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Posts tagged "Garrick Bercero"

By Garrick Bercero

“Marunong pala managalog si Kennedy, ah!”

A common, probably the only mildly-reasonable, criticism of the public condemnation of Senator Tito Sotto’s pathological penchant for plagiarism is that it distracts from the issues—mainly the reproductive health bill. Sotto himself has taken this route to defend himself against the accusations, saying that his critics could not answer his unimpeachable points, so they’ve resorted to “cyber-bullying.” He challenged his opponents with an aphorism (which I’m sure he’d never claim to be original), to shoot the message, not the messenger.

Of course, if his intellectual honesty and credibility were irrelevant to the interests of the Filipino people, then his excuses would be valid. It is, however, not the case that calling Sotto out on plagiarism is an argumentum ad hominem fallacy.

Ad hominem or “to the man” argumentation is not fallacious if it is not taken to refute “the man’s” positions and if the subject is “the man’s” character itself. In the case of Sotto’s plagiarism, of course his intellectual dishonesty does not affect the credibility of his case against the RH Bill.

But, let’s first take Sotto’s claim on face value. Is it indeed true that nobody at all has even tried to rebut Sotto’s claims during his long-winded turno en contra speeches that spanned four parts?

Read the full article in the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Garrick Bercero

Let’s get back to basics. The following is a case against a cosmological argument for the existence of God.

Intelligent (not “folk”) Christians will repeatedly tell you that faith and reason are both used in their theologies. Unlike the laity and the unwashed masses, they don’t rely completely on faith, or belief without evidence. Indeed, the Christian religion in its many forms has a long history of logical attempts, from Aquinas to Calvin, at trying to prove the existence of God and the plausibility of their doctrines. This is perhaps due to the fact that certain intellectuals in each tradition simply cannot reconcile their rationality with their religion’s doctrines.

Through tireless philosophical refinement of initially primitive and unimpressive doctrines such as the Genesis myth, we get sophisticated logical arguments such as Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways. Seeing these attempts at logical proof, though, I am personally baffled by the intelligent theist’s recourse to faith. If God is provable through reason, of what use is faith? If faith is sufficient, why use imperfect human reason?

Philosophical arguments for God take various forms, such as the cosmologicalontological, andteleological arguments. There are, of course, many criticisms against most, if not all, of these. The cosmological (first cause) and teleological (purposeful design) arguments are empirical arguments, taking the world as it is and reasoning that there must have been a Creator.

One of the most interesting of these arguments, for me, is the Kalam cosmological argument. Unlike most arguments for God, it intends to at least be scientific in its attempt at proving that a personal God exists. Through its most vocal proponent, theologian William Lane Craig, the Kalam is used to argue that the universe must have had a cause. Formally stated, the Kalam appears as such:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) The universe has a cause.

Everything that begins to exist has a cause

Premise (1) asserts that everything that begins to exist has a cause. This statement evades criticisms such as those that Bertrand Russell put forward against Aquinas such as, “Who made God?” Since the Kalam argument states that everything that begins to exist has a cause, God, who is eternal and never began to exist, does not have a cause.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Garrick Bercero

“Name me a moral action made by a believer that could not be made by a non-believer.” This was the late Christopher Hitchens’ storied moral challenge against theists who claimed that it is impossible for atheists to be moral without gods. Hitchens turned this around by showing how ethics is prior to religion. He continued, “If I were to ask, could you name a wicked action made by someone attributable only to their religious faith? There isn’t a person here who would hesitate for a second.”

In a debate between David Wolpe and Hitchens, Wolpe countered the moral challenge by presenting a personal example. Wolpe recounted a story about his father, “When I think of the most powerful and intimate moments that I had with my father, it was when he put his hands on my head and blessed me on a Friday night.” Such an action is definitely unavailable to the logically consistent atheist. Hitchens dismissed this response, saying that he was not convinced that this was truly a moral action.

Even as an atheist, it is apparent to me that Hitchens’ skepticism was misplaced. You don’t need to believe in a supernatural deity to accept that mystical activities could possibly be conducive to well-being, if only for the false consolation that things are going to be okay. This is not to say that there is any evidence for the supernatural any more than there is evidence that placebos are universal cures. This is also not to say that the comfort produced by delusion is even worth the opportunity cost of being mistaken about the nature of reality. It is sufficient to show from this example that even delusion can be compatible with ethical motivations.

In the middle of the culture wars, it is easy to get lost in the absolutist narrative (I’m often guilty of such thoughts): conservative Christians are backwards Puritanical parrots, atheists and liberals are the height of pure rationality. The opposite view that Christians are the sole keepers of moral truth and liberals are mindless instruments of Satan is also a popular belief. Obviously, such black and white views are seldom accurate for any argument. By embracing such unconditional beliefs, we lose sight of the fact that we share a common human nature, regardless of our views…

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Garrick Bercero

Reading the many reactions to my recently published piece on Pisay, I was not surprised that many have read too much on my criticism of religious content in Pisay operations and completely missed my central thesis.

