Tag Archive | "skepticism"

Can you scare a Skeptic into believing?


One of the tactics proselytizers use to try to convert nonbelievers is the appeal to fear. What if you’re wrong? What if it turns out there really is a god and you’ve lived your life on the assumption that there isn’t? They invoke Pascal’s Wager in an attempt to scare people into believing. And this reminds me of my favorite skeptic Michael Shermer’s delightful appearance on Mr. Deity.

In that episode, Shermer has died and it turned out there was a god after all being referred to as Mr. Deity. Denied entry at the Pearly Gates, Shermer pleads his case before Mr. Deity:

Mr. Deity: The bottom line is you didn’t believe in the boy here (referring to Jesus).

Michael Shermer: Well, look, you gave me this brain to think critically. I read the Gospel stories…what about all those inconsistencies? They’re inconsistent about where he was born, who was there when he died…you know, come on.

Mr. Deity: Well maybe you were supposed to learn to walk by faith. Ever think of that, genius? Huh?

Michael Shermer: Uhm, well, sir, you remember, you created us in your image and you don’t walk by faith, do you? You walk by sound knowledge, and science is based on sound knowledge so I was trying to be more, you know, deity-like.

Mr. Deity: Yeah, but-

Michael Shermer: Plus if I said I really believed and I didn’t, you being all knowing would know that I’m lying and lying is a sin, right?

Now let’s take a look at the following definitions of believe:

1. To accept as true or real: Do you believe the news stories?

2. To credit with veracity: I believe you.

3. To expect or suppose; think: I believe they will arrive shortly.

Based on the above, it appears that belief doesn’t imply a conscious choice but rather something people arrive at as a result of some other mental process. To some people the mental process can be as simple as memorizing what an authority figure says while others use a more elaborate method of counter checking for fallacy.

While skeptics like Michael Shermer choose to scrutinize truth claims with no less than the scientific method, can the all-knowing, all-reasonable God blame them for arriving at a position of non-belief even though they did not actively choose non-belief itself? I suggest you watch the video so you’ll have an idea what to do in case you died and came face to face with God, and he isn’t happy.

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What's new with the "New Atheists?"


The “New Atheism”…wow…what’s that?

According to Wikipedia, the New Atheism refers to a 21st century movement in atheism. The term, which first appeared in the November 2006 edition of Wired magazine. It is sometimes pejoratively meant, to a series of six best-selling books by five authors that appeared in the period 2004–2008 (Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger and Christopher Hitchens)

They and other supporters of the New Atheism movement are hard-line critics of religion. They state that atheism, backed by recent scientific advancement, has reached the point where it is time to take a far less accommodating attitude toward religion, superstition, and religion-based fanaticism than had been extended by moderate atheists, secularists, and some secular scientists.

According to CNN, “What the New Atheists share is a belief that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”

Christian apologist Robert Morey wrote on his book “The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom” said, “The atheists of the old school took a rather relaxed, passive attitude toward God and the Bible. They felt that if people were foolish enough to believe in religion, that was their problem. These atheists did not feel the need to read through the Bible, desperately seeking contradictions or errors. They did not sit up night after night feverishly trying to formulate attacks against religion. They simply ignored religion. Thus modern atheists deny God’s existence because they actually hate God. They hate Him because this God demands they serve Him and fulfill the destiny He has decreed for them. This God gives man a revealed law which dictates what is right and wrong. God thus robs man of the freedom of being and choosing whatever he wants. God is viewed as the enemy that must be destroyed in order for man to reach his full potential. Instead of God being the measure of all things, man must be the measure of all things.”

So…what’s new then?

For centuries atheists, materialists and libertines have been critical with every religious claims and have been exposing errors and other ridiculous avers of certain religious doctrines.

In ancient Greece for example, the poet Diagoras of Melos broke a statue of Hercules and used it as firewood to cook turnips. The Carvaka in the 6th century BCE and Purana Kassapa attacked the Hindu doctrine of Karma. There were also Xun Zi (298-238 BCE) who questioned the uses of prayers and divinations.

Before Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett, there were those who have already criticized the Christian religion and its holy book, the Bible.

In 200 CE the pagan philosopher, Celsus challenged the belief on Neoplatonic Christianity. In his treaties “The True World”, Celsus pointed out that Christianity took most of its concepts from pagan sources and plagiarized some of its stories from early Greek ideas. Christianity, according to him was a collection of borrowed and intellectual bankrupt ideas.

In the early part of 11th century, Ibn Najjah hinted the possibility of atheism and Ibn Tufayl showed awareness in evolution.

It was quite ironic that true atheism arguments started with two Roman Catholic priests: Cristovao Ferreira and Jean Meisler. Fr. Ferreira was a former Jesuit who after being tortured by the Japanese in 1614 recanted his faith. In 1636, Ferreira wrote a small book “The Deception Revealed” which he asserted that God did not created the universe. He also stated that religion like Christianity is just an invention of men to hold powers over their fellow men.

Jean Meisler (1664-1729), once the parish priest of Etrepiquy in the Ardennes, secretly wrote volumes of testaments against God, religion, the Bible and Christianity. These testaments were published after his death in 1729 and were titled as “Common Sense”.

According to Meisler, theology is but ignorance of natural causes reduced to a system and it is an insult to human reason. He also believed that faith is irreconcilable with reason and we must prefer reason to it.

Before the coming of the renaissance period, we already have people like Anthony Collins who questioned the prophecies of the Old Testament. Peter Ammet who argued that the resurrection story was a fabrication and Charles Blount who said that heaven, hell and the concept of original sin were just invented by priests to hold over the terror-stricken masses.

Critical examinations of biblical claims were not new. William Winston (1667-1752) and Jean Astruc started it in the early part of 16th century. Astruc established the Documentary Hypothesis that gives us the explanation why Moses did not wrote the first five books of the Bible.

There were books that show Bible errors in the early part of 17th century. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) wrote “the Age of Reason” which he analyzed the Christian belief in God and the Bible. It did not stop there. Abner Kneeland, Kelsey Graves and DeLobique Montimer Bennett wrote books that criticized Christian beliefs.

Abner Kneeland was indicted on three counts of blasphemy in 1834 for publishing that the whole story of Jesus Christ was just a fable and the Bible as a pack of lies created by hypocrites. Kelsey Graves wrote books like The Bible of Bibles, The Biography of Satan and The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors. D.M.Bennett (1818-1882) was the editor of the paper Truth Seeker. He wrote a criticism about Jesus entitled “An Open Letter to Jesus Christ”. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1877.

The American Atheists have already published a book about Bible errors before the term “New Atheism” was coined by Gary Wolf. Dennis McKinsey published the magazine Biblical Errancy in 1983 while in 1990 Farrell Till edited The Skeptical Review. Now we have more in-depth issues and scholarly works in exposing Bible errors – thanks to Mr. John W. Luftus, Dr. Hector Avalos, Shmuel Golding, Gerd Ludermann and John Allegro.

