Tag Archive | "problem of evil"

God Won't Make a Way


If the deity exists, would you believe he’s a god of love or a god that’s indifferent to the people’s affairs in life? Well, the evidence is everywhere and you’ll just have to open your eyes or mind for you to answer such a question. Since we can’t really pre-determine his existence beyond reasonable doubt, let’s just say – for the sake of the article’s argument – he exists. Then, that starts the questions that would flood the father-figure like, why does he prefer to hide in a shell or watch in a so-called heaven without resolving the ultimate question that would have offended any god – does he exist?

Why would he let a book like the Holy Bible be the people’s reference to his whims, rules and laws, dreams or ambitions, preferences, etc. when the book (which consists of mini-books) would tell you something like “believe in God and you’ll go to heaven; don’t believe and you’ll be burned in eternal fire.” Robert Ingersoll said it best when he said “the hope of theology is salvation of few and damnation of almost everyone.” Why should he impose such a warning on people? What’s in the back of his mind or what clouded his brain (if he has brains or something like that) for wanting such? Is the Holy Bible really his work or is it just a mere compilation of books created by some ancient essayists and false prophets? If the Holy Bible is indeed his work (and that is if he exists) then bear with me when I say to that deity, “Shame on you!”

I feel this way because of the questions that would go on forever with things that would bug him like: Why did you create a couple of humans perfectly yet they’re susceptible to being persuaded by the Devil in the Garden of Eden? Is that what you would call perfect? Is that what you would call “created in your own image”? Why is it that both Adam and Eve were naked yet they’re indifferent to each other’s body before they committed the so-called Original Sin? Was this couple the earliest naturalists? Would they have had copulation before committing the sin? If they weren’t into having sex before committing that so-called sin, then does it mean they wouldn’t have reproduced and they’ll be a lone couple forever? I’m saying such because the Bible calls lust a sin and if there’s no lust, realistically there shouldn’t be sex. I’m not misunderstanding the Bible as what religious bigots would say – I’m just seeing what it really meant based on reason and logic.

What about today? Have you seen the people in Africa who don’t have enough drinking water, which is the most essential matter to humans next to oxygen? Have you noticed the children in third world countries of whom no parents can even take care? Have you heard the cries of anguish of those people afflicted with cancer, AIDS, deadly viruses, leukemia, hepatitis, tuberculosis and so forth? Do you prefer to just watch those women in Somalia being stoned to death after being severely gang-raped? Can you do something to the little girls who were being raped and tortured for days before being murdered? (If you know nothing of these yet, don’t be lazy, they’re all on reliable media outlets like Huffingtonpost.com.) Do you prefer to let them just suffer and punish the culprits on a certain judgment day? Are you that cold, selfish, insensitive and indifferent or is it simply that you, God, don’t exist at all, not once, not twice but none of your likes existed?

A God with a capital “G” would have been all-powerful and would have just remade the errors of his creation. A God that isn’t all-powerful, all-encompassing and all-knowing is useless and shouldn’t be thought about at all because he’s not even a god (with a small “g”).

Is the theory that he indeed created the universe as creationists would force on you – but died afterwards, having some a bit of sense? Why don’t we just count on evidence and on the sensible, reasonable and worthwhile things? Why are we caring that much about a supreme being when he doesn’t even give a shit, might have died or most likely doesn’t exist? Why don’t we just care about the beings that are more important in the here and now like our family, loved ones or even friends?

This is why I’m not seeing any logic and seriousness in the statement that the love of God is above all for the reason that it’s just plain nonsense. It’s just the perfect example of unrequited love. You know what might be sad but sanely true? As normal human beings, we actually love ourselves first then preferably love those who deserve our love as well.

Posted in ReligionComments (37)

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)

Depart into the uttermost corners of the earth, and diligently do your appointed work


Was reading The Portable Atheist and I came upon the chapter about Mark Twain which discussed an excerpt from his work, “Fables of Man”. This reminded me of a very apt picture taken in Pakistan some time ago.

Depart into the uttermost corners of the earth, and diligently do your appointed work. Persecute the sick child; settle upon its eyes, its face, its hands, and gnaw and pester and sting… spare no creature, wild or tame; but wheresoever you find one, make his life a misery, treat him as the innocent deserve; and so please Me and increase My glory Who made the fly.
Thoughts of God
from Fables of Man
by Mark Twain

Pakistani children who survived heavy flooding lie covered with flies as they are forced to live in miserable conditions on a roadside in Nowshera near Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Posted in Pictures, ReligionComments (0)

God is good…all the time


Perhaps many are familiar with those reassuring words that Christians often say in church and during good times, but few people probably know that they came from a song. I took the lyrics and added my own verses between certain lines while attempting to follow the rhyme and flow of thought. The original lyrics are in black. My words are the ones in red.

