Tag Archive | "Superstition"

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


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

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

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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FF Podcast (Audio) 019: Same-Sex Couple Property Rights and Teaching Superstitions


Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.32.32 PM

This week, we talk about Congressman Grex Lagman’s proposed bill that would recognize the property rights of same-sex couples. Then, we talk about superstitions and the consequences of teaching them to children.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, MediaComments (0)

FF Podcast 019: Same-Sex Couple Property Rights and Teaching Superstitions


Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.32.32 PM

This week, we talk about Congressman Grex Lagman’s proposed bill that would recognize the property rights of same-sex couples. Then, we talk about superstitions and the consequences of teaching them to children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights, Media, Podcast, Religion, Society, VideoComments (2)

Hiwaga and Humbug on Philippine TV


In recent posts on Facebook and Twitter, the social media accounts of the ABS-CBN show Hiwaga asked the following question: “Ayon sa teorya ni Charles Darwin, nagmula ang mga tao sa unggoy… kaya maari bang bumalik uli tayo dito? (According to the theory of Charles Darwin, humans came from monkeys… so is it possible that we will go back to being monkeys?)”

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This leading question, even if not representative of the entire content of the episode, is still reprehensible for its sensationalism of the theory of evolution, a sensationalism that can contribute to worsening the public’s misapprehension of Darwin’s theory. However, given the new show’s track record so far, it is likely that the people in charge of the show, including host Atom Araullo, will make monkeys out of themselves in their treatment of the monkeys-to-men question.

In this article, I will start by fleshing out my criticism of the post on Darwin’s theory, then I will go on to criticize the very spirit of shows like Hiwaga. I will extend this criticism to cover all forms of superstition, pseudoscience, and sloppy science in Philippine TV. Finally I will appeal to the show’s host Atom Araullo, who is an alumnus of Philippine Science High School and the University of the Philippines, an applied physics graduate, and an activist, to find it in his conscience to leave the program and criticize it publicly.

 

Of Monkeys and Men

So what about monkeys and men? According to the theory of evolution, apes, including humans, share a recent common ancestor with modern monkeys. Careful comparison of bones and body structure, as well as analyses of genes and biomolecules, helped establish the phylogenetic tree (a sort of family tree of species) of apes and monkeys. The tree below showing the relatedness of apes (like chimps, gorillas, and humans) and monkeys (like the Philippine macaque) explain why they have many similarities and important differences.

A tree showing the relatedness of monkeys and apes (including humans). [Image credit: www.swcs.us]

Does this say we come from monkeys? Sinasabi ba nito na nanggaling tayo sa unggoy? No and yes. What this says is that apes and monkeys share a fairly recent common ancestor. The last ancestor shared by the Old World monkeys and apes lived a bit more than 20 million years ago (mya). This ancestor probably looked more like modern monkeys than like apes, and if it were still alive today we would probably call it a monkey. In other words, we humans descended from monkey-like ancestors that lived more than 20 mya. But we did not come from modern monkeys or chimpanzees; the fellow shown in the picture below is a relative of ours, not an ancestor nor a “primitive” form of human.

The Philippine macaque, a local species of monkey. [Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org]

Why is this issue of the exact relationship between monkey and man so important as to lead me to criticize the post on Hiwaga’s social media accounts? Here’s why the theory of evolution is important.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, independently discovered by Alfred Russel Wallace, explains the origin of diversity in the living world. It tells us that all living organisms on Earth are related, but by different degrees. The modern version of the theory of evolution can also explain many aspects of living things, such as why many plants have colorful flowers, why certain bacteria produce very potent toxins, and why animals behave in certain ways.

The theory of evolution is important because we and the flora and fauna we depend on are products of evolution; to understand ourselves and the organisms around us, a correct understanding of evolution is necessary. To provide a concrete example, the rice we eat is a product of artificial selection, a process very similar to natural selection, and some genetic engineering. The recent attacks on ‘golden rice’ research in the Philippines is partly due to a serious lack of understanding about how artificial and natural selection work.

Then you should’ve listened closely in biology class. But don’t worry, it’s not too late. You can always demand more informative shows from our TV and radio stations.

Evolution also affects us not just in geological time but also in real time. The critters that plague our farms and the viruses and bacteria that make us sick undergo evolution within our lifetimes. Failure to grasp the effects of evolution on the scale of a few years can lead to unscientific and dangerous positions such as being against vaccines.

In addition to the direct importance of understanding evolution, sensational simplifications contribute greatly to the spread of misunderstandings such as that embodied by statements like “So why are there still monkeys around if we came from monkeys?”  Science sensationalism also gives fodder to anti-scientific movements like creationism.

