that I got that tune running in your head for the rest of the day, I would like to give my two cents on why I think Noynoy’s Truth Commission was doomed from the start.

Noynoy started off his campaign for the Presidency using pretty much the exact playbook his mother, former President Cory Aquino, used. It was the good versus evil line and in fact, one of his first interviews after officially announcing his intent to run for the Presidency revealed that amongst his plans should he win the Presidency was to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the family of former President Ferdinand Marcos.1 Either Noynoy’s deep-seated vindictive nature betrayed him in that revelation or he was just too stupid to substitute Marcos’ name with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s name in the script to make the statement more relevant at the time.

Nevertheless, his statement, together with the style of getting more than a million signatures3 to prod him to run and his consultation with Catholic nuns before he came up with his decision4 gave a clear indication of the copycat nature of his campaign. But that was okay, I suppose his mother didn’t mind the “plagiarism” from beyond the grave. The playbook worked for Noynoy and winning the Presidency was all that mattered.

However, when Noynoy assumed the Presidency he did not develop his own vision and direction for the country. He decided to again use the playbook of his mom’s Presidency! It is one thing to re-use a successful candidacy playbook and another thing to re-use a Presidential blueprint. His mother’s decrees may have validity during her time but in Noynoy’s time, the conditions are different and this requires a different approach!

You may recall that right after Cory Aquino assumed the Presidency in 1986, she came up with an Executive Order to form the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) which was mandated to go after Ferdinand Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth.

That Executive Order was sustained by the Supreme Court because it was perfectly valid under the prevailing condition at the time. Cory’s Executive Order was given the thumbs up because Cory’s government was a Revolutionary government. As Senator Joker Arroyo correctly pointed out, Cory had the power to enact laws because “she was the legislature at that time!” 5

Under Noynoy’s time, he is bound by the dictates of the 1987 Constitution. Under the Constitution, only Congress can create new offices and commissions. In addition, Noynoy’s Truth Commission merely duplicates the constitutional mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman and the statutory jurisdiction of the Department of Justice.6 These are points to consider for the assessment of the unconstitutionality of Noynoy’s Truth Commission.

The next objection raised against Noynoy’s Executive Order is its biased mandate on investigating specifically the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). Whether we like GMA or not or whether we believe GMA was indeed corrupt who needs to be put to justice, the Constitution ensures equal protection of the laws. The fact that Noynoy’s Truth Commission, as Representative Lagman pointed out, is an “enterprise in partisan hostility” for being selective and discriminatory against GMA’s administration, this makes Noynoy’s Truth Commission a violation of the Constitution.7

Let me be clear lest I be accused of being a GMA sympathizer. I do not like GMA as I believe that GMA’s administration is the worst administration in the history of the country as far as corruption and injustice goes. I am one with many people who agree that GMA’s abuses must be brought to justice. However, as much as I detest GMA and her administration, whatever my sentiments may be, these do not matter as what matters is only what can be proven in a court of law or in an investigating body that is lawfully sanctioned by the Constitution.

The problem with Noynoy’s Truth Commission is that it claims to promote justice yet it is built on the injustice of discrimination! This falls within the same vein as Noynoy’s attempt to reduce the Maguindanao massacre trial into a trial by publicity.8 Come to think of it… this is precisely what the Truth Commission is all about! An attempt at inciting inflamed publicity to further put the accused on a bad light and to put pressure on the judicial body should the product of this Truth Commission come up with damaging findings and recommendations against the GMA administration.

What is the purpose of Noynoy’s Truth Commission if not for publicity? Senator Joker Arroyo is correct in pointing out that:

“It seems that the government is bent on putting every problem, every irregularity, everything, on the truth commission. There’s nothing wrong with that,… But anything that the President does via an executive order does not have the force of law,… With this one, I don’t think Davide will get anywhere… The success or failure of the truth commission will not depend upon who the chairman is. It will depend upon the powers that it has. If it has no powers, you can put the smartest lawyers [in it, but] it will not succeed…. In other words, it cannot compel attendance, it cannot compel anything, it can only invite. It will have no subpoena powers… That will be a toothless commission. It would suffer from a very legal flaw.”5