A very lucid analysis of my piece was written by a teacher from Pisay that I cited, Martin Perez. I never had the pleasure of being in his class, but I have heard only good things from his former students. In fact, some of the critical and intellectual inquiry that I find lacking in Pisay in general, some fortunate alumni found in his classes. However, I feel that Mr. Perez has mistakenly joined the bandwagon of criticizing my article for decrying the perceived “tolerance” of Pisay for religious values. Mr. Perez’s point is that not only is Pisay’s tolerance “by design,” it is this very openness that “allowed for a rich intellectual culture to thrive.”

To be clear, I am not addressing Mr. Perez alone in particular, though since I take his views more seriously than random people on Facebook, I am likely to address his points in more detail than anyone else’s.

A more charitable reading of my essay would have obviated any accusation that I envision a Pisay devoid of religion. I was very careful to avoid any such suggestion. But it seems that this needs to be, like scientific values in Pisay, more explicit. Judging from what I read, I think I have to say it outright: religious people in Pisay should not be forced to be atheists.

 Pisay "not" romancing sectarianism

Pisay “not” romancing sectarianism

It appears that people focused on my critiques of sectarianism and creationism, as if they were my central points. They were not. How I see it is that these symptoms will vanish with a focused instruction of scholars of the scientific values of skepticism, self-correction, and the use of evidence. I do not think it a worthy pursuit to treat these symptoms directly. I do not think that it would be productive or desirable to establish an inquisition against these ideologies.

I did not advocate, for example, that students be taught that creationism is dumb. I think its stupidity is quite self-evident…

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Garrick Bercero

Pretty much every nation likes to believe that they are in favor of science and science education. The success of science is simply undeniable. Even those who are not sympathetic to its value for doubt, evidence, and self-correction pay lip service to science. It is under this backdrop that projects such as Philippine Science High School were created.

Philippine Science High School (called “Pisay” by later students), like the Manila Science High School that predated it, was modeled after the Bronx High School of Science (or “Bronx Science”). Pisay was established under President Diosdado Macapagal and had its first batch of students in 1964. Pisay’s mandate in its charter (RA 3661) is to prepare students for a career in science.

Pisay administers very rigorous admission examinations in order to obtain, from thousands of applicants, the top 240 students to invite to study in the prestigious school’s Main Campus. Through this, Pisay is practically guaranteed to have at least some of the country’s best pupils.

To be sure, Pisay has given invaluable service to the country by providing free science education. I myself owe the school a debt of gratitude for giving me four years of highly specialized education that I probably would not have found anywhere else. And this is why I am motivated by a deep affinity for my alma mater to point out where it has erred and what it can do more for society.

It is important for me to note at this point that my commentary is largely limited by my singular exposure to one Pisay campus, the Main Campus in Metro Manila. Any significant difference between the Main Campus and the regional campuses is bound to be missed by what I write here…

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Garrick Bercero

The doctrine of free will is a keystone in Christian theology. It is the principle by which theologians try to explain away the problem of evil in a world designed by a benevolent God. It is central to the tenet of redemption and the reason for the human sacrifice of Jesus.

With the advent of neuroscience, it has become increasingly more difficult to defend free will. We see more and more that what we view as our “selves” and our desires are products of circumstances that we had no control over (our genes, our upbringing, the amount of sleep we had, the smells of a room, noises in the neighborhood, etc.). And, as Sam Harris argues in his new book, Free Will, not only is free will an illusion, it is unintelligible.

Free will is not conceptually coherent, according to Harris. “Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.” No amount of quantum indeterminacy can even begin to make sense of a free will doctrine. No amount of theological finessing can make heads or tails of it.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Garrick Bercero

Whenever faced with the challenge that science is incompatible with faith, theists often point to their faith’s own cadre of accomplished scientists to refute this frequent atheistic claim. And they would not want of examples. Just grabbing from the Roman Catholic Church’s litany of scientists will give you many luminaries of the sciences, many with the honor of being called “father of” such and such science or their name being used as units of measurement.

  • Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was an Augustinian friar.
  • Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, named oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Alessandro Volta was a physicist who invented the battery and is the namesake of the measurement for electric potential.
  • Louis Pasteur was a chemist and microbiologist who is often regarded as one of the fathers of the germ theory of disease.
  • André-Marie Ampère was a physicist and mathematician who helped discover the link between electricity and magnetism and is the namesake of the measurement for current.
  • William of Ockham, the namesake of Occam’s razor, was a Franciscan Friar.
  • René Descartes, most famous for cogito ergo sum, was a mathematician as well as a philosopher.
  • Blaise Pascal, the originator of the Pascal’s Wager, was a mathematician and physicist, who is the namesake of the measurement of pressure, stress, and tensile strength.
  • Georges Lemaître was the first person to propose that the universe was expanding, but he is more famous for proposing what we call the “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe.

This is but a smattering of all the Catholic scientists who have contributed greatly to the progress of science. Some of them had overtly pious intentions for their work—in order to more perfectly understand their Creator’s work. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has been one of the biggest patrons of the sciences dating back to the Middle Ages with precisely this purpose of appreciating the design of the Intelligent Designer. With such intellectual giants who profess faith in Catholic dogma and such explicitly religious motives, how then can the atheist even suggest that faith is in conflict with science?

Is pseudoscience compatible with science?

The existence of religious scientists only proves, as Sam Harris observes, that good ideas can live with bad ideas in the same head. The proponents of the compatibility of faith-based religion with science seem to miss the fact that the acceptance of scientific discoveries of religious scientists is because these findings have survived the rigorous testing of the scientific method. Lemaître’s Big Bang theory is accepted by scientists not due to any purported theological consistency but because it is the best explanation for our observations. That he was religious was purely incidental to the value of his scientific insight.

It is also important to point out that many scientists are religious simply because most people are religious. Centuries ago, only those with the power and wealth of their Churches behind them had the luxury of spending their time reading and experimenting. Not to mention, atheists (often lumped by those in power with the worship of foreign gods) have been persecuted since the name was coined.

When the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé said that the cyclic structure of benzene came to him in a dream involving a snake biting its own tail, his idea wasn’t accepted for its esoteric merits, it was accepted on the strength of the scientific evidence he presented after this strange epiphany.

One of humanity’s greatest minds, Isaac Newton, was quite the dedicated alchemist. He wroteover a million words on the topic. His work on alchemy was even integral to his work on optics. But, none of this suggests that the pseudoscience of alchemy has no conflict with science.

We find that to the extent that religious scientists are not dogmatic and employ reason and evidence, they are good scientists. That is, we expect religious scientists to cut away all semblance of religiosity from their output before we deem them credible. This does not speak well for the argument that science and faith are compatible.

A brief digression on Galileo


No essay on the conflict between science and faith would be complete without a mention of Galileo Galilei. Apologists dismiss the Galileo affair as a trial of his arrogance rather than of his ideas, which they found erroneous not just based on scripture, but also based on empirical facts.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By .

A recent report by the Manila Bulletin said that the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) will be dropping science classes for public schools from the first and second grades. This was supposedly “in line with its efforts to decongest the Basic Education Curriculum and to make learning more enjoyable to young learners.” DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro says, however, that they will be integrating science topics “in other subjects to make the new curriculum more child-friendly.” This new curriculum will “mainly focus on oral fluency” for the first grade.

The Basic Education Curriculum was instituted under the late DepEd Secretary Raul Roco and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002, which was “the product of 16 years of study under the various DepEd secretaries.” This 2002 curriculum removed “Science and Health” from the first and second grades.

Since the belated Manila Bulletin report, there has been a lot of outrage regarding this decision, leading Senator Pia Cayetano to discuss the matter with her constituents online. She said that she would discuss the curriculum with other senators “so [they] can act on it.”

The claim that science is too difficult for children is not controversial and it is commonly believed, though seldom backed up by evidence. And, to be fair, it can be quite hard to convey the rigor and chain of evidence employed by science to children. In this way, I can somehow understand (but not agree with) the secretary with his implication that science is not “enjoyable” or “child-friendly.” Even scientists themselves often have a difficult time grasping the more counter-intuitive discoveries of science…

Read the rest of the article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Garrick Bercero

It is quite clear that in an allegedly secular nation, politicians here in the Philippines are largely guided by their religion, which is more often than not Roman Catholicism. This is evident from the chapels in public institutions such as Philippine Science High School to the President’s “advisers” that invariably include at least one man of the cloth. And, there is truly no cause for complaint, if Roman Catholicism is, in fact, the one true religion.

If you allow that no politician is simply abusing the gullibility of their constituents and that they actually believe in the truth of Roman Catholicism, then the people who govern us are simply running on what they think are accurate observations of the universe. Every prayer before Congress and every “year of our Lord” in Presidential Proclamations are not mere statements of opinion or rhetorical flourishes, these are reiterations of accepted facts. Or, rather, “facts.”

The claims of the religious, whether moral or theological, are factual claims. For the former, moral claims are facts about conscious experience. For the latter, theological claims are facts about how the universe in general operates. Both are claims about how material stuff (particles and such) interact with the world.