Criticism to the Bible, Christianity, Jesus and God already started somewhere in 200 CE, so…what’s new with the so-called “new atheists?”

Pinoy Atheist

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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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On Reason, Rationalization, and Skepticism


It is an unwritten rule in Filipino Freethinkers that those who participate in the discussions must use reason and avoid citing dogma. And except for the occasional troll, I think this rule has been quite effective. While non sequitur arguments are still employed from time to time, I believe what matters is the attempt at using reason especially for those who, until just recently, have for so long taken for granted the factuality of certain traditional beliefs.

Proud as I am of our small but growing online community, I must emphasize that while we freethinkers practically revere Reason, sometimes what we are actually doing is rationalizing, so I guess it is important to define terms lest we confuse similar but non-synonymous words with one another:

Reason involves conscious explanation.

Reasoning as a process takes proposed explanations, considers them, contrasting them, or fitting them together in order to determine which beliefs or actions or attitudes are best.

Here the definition seems to cover both reason and rationalization, with the latter being defined as:

In psychology and logic, rationalization (or making excuses) is the process of constructing a logical justification for a belief, decision, action or lack thereof that was originally arrived at through a different mental process.

But if we look at the word rationality, we find something specific and determinate:

In philosophy, rationality and reason are the key methods used to analyze the data gathered through systematically gathered observations.

And here the difference between rationality and rationalization becomes clear. In rationalization, the belief which was “originally arrived at through a different mental process” comes first and then rational arguments are later formed to support this belief. But as for rationality, the data comes first and analysis comes second before reaching a conclusion – if it even comes to that. And here I am reminded of a brief introduction to skepticism:

Skepticism is a method, not a position.

Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some claims, such as water dowsing, ESP, and creationism, have been tested (and failed the tests) often enough that we can ‘provisionally’ conclude that they are not valid. Other claims, such as hypnosis or the origins of language, have been tested but results are inconclusive so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses and theories until we can reach a provisional conclusion.

I think most members will agree that freethought is more related to skepticism than atheism or agnosticism. Along with skepticism, freethought is a method, a way of thinking and forming beliefs; atheism and agnosticism, on the other hand, are more like the “positions” at which the freethinker or skeptic arrives.

But to people whose present beliefs are still those formed long before they were capable of rational thought, it is amazing to see how they try to rationalize now in the absence of solid evidence. They start off with a position based on religious doctrine and try to use rational arguments to back up such position. This is very hard to do considering they are performing the scientific method backwards, and I cannot help but admire the ingenuity of those who were able to keep their claims from being falsified outright. Of course, they could not prove their claims, but for one who has no real evidence, a technical stalemate is already a great achievement.

We freethinkers do not claim to be highly intelligent especially in philosophical discourse; we just learned to set aside our biases and let the observable facts speak for themselves. It takes a lot of brainpower to effectively rationalize something as confounding as the presence of gratuitous evil in the same universe where a loving and all-powerful deity supposedly exists; it only takes intellectual honesty and the continuous attempt towards unbiased rationality to become skeptical about such contradictory co-existence which can certainly cause cognitive dissonance in stubborn minds.

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When I Was Cheated


I was cheated. I was cheated when I was in school, not by my classmates but by the very exams that were supposed to measure my ratings and academic performance.

Grade 1: Math Subject

We were given an exam on multiplication. Part 1 was a timed exam due within 5 minutes. We were supposed to answer a set of items such as 8 multiplied by four and 7 times 51 using mental math. No calculators were allowed.

With a snap of a finger, the teacher shouted, “Finished or not finished, pass your papers.” I was hesitant to do so. I was not finished with ten items to fill up. But, hell, I had to move on to part 2.

The second part was easy. No time pressure. You just have to solve the problems given.  For example: Your father gave you a daily allowance of 100 pesos. How much will you be able to save in a week after spending 65 pesos a day?

The teacher checked the papers and after a day we were informed of our grades. I was given a perfect score for part 2 but the results of part 1 were devastating. Bottom line, I failed the test because part 1 had more items and thus had more bearing.

I was cheated that day. I felt that part 1 should have less bearing on exam. Why? Because part 1 is not a math exam. It doesn’t measure how good you are in applying mathematical principles. It just tests how good you are in memorizing the multiplication table.

I was not just cheated in math. I was consistently cheated in my other subjects due to the traditional belief that memory retention is the ultimate measure of academic success as thus success in later endeavors.

High School: History Subject

I was given an exam. The first part was enumeration. I had to write down names of Filipino Heroes. There was a question: Who was the Filipino hero who killed Magellan? I was tempted to answer Lapu Lapu because that was written in the history book that we were asked to memorize. I didn’t answer Lapu Lapu. Why? Because I believe he was not a Filipino in the first place. There was no national identity back then, only tribal identity.

This is just my opinion and I may be wrong. What bothers me is not just that we are expected to memorize what is written in our textbooks but that we are also expected to believe what’s written as if it was the ultimate truth.

I’m sure you can relate to what I am saying: that one time or another, we are expected to memorize and believe what our teachers and textbooks say. We are taught to believe that what’s written in our textbooks are ultimate truths and that memorizing these texts will make us succeed later in life. This is misleading because wrong measures lead to wrong results.

If we make our children memorize the multiplication table instead of making them understand the application of mathematical principles, we are inhibiting their learning and analyzing skills, making them good memory chips but poor mathematicians. If we strictly enforce the ideas of our social science textbooks to our children as if these were ultimate truths, we are prohibiting them to think independently.

Yes, the educational system sucks and we are all cheated. But the fact that you are reading this article right now is a proof that you keep an open mind and that you search for learning beyond the classroom walls of traditional education. You reflect on what you do and why you do it or why you believe what you believe. Instead of asking what, when and where, you ask the more important questions of how and why. How we all wish others would ask these questions too.

We are freethinkers. We were cheated once before and we do not want to be cheated again.

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The Greatest Love of All


I was preparing my first cup of coffee for the day when my ears picked up that song by Jamie Rivera, Tell The World of His Love. I admit this was one of my favorite religious songs; it even put tears in my eyes whenever I heard this song because of the “powerful” message it conveys.

That was before.

“For God so loved the world
He gave us His only Son
Jesus Christ our Savior
His most precious one”

The story of how god “sacrificed” his only son to save us from our sins is a central belief in Christianity. This story is appealing to many people who see it as the ultimate example of love and god’s goodness. But then again, is it?

I have three problems with Jesus’ crucifixion story; they are the following:

1. Jesus didn’t stay dead, did he?

Sacrificing your life (or your son’s life) could be considered as the greatest love of all, but the problem with the Bible story is that Jesus was resurrected after three days. It’s not even a sacrifice in the same way as those firemen who sacrificed their lives (and the future of their loved ones) whenever they respond to a fire scene. How could we consider it as the ultimate sacrifice when god himself knew that Jesus would rise again after three days? I firmly believe that most people, given the chance, will choose to torture and “kill” their only son to save the entire human race from damnation provided that their son will return in mint condition after three days.

