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An Organic Tale of a Chemical Nature

The Power of Words

Words are powerful. Consider, for instance, the fact that right now you are staring at a grid of pixels on a computer screen and somehow because of this you hear a voice — my writer’s voice — inside your head. What more, through this voice you hear words that, as if by magic, conjure images, evoke emotions, or transport you across time and space. By a careful choice of words I can gain a certain degree of control over your mind, and consequently your behavior.

Because of their power, words must be used with care. To abuse words is to endanger people. This fact, though true in general, is most acutely felt in the case of scientific terms.

Take, for instance, the word ‘chemical’. Does it describe something dangerous or beneficial? Something to be avoided, perhaps? More than a few TV commercials boast the absence of chemicals in a product, and our supermarkets are filled with merchandise claiming to be “chemical-free.” What do these commercials and product labels mean, if they mean anything at all?

This ad for SunFX, a brand of spray on tan, is just one of many disavowing the use of chemicals. Does this claim make sense? [Photo credit: mysunfx.com]

Sometime ago, after performing a science demonstration for a general audience, I was approached by a girl of about 6 years who called my attention by tugging at the bottom of my lab coat and calling me, “Mr. Scientist.” When I finally looked down at the little girl’s quizzical face, she said, “Mr. scientist, Mr. scientist, what is a chemical?” The question gave me pause. I had to put down the tray of glassware I was holding (which contained several chemicals) and sat down. I couldn’t have given her wonderfully deep question justice by merely blurting out a textbook definition. Neither would she have been satisfied with the meaningless answer, “Oh, everything is made of chemicals.” Light and sound aren’t composed of atoms, are they chemicals too? Are space and time chemicals? Is dark matter composed of chemicals? Her question deserved nothing less than a story in reply.


The word ‘chemical’, like many scientific terms, is a shorthand for a story of discovery. Every time we refer to something as being a chemical, or of a research as part of chemistry, we are referring to this story — we are making reference to a narrative. Like all stories of discovery, it is a rich and intriguing detective story where the mystery to be solved is nature’s behavior and where the detectives are the scientists. In telling this story, we also learn about related and likewise oft-used words like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, words that, like ‘chemical’, are often used to appeal to people’s emotions but not to their reason.

What are the advantages of products that are labelled organic? What does it take for something to be “100% natural”?


The (Distilled) Story of Chemistry

The story started with people asking what everything is made of. Are all the various things around us made of different stuff, or are they all made of the same stuff arranged differently? How many different kinds of basic stuff are there?


When this story began people let their imaginations run wild. “Everything’s made of water,” asserted Thales. “Nope, it’s all fire,” replied Heraclitus. “Atoms and the void, is what I say,” retorted Democritus. “My money’s on earth, air, fire, and water,” declared Aristotle. “Oh, and also ether,” he added. Most of these early thinkers scarcely bothered to check if their guess was the correct one.

Aristotle's five elements in their nested spheres: earth, water, wind, fire, and ether.

Aristotle’s five elements in their nested spheres: earth, water, wind, fire, and ether.


Sometime later, however, people started to earnestly and systematically burn, boil, pulverize, and purify every piece of ore they could get their hands on. In the hopes of one day finding a way to change common metals to gold or extract the elixir of life, these investigators carefully wrote down their methods and observations, trying to find patterns behind it all. In detective stories, this is the part when the detectives pin the many collected clues onto a board, connect related clues via strings, and stare at the constellation of facts wishing to discover the secret symmetry behind it all. These mortar-and-pestle-wielding detectives were called alchemists, a word which can be traced to the Greek word ‘khemia’ or the”art of transmuting metals”. Little by little the alchemists, who were later succeeded by people who called themselves ‘chemists’, saw a pattern emerging, a pattern suggesting that while most things are made of a mixture of stuff, some are made of just one kind in pure form. They called the latter group ‘elements’. The rules that govern the interactions of the elements came to be known as chemistry, and the products of these elements mixing and matching came to be called chemicals. (And oh, they also finally got the hint that you can’t turn lead into gold through chemical means, but by that time they found use for their knowledge in distilling good whiskey, and that more than made up for it.) After some false leads involving non-existent substances like “phlogiston”, the chemists eventually came up with the Table of Elements tabulating all the basic stuff that make up tables, chairs, planets, and stars.

