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Honor Thy Father vs the MMFF | FF Podcast

Honor Thy Father vs the MMFF | FF Podcast

This week, we talk about Honor Thy Father, the entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival. We talk about its freethinker-friendly themes and about the value of the MMFF.

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Heneral Luna and Nationalism | FF Podcast

Heneral Luna and Nationalism | FF Podcast

This week, we review the movie Heneral Luna. We dissect its theme of nationalism and discuss whether we should judge local movies with different standards.

Posted in Entertainment, Media, Podcast, Reviews, Video1 Comment

Atheists Can Be Assholes

The interest for the film God is Not Dead was immediate. It had Kevin Sorbo, a man I will forever remember as Hercules (the bastard son of a god), and it’s never a bad idea to hear what the other side has to say even though…well, it’s not even though I already have a position. I’m hoping that despite a predisposition to be stupid, I’ve worked past most of my deficiencies as a fallible human being and have decided based on evidence that the Judeo-Christian god is as real as all the other gods in all other mythologies. All gods were created equal, so to speak. However, if, one day, I wander into a room filled with fairies, I’m going to change my opinion about them.


So I watched the film, eager to find out what they will do to try and change my mind. I didn’t quite expect them to be that offensive to Muslims, but I can’t say that I don’t think it’s true. I’m pretty sure being disowned is the least of your worries if you suddenly find yourself questioning Allah’s legitimacy as the one and true creator of all and everything. When a father slapped his daughter for listening to the Bible, it became clear to me that this was not about god. Like most debates, this is about religion. The film doesn’t just want to“revive” god from being “dead”, it aims to resuscitate one specific god. I admire it for that. I like close-minded bigots more than apologists. You’re not a Christian unless you believe in every word of the Bible. Faith defines you. A hint of doubt means you’re a nonbeliever to some extent.

Now, some have cried foul over the depiction of nonbelievers in the film, but let’s face it, it happens. You can’t honestly say that you’ve never (not even once) felt superior to people who need god or religion as a crutch to live. It would be great if I can actually say that I’ve never met Professor Angry Atheist (Kevin Sorbo’s character) in real life, but I have. He is very real but I don’t really give a shit. I care about the depiction of atheists as much as I care about the depiction of Christians and Muslims. Everyone in it was a caricature instead of a character, which is not surprising at all. For all I know, people perceive me as Professor Angry Atheist.

Here is a list of things that people assume of me once they find out that I’m an atheist:

I hate god

Talking about religion will make me angry

I have no morals and will do evil things because I can

I don’t say “Oh God, Oh God” when I have sex

I need saving

How can I prove that I’m not any of those? Except for number four, I’m guilty of all that and more. I do occasionally hate god as an idea. Talking about religion sometimes makes me angry. I’m probably evil by some standards. I do need saving (from poverty, mostly).

I think it’s true that atheists can be, at some point, a bunch of assholes wanking off during sessions of intellectual exhibitionism. I can’t say that anything the Christian Kid in the film said made any actual sense “scientifically” speaking, but anyone more willing to debate a point is more“scientific” in my book. Had he met a less dicky atheist, he might’ve become a heathen.

Watching that film, all I could think of was how I should try very hard not to be that guy, because I hate that guy too. Who wouldn’t? He’s the kind of guy that reads big books so he can drop big names in conversation. He throws around the word reason as a shield, but he doesn’t actually act nor think rationally. He’s an atheist, sure, but when did that become a safeguard against being a douchebag?

The fight against the predisposition to be stupid doesn’t culminate in one’s godlessness. For me, atheism was a by-product of skepticism—not a wonder drug against fits of rage, irrationality, and becoming a stereotype.


Image Source:

Posted in Personal, Pop Culture, Religion, Reviews, Society2 Comments

Atomic Bombs, Cryogenics & Jorge Luis Borges: The Aesthetic Appeal of Science

I’ve been reading a lot of comic books recently. I’ve always been a fan of comic books, but there are a number of titles I’ve encountered recently that made me fall in love with the medium all over again. Vertigo’s “Transmetropolitan,” Image Comics’ “The Manhattan Projects” and “Nowhere Men.”

Science in Contemporary Comics


Nowhere Men” wonders what would have happened if there were scientists in the past that were as popular as The Beatles. They created a universe where scientific innovation is as culturally revered as popular music.

The Manhattan Projects” premise is based on a single question, “What if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb in 1945, actually went a lot further than that?” In this comic you’ll see Richard Feynman make weapons with Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, while contemplating the consequences of the weapons they’re creating.


Transmetropolitan” is about Spider Jerusalem (a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson), a gonzo journalist exploring the cultural paradigm of his milleau. He exists in a city where people from an earlier time (our time) is scheduled to wake from cryo-preservation, where citizens have the option to live in cultural reservations (brutal ancient civilizations) that are isolated from contemporary society, and where commercials can be uploaded into a person’s dreams (Inception style). He blogs and he wears a device similar to Google Glass. However, this comic book was written in the 90s, which means it sort-of predicted Google glass and online blogging.

Spider Jerusalaem

Every issue of the series tackles a different social concern, but does not provide conclusive answers. What it does is it invites the reader to think, to speculate, about the different social, ethical, spiritual, political, and economic implications of each scientific innovation introduced in each issue.

These works appeal to me precisely because they invite speculation. The point is not the story, but its premise – “What if?” – a style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths.”


It’s hard to summarize what exactly it is about because, mostly, it’s not about anything specific. The protagonist, the hero, of Borges’ collection is information – ordinary, mundane facts.

This collection of works by Borges rarely even have a plot. One could, in fact, describe them as pseudo-essays. Often, the protagonist of the story encounters a document or a study that provides an alternative interpretation of reality. In Borges, ordinary scientific and historical facts exists as a possibilities that could be interpreted in many ways.


In the story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Borges provides the reader three alternative interpretations on time and the nature of its passing:

1. “One of the schools of Tlon goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory (Borges, 34).”

2. “Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrevocable process (Borges 34-35).”

3. “The history of the universe [events in time] – and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives – is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon (Borges, 35).”

The point of the narrative is not necessarily what happens to the protagonist, but the reader’s recognition of these interpretations. These stories are about ideas; ordinary facts people overlook on a daily basis are placed under a microscope and investigated, speculated upon, until the reader himself asks, “Is the time in this story the same time I exist in?”

The appeal of his work is that the possibilities that exist in the fictional world of Borges can exist in our own world. The language itself is a formal attempt (an attempt in form) to create an almost academic (ordinary) atmosphere. Borges mixes quotes and ideas of people from “real life” (Shopenhauer, Bertrand Russel, Friedrich Nietzsche) with the fictional ideas of his fictional characters. Information, itself, generates the experience of the reader. The knowledge is not used to describe the protagonist’s experience. It is used to create “an experience” in the reader.