* * * * *

God is good all the time
His ways are always sublime
He put a song of praise in this heart of mine
And took away my doubting mind
God is good all the time
Though He often allows crime
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
You just can’t see it sometimes
God is good, God is good all the time.

If you’re walking through the valley
And there are shadows all around
Do not fear, He will guide you
He will keep you safe and sound
And if these shadows jump at you
And try to chase you on the ground
Do not run and do not hide
When your heart begins to pound.

‘Cause He’s promised to never leave you
(Most of the time He’s just gonna scare you)
Nor forsake you and His Word is true
But if He does, there’s a reason too.

We were sinners – so unworthy
Still for us He chose to die
He chose not to outright forgive us
He had to be crucified.

Filled us with His Holy Spirit
Now we can stand and testify
That His love is everlasting
And His mercies – they will never end
Though we must redefine His “mercy”
To include the pain it belies

But for all the world’s sufferings
He will make eternal amends.

Lord I may not understand
All the plans He left for me
Your ways are sometimes cruel
For an omnipotent deity

My life is in your hands
And through the eyes of Him I can clearly see
Unless my own eyes are opened
To His monstrous atrocities.

Posted in Poetry, ReligionComments (3)

Forty-four Thoughts of a Founding Freethinker


While the world watches Egypt in revolution, many are unaware that almost three centuries today, one of the greatest revolutionaries was born.

January 29, 1736 is the birthday of Thomas Paine, a man Thomas Edison regarded “as one of the greatest of all Americans.” He influenced intellectuals for centuries with works such as Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason. He inspired such great men as George Holyoake, the father of British secularism; Bertrand Russell, a champion of humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought; and Abraham Lincoln, who lead the fight to end slavery in the United States.

In the 1990s, Truthseeker magazine began celebrating Freethinkers Day on Paine’s birthday. If you doubt that these celebrations should coincide, you haven’t read any of his works, and I strongly suggest you start soon.

For now, here are some excerpts from the writings of Thomas Paine, a founding father who fought not only for freedom in the United States, but for freethought around the world. Happy Freethinkers Day!