2. He died because of our sin which was supposed to originate from the fall of Adam and Eve.

“Why did god put the tree of knowledge in the garden?”

“Why did he create it (the tree of knowledge) in the first place?”

I remember when I asked this question to a religious group. They replied with “that’s a good question, give us your number, and we’ll text you so that you could attend our worship service and then you can ask our pastor”. Unfortunately, they never contacted me. The story of the origin of sin and the subsequent redemption of Christ is one of the most absurd stories I know. Humans made the mistake of eating the fruit of a tree that god himself put there (and god even introduced it to humans) and he can only forgive us by murdering his son who will eventually rise from the dead.

Ezekiel 18:20 states thatThe person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him.

3. The crucifixion itself.

God was supposed to be the creator of everything and yet, for some reason, the only way he could think of redeeming us is through the death of his only son. We should kill his son so he could forgive us. Can’t god think of any better (and more humane) way for human redemption? Anyone who watched Mel Gibson’s very graphic movie Passion of the Christ will never take crucifixion lightly again. Calling it murder is an understatement. It is also interesting to note that most people find the ritual sacrifice of animals as terrible and yet they applaud the human sacrifice of the Bible. Can’t god just give us another way? One that doesn’t include murder and blood sacrifice?

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Atheists are Rascals! (Part 3)


essential_hinduism_thumbIn this post I will be dealing with the ISKCON’s misinterpretation and smear on atheism from their article, “The History and Analysis of Atheism”.

1. The nature of atheism is degrading: its practice leads to bondage and suffering (duhkha) because of an attachment to matter, which degrades (entropy). Matter cannot be a source of anything higher – order, development, or life (which cannot appear by chance).

2. Happiness through atheism is impossible, as it is not in harmony with the nature of person, society, universe, and God (dharma).

The following statements have nothing to do with the nature of atheism. Atheism is about not believing in the existence of gods or a god. Slanderous remarks don’t answer the atheist’s questions concerning the existence of a supernatural deity.

Unlike the average Hare Krishna cult member, the atheist has a sense of `his relative importance’ in the great chain of Nature – and he doesn’t need to use drugs like LSD to feel it. Happiness can be achieved even if you don’t believe in a supernatural higher up. He is not ruled by guilt and suffering to enjoy his life. Well…suffering and sacrifice are really part of religious life.

3. Atheism is a belief system.
A belief system consists of a mandatory philosophical system. Atheism does not have a mandatory philosophical system. In a layman’s language, a mandatory philosophical system means a philosophy in which a person lives.

Well…I am an atheist but the atheist who sits next to me may have a different view regarding morality. Some believe in an objective morality (See Michael Martin and Sam Harris regarding objective morality) while other atheists believe in a relative morality. Some atheists are communists, while others are objectivists. Some atheist abhors religion while others do not. There is no definite connection on what atheists believe…except they do not believe that gods exists.

4. Offensive atheism” and “defensive atheism”
There is no such thing as “offensive” and “defensive” atheism.

5. By definition, atheism is the world-view that denies the existence of God. To be more specific, traditional atheism (or offensive atheism) positively affirms that there never was, is not now, and never will be a God in or beyond the world.

A worldview is a particular philosophy of life; a concept of the world held by an individual or a group. Since atheism is not a philosophy then we can say that atheism is not a world-view. It may be a part of a certain worldview but atheism per se doesn’t constitute the whole picture.

A worldview is also defined as the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influence one’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing. Atheism doesn’t constitute a set of beliefs but rather it is just non-belief.

6. The atheist cannot logically prove God’s nonexistence. And here’s why: to know that a transcendent God does not exist would require a perfect knowledge of all things (omniscience). To attain this knowledge would require simultaneous access to all parts of the world and beyond (omnipresence). Therefore, to be certain of the atheist’s claim one would have to possess godlike characteristics. Obviously, mankind’s limited nature precludes these special abilities. The offensive atheist’s dogmatic claim is therefore unjustifiable. As logician Mortimer Adler has pointed out, the atheist’s attempt to prove a universal negative is a self-defeating proposition.

The problem with this article is that it doesn’t have any idea what atheism is. Come on…to disbelieve something does not entail a person to be omniscient. In addition, in contrast to the article, we always prove negatives…we do it all the time. If I say that there are only bananas in my lunch box, I also prove that there are no apples in my lunch box. Remember, every positive statement implies negative statements.

There are two ways to prove the non-existence of something…like god or gods: i.) if it leads to a logical contradiction and ii.) by carefully seeing and looking.

Example: A mananaggal (vicera sucker) does not exist. Can I prove it? Sure, I can. We can prove it because of its impossibility. There are no known living thing that can fly by separating its lower torso and survive. Right? Moreover, we know that aerodynamically speaking, the body of a human being cannot fly using giant bat-wings.

Flying carpets do not exist because it is aerodynamically impossible.

Logically speaking, a perpetual motion machine cannot exist. There are no married bachelors and a four-sided triangle does not exist.

Negative existential proposition, a proposition that denies the existence of something, is impossible to be proven.

That is according to Alder as promoted by the ISKCON article. However, there are ways to do it…and I bet the author of the ISKCON article has not discovered it yet…

As suggested by Adler in his book Truth in Religion, “articles of faith” are propositions that cannot be proved but can be “disproved by the proof of propositions that are their logical contraries or contradictories. For example, the belief of the Mormons that Joseph Smith received the golden tablets from God is an “article of faith” since it cannot be proven.

However, as said by Adler, it can be disproved by a contradictory. According to the Judeo-Christian Bible, there is only one God. The same claim can also be seen from the Muslim camp. Well that means the Christian God and the Islamic God cannot exist simultaneously. Thus, both religions are making a positive existential claim and both are making an implicit negative claim that gods contrary to their god do not exist.

The “nail in the head” of Adler’s claim that negative existential propositions cannot be proven is the fact that the claim that “negative existential proposition cannot be proven” is itself a negative existential proposition!

This point can be forcefully emphasized by asking the atheist if he has ever visited the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The library presently contains over 70 million items (books, magazines, journals, etc.). Hundreds of thousands of these were written by scholars and specialists in the various academic fields. Then ask the following questions: “What percentage of the collective knowledge recorded in the volumes in this library would you say are within your own pool of knowledge and experience?” The atheist will likely respond, “I don’t know. I guess a fraction of one percent.” You can then ask: “Do you think it is logically possible that God may exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?” Even if the atheist refuses to admit the possibility, you have made your point and he knows it.

This is quite very easy. The atheist could also simply ask the Hare Krishna cult member, “Do you think it is logically possible that God may not exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?”

If the theist is going to claim that all propositions having any kind of deductive relationship to “god exists” are outside of what we know, then that is his burden of proof to show he is right.

7. Many atheists consider the problem of evil an airtight proof that God does not exist. They often say something like: “I know there is no God because if He exists, He never would have allowed all those atrocities in history to happen.”

A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: “Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world. So let me ask you: by what criteria do you judge some things to be evil and other things not to be evil?