Coming up with this Truth Commission was as poorly done as that recent tourism slogan and logo flop9 by the Noynoy government. It seems that incompetence is written all over it just as the case for the growing list of Noynoy’s blunders!10

Kilusang Mayo Uno president Efren Labog suspects that Noynoy may not be serious in going after GMA for crimes committed against the Filipino people.11 He surmises:

“…the fact that this EO, which the regime describes as very important in its statements to the media, is now being junked by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional and prods us to ask: Was it fault by design and was programmed to fail? … We cannot help but think that the Aquino regime is sabotaging efforts to attain truth, accountability and justice over Arroyo’s numerous grave crimes against the people… The decision of the SC puts an exclamation point to our numerous reservations towards the Truth Commission. Its appointed head, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. is a loyal stooge of former President Arroyo. It confines itself to investigating major accusations of graft and corruption, excluding Arroyo’s other serious crimes against the Filipino people such as human rights violations. It faces serious legal obstacles in summoning witnesses and obtaining crucial evidence.”11

Fault by design? Well, I think Mr. Labog is being very kind to Noynoy for giving that benefit of the doubt. If it was fault by design, it certainly would give credit to Noynoy for being a smart and cunning politician for purposely throwing a curve ball at the people. However, Noynoy’s record seems to be pointing towards a different direction. This is not “fault by design”, Mr. Labog. This is merely incompetence which seems to be the trademark of the Noynoy Aquino administration.

Ooops, he did it again!

==========

Background References:

1^ http://www.inquirer.net/specialfeatures/mindanaopeaceprocess/view.php?db=1&article=20090910-224483

2^ http://www.thenewstoday.info/2009/08/31/noynoy.for.president.signature.drive.kicks.off.wednesday.html

3^ http://www.thenewstoday.info/2009/08/31/noynoy.for.president.signature.drive.kicks.off.wednesday.html

4^ http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/09/03/09/noynoy-marshalls-forces-goes-retreat

5^ http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100729-283748/Joker-Truth-commission-is-doomed

6^ http://www.gmanews.tv/story/197479/house-minority-questions-aquinos-eo-on-truth-commission

7^ http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/291421/sc-declares-truth-commission-unconstitutional

8^ http://hgamboa.multiply.com/journal/item/91

9^ http://www.asiancorrespondent.com/tonyo-cruz-blog/more-blunders-and-more-acts-of-incompetence-from-team-aquino

10^ http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideOpinion.htm?f=2010/october/7/feature1.isx&d=2010/october/7

11^ http://www.tribuneonline.org/metro/20101208met1.html

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DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this article represent the views of the author (hgamboa) and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Posted in Politics3 Comments

Political Correctness

Last October, Fox News TV political commentator Bill O’Reilly appeared on the show “The View” and stated that America was attacked by Muslims on 9/11. This caused two liberals of the show (Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar) to walk out of the discussion in protest.

News analyst Juan Williams was also fired from the left-leaning National Public Radio (NPR) after he relayed his personal feeling during a discussion at the O’Reilly Factor show of being worried before boarding an airplane whenever he sees folks in “Muslim garb” which is indicative of these folks identifying themselves as Muslims first rather than as Americans.

Left-leaning folks were furious about such statements because they claim that people like O’Reilly and Williams are accusing all Muslims to be terrorists when in fact terrorism acts were committed only by a few extremists.

The objection is about the political incorrectness of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and they feel that terrorists ought to be labeled with the “extremists” tag to be fair. So now if we want to discuss about whether America has a “Muslim” problem or not, is it imperative that we watch out for political correctness by saying that America has a “Muslim extremist” problem, instead?

Yes, I get it! Not all Muslims are terrorists and it would be prim and proper to be politically correct so as not to offend generally peace loving people of religion such as Muslims. However, although there may indeed be idiotic bigots out there who believe that all Muslims are out to kill all Westerners, I personally do not know of anyone who espouses that thinking.

I personally do not know of anyone who truly intends to offend all Muslims or even the religion of Islam itself. So whenever I hear a discussion by regular day-to-day folks about the terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001, if I hear the terrorists being tagged as “Muslims”, because of my personal experience of only encountering people who don’t really intend to paint all Muslims with a broad brush, I tend to assume that the folks I hear are not really referring to all Muslims but only those who are out to kill whom they consider as infidels.