  1. I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  2. It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  3. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  4. The Bible is a book that has been read more and examined less than any book that ever existed. [The Theological Works of Thomas Paine]
  5. Accustom a people to believe that priests, or any other class of men can forgive sins, and you will have sins in abundance.[The Theological Works of Thomas Paine, p.207]
  6. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication– after that it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it can not be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to ME, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  7. Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifiying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as ameans of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general it leads to nothing here or hereafter. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  8. It is far better that we admitted a thousand devils to roam at large than that we permitted one such imposter and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God and have credit among us.
  9. The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of willful alteration, are of themselves evidences that the human language, whether in speech or in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God. The Word of God exists in something else. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  10. It will be proper to take a review of the several sources from which governments have arisen, and on which they have been founded.
  11. They may be all comprehended under three heads — 1st, Superstition; 2d, Power; 3d, the common interests of society, and the common rights of man.
  12. The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, and the third of reason. [Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man]
  13. Toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but it is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it. The one is the pope, armed with fire and fagot, and the other is the pope selling or granting indulgences. [Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man]
  14. …Thomas did not believe the resurrection [John 20:25], and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I, and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  15. What is it the Bible teaches us? – raping, cruelty, and murder. What is it the New Testament teaches us? – to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married, and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.
  16. When I see throughout this book, called the Bible, a history of the grossest vices and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales and stories, I could not so dishonor my Creator by calling it by His name. [Thomas Paine, in Toward The Mystery]
  17. Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
  18. Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death, and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  19. The age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  20. Prophesying is lying professionally. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  21. If thou trusteth to the book called the Scriptures, thou trusteth to the rotten staff of fables and of falsehood. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  22. One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests. [Thomas Paine, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt by James Haught]
  23. Science is the true theology. [Thomas Paine, quoted in Emerson, The Mind on Fire pg 153]
  24. All this [Paul’s writing] is nothing better than the jargon of a conjurer who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
  25. …to argue with a man who has renouced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead. [Thomas Paine, The Crisis, quoted in Ingersoll’s Works, Vol. 1, p.127]
  26. Everything wonderful in appearance has been ascribed to angels, to devils, or to saints. Everything ancient has some legendary tale annexed to it. The common operations of nature have not escaped their practice of corrupting everything.
  27. No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith.
  28. When an objection cannot be made formidable, there is some policy in trying to make it frightful; and to substitute the yell and the war- whoop, in the place of reason, argument and good order. Jesuitical cunning always endeavors to disgrace what it cannot disprove.
  29. The story of the redemption will not stand examination. That man should redeem himself from the sin of eating an apple by committing a murder on Jesus Christ, is the strangest system of religion ever set up.
  30. Yet this is trash that the Church imposes upon the world as the Word of God; this is the collection of lies and contradictions called the Holy Bible! This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!
  31. The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.
  32. The countries the most famous and the most respected of antiquity are those which distinguished themselves by promoting and patronizing science, and on the contrary those which neglected or discouraged it are universally denominated rude and barbarous. The patronage which Britain has shown to Arts, Science and Literature has given her a better established and lasting rank in the world than she ever acquired by her arms. And Russia is a modern instance of the effect which the encouragement of those things produces both as to the internal improvement of a country and the character it raises abroad. The reign of Louis the fourteenth is more distinguished by being the Era of Science and Literature in France than by any other circumstance of those days.
  33. The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and as, after the lapse of more than three hundred years, no handwriting could be proved or disproved, the Church, which like former impostors had then gotten possession of the State, had everything its own way. It invented creeds, such as that called the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicean Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.
  34. The Christian religion begins with a dream and ends with a murder.
  35. All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for imposters to preach and fools to believe.
  36. Had the news of salvation by Jesus Christ been inscribed on the face of the sun and the moon, in characters that all nations would have understood, the whole earth had known it in twenty-four hours, and all nations would have believed it; whereas, though it is now almost two thousand years since, as they tell us, Christ came upon earth, not a twentieth part of the people of the earth know anything of it, and among those who do, the wiser part do not believe it.
  37. There is scarcely any part of science, or anything in nature, which those imposters and blasphemers of science, called priests, as well Christians as Jews, have not, at some time or other, perverted, or sought to pervert to the purpose of superstition and falsehood.
  38. Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.
  39. I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinion upon religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.
  40. The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.
  41. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
  42. Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true.
  43. Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.
  44. But though every created thing is, in this sense, a mystery, the word mystery cannot be applied to moral truth, any more than obscurity can be applied to light. … Mystery is the antagonist of truth. It is a fog of human invention, that obscures truth, and represents it in distortion. Truth never envelops itself in mystery, and the mystery in which it is at any time enveloped is the work of its antagonist, and never of itself.

Posted in Philosophy, ReligionComments (2)

Evolution discussed in the CBCP website


Whenever I visit the CBCP website I often find inspiration that would stimulate me to write an article for Filipino Freethinkers. Their infallible wisdom on matters of which they supposedly have no experience (e.g., sex, marriage, contraceptives, pregnancy and childbirth) never ceases to amaze me. This time, however, I wasn’t only inspired but also rather intrigued when I saw an old news article discussing the views of theology professor Robert John Russell on evolution in relation to atheism, and I couldn’t believe they actually posted it on their site.

Here are some excerpts:

He said if people want to “attack evolution they should do it in an intelligent way, not in an embarrassing way” by putting forth arguments that the scientific community addressed years ago.

Intelligent design, which accepts that life has evolved over eons but asserts that it is so complex that its development must have been guided by a supreme being or intelligent agent, or any other kind of interventionist theology “is really unethical” from a pastoral point of view, he said.

Proponents of intelligent design and creationism offer “a kind of fool’s gold” claiming they are the only ones who can keep God’s role in explaining the origins of life since “those nasty atheists have co-opted it” with the theory of evolution, he said.

While the Catholic Church claims that evolution doesn’t contradict the Bible, a quick look at the details of such claim exposes that what they are referring to may actually be intelligent design:

Citing various addresses from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before and after his election as Pope, the Austrian cardinal explained that “there are many proofs in favor of evolution.”

Nevertheless, he stressed, “though this theory enriches our knowledge of life, it doesn’t respond to the great philosophical question: Where does everything come from and how did this everything take a path until coming to be man?”

Therefore, Cardinal Schönborn contended, the key is discovering “that a preceding idea exists, that man is not the fruit of chaos, but that he ‘has been thought of,’ ‘wanted’ and ‘loved'” by the Creator.

