Tag Archive | "Morality"

Shepherd and Sheep

Democracy and with it, freedom of choice, are among the best moral ideas that we have developed, a “universal value” of the 20th century according to the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen. Poor and powerless people do not have much of both, but most will agree that having more is the right way to go. I say “most” because believers of one-man, one-party or one-religion rule do still exist and assert that orders from above work best, or that people are like sheep that constantly need a shepherd for direction. Consider this gem of such thinking from CBCP president Bishop Nereo Odchimar as told in the report “CBCP renews opposition to RH bill ahead of SONA”:

“The bill ignores moral and religious considerations in the name of democracy and freedom of choice in a pluralist society,” he said. … He said the people’s right to choose must always be guided by the Gospels and the teachings of the Church. “To ignore this principle is to ignore the light that illumines an upright conscience,” Odchimar said.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is a popular saying that most people agree with. Both deep and practical, it is something you can repeat to yourself as you overhear your neighbor enjoying the current brain-stopper on TV, or as you read the latest inanities of anti-RH groups. Well, Bishop Odchimar just upended that guide to good-neighborliness.

We know that Catholic doctrine states that contraception is intrinsically evil. But the bishop’s statement is not about the evil of contraception anymore, but the evil of democracy. Odchimar is saying that beyond his right to proclaim his brand of morality, democracy must also give way so that only his moral choices remain. We have the freedom to choose as long as we stick to what he chooses. He must think that we really are dumb sheep.

The RH bill upholds the moral and religious views of all precisely through freedom of choice, and seeks to become law through a democratic process. Unlike Odchimar’s proposal, no one will be forced. All can live with or without RH services. Even funding will depend on people’s choices. If Catholics shift from artificial to natural family planning (NFP), then public money will also shift to funding NFP training costs.

The CBCP should be more careful about devaluing democracy and freedom of choice. Odchimar’s claim about the RH bill ignoring moral and religious considerations is false. However, the country has had plenty of disastrous experience with the reverse, when democracy and freedom of choice were ignored in the name of interests cloaked in morality and religiosity.

Spanish friars came to the Philippines and amassed wealth and power as part of conquest, colonization and Christianization. We lost 300 years of national freedom. If those events are too distant to remember, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s sham presidency should be memorable enough. Just two months after the May 2004 election, the bishop-friendly Arroyo was hurriedly anointed with legitimacy with these words from the CBCP:

It is the view of the bishops that the results of the elections reflected the will of the Filipino people.

Years after Arroyo’s election cheating and large-scale corruption sparked popular protests, the majority of bishops continued to prop her rule through open collaboration* or acquiescence. All in the name of her anti-RH, conservative politics.

“Ang sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw” was Susan Roces’ ringing sound bite on Arroyo’s power grab. Bishops who wish to impose their morality after inflicting a corrupt and unelected ruler on us deserve a similar rebuke: Ang kapal ninyo!


* In 2009, Arroyo released public funds to Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos who asked for a 4×4 vehicle as a birthday gift and to Bishop Diosdado Talamayan who asked for contributions to a clergy retirement home. A year before, the two bishops were reported to have “spent thousands of pesos for a full-page ad in a major broadsheet to express support for the Arroyo government and insist that the [bishops’] call for ‘communal action’ should not be interpreted as a call for people power.”


The image of shepherd and sheep above is from a public domain work of Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer d. J. (1821–1897), available at Wikimedia Commons

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The Ethics of Secularism

One of the principles of secularism is doing good for goodness’ sake: “Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.” The English secularist George Jacob Holyoake, who coined the word “secularism” in the mid-19th century, asserted, “Individual good attained by methods conducive to the good of others, is the highest aim of man, whether regard be had to human welfare in this life or personal fitness for another. Precedence is therefore given to the duties of this life.