These are but a few reasons why the theory of evolution is important, and why its sensationalism by Hiwaga and other media outlets deserves criticism. I understand that the journalistic intention behind the post is to catch people’s attentions using a language familiar to them, thereby increasing the probability that they will watch the show. That is no excuse for sensationalism. I just hope that the people behind the show, especially its host Atom Araullo, will redeem themselves during the episode itself. And this show needs a lot of redeeming, as we will soon see.

 

Superstition and Sloppy Science

Several studies have shown that the science and math aptitudes of most Filipino students are dismal. It does not help that the few science-related shows on TV exhibit sloppy thinking in their explanation of scientific concepts. Kim Atienza’s Matanglawin is a good example of this, but since using it as an example is too easy, let me use another. This clip from the GMA show iBilib demonstrates the fact that water and oil do not mix. Host Chris Tiu shows the viewers how the hydrophobic properties of oil can be use to make a “dagat in a bottle”. The show’s aim of making science accessible to Filipino kids is admirable. Unfortunately, the show, at least to me, lacks the philosophical dimension necessary to make students interested in science and not just in the tinkering of household stuff. Spectacular and cute phenomena are a great way to pique kids’ interest, but the focus should not be on the spectacle. The wow factor must simply be a means to get kids to be curious, skeptical, and scientific. If Bill Nye can make a science program just with these specifications, then I believe iBilib must do it too.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, proof that you don’t have to be sloppy to be interesting.

My beef with iBilib and similarly sloppy science programs like Kim Atienza’s Matanglawin, however, is with its frequent use of sloppy or even erroneous scientific explanations of the phenomena. The clip showing the sea-in-a-bottle demonstration is just one of the many instances where Tiu throws a sloppy or erroneous explanation at the curious people who watch his show. In the clip, the host is wrong in saying that oil and water do not mix because of their different densities. Water and alcohol mix even if their densities are different. Fresh water and saltwater also mix even though the latter is slightly denser than the former. If a science show claims things that can be contradicted by kids’ experiences, what will that tell the young viewers about science’s role in describing nature?

To Chris Tiu: Density is the reason why the oil layer is above the water layer, but it does not explain why water and oil do not mix. The actual explanation of non-mixing is more subtle and marvelous. Next time, double check and triple check your script before you say it in front of an entire nation of admiring young viewers. This is not the only instance in which you relayed wrong information to those kids. You owe them an apology and you need to make amends.

Chris Tiu, I bet your chem teacher is mad at you right now. You should’ve listened to her more. [Photo credit: teachengineering.org]

And now back to Atom Auraullo and Hiwaga. If Chris Tiu in iBilib frequently exhibits haphazard thinking, Atom in Hiwaga is mostly just peddling superstition and pseudoscience on Philippine TV. The woo starts from the very title of the program. I’m already worried about the title of iBilib, because it seems to imply that science is a matter of belief.  So you can imagine my reaction when I heard that there was another show entitled Hiwaga, a Filipino word that means “mystery”. When I saw promotional videos of the TV program, my worries about it were confirmed. In this episode of the show, for example, Atom interviews an “expert” on Feng Shui. In another episode, Araullo discusses so-called out of body experiences and “astral projections”. Still another episode entertains the possibility of premonitions.

Hiwaga is unfortunately just the latest incarnation in a long series of shows and segments on Philippine TV clearly capitalizing on Filipino supernatural and unscientific beliefs. Shows like Rated K hosted by Korina Sanchez and Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho are just a few of the other programs that ride the sensational wave of superstition and pseudoscience. The use of “umano” and “daw” in the reporting of supernatural claims rarely help, as these program hosts regularly fail to amply discuss the lack of scientific merits of the claims they report. In the end, these shows’ ‘di umanos just remind us of Pontius Pilate. What these umanos and daws effectively do is to allow the TV programs to throw mountains of claptrap into the viewing public while absolving the show runners of the guilt of misinformation. Well, I’m sorry Korina and Jessica, what you and many other journalists are doing is still misinformation. Why? Because the discussions on the value of skepticism in your shows are frequently inadequate, sometimes even watered down by closing messages that go along the along the lines of “let’s be open minded about these things” or “science does not know everything and life is full of mysteries woooo…” Your umanos and daws do not absolve you.

“There, I said ‘umano’. Now it’s time to report about ghosts hauntings, demonic possessions, and faith healing.”

To the writers, researchers, producers, and hosts of TV programs that promote superstition among Filipinos, I ask you to rethink your values. I believe I don’t need to preach the importance of science and the dangers of superstition and pseudoscience to the lot of you, you should know it by now. Hence, let me just remind you that your aim is to inform the Filipino people, not befuddle them. You should never sacrifice the truth in the name of higher ratings. I understand that most Filipinos are ignorant and superstitious, and that a show about superstition will appeal to them more than a show about skepticism. But you should give them programs that they need, not programs they want.

 

A Request to Atom Araullo

As promised in the start of this article, I will end my piece by making an appeal to Atom Araullo’s better judgment.

