Tag Archive | "atheism"

A Love Letter to Teddy Bacani


 

Teddy Dearest,

 

My heart has been a-flutter ever since I found your message to me this morning. How lovingly you have described me!

“These so-called atheists love with a great altruism, they really love their fellow man and even have a passion for justice and what is right and good. Those people really believe in God in their hearts, but they will not admit that.”

Rest assured that I have kept your sweet words in my bosom all day today, and truly, how they have kept me warm! In fact, the adept way you have traced out my true being has inspired me to do the same for you, my love. I apologize if the following does not accurately mirror your sentiments but, after all, I do not think anyone can truly match up to your eloquent reasoning. But enough of this meandering! Here I go:

If I were wont to describe you, my darling, I would have quite a few options at hand. You could be a so-called advocate of acceptance, or a so-called man of dignity, or a so-called fount of charity, or a so-called lover of truth and life.

Because in truth, my beloved, you hate with a remarkable impunity. You really love to suppress your fellow man’s rights and freedoms, and even have a passion for breeding ignorance, for cloaking prejudice and pride as what is right and good. You really, truly do believe in being a horrible human being, Teddy. But you will just not admit it.

There! I have said it, and I can only hope, my dearest, that you keep my sweet words in your own bosom as I do yours. Few have the courage to whisper such delights into your ears, but I have taken it upon myself to do so for, in your own kind words, I have the “passion for justice and what is right and good,” and oh, how this opportunity beckoned!

 

Kiss-kiss,

Your So-Called Atheist

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Atheist Spring


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo c/o Frank III Manuel

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More Important than the God Question


In The Bottomline episode aired last February 4, Red Tani agreed with Boy Abunda that no one actually wins in debates on the existence of God. And I concur because the god concept has too many facets lumped together and discussions often shift from one facet to another.

For example, in order to prove the existence of God (or at least the high probability thereof), apologists like William Lane Craig put forth logical arguments like First Cause and Fine-Tuning. Even granting that these are based on correct premises and sound reasoning, they only support the deistic concept of a generic creator that does not necessarily intervene in the affairs of the universe, while God with a capital “G” is a proper noun referring to the Judeo-Christian god who gave specific instructions on how to live our lives.

As such, I think what’s more important than the God/creator question is whether we have immortal souls, and especially if the welfare of our souls depends so much on us believing in God’s existence. Can the apologists offer evidence or even philosophical arguments for Heaven and Hell (as well as the entrance rules) that are at least as challenging to refute as the cosmological and teleological arguments?

Going back to Boy Abunda’s interview with Red Tani, I think it would have been more interesting if the discussion focused on secularism instead of atheism. As Red said, the only difference between believers and nonbelievers is their position on the God question, and this is really not a big deal because most of the day most believers act and make decisions without thinking of God, so belief (or nonbelief) does not necessarily dictate our actions, politics, or morality.

But if there is a specific god we are talking about, like the Roman Catholic god who abhors contraception, divorce, and gay marriage, then the issue is no longer about theism and atheism, but which religion or sect correctly represents God. And here the debate would degenerate into disarray because unlike the discussions on the existence of God where the contenders at least try to stick to the rules of logic in the absence of empirical evidence, different religions would simply attempt to ram their opposing “revealed” doctrines into each other’s throat.

While I do not mean to assert the logical positivist position that any unverified proposition is meaningless, being a freethinker compels me to require evidence that is more than circumstantial before accepting something as true. And such skepticism is one of the foundations of secularism, which is “a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life.

So going back to the question of souls and whether nonbelief or even doubt jeopardizes them, I think an even more important question would be, whose representation of God, assuming God exists, should we follow for the sake of our souls, assuming we have souls? And if we cannot figure that out, doesn’t this demand that we give precedence to our welfare in this life instead of denying ourselves carnal pleasures for the sake of some imaginable spiritual pleasures in the next life?

We really don’t know if there is an afterlife, and we have absolutely no idea how to secure our welfare in it – unless we seriously believe that the Bible is the true word of God (which is highly questionable given its circular claims) and that God revealed his will to certain individuals as claimed by the popes and some charismatic ministers (which is mere hearsay). All we really know about is the here and now, that there is real joy and real suffering in this world, and that we humans have the capacity to multiply this joy and reduce the suffering. Isn’t that a lot more important than trying to convince each other that there really is or isn’t a god?