 

The Essence of the Organic

But what about plants and people? What about animals and those unseen things called “germs” that make folks sick? Clearly they must be made of different stuff, aren’t they? After all, trees grow, fruits rot, animals make other animals, and things that live eventually cease to be alive. Dead matter like mineral ores, alkaline solutions, and hazy vapors did none of these things. Because of the striking difference between rock and rabbit, early detectives thought that living organisms were made of some special, life-giving stuff — organic matter, they called it (from the Greek ‘organikos’, meaning “relating to an organ or instrument”). And because the ‘vital force’ that moves a cheetah during a chase seems so different from the mundane forces of the elements that move pebbles around,investigators thought the processes of life were fundamentally different from those undergone by lifeless chemicals. (The word vital comes from the Latin ‘vita’, meaning life.) If you look at the miracle of life with eyes unaided by our current knowledge, as when you compare a rose in bloom with a crystal of rose quartz, it’s easy to relate with this mistake in understanding. But given how our modern life depends on the most recent scientific insights, it is important that we progress from this mistake.

Rose quartz

At a cursory glance, it is hard to believe that a rose quartz and a rose flower are made of the same kinds of stuff, only in different proportions. (Rose flowers have lots of carbon, quartz crystals have lots of silicon.)

 

What we would call living matter, it is now known, is made of stuff that can be found in the Table of Elements. Recall that these elements were discovered by people who dealt with so-called dead matter. For example carbon, which there’s a lot of in living things, is also what makes up diamonds, and the oxygen that so confused many chemists into thinking about phlogiston is just the pure form of the oxygen found in sugars and many other so-called organic molecules. What more, the rules that govern the interactions of the elements in flasks and test tubes are the same rules that hold inside cells and working organs — life is just chemistry. However, despite the fundamental similarity between dead matter and living matter, the differences are striking and important. The chemistry of life is mesmerizing; it’s complex and delicate — one might say that life is chemistry on acid. All this is made possible by the chemical properties of the element carbon, an element which can form the backbone of compounds as simple as ethanol and as complex as DNA. For this reason, we stuck with the original terminology ‘organic’. But because we know better, we now call the study of organic substances ‘organic chemistry’.

The atoms of elements (atoms are the basic units of a chemical element) can be promiscuous, but none are more promiscuous than the orgy-loving carbon atoms.

 

Organic substances are chemicals. The food we eat, the drugs we take, and we ourselves are composed of these chemicals. The processes that move our muscles and power our thoughts are chemical processes. It is therefore absurd to avoid chemicals and dishonest to claim that a pharmaceutical product, a product that has benefited from great advances in chemistry, contains “no chemicals”.

We continue to use the words organic and inorganic out of convenience because they signify concepts that are helpful in organizing our world. But a lot of important properties easily cross this divide of convenience. For example, many organic substances are poisonous or toxic, and a lot of inorganic ones, like water and table salt, are needed by living things. 

In agriculture, the word organic is often used to describe a certain group of food and farming methods that involve audit trails to ensure that certain standards are met in animal welfare, agricultural drug use, the application of biotechnology, corporate transparency (or more often the lack thereof), ecological impact, and many more. The problem with this use of the word organic is that it has little to do with the scientific meaning of the term. More often than not, people use the word ‘organic’ to invoke emotion without invoking much thought. True, some chemicals used in industrial farming might be harmful to the environment and the health of consumers, and it is best if we replace them with chemicals that work just as well and that have fewer negative side effects, but their being chemically organic or inorganic has little to do with it. The same can be said about their being natural or unnatural.

The USDA’s requirements for obtaining the label ‘organic’ vs common practices in products with the label ‘natural’. [Pic credit: stonyfield.com]

 

Natural Tendencies

When I’m in the supermarket, I am always amused to see so many products claiming to be “all natural” while being wrapped or contained in plastic and placed on a refrigerator in an air-conditioned, artificially-lit department store. But what about that seedless banana that looks so different from its wild counterpart? Does growing this product of generations of human cultivation without using pesticides and fertilizers make it “all natural”?