So in a way I’m kind of getting sick of this political correctness thing because it is one extra step to worry about in a discussion where more important points about the issue need to be discussed other than the already obvious fact that not all Muslims are terrorists. Bill O’Reilly gave an example stating that no uproar is heard whenever it is pointed that the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.

Come to think of it, yes there seems to be no demand, for political correctness sake, of tagging the attackers as “Japanese Extremists”. So why is it necessary to treat the case for the 9/11 attack (and other jihad-related attacks) differently just because religion is involved? Why must religion be accorded special treatment?

The thing is, although I realize the virtues of political correctness, I do not think this is always necessary or even always applicable when discussing about certain societal segments as Muslims. When O’Reilly said that America (or was it the World?) has a “Muslim Problem” I do not view this as a bigoted statement or a statement that needs to be politically corrected as “Muslim Extremist Problem”. O’Reilly’s statement, although it doesn’t sound too warm and fuzzy, I believe has validity!

Sure, not all Muslims are terrorists but the fact that the majority of Muslims who are peace-loving are not doing anything or not doing enough to stop the extremists in their fold, makes this their problem too!

Dr. Susan Berry makes a very good case in her article in bigpeace.com. She notes:

“Let’s take the tragic issue of child abuse. Unfortunately, I have encountered a number of families in which child abuse has continued for years without any report from a family member until the child becomes involved in school and activities outside the family, when someone in those venues notices something is wrong. The heinous behavior of the perpetrator aside, I am still always taken aback when I interview family members of the abused child who say they knew of the abuse, but did not report it to anyone because they were afraid of some repercussions; they thought, perhaps, the child’s frequently obstinate behavior deserved this treatment (rationalization); they couldn’t deal with it because of other issues in their life, so they ignored it (denial); they understood how difficult the perpetrator’s life has been, so figured they had to be understanding of it (overcompensation).

Clearly, the other family members did not take their hands to the child, but don’t they share responsibility for passively allowing the abuse to continue?

Similarly, do the family and colleagues of a drug addicted medical professional have a responsibility to confront this individual, to avoid unsuspecting patients from being harmed by his or her behavior? Clearly, the family and colleagues are not directly harming patients themselves, but don’t they share responsibility for passively permitting potential danger by not speaking up?

And, culturally, when Americans view other Americans terrorizing others, committing crimes, or threatening a way of life- do they have a responsibility to confront these others? Clearly, not all Americans are engaged in this behavior, but aren’t they responsible to speak out against it in order to stop it?

Honesty with ourselves, our families and friends, our colleagues, our fellow citizens, and our political leaders is hard. It involves confronting fear. But, those who are slaves to the denial, rationalization, and overcompensation of political correctness are not solving the problem. Instead, they are contributing to its strength and power.”

I really think that there are more important and fundamental things to give priority to, other than mere appeasement, as achieved in being politically correct with “special” groups such as religionists (e.g. Muslims).

Being focused on political correctness can be so insane and even ironically unfair because of special treatment considerations. For instance, take the case for sexual harassment. If a man talks dirty to a woman, that’s sexual harassment. But if a woman talks dirty to a man… that’s $2.99 per minute! What’s up with that?!

Posted in Politics11 Comments

Is Santa Bad for Christmas?

Is Santa Bad for Christmas?

gonna find out who's naughty or nice...

Bishop Teodoro Bacani recently blamed Santa Claus for stealing the “true spirit of Christmas” as revealed in a news article in The Daily Tribune.

The Bishop is apparently peeved at the fact that Santa is more popular than Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. He said:

“Santa Claus helps promote consumerism because he is the symbol of shopping and gift-giving. Christ symbolizes the sacrifice of life for man. But Santa has more commercial draw… Let us keep Christ at Christmas. Let us project Christ at Christmas.”

While the Christian fold may argue that Christmas has its roots on Judeo-Christianity, I submit that it is a mistake to look at Christmas merely under the Judeo-Christian light and I submit that Santa Claus should actually be deemed as a Christmas hero instead of a villain.

The shift of looking at Christmas from celebrating the birth of the “Redeemer” to celebrating the season of peace, hope and kindness, is a positive thing. I would even argue that the present spirit of Christmas, even with Santa Claus being more popular than Jesus Christ, reflects its true spirit more than from strictly a Judeo-Christian perspective.