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Image from Starmometer

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Christopher Hitchens, 1949—2011


Christopher Hitchens died on December 16 at the age of 62. The man faced cancer head-on without, what he called, the false consolation of religion. He was a steadfast opponent of “mind-forged manacles” and “celestial dictators.” He had a legendary wit that he wielded with deftness against “elderly villains” such as Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). He was a champion of freedom of speech and he abhorred what he viewed as the servility promoted by religion. A self-described “anti-theist,” Christopher Hitchens was one fourth of the so-called Four Horsemen with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. He died in the presence of his friends and without a deathbed conversion. He wrote in his biography of Thomas Paine, “Thus he expired with his reason, and his rights, both staunchly defended until the very last.” The same could be said for Hitchens. A voice for reason in an age of overwhelmed by nonsense has been forever silenced but, Hitchens wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you. That’s the reflection that I think most upsets people about their demise. All right, then, because it might make us feel better, let’s pretend the opposite. Instead, you’ll get tapped on the shoulder and told, Great news: this party’s going on forever – and you can’t leave. You’ve got to stay; the boss says so. And he also insists that you have a good time.”

—Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

Personal reflections

Christopher Hitchens’ eloquent words have touched the lives of many atheists here in the Filipino Freethinkers. Below are some personal reflections on the impact Hitchens has made in the lives of freethinkers.

Christopher Hitchens was the voice that led me out of the darkness, the wit that showed me the light. “god is not Great” was the first atheist book I had read on my journey away from theism. His words were the clarion call that crystallized the hazy thoughts that swam in my head as I pondered a universe without a God. I’ll genuinely miss his scathing, fearless humour.

We’ve lost one of the great voices for reason of our generation. While we can’t look forward to meeting Hitch in the afterlife, each and every one of us can help carry on his legacy. In our own ways, we have to raise up our voices against vicious unreason, we have to bring our wit to bear against ideas and beliefs that shackle people’s minds. We all have to be our own Hitch.

Jeiel

The first time I encountered Hitchens was several years ago, before I started giving a fuck about whether there was a god or not. I spotted the title “god is not Great” while scouring a bookstore, and the small “g” alone gave me chills. I felt drawn to the statement. I really wanted to agree with it, wanted to actually think further about it. It would take a while before my head was actually clear enough to embrace these few words wholeheartedly, but what matters was that I embraced them in the end. I read the book only after I realized that god did not exist, and that was a mistake. I should have grabbed that book the first time around. I will no longer doubt doubt from now on, Hitch.

Marguerite

I was 18 years old and very combative. I was very eager to argue with anyone I met that god is not great and that religion is a big lie. In fact, I did have this argument with a lot of believers. Looking back, I really wish I met Chritopher Hitchens as early as then. A touch of Hitch would have made all those debates more tonge-in-cheek and enjoyable. Finally getting to know Hitchens a few years back was life changing; although Hitch didn’t cause me to change my major beliefs, he effected something much better — he changed my way of approaching and delivering all rational arguments.

Hitch taught me that arguments should never be monotonous and dull and that reason and humor made an excellent pair. He showed me that serious talk does not have to be somber and that life-and-death matters can be and should be laughing matters. Yes, Hitch will be sorely missed, but he left us all an abundant gift of wit-spiced reason that we will always be grateful for.

Pecier

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Faith Fails, Science Saves


It is apparently controversial to say that science will be able to tell us what is important in life. Science, as paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said, tells us how the heavens go, while religion tells us how to go to heaven. And for the most consequential things, it seems that science must yield to faith when considering what it means to have a good life.

But there is something gravely wrong with this kind of thinking. What it says is that reason cannot be used to distinguish right from wrong, happiness from suffering. But, even if reason, evidence, and methodical thought fail to illuminate our understanding of what constitutes a life worth living, what are our alternatives?

The mere suggestion that science can determine how we ought to behave understandably irks religious conservatives. For the faithful, this is an act of war against religion, which has always claimed for itself the realm of ethics and human values. That this assumption of moral authority still holds sway, when religions have failed in accurately representing practically anything in the world, is baffling. If religious traditions have been completely wrong about what goes on in the universe, why would they suddenly be unquestionably correct about what goes on in the mind?

A morality that is not based on authoritarian precepts is merely the acceptance that the world is not black and white and actions can have unforeseen consequences. And a science of morality would have to agree with what religious demagogues have been saying all along: there are moral truths to be found and there are objectively wrong ways to act. It seems especially strange then that, while they decry moral relativism, conservatives try to explain away the disgusting depravities in the Bible by calling for them to be placed in “context.” This precisely argues for a relativist morality—justifying mass murders (by Yahweh himself), rapes, and social outlooks by the culture at the time.