In Borges, common language itself can be viewed from multiple perspectives:

1. “For example, there is no word [in the southern hemisphere of Tlon] corresponding to the word ‘moon’, but there is a verb which in English would be ‘to moon’ or ‘to moonate’. ‘The moon rose above the river’ is hlor fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: ‘upward behind onstreaming it mooned’ (Borges, 33).”

2. “[In the northern hemisphere] The prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say ‘moon’ but rather ‘round airy-light on dark’ or pale-orange-of-the-sky’ or any other such combination.”


The fictional themes in Borges are broad. There are meditations on ordinary language and interpretations of time, but there are also perspectives on, and interpretations of, religious and historical concepts.

In the story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” a publicly loved president is revealed to be a traitor. Once caught, he negotiates with his captors regarding the manner of his execution. To retain peace in the country, among the people who admire him, he takes part in the preparation of his own heroic assassination.

In “Three Versions of Judas” the reader is provided three different interpretations on what may have motivated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. One version hypothesizes that Judas was God’s instrument of revelation. The betrayal was a way to reveal the divinity of Jesus. Another versions suggests that Judas’ betrayal was an act of love; that he was an ascetic to the highest degree, one that believed that no one, not even him, is worthy of God’s grace that he committed acts that would guarantee his damnation in hell. And there’s another version that suggests how God was actually revealed through Judas and not Jesus. God, in the form of Judas, sacrificed the innocent Jesus to teach the world compassion.

Science as Art

Borges’ “Labyrinths” show how fiction is not any more “magical” than real life. In fact, most of “the magic” (the philosophical perspectives, possibilities and ideas) in Borges’ fiction is found and is based on real life. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a person from real life having the same epiphanies and speculations Borges’ fictional characters have experienced. In fact, Borges himself admits that these stories are “autobiographical” and are, to an extent, non-fictional in nature.

In Borges reality, facts and ideas are aesthetic objects. Fiction exists only as a tool to highlight facts that generate wonder.


In his paper, “Games with Infinity. The Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges,” Martin Johnson suggests that Borges attitude towards the creation of fiction is best reflected in his description of the metaphysicians of Tlon from his story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – “The metaphysicians of Tlon are not looking for truth, nor even for an approximation of it; they are after a kind of amazement.” Facts and ideas, for Borges, function in the same manner. It is something that one should be amazed by.

I think such an attitude towards science should be encouraged, and the trends these comics have chosen to set (the exploration of scientific ideas and the ascension of the scientist/philosopher as a comic book superhero) reveals a promising cultural shift – mainstream interest in scientific and philosophical speculation. Science is not just a cold, precise tool human beings can use to measure universal forces, it is also a playground – a venue for mental play – as well as a source of constant awe.

Posted in Entertainment, Personal, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Reviews, Science, Society0 Comments

Cosmos Returns

Rebooting any beloved piece of popular culture always courts cynicism and dread. (Not to say that previous experiences have been successful at silencing the pessimists.) In popular science, there are very few touchstones as revered as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. So, its revival under the helm of Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane raised not a few eyebrows—regardless of his creative caliber.

Sagan’s A Personal Voyage delivered to the general public the story of the universe in a manner that captured its romance without sacrificing the integrity of science. Carl Sagan, after all, was the most famous science communicator at the time. His impact on the world still ripples to this day.

Over thirty years have passed since the original Cosmos. As a product of the 80’s, it carries the tropes of its time—the grainy chroma keying, the sharp synths, and the cheesy 3D graphics. Viewing it today, these hallmarks seem to only emphasize the depth of Sagan’s message and that it retains its value even through eyes spoiled by modern special effects. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, A Personal Voyage was more than a cavalcade of science factoids. It cemented in popular consciousness the importance of science in culture and philosophy.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts this generation’s Cosmos—subtitled, A Spacetime Odyssey. After Sagan’s death, Tyson has become the perennial science communicator and his taking over for Carl is not only appropriate, but almost necessary for the new show.

Sagan’s co-writers, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, reprise their roles. In the first episode, A Spacetime Odyssey revisits, but not retreads, much of the original. They retain key metaphors that have stood the test of time, such as the Cosmic Calendar, which reframes the universe’s 13.8 billion year history into twelve months of an Earth year. And yet, they pay homage to rather than dwell on the writing of A Personal Voyage. Druyan and Soter could have rested on the now-classic turns of phrase they used decades ago, but their poetry here is as impactful and refreshing as ever.

What will be missed, however, are A Personal Voyage’s live acted dramatization of historical events. A Spacetime Odyssey instead uses cartoons. The animation is not as fluid or appealing as I would have liked, but the matter they presented more than made up for any lack in its technical prowess.

The first episode relates the story of a man not as popular among the heroes of science, Giordano Bruno. He is portrayed as a man who refused to follow tradition and faith when evidence clearly pointed away from them. In his studies of Copernicus and Lucretius, he was convinced that not only was the Earth not at the center of the universe, our Sun was just another star in an ocean of other suns, surrounded by their own earths. For this, he was burned alive.

The show presents all these without apology and without sentimentality. This is how the world treated people who thought differently and were not shackled by dogma. In showing Giordano Bruno’s story, A Spacetime Odyssey dares to go further and more bluntly than the original in challenging conventional unscientific thinking. As anti-science movements get more and more virulent with the power of modern media and indoctrination, shows like these provide a vital prophylactic.

Much of the science that reaches the masses has been neutered by the subtle bigotry of the expectation of propriety from the religious majority—the unspoken rule that science shouldn’t ruffle feathers lest it turn away more people. But science works by questioning everything and refusing to be satisfied by what others merely insist upon without evidence—values that A Spacetime Odyssey repeats throughout the first episode.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is that MacFarlane brought this show to America through Fox, a big network television channel accessible to anyone there. Here in the Philippines, it is carried by National Geographic, on cable TV. One can only hope that one of our own over-the-air networks will carry it someday as RPN-9 did for the original.

Standing Up in the Milky Way, the first episode of the new series ends on a fitting tribute to Carl Sagan but, avoiding the risk of becoming indulgent and saccharine, does not linger on it. Instead, it uses the tribute to invite the viewer to continue on the voyage that Carl introduced to millions a generation ago. Science improves and develops over time, giving us more things to love about the things we thought we knew. And that’s exactly what Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has done in its debut.