Going back to the CBCP news article on Russell, we see how he effectively criticizes intelligent design:

Unfortunately, he said, intelligent design and creationist proponents are not addressing the real problem evolution poses, which is how to explain the existence of suffering, disease, death and extinction before the historical event of the creation and fall of man.

The fall represents the first act of disobedience of Adam and Eve whereby humankind lost its primal innocence and happiness and entered into its present condition of sin and suffering.

But evolution demonstrates that suffering and death are not the consequence of the fall, but were part of life “far before humanity came onto the scene and is in fact a part of how we got here,” he said.

How to account for the problem of why God would allow all his creatures to suffer is “the really hard challenge of evolution,” he said.

That seems to be a very solid argument against the existence of a loving creator put forth in a very clear and concise manner, and the fact that it can be found in the CBCP website makes it all the more interesting. Russell continues:

One response is that pain and suffering are a consequence of freedom, he said.

But while the father of a child lets her be free to run, fall and scrape her knee, if she were to pick up a gun and start playing with it, “I’d take that gun away,” he said.

How then does the heavenly Father allow the extent and horrendousness of suffering seen throughout the world and in history? he asked.

At this point one would expect Russell to say that the concept of a heavenly Father is simply irreconcilable with evolution, but then he surprises us:

The brutality Darwin witnesses in his studies of nature along with the tragic death of his 11-year-old daughter were two major circumstances that drove the Anglican scientist to abandon his faith in God, Russell said.

“But this doesn’t mean that his theories are atheistic,” he emphasized.

Almost everyone sees the same cruel world Darwin saw, but he “was tempted and his faith was challenged like mine is and yours is” in the face of seemingly inexplicable evil, he said.

“But we all have the same choice: to see (life) as meaningful or meaningless,” said Russell.

How could Russell, who was able to eloquently frame the problem of evil and suffering by posing implicative questions, propose that it still all boils down to our ‘choice’? Well it may be because he is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences that he cannot state outright his position, much less his apparent skepticism, on the Christian teaching of an all-powerful and loving god. More importantly, Russell only said that we have the choice “to see life as meaningful or meaningless”; he didn’t really indicate that such meaning was dependent on the existence of God.

Posted in ReligionComments (5)

A Former Christian’s Letter to an Old Friend


Dear CB,

I regret not being able to see you when you last came home to visit. It’s been almost a decade since you left the country and we had somehow lost touch, and surely I could have spared a few minutes – a few hours, even – to meet with an old friend.

But the reason I didn’t see you had nothing to do with time. I did not come to see you because I figured the topic of Faith would most likely be brought about in our conversation, and I didn’t want to lie to you even as I didn’t want to tell you that I no longer have it.

I remember several years ago there was this Q & A being circulated via email. One of the questions was, “What is most important to you?” As I had expected, you answered “Jesus.” Back then I still considered myself a very spiritual albeit not a very religious person, but I wrote down “Truth.”

I realize I’ve been a truth seeker ever since my childhood days. I remember feeling uncomfortable in Sunday school when the teacher told us that Jesus chose the dumb people for his disciples because the bright ones had too many questions. Whether that was biblically accurate or not is beside the point; she was implying that one should simply follow and not think. But I realized that no matter how I tried, I simply could not not think. And there I was struck by the irony of why our God-given intelligence would be the very thing to hinder us from getting closer to Him. I could not understand why the same God who gave us reason would prohibit us from using it.

Still, I managed to stay on the path and maintain a personal relationship with the Lord throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. You might have noticed, however, that I was the liberal type of Christian who always tried to find a rationale for our beliefs instead of just taking them by blind faith.

One of the things I tried to ponder was the presence of evil and pain in a world supposedly created and cared for by the loving and powerful God. I even opened that up to you and you were able to conveniently answer it with the explanation that we are not omniscient, hence, we cannot fathom God’s purpose in His infinite wisdom.

That explanation kept me going for a few more years, but the Problem of Evil had been an eternal bug up my theist ass. I lived with cognitive dissonance as I struggled to rationalize gratuitous – unnecessary, unwarranted, and unjustified – suffering as part of God’s divine plan. And I do not mean only human suffering; even before our species walked the earth (and long before Adam and Eve supposedly committed Original Sin), countless animals had already suffered and died, some more excruciatingly than the others, like the caterpillar whose body was being leisurely eaten alive from the inside by a growing wasp larva that would soon emerge from the caterpillar’s empty shell as an adult wasp ready to mate and lay an egg on another unlucky caterpillar, and the cycle continues as the egg hatches into a larva that digs into the caterpillar’s flesh. Now unless there is a Caterpillar Heaven where all their sufferings will be recompensed, it just didn’t make sense to me to suppose that there was actually a loving Creator.