Since this utilitarian ethical principle is not grounded on the moral dictates of a transcendent being, i.e., God, it is not surprising that theists are quick to criticize it as lacking an ontological foundation, meaning there is no basis for conceptualizing such moral system in the first place. They then proceed to cite David Hume’s is-ought problem and G.E. Moore’s naturalistic fallacy, insisting that it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is” or to infer moral obligations from mere observations of nature, and that what is naturally pleasant or desired is not necessarily “good”.

While Hume wrote in A Treatise of Human Nature that it surprised him to find an ought instead of an is, there seems to be nothing in the book expressing the impossibility of bridging the is-ought gap. Hume only said that “’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

Moreover, the rules apply to both theists and nontheists, and if the requirements for bridging the gap are set to go beyond common sense and into ontological obsession, I doubt that even Divine Command Theory can bridge it. Someone claiming that God exists and has laid down certain rules (an is statement) is also expected to explain why we ought to act accordingly, and after all the rationalizations have been exposed and eliminated, it all boils down to one thing: we ought to obey and please God for the welfare of our souls.

While the secularist does not necessarily rule out the possibility of a life after death since it’s unprovable either way, he gives priority to his welfare in this life: “For a future state Secularism proposes the wise use of this, as he who fails in this “duty nearest hand” has no moral fitness for any other.” And since claims of divine revelation are all hearsay and our common sense dictates that the Bible is a dangerous guide to morality, secularism “offers the guidance of observation, investigation, and experience. Instead of taking authority for truth, it takes truth for authority.

The word ought was originally used to express duty or obligation (and this is probably how Hume intended to use it), but modern usage has expanded its meaning to also indicate advisability or desirability. Since the secularist believes in the improvement of this life by material means and that science is the available Providence of man, if he wants to be happy then he knows what he ought –  what he is well advised – to do, and that is to seek happiness in ways that are conducive to the happiness of others so as to encourage mutual effort in perpetuating everybody’s happiness.

As for the naturalistic fallacy, while it is true that “pleasant” is not necessarily tantamount to “good,” it seems that all of mankind’s conscious acts are ultimately motivated by pleasure. The blogger Philosophy Bro put it succinctly:

“People want to be happy; that seems pretty clear. What makes people happy? Why, pleasure makes people happy…Pleasure is the only thing people want for its own sake, as an end; everything else people do is to attain some final pleasure…For some reason dudes keep insisting that there’s more to life than pleasure. And to them I say, “Really? Like what?” When they start listing shit like literature and the arts and human excellence, I know they’re not paying attention because all of those things are pleasurable.”

As for the theists who define “good” as something that God commands or desires, the is-ought problem is thrown back at them: why do we ought to do good and obey God? And if they are honest enough they will admit that it’s because they want to have a pleasant eternal life in Heaven and avoid perpetual torment in Hell.

And so it seems that for the theist and nontheist alike, morality, or at least the standard by which a person judges actions with either approval or disapproval, is ultimately rooted in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. In Of Vice and Virtue, Hume wrote, “For granting that morality had no foundation in nature, it must still be allowed, that vice and virtue, either from self-interest or the prejudices of education, produce in us a real pain and pleasure.” An article in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy paraphrases Hume: “[I]t is because we are the kinds of creatures we are, with the dispositions we have for pain and pleasure, the kinds of familial and friendly interdependence that make up our life together, and our approvals and disapprovals of these, that we are bound by moral requirements at all.”

And while the secularist does not concern himself with ultimate or eternal scenarios of pleasure and pain as much as the immediate and foreseeable consequences of his actions, it does not mean that his morality is inferior. In The Science of Good and Evil, Michael Shermer explained that “like everyone else, I face judges that are in their own ways transcendent and powerful: family and friends, colleagues and peers, mentors and teachers, and society at large. My judges may be lowercased and occasionally deceivable, but they are transcendent of me as an individual, even if they are not transcendent of nature…real people whose lives are directly affected by my actions, and whose actions directly affect my life.”