Saying that there are objectively good acts means only that there is a difference between an action that can bring about happiness and another that results in suffering. We can be right or wrong on whether homophobia is conducive to well-being. We can be right or wrong on whether misogyny is a good principle on which we should run our society. Our beliefs regarding these matters are, essentially, claims about conscious experience—how the brain responds to stimuli and how well-being is realized in the brain. And in this realm of facts, as in all others, there is no reason to put religious claims on a pedestal.

As we study more about the brain, our opinions on ethics will become increasingly constrained by psychological research and neuroscience. Findings such as those on the effect of corporal punishment on children and on the structural differences between the brains of normal and psychopathic human beings will change how we relate to each other and how we organize our societies. Our traditional views on parental roles and on how responsible people are for their actions may be altered as we continue to investigate how the evolved mind interacts with its surroundings. We might find that our justice system is not conducive to a peaceful society. We might find that our economic system inevitably leads to abuse and suffering. We might find possibilities for moral awareness that were never available to our pre-scientific ancestors or contemporary religious leaders.

There is public trust in science for many things that we’d never look to religion for answers, such as in believing in corrective glasses over faith healing. But, why is it that when the stakes are highest, when we are considering lives and the happiness of conscious human beings, science, reason, and logic take a back seat? The question on what makes a life worth living is, to say the least, hard to solve, but there are answers: based on facts and not on the musings of men who thought that all animals used to be herbivores.

Not only is science considered impotent when contemplating the deeper questions in life, it is generally believed that rationality ruins romance.

Consider the classic challenge against atheists. When questioning the existence of God, atheists are invariably asked to compare God with love. That is, love is said to be intangible and it admits of no rational inquiry, but we know it’s there. We can just feel it. While the analogy is false (love is realized in the brain as the sum total of specific neural activity and, thus, exists in the natural world), it reveals a common perception that scientific scrutiny is incompatible with an awareness for wonder in this world.

But that is clearly not true. The chemical process that results in feelings of love is itself a thing to behold and appreciate. That there is something material underlying our affection for others or art takes nothing away from our experience. And here we can expand our moral circle beyond even just humans.

Since our capacity for love and moral action evolved (not to say that morality should reflect the cruelty of Darwinian natural selection), it necessarily implies that other animals have similar, if not identical, capacities for compassion and cooperation. And here is where Christianity, in particular, is extremely impoverished. That humans (and specific kinds of men) are set apart by God is nothing short of speciesism and bigotry. Though there are cognitive differences between humans and other animals, that is what differentiates our moral responsibility to each other and not the entitlement assumed to be bestowed by a creator.

A non-supernatural outlook emphasizes the importance of our relationships in the here and now. We should thank doctors for healing us; we should thank farmers for providing for us food; we should thank our friends and families for comfort and companionship. These are the people who should matter to us, and attributing our happiness to something that isn’t there steals away from what other people rightly deserve.

Many believe that one day the world will end and that this would be the greatest thing that could ever possibly happen. Every action we do here in life is meaningless outside the goal of eternal paradise. This nihilism is why we must rid ourselves of religion wholesale. How could we ever endeavor to build a lasting society when our neighbors secretly yearn for doom and destruction, leaving all us suckers who never bought into religion to burn in perpetual torment. These are beliefs that are not conducive to mental health, let alone peace and human flourishing.

Science allows us to comprehend the world around us in a way our ancestors never could. Still, many choose to bind themselves to the follies of the past, relying not on evidence but on the servile desire to let other men think for themselves. It is a shame, when available to us now are methods and insights that will allow us to not only have greater knowledge, but a deeper and more meaningful understanding of what it means to be alive and how we must act.

The acceptance that all that there is is this natural world requires from us the understanding that there is no delaying justice to an afterlife. There is no point in deferring mercy and charity to a final judgement. If we yearn for anything that would resemble heaven, our only choice is to create it here.

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If Catholicism is true, then the PCSO scandal really is trivial


By far, the most entertaining part of the PCSO debacle is watching Catholic bishops perform the most skillful mental gymnastics in order to justify their possession of luxury SUVs at the expense of the State. Well, more so than their usual fare of theological ass-pulling. From crying persecution and pointing the finger at other bribed religious groups (no other sects are known to have been bribed) to the latest non-apology of “we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you”, the CBCP will stop at nothing to prove to the world that having God on your side rarely ever means you have the facts on your side.

