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.
Posted on 12 October 2013.
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.
Posted on 05 October 2012.
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
Posted in Reviews0 Comments
Posted on 07 April 2012.
“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.
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.
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.
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).
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?”)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted on 21 May 2011.
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 on 29 March 2011.
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 sq.km. 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:
Posted on 15 March 2011.
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 on 21 February 2011.
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 on 12 February 2011.
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:
“DON’T BE A DICK”
Posted on 27 January 2011.
* * * * *
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 : 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: 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 on 10 January 2011.
You don’t have to be a conspiracy buff to notice the none-too-subtle parallelisms between Disney’s new remake of Tron and Christian mythology. Intentional or coincidental? You decide…
.(aka. The Theology of Technology)
First off, the “Holy Trinity” of Tron…
1. The Father / Creator – Kevin Flynn, the programmer/creator of the digital world of the Grid
2. The Son / Savior - Sam Flynn, only begotten son of the father, the archetypal messiah who came to their world to save it
3. The Holy Spirit - Quorra was the non-human member of the “Tron Trinity” (she was an ISO) who was the confidante/messenger/sidekick and most importantly, embodied the love of the Father (who loved her as a daughter) and Son.
Other important archetypal characters:
4. The Fallen Angel – like Lucifer, CLU was the source of conflict in their world. He couldn’t create his own minions, only the Creator can. He could only corrupt existing programs to his side. But as was later revealed, he was only doing what he was created to do.
5. The Traitor - like the Judas archetype, the movie also had its traitor in the character of Zuse who sold the protagonists off and also died without having benefited from his ill-gotten gains.
6. Humanity- the ISO’s (Quorra’s race) are obviously a metaphor for mankind, described as innately imperfect but possessing great potential. They were the catalyst for the conflict between Flynn and CLU. In biblical lore, Lucifer revolted when he refused to serve mankind, thinking them below his station. In Tron lore, CLU saw them as aberrations in the perfect world he was tasked to create.
And miscellaneous bits of flavor details which have their counterpart in Christian mythology:
7. The Soul - like the Discs on their backs, entities in the Grid have their “essence” separate from their physical selves. It held their life-force, it was their greatest weapon and most precious possession.
8. The Last Supper – one would wonder why they would have to even “eat” when they’re in a digital world… but like the Last Supper, it was more to foreshadow the conflict to come.
9. The Garden of Eden - Notice the “apple” that CLU discovers in the room when he finally breaches Flynn’s refuge in the Outlands… a reference to the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. It was the place where the Creator rested and meditated. Quorra was his digital “Eve”… protected, nurtured and maintaining a pure innocence. The conflict finally escalates after the snake has entered the garden.
There are actually 2 different allegorical forms of redemption shown in the movie:
With so many biblical references buried within the storyline, one would expect the religious crowd to grow fond of this movie like they did with the Narnia series (where Jesus was a friggin’ lion! *Rowr*)
Actually, the sentiments were quite the opposite. If you trawled through the online discussions about the movie, some very vocal Christian critics were appalled or even offended by the movie.
So what has gotten them so riled up about the movie?
No. They manifested. The conditions were right and they came into being.
- Kevin Flynn
Evolution vs. Intelligent Design?
But at least Flynn recognized their great potential and sought to keep them despite their “imperfection”, at least in the eyes of CLU who saw them as flawed because unlike him who was literally made in the image and likeness of the Creator, they were creatures of chance (or perhaps of natural selection) instead of design.
Posted on 10 July 2010.
So you find yourself in a movie theater watching the third installment of the Twilight series and find yourself totally entranced by the deeply moving love triangle between the story’s perennially co-dependent heroine, the brooding matinee-idol vampire that glitters, and the equally moody werewolf who just can’t keep his shirt on.
Caught up in the layers-upon-layers of deeply philosophical underpinnings of the story, you can’t help but ponder upon life’s most sublime existential questions like what is love? what is true happiness? Am I Team-Edward or Team-Jacob?
Ahhh, the eternal questions to life’s greatest mysteries….
So you wonder where all these thoughts come from… what is it about vampires that capture the rapt attention of people everywhere to the point of irrational devotion?
Hmmm… fictional undead dude that rose from the dead with super-powers beyond that of mortal men… where have I heard that before…
Oh riiiiight… him….
Need more proof that they’re actually quite similar? Then here’s the :
- Loosely based on historical figures
- The tale gets passed on from generation to generation, each time adding a twist to the original tale until it becomes larger than life.
- Very popular in pop-culture. Every year or so, there’s bound to be another re-hashed movie or best-seller about him. Ranges from the teeny-bopper, “cool” versions popular with younger crowd to the bloodier, more R-rated versions. (and it can’t get any more bloodier than Mel Gibson’s version). Anne Rice even wrote a book about him/them.