We were both lucky to be born to middle-class families in a civilized society, so gratitude comes naturally to us for all of “God’s blessings, goodness, and mercy.” But we had no idea what it would be like to live in Afghanistan, North Korea, or Africa. Gratuitous suffering exists elsewhere, and we were not constantly aware of them as we focused on our “blessings” like passing an exam when there were children who never had a decent meal or access to medical care. Our pastors have come up with sophisticated theodicies like man’s “free will” and divine punishment, but when I reminded myself that this was supposed to be a loving and all-powerful God we were talking about, I realized that the apologists were running out of excuses for God’s indifference and/or incompetence.

And so I clung back to the assurance that God has a “grand design” which is just beyond our finite minds’ ken. But then I wondered, how do we know that God indeed has a beautiful plan for His most beloved creation? Unfortunately, I only had the Bible to tell me so, the Holy Book we revered as the true Word of God. However, the Bible contains many major contradictions and divinely-commissioned atrocities that I either had to skip those verses or suspend my reason in order to continue believing its divine origin. But my biggest problem with the Bible was its lack of authenticity considering its stories were accounts of humans passed from generation to generation without the use of a printing press, and that it was only the Bible that proclaimed itself as the “Word of God.”

When I realized this, every belief I held sacred suddenly became fair game – including my belief in the divinity of Jesus. It also dawned on me how absurd is the notion of God’s ultimate “sacrifice” for the salvation of mankind: God created man imperfectly so God now plans to punish man severely and eternally because of the fatal imperfection that God caused in the first place, but because of God’s “love” for man, God bore an only Son, who was actually God Himself, to be offered as a sacrifice – to Himself – in order to satisfy God’s craving for blood and so that man does not have to suffer God’s eternal wrath as long as he believes in the Son. And even the “sacrifice” is not a sacrifice at all considering it was only about thirty years as a man and less than three days as a “dead” man that an eternal Being had to endure. That’s not even a cent to the world’s richest man, and yet Christians consider it to be the greatest gift.

Now you might shudder at my utter blasphemy and invoke Pascal’s Wager to make me reconsider believing, but all I can say is that the teachings of Christianity contradict those of the two other major religions, Judaism and Islam, and if either of them turns out to be the “true religion” then all Christians will burn in hell for believing and blasphemously proclaiming that Jesus was not just a prophet but God Himself.

And what does it mean to “believe” anyway? Is it something one can force upon himself even if every part of his rational mind screams incredulity? I don’t think so. Belief is not a personal choice; rather, it is the product of knowledge and understanding, both of which are not personal choices either.

And then I was left with the ultimate question: Where did everything come from? For quite some time after I left Christianity I considered myself a deist, believing in a Creator who simply caused the cosmos into existence but never intervened afterwards, allowing the universe to evolve according to the natural laws embodied in it. While I still do not discount the possibility of such Creator to exist or have existed, I am now equally open to possibilities that the universe – or at least the initial singularity from which it expanded – has either existed eternally in some form or another or came from nothing as an accident in nature via quantum fluctuations, negating the need for a creator. But more importantly, I highly doubt that a Being powerful enough to be able to create an entire universe would be that petty or insecure to give a damn if I believed in Him/Her/It.

While I consider myself a skeptic, I do not wish to be called an atheist mainly because of the stigma and misconceptions associated with the word, but for all practical purposes I might as well be an atheist because I no longer believe in an intervening god – loving or otherwise. While it cannot be proven without a doubt that such god does not exist, reason dictates that the Abrahamic God’s existence is very highly unlikely, and so I live my life on the assumption that this life is all there is and that the future of our world and the welfare as well as the suffering of our fellow humans – and of the ‘lower’ animals, or at least the ones we domesticate – rest mostly in our hands.

And so, CB, while you might be aghast with my revelation, I simply cannot bear to live in pretense just to avoid disappointing you. I can no longer force myself to suspend reason for the sake of my faith. As Daniel Dennet said, ‎”There is no future in a sacred myth. Why not? Because of our curiosity. Whatever we hold precious, we cannot protect it from our curiosity, because being who we are, one of the things we deem precious is the truth.”

But if you really believe that God is the Truth, please pray that He will reveal Himself to me in an unmistakable manner and prove me wrong before it’s too late. With all His power and mercy, surely He will make a way.