While the bishops promise to return the SUVs, as if that would solve everything, Fr. Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus has argued in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the illegality of the “gift” vehicles depended on “the purpose and uses” of the cars. The rationalization is that churches provide a service to society that the State cannot. Thus, the government can legally provide money to religious organizations (as with other not-for-profit agencies) for this end, most significantly in the form of tax exemptions.

Atty. Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, questions this reasoning, saying that it doesn’t matter that public money was supposedly used for charitable causes. The Establishment clause, which states that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion…” is not the one trampled on by the PCSO gifts to the bishops, according to Pangalangan. It is a different section in the Constitution which states that “No public money or property shall be appropriated… for the use, benefit, or support of any church….” This, he explains, is specific and prohibitory language denying clerics from entangling their private vows of poverty with public money.

Despite a ringing endorsement from Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the expectation that it’s perfectly fine, even desirable, to fund sectarian charities for as long as they avoid proselytization has been the cause of much grief and it is fundamentally unfair, especially to the religious groups themselves. Christianity, and other religions to some extent, received a mandate from God himself to spread the faith. Asking churches to “take our money but, please, don’t spend it on religious knickknacks” is naive. Insinuated in every publicly-funded recollection, religious idol, invocation is the blessing from the State for the belief that beyond our material world, there is an immaterial one, of which a special few have knowledge.

There can never truly be a separation between the sacred and the profane. If it is indeed true that the God of Abraham pervades all things, then social conservatives all over the nation are perfectly in the right when they protest against the RH Bill, divorce laws, and equal rights for LGBTs. These advocacies are undeniably against Catholic teaching and could lead to eternal supernatural torture even after death. Even starving to death is nothing when compared to the hell of the Christians.

Though the Catholic Church abuses the principle of the separation of Church and State to protect itself from penalties while meddling in public affairs, the doctrine itself enshrines doubt. Doubt in the truth of any religion. It says that religious claims are inferior to other kinds of truth claims. For, if any belief about the nature of reality, so long as it is couched in religious terms, is valid in public discourse, then the wall of separation implicitly declares that religious truths aren’t really true. Contrast this with FDA policy on the medical aspirations of alternative medicine that have to be apologized for with the blanket statement, “no approved therapeutic claims.” Despite the lack of empirical evidence, there is no such legally mandated disclaimer for Fr. Suarez’s faith healing masses in Trinoma.

If prayers worked, no thinking atheist could ever argue against state sponsorship of a provably effective process that could save lives and provide resources literally out of thin air. That is why the separation of Church and State reveals the lack of confidence of a society in religion. And when the Church enjoys secularism’s benefits, they unwittingly support skepticism in their own religious claims. It is unimaginable for a nation to adopt the separation of science and State. But, if religious truths are really true, why is it acceptable to separate religion and government?

If the CBCP is right about Catholicism, then it cannot be denied by anyone that the best use of our time is to surrender to their demands, given that eternal life hangs in the balance. There is no in-between. It is either we subject their pretensions to moral and metaphysical authority to the same standards we apply to other truth claims or we reject all notion of objective truth.

This whole SUV situation is “a drop in the bucket” when you take into consideration from whom the Catholic Church receives its marching orders. For the service of guiding souls towards everlasting paradise, it is impossible to exaggerate how important their service is. That is, if the Roman Catholic Church is indeed the One True Faith™ among thousands of false ones. If they are not, then their service is beyond useless and priests are nothing more than state-subsidized professional liars.

Without questioning the Church’s religious beliefs, it is pointless to criticize the Church on its purported moral authority.

(Image taken from Sharing Our Spaces)

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What If the Rapture Happened and Nobody Noticed?


The Rapture is an event in Christian eschatology (theology regarding the end of the world and the final judgment) wherein the faithful of Jesus Christ will be “caught up” in the clouds “to meet with the Lord in the air.” Popular depictions of the rapture often include Christians floating up in the sky, leaving behind all the heretics and heathens to suffer on Earth during an era of torment called “the Tribulation” as described in the book of Revelation (or, as I like to call it, some guy named John’s really bad acid trip). This leads up to the end of the world. There are many variations of the doctrine and it would be tedious and uninteresting to dwell on the variants. I should note here though that the Rapture is not officially espoused in any recognizable form by the Roman Catholic Church, Christianity’s largest sect. It is particularly identified with the Evangelical Christian movement as they are often the most vocal about the coming end times. Many mainstream Christian denominations (including Catholicism), however, look forward to the obliteration of the world and human civilization in some form.