The word ‘natural’ is tricky because it means a handful of very different things. The word can be traced to the Latin ‘natura’, meaning birth in the sense of “having a certain status by birth”. It is natural, for example, for most people to want to eat. It is a tendency that people have since they were born. It is not natural, however, to want to listen to obscure music. Babies don’t have an inclination to visit pitchfork.com. Things like taste in music are what we describe as ‘cultural’, a word that can be traced to the Latin ‘cultura’, meaning ’tillage’. Something cultural is something that is cultivated. (Does this mean that anything cultivated, like nearly all plant products we currently consume, are not natural? In this sense, yes.)

The word ‘natural’, however, was for hundreds of years also used to refer to the collective phenomenon of the physical world outside the realm of human control. On the one hand was nature with its trees, animals, mountains, clouds, and rain, and on the other were humans with their cities, governments, philosophies, culture, and Stanley Kubrick films. A line was drawn between what was natural and what was ‘artificial’ (from the Latin ‘artificium’ meaning handicraft). Using this sense of the word ‘natural’, the predecessors of scientists called themselves ‘natural philosophers’ — people who love to reason about things that happen outside the human sphere.

The more these natural philosophers learned about nature, however, the more they noticed that the dichotomy between the natural world and the human world is at best arbitrary and at worst untenable. Not only are we made of the same stuff that make up things that were considered natural, we are governed by the very same “laws of nature”. Humans are part of nature, there is no way out of it. (After all, what is outside nature? That is, what is supernatural? Jensen Ackles’s handsomeness, maybe?)

As with the case of the word ‘organic’, we continue to use the words ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ because they are convenient shorthands. When we say a chemical “exists in nature”, we mean that it would exist even without humans manufacturing it. When we say a phenomenon is natural, we mean that it would happen even without humans around making it happen. As with ‘organic’, the main problem with ‘natural’ is not its uselessness, but the emotional undertones that people incorrectly attach to it. The word ‘natural’ is very often used as an assurance of superior quality. It is not. Parasites and pests are natural. Poisonous fruits and plant toxins are natural. Many diseases are natural. Heck, death is natural. Compare the above natural things with the following, all of which are artificial: lifespans that are relatively long and comfortable, low infant mortality rate, homes made cozy by electricity, medicine, anesthesia, distilled water, contact lenses, pet animals, YouTube, and Lena Headey’s blond hair in Game of Thrones. While one can argue that at least one of these is not good, the rest are great. Who can imagine life without modern medicine? Or YouTube?

Science and Stories

‘Natural’ does not mean better nor ‘artificial’ worse. ‘Organic’ does not mean beneficial nor ‘chemical’ harmful. These words have rich and complex histories, and we do these histories a great injustice by using the words that stand for them simplistically. Worse, by forgetting the stories behind these words, we not only forget all the amazing men and women who have labored to discover the workings of the world, we endanger ourselves by failing to grasp the nuances of their meaning.

Needless to say I did not tell all of these things to the little girl who asked me about chemicals. I told her a story that was more brief and less pretentious than the one above. She seemed to enjoyed it. At the end of the story, the little girl asked me one last question. She said, “So scientists are story tellers too?” “Yes,” I said, “Scientists are story tellers. But most of all, they are story makers.”

Posted in Education, Science3 Comments

Evolution Has No Purpose

Eli Soriano of “Ang Dating Daan” promoted the hashtag #EvolutionHasNoPurpose. He’s right. Evolution doesn’t have a purpose.

The word “purpose” is both a verb and a noun. It’s defined as:

1. Noun – the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

2. Verb – have as one’s intention or objective.

Yes, evolution does not have a purpose. Evolution doesn’t have an objective, or an intention, or an “end goal in mind” simply because it has no “mind,” or intelligence. It doesn’t adhere to a plan or a design.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

1) Random mutations happen.

Here’s a picture:

Genetic shuffling is a source of variation.