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Why God Allows Pain: The Barbershop Theodicy


Whenever believers try to defend their faith in an intervening God using reason (or more precisely, pseudo-reason), the critical thinker cannot help but point out the fallacies. There is this email being circulated that tries to explain the problem of evil and why God allows pain and suffering:

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the customer. “Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”

The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.

Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.” “How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!” “No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”

“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.” “Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist! That’s what happens when people do not go to Him and don’t look to Him for help. That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.” * * *

Let us try to dissect the logic here:

Barber does not believe a loving and all-powerful God exists because of the presence of suffering and pain as manifested by sick people and abandoned children

Customer – does not believe barbers exist because of the presence of people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards

Barber – explains that these people are unkempt because they do not come to him for a haircut and shave

Customer explains that people experience so much pain and suffering because they do not come to God for help

I cannot even begin to pinpoint the logical fallacies in there because they seem to jump out all at once.  It is faulty to compare barbers to God because whenever you go to the former,  you’ll surely get your hair cut (if that’s what you want); when you seek help from the latter, your prayers are not always answered. Now if the faithful even dare to say that the barber is not there all the time to give you a haircut anytime you want – maybe he’s sick or attending some important event – it must be noted that unlike God, barbers are not omnipotent or omnipresent. And what exactly does it mean to “come to God for help”? If God is omniscient, he knows what we need (and deserve) long before we pray for it – even before we can think of praying for it. And if he is a loving God, he will grant these needs without waiting for our prayers, not to mention there are children dying a slow and painful death due to starvation and disease who are too young to understand the concept of God, much less to pray. But I guess the most significant difference between a haircut and an “answered prayer” is that you can be sure that your hair had not just gotten shorter because of pure coincidence and no external deliberate force.

I must say that while I often criticize religion, I deeply respect the faithful, as many of the people in my innermost circle are themselves believers.  As I often tell them, I respect your right to your beliefs. If you say that you believe in God because of personal faith, I respect that. Even if you say that you believe in God because the Bible (or any other holy book) tells you so, I would still respect that. But once you try to assert the validity of the Bible’s claims by spewing fallacy passed as reason, your beliefs become fair game.

The problem of evil had been an eternal bug up the theistic ass, and countless theodicies (attempts at reconciling belief in God with the perceived existence of evil) have been written, their answers ranging from almost-but-not-quite satisfactory to totally absurd. Among those I’ve read, I think the only one that gives the slightest hope to the faithful and prevents those in No. 6 in Dawkins’ spectrum from ‘falling’ into No. 7 is that God has a purpose too grand to be comprehended by our finite minds. Perhaps I can respect that, but only because I cannot scientifically disprove it. Just make sure you don’t get too cocky as to proclaim that you can actually prove it.

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If There Was An Intelligent Designer


When observing the complex beauty of the natural world and the diversity of plants and animals and how each species’ characteristics seem perfectly tailored for a particular lifestyle, it is not difficult to jump into the conclusion that everything was designed.

I was staring at a small clover garden, admiring the structured leaf formation and how it uniformly blanketed the patch of ground when I realized that underneath the miniature canopy of clover crowns must be a thriving community of insects and other tiny creatures. And beneath the ground dozens of earthworms must be burrowing and ingesting dead matter and minute soil particles, aerating the earth and secreting humus and minerals needed by the clover plant to grow. At this point it makes sense to imagine that this nice little ecosystem must have been orchestrated by an intelligent and loving being.

However, also living underground are thousands of ants, and ants feed on earthworms. Anybody who has seen a live earthworm being attacked by red ants knows that it is a slow and very painful death, the worm writhing and rolling and curling in a feeble attempt to escape the tormenting mandibles that tear all over its soft flesh, each bite leaving behind a burning toxin. It must be one of the most excruciating deaths an animal can experience (although perhaps not as agonizingly slow as that of a caterpillar whose body is being leisurely devoured from the inside by a growing wasp larva). Even if one believes that earthworms have souls that will be eternally rewarded in Earthworm Heaven for all their sufferings under the earth, it is absurd to conceive of an intelligent designer.

A lot of people especially those living comfortably in civilized societies are not aware of this life and death struggle among the lower animals.  Most have not even considered that the burgers they’re munching came from a once-living cow whose throat was slit with a very sharp industrial blade, causing it to stumble and thrash around as its air sacs get filled with its own blood, flooding its lungs and simulating a slow drowning effect that would last several minutes until the cow finally expires. Or that the drumstick they’re nibbling came from a chicken who endured its entire short life in cramped captivity, injected with chemicals to speed up growth for early slaughter.