- Came back from the grave as an immortal undead with super-powers
- Only reveals his true nature to a select few, preferably those he’s already gotten under his thrall
- Can’t enter uninvited into your house (or heart)
- Allergic to crosses, prefers not to be impaled with or into woody stuff but in the official storyline gets staked anyway.
- Likes to be called “prince”, though one prefers the moniker of “prince of peace”, the other likes the title “prince of darkness”.
- Keeps flying critters as pets which usually come out on special occasions or when specifically summoned. One like doves, the other prefers bats.
- Has his own rabid fan-base. Don’t mess with his fans, they can appear to be all nice and normal, but say one bad thing about their master and they bare their fangsssss…
- O -
Need more food for thought? Even vampire lore in general, when you think about it, sounds awfully close to Christian beliefs, so here’s the follow-up list :
- Lore states that you too can have eternal life. When you die, the master has the power to bring you back to life
- Your salvation is dependent on you consuming the blood of your benefactor in a special ritual
- You are not automatically born as one, you have to be converted into one via special rites
- There is a strict code of obedience to one’s sire
- Minions like to mind control more hapless victims by using their brainwashing powers
- Usually has warring sub-factions which recruits humans to use as pawns or cannon-fodder
- Hates other supernatural beings (like witches, warlocks, werewolves)
- Despite claims to having a lot of supernatural abilities, nothing really ever gets scientifically proven or recorded.
- They only reveal themselves to the public when an apocalyptic battle is about to occur, otherwise they only leave traces of unproven tales and rumors in history.
- The “good” guys are usually required to practice total and complete abstinence. The “bad” guys are often portrayed as bestial brutes who can’t suppress their instinctive urges, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground either way.
- O -
But there are alternatives to Stephanie Meyer’s bunch of mormon-inspired “vegan” vampires in the small screen. The closest approximation would be the other teeny-bopper favorite The Vampire Diaries. Though it still falls into Cliche No.10 of “good vampire totally abstaining from human blood and the bad vampire sucking everyone in sight” (aka. the PG-13 cutesy metaphor for pre-marital sex), its one redeeming value is that the heroine Elena Gilbert is no wimpy Bella Swan (who in Book 1, upon seeing how rich Edward was, thought of quitting school altogether and living with Edward in a state of co-dependent bliss… obviously, growing up to be a self-successful, independent and liberated woman was never part of Bella’s long term goals).
- O -
But another rung up the vampire band-wagon is HBO’s True Blood (now on its 3rd season!). Based on Charlaine Harris’ series of novels set in the south, the spunky heroine Sookie Stackhouse played by X-Men’s Anna Paquin is a force to be reckoned with. Even though she’s no Buffy, she holds her own against the things that go bump in the night. This is one gritty series that isn’t afraid to dip into controversy.
It deals with diverse, socially-relevant issues like interracial relationships, bigotry, xenophobia, and the like. And unlike the usual vampire stories, the twist here is that instead of protecting people from the monsters, religious people are the ones doing the oppressing. Some see this as an allegory of religious persecution against gay people. There are several hints in the show which mirror this sad reality with clever twists like “God Hates Fangs” (God Hates Fags) and “Coming out of the coffin” (coming out of the closet).
In this world, they have found a viable blood substitute – True Blood, which is the namesake of the show. Vampires have no need to prey on humans and are now trying to get accepted into mainstream society. But people still fear what is different and stoking the flames of paranoia and hatred are the religious zealots who are using scriptures to justify the eradication of all vampires… good or bad.
In a pivotal episode, the protagonists seek an audience with the Queen of the vampires who let them in on a little secret…
“They’re still waiting for the god who’ll come…”
“Does he ever come?”
“Of course not… gods only exist in the minds of men, like money and morality”
- O -
Author’s addendum: Whoops, forgot to acknowledge the help of everyone who pitched in ideas to complete the Top 10 lists, many thanks to Den, Johnster, Mack, and Mr. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, hehe… though you guys are all dyed-in-the-wool, church-going Catholics, you never fail to surprise me on how far your sparkling wit can actually break into actual heretical humor… see you all guys in Hell, hehe
Posted on 30 March 2010.
“We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Jonathan Swift.
The above quote is a sad fact; instead of leading to a better life, a better world, religon has been used to hate, think less of the unbeliever, and dehumanize anyone who is different. Society has many problems today and the religious groups still have this illusion that going back on the old ways will solve everything.
Maybe it is an oversimplification to say, at least from the three major religions, that there is one God and we are all his creations in one earth. The closest analogy I can think of is parent (or father since the three refer to God as a man) and the children. Do brother and sister fight over what their parents say to the point of killing each other? Would any parent love to see that happen?
