Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Political Dynasties

"The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men" ─PLATO

Now that election is just around the corner, the clamour to wipe out political dynasties from the face of Philippine politics re-emerges, this time with a forceful vengeance. Over the years, we have seen the proliferation and resilience of political dynasties in local fiefdoms where competition is not as stiff as in the national arena. But the winds have changed. Today, political dynasties are no longer a parochial concern because its sordid tentacles have already reached the hallowed halls of an otherwise impervious political citadel─ the Philippine Senate.

The issue against political dynasties has always been the popular sentiment of well-informed citizens who are fed up, if not disgusted, with our political culture. But savvy politicos, vanguards of dynastic rule in this country, belittle the issue by shrugging it off saying “There is nothing wrong with political dynasties, the problem is corruption.” Say what? The cop-out response, the well-crafted sophistry employed in defence of political dynasties does not only belittle the fertile minds of the masses, in essence it captures the “lesser evil” mind-set of those who tried to perpetuate themselves in power using kinship affiliation. It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with political dynasties as long as it is the Cayetanos, Angaras, Pimentels, Estradas, Binays, Enriles, etc., the perceived crème de la crème of Philippine politics rule the day. That may be so. But then, what happens if majority of the populace, the poor and the homeless, lack discernment or simply apathetic towards public affairs, would that justify the morality of political dynasties? The heart of the question is not whether they are the nicer people who by sheer coincidence happen to be born with a silver spoon. Rather, it is an issue of the masses- which comprises an enormous chunk of the voting population being blinded, if not ignorant of what political dynasties and its time-tested repercussions are. I guess what it all comes down to is this: the masses are stupid anyway why bother, duh? Pardon the pun but this is how I look at the political landscape, if you want to stay in power the best way to do it is to keep exploiting the poor and the unlettered. And it would be best to keep them poor at all times.

But there is a considerable improvement among Filipinos today. Unlike the old days, the trend of public opposition against political dynasties has shifted dramatically from apathy to political maturity. Gone are the days when the hoi polloi would unwittingly stand on the side-lines of the political spectrum, waiting in vain for their messiah to come. Just the other day, I saw educators descended from the ivory towers of the academe talked about current political issues with ordinary folks. It was a bucolic scene reminiscent of small town meetings where dialogues were stripped down to the level of simplicity. I could only wish that that we could see more of them doing rounds in the grassroots level, facilitating talks with the masses on political issues.

The unstated power of the academe to change society cannot be underestimated. In provinces where political education is at a ground zero with no civil society organizations to cling on, the academe should be at the forefront of the battle versus political ignorance. If we could only increase public awareness of the issue against political dynasties, then we could reverse the trend of political reticence among our people.

Contrary to the contemptuous remark of a young solon, a political lackey and the sole heir of his father’s throne in the senate, the issue against political dynasties has never been, and will never be an elitist issue. We all hear them say it. Their answers are perfunctory. Underneath the sophistry we could at least sense that apologists of political dynasties employ common response by equating apathy with assent. Just because the great majority is relatively silent on the issue doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree with it. With the kind of callow political buffoons we have in public office, silence is definitely not consent! The fact of the matter is, public awareness of the issue on political dynasties is at the lowest level for the longest time. How could the people be conversant about political dynasties if