When you’re on top of the food chain (and blissfully oblivious to the great inconvenience you are causing those below), it is easy to be overwhelmed by a feeling of gratefulness, and there even seems to be an almost instinctive need to seek an object of gratitude. But imagine if we happened to be the cow or the chicken, or the earthworm for that matter. I wonder if gratefulness would come as naturally.

If there was an intelligent designer, animals wouldn’t have to feed on one another. Every creature would be responsible for its own photosynthesis and capable of absorbing moisture and minerals from the air. Predation and parasitism would be totally unnecessary. All animals would also be able to fly, swim, run and burrow, freely frolicking across the bounds of the earth, fully enjoying the planet’s blessings.

And maybe this is why a lot of people believe (or would like to believe) that we have a soul. Perhaps unconsciously we think of the spirit as the perfect form of existence, totally free and having no need for transport, shelter, clothing, air, water, or food. And no need for food means no need for other animals to die just so we can live. The earth would be a true paradise where no creature has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. If there was an intelligent designer, existence wouldn’t be as cruel, and the struggle for life wouldn’t be as bloodthirsty.

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Theodicies


haitiHaiti was hit by a 7 magnitude earthquake a couple of weeks ago. 150,000 (and counting) people were already declared dead. Aside from that it also destroyed countless properties, livelihood, and shelter. It also displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Instances like this are a great challenge to the people who are affected. How will they move on with their lives when they have almost nothing left? How will they move on if their loved ones were killed? Where will they get the money to start again? Where will they get help? I think all of these questions and problems can be answered and solved as time will pass or if  someone will eventually help these people. Time will heal all wounds, a quote says. But a more important question still remains unanswered for a long time. Well many have tried but I guess their answers still face a lot of criticisms and contradictions, making the problem still a problem.

Where was the God that believers, mostly Christians, claim to be true/existing, loving, and powerful? Why would God allow this to happen? Well these questions are not really original or new but I think it would be good to ask again and again for emphasis. I asked these questions subtly (subtly so that they will not be offended) to my theist friends and they all had their own explanations and theodicies. I wasn’t able to reply and criticize them because of time constraints and I also did not want to offend and humiliate them. So below are the four and most common theodicies that I encountered and my reply and criticisms to these four:

Punishment Reply: The people that suffered in the earthquake were just punished by God because these people disobeyed God’s laws or that these people were very sinful.

My reply: Not all of the people that were killed or suffered were sinful; there were children and good people who suffered and died in the said earthquake. Theists could reply that this is just a result of Original Sin. But I say that this is not just, and it does not show that God is loving. I mean, is it just to punish the great(x 100)-grandchildren of a person who committed a sin long ago? You know the answer.

The Heavenly Reply: These people and children may have suffered and died but they will be compensated many times in heaven/eternal life.

My reply: But what’s the point of them suffering here on earth? Why didn’t God put them straight to heaven even before they suffered? Heaven does not justify their suffering. This act is immoral even if heaven is so good because God could’ve put them in heaven or given them eternal life without making them suffer first.

Soul-Making Theodicy: This contends that God allows evil because it builds a positive character in the victims, and this compensates for evil and suffering.

My reply: Is this how a loving God builds a positive character in its followers? I think there are still many other ways that are less evil and crude. Also, evil and suffering do not necessarily build a positive character; greater losses also occur. Families would break up, morale would go down, people would turn away from God.

The Privation response: Evil is just the absence of good just as darkness is the absence of light.

My reply: Evil is not really a privation of good. If you are hurt, say you were punched or kicked in the ass, you know it hurts. It is a positive sensation and not just the absence of pleasure. People who are numb or asleep do not feel pain, even though they experience the absence of pleasure and any other feeling.

There are also other replies to the problem of evil and suffering out there but these are the most common I encountered. Theists have a choice here. They can accept that either their God is not capable (not powerful) of helping the ones who are in need, or that their God is capable but doesn’t want to (not loving). Of course, they can also simply accept that there is no such thing as a loving and powerful God.

* * * * *

This post was originally published at discreetinfidel.blogspot.com.

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Purpose


Whenever a tragedy happens, some people say that it happened for a reason, that no matter how dreadful and catastrophic an event is, there is a purpose. Everything is part of a Grand Design. And this is one of the defenses against the problem of evil, or at least William Rowe’s version of it, which goes:

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. I read this theodicy article that did not actually attempt to answer the problem of evil but simply proposed a stalemate because, the writer claimed, we really cannot know if these evils are indeed gratuitous or unjustified since we are not omniscient. And I agree with him.