In the end we always end up fighting on how one God is better from the other; we fight over who has the correct idea of God, never minding if we end up killing one another. If God really is a father, then with fatherly instincts I believe he would be furious seeing the world destroy each other over useless things. Sam Harris was right in his view – religion leads to misplaced priorities.
Orlando Bloom played the lead, going from Middle Earth to the Middle East in this period-piece. Set in the religion-mad era of the Crusades, the Lord of the Rings heartthrob now plays a lost and tortured soul searching for salvation.
He is Balian, a blacksmith fresh from losing both wife and child. He thought himself to be cursed and far from the grace of his God until some good news knocked on his door. A crusader knight named Godfrey who as it turns out was his father, a lord and member of the King’s court in Jerusalem, wants his company. So cursed by God, he thought, what else he could do than look for God in his city: in Jerusalem.
Now the place that he went to, Jerusalem, it was at this time far from heavenly because it was a drowning kingdom in a sea of Arabs led by an effective leader, Saladin. Also, the city was fractured by two powerful religions hell bent on killing each other.
First, a warning: this film is by no means historically accurate. It has been commented more than once that Hollywood creates its version of history into something more palatable and sexy on the big screen, with the American audience having the highest consideration. What really happened in those days you have to read on your own, as I did – well at least a few pages of articles.
Saladin, like in the film, was a great general for the Arabs and was highly respected by both sides. Some have the point of view that Christians had a better respect for him than the Muslims. Jerusalem was indeed lost though I am not sure in which crusade or war did it fall. The odds of holding the city were just insurmountable.
But what I really agree with this film is that barbarism chooses no religion; the film even proposes that one needs no religion to do the right thing.
In Kingdom of Heaven the Templars were the most brutal, always with the insane line of “God wills it!” a phrase not so different from suicide bombers who cry out “God is great.” Present day’s prominent version of those two statements is George Bush who said God wanted him to invade Iraq, and the western world’s villain of the hour, Bin Laden.
My favorite line in the film was made by the Hospitaller and it goes: “I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the Will of God.”
He goes on by saying, “Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.” Wise words in a movie filled with insane religious men.
That quote made me think of what happened then and what is happening now with religion coming in the forefront of many national debates here and abroad.
There are reported inequities in the theocratic states in the Middle East especially in the lines between the sexes. Somewhere in Palestine and even in the United States there are still incidences of honor killings. In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive.
The Catholic Church can’t even protect the interests of children, yet they have the gall to demand the right to dictate national policy. Why give them the control over state policy when one, they don’t pay taxes and two, they don’t respect the state!
Cardinal Sean Brady, who is at the heart of Ireland’s current church scandals, was quoted as saying that there was ‘no moral obligation’ for him to report to the police. According to Irishtimes.com he said, “Is it a sin against the law of God not to report matters to the police…no I don’t think so…because there are certain people exempt from this moral obligation to report to the police.” Is that what you call respecting the state, much less the child?
A crime has been done to a child. Talk with anyone less than a priest who confessed of pedophilia and you’ll be wondering where your children are, hoping they are far away. If your children are victims then you would not even not care about internal mechanisms that an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times have credited the Pope for spearheading.
There is a system of laws, justice, criminal investigations; a penal system, available for every citizen who needs or deserves it. Why have they not availed of it? Is this the pro-family, pro-life, heavenly existence we can expect if religion is back in the forefront?
In the film Balian made his decisions outside of religion. He ordered the cremation of the dead to avoid an epidemic, ordered the city to be abandoned, and made military decisions not out of Christian conceit that victory is assured. He faced Saladin and his aides with respect even in the midst of the war. The irony there is that he thought of himself as cursed, went to Jerusalem to find God; in the end did what he could outside of anyone’s concept of God – and found his salvation.
The film has an interesting message in that the kingdom of heaven is achievable out of religious hands, especially if you know enough history or read enough news and see that with religion in the forefront, full control in fact, little good has been achieved.
“Holiness is in right action,” the movie says. It is time for us to find a way for just that to be enough.
Also seen in my blog.
Posted on 10 March 2010.
Today’s top ten offer some new perspectives on religion. Is it me or is secularism gaining ground? Check out the analysis on UK’s Equality Bill and Gordon Brown’s secularist government. Because the majority of MPs are not politically aligned with any church, sex ed bills and equal rights for homosexuals were passed, and no church has major influence on legislation. Amazing, isn’t it?
“The unique feature of Gordon Brown’s government is not its economic incompetence. Rather, it is doctrinaire secularism. For the first time in British history, no one sitting around the Cabinet table holds traditional Christian views that defy the liberal consensus on social issues or sexual morality.”
Send your stories via The News Thread or the comments. Theme suggestions are also welcome.