Image Credit: National Geographic Channel Asia

Posted in Entertainment, Religion, Reviews, Science0 Comments

FF Podcast 017: Gravity Review and Bitcoin Silk Road Shut Down

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 1.58.16 PM

This week, we review Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Then, we talk about the recently shut down black market, Silk Road.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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Hitchens, Living Dyingly

Hitchens, Living Dyingly

When Christopher Hitchens died in December of last year, the atheist community echoed to the point of cliché that the world had lost a voice of reason. But, there was really no other way to put the loss of Hitchens. Hitchens was a prolific writer, with over a dozen published books, along with regular columns published on Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic. Even the toll of metastatic cancer could only do so much to diminish his output.

Hitchens died after over a year of battling esophageal cancer. Or rather, as he puts it, cancer fighting him. He wrote missives from the land he called Tumortown with the wit and vigor, however slowed by chemotherapy, that was unique to him. These dispatches were published in Vanity Fair, which comprise the bulk of Hitchens’ posthumously published book, Mortality.

Mortality begins with a foreword from Hitchens’ longtime editor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter. Carter gives us a glimpse of Hitchens’ writing method as he recounts one typically indulgent drinking session, after which Hitchens banged out a 1000 word column “of near perfection” in about 30 minutes. He talks about the story behind the iconic photo of Hitchens riding a bike, feet in the air—apparently breaking one of the odd laws of New York. Carter remembers Hitchens as the consummate writer, taking on assignments however frightening (such as a date with the waxing parlor), while declaring with nervous enthusiasm, “In for a penny…”

The “living dyingly” by an atheist, of which Hitchens wrote in his final days, served as a real depiction and acceptance of mortality. After all, dying is no more real to anyone but atheists who believe that this life is all that there is and all that there will be. Hitchens, however, warned of the “permanent temptation” of self-centeredness and solipsism that stems from cancer victimhood and a looming end of life. As a matter of “etiquette,” Hitchens imposed on himself not to inflict on others the torment of indulgence expected from people dealing with the dying. He pointed out in particular the well-loved Randy Pausch, of The Last Lecture and Oprah fame. He remarked, “It ought to be an offense to be excruciating and unfunny in circumstances where your audience is almost morally obliged to enthuse.” Unflinching takedowns such as this remind us of the cheeky audacity that the world lost when Hitchens died.

Despite his near-stoic bravery as he journeyed through the land of malady, Hitchens admits that he would sometimes falter and throw the banal challenge to the universe of “why me?”, of course, Hitchens’ clear rationality sternly admonishes him with the obvious “why not?” Mortality shows how Hitchens maintained his humor despite the understandable irritation of the courtesies when interacting with people from “the country of the well.” When asked, “How are you?,” he would give different playful responses, from “A bit early to say” to “I seem to have cancer today.”

Most heartbreaking is how Hitchens relayed the eventual loss of his legendary voice, “If I had been robbed of my voice earlier, I doubt that I could have ever achieved so much on the page.” He related the vocal cord, which is not at all a cord in its strict sense, to the musical chord and how there must lie a deep relationship between the etymology and how the human voice evokes emotion. Speaking was at the core of Hitchens’ identity and he saw its loss as “assuredly to die more than a little.”

Hauntingly, Hitchens recalled the time when he was waterboarded in order to write about the experience, which he describes as being slowly drowned. It’s quite revealing for a dying man to have an action the United States government denied was torture in his last recollections. Having pneumonia as one of the many perils of his disease, Hitchens would have fits of panic with the feeling of water filling his lungs, summoning back his experience with torture.

Among the most memorable passages of Mortality was one of the first Hitchens published after being diagnosed. He spoke of his plans that were interrupted by cancer. Valiantly, he expressed his desire of outlasting the “elderly villains,” Kissinger and Ratzinger. But, Hitchens’ disappointment was clearest and most moving when he disbelievingly lamented, “Will I really not live to see my children married?”

The closing chapter of Mortality allows us a quick look at Hitchens’ thought processes before they were laid out in crisp British prose. We see little notes that echo some of the previous chapters, which were the fleshed out beats from what Hitchens had jotted down.

As a prominent atheist, many believers pined, even threatened, for his conversion. This theme recurred in his final public appearances, when he assured people that should he ever convert, “I hereby state that while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be ‘me.’” In the closing notes of Mortality, Hitchens elaborates in one fragmentary passage, “If ever I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than an atheist does.” I would have loved to have seen that line bloom into a full polemic.

At just around 100 pages of previously-published material, Mortality leaves readers wanting. And, perhaps, that is just the hazard for people who have lived lives such as Hitchens. However, having all the material in one place provides a solemn context to Hitchens as he allowed the public to watch an atheist die and, as he saw it, cease to exist. Mortality encapsulates the resolute bravery of Hitchens in the face of death, refusing the comforting delusions of religion, as well as secular, but no less self-indulgent, sentimentality.

Hitchens’ widow, Carol Blue, closes the book with her own stories about her husband. She recalls how Hitchens scribbled notes in his books and how, even after Hitchens died, she would revisit them. And then Christopher Hitchens would always have the last word.


Mortality by Christopher Hitchens is published by Twelve.

Image Credit: Vanity Fair

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Why Sherlock Should Give A Damn About The Solar System

 “But It’ s The Solar System!”

In keeping with the spirit of Year of the Solar System, I am going to write about two of my latest obsessions in one post: the Solar System and the BBC series Sherlock.

Who will watch Sherlock and Watson?

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Sherlock. (And, in case you’re wondering: yes, the homoeroticism is one of my favorite aspects of the series.) After having said that, I will now proceed to criticize a view of science encouraged by Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. In other words, I am going to argue why Sherlock should give a damn about the Solar System.

In Doyle’s Sherlock novel A Study in Scarlet, Dr. John Watson was surprised to discover that Sherlock Holmes does not know, nor does he care, that the Earth revolves around the Sun. In Watson’s own words, Holmes’s knowledge about astronomy, among other things, was “next to nothing.” Holmes’s lack of knowledge about the Copernican theory is especially surprising given that he knows so much about things like the appearance of different kinds of cigar ash.

Uncle Sherlock says coke is good for your deduction.

In the novel, Holmes defended his cluelessness about astronomy by likening his mind to an attic with limited space. He said that he couldn’t be bothered to remember useless trivia that have no relevance to his work as a detective. After all, knowing what different kinds of ash look like helped him solve a case, but knowing that the Sun is the center of the Solar System did not. In the BBC series, Sherlock’s defense went like this, “Oh hell, what does the solar system matter? So we go round the sun.  If we went round the moon or round and round the garden like a teddy bear it wouldn’t make any difference.  All that matters to me is the work. Without it my brain rots.”