The secularist’s judges may not be as fearsome as a deity capable of sentencing people to eternal torture, but he nevertheless respects them deeply and holds himself accountable to them. That’s because in this life, which is the only life we really know exists, these human judges influence our welfare and happiness in ways that we can clearly see and foresee. As such, we are accountable to them because we are ultimately accountable to ourselves.

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Fun With Fundies: On Victim-Blaming And The Bacani Conundrum

Oh no, you di’int!

It all started with an (in-character) Tweet.

Thanks to an offhand comment on my Twitter about Bishop Bacani’s objections to same-sex unions, I ended up looking into the man’s history with a little more depth than I would’ve wanted to. The comment was one of my typical one-liners, meant to imply that he finds it all sorts of wrong, yet doesn’t seem to have any objections about the numerous cases of pedophilia within the clergy.

For someone to demand proof of this is ridiculous, given the fact that for an activist bishop who has dipped his hand into the RH Bill issue, among other issues of sexual persuasion, it bothers me why he would deliberately sidestep the issue of sexual indiscretion among his own kind, and why his defenders always insist that we should let the Church handle these issues internally.

Why? Why should we let them handle an issue like this internally, when it steps well into the realm of the criminal? Why would a trial by the church hierarchy trump the legal procedure of the government who made laws against this very thing?

So this fundie attacks me and starts calling me ancient because I was condescendingly calling him “son”. Wow. He sure showed me. I don’t even know how old he is, but unless he’s ten, I doubt he’d have any room to call me “lolo”. Not that I mind, really. It’s not like being old is such a bad thing.

Clearly, being old has its perks.


In any case, after putting out multiple sources about the cases of pedophilia that have been swept under the rug by the church, he quickly dismissed them as “rumors.” He then quickly tried to make a fuss about the fact that my sources point to cases in the States, whereas I didn’t mention anywhere (How could I? I had only 140 characters to work with on Twitter!) that this “looking the other way” is exclusive to the Philippine situation.

When I pointed out the sexual harassment case that hounded Bishop Bacani about eight years ago, the fundie dismissed them as “lies,” which, to me, was a warning flag that I was fighting a battle of wits with someone who was woefully unarmed.

Clearly, in his mind, the clergy are immune from any kind of wrongdoing whatsoever. Apparently, this “infallibility” business that the Pope actually needs to invoke before being so rubs off on the clergy like some kind of divine STD.

This is the face of divine STD.


At this point, I felt compelled to look closer into the Bacani case. Eight years have passed. Why is there still no conclusive verdict? Why are the so-called wheels of justice turning so agonizingly slowly? As expected, though, a cursory glance at articles written over the matter painted a very clear picture of the whole sordid mess.

Now, see, I like what Bishop Bacani has done for the poor. Compared to certain other bishops, he relatively holds steady to his vow of poverty.

That doesn’t make him perfect or laudable in any way, though. He’s supposed to do that, because he took a bloody vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Anything less would be a failure on his part.

“Failure” is exactly how well he did with his vow of chastity. For a girl seeking “publicity,” she sure kept her identity pretty down low for the most part. It was actually a bit sad that the only defense Bacani’s supporters could muster was yet more victim blaming by assaulting the character of the woman who was sexually harassed. The thinking is, if she’s a woman of demonstrably “loose” morals, then nothing Bishop Bacani could do to her should be construed as sexual harassment, thereby proving how little they understand about the dynamics of sexual harassment. And we’re supposed to listen to these guys when they give advice how to conduct ourselves in the bedroom?!?

Newsflash: prostitutes can get raped, too. So even if you assumed the worst of Bacani’s secretary, you need to come up with something better than “but my hug wasn’t intended to harass!” to defend yourself from someone who believes you did. You are a powerful bishop who was heir apparent at one time to the late Cardinal Sin. She was your secretary. The imbalance of power was unmistakable, and no amount of handwaving your “natural attitude” should erase the fact that you are in a position where you can do something questionable and so much more all under your clear power over her. We don’t say that it’s a serial killer’s “natural attitude” to kill people at will now, do we?