The best way here is to define evil. What is evil? In a simple layman’s term, evil is that which causes harm or destruction or misfortune. Evil is morally objectionable behavior… Oh I forgot, ISKCON doesn’t believe in morality… (“But, in the highest sense, there can be neither good nor evil” – Bhagavad-Gita, 140).

To deny the existence of evil or to claim that evil is an illusion does not make the problem of evil go away. An illusion of evil is still evil, therefore, if there is an illusion of evil, there is evil.

Remember that one can only know that all is an illusion against the backdrop of reality. Example, a mirage can be considered an illusion based on the effect of hot air in atmospheric refraction. The hot air in the atmospheric refraction is real. So if evil is an illusion then where did the illusion originate? How did the illusion originate, and how is it passed down to successive generations? Why does everyone experience it from his or her first moment of consciousness? Pain or evil is part of the human experience and is encountered by all. What happened in Hurracane Katrina, on 9/11 and on the tsunami that killed thousand in South Asia are not illusions.

A simple torment of a toothache is not imaginary. The experience is real and the damage (cavities) is present. These are not subjective hallucinations. Dentists do not extract figments of the imagination.

Then point out to him that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good.

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of “absolutely good.” If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one can judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.

Secular ethics does not require god belief. The problem here lies that the article’s “infinite reference point” is a god who is said to be “an absolute”. In atheism, there is no need for an “infinite reference point” to distinguish good and evil. Good and bad actions are objectively based on the biological nature of human beings and are definable in absolute terms. Those objective standards are independent of any opinions or creeds.

It’s really this simple: Without living beings with needs, there can be no good or evil. Without the presence of more than one such living being, there can be no rules of conduct. Morality, then, emerges from humanity precisely because it exists to serve humanity.

Therefore, any chosen action that purposely benefits the human organism or society is morally good and any chosen action that purposely harms the human organism and society is morally bad.

8. Many sophisticated atheists today are fully aware of the philosophical pitfalls connected to offensive or dogmatic atheism. Prominent atheists such as Gordon Stein and Carl Sagan have admitted that God’s existence cannot be disproved. This has led such atheists to advocate skeptical “defensive atheism”. Defensive atheism asserts that while God’s existence cannot be logically or empirically disproved, it is nevertheless unproven. Atheists of this variety have actually redefined atheism to mean “an absence of belief in God” rather than “a denial of God’s existence”. For this more moderate type of atheism, the concept of “God” is like that of a unicorn, leprechaun, or elf. While they cannot be disproved, they remain unproven. Defensive atheism’s unbelief is grounded in the rejection of the proofs for God’s existence, and/or the belief that the concept of God lacks logical consistency.

Atheists can logically disprove the existence of a god. One known method is called The Argument of Incoherence (AKA Incompatible Properties Argument). The argument attempts to derive contradictions in the concept of God.

How about empirically disprove the existence of god? The argument from Physical Minds is a nice argument on the impossibility of a disembodied mind without the association of a material brain.

According to Gordon Stein, “Obviously, if theism is a belief in a God and atheism is a lack of a belief in a God, no third position or middle ground is possible. A person can either believe or not believe in a God.” (Gordon Stein, “The Meaning of Atheism and Agnosticism,” in G. Stein, editor, An anthology of atheism and rationalism, with introduction (Prometheus Books: Buffalo NY 1980).

Now here’s a quote on what Carl Sagan thinks about God, “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

So when did Dr. Sagan and Gordon Stein say that god’s existence couldn’t be disproved? I don’t know…maybe it was an illusion of the ISCKON article.

Oh and by the way, atheists don’t re-invent the meaning of the word atheism as this ISCKON article allege. Atheism is not a denial of the theist’s claims; it’s skepticism of the theist’s claim.

9. Atheism cannot adequately explain the existence of the world.

Neither do theists.

10. An atheistic world is ultimately random, disorderly, transitive, and volatile. It is therefore incapable of providing the necessary preconditions to account for the laws of science, the universal laws of logic, and the human need for absolute moral standards. In short, it cannot account for the meaningful realities we encounter in life.
The theistic world-view, however, can explain these transcendental aspects of life. The uniformity of nature stems from God’s orderly design of the universe. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God Himself thinks, and would have us to think as well.

A so-called transcendental aspect of life is an illusion. Supernatural and spiritual explanations only act as a temporary break from inquiries that enter the human mind. Speculations regarding transcendental aspects are empty. There are really no answers to something that is claimed to be beyond natural.

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Pain of Not Knowing


The Road Less Traveled author M. Scott Peck, MD wrote something about the “pain of not knowing”. I don’t remember much of it other than that an information vacuum makes us uncomfortable – in pain, even – and we tend to fill the gaps with conjectures and presumptions. While perhaps most people recognize these “fillers” as mere speculation, I suppose some treat them as incontestable truth. It’s easy to fall into this comfort of “knowing”, and I think most if not all of us had at one time or another been guilty of this self-delusion.

While most misconceptions are often harmless or merely annoying such as wrongly assuming a person’s position or civil status, some tend to be fatal like wrongly convicting a man to death based on “proof” beyond reasonable doubt.

I remember the article Is Psychology A Science by Paul Lutus because it clearly distinguishes the legal from the scientific connotations of proof and evidence. Let me cite the following excerpt:

The legal definition of evidence is (as one example) a set of observations that appear to associate a particular person with a particular event. Typically, legal proceedings begin with an investigation meant to collect evidence, followed by a trial that establishes whether that evidence meets a criterion – “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal proceedings, and “according to the preponderance of evidence” in civil proceedings (in the US). This, by the way, is why O. J. Simpson was found innocent in criminal court, but found guilty in a subsequent civil proceeding – using the same evidence, he wasn’t guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but he was guilty “according to the preponderance of evidence.”

In an embarrassing and tragic number of cases, innocent people have been placed on death row (and sometimes executed) based on evidence that, notwithstanding the innocence of the convict, met the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, when evaluated by a jury of 12 upstanding citizens, people whom we shall charitably assume paid no mind to the color of the defendant’s skin. Relatively recently, new ways of gathering evidence – like DNA testing – have proven the innocence of a fortunate few death-row inmates, and others who might have gone unpunished have been arrested.

The point here is that legal evidence is not remotely scientific evidence. Contrary to popular belief, science doesn’t use sloppy evidentiary standards like “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and scientific theories never become facts. This is why the oft-heard expression “proven scientific fact” is never appropriateit only reflects the scientific ignorance of the speaker. Scientific theories are always theories, they never become the final and only explanation for a given phenomenon.

Ah, theories. Always theories. Never become facts. How uncomfortable that must be to most people. And how painful it must be to quite a few.

Of course, assumptions are necessary for us to operate at all. And if we keep on saying “I don’t know”, no conversation will last more than a minute. And so we say “I don’t know exactly, but I suppose…”

Nevertheless, the freethinker should be vigilant against our tendency to delude ourselves into thinking that our assumptions are always correct. (I remember a line from Silence of the Lambs about how the word assume means putting an ass in front of u and me.)