To this, all that Watson could retort was, “But it’s the Solar System!” I wonder why this line by Watson is not as popular as it should be.

A shirt depicting the Teddicentric model of the 'Solar' system.

Given that Sherlock Holmes probably has Asperger syndrome (the BBC Sherlock describes himself to be a “high functioning sociopath”), maybe we can forgive him for knowing so many trivial things but not knowing that the Earth revolves around the Sun. This should not, however, be used by people who want an excuse for skipping out on their basic science.

More importantly, Sherlock’s apathy towards fundamental scientific concepts betrays a deep misunderstanding of the structure of science. Let us look at two of the most glaring deficiencies in Sherlock’s conception of science, which are (a) his unfamiliarity with the principle of consilience and (b) his lack of appreciation for the principle of parsimony.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines consilience as the “linking together of principles from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory.” The word has been around for some time now, although it recently regained currency thanks to E.O. Wilson’s wonderful book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998).

A must read.

Although the dictionary definition is useful in its rigidity, I would like to use Wilson’s subtitle, ‘the unity of knowledge’, as my definition of consilience. Although this definition is rather vague, it’s just what I need to illustrate why Sherlock should give a damn about the Solar System.

I respect Sherlock’s view that one should not waste one’s brainpower on useless trivia. The basic concepts of science, however, are not useless trivia for the reason that there is a unity of knowledge in science. In other words, scientific theories cannot be treated in isolation of each other. If you do not understand how the Solar System behaves, then your understanding of gravity will be limited. If you have a limited grasp of how gravity works, then you easily end up believing a lot of wrong things, like how the positions of the planets at the time of your birth determine your destiny.

While a lot of scientific facts are better left to the specialists, there is a set of fundamental scientific concepts that every educated person should know because they are connected in countless ways to our daily life. Let’s call such scientific concepts keystone concepts. Keystone concepts are concepts one must comprehend in order to formulate a consistent theory of the world. And one needs a consistent theory of the world in order to make the correct decisions when necessary. (“Should I buy a cheap plot of land near the Marikina Fault Line?” “Are genetically modified crops bad for me?” “Should I vote for a politician who denies global warming?”)

Watson to himself: "Should I be roommies with this guy?"

The Copernican theory is a splendid example of a keystone concept. Sherlock, who is a detective, should know better that the Copernican theory is intimately linked with the theory of gravity, which in turn dictates how bullets behave when fired from the barrel of a gun; planetary astronomy, as it should be clear to anyone who understands science, cannot be separated from ballistics.

Other examples of keystone concepts in science are the atomic theory, the theory of evolution by natural selection and the germ theory of diseases.

What I find beautiful about scientific consilience is the fact that you do not need to memorize so many scientific facts in order to have a full grasp of the world around you. Like Sherlock, I believe that remembering so many facts that have no relevance to your life is wasteful and counterproductive. However, because there is consilience in science, knowing that the Earth goes round the Sun is not an isolated fact but should be part of a web knowledge that informs our view of the world.

Furthermore, consilience makes it easier to take in new facts because learning something new does not involve remembering it by rote. Rather, because of the unity of knowledge, new facts about the world can be easily incorporated into our worldview. Hence, knowing the keystone concepts of science such as the theory of evolution helps us save on brainpower rather than waste it. We can state this fact in another way: keystone concepts help us organize our knowledge in such a way that makes acquisition of new information easy. To use Holmes’s attic analogy in Scarlet, being familiar with the keystone concepts help us tidy up that attic that is our mind so that it becomes easier for us to decide which piece of information is truly useless and which is helpful.

As a matter of fact, in the BBC series, Watson gets the last laugh when Sherlock discovers that in order to solve the mystery, a little background knowledge on astronomy is helpful after all.

"I just googled 'star that shouldn't be there.'"



In dismissing the Copernican theory as useless trivia, Sherlock fails to grasp another principle of science called parsimony.

As it is usually presented, parsimony describes the simplicity of an explanation. The most parsimonious explanation is one that explains the most with the fewest assumptions. Closely linked with the principle of parsimony is the famous Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor says that in choosing between competing logically consistent explanations, one must choose the simplest explanation.

Occam's razor: shaving theories clean since 1495.

The parsimony I want to talk about in relation to Sherlock and the Solar System, however, is the simplicity that comes in accepting a scientific worldview.

The world around us is exploding with an almost endless parade of seemingly unrelated phenomena. However, if one has a scientific view of things, one discovers that beneath all this complexity is an underlying simplicity (a phrase I got from Jong Atmosfera).

Take the heliocentric model of the Solar System. In this model, the Sun is the center of the Solar System and the planets, along with asteroids and comets, revolve around it. This model of the Solar System beautifully, and simply, explains so many things that are relevant to our daily lives. For example, combined with the fact that the Earth’s axis is tilted, it explains why we have seasons. It also explains why we have tides, why our Moon has many phases, why the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and why a year is approximately 365 days long. Our knowledge of how the Earth goes round the Sun also helps us adjust our calendars accordingly so that we can better order our lives around the passage of the seasons.

On a more romantic but still scientific level, knowing how our Solar System is configured gives us clues to our origins, which in turn tell us a lot about who we are. It is our knowledge of our cosmic neighborhood that enabled us to surmise the fact that we are in truth made of stardust, and that we are products of more than 4 billion years of evolution on a lonely piece of rock that floats in the vastness of space. Far from being mere romantic knowledge, such realizations provide us with powerful insights into human nature. If natural selection operating on a bunch of stardust produced us, then what does that say of us? If we want to control our destiny as an individual and as a species, we must know the answer to this very important question.

And if Sherlock wants to read people like books, it would certainly help him to know where humans figure in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

"We are all stardust, my dear Watson."


Why You Should Give A Damn About The Solar System

Yes, you can live a full life without bothering to know the first thing about the Solar System. However, I hope I have convinced you that life is simply so much better knowing the Earth goes round the Sun. And it certainly is a lot less boring.

The Doctor: "But it's the Solar System!" (courtesy of Laura Birdsall)


Photo credits:


Posted in Reviews, Science6 Comments

Rapture Reading Recommendations

Rapture Reading Recommendations

Since life as we know it is supposed to change forever before you even finish reading this, I figured our fellow freethinkers might appreciate the following works while waiting for the world to end. While fiction with post-apocalyptic themes are growing increasingly common, there are very few that deal specifically with the end of the world as prophesied by a religious tract, and fewer still that aren’t contrived, insufferably preachy, and near incoherent.