Bacani’s admission was pretty damning: “I am deeply sorry for the consequences of any inappropriate expression of affection to my secretary.”

This indicates regret over the result of the act, but not the act itself. This is very typical of people in privilege, and is indicative of a lack of understanding over exactly what went wrong. It’s the same attitude typified by the CBCP “apology” over the Pajeros.

As far as the good Bishop was concerned, and most perpetrators of rape culture will share the same view, intent is mucking fagic. Apparently, because Bishop Bacani didn’t intend to sexually harass his secretary, suddenly, she has no right to feel harassed.

The fact that this instance was actually not the first time this happened should even be a bigger warning flag: true, I’m not a lawyer, but when you’re supposedly a shepherd of morality, I figure that prudence and discretion should take precedence over legalities and technicalities. If you know your secretary is upset by certain displays of affection, if you’ve already apologized to her for it before, then why would you do it again? Because you can go to confession and have it absolved or something?

I’m actually shocked that I have to explain such a basic concept to a man almost three times my age and someone who’s supposed to be my “moral shepherd” considering I’m supposed to be a Catholic apologist and all, but what may be an okay display of affection for you may not be an okay display of affection for somebody else. Precisely because they’re not you. No amount of spinning and pointing to intent can change that.

In the end, Bishop Bacani was, to paraphrase his own words, sorry only because he got caught, hence, “Sorry for the consequences of his act.” He is neither sorry because he trampled on the dignity of another human being, nor that he was insensitive to that fact. His apology was every bit as sincere as Vince McMahon’s was last Monday night on RAW.

“I’m sorry, you son of a bitch!”


To this date, we don’t know what the results of the Vatican “investigation” have yielded. It’s mysterious how slow their investigations progress, to be honest, but then again, maybe that’s really just how they roll. I suppose this is the kind of “temperance” that they are asking from people when it comes to their luxury vehicle issues at present.

It also seems to be the same kind of “temperance” that they are demonstrating in quickly calling any Catholics who support the RH Bill “fake Catholics”.

Are we saying that Bishop Bacani is guilty as charged? Of course not. What we’re saying is that the defense of victim-blaming is so tired, so sexist, and reeks of so much privilege, that it’s shocking someone who claims moral ascendancy would have to resort to such tactics instead of just actually proving that none of these morally questionable actions ever happened.

That we are now merely questioning the nature of these actions but taking the actual commission of these actions for granted may pass muster in the court of law, but it seems rather odd that instead of acting in a manner beyond moral reproach, one needs to resort to technicalities and legalities while still maintaining that very veneer of moral inculpability. Isn’t that having your cake and eating it, too?

True, if Bishop Emeritus Bacani were any other man, we probably would frown at his actions a bit, and not raise much of a furor over him beyond that. Unfortunately, he isn’t any other man: he is a man of the cloth, and someone who won’t hesitate to tell everyone what is and isn’t morally acceptable. When his own morality comes into question in such a flagrant manner, how do we expect his words to hold any water?

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7 CBCP bishops bribed with Pajeros as part of “standard practice”

7 Catholic bishops each received a Pajero from ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA). This allegation was made by Margarita Juico, chair of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

Juico told the Inquirer that GMA “moved to divide the bishops by getting some of them on her side to ensure that the CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) would not have a unified stand on her.” According to the Inquirer report, “Juico said that she was told by some of the agency’s old-timers that these ‘donations’ to the Church leaders had become standard practice since Arroyo faced a real threat of removal from office with the ‘Hello Garci’ election cheating scandal six years ago.