Gay church blessings and a crisis of faith (via The Telegraph) link – Brilliant analysis of secularism in the UK and how it has allowed for certain bills to pass
Pope’s brother: sexual abuse at choir school not discussed (via inquirer.net) link
“Koran says – you’re free in your religion” – Muslim cleric (via RT) link – Cleric issues fatwa against terrorism; insists ‘fatwa’ was mistranslated and does not mean ‘holy war’
Pope’s path to sainthood delayed by miracle doubts (via The Telegraph) link – Pope John Paul II is not a faith healer after all!
Funeral flap: religion and free speech rights (via wired.com) link - Apparently some bigots want the government to uphold their (alleged) free-speech right to disrespect funerals of homosexuals
Violence in Nigeria – food not faith (via The Guardian) link - Analysis on the murders in Jos
6 questions for an atheist undercover in an evangelical church (via The Huffington Post) link
Oregon faith healers get 16 months for son’s death (via AP) link – Faith healing could lead to negligent homicide!
Posted on 04 February 2010.
Warning: For those who haven’t seen this episode yet, spoiler alert!
This is the first, and hopefully won’t be the last, of a series of short reviews I’ll try doing each week for ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
This week The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) episode ‘The Einstein Approximation’ came out, and is the 14th episode of the show’s 3rd season.
Let me just start this quick and short review of the episode by further stating what the guys there and I have in common, apart from the quite obvious facts that we’re all geeks/nerds by heart.
Even before TBBT, I’ve admired and idolized Einstein myself, because of his great mental feats (which were of course, backed up by other physical theories and experiments at his time). Great because by just the power of his mind Einstein was able to revolutionize our lives and the 20th century, paving ways for faster transportation, not to mention telecommunication and computing, which drove and is still driving the information revolution today. And of course, so much more benefits which we more or less take for granted in our daily lives. In fact, Einstein is oftentimes synonymous with the word ‘genius’.
Einstein was also very much interested in philosophy and politics, not just physics. He’s written several books, articles, letters to people outside the scientific community. He also has a quirky sense of humor, as seen from this picture of him. At first I thought this photo of Einstein was edited. But as it turns out it was really him, tongue hanging out and all. It was at the time he was making fun of people taking pictures of him. Great stuff.
Of course Einstein is not without criticisms. Great and accomplished a scientist he maybe, history tells us he left much to be desired when it came to being a father or a husband.
Now, back to the episode review of TBBT. At this point I shall establish a partially objective, partially subjective point system of each episode relative to the earlier 2 seasons (which I have watched at least 2 times…) and a number of judging criteria.
This episode is a classic Sheldon episode, which is great in itself. Again we expected lots of ‘weird’ humor: Sheldon’s ability to complicate relatively simple things, as well as him belittling his friends, most noticeably Penny. Hilarious stuff once again. Bravo to TBBT production team.
Not a lot of scifi or comic book references were made though. But lines such as:
Howard: How long has he been stuck? (referring to Sheldon)
Leonard: Umm…intellectually about 30 hours, emotionally about 29 years.
Howard: Have you tried rebooting him? (referring to Sheldon)
Leonard: No I think it’s a firmware problem.
The part where Leonard and Sheldon were arguing inside the ‘ball play room’, with Sheldon going ‘bazinga’ everytime, was also hilarious.
Sheldon, and of course the rest of ‘the guys’ are fans of Einstein no doubt. Sheldon of course thinks he’s at the same level with Einstein so he tries to do what Einstein did in order to come at the epiphany that is the special theory of relativity: to work for a menial job so he can occupy his basal ganglia with a routine task so he can apparently free his pre-frontal cortex to solve his physics problem.
Another classic moment in this episode is the guest starring of Yeardley Smith, the not so well known voice actor behind the famous cartoon character Lisa Simpson (yes, of ‘The Simpsons’ fame). Absolutely entertaining piece of the episode.
Another classic dialog is again with Sheldon and Penny:
Penny: What are you doing here?
Sheldon: A reasonable question. I asked myself, what is the most mind-numbing, pedestrian job conceivable? And 3 answers came to mind: toll booth attendant, an Apple Store “Genius”, and “What Penny does”. Now, since I don’t like touching other people’s coins, and I refuse to contribute to the devaluation of the word “genius”, here I am (meaning at the cheesecake factory).
Lines like these make me think of the real meaning and application of LOL.
I suppose myself and those guys, as well as the show’s production team, can’t help cracking jokes at Apple.
Overall I’d give this episode the following scores:
* reference to sci-fi, comic books, and other geek/nerd pop culture: 6/10
* reference to physics and other fields of science: 9/10
* dialog humor factor: 9/10
* techie/technology factor: 8/10
which gives an overall score of: 8/10
Article originally published here.