The first is the comic “Therefore Repent!” by Jim Munroe. It depicts a world where the Rapture went down more or less like how Christian groups described it would, complete with people floating up one day in the thousands. We see it through the eyes of a young couple that just happen to dress as a mummy and a raven. On the day of reckoning, the boy clung onto the girl rather than floating away with everyone else, because “he didn’t want any part of a heaven that didn’t want her.” Around their sweet little post-judgement day existence revolves a world which can’t seem to get the details of the Rapture right: the angels are dressed as Vietnam era American GIs that gun down people on the street with M16s and animals have begun conversing intelligently with the scattered remnants of humanity.


The second is an episode of the anime “Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World“, specifically the third, entitled “The Land of Prophecies: We No The Future”. The anime itself is about a traveler, Kino, who never stays in one place for more than 3 days at a time, for that person “would cease to be a traveler otherwise”. Each country Kino travels through takes some concept of governance or human society to the extreme while exploring the consequences of doing so, such as a land where everyone can read everyone else’s minds, a land that has ended war forever, and a land with absolute and perfect democracy. The episode I’m talking about here focuses on three separate lands, each influenced by an obtuse book of poetry whose original meaning has been lost. In one land the book is taken as a proof positive that the world will end on a particular day, the eve of which happens to be the day when Kino wanders by. While everyone in the capital city prepares for the end by huddling with their loved ones or praying in their temples, Kino takes the pragmatic approach and uses the opportunity to take food and bullets from shopkeepers who feel that they no longer have any need for money or inventory.


What I particularly like about both pieces is that for stories about the apparently supernatural and clearly scripted out end of the world, they wrap up in ways that are unexpected, satisfying, and touchingly human. Here’s to the hope that you manage to finish enjoying them before Jesus gets to you.

Posted in Entertainment, Religion, Reviews2 Comments

Toughest Place to Be

Meet Mang Rogelio

He’s your typical pinoy living in the streets of Manila, one among 94 million other residents of this country of ours. He drives his trusty jeepney everyday to support his family of 8. Still happily married all these years, he’s also a grandfather whose kids now have kids of their own… and they all live in the house he built with his own two hands.


But this story isn’t just about Mang Rogelio. Half a world away, Josh also makes a living driving people around the city. He’s a bus driver working the streets of London. Josh also comes from a large, close-knit, god-fearing family.


Two different people, two different lives in two different parts of the world… but having the same job and same family background. Yet for all the similarities their lives may have, these two people are about to realize just how different a hand fate has dealt them. By a simple accident of birth, one was fortunate enough to have been born in a first world country while the other lives here.

Josh has agreed to live a week in the shoes of Mang Rogelio and the BBC film crew was there to document all the tears, trials, and tribulations each person faced when their worlds collided. It’s not your typical reality-TV show where they take clueless idiots out of their comfort zone and wait for them to make fools of themselves. Josh and Mang Rogelio are genuinely nice guys who try to make the most of what life throws at them. But in the process of their own personal discoveries, they also allowed people a continent away a glimpse of life in Metro Manila as it is being lived by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos everyday. This is life as seen through the eyes of one who lived through it all… the hardships, the love, the camaraderie, and everything in between.

As Josh lands in Manila, “one of the most densely populated cities in the world”, as the program narrator describes, he gets a sobering look at life in Manila’s urban jungle. He meets his congenial host Mang Rogelio for the first time and gamely tours the 10′ x 10′ house Mang Rogelio built himself to house his family of 8. Filipinos will be happy to note that for a jeepney driver, Mang Rogelio has an impressive command of the King’s speech and has no problems conversing with the very British Josh without the aid of a translator.

He meets Mang Rogelio’s neighbor Elsie, who lives in a house half the size Mang Rogelio’s, yet still manages to fit all 13 of her children. She says she had her first child at age 14 and has had another one every year thereafter. She admits that she doesn’t know anything about family planning. Even now, she’s pregnant and is asking for Mang Rogelio’s help to take her to the hospital. Being the good, reliable neighbor that he is, Mang Rogelio opts to take the day off to help his sick neighbor. They reach the largest maternity clinic in the metro where things look even grimmer.

The facility has gone way beyond overloaded and has long past reached breaking point. Because of the lack of beds, 4 mothers have to share one bed among themselves. They talk to the resident doctor who explains the situation to the evidently disturbed Josh.

In the Philippines, there is strong cultural opposition to contraception, from one of the biggest influence in the country, the Catholic church,” the doctor explains.

Children are a gift from God,” he goes on, “they are a resource for you, source of help for you in your livelihood.” Which leads one to wonder if the proper way to treat “gifts from God” is to make them beg on the streets… or worse. Is this all children are to over-population deniers? Cheap, if not free, child labor?

Mang Rogelio, being more sensible and pragmatic than his neighbor Elsie, stopped at 3 kids. “I know it’s a sin against the church but rather than having a lot of kids that will die of hunger, I chose to go ahead with contraceptives,” his wife admits.

But Josh’s odyssey is far from over. He travels to Tondo, “one of the most densely populated areas on earth“, the program narrator says, with over 90,000 residents per This is where hope is bleakest, living conditions in its most dire. Here, you have to do whatever it takes to get by.


He gets his first look at pag-pag… literally garbage that has been thrown away but scavenged and re-cooked for human consumption. The shock value is palpable. If this is the first time you’ve known about conditions like these, your mind will be sent reeling at the depths of depravity one would stoop in order to survive.

This is the depth of poverty Manila has to offer… poverty that will be experienced by a hundred more newborn babies each day. Who’s to say is to blame? Society? The government? Their parents?  Sometimes, it’s easier to finger-point than to start working on practical and sustainable solutions.

Should one ask the question “Am I my brother’s keeper”? But we know that charity is rarely a practical long-term solution. The better choice would be to teach a man to fish. But how can one go out to “fish” when he already has 12 mouths to feed at home? It’s already a full-time job taking care of a dozen babies,  so how can one even find the time to actually earn a living? If you can afford to hire a nanny or a private tutor for your kids then well and good, but if not, what then? Will the thousand or so churches in the country open their doors and provide day-care support for all their faithful followers, gratis? Will Pro-Life? When one preaches about the “dignity” of human life, one should consider the fate of the baby even after it’s out of the womb.

Clearly, if we treat only the symptoms and not the root cause, then we won’t get very far. We’ll just be wasting donor or taxpayer’s money handing dole-outs forever. We have to get to the root cause of the issue, which is unplanned pregnancy. No matter how much rhetoric people spout about how government corruption is the root of poverty or the lack of education or opportunities, the plain and simple truth is that even if we fix all that, you still can’t go and earn a living when you’ve already got your hands full with more babies than you can handle.