And when it comes to our beliefs, how we arrived at a certain belief is just as important – probably more important – than the belief itself.

* * * * *

This article was originally published at innerminds.wordpress.com

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A Simple Straight to the Fact Answer Will Do.


the_power_of_prayer4I don’t know…maybe it’s a good way to escape dilemmas. We call it here in the Philippines as “pa-pogi points”. Obviously, majority of their cult followers are either dumb or stupid to figure it out. But try reading Christian apologist reactions here in the Internet and you will notice that they are not answering questions. They are just …well …it sounded more like senseless, pretentious babbles (“ngak-ngak!”) to me.

One good example can be found on how a certain Eliseo Soriano tried to answer one of atheism simple inquiry, “Why won’t God heal amputees”?

First Mr. Soriano called the question as “stupid”. Hmmmm…so since you can’t answer the question, it becomes stupid huh? But I don’t blame Mr. Soriano, it’s a common Christian apologist tactic. Norman Giesler called the Paradox of the Stone as a meaningless question.

Now let us tackle the question “Why won’t God heal amputees?”
Bible idolaters believe that a pious Christian can ask God anything. Nothing is impossible to God (if it exist). Jesus Christ is even too generous to provide us his explanation. According to Jesus, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)
Now in this scenario, a Christian prayed hard to God to make his severe limb grow back again…something like a lizard’s tail or a crab’s claw.
Christians agree that God works in a mysterious, supernatural way. Now, when we talk about supernatural, we’re talking about events not considered to be normal…hmmmm just like a miracle. Something is said to be supernatural if it’s beyond any scientific explanation. If a person’s severe limb grows back, well…we can consider it a supernatural event.

The Bible is full of these alleged supernatural acts of God. Talking donkeys, sticks that turned into living snakes, dead people rising from the grave, iron ax head that floats on water and people walking on water… Sure sounded like things from that T.V. show The X-Files, right? Anyway, a severed arm growing back may be considered a supernatural miracle. Any person who doubts the existence of a god will sure buy the whole shebang if he will see some feat like that.

Now how many times an atheist will tell these Christian charlatans, “justifying God’s existence just by reading Bible chapter and verses will not achieved anything.” If a guy rationalize the existence of a god base on Biblical fairy-tales…well that will automatically make the reality of Spider-Man and The Batman possible. So an event such as a growing arm replacing a lost one will surely be a hit! Not only does a god proved his powers to his devouted, delusional followers but also proved his existence beyond reasonable doubt.

Bear in mind the Bible claim that 1.) Nothing is impossible to God, 2.) That faith can move mountains and 3.) Prayer works.

Yet until now, there is no such event. Even sites said to be phenomenal such as Fatima and Lourdes, there is not a single case of an amputee miraculously been restored a new leg or arm. Not even a detached finger! Even in the pages of the Bible, you will by no means find a story of an amputee growing back any lost limbs (yet dead guys walking out of the grave like zombies are too numerous). Christian evangelists and apologists would love to tell non-believers about the power of their god by telling stories of how supernaturally the Red Sea parted and how the Sun stops moving, yet you won’t find a single case of God regenerating a severed arm or leg of his favorite people. So is that such an impossible act for an all-powerful, omnipotent God?

So sorry to dissapoint you Mr. Soriano but the question is still not answered. Your long and dull explanation and biblical canting haven’t satisfies the inquiry. Oh and by the way, the question is not stupid as you have indicted. The reply needs a good explanation…and giving a very lengthy Bible apology is a very shoddy way of dodging the issue.

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The Atheist Professor with no Brain ?


atheistDoug Kreuger has expanded the well-known Christian legend of the atheist philosophy professor who is unable to prove that he has a brain. (Special thanks to Steven Carr for this post.)

“LET ME EXPLAIN THE problem science has with Jesus Christ.” The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand. “You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you believe in God?”

“Absolutely.”

“Is God good?”

“Sure! God’s good.”

“Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?”

“Yes.”

“Are you good or evil?”

“The Bible says I’m evil.”

The professor grins knowingly. “Ahh! THE BIBLE!” He considers for a moment.

“Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here, and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help them? Would you try?”

“Yes sir, I would.”

“So you’re good…!”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Why not say that? You would help a sick and maimed person if you could…in fact most of us would if we could… God doesn’t.”

No answer.

“He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?”

No answer.

The elderly man is sympathetic. “No, you can’t, can you?” He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. In philosophy, you have to go easy with the new ones. “Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”

“Er… Yes.”

“Is Satan good?”

“No.”

“Where does Satan come from?”

The student falters. “From…God…”

“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he?” The elderly man runs his bony fingers through his thinning hair and turns to the smirking, student audience. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this semester, ladies and gentlemen.” He turns back to the Christian. “Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? Did God make everything?”

“Yes.”

“Who created evil?”

No answer.

“Is there sickness in this world? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All the terrible things – do they exist in this world?”

The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”

“Who created them?”

No answer.

The professor suddenly shouts at his student. “WHO CREATED THEM? TELL ME, PLEASE!” The professor closes in for the kill and climb into the Christian’s face.

In a still small voice: “God created all evil, didn’t He, son?” No answer. The student tries to hold the steady, experienced gaze and fails.

Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace the front of the classroom like an aging panther. The class is mesmerized. “Tell me,” he continues, “How is it that this God is good if He created all evil throughout all time?” The professor swishes his arms around to encompass the wickedness of the world. “All the hatred, the brutality, all the pain, all the torture, all the death and ugliness and all the suffering created by this good God is all over the world, isn’t it, young man?”

No answer.

“Don’t you see it all over the place? Huh?” Pause. “Don’t you?” The professor leans into the student’s face again and whispers, “Is God good?”

No answer.

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”

The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor. I do.”

The old man shakes his head sadly. “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen your Jesus?”

“No, sir. I’ve never seen Him.”

“Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”

“No, sir. I have not.”

“Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus… In fact, do you have any sensory perception of your God whatsoever?”

No answer.

“Answer me, please.”

“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“You’re AFRAID… you haven’t?”

“No, sir.”

“Yet you still believe in him?”

“…yes…”

“That takes FAITH!” The professor smiles sagely at the underling. “According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son? Where is your God now?”

The student doesn’t answer.

“Sit down, please.”

The Christian sits…Defeated.

Another Christian raises his hand. “Professor, may I address the class?”
The professor turns and smiles. “Ah, another Christian in the vanguard! Come, come, young man. Speak some proper wisdom to the gathering.”
The Christian looks around the room. “Some interesting points you are making, sir. Now I’ve got a question for you. Is there such thing as heat?”
‘Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat.”

“Is there such a thing as cold?”
“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”

“No, sir, there isn’t.”

The professor’s grin freezes. The room suddenly goes very cold.

The second Christian continues. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold, otherwise we would be able to go colder than 458 – You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

“Silence.
A pin drops somewhere in the classroom. “Is there such a thing as darkness, professor?”

“That’s a dumb question, son. What is night if it isn’t darkness? What are you getting at…?”

“So you say there is such a thing as darkness?”