The CBCP replied by saying it didn’t accept bribes “as a group.” But it did not deny the allegations that 7 bishops were bribed with Pajeros (emphasis mine):

Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, media director of the CBCP, said the Church hierarchy as a group did not avail itself of the supposed extravagant gifts from PCSO during Arroyo’s term.
“The CBCP as a body did not have any part in that…” Quitorio said.

How easy would it have been for Msgr. Quitorio to say that none of the CBCP bishops received a Pajero? To me this is almost as good as admitting that there were indeed some bishops who were bribed by GMA.

And according to Juico, these Pajeros were given a few months before GMA stepped down. What other expensive gifts were given as part of GMA’s “standard practice” of “donating” to the CBCP?

It is not enough for Quitorio and the CBCP to disassociate themselves with the individual bishops who accepted bribes in spite of the official position of their organization. If Juico’s allegations are true, it was the dissent of these bribed bishops that ensured the CBCP would not go against GMA’s administration. This silence amidst obvious corruption was an organizational action, and the CBCP as a whole is guilty for it.

I hope the PCSO continues its investigation into this scandal. Juico’s allegations are serious, and needs to be backed by evidence. At the same time, the CBCP should do its own investigation and expose corruption within its own ranks. Otherwise, with all their crusades against gambling and corruption and immorality, they will be nothing more than hypocrites.

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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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The Incredible Shrinking Mother Church

We’ve been told by our own elected state officials that “This [Reproductive Health] bill offends God…” and that we should “obey God.” I’m genuinely curious to find out how they could possibly know what this God thinks and how this God feels. What evidence do they have to justify such claims? And why is it that God’s opinions always consist of bland moralizing? What does God think the solution is for the nuclear disaster at Fukushima? What is his stand on M-theory?

It’s always interesting to watch the irony whoosh by a bishop’s head as he proudly tries to justify his views about sperms and eggs and pharmaceuticals using scientific arguments (tune in to this Sunday’s broadcast of The Grand Debate on the RH Bill on GMA to witness this exact phenomenon). If only he could subject his own faith claims to the same level of critical inquiry.

This double standard maintained by the Church is certainly worthy of reflection. A few hundred years ago, they were able to dictate what science was and what knowledge was available to the people. Now, their storied opposition to free information has been pared down to more modest aspirations and is driving the Church opposition against the RH Bill. They have an intense distrust for self-determination and a juvenile expectation that just by having a condom and knowing how to use it, any person would magically be able to find someone to have sex with.

When once it was an imperialist force to be reckoned with (now it is just an imperialist force), the Roman Catholic Church now has to play the evidence game it has so fervently sought to quash in the past. Religionists are figuring out that it is no longer sufficient for them to simply claim something on faith. Filipinos are now becoming less and less acquiescent to such fraud. The Church is out of step with the Filipino people who have realized that compassion for those neglected by society is more virtuous than infantile and dogmatic obsessing over purity and virginity.

Churches are losing influence and attendees by the day. After brutal defeats in the land of facts and sciences, the Church is making its last stand on the field of values and morality, and even here their own Catholic members are skeptics as represented by groups like Catholics4RH, which has been consistently and derisively considered as a “fake Catholic” organization.

As much as conservatives and sex-starved puritans would like to decry the RH Bill as “immoral,” people are finally understanding that the Church has no monopoly on morality. In fact, the Church’s medieval definition of morality often proves itself dangerously obsolete. In a world of nuclear weapons and global pandemics, the Church has chosen a crusade against sex as its priority and mission on Earth. The Church’s own prime concerns betray its parochial origins of pre-scientific Bronze Age Palestine and belie its pretensions of divine mandate.

The fear of the Catholic Church, which isn’t often publicized but was stated explicitly by the honorable congressman Rep. Pablo Garcia, is that the RH Bill will allow people the choice to enjoy their bodies. This (sex without the intent of having children), they believe, is a mortal sin. And sins, they believe, will result in the eternal torture of the souls of the poor who had the gall to decide for themselves what they think is right for their families. The Church believes that whatever good the RH Bill does on Earth, it does this on loan from the Devil himself. These are seriously the kinds of childish fables that are currently being entertained on the national stage and in the House of Representatives. And, really, are these claims any less ridiculous and unfounded than FamilyRadio.com’s May 21, 2011 apocalyptic prediction?