But let’s entertain Bishop Bacani’s assertion for now and let’s critically analyze the light of celebrating Christmas strictly on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Christmas, in its true spirit, is not merely a birthday celebration of Jesus Christ. Christmas, together with Easter, is really a celebration of the theology of atonement and salvation. It is a mistake to look at the picture starting from “Mama Mary’s” and “Papa Joseph’s” journey to Bethlehem. We have to look at the whole picture to get a sense of the significance the birth of Christ and why Christianity celebrates it.

Most of the backgrounder on the Judeo-Christian faith tradition and theology that I am about to share comes from Bishop John Shelby Spong’s book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”. Most of the views of Jesus Christ I embrace that I will share in the end come from Spong’s book “The Sins of Scripture”. Some of my readers already know that I am an avid reader and a fan of Bishop Spong and I really recommend Bishop Spong’s books, without any reservations, to anyone who is open to looking at Judeo-Christianity under a light different from the current mainstream. Anyway, here it goes…

The Bible starts with the story of creation. The Bible asserts that it was a perfect creation and God announced His creations good (after His divine labors). Then came the Adam and Eve story. Adam and Eve were supposed to have a perfect relationship with God in Paradise. According to the Bible, however, boundaries were set in this Paradise; that Adam and Eve were not to partake of this “forbidden fruit”, for it was said that if they ate it, their eyes would be opened and they would know good from evil. This is actually quite fascinating and most Christians take this quite literally.

Of course we know from the story that a serpent seduced Eve into eating the “forbidden fruit”. Upon Eve’s enticement, Adam also partook of the “forbidden fruit”. From that moment on, the perfection of creation has been ruined. God has been disobeyed and human life has fallen into sin, and of course, the penalty for this disobedience was death. The immortality that had been in Adam and Eve (humans) as theirs as creatures of God’s image was gone.

Because of this original sin, all human life thereafter, it was asserted, would be born in sin and suffer death – the ultimate consequence of sin. The universality of human mortality was interpreted to be a sign of the universality of human sin. So life stood still in need of “redemption”.

So God started the process of redemption by choosing a particular people through whom God would work out the entire divine process of salvation. Salvation began in a small scale with the call of Abraham. Now we know from the Bible that Isaac was chosen over Ishmael. Jacob was chosen over Esau, Judah and Joseph were chosen over Reuben. Through Joseph, God’s people went to Egypt to avoid famine. Unfotunately, in time, they fell into slavery. The story of salvation began some 4 hundred years later with Moses and the exodus.

Once free of their bondage from the pharaoh, the people were led by God, through Moses, to Mount Sinai, where the law of God, called the Torah, was given to the people. The law was to serve as the guideline to lead the fallen people back into a state of grace. But the children of Israel didn’t follow God’s laws so the search for salvation in history goes on.

A sacrificial system was developed in the ancient world to help overcome this supposed separation between man and God. Israel developed in its liturgical life a day called Yom Kippur, dedicated to that sense of human sinfulness and designed to be an occasion to pray for atonement and restoration.

Two rituals are involved; one was the public confession of people’s sins, which were ceremoniously heaped upon the back of a goat. Laden with people’s sins, this goat, called the “scapegoat”, was run into the wilderness and was believed to have carried away with it, the sins of the world, thus purging them (Lev. 16).

The second ritual was the sacrificial offering of the lamb of the atonement (Lev 23:26-32). This lamb was inspected carefully, for it had to be perfect in the eyes of God. In other words… no scratches, no blemishes, no broken bones, etc. Human life, so alienated from God, so fallen into sin, had to come before God under the symbol of something perfect. The lamb was also subhuman, therefore incapable of being immoral, since morality requires the ability to choose evil. So a morally perfect, physically perfect, but still subhuman sacrifice was offered to God to atone for, even pay for, the sins of the people. The assumption was that to be human was to be sinful. Paul would later write this in his epistles “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

It was the conviction that humans were sinful and in need of redemption that enabled guilt and religion to be so solely tied together. The power of western religion has always rested on the ability of religious people to understand and to manipulate the sense of human inadequacy that expresses itself from guilt. This religious system assumes that the purpose of life is to be whole, free, and at one with the Creator. This is what gives the sense of alienation its power.