“Yes…”

“You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something, it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly, you have nothing, and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, Darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker and give me a jar of it. Can you…give me a jar of darker darkness, professor?”

Despite himself, the professor smiles at the young effrontery before him.
This will indeed be a good semester. “Would you mind telling us what your point is, young man?”

“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with and so your conclusion must be in error….”

The professor goes toxic. “Flawed…? How dare you…!”

“Sir, may I explain what I mean?” The class is all ears.

“Explain… oh, explain…” The professor makes an admirable effort to regain control. Suddenly he is affability itself. He waves his hand to silence the class, for the student to continue.

“You are working on the premise of duality,” the Christian explains. “That for example there is life and then here’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science cannot even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism but has never seen, much less fully understood them. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, merely the absence of it.” The young man holds up a newspaper he takes from the desk of a neighbor who has been reading it. “Here is one of the most disgusting tabloids this country hosts, professor. Is there such a thing as immorality?”

“Of course there is, now look…”

“Wrong again, sir. You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality. Is there such thing as injustice? No. Injustice is the absence of justice. Is there such a thing as evil?” The Christian pauses. “Isn’t evil the absence of good?”

The professor’s face has turned an alarming color. He is so angry he is temporarily speechless.

The Christian continues. “If there is evil in the world, professor, and we all agree there is, then God, if he exists, must be accomplishing a work through the agency of evil. What is that work, God is accomplishing? The Bible tells us it is to see if each one of us will, of our own free will, choose good over evil.”

The professor bridles. “As a philosophical scientist, I don’t view this matter as having anything to do with any choice; as a realist, I absolutely do not recognize the concept of God or any other theological factor as being part of the world equation because God is not observable.”

“I would have thought that the absence of God’s moral code in this world is probably one of the most observable phenomena going,” the Christian replies. “Newspapers make billions of dollars reporting it every week! Tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?”

“If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.”

“Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?”
The professor makes a sucking sound with his teeth and gives his student a silent, stony stare. “Professor. Since no-one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a priest?”

“I’ll overlook your impudence in the light of our philosophical discussion. Now, have you quite finished?” the professor hisses.

“So you don’t accept God’s moral code to do what is righteous?”
“I believe in what is – that’s science!”

“Ahh! SCIENCE!” the student’s face spits into a grin. “Sir, you rightly state that science is the study of observed phenomena. Science too is a premise which is flawed…”

“SCIENCE IS FLAWED..?” the professor splutters.

The class is in uproar. The Christian remains standing until the commotion has subsided. “To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, may I give you an example of what I mean?”

The professor wisely keeps silent.

The Christian looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?”

The class breaks out in laughter.

The Christian points towards his elderly, crumbling tutor. “Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain… felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain?”

No one appears to have done so.

The Christian shakes his head sadly. “It appears no-one here has had any sensory perception of the professor’s brain whatsoever. Well, according to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says the professor has no brain.”

The class is in chaos. The Christian sits… Because that is what a chair is for.

The professor, amused at the student’s antics, asks the student whether he’s ever read anything about science.

“No,” says the student. “I only know what I’ve heard in church.”

“That explains your ignorance about what science is, young man,” says the professor. “Empirical knowledge of something does not always entail direct observation. We can observe the effects of something and know that it must exist. Electrons have not been observed, but they can create an observable trail that can be observed, so we can know they exist.”

“Oh,” said the Christian.

“No one has observed my heart, but we can hear it beating. We also know from empirical knowledge of people that no one can live without a heart, real or manufactured, or at least not without being also hooked up to some medical equipment. So we can know that I have a heart even though we have not seen it.”

“Oh, I see. That makes sense,” said the Christian student.

“Similarly, we can know that I have a brain. I wouldn’t be able to talk, walk, and so on unless I had one, would I?” said the professor.

“I guess not.”

“In fact, if I had no brain I couldn’t do anything at all. Except maybe become a televangelist!”

The class broke up with laughter. Even the Christian laughed.
“Evolution is known to be true because of evidence,” continued the professor. “It is the best explanation for the fossil record. Even prominent creationists admit that the transition from reptiles to mammals is well documented in the fossil record. A creationist debate panel, including Michael Behe and Philip Johnson, conceded this on a televised debate on PBS. It was on Buckley’s “Firing Line” show. Did you see it?”

The Christian student cleared his throat and said in a low voice, “My mom won’t let me watch educational TV. She thinks it will weaken my faith.”

The professor shook his head sadly. “Knowledge does have a way of doing that,” he said. “But in any case, evolution is also the best explanation for phenomena that have been observed.”

The Christian student sputters, “You–you mean we HAVE seen it?”
“Of course. Evolution has occured within recent times, and it continues to occur. Birds and insects not native to Hawaii were introduced just a couple of centuries ago and have evolved to take better advantage of the different flora. So this evolution has taken place within recorded history. Recent history. Did you know that?”

“Uh, no.”

“Viruses other diseases evolve to become resistant to medicine. This is not only observed but it is a major problem that science must confront every day. Mosquitos in the tunnels of London’s underground have evolved to become separate species because of their isolation from other groups of mosquitos. But enough about evolution. That doesn’t have anything to do with our issue, evil, does it?”

“Well…”

“What does it have to do with our issue?” asked the professor.

“Well, if you don’t believe in god, then you must believe we came from apes.”

The professor laughed. “Evolutionists don’t believe that people came from apes or even monkeys. They believe that humans and apes had a common ancestor.”

“Wow!” said the Christian. “That’s not what they told me at church.”
“I’m sure. They can’t refute evolution so they have to spread misinformation about it. But don’t you know that many Christians believe that god made humans by evolution?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“In fact, of the four people who debated the evolution side on PBS, on William F. Buckley’s ‘Firing Line,’ which I just mentioned, two of them were theists. One of them is a reverend, in fact.”

“Really?”

“Really. Many denominations of Christianity embrace evolution.

Catholicism, the largest denomination of Christianity, is compatible with evolution. So evolution is not relevant here, is it?”

“I guess not.”

“Even if it were true that you have to be an atheist to believe evolution, which is not the case, and even if it were the case that evolution was unsupported by evidence, which is also not the case, this would not explain evil at all, would it. It is irrelevant.”

“I see that now,” said the Christian. “I don’t even know why I brought it up. I guess I thought it was an example of how you believe something without evidence.”

“Well,” said the professor. “As you can see, it is not. There is plenty of evidence for evolution. And even if there were no evidence, this has no bearing on the issue of evil. As we proceed through the philosophy course, you will see how to use your reasoning ability to separate important issues from irrelevant ones.”

“I’m guess learning already,” said the student, looking at the floor.
“But back to the problem of evil,” said the professor. “You stated that evil is the absence of good. How does that solve the problem of evil?”
The student said lifelessly: “If evil is the absence of good, then god did not create evil.” It was evident that this was something the student had learned by rote and had often repeated.

The professor shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, let’s suppose for the moment that this is true. This still does not explain evil. If a tidal wave wipes out a whole town, and 100,000 people die, is that evil?”
“There is the absence of good,” said the student.