This past Saturday, May 21, 2011, was the latest in a long line of failed predictions for the Rapture. You may have seen buses and banners all over the country set up by a certain FamilyRadio.com calling on everyone to repent and believe in Jesus because the end times are finally here, 2000 years after Jesus promised to come before some of those present with him would die. On that day, Christians were supposed to disappear from the face of the Earth. If you were on a plane piloted by a Christian, you’d have been out of luck.

It’s Monday now and no one seems to have noticed any mysterious disappearances involving people shooting up into the sky. Seems like the Rapture was a bust.

But what if it did happen?

What if we are now living in the Tribulation as foretold by Tim LaHaye’s million-dollar Left Behind franchise of books and movies?

How could this be, you ask, if your pious Christian neighbors are still here?

Well, what if all the Christians who were raptured were only those who lived alone and nobody noticed their disappearance? Sounds absurd? Well, yeah, but you can’t disprove it. Welcome to religion.

But, say that it did happen last Saturday. Say that now we’re all just stuck on this blue rock hurtling through space at a hundred thousand kilometers per hour, without a God to cry out to and left to fend for ourselves. Now, we’re all just earthlings.

It’s an unsettling notion. Our first instincts upon realization of this fact will tell us to collapse into a ball and wait patiently for our certain death in this lonely and cold universe. Good news, though; our second instinct will shake the first one off.

Have you ever tried to spend the entire day lying in bed? Not sleeping or thinking, just lying still and doing nothing. This perfectly simple task begins to become increasingly impossible to perform as the day progresses. That’s our second instinct kicking in. Even for helpless humans, inactivity is unappealing.

So, we eventually curl out of our post-apocalyptic fetal position and wake inside a new world. We notice that it looks exactly like before, except that we are missing the consolation of a savior who will fix things in the end. No matter. We go on living.

With the assurance that, now, God is on nobody’s side, we are forced to become more humble and more aware of our limitations. We are compelled to judge things with the understanding that we are, in essence, sentient meat and different from other animals only in intellect and range of awareness. Since everyone has clearly been wrong on the question of God save for the few who have been raptured unnoticed, no knowledge is infallible or sacred. Everything can be challenged without risk of ostracism or violence.

With the true Christians now with their maker, no type of human being is more favored by God than another. The deeds of us left here are the only metric by which we can consider each other, not the unquestioned assent to some esoteric tradition handed down by our parents.

But without God watching us, all actions become uncomfortably trivial in the grand scheme of the cosmos. We are the only species we know that has awareness of its own inevitable death. Though we believed that our corporeal deaths were temporary and could be healed eventually by our Creator, we no longer have that. Our mortality suddenly becomes very real, without the prospect of eternal paradise. We are now but a fledgling group of apes: one species out of millions on one planet among ten million billion. No longer chosen by God. No longer having dominion. No longer special or given divine right.

Yet it is the exact same circumstance that makes us small and unimportant which makes our fragile human lives precious and valuable. Somehow, even without a divine guardian, humanity retains its worth in the vastness of space. With heaven no longer on the table, we discover that we only have each other now. Building a lasting society dedicated to the pursuit of happiness: that is the only way the human race can achieve the immortality it so unceasingly pursued.

Maybe God has left his children who were unable to live sufficiently propitiating, credulous, or subservient. But even without the meaning imposed by a celestial watchman, we have the freedom to make our own. We can choose that meaning to be compassion for each other instead of eager excitement for the destruction of all we have built. We can choose our life’s purpose to be made in consideration of our kinship with all life on Earth and not the bigotry and ignorance of our pre-apocalypse. This life, this planet, is all we have now. If the world has indeed ended, let’s start a better one.

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Dr. StrangeBrain, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Lose My Religion.


Mike’s note: while watching “Harapan” on ABS-CBN last night and surveying the faces in the anti-RH crowd, I spotted someone I used to work for. He left a significant impact on my life, though perhaps for very different reasons than he might like. Anyway, I’d like to share this personal reflection I wrote and posted on my blog some time ago.

This is what an officemate asked me one evening, in all innocence. The words aren’t exactly what was said, but you’ll get the drift:

“So, since you don’t believe in God anymore, you can go and fuck around, and that would be OK, right, won’t be a problem for you?”