Avoiding the unimpressive arguments for the existence of the specific Catholic flavor of Yahweh, let us, like millions of Filipinos, simply take this on faith. How would the much-desired fully-realized Catholic Nation of the Philippines look?

For a start, all faith-based holidays not in the Roman Catholic calendar will be erased. This is because the truth of Catholicism necessarily negates the contradictory truth claims of all other religions, from similar Paganism to largely foreign Hinduism. This shouldn’t worry kids who pray for school cancellations since there’s still pretty much a saint for anything and any day. Secular holidays such as Labor Day may continue to exist, but in the form of feasts for one of the myriad saints “venerated” by Catholics. It may perhaps be replaced by a day for Saint Joseph the Carpenter, a model laborer and cuckold, or for Saint Matthew the Tax Collector, to remind us of the price of civilization.

A Catholic Nation of the Philippines would be different from the Vatican in that it would be a real state—with a permanent population, a defined territory, a functioning government, and a real capacity for diplomatic relations with other states. These are the criteria for statehood set out by international law, which the Vatican arguably does not meet.

Assuming that the Catholic Nation of the Philippines will continue with its sham democracy label (as it does now), there will be an entirely new branch of government to buttress the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—the ecclesiastical. This branch will oversee all actions of the government to make sure that they are in line with the will of God. The head of this branch will be the person who is most keen to discern that will, most likely a Cardinal (someone who God “communicates” with, on matters such as who deserves to be pope). This branch will also supplement (maybe event supplant) departments such as Education, Science and Technology, Health, Treasury, and Public Works and Highways, through prayer. It will hire battalions of “prayer warriors” in lieu of civil servants, since prayer would be enough anyway.

Perhaps surprisingly, religious freedom will have a place in a Catholic nation. Albeit, this will be limited to the private sphere. The Church no longer has any teachings advocating hate against other religions. They have already apologized for their indefensible establishment of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The humanism of the Enlightenment has seen to it that even our historically cruel religious institutions will find the torture and sadism of their past unthinkable. However, religious tests will be required of all members of government to ensure that the nation maintains its course following the will of God. While citizens may be free to believe anything in private, to hold beliefs contrary to Catholicism, when Catholicism is true, is like believing that circles have corners. It’s just absurd. Given the fact of Catholicism, religious freedom would exist as the freedom to be ignorant or insane.

Judas’ Cradle, one of the brutal eroticized torture methods used during the Spanish Inquisition

Needless to say, most changes in our legal system will revolve around sex, the favorite whipping boy of Catholicism. Of course, all kinds of pharmaceutical birth control will be outlawed. And, given their definition of human personhood as beginning at some vague point called “when the sperm meets the egg”all miscarriages will need to be investigated whether foul play was involved. All terminated pregnancies, whether intentional or not, will require death certificates for the unborn. Reflecting the Church’s “pro-life” stance, in vitro fertilization (IVF) will be illegal, and those who participate in it will be accessories to murder (since IVF involves fertilizing multiple eggs and discarding some embryos). Sex outside marriage will be expressly forbidden and periodical hymen checks for the unmarried will help enforce this law. Unwed women who no longer have hymens as a result of strenuous activity (such as horseback riding) or due to congenital or medical reasons will require permits to walk around with their ungodly genitals.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Garrick Bercero

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines recently announced that it will have its own movement, purposefully echoing the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States. The movement, dubbed “Kilusang 99%,” was described by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo as a “social reform movement” about “making the poor the center of development and making the government accountable for the welfare of the majority.”

As if to preemptively deflect accusations of being against the Aquino administration due to their historic chumminess with the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (who is now facing accusations of electoral sabotage), Pabillo said that Kilusang 99% was not directed at President Noynoy Aquino or any particular leader. The movement has several demands outlined in a letter by Pabillo: agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain reform, and fisheries reform.

To be sure, a campaign advocating these demands is laudable (though it is definitely not encouraging that Pabillo himself calls the movement a “crusade”). Certainly, capitalism in this nation and in the world has been enjoyed on the backs of the working class who are coerced into unfair labor by the rich and powerful, comprised of less than 1% of the human population. And, in fairness to Pabillo, he seems particularly serious about pursuing economic reforms, especially with Hacienda Luisita. He even supported the Senate hearings investigating the corrupt “Pajero bishops” of his Church. However, what the Church itself doesn’t seem to get is why the Occupy Movement began in the first place. And, in branding its own movement with allusions to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, it presents in Kilusang 99% a farce almost too comical to believe.

What the Occupy movement really is, and why the Catholic Church “occupying” anything is ludicrous. —> Read the rest of this article at the Filipino Freethinkers website.