The religious leaders of the ages learned that controlling people’s behavior rested upon controlling these human feelings of guilt. So religious empires were built on helping people live with and to some degree, overcome their sense of guilt. How could guilt be overcome? How could our broken humanity be repaired? How could human life be rescued from its fall? Those were the questions that Christianity organized itself to answer.

The experience of Jesus was captured in this mind-set. The linkage between our sense of inadequacy and the role of Jesus happened very quickly and was apparent before the first generation of Christians died. The initial step was to see the death of Jesus in terms of sin and salvation. By the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians sometime in mid 50 AD, that step had been achieved. Christ died, Paul said, “for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). Our sins somehow required His death, He was the sacrificial lamb on our behalf.

The first Gospel, Mark, was the first to set the narrative of Jesus’ death in the context of the “Passover”, so Jesus was quickly and immediately identified with the lamb who was slain to break the wages of death. That story written in the book of Exodus formed the center of the Jewish liturgy of their founding moment. God had enabled their escape from slavery by sending the angel of death to slay the first born in all the land of Egypt.

The Jews were spared this slaughter when they killed the lamb and placed the blood of this lamb on the doorsteps of their homes. Of course in the Christian interpretation, the blood of the lamb was replaced by the blood of Christ. All we have to do is to come before the Lord through the blood of this sacrificial lamb.

Now we come to St. Augustine (354-430). Augustine believed that Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings. Their banishment from Eden resulted in the ultimate punishment of man. Death was not natural, but rather, punitive, for Augustine. Now as he worked out the theological understanding of life, the virgin birth tradition became crucial to him. He asserted that the virgin birth had to be absolutely necessary for salvation.

The reason was that since the original sin was passed on from generation to generation, for Jesus to be the lamb, Jesus had to be free of this inherited blemish – sin. His formulation goes, that Jesus did not come from Adam’s lineage because the Holy Spirit of God was supposed to be His father. But at Augustine’s time, it was believed that women do not contribute genetically or materially to the birth of a child. The belief back then was that women merely nurtured the male’s “seed” to maturity. So the fallness of the woman’s humanity was not an issue.

In time, when the woman’s role as genetic co-creator was understood, Augustine’s theology came in question. The Catholic Church handled this by declaring the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That Mary too was miraculously delivered from the corruption of Adam and Eve’s sin. By “Divine Intervention” Mary was prevented by her Immaculate Conception from passing onto Jesus, the Saviour, the effects of Adam’s sin. Salvation was thus assured. This makes Jesus, the sinless one, to be qualified by His origins to make the perfect offering.

So if we really look at the spirit of Christmas solely on the mainstream Judeo-Christian tradition, Christmas is nothing more than a celebration of the coming of the sacrificial lamb or the “scapegoat”, in the person of Jesus Christ, who will take away the sins of the world so that you and I can be spared of the wages of sin (eternal death) as decreed by God Himself as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Original Sin).

So really, in Judeo-Christian terms, celebrating Christmas would be celebrating God’s master plan involving the perverted notion of inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on person X (whether this person is His son or not) so that person Y (you and I) can be “saved”.

I’m sorry but I choose not to look at Christmas and Jesus Christ this way.

The Jesus Christ who I know lived in a world where stereotypical prejudice separated Jews from the Samaritans. They would not eat together, they would not worship together, they would not inter-marry, etc. Yet Jesus in the Gospels was said to have taught that the Samaritan was worthy of healing (Luke 17:11-19) and that a Samaritan who acted out the claims of the law in terms of showing mercy was more deeply a child of Abraham than the Jewish priest or Levite (Luke 10:29-37). These were radical statements of barrier-breaking inclusion, which expanded rather dramatically and in a new way the meaning of love.

Jesus, as well, broke the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles. Back then Gentiles were even considered as unclean by the Jews, they weren’t circumcised, not bound by Kosher dietary laws, and ignorant of the demands of the Torah. Association of Jews with Gentiles was a big taboo back then. Yet Jesus was portrayed in the Gospel according to Mark as going to the Gentile side of the lake to repeat the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness story.