In fairness, my officemate’s been a churchgoer his whole life, as was I until about five years ago: I understand the Christian perception of a Godless life as necessarily an immoral one, or at least one without any moral guardrails.

I pondered that point, as I ripped my officemate’s tongue from his head. Read the full story

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The closest thing to objective moral values


[Continued from Do objective moral values exist?]

The Christian apologist William Lane Craig says that certain actions like rape and torture are not just socially unacceptable behavior but moral abominations. He also argues that the Holocaust would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them. And I agree with him on both counts. However, the term “moral abomination” does not necessarily mean objectively wrong since we have no way of finding out if our list of moral abominations would still be the same had we evolved in a different way, and I would also argue that we’re only able to make such judgment on the Holocaust precisely because we haven’t been exterminated or brainwashed by the Nazis and, more importantly, because evolution has “taught” us that genocide is not a very good way of perpetuating our species. The moral values that evolution has conditioned into our minds may not be objective since they cannot exist independently of our minds, but they are definitely more than just moral fads.

Not surprisingly, Craig expresses skepticism with evolution-based morality:

[T]here’s no good evidence that our perception of moral and aesthetic values has been programmed by evolution. Darwinists are extremely imaginative and creative in coming up with what are called “just so” stories in order to explain things via evolution for which there is no empirical evidence. Indeed, these stories are almost endlessly adaptable, so that they become almost irrefutable and, hence, unfalsifiable.

I admit that Craig has a good point, and I admire his skepticism. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to apply the same skepticism when it comes to the existence of objective moral values:

Why should I think that objective moral values exist rather than that evolution has made me believe in the illusion that there are objective moral values? Because I clearly apprehend objective moral values and have no good reason to deny what I clearly perceive.

This is the same answer we give to the sceptic who says, “How do you know you’re not just a body lying in the Matrix and that all that you see and experience is an illusory, virtual reality?” We have no way to get outside our five senses and prove that they’re veridical. Rather I clearly apprehend a world of people and trees and houses about me, and I have no good reason to doubt what I clearly perceive. Sure, it’s possible that I’m a body in the Matrix. But possibilities come cheap. The mere possibility provides no warrant for denying what I clearly grasp.

I think the key difference between moral values and the physical world lies not in the perception but in the applicability. The physical world applies to everyone and everything regardless of their sense capabilities and even whether they are sentient or not. For example, a blind zebra and a deaf bat will both hit a tree standing in their paths, and even the unconscious wind will have to blow around that tree. Lack of perception does not exempt anyone or anything from the reality of the physical world.

Moral values, however, apply only to the acts of those who are able to perceive moral values in the first place. Non-human animals do not commit murder when they kill other sentient beings, and even young children and mentally disabled adults are often excused from certain moral duties. It is only the mentally-fit humans who can perceive moral values, and it is only the mentally-fit humans to whom these values apply, making moral values doubly dependent on perception. How then, can we call such values objective with the same confidence that we say that the physical world is objective?

Now without objective moral values, what are we left with? It seems that no matter how we try to get some purchase for our morality, there is an is-ought gap we just can’t quite cross. Just what is it in life, or the flourishing of life, that makes us ought to act in certain ways?

Others are more qualified to answer that, so I’ll just try to approach it from the semantics angle, particularly with the word objective again, which happens to have another definition: undistorted by emotion or personal bias. In this context, objective moral values could mean something like the kind of morality Richard Dawkins says he wants: “thought-out, reasoned, argued, discussed, and based upon – you could almost say – intelligent design.” And I believe we have what is arguably the closest thing to objective moral values, and that is the objective reasoning of an evolved brain.

Posted in ReligionComments (142)

Do objective moral values exist?


“If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist,” says an apologist. This will soon be followed by the contention that objective moral values do exist, leading to the inevitable conclusion that, well, God exists.

From my discussions with the resident theists in the FF Forum, I have come to understand moral values as the rightness/wrongness of certain human actions, while Collins English Dictionary defines objective as “existing independently of perception or an individual’s conceptions.”

The famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig defines it even more narrowly:

To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

I think the fallacy of Craig’s argument lies in his use of the word objective. Craig says that objective moral values exist whether anyone believes them or not, and by anyone, that should include God, otherwise it would be special pleading. However, moral values themselves do not exist inherently with human actions; moral values exist only when someone judges the actions and establishes moral values on them. If moral values are established by God, they are only objective as far as man is concerned but they are actually subjective from the point of view of God.