We need to assist and educate the next generation of Filipinos to become responsible parents, to straighten out their own lives before they even think of bringing new one into the world.

But the fact is, children living in the slums are exposed to sex at a very young age. With hundreds of thousands of people all living under such crammed conditions, privacy is a luxury few can afford. It would be impossible to not witness someone having sex behind a cardboard partition or flimsy blanket even before reaching puberty.

In a news article published in the Inquirer, it stated that the “latest data from the National Statistics Office showed that of 1.7 million babies born in 2004, almost 8 percent were born to mothers aged 15-19. Almost 30 percent of Filipino women become mothers before reaching their 21st birthday.”

Not yet finished with school and already a mother. How then can people still claim that proper sex education as taught in schools is obscene? Isn’t it more obscene to leave children ignorant about their bodies only to find themselves pregnant at age 15? It’s high time for the bishops to get down from their ivory towers and see how life really works in the areas most in need of family planning and sex education.

All the tools for this to work are already there in the RH Bill but there is still vocal opposition against it. Their rationales are off the mark, citing irrelevant, and often times inaccurate basis for their objections. But when it comes down to it, actual lives are at stake here. While anti-RH groups are rallying to save the lives of imaginary babies threatened by condom usage, meanwhile real babies are dying everyday brought about by poor living conditions and parents who are hardly equipped nor prepared for the challenges of parenthood.

The sad fate of our country’s Reproductive Health policies are already being talked about all over the world in different forms of media. The sick man of Asia, now with a dozen crying babies in tow… While people in other countries just shake their head in disbelief, we here are unfortunate enough to live it first-hand.  What do foreigners visiting the Philippines see the most when they walk the streets of Manila? Child beggars. They swarm around any foreigner naive enough to hand out a few coins to a begging street urchin. Before you can blink, there are a dozen more of his friends with palms outstretched, hoping to receive the same. Dig a little deeper and you come across a darker side to the dangers faced by these street children. The Philippines is widely known in shadier circles to be one of the world’s capital in child prostitution and pedophilia. Not convinced?

Take a look at Google’s backroom for a few worrying statistics:


Now, we can continue to ignore the reality of all these dangers faced by children born of parents who cannot provide a safe, nurturing home for them, continue blaming government corruption for the problem of poverty, or maybe… just maybe… we can help empower all these would-be parents to take control of their lives… postpone having children until they’ve earned enough to provide a good environment for their children to grow up in. Then maybe we can finally see  a future where a thriving population becomes blessing instead of burden to this country.




For more information on the program cited above, visit the BBC’s program profile at:

BBC – Toughest Place to Be

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Society2 Comments

Review: Next to Normal

Meet Diana Goodman.

Loving mom and devoted wife. Everything seems picture-perfect in their cozy little home. Their daughter Natalie is growing up to be a talented young girl.  but its her son that she had a special fondness for…  a son she lost in childbirth but is still very much alive in her mind, even more so than the rest of her family. Diana is bi-polar and her delusions are getting worse. She’s losing more of herself as the years go by. Pieces of her memory flitter in and out her consciousness as the drugs and electric shock therapies takes its toll. Her family tries to cope, but as her symptoms get worse, it becomes harder and harder to ignore.

Who’s crazy, the husband or wife?
Who’s crazy to live their whole life
Believing that somehow things aren’t as bizarre as they are?

Who’s crazy, the one who can’t cope?
Or maybe, the one who’ll still hope?

Soon the family must make a decision: continue to fight or let go.

Next to Normal is the Tony-Award winning stage musical about a family trying to cope with the ups and downs of having a loved one in the throes of mental illness. It mixes equal parts of pathos and dark comedy to narrate the tragedy of losing someone you love little by little until the familiar is all but replaced by the unrecognizable.

Mental illness is an issue rarely talked about. More often that not, instead of having a rational discourse on a subject matter as serious as this, people tend to couch it in humor. Jokes like “kung mahirap ka, ang tawag sa iyo sira-ulo. Kung mayaman ka, you’re eccentric” only help to mire the topic in myths and misconceptions.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about mental illness? A raving lunatic in a straitjacket or a psychotic killer from a horror film? Fact is, there are thousands of ways the brain can go wrong and just as many gradients of “normalcy”. But then again, what defines “normal”? What if you have an unusual phobia? an addiction or obsession perhaps, or maybe even a bout of depression now and then… what separates normal from abnormal then? With all the different personality quirks one can have, Who actually fits all the standards of normalcy?

I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay
Yeah, something next to normal
That’s the thing I’d like to try
Close enough to normal
To get by

The first time I saw this play two years ago, I found merely entertaining but I couldn’t relate much to it. The  show’s topic was controversial and it received mixed reviews from critics. Some called it exploitative, sensationalizing, or even trivializing the plight of those suffering from mental disorders. Others praised it for bringing to the mainstream a topic that is rarely discussed in polite conversation. How do you deal with someone who is manic-depressive, schizophrenic, or suffering from autism?

Should you empathize?


or just ignore their bizarre behavior altogether?

At that time, I treated the subject matter merely as a curiosity but years after I first saw the play, I actually met real people who are coping with mental illnesses… young people who’ve had the misfortune of having their brain chemistry misfiring at the prime of their lives, older relatives who are in various stages of dementia. The issue becomes even more painful when relatives and loved ones are involved.

The sensation that you’re screaming, but you never make a sound.
Or the feeling that you’re falling, but you never hit the ground.
It just keeps on rushing at you day by day by day by day.
You don’t know, you don’t know what it’s like to live that way.
Like a refugee, a fugitive, forever on the run.
If it gets me it will kill me, but I don’t know what I’ve done.

Suddenly, it became all that more real… the uncle who took you to the park when you were young now rocks to himself in his own little world, gibbering nonsensical phrases at phantoms only he can see, or that classmate from high school who now has to take medication for severe bouts of manic-depressive episodes… They’re no longer things you just see in the movies, it could happen to you… or people you know. And its that sinking realization of just how fragile our brains are that makes one question all the preconceived notions on consciousness and the sense of “self“. Are we just the sum total of the electrical impulses jumping from neuron to neuron? a glorified biological computer that can break down just as easily? and if something goes wrong with the circuitry, do we also say goodbye to our sense of self? And just how much of our personality is actually self-determined and how much is merely chemistry?

They tried a million meds and
They strapped me to their beds and
They shrugged and told me ‘that’s the way it goes.’
But finally you hit it!
I asked you just what did it.
You shrugged and said that no one really knows.