Jesus was also said to have reached out to the Syro-Phoenician woman, another Gentile, and to have healed her daughter (Mark 7:24-30). The Gospels also tell of Jesus healing a slave of a Roman centurion and even commending his faith as greater than he had found in Israel (Matt. 8:5-10; Luke 7:1-10). He also defended and forgiven an adulterer – a crime back then was punishable by death (John 8:1-11). We also note that he touched the rotting flesh of a leper (a sickness considered a curse and of the lowest form back then) and brought him once again into human community (Mark 1:40-41).

Beneath the God claims made for this Jesus was a person who lived a message announcing that there was no status defined by religion, by tribe, by culture, by cult, by ritual, or by illness that could separate any person from the love of God. If love is a part of what God is or who God is, then it can surely be said of this Jesus that He lived the meaning of God!

In the book, “The Sins of Scripture”, Bishop John Shelby Spong tells that perhaps that is why those believers wrote that human life could never have produced the experience they found in Jesus. They were so moved by this man that they thought he must have been of another realm! Perhaps his birth was said to have been announced by a star because a star does not shine just for a single nation, it shines for the whole world! His life drew all nations and all people beyond their limits.

The celebration of Christmas, for me, is not a celebration of a testament of a particular religious faith but a celebration of an all-inclusive love for one and all. Santa Claus, just like Jesus Christ, is a representation of the celebration of love, kindness, generosity and goodness for humankind.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

==========

Background References:

  • “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”, John Shelby Spong, Harper Collins Publications (1998)
  • “The Sins of Scripture”, John Shelby Spong, Harper Collins Publications (2005)

Posted in Religion23 Comments

On Keeping Rosaries Away from Ovaries

On Keeping Rosaries Away from Ovaries

Last November 20, my friends from the Filipino Freethinkers organization were bullied by Catholic faithfuls at the Manila Cathedral. For a backgrounder on what happened, please have a look at the following links first:

http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2010/11/20/anti-rh-bill-catholics-harass-rh-bill-supporters/

http://www.tribuneonline.org/commentary/20101130com4.html

As you may already know, there is a huge debate going on in the Philippines regarding the passing of a law (dubbed as the RH bill, which stands for “Reproductive Health”) that would mandate the State to uphold and promote:

  1. Responsible parenthood, informed choice, birth spacing and respect for life in conformity with internationally recognized human rights standards.
  2. The right of the people, particularly women and their organizations, to effective and reasonable participation in the formulation and implementation of the declared policy.
  3. A guarantee for universal access to medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies and relevant information.

The bill is anchored on the rationale that sustainable human development is better assured with a manageable population of healthy, educated and productive citizens. For more details about the bill, please refer to this link:

The biggest opposition to the bill is from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), represented by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The Church opposes the bill because it claims that many artificial contraceptives are abortifacients. Abortifacients are drugs or devices that will cause abortion or terminate the life of the unborn.1

Of course, as many people are aware, the Church is strongly opposed to abortion. The Church, takes on the “Pro-Life” stance and charges the bill as unconstitutional because the law says that the State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception”.2 Since the Church claims that artificial contraceptives are “abortifacients”, the mandates of the RH bill are then, acording to the Church, a violation of the Constitution.

Honestly, even if I were to set aside my personal philosophical agnosticism or colloquial atheism regarding the existence of God, I do not see the point of opposing the bill if we are to look at things on objective grounds.

The Church claims to be taking the high moral ground on this because the issue of abortion is of a moral nature. While we can suspend the case for Situational Relativism (i.e. assessment of a moral act depending on the situation one is in) just to entertain the Church’s absolute stand on the immorality of killing a life (born or unborn), it seems to be missing the point that the RH bill is not about abortion.

The bill is about providing the people with informed choices on responsible parenthood. In family planning terms, it is not about terminating unwanted pregnancies, it is about preventing unwanted pregnancies. Preventing unwanted pregnancies would even render abortions useless in the first place. If one is against abortion, why would one oppose measures that would prevent it?

The problem with the Church’s disagreement on the “morality” of the use of artificial contraceptives is that it seems to be making moral judgments based on non-moral facts. It may be a “moral fact” that killing a life is wrong but there is nothing moral about the status of, say, a condom!