“But so what? The problem is why god did not prevent the disaster. If god is all-powerful he can prevent it, and if he is all-knowing he knows that it is about to happen. So whether he created the tidal wave is not relevant. What we want to know is why he did not do anything to stop it.”

The student looked confused. “But why should he prevent it? It’s not his fault.”

“If a human being had the power to prevent a tidal wave wiping out a town, and this person intentionally failed to stop it, we would not say that the person is good. Even if the person said, ‘It’s not my fault,’ we would be appalled that someone could stand by and do nothing as thousands die. So if god does not prevent natural disasters, and he is able to do so, we should not say that god is good by the same reasoning. In fact, we would probably say that god is evil.”

The Christian student thought for a moment. “I guess I’d have to agree.”

“So redefining evil as the absence of good does nothing to solve the problem of evil,” said the professor. “At best it shows that god did not create it, but this does not explain why god does not prevent it.”
The Christian student shook a finger at the professor. “But that’s according to our human standards. What if god has a higher morality? We can’t judge him by our standards.”

The professor laughed. “Then you just lost your case. If you admit that god does not fit our definition of good, then we should not call him good. Case closed.”

“I don’t understand,” said the student, wrinkling his brow.

“If I go outside and see a vehicle with four tires, a metal body, a steering wheel, a motor and so on, and it fits the definition of a car, is it a car?” “Of course it is,” said the Christian student. “That’s what a car is.”

“But what if someone says that on some other definition it could be considered an airplane. Does that mean it’s not a car?”

“No,” said the student. “It still fits the definition of a car. That’s what we mean by saying that it’s a car. It doesn’t fit the definition of an airplane, so we shouldn’t call it that.”

“Exactly,” said the professor. “If it fits the definition, then that’s what it is. If god fits the definition of good, then he is good. If he does not, then he is not. If you admit that he does not fit our definition of good, then he is not good. It does no good to say that he could be ‘good’ in some other definition. If we want to know whether he is good by our definition, you have answered that question. God is not good.”

“I don’t believe it!” said the Christian student. “A few minutes ago I would have laughed at the suggestion that god is not good, but now I actually agree. God doesn’t fit the definition of good, so he’s not good.”
“There you go,” said the professor.

“But wait a minute,” said the student. “God could still be good in some other definition even if we don’t call him good. Despite what we think, god could still have his own morality that says he’s good. Even if we couldn’t call him good, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t good on some definition. He could have his own definition anyway.”

“Oh, you would not want to push the view that god might be good in some other definition,” said the professor.

“Why not?” “Well, if he has definitions of things that are radically different from our own, he might have a different definition of lots of other things. He might have his own definitions of such things as eternal reward, or eternal life. Your supposed eternal life in heaven might just be a year, or it could be a thousand years of torture. God could just say he has a definition of reward that includes excruciating torture as part of the definition.”

“That’s right!” said the Christian, jumping up. His eyes were wide open. “If god can redefine any word, then anything goes. God could send all believers to what we call hell and say that it is heaven. He could give us ten days in heaven and say that that’s his definition of eternity!”

“Now you’re thinking!” said the professor, pointing a finger at the student. “This is what a philosophy class is supposed to do for students.”

The Christian student continued. “God could promise us eternal life and then not give it to us and say that’s his definition of keeping a promise!”

“Yes, yes,” said the professor.

“I can’t believe I used to fall for this Christianity stuff. It’s so indefensible,” said the student, shaking his head. “Just a few moment’s thought and all the arguments that my church gave me in Sunday school just collapse.”

“So it would seem,” said the professor.

“I’m going to go to my church tonight and give the pastor a piece of my mind. They never tell me about important stuff like this. And they sure didn’t tell me the truth about evolution!”

The student, who stood up as a Christian, now sat down as an atheist. And he started using his brain–because that’s what it’s for. The other students in the class sat there, stunned, for a few moments. They knew they had witnessed the changing of a person’s life, the redirection of a young mind from falsehood and religious dogma to the honest pursuit of truth.

The students looked at each other and then began applauding. This soon gave way to cheering. The professor took a bow, laughing. When the students calmed down he continued his lecture, and class attendance was high for the rest of the semester.

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What Return Can I Make?


Here is something I wrote back when I still considered myself a liberal theist. Although I’m now practically a deist who is rather skeptical about a Creator’s intervention beyond causing the Big Bang, I still stand with most of what I said albeit not quite as smugly. More importantly, I believe there are a few noteworthy points here that the freethinker might find interesting.

* * * * *

Lately I’ve been renewing my spirituality (I did not say “religion”) and what’s rather ironic about it is that it all started when I stumbled upon some atheist blogs and a discussion about the Problem of Evil.

Although I have always maintained that I am a Christian albeit a non-traditional one, I do admire the atheists’ and agnostics’ attitude towards the search for Truth by practicing Freethought – a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. (Wikipedia)

Ah, science, logic, and reason instead of authority, tradition, or dogma. One thing the atheists mock about the fundamentalists is the latter’s preference to dogma over reason. And that’s the same reason why so many young Christians question their beliefs and then feel guilty for not being steadfast in their faith. Some of them take the first scary step in the journey seeking Truth while others abandon science in favor of authority and end up still feeling guilty and thirsty for answers.

I am going to share something I read from Scott Peck’s book several years ago because it attempts to answer the questions begged by the previous paragraph. Of course I could also just direct you to the link here but that would be plain laziness on my part. Besides, it’s a rather long article and I do not want to take so much time and energy from my dear readers, and so I will try to paraphrase and condense it from what I understand, interjecting my own personal experiences. It’s called the Stages of Spiritual Growth.

Stage 1: Chaotic, Antisocial

All children are born into this stage, but some reach adulthood without ever leaving it. These are the people who submit to nothing but their own free will and have no beliefs or principles, and their relationships with other people are often manipulative and self-serving.

Stage 2: Formal, Institutional, Fundamental

Because of the chaotic life in Stage 1, some people experience intense psychological pain or get into trouble and end up converting into Stage 2 by joining or being committed to an institution – military, school, an organization, jail, a church. Stage 2 people follow rules but do not care to think about the reasons behind them. They do not want to hear anyone question the beliefs they hold so dearly especially if it is a logical, valid question, because the institution with its dogma is the only thing preventing these people from falling back into the chaotic life in State 1, and they especially do not want that. (Some criminals, when caught and imprisoned, quickly turn into model prisoners and given early paroles, only to commit another crime on the first day of their release. That’s because they rely solely on the institution – prison – and have no principles of their own.)

Stage 3: Skeptic, Individual

When Stage 2 people marry and raise a family, their children often become Stage 2 at a very early age. But as they grow into their teens they become so used to order that they tend to take for granted the rules and beliefs of their parents and even question these beliefs. Here they are already into Stage 3, the truth seeker. For the Stage 2 people, Stage 3 is the same as Stage 1 – non-believers – and so they would try to convert them with their doctrines, only to end up getting ridiculed. But Stage 1 and Stage 3 are very much different even though they both do not submit to an institution or dogma. Because while Stage 1 people submit only to their own free will, people in Stage 3 submit to something higher: Truth.