2) Living organisms fortunate enough to have advantageous mutations have a better chance of surviving than organisms with disadvantageous mutations. This is called natural selection.

Here’s a picture:

Some beetles are born green, some are born brown. Birds tend to eat green ones, because they are easier to spot. Being green is a disadvantageous trait. One day, if this keeps happening, beetles will mostly be brown.

Theistic evolutionists, people who believe in God and scientific facts, argue that evolution is guided. They believe that evolution has a purpose, the purpose is just unknown to us, because we are not as smart as God.

Eli Soriano’s hashtag is actually an argument against both guided evolution and intelligent design. Initially, I agreed with his statement thinking that what he meant was:

“Evolution is happening, but it has no purpose. In fact, it’s mutations are random. Therefore, intelligent design is not happening. Because if intelligent design is happening, natural occurrences, such as evolution, would have a purpose.”

So, I wondered why a religious leader with a reputation for taking the Bible literally would agree with scientists on any matter. So I read his blog and realized that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

His intention for saying that “evolution has no purpose” was an attempt to take a clever jab at science. Unfortunately, his hashtag was neither clever nor a jab at science, because what he stated was simply something many scientists consider a fact.

Unfortunately, “Evolution Has No Purpose” is the only thing Eli Soriano said that was scientifically accurate. Everything else he said about evolution are either blatant lies or ignorant statements. Eli Soriano is implying that evolution is not real. He says that it’s not proven, because its a theory. He’s saying that scientists don’t have evidence (like this) that evolution is happening. What Eli Soriano is saying is absolute nonsense. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The “Isn’t Evolution Just a Theory?” nonsense is so common that it’s the third question answered in an online FAQ for evolution:

Isn’t Evolution Just a Theory?

Evolution is often criticized by opponents as being “just a theory.” This argument is especially common in America, where the word “theory” usually means an unproven idea. However, in science a theory is the highest degree of certainty. Gravity is “just a theory.” The Earth orbiting the Sun is “just a theory.” By definition, a scientific theory is a hypothesis which has withstood rigorous testing and is well-supported by the facts. There is overwhelming evidence for biological evolution, just as there is overwhelming evidence for gravity.

I find myself having to reiterate, again, what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is an explanation for a fact. The theory of gravitation is trying to explain why gravity, a fact, happens. The theory of gravitation is not “guessing” whether or not there’s gravity. It’s trying to explain how gravity works.

Now, replace all instances of the words “gravitation” and “gravity” with the word “evolution” in the previous paragraph. That’s what scientists mean.

Eli Soriano is right when he says #EvolutionHasNoPurpose. But he could have said #GravityHasNoPurpose and he would have been just as right. But he didn’t, because he only has issues with the theory of evolution, and not the theory of gravitation, for one very obvious reason:

 

#EliSorianoDoesntUnderstandScience

 

Image Sources:

1 – http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_17

2 – http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_25

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Science is Sexy

A few days ago, I posted this image with the caption, “There is something awesome about this”:

10641276_538839496247085_2294766886721050280_n

I think it’s amazing that science has discovered how our fluctuating biochemistry can determine our emotions. Love, according to the chart, is a chemical cocktail of schizophrenia, happiness, and pleasure. Now, some people think that my comment about the image being “awesome” is laid with irony, that this graphic was intended to trivialize human emotion.

Science and science-oriented people both get a negative reputation sometimes; because of coming off as emotionless, detached, objective, unsentimental, incapable of awe, and unromantic. As for the chart above, it’s easy to assume that science-oriented people have a tendency to simplify and trivialize love by reducing it to a simple consequence of biochemicals.

However, in my opinion, scientifically explaining love doesn’t trivialize it. In fact, if anything, science enhances our idea of love. For one, science provides evidence for love. Without science, the romantic concept of love is pure conjecture, and we can dismiss romantic statements as hyperbolic anecdotes. Science, however, concretized this idea; love is no longer just a “word,” a symbolic approximation of a feeling, but an actual biological condition that occurs when an individual is producing high levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.

But that’s not just why I thought that the image was awesome.