And that’s why I don’t think it’s right to call the moral values allegedly established by God as objective moral values since they cannot exist independently of God’s perception or judgment. They should be called divine moral values instead, but I think I know why Craig would refuse to call them as such. That’s because his moral argument would turn into something like this:

1. If God does not exist, divine moral values do not exist

2. Divine moral values exist

3. Therefore, God exists

But the problem with the new Premise 2 is that it’s easier to refute than the original “objective moral values exist” because skeptics would then demand a list of moral values unmistakably coming from God, and I’m sure the Bible would fail miserably. (As for the existence of objective moral values, however, Craig doesn’t seem to offer much support apart from saying that the Holocaust would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and that we intuitively perceive certain acts like rape and torture to be wrong, but instead challenged skeptics that they could not prove that physical reality exists either and that even as one could only rely on his own sense perception to perceive reality, no one in his right mind would deny that objective reality exists, so it should follow that no one in his right mind would also deny that objective moral values exist even if he only had his own moral perception to rely on.)

I posted this objection on the FF Forum along with the Euthyphro dilemma (does God command something because it’s good or is something good because God commands it?) and got very interesting answers from our resident theists who call themselves Miguel and XIII. What they are practically saying is that God does not command the good nor likes the good but that God is the good, and being good, he cannot command something that is not good. I took the liberty of refining their argument to make it more relevant to objective moral values (Miguel and XIII, if you think I did not give justice to your views you may rebuke me at the comments section):

1. Objective moral values are moral values that exist whether anyone – including God – perceives them or not.

2. God is inherently good, so he cannot perceive something evil as good and vice-versa.

3. So even if moral values are directly dependent on God’s perception, such perception is not subjective because it is anchored on God’s goodness, which cannot be separated from him, and therefore the moral values established by God are ultimately grounded on his objective goodness.

While the conclusion seems logical, I’m going to try to refute Premise 2, that God cannot perceive something evil as good. In the Old Testament, God established extremely negative moral values on homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, and losing one’s virginity before marriage – and positive moral values on killing homosexualsSabbath workers and non-virgin brides. And in both the Old and New Testaments, God/Jesus never established a negative moral value on slavery but actually condoned it. So in order to honestly say that “God is the good,” one would have to agree with the above moral values established by God.

Otherwise, the moral argument will be gored by the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (something is good because God commands it, making the good arbitrary), refuting the premise that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist, because objective moral values are supposed to exist even if everyone – including God – does not agree with them. And that’s why I believe that not only do objective moral values not exist but the term “objective moral values” itself is an oxymoron, because moral values will always be subjective to the mind (whether man’s or God’s) that perceives them.

[Continued on The closest thing to objective moral values]

Posted in ReligionComments (15)

Atheists of Color


Greta Cristina has made a list of prominent atheists of color to reflect the diversity of the atheist community:

If you’re helping to organize an atheist conference, and you want your conference to be more diverse and more reflective of the makeup of the atheist community? If you’re an atheist writer or activist, and you want your quotations/ citations/ blogroll/ etc. to be more diverse and more reflective of the makeup of the atheist community? If you’re simply part of the atheist community/ movement, and you want to be more familiar with the work of a wider range of atheists, a range that’s more diverse and more reflective of the makeup of the atheist community? Hopefully, this list will help.

By the way, person of color is used primarily in the United States, so here’s a brief definition from Wikipedia:

a term used, primarily in the United States, to describe all people who are not white. The term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. People of color was introduced as a preferable replacement to both non-white and minority, which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; non-white defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and minority frequently carries a subordinate connotation.[1] Style guides for writing from American Heritage,[2] the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[3] Mount Holyoke College,[4] recommend the term over these alternatives. It may also be used with other collective categories of people such as students of color or women of color.

Aside from getting more diversity in the atheist movement, Greta wants to address the impression (at least in the US) that most, if not all, atheists are white Americans. She addresses the issues and problems related to this in two separate posts.

As far as I know, there are two Filipinos on that list: me and Maggie Ardiente, director of development and communications, American Humanist Association; editor of Humanist Network News (AHA’s weekly e-zine). Filipino Freethinkers is also included on the list of organizations.

If you know of an individual or organization that should be on that list, please help Greta out by leaving the details in the comment section of that post.

Posted in SocietyComments (3)

Two Sides of the Same Coin?


Once again, somebody posted something in our Facebook page that I just had to address. Darn it, am I making a habit of this?