Dear Atom,

As a good-looking Pisay and UP alumnus working in media, you have great powers. Your responsibilities are therefore equally great, and chief among these is your responsibility of informing the public on correct ways of thinking about the world. As a science graduate, an activist, and a reporter, your duty to seek, fight for, and relay the truth demands that you rethink your role in the show. Try educating the writers and executives of the program on the proper ways of reporting supernatural claims. The local superstitions and ghost stories you tackle in the show are excellent entry points into critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific reasoning, and you should use them as such. Intriguing questions that the Filipino public can relate to are excellent in catching their attention, but since your subject matter is very sensitive, the writers should be very careful with the wording of your script. You should not forget to stress the value of skeptical inquiry and the importance of demanding extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims.

Finally, if those writers, researchers, and executives cannot be convinced, I appeal to your better judgment as a person to please leave that show and criticize it publicly.

Thank you.

Yours,

Pecier C. Decierdo

Science Advocacy Director

Filipino Freethinkers

Posted in Science, SocietyComments (10)

Black Nazarene, Black Opium


As the dust settles from another year of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, we again hear numerous reports of stampedes and injuries. Just shy of 1000 people were injured during the feast.

The feast is characterized by literally millions of devotees (largely comprised of children dragged along by relatives, the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, and the poor) moving along with an over 400 year-old statue of Jesus throughout the streets of the city of Manila. As in the tradition that St. Veronica (derived from the Latin for “true image”) wiped Jesus’ face as he marched to his execution, true believers scrimmage to wipe white cloths on the statue. The devotees shuffle and push against each other just to get a touch of the Black Nazarene wooden idol, which is believed to have magical powers of wish-granting.

Millions, particularly the poor, skip out on work (which likely earns them barely enough for a living) in the hope that the statue will turn their fortunes around. Of course, they are only met by rains and crushing stampedes. We can, naturally, expect at least some of the devotees to have a lucky day. It is practically certain that at least one of the poor and sick people marching in the streets of Manila will enjoy a significant cash windfall or be healed of a serious affliction—just by random chance. In fact, if none of the 3 million reported attendees had at least a marginally interesting anecdote of supposed providence, then something would be quite peculiar about the Feast of the Black Nazarene worthy of deeper investigation.

The familiarity of the Jesus story has anesthetized us from what is at the heart of the ritual. Millions of men, women, and children are parading around with a wooden statue of a bloodied victim of torture, capital punishment, and God-sanctioned human sacrifice. The Black Nazarene is an ironic pornographic celebration of violence—the overt violence of the past and the more subtle violence of the present.

The media attention to this event is huge, as expected for any congregation drawing millions. However, it is quite disgusting how society has made a spectacle of the poverty, ignorance, and anguish. And though, like the Feast of the Black Nazarene, the supposed terror threat appears to have been based on zero intelligence, the broadsheets praised not the fact that the threat was not plausible and celebrations were able to commence safely, but that the devotees ignored the warnings regardless of credibility. (In fact, some devotees relished the prospect of mass murder as an opportunity to test their faith.)

It is taken as a badge of honor that the devotees suffered for 22 hours—from the mild discomfort of crowding and walking barefoot to the intolerable pain of being trampled—in a desperate appeal for things to change for the better, if only they could get to touch an old block of wood. Stories such as those of the man with a disability, unable to walk on his two legs, are elevated as exemplars of faith and worthy of emulation. Suffering is glamorized as a bargaining chip, in exchange for which, God will grant them respite from the day-to-day torment of poverty and illness. Life on earth is reduced to a theological economy that runs on agony.

There is an often misquoted observation by Karl Marx that “religion is the opiate of the masses” or some other paraphrasing. The quotation in context reads: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Marx was not merely comparing the addictive and reason-diminishing qualities of the drug to religion. He was pointing out that religion is an illustration of despair from those whom state and society have failed. It is the imaginary relief for those who have been prevented access to real consolation.

Those who flock to briefly brush against the Black Nazarene are those whom our society has forced to take solace from fictitious sources. That we celebrate and glorify the misery and debasement of our fellow human beings—whether in the form of one Jesus Christ or three million of his devotees—is vile.

Image credit: GMA News Online

Posted in Religion, SocietyComments (14)

Less Golez, More RH: Numerology and the Numbers that Count


Some superstitious people consider the number 4 unlucky because it sounds like the word “death”
(死 pinyin sǐ) in Chinese.

What does this have to do with the RH Bill? Nothing. Unless you’re a congressman who’s desperate to delay interpellations because you’re afraid of a deciding vote.

Trivial Numbers

During yesterday’s interpellations, Rep. Roilo Golez argued that the RH Bill (HB 4244) will lead to misfortune. Why? Because according to Rep. Roilo — I’ll refer to him this way to avoid confusion with the other Rep. Golez — its bill number contains three of those unlucky fours.