See, science can explain that the good feelings I have are caused by elevated biochemical levels, but it can’t explain why my exposure to the person I love causes my biochemical levels to elevate. What I found just as fascinating, apart from being informed about the chemicals that influence my emotions, is the seemingly eternal gap between how I love, as explained by the rise in my biochemical levels (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin), and why I love my significant other.

I found scientific attempts at explaining why people love who they love, but even those, I found romantic.

According to evolutionary psychology, I selected my significant other because her sexiness is an indication that she is fully capable of replicating my genes.

Why is this romantic? Think of it this way, the continued survival of any living race is only enabled by the living’s insatiable desire. Beings that are alive have been desiring for millions of years, and we’re not done yet. If desire ends, the human race goes extinct shortly after.

I think it’s awesome to think that my desire for my significant other is part of something bigger, something epic, that has been going on for millions and millions of years.

For some physicists, love is a neurological condition that could be compared to hunger or thirst, only more permanent. People have been fantasizing about eternal love, not knowing that it was eternal to begin with, as eternal and as primal as our need to eat.

Neuroscientists discovered that falling in love can produce pleasurable feelings as if one used cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain. It’s also been discovered that falling in love takes about 1/5 of a second. So, that means, it took me less than a second to fall in love with my significant other, and all those myths about love at first sight are not actually myths.

Reading romantic literature about eternal love, love at first sight, and insatiable desire is exciting. It allows us to fantasize that the romantic feelings we have for our significant other is just as intense, as spontaneous, and as permanent. But you know what is more exciting than that? Finding evidence that your romantic feelings for your significant other is (or, at least, could be) as eternal, as spontaneous, and as permanent as love in poetry.

Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/AsapSCIENCE/photos/a.236720259792345.60296.162558843875154/538839496247085/?type=1

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Why Catholics Need to Acknowledge Evolution

Catholicism is strange. That has always been my attitude towards it. Even as a kid, I thought it was strange that I was made to get up at 3:00 a.m. to sing the Passion of Christ. I also thought it was strange that I was encouraged to kiss the bleeding knee of a Jesus sculpture after so many people already did. I thought there was something unhealthy about that.

One can say that I belong to a Catholic family. Although our beliefs vary, my family and I have always been culturally Catholic. I’m sure a lot of Filipinos are as well. And because Catholicism, as a culture, is ingrained in many Filipino families, few take the time to examine or study what Catholicism is about. Many assume that Catholicism is simply whatever their parents believed.

I have long accepted the idea that conservative Christians will not accept evolution, but I was definitely surprised to learn that many Filipino Catholics reject evolution too. In classes where I sometimes breached the topic of evolution, I would often ask Catholic students how many of them acknowledged evolution as a fact, and it’s always in the minority. My own Catholic family does not acknowledge evolution.

This is strange because, as far as I knew, the Roman Catholic Church has been claiming that there is no conflict between evolution and the faith, as early as 1950.

pope 2

Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged that evolution is not just a guess or a hypothesis. In 1996, he told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

“Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”

Pope John Paul II’s descendent Pope Benedict XVI shared a similar belief. Pope Benedict mentioned that the perceived conflict between creationism and evolution was absurd. In a speech in 2007, he said:

“Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.”

In the article, “Does the New Pope believe in evolution?” George Dvorsky reminds Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church has recognized Darwinian evolution for the past 60 years. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church openly rejects both Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism. The Vatican’s very own chief astronomer, Rev. George Coyne argued that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes.

If it’s not clear yet what I’m implying here, let me clarify: the Roman Catholic Church WANTS Catholics to acknowledge evolution and incorporate it into their faith.

The only requirement the Vatican gave with regard to a Catholic’s acceptance of evolution is to acknowledge that the process is guided by God. This belief is called Theistic Evolution. It’s basically the same as Darwinian Evolution, except that in the theistic version, God is involved.

As Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, is quoted to have said, “As long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that.”

I think a lot of Filipino Catholics remain confused about the Vatican’s official position on evolution, or even how they’re supposed to react to the Vatican. Either way, if you’re Catholic, acknowledging evolution as fact would make your beliefs more similar to the Pope’s, than rejecting it.