Here’s the post:

the Religious keep trying to convince me there is a god

the Atheist keep trying to convince me there is no god

i see both sides presenting their opinions as FACTS

i dont see any difference between these factions ~_~

Basically, he’s saying that atheism and theism are equally viable, thus he has a hard time discerning which one to believe. Well let me point out where he went wrong.

Firstly, he says that “the Atheist keeps trying to convince me there is no god”. REALLY? Which atheist is specifically trying to convince you that “there is no god”? In fact, has anyone ever encountered an atheist on the street preaching “No god!”, or knocking on your door and saying “Have you heard the good news? There is no god!”. The vast majority of atheists hardly ever talk about religion. It’s just not that important to us. The only time we start talking about religion is when it tries to impose it’s own narrow worldviews upon everyone else. Otherwise, we are perfectly happy to leave theists alone.

Besides, the great majority of atheists are “weak” or “passive” atheists, meaning we are not 100% certain that there is no god, but choose to live our lives as if there is none. We are willing to believe in your god, as long as you can provide us with solid proof. Even the so called “militant” atheists like Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, and Harris allow for the tiny possibility that there might be a god. “Strong” atheists (those who assert 100% that there is no god) are few and far in between. And even these people won’t just suddenly approach you on the street to tell you there is no god.

Now, compare and contrast that to theists, who feel the need to proselytize and spread their religion, whether other people want it or not. These people are absolutely certain that their god, and ONLY their god, exists. Which brings us to the next point of contention: FACTS.

He says that “both sides present their opinions as facts”. I’m sorry but when we point out that the bible says that the Earth is flat, that the Sun goes around the Earth, that Pi=3, that the bat is a bird, that the mustard seed is the smallest seed there is, and that rain is caused by God opening the floodgates of heaven, buddy that is not opinion. That is FACT, and you can read it for yourself in the Bible.

When we point out that the Theory of Evolution is supported by multiple lines of evidence from across diverse fields of science, that is FACT, not an opinion. Again, you can check out countless scientific papers ,and do your own experiments if you wish to do so, for that is the beauty of science.

Again, compare and contrast that to the theists, who claim inerrancy of their holy scriptures, on the basis that “Because God said so”. Now that, my friend, is OPINION. And when your religion has no evidence to support it other than… drum roll… PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, that, my friend, is the epitome of OPINION.

Besides, it’s not like facts and evidence are held in high regard by the devout theists. How many times have we heard them declare that “even if their god were proven to be false, they’ll still have faith in their religion.”. Facts and evidence just doesn’t matter. For many of them, it’s all about FAITH.

Now if after this, you still can’t tell the difference between someone arriving at atheism because of skepticism and science, and someone arriving at theism because of personal experience, then there’s really not much else I can tell you.

And frankly, I don’t really care much which way you want to go. It’s your life, and it’s your decision. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to live your life. And in my opinion (hehe) the world would be a much better place if everyone just let other people live their lives, and not try to control or dictate how others should live, so long as they do no harm.

Posted in Others, Religion, SocietyComments (10)

I did not choose to stop believing


I did not choose to stop believing
I did not choose to leave behind
The Faith that’s been deceiving
My quiet innocent Mind

I did not want to be so different
I did not want to cause a mess
But I can’t stop my mind from thinking
That I can’t believe in just a guess

If God is Truth then what is Truth?
Is it Inconsistency?
Should He be real just because
The Bible makes good Fantasy?

It’s not that I don’t want Him there
If He is, He’s been good to me
But just because you *feel* He’s there
Can’t mean you *must* claim Him to be

In my youth, if I could choose
I would have chosen The Fantasy
So I could belong with everyone
And they’d be very good to me

But now I find it somewhat strange
That I am the different one
In this nation of believers
Against Common Sense, Faith has won

I would not choose to stop believing
If it had been up to me
But if God exists, I’m glad He’s decided
That I don’t deserve The Fantasy

Posted in Poetry, ReligionComments (2)

An Atheist Nation?


 

One of our members posted this on Facebook:

An Atheist Nation

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

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

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

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

#3: More kindness to people

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

#4: No wars about religions

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

#5. No suicide bombings

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

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

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

#8 No time wasted thru praying.

Well I can agree with this.

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

I can also agree with this.

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

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

#11 Maybe less schizophrenics in the hospitals

Why?

#12 More gizmos, more computers, more science developments

Probably.

#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.

Probably.

#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.

Maybe.

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

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

“DON’T BE A DICK” 🙂
Don't Be A Dick

Posted in Others, Religion, ReviewsComments (9)

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