It seems that anti-RH legislators are not content to violate secularism. With legislators like Rep. Roilo, we might have to amend our constitution with a clause calling for separation of superstition and state.

Rep. Roilo’s fascination for numbers continued when he questioned why an earlier version of the bill changed to HB 96 from HB 3. At first, I didn’t know the reason he was so hung up on this trivial fact. Then I remembered that he threw reason out the door the moment he brought up numerology. I suspect that he simply prefers 3 because it’s considered a lucky number. (Regarding HB 96, although 9 is lucky, 6 isn’t.)

It would be interesting to know what Rep. Roilo thinks of Rep. Pablo Garcia’s bill: Hormonal Contraceptives Regulation Act of 2011. The bill aims to regulate the sale and advertising of birth control pills. This is a bill that Rep. Roilo would agree with, except for one detail: the bill is numbered 4482. Will he be against it because of those two unlucky fours? Or maybe the bad luck is mitigated by the lucky 8 and 2?

But hold on for a second, Rep. Roilo. It’s not OK to import foreign ideas from the US (family planning and population development), but it’s OK to import foreign ideas from Rome (Humanae Vitae) and China (numerology)? What’s the criteria for importing ideas?

Numbers that Count

I hope Rep. Roilo — or any of the other anti-RH legislators — doesn’t foray into numerology again. If they want to talk about numbers, there are many figures and statistics that truly deserve to be discussed. For Rep. Roilo’s sake, here are four:

ONE: 71% — the percentage of Catholic respondents who favor the RH Bill (8% are not, the rest are undecided) (SWS)

Even if these anti-RH representatives ignore people with different beliefs, who exactly are they representing? It seems they’re content to represent the 8% composed of the CBCP, Pro-Life Philippines, and their cohorts.

TWO: 11 — the number of women in the Philippines who die daily from maternal complications (Likhaan)

You’d think they’d have a sense of urgency with so many lives on the line — lives that are not merely potential but actual. While legislators are still busy debating about when life begins, it’s clear to the families left motherless when life as they know it ends.

THREE: 500,000 — the number of abortions that could be prevented if the RH Bill becomes law (Likhaan)

Countries that have an increased rate of effective contraceptive use have a decreased number of induced abortions. It’s been estimated that half a million abortions can be prevented by an RH policy. Are the anti-RH really pro-life?

FOUR: X Pesos — the cost in taxpayers’ money wasted whenever religion, superstition, and other tangents are discussed in Congress

Anti-RH legislators argue that the government lacks funds to implement the RH Bill. Yet they waste taxpayer money by discussing anything — Communism, Catholicism, conspiracies — other than what’s actually proposed by the RH Bill.

The Third Interpellator

After Rep. Roilo, there are as many as 36 interpellators left to go. That’s potentially 36 more hours of discussing religious interpretations, imperialist plots, and of course, Chinese numerology.

But let’s humor him and give numerology a chance. Out of the original list of 38 interpellators, Rep. Roilo was originally interpellator no. 3 — a lucky number. But when Pacquiao unexpectedly took Garcia’s slot, Rep. Roilo was bumped to no. 4 — the same unlucky number he argued against simply because of what it sounds like.

Some might think he got the number he deserves. But I disagree. Considering his tendency to inflate the importance of what words sound like, no. 3 suited him perfectly. For Roilo truly is a third.

Posted in Featured, PoliticsComments (17)

Across the Hall


Writing this now sitting at plenary hall of Congress. Am listening to yet more ludicrous delays by the anti-RH congressmen in the form of Garcia and Golez, who is now presenting a powerpoint presentation dissing the RH Bill because it has a lot of ‘4’s, which in Chinese numerology is bad because its associated with death, and therefore the RH Bill is a death Bill. Wish I was kidding and wish even more could share it with you, but the guards here have just informed us that there is a ‘new regulation’ prohibiting *any* recording in the hall for by non-media.

I had wanted to sit at the same spot as yesterday, but the guards also informed us that there is a new regulation that the ground floor is now divided into pro and anti sides. Until yesterday they never informed us of any such regulation and in the few times I’ve been to this hall have sat on both sides of the ground floor without incident. I’ll grant that its probably prudent now, especially since it seems that there are Chinese delegates that have been invited to observe today’s session. I deeply regret, however, the unspoken implication that such arrangements make apparent- that the staff here at congress no longer believes that citizens on two sides of a national debate can sit next to each other and exchange words without exchanging blows.

Ah, now Golez is discussing World War 2 and the four evil axis powers, which of course has everything to do with the RH bill. His powerpoint has attached videos, which for some reason can’t seem to play. The farce goes on.

-Kenneth Keng
5/25/2011 5:40 PM

Posted in PoliticsComments (11)


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