It becomes harder to consider the notion of a “soul” or a consciousness independent of our physical brains we realize that so much of our memories and personality is dependent on brain chemistry. The more we understand how the brain works – what drug influences which chemical reaction in the brain which in turn regulates a specific behavioral pattern, the less “mystical” it all becomes. In fact, its a sobering thought – realizing how easy it is to influence a person’s behavior either by nature or by design. Can you blame a person for being  immoral when his brain is telling him to act that way?

The story asks this very question – chemistry or consciousness? who’s really in control? Can you shock people’s brains back to a semblance of normalcy? (Even today, electro-shock therapy is still one of the viable options medical doctors consider to treat certain mental disorders). If one believes in the soul, does the soul turn crazy as well? Where then should be the focal point of treatment?

What happens if the medicine wasn’t really in control?
What happens if the cut, the burn, the break was never in my brain,
or in my blood, but in my soul

These and many other questions will fill your mind after watching this riveting drama.  If you want a story that’ll get you thinking about how we think, don’t miss out on this.

Next to Normal shows on March 11-27, 2011
Fri & Sat – 8pm, Sat – 2pm,

Sun – 3pm & (March 27)8pm

at the 4th Floor Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium RCBC Makati, Philippines

For more information, visit the show websites at:

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews9 Comments

Catholic Wolf in Secular Sheep’s Clothing

Last February 16, 2011, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee passed the RH Bill. Now that it has passed through yet another hoop, its desperate opponents have intensified their propaganda against it.

The latest salvo from the anti-RH faction is now a “position paper” from some UP students, faculty, and alumni. You can read it here in full. Let’s break it down, shall we?

First off, they start their letter saying that they have a secular educational background, as if that meant anything. Having a secular college education does not mean you are free from the influence of Catholic dogma. One has to wonder why they even needed to emphasize their secular education, given that no one really cares as long as their arguments are sound. In their obvious effort to shy away from Catholicism, all they did was make me think was that this position paper was forwarded by Catholics in defense of their church’s position.

Now to the meat of the matter:

1. They claim that “population is not an obstacle to development“. Sure, if your country is well developed, well governed, with well educated citizens, and with reasonably high standards of living, then yes, population growth is not an obstacle to development. In fact, it can even boost development.

But if your country is already burdened with the 12th largest population in the world, with high rates of poverty, low standards of living, poorly equipped teachers and schools, high student to teach ratio, rampant corruption, and high unemployment rates, does adding almost 2 million more mouths to feed every year really help our country’s development?

Such simplistic black and white thinking reveals the narrow mindsets of this paper’s authors. The blatant appeal to authority (referencing Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets) is also incredibly cheap and does nothing to advance their argument. They claim that Kuznets said “there is insignificant empirical association between population growth rates and output per capita. Rather it is the rate at which technology grows and the ability of the population to employ these new technologies efficiently and widely that permit economic progress.” Are they forgetting that technology does not “grow” in our country, and that we need to import it? Are they forgetting that the vast majority of our burgeoning population have no idea how to “employ these new technologies efficiently and widely”?

They add that “he (Kuznets) argued instead that a more rapid population growth, if properly managed, will promote economic development“. Did you notice the bolded part? I wonder what part of “keeping people ignorant of their choices when it comes to family planning” can equate to “properly managed population growth”?

If anything, Kuznets argued that “underdeveloped countries of today possess characteristics different from those that industrialized countries faced before they developed.” I would like to ask the authors with Economics degrees to please provide proof that the work of Kuznets that they cited was referring to the economies of countries with similar social, political, and economic standings as the Philippines.

2. They claim that “the government has to channel limited funds to job creation and education“. Well, you can use this argument to just about ANY OTHER PROPOSED BILL that we have right now. Why not ask them to just stop introducing any other bills and just concentrate on “job creation and education”? Oh, wait, because there’s more to running a country than just “job creation and education”.

Are they truly concerned about the “limited funds”? Then why do we not see any position papers from them demanding the revocation of the tax exempt status of churches? That will sure put a LOT of money into government coffers. Why do we see no position papers on the removal of pork barrel funds, or the cleaning up of the ultracorrupt BIR? Besides, what is 750 million pesos out of the almost 1.7 TRILLION budget for 2011? Does putting 0.03% of the entire budget really take that much away from other projects?

3. They claim that “fertility rates in the Philippines are progressively decreasing“. Yes, that is true. But does that really mean anything when our country is already the 12th most populous country in the world? In fact, a Total Fertility Rate of 3.1 is still well above the world average of 2.5. That’s like a basketball player boasting that he has continued to improve his scoring every year and is now up to 10 points per game, when the average player scores 14 points a game. It’s not really something to brag about.

A better metric would be the population growth rate, which is around 1.72% per year, and places us at #74 out of 230 countries listed by the UN. Again, it is well above the world average of 1.17%. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure what a very high population coupled with high growth rate will result in.

And then they pull the “Japan is experiencing an aging population” card. Guys, can we talk about that when we get to be the economic powerhouse that Japan is? Do you really, REALLY believe that our country is comparable to Japan in any way? They claim that our “best asset” is our people. Really? Our best asset is a population of under/uneducated, unskilled laborers that we export to other countries en masse? Are the authors happy to keep the status quo?

4. They claim that “the government has to channel limited resources to address the leading causes of death“, which is basically the same as argument #2. Besides, what makes them think that we cannot do both at the same time?

5. They say that “condoms are not a wise investment“. They give two reasons for this:

One, that because countries like Thailand has high condom usage and yet has high HIV infection rates, and the we have one of the lowest, even without much condom use. They site that the cause is due to Risk Compensation. In a nutshell:

Risk compensation is an effect whereby individual people may tend to adjust their behaviour in response to perceived changes in risk. It is seen as self-evident that individuals will tend to behave in a more cautious manner if their perception of risk or danger increases. Another way of stating this is that individuals will behave less cautiously in situations where they feel “safer” or more protected.

Now this is a valid theory. But if they will use this as a reason to say that condoms are not a wise investment, then they have to argue for the removal of ABS, seat belts, and SRS airbags in vehicles. They also have to argue for the repeal of laws requiring motorcycle and bicycle riders to wear helmets and protective gear. They also need to argue for the removal of speed limits, traffic lights, and speed bumps. They also have to argue for a ban on the sale of child safety equipment. Because all these things have been proven to raise our perception of safety, and thus are not “wise investments”.

Their second reason is that condoms cannot prevent all STDs. Well, that’s like saying that two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash should not shoot free throws because he does not make all of them (he hits over 90% of them). Nobody is saying that condoms can prevent all STDs. Let me ask the the authors who are MDs: Can you name me one medical intervention that is 100% effective, 100% safe, and works 100% of the time? You can’t, can you? Using this argument, ALL medical interventions should be scrapped.