Advocates of the Church often point to their programs for the needy or to their opposition to corruption when trying to distract from the latest rape coverup hitting the headlines. But, notice that it is only when the Church manages to appeal to our common human solidarity without mystical gobbledygook that they begin to become agreeable. Let us not patronize the Church. When they occasionally happen to act like decent human beings, let’s not pretend that they deserve a pat on the back.

Because of the progress we’ve made as a species for these past centuries (independent of divine revelation), the Church is now compelled to engage in dialogue, or at least try to fake it. It often doesn’t seem fair now to even debate the clergy and their conservative defenders. But let us not underestimate the feeble and decrepit old Church. Let’s not forget how the Church was when it was strong. Let us not forget how the Church behaved when it ruled not just in practice but by law.

Tyrants flourish in places where ideas are immune to criticism. Until we stop taking faith claims at face value and start questioning what the priests assert on the pulpit (not just on the RH Bill), we will always be dragged behind and there will always be sectors in society that will be prejudiced against and some thinking and breathing human beings will never be treated like equal citizens. We will always be forced to sacrifice the health and well-being of real mothers for the sake of an imaginary supernatural mother Church.

As long as we allow the spiritual baggage of the Roman Catholic Church to steer our discourse, we will never be able to improve our society here on Earth because they expect us to believe that heaven awaits the servile and the gullible.

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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]

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Women’s Day: 11 more women will die today

A hundred years after the first International Women’s Day, Filipinas still do not have power over events only women face—risks to life and health in pregnancy and childbirth.

Eleven women die each day from maternal complications. Most do not even want to get pregnant; those who do certainly have no wish to die while giving life.

Contraception can stop the deaths of women who have unplanned pregnancies. Women who do want a child can be saved through skilled attendance at birth by midwives, doctors or nurses; and prompt action during complications by health facilities with emergency obstetric care. Young women can protect themselves from sexual coercion and abuse and early pregnancies through accurate and positive sexuality education integrated in the formal school system. All of these measures are key parts of the reproductive health (RH) bill which, after ten years, is still stuck in Congress, obstructed by religious arguments raised by religious forces.

If those who have power routinely die from pregnancy and childbirth, would debates over a legislative policy last a decade? Would there even be reasons for debates?

“The State condemns discrimination against women in all its forms,”proclaims the Magna Carta of Women. This law says that discrimination occurs if “women, more than men, are shown to have suffered the greater adverse effects” of measures or practices.

Obstructing RH services and letting 11 women die each day is discrimination pushed to the extreme. That 90 or so bishops of the CBCP[1] have louder voices than four million women users of contraception and millions more who lack RH services emphasize the gross injustice of it all—a few powerful ultraconservative men imposing their religious beliefs on all women.

In its lengthy pastoral letter on RH, the CBCP said that the “proposed bill in all its versions calls us to make a moral choice: to choose life or to choose death. Completely oblivious of the real life-and-death situation women face during each pregnancy and childbirth, not a word was mentioned about deaths from maternal complications.

Reproduction and the moral choices that women make are things that bishops will never experience. Daily and routinely, women balance the risks, the joys and hopes of having a child, and the realities of being responsible for another human life. The bishops’ insistence on the moral superiority of their beliefs based on their claim that they can “rightly guide” women’s conscience on reproductive matters reeks of nothing but male arrogance.

March 8 is Women’s Day. Sadly, 11 more women will die today, not because we lack the resources, knowledge or means to save them, but mainly because those in power have not yet deemed women’s lives as important enough to save.