People in Stage 3 are often atheists or at least agnostics because they are very logical and scientific. Let’s face it: until now we still cannot scientifically prove that there is a God. There are many personal testimonies about experiences with Grace of course, but they are never enough to let us arrive at a conclusion based on scientific method, which demands that the outcome must be repeatable in a laboratory-controlled experiment (like water always boiling at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level or at one atmosphere of pressure). Now there are many who claim that God took away their cancer, but not all who pray are healed.

Stage 4 – Mystic, Communal

Since this is a rather complicated stage, I would like to quote directly from the book instead of using my own words:

If people in Stage III seek truth deeply and widely enough, they find what they are looking for–enough pieces to begin to be able to fit them together, but never enough to complete the whole puzzle. In fact, the more pieces they find, the larger and more magnificent the puzzle becomes. Yet they are able to get glimpses of the “big picture” and to see that it is very beautiful indeed–and that it strangely resembles those “primitive myths and superstitions” their Stage II parents or grandparents believe in. At that point they begin their conversion to Stage IV, which is the mystic communal stage of spiritual development.

Now the problem with some atheists is that they automatically assume that all religious or spiritual people are in Stage 2: ignorant and superstitious. This should not be the case because while Stage 2 people think of God as a sky daddy who will always rescue them, for the people in Stage 4 it is more of a personal relationship. As Scott Peck explained about how all the great religions have the ability to communicate with both Stage 2 and Stage 4:

In the Christian example: “Jesus is my savior,” Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. At Stage IV, “Jesus is my savior” is translated as “Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation – man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky – mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself – that is what I must follow for my salvation.”

Personally, I do not think that I am already in Stage 4. Most likely I am still on Stage 3 and just beginning to approach Stage 4. And that is why I kept quoting from the book instead of using my own words when explaining Stage 4.

And although I could never scientifically prove to anyone that there is a God, I do have many experiences with what I would call Grace. These experiences may not be enough (and especially not repeatable in a laboratory-controlled experiment) in order to arrive at a conclusion based on scientific method, but the blessings are far too many and far too gracious to be attributed to mere chance alone – or I must be a very lucky guy.

Yes, I know there is so much unnecessary suffering in Africa and in other parts of the world, even right here in our own country. Yes, I recognize that there is the Problem of Evil. But I still believe in God, and although His Grace may not be consistent or even predictable, I believe that when one keeps his life open to Grace, he will be able to catch it when it comes.

And considering myself blessed beyond what I think I deserve, I could now only ask, “What return can I make?”

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Ghosts


ghosts“Nobody likes a skeptic.”
— Dean Winchester, Supernatural

I’m a fantasy junkie. Every year, when new TV shows premier, I always check out the science fiction and fantasy ones first. The comic books I read aren’t of the superhero genre, such as Superman or Batman, but more fantasy stuff like Sandman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Trese (plug: Book 3 is coming out in November!). I’m actually writing an urban fantasy graphic novel right now. (OK, I’m procrastinating more than actually writing it, but it will get done.)

And no, I don’t believe in ghosts.

I’ve stopped believing in ghosts since I was 10 years old and decided that everytime I’d hear a strange noise at night, I’d get up and see what was making it. It always turned out to be something innocuous like paper being blown around by the electric fan, or an rusty door. Or a cat walking on the piano keys. As I got older, I’d volunteer to take the most “haunted” room of the house (it was my grandparents’ house, which was big and old, and supposedly housed a couple of ghosts according to my Mom, aunts and sisters who all swore they saw apparitions). In all the years I’d lived there, I never saw a single supernatural event or entity, despite my habit of walking around by myself in the dark in the middle of the night to check what was making that banging noise that woke me up.

Why do people believe in ghosts? You’d think that if they’d existed all these thousands of years, someone somewhere would’ve been able to get positive proof. Yet all we’ve come up with so far are a million anecdotes and those “reality” ghost shows, which are basically just footage of a bunch of idiots running around in a dark house and asking one another, “Did you hear that? Did you see that?” Yet a lot of people still believe they exist. And not just ghosts, but manananggal, tiyanak, mangkukulam, and a host of other supernatural beings.

It’s quite simple, really. For one, our eyes (and light) occasionally do play tricks on us. Even I’m not immune to that. For another, nobody really knows what happens to us after we die. Oh, sure, religion tells us that we go to either heaven, hell or purgatory, but as no one has actually gone to any of these places and come back to confirm their existence (at least, no one credible), the idea of ghosts comforts us. Their “existence” tells us that there is some part of us that lives on even after our bodies have been turned to worm food. They may be scary and all, but the thought of there being nothing for us after we die is a million times more terrifying. So we cling to the idea of ghosts being real. And everything else follows from there — the manananggal, the tiyanak, the mangkukulam. Oh, and let’s not forget the kapre and tikbalang.

I think the kapres, tikbalangs, tiyanaks and the like are actually quite awesome. But only as myths. Only in storybooks, movies, TV shows, and our daydreams and nightmares, where they belong. That’s why it’s called the fantasy genre, children. In Supernatural, the Winchester brothers may be demon hunters, but they go about their investigations in a scientific manner. They don’t jump to conclusions, and they make sound hypotheses which they then proceed to test. The reason why they can get proof of ghosts is because in their world, ghosts exist. When Joss Whedon — who is an atheist, by the way — created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he knew he wasn’t making a documentary on the undead, he wanted to empower the tiny blonde girl who kept getting killed off in horror movies, and turn her into a heroine we could all look up to. He wanted to explore the pleasures and pains of growing up, using demons and vampires as metaphors. Because that’s what mythical creatures are — literary devices that represent our dreams, our fears, our hopes. I say we keep them alive in our books and movies, but I also say we keep our heads and not think they’re lurking out there in the dark.

So when you think you see or hear a ghost, get up and investigate. Turn on the lights — and I mean this literally and figuratively. Use reason, logic and science. Be a skeptic. Because the real world is terrifying enough as it is without us having to be scared of our own shadows.

Photo from savaman / CC BY 2.0

Posted in Personal, Religion, StoriesComments (17)

Towards healthier skepticism: Correlation does not imply causation


This post will attempt to repeat, clarify, and elucidate the need for the remembrance and understanding of the phrase “correlation does not imply causation”. Scientific studies will be given, and the words in the phrase, which vary in meaning depending on usage, will be defined accordingly.

Scientific studies

Please take a moment to go through the following actual, summarized scientific research results:

1) In a previous scientific research using quantitative assessment, numerous epidemiological studies showed that women who were taking combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also had a lower-than-average incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), leading doctors to propose that HRT was protective against CHD.

2) From a study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, young children who sleep with the light on are much more likely to develop myopia in later life.

We will get back to them in a moment. Now we focus on correlation or co-relation, and why scientists, statisticians and skeptics, at the very least, should always try to maintain and promote the phrase “Correlation does not imply causation”.

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