Posted in Religion, Science2 Comments

It’s Okay for Christians to Believe in Evolution

evolution-cartoon-11One of the most commonly acknowledged conflicts between men of faith and men of science is the fact of evolution. For many people with faith, scientific evidence for evolution is in direct conflict with the word of God, the Bible. Science, in their opinion, challenges biblical authority. Science, to them, is  threat to their faith. This has led a lot of believers to be skeptical of science, as a whole.

Skepticism, of course, is a healthy attitude, in general. However, it would be a little absurd to be skeptical of science, since skepticism is essential to science. If an individual is being skeptical of science, he is occupies an absurd space, mostly because he’s basically being skeptical of skepticism. Skeptics yield to science, because the scientific process is an extremely thorough form of skepticism.

In any case, people of faith often dismiss the theory of evolution as being “just a theory,” meaning they dismiss it as something similar to a “guess.” But there is a difference between how the word “theory” is used by scientist and how “theory” is used in common language. The question scientists ask when they devising a theory is not,  “Did evolution happen?” but rather “How did evolution happen?”

What that means is that there is evidence for evolution. Evolution is a fact. The only thing that scientists are doing is guessing how evolution happens. To provide more clarity on the situation, I should point out that there is also a theory of gravitation. However, developing a theory as to why gravitation happens does not discount the reality that gravity is a fact.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to deny facts, such as evolution, to keep to your faith.

In the article, “God vs. Science,” Dean Nelson tells the story of John Polkinghorne.

Polkinghorne is a famous physicist from Cambridge University, who achieved renown for his work in explaining the existence the world’s smallest known particles – quarks and gluons. He has been awarded membership in Britain’s Royal Society, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. But one day, Polkinghorne invited some colleagues into his office for a meeting to tell them, “I am leaving the university to enter the Anglican priesthood. I will be enrolling in seminary next year.”

Polkinghorne admits that a religious scientist is confusing for some people. For many people, including some of his colleagues, confessing that you are a religious scientist is similar to telling someone that you’re a vegetarian butcher.

However, Polkinghorne argues, that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to him, both are necessary to our understanding of the world.

In the article he was quoted to have said:

“Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.”

That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Polkinghorne completely embraces religious mythology.

In the article, “No Need for Christians to Fear Science,” Dean Nelson discusses Polkinghorne’s initial encounter with the religious community.

As a student in Cambridge, Polkinghorne had a brief encounter with conservative evangelical Christianity. He joined the Christian Union, because he was a believer, and enjoyed fellowship within a community of believers. However, it was not an entirely positive experience, because it felt narrow minded, guilt-inducing, and fearful of other points of view.

According to Dean:

“There was a certain bleakness that seemed to be expected of the faithful, which cast something of a shadow,” he told me. “They thought that their certainty was reality, but they were mistaken.”

Polkinghorne, unlike many conservative Christians, fully embraces evolution. In fact, from his perspective, a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the process. Porkinghorne says, “The world is ever-evolving, still being created, and is much more complex than that. That’s what makes it so beautiful. Genesis is poetry, not history.”

The author, Dean Nelson, reveals his own confession:

“In the time I spent with him and in reading his books, I never felt like he was challenging my core beliefs in a loving God who has created a beautiful world. In fact, he challenged me to think bigger, not smaller.”

One does not have to be unscientific to be spiritual. Faith and science, as exhibited by one of the greatest priests/scientists who ever lived, can co-exist. It just takes a little tolerance, a little imagination, and a little faith. To a faithful man, scientific discovery is just another means by which God reveals himself.

 

Image Source: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/theological-mental-gymnastics-over-evolution/

Posted in Religion, Science1 Comment

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

Conversations for a Cause: Michael Shermer

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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A Conversation with Michael Shermer

A Conversation with Michael Shermer

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

You may also download the video file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast (Audio) 46: Depression

FF Podcast (Audio) 46: Depression

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 46 - Depression

This week, we talk about Robin Williams, his death, and the general public reaction to suicides.

You may also download the podcast file here.