We have had enough. We affirm the morality of choices women make over their reproductive lives. We condemn the tyranny and discrimination that CBCP and its allies wish to impose on women, and we hold them responsible for the 11 women who die each day.

– statement of RHAN & RH Ipasa Na! campaign on Women’s Day


[1] Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

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Filipino Freethinkers Speak at DLSU

Last Thursday, Garrick and I gave a lecture at DLSU, (one of) the best Catholic universities in the country. The lecture was for students of the Great Works classes, who were reading The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre, and Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Although we weren’t experts on any of these books, we were very familiar with their themes: damnation and eternal life; reward and punishment; heaven and hell; good and evil; and the meaning of life.

Natty Manauat, one of the philosophy professors who organized the forum, invited us to give a freethinker’s take on these themes. This is our second time lecturing in DLSU. Last year, Natty invited us to the philosophy department’s Darwin Day celebration. We served as panelists in a discussion of the film, Creation, and I gave a talk titled “Darwin, the Freethinker,” in which I argued that instead of being a dispassionate scientist, Darwin was actually a passionate advocate of reason and human equality. We don’t have a recording of that lecture, but we were prepared for this one.

In my part of the lecture, I showed how Christian morality has progressed from Biblical times to this day, and how history has shown that when it comes to telling good from evil, the Roman Catholic Church is incompetent. After I showed that a better framework for morality is badly needed, Garrick argued for a more scientific understanding of morality, one that’s grounded on human well-being instead of divine dogma, theological tradition, and arbitrary authority.

In spite of the unusually cold air-conditioning, only a few students fell asleep — most of them were engaged throughout the lecture, and some even told us that we gave an awesome lecture. The professors were also happy, and over coffee we were invited to give another lecture in April, this time on the life of Alan Turing. We’re equally excited about that, but for now, we hope you enjoy the videos below.

Ryan Tani on The Problem of Evil

Garrick Bercero on Morality Without God

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, ScienceComments (51)

Altruism and the Evolution of Morality

One of the issues being debated by freethinkers is the source of our morality. Some atheists postulate that morality is just the product of evolution while agnostics point out that there are cases of altruistic human behavior that have nothing to do with propagating one’s genes, and theists claim that our moral values must have therefore come from a Moral Lawgiver.

While some moral standards can be attributed directly to evolution (for example, a species or race composed mostly of murderers will soon kill itself into extinction, hence, murder is generally judged as morally wrong), some say that evolution cannot account for every act of apparent selflessness such as helping the poor, the sick and the old especially those to whom the giver has no blood relations.

While part of me wants to prove them wrong by explaining how evolution has given us the brains to continuously define moral standards with increasing sophistication, what I want to show in this article is that we are not as “moral” – at least in the altruistic sense – as we like to think we are.

Webster defines altruism as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others“. The operative word is unselfish, and it is precisely because of this qualifier that I daresay that most acts of caring and sharing cannot be considered altruistic because they are not unselfish but rather selfish, albeit with a very long-term view in mind.

In this way, I believe there are relatively few cases of altruism; what we often see is reciprocal altruism, defined as “a behaviour whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism’s fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time.”

Since life is not a zero-sum game, meaning whatever the strong/rich gives to the weak/poor has a relatively lower value to the former than to the latter, it is easy to explain reciprocal altruism. The loss experienced by the giver is less than the gain enjoyed by receiver, and when the giver becomes the receiver in the future, the investment will have paid off handsomely.

What is hard to explain, at least in terms of evolution, is true altruism – pure, selfless concern for the welfare of others at one’s own expense – particularly among those who do not even expect a heavenly reward. And the most altruistic people I can think of are the vegans and animal rights advocates. Helping other people, even those to whom we are not related, always carries the conscious or unconscious expectation that such gesture will be reciprocated in the future, not necessarily by the same people we helped. But caring about the lower animals and granting them equal rights, knowing full well that they have no capacity to repay us for our compassion and sacrifice (a vegan diet is expensive, not to mention not as satisfying, at least at the start), that is simply way beyond reciprocity.