Let us say, for argument sake, that the condom can be used as an abortifacient (I don’t see how but I’m suspending my disbelief for now), how can anyone make a moral judgment call on that information alone? The condom having the possibility of being used as an abortifacient is no more immoral than the possibility of knives being used to mortally stab another human being.

Should the Church lobby to ban the production of knives too?

One may even argue that religion itself has been historically (and continues to be) used to justify atrocities and immoral acts, why can’t religion be deemed unconstitutional as well based on that ground? The thing is, artificial contraceptives, just like religion, are mere tools to be used to reach a moral end. The possibility or factual cases of abuse of such tools do not discredit the tool itself.

The Church claims that “Life begins at conception”. This is a debatable claim but let us grant that claim, for argument sake. Conception is defined as the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism.3

In other words, this occurs when an ovum (female reproductive cell) fuses with a sperm (male reproductive cell). Since artificial contraceptives prevent the fusion of the two sexual reproductive cells, there really is no conception to begin with! Surely the Church won’t go as far as to make the claim that life begins during the production of the sperm and the ovum, right?

The Church further supports its opposition to artificial contraceptives by invoking what it believes sex is defined as. It believes that sex must be both “Unitive” (express love) and “Procreative” (open to procreation).4 The Church claims that:

“Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as “natural law.” The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.

But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.”5

Notice that the argument used by the Church stands on the assertion that the purpose of sex is procreation. But if you think about it, the assessment of the purpose of a subject is not a moral issue. What moral judgment can be validly formulated merely on the basis of the purpose of a pen and paper enabling people to write their thoughts?

Moral judgments can be formulated based on the assessment of “moral values” and “factual claims”.6 When the Church says that the purpose of sex is procreation, this is not a moral value statement but merely a factual claim.

Factual claims are either true or false and we determine the truth of factual claims through empirical investigation.6 Now the question is: What is the Church’s basis for their factual claim that the basic purpose of sex is procreation? Invoking what the Bible claims, just by itself, is unacceptable in a non-theocratic State.

The thing is, this is not really new for religious faithfuls. History has repeatedly shown us that religious zealotry has resisted many scientific (including medical) breakthroughs because they’ve been deemed to diminish God’s power, or is an outright attack on the divine capacity to control life and the day-to-day affairs of human beings.7

Timothy Dwight IV (1752-1817), an American academic and educator, a Congregationalist minister, theologian, and author, held that the then newly introduced practice of vaccination thwarted God’s will (a relatively common belief at the time), saying:

“If God had decreed from all eternity that a certain person should die of smallpox, it would be a frightful sin to avoid and annul that decree by the trick of vaccination.”8

The separation of Church and State in Article 2 Section 6 of the Philippine Constitution bars the government from embracing a “State-favored” religion. This means that the law is mandated to consider views about the purpose of sex outside the confines of the Church. 9,10 While we can grant that the separation of Church and State does not mean outright silencing of the Church on government affairs, the Church ought to be reminded that just like anyone else, it is just one of the many interest groups out there trying to lobby for their values.

Just like anyone else, they need to prove their arguments using objective reason that applies to every citizen, not just the Catholic (or even nominal Christian) faithful. Surely they are free to excommunicate or impose penalties on dissenting members of its congregation, and surely they are free to promote their preferred methods for responsible parenthood to its fold. However, it is absurd for the Church to validly claim the high moral ground when dealing with the entire citizenry especially when its arguments are just standing on non-moral facts or mere factual claims that are yet to be proven objectively.

===============

Background References:

1 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/abortifacients

2 http://www.philippineconstitution.co.cc/?cat=5

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertilisation

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_on_birth_control

5 http://www.catholic.com/library/Birth_Control.asp

6 http://web.mac.com/degatzia1/Site/Ethics_Honors_files/Ethics_MoralDisagreement.htm

7 “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” (paperback edition), John Shelby Spong, page 7-8, 31-32

8 http://www.creedopedia.com/topics/Timothy-Dwight-IV

9 http://mamador.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/misunderstanding-separation-of-church-and-state/

10 http://completewellbeing.com/article/purpose-of-sex-procreation-recreation/

Posted in Politics, Religion8 Comments


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