Richard Dawkins considers himself a SIX in his spectrum of theistic probability because he is a scientist. He is not claiming that there is no God but simply that God is very improbable and so he lives his life on the assumption that God does not exist. And if this is the case for a certain person, I guess he/she would agree that we really cannot know for sure if all the evils in this world do not serve some greater purpose – no matter how unlikely. (And this is why I can only respect people from TWO to SIX in Dawkins’ spectrum because they acknowledge the limits of their understanding, while those in ONE and SEVEN actually claim to know.)

But I think purpose comes after the fact, because we can make a purpose out of unfortunate events. Take a look at the typhoons and floods that killed hundreds last year, for example, or the gruesome massacre that brutally ended the lives of 57 persons. Some people would claim that they have a purpose, and part of that is to awaken the Filipinos and make them turn from their evil ways. However, I highly doubt that an omnipotent and loving deity would lack the imagination to come up with more effective and less genocidal ways to win the hearts and souls of its beloved creation. But as the most highly evolved of all creatures, we can (and we actually did) make a purpose for these tragedies so that we should not have suffered them in vain. Ondoy exposed the fatal hazards of poor (and corrupt) urban planning, reminding developers to be conscientious and citizens to be vigilant. The Maguindanao killings let the world know that there was an oppressive empire right within our country’s borders whose king and princes reigned in terror, where human rights were violated on a daily basis and everyone was too scared to talk. Now this empire is no more, and if we keep a watchful eye it will probably stay that way.

The purposes we come up with and the good they bring may not be greater than the misfortunes from which they arose, but at least we are doing something to make things a little better. After all, we are not omnipotent.

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Problem of Evil


Here is another article I wrote back when I still considered myself a liberal theist. I am now practically a deist.

Here’s an African child, about three to five years old, maybe eight or nine (it’s hard to tell the age of this little girl because starvation and disease have distorted her body and disrupted her growth). Possibly born with AIDS contracted from her mother and definitely undernourished, she has a major leg defect that causes her severe difficulty walking. But she duck walks and crawls to a UN relief camp about five miles away. Somewhere halfway her frail body starts to give up. She stops crawling, kneels, and bows down to rest her weary head on the ground, probably having the last few moments of her life.

A vulture lands nearby and patiently waits behind her, drooling in anticipation of a meal. As the child breathes her last breath, the vulture’s sharp eyes notice that all movements have stopped including the rising and falling of her abdomen as her damaged lungs desperately try to grab at thin dry air.

Now to those who believe that their religion is the only way to heaven, this child has probably never been baptized, and so her soul burns in hell even as the vulture feasts on her still-warm body, starting off with her soft entrails, then moving on to other soft parts – her eyes, her mouth, her cheeks, – and then finally tearing at her emaciated muscles until all that is left are her hair and bones.

The Problem of Evil has long been pondered and discussed by many theologians and philosophers, but it is so simple that ironically it has no simple answer, a satisfactory simple answer, that is. In simple terms, the problem of evil is summarized into the following:

If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there gratuitous or unnecessary suffering and evil in this world? Either he doesn’t want to stop it (which makes Him not all-good), or he can’t (which makes Him not all-powerful). Logically, if there is gratuitous suffering in this world, then God cannot be all-powerful and all-good at the same time. Or, as the atheists would openly conclude, God does not exist.

But the faithful offer another explanation: God has a plan that we humans simply cannot yet understand because our minds are too finite for God’s infinite wisdom. Well that’s an answer, but I doubt if everyone finds it satisfactory. Just think of the African child. All her sufferings would be useless and extremely unnecessary if her soul would eventually just burn in hell for all eternity.

I’ve always prided myself as a man who gives paramount value to logic, science, and reason. And being a Christian, the problem of evil has been an eternal bug up my theist ass. Fortunately, I also pride myself as someone who thrives in mystery, who is quite comfortable with not knowing but nevertheless continues to seek answers only to question these answers in turn. For I don’t believe that the same God who gave us intellect would demand for us to relinquish it. And so the problem of evil, though it continually hovers just above my conscious mind and occasionally manages to land and provoke my thoughts, will just be a constant shadow which will keep me on my toes as I try to shed light into it.

Yeah, I think I am getting there.

Care to share your thoughts?

innerminds.wordpress.com

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