 

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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FF Podcast (Audio): Darrel Ray (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Darrel Ray (Conversations for a Cause)

Darrel Ray

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Darrel Ray, psychologist and author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. We discuss polyamory, how religions use guilt, and curing the “God Virus.”

Darrel Ray is also the founder of Recovering from Religion.

You may also download the podcast file here.




Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, Science, Secularism, Society0 Comments

A Conversation with Darrel Ray

A Conversation with Darrel Ray

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Darrel Ray, psychologist and author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. We discuss polyamory, how religions use guilt, and curing the “God Virus.”

Darrel Ray is also the founder of Recovering from Religion.

You may also download the video file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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Filipinos Need Sex Scandals

So, another scandal hit multiple media outlets this week.Paolo Bediones is reported to have allegedly starred in his own sex video. Who cares? Well… everyone, it seems. From the cigarette vendor around the block, to primetime news channels, everyone has a statement to make regarding whether or not:

scandal…it was really Paolo Bediones.

…there are ethical boundaries violated in the production of a private sex video.

…Paolo Bediones exhibited a superior skill-set of sex moves as compared to the other celebrities involved in scandals of a similar nature.

Seriously, why do so many people give a shit about this?

Let’s put a little bit of context on why this is surprising: Israel is currently bombing Gaza, Russia started a war with Ukraine, our own president just delivered a “State of the Nation Address,” and Filipinos are talking about a sex video.

At this point, it would be tempting to make a judgment about our nation and say that it’s just Filipinos being morons. However, that’s not always the case. Thankfully, we have science to rationally explain the irrational decision-making of many human beings. It’s comforting to think that, to some extent, there are socio-biological factors that could distort a human being’s priorities to such a degree as to prioritize sex scandals over anything else.

In an article published in The Atlantic called, “Why So Many People Care So Much About Others’ Sex Lives,” Cari Romm explains the evolutionary psychology behind human interest in private matters that doesn’t concern them.

According to the article, “In environments in which female economic dependence on a mate is higher, both a woman and her mate have a greater interest in maximizing paternity certainty. Because promiscuity undermines paternity certainty, both men and women should be more opposed to promiscuity by both sexes.”

In the Philippines, women are mostly economically dependent on men, and structures are in place to ensure the persistence of such a status quo. Many Filipinos still live by traditional gender roles that restrict a woman’s economic potential.

Therefore, in countries like the Philippines, both men and women are interested in maintaining a social order that penalizes sexual deviance, if only to improve paternity certainty. To simplify, Filipinos like hearing about sex scandals because it gives them an opportunity to create a stigma against sexual deviance and dissuade behaviors that may inspire doubts about paternity.

As Romm says:

“We’ve evolved to consider sex, the researchers argue, as a game of finite resources. For our ancestors, multiple sexual partners meant things could get knotty when it came to proving whose kids were whose. For women who depended on men for their livelihoods (and the livelihoods of their offspring), that uncertainty meant losing out on the support of their male partners. Bad news. For men, it meant investing in the well-being of children they hadn’t necessarily fathered. Also bad news.”

Filipinos talk about sex scandals and demonize people involved in them because of a desire to maintain a social order that guarantees paternity certainty. In other words, Filipinos are poor and fostering an environment that may help guarantee paternity certainty is a more pressing and primal concern to them than deaths in Gaza, a war in Europe, or the state of the Philippine nation.

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FF Podcast (Audio) 45: Do Selfies Cause Demonic Possession?

FF Podcast (Audio) 45: Do Selfies Cause Demonic Possession?

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 45 - Do Selfies Cause Demonic Possession?

This week, we talk about the children from San Fernando, La Union, who were supposedly possessed by demons after taking selfies under a plum tree.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, Science, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 45: Do Selfies Cause Demonic Possession?

FF Podcast 45: Do Selfies Cause Demonic Possession?

This week, we talk about the children from San Fernando, La Union, who were supposedly possessed by demons after taking selfies under a plum tree.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Science, Video0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Ariely (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Ariely (Conversations for a Cause)

Dan Ariely

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Dan Ariely, psychologist/behavioral economist and the author of Predictably Irrational. We ask him about attractiveness, cheating, and the value of human irrationality.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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