6. They say that “Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP) have been classified by the IARC as a Group 1 carcinogen“. This is partly true. What they fail to mention is that the study this was based on was performed mostly on menopausal women, and focused mainly on PremPro, a hormone replacement therapy using a combination of estrogen and progestin. It did not cover ALL types of OCPs.

Also, they fail to mention that while OCPs can increase the risks of certain cancers, it has also been shown to REDUCE the risk of other types of cancers. In fact, the American Cancer Society has this to add in the list of carcinogens they have on their website:

Estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives (combined) (Note: There is also convincing evidence in humans that these agents confer a protective effect against cancer in the endometrium and ovary)

Besides, even assuming that all OCPs had this risk, I’m sure the authors who are MDs know that pretty much all of medicine is “risk vs benefit”. Just about every drug and medical procedure entails risk. If you oppose the RH Bill simply because of the OCPs possibly causing harm, then why are you not fighting for the ban of chemotherapy? How about radiation therapy? Or any major surgery? They all expose the public to a significant risk of harm.

Do you know what else is on IARC list of Group 1 carcinogens? X-Rays. DO we see any position papers asking for the ban of their use? And here’s another one on their list: Solar Radiation. Yes, SUNLIGHT. So, where’s the position paper asking for the ban on sun exposure?

And then they end by stating that “It is the State’s duty to order society by promoting the well-being of it’s citizens. Thus it is a disservice to legislate what constitutes harm to its people“. Again, the overly simplistic view that “anything that can possibly cause harm must not be encouraged”. If we follow their reasoning, then the State should not encourage sports. Lots of people suffer from sports injuries, many of them highly debilitating, and some even cause irreversible damage. By this argument, we should scrap all sports programs! We should also ban automobiles, mining and construction work, the police and the military, and the practice of medicine because they all entail risk and possible harm to citizens.

In a nutshell, the core of their argument is that “The RH Bill will not solve all our problems, therefore it must be scrapped.” The things is, nobody is saying that passing the RH Bill will solve all our problems. It is merely a small step in the right direction.

In the end, this position paper offers nothing new from the anti-RH Bill faction. It’s the same arguments they have made time and again, only under the guise of being “secular” .

Furthermore, I must question, if only in my mind, the academic integrity of the authors of this position paper. If they are willing to twist logic and bend truths for personal agendas, how trustworthy can they be in the realm of academia?

Posted in Religion, Reviews, Society78 Comments

An Atheist Nation?


One of our members posted this on Facebook:

An Atheist Nation

1. There will be more schools
2. There will be more hospitals
3. More kindness to people
4. No wars about religions
5. No suicide bombings
6. Less poverty, as people will work very hard for this only life
7. No fall back position so people will be working hard also
8. No time wasted thru praying.
9. No funds wasted for icons, images and unneccesary stuff for worship like Mecca trips, Prosisyon, rebulto and the like
10. Less suicide, people who believe in afterlife think they can make it better in the second life.
11. Maybe less schizophrenics in the hospitals
12. More gizmos, more computers, more science developments
13. More science researches to cure illnesses
14. Less crime, as people will be too afraid to go to prison and spend their lives there as there is only one life to live
15. More rationality and critical thinking..
16. More women empowerment as women were oppressed by religions
17. There will be no population explosion as ‘there is no – go and multiply”, thus, we will have quality NOt quantity.
18. More scholars, geniuses as the resources are there.

I felt the need to address this post because, in my opinion, this does not help us one bit, and will only do more damage to atheists as a group. One can say that this is a pretty arrogant post to make (no offense to the OP). So I’d like to break down each point:

#1 & #2: There will be more schools and hospitals

Non sequitur. Just because religion is gone doesn’t mean there will automatically be more schools and hospitals. In fact one can even argue that there might be LESS, since religion’s main goal is to spread itself, and what better way to do it than to indoctrinate children (schools) and to put up a facade of caring (hospitals)?

#3: More kindness to people

Again, non sequitur. Why would people be kinder to each other just because there is no religion?

#4: No wars about religions

Well, this is quite obvious since if there is no religion, nobody will fight about it. However, there will still be wars over ideology (of which religion is just one part of)

#5. No suicide bombings

Why? Plenty of people have killed and died for ideologies other than religion (nationalism, racism, anti-abortion, etc). So, there will still be suicide bombings (maybe not as frequent).

#6 & #7 Less poverty, as people will work very hard for this only life and No fall back position so people will be working hard also

Working very hard is not the only factor in eliminating poverty. To say that because people will work hard because they will know that this will be their only life (which in itself is quite a stretch), and to assume that working hard will solve poverty is oversimplifying the case.

#8 No time wasted thru praying.

Well I can agree with this.

#9 No funds wasted for icons, images and unneccesary stuff for worship like Mecca trips, Prosisyon, rebulto and the like

I can also agree with this.

#10 Less suicide, people who believe in afterlife think they can make it better in the second life.

Hmm, as far as I know, suicide is rewarded with Hell, according to Christian Mythology. So, I don’t know how this holds up.

#11 Maybe less schizophrenics in the hospitals


#12 More gizmos, more computers, more science developments


#13 More science researches to cure illnesses

I can agree with this.

#14 Less crime, as people will be too afraid to go to prison and spend their lives there as there is only one life to live

Again, an overly simplistic view.

#15 More rationality and critical thinking.


#16 More women empowerment as women were oppressed by religions

I can agree with this.

#17 There will be no population explosion as ‘there is no – go and multiply”, thus, we will have quality NOt quantity.

Not necessarily. I don’t think a significant portion of people “multiply” just because the Bible says so. We enjoy sex, and a healthy sexual appetite + ignorance of RH = unwanted babies. You could argue that many religions’ position of contraceptives do contribute to population explosion, but not the “go forth and multiply” line.

#18 More scholars, geniuses as the resources are there.


My point here is not to defend religion. My point here is that we should not assume that if we eliminate religion, all our problems will be solved. Atheism is merely the lack of belief in deities. It does not guarantee that atheists are good, rational, civilized, intelligent, law abiding citizens. We do not have a rulebook that dictates how we should act and what we should do. Each of us has our own set of convictions, beliefs and principles. And because of this, an atheist can be just as bad as the worst religionist.

It would be wise to avoid the type of self-promotion as the one above, because it only serves to reinforce the idea that atheists are arrogant. As Astronomer Phil Plait said:
Phil Plait

Don't Be A Dick

Posted in Others, Religion, Reviews9 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

* * * * *

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:

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:


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: )

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: 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.

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