But I will make no attempt to explain such behavior. Why? Because I don’t have to, if only to debunk the theists’ claim that our morality must have come from God. Vegans are the minor exception, not the rule, so instead trying to account their moral advocacy to evolution, I will simply say that humans in general do not have such morality, at least not as of this point in our history.

So to those who say that we are a moral race because we condemn murder, rape, and robbery and even made laws against them, think about the animals that we not only slaughter for food (and leather and fur!) but systematically raise in the most cost-effective way, crowding as many animals as possible in tight spaces to minimize cost without regard for their welfare (overcrowding causes stress, heatstroke and injuries – that’s why we cut off the beaks of chicks [without anesthesia!] so they don’t peck each other and damage the meat). And for as long as we buy and eat farmed chicken, pork, and beef, we are guilty of perpetuating their suffering. Is this something a species supposedly getting their morals from a loving Creator would do?

As Michael Shermer said:

Morals do not exist in nature and thus cannot be discovered. In nature there are just actions – physical actions, biological actions, and human actions. Human actors act to increase their happiness, however they personally define it. Their actions become moral or immoral when someone else judges them as such. Thus, morality is a strictly human creation, subject to all the cultural influences and social constructions as other such human creations.

Does this mean that all human actions are morally equal? No…We create standards of what we like and dislike, desire or not, and make judgments against these standards. But the standards are themselves human creations and not discovered in nature…one group prefers patriarchal dominance, and so judges male privileges to be morally honorable…Thus, male ownership of females was once moral and is now immoral, not because we have discovered it as such, but because our society has realized that women also seek greater happiness and that they can achieve this more easily without being in bondage to males.

Will our race one day realize that animals also seek greater happiness and that they can achieve this more easily without being raised in cramped, cruel captivity all their short miserable lives? More importantly, are we willing to set them free at the expense of losing a reliable food source? Until then, there is no point in bragging about our so-called morality, and especially in arguing that our moral standards must be more than just a product of evolution.

* * * * *

The following is a comment from our resident vegan, Nancy, posted several days after this article was published. I’m featuring it here because it sheds light to the vegans’ supposed altruism:

Thank you for including nonhuman animals in your consciousness and in this post  That said, if the definition of altruism includes no benefit to the individual, no one would be truly altruisitc. When one chooses to do good, one finds peace within and it could be argued that it is a selfish motivation to do what is aligned to one’s beliefs. This is also true for vegans. After I made the connection between violence and animal use, I became vegan because not doing so would make me intensely uncomfortable (to say the least). It would benefit my emotional well-being more to be a vegan than to continue to consume animals.

I am not more moral than non-vegans. I just happened to make the connection. Other people seem to have an intrinsic sense about this, kids who at a very young age realize that meat comes from animals and just refuse to eat them, even without anyone having to explain factory farming or environmental degradation. Others need exposure and information to sift through the many years of unquestioned beliefs and get it, like me. Whereas others are still brainwashed by the messages sent out by animal agriculture companies (“milk=calcium” when in reality broccoli has more calcium, “it’s tradition”, etc.) and need more time to make the connection. BTW a vegan diet is not expensive. It actually saves you money from medicine and hospital bills so it’s again self-serving if you look at it that way. It is also satisfying as your taste buds begin to appreciate the natural tastes. Regarding reliable food source, we stand more to gain if the world lived on a vegan diet. There will be more food since production will be more efficient. Again, this can be considered self-serving. Not destroying the only planet we live in, I suppose, would be self-serving as well.

Posted in Philosophy, ReligionComments (65)

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

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

Anyway, marching onward…

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

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

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

I was once told that:

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

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

The next question I have is: Is truth relative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s ask ourselves these questions:

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

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

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

4. What would we do in such situations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in PhilosophyComments (91)

Darwin's Missing Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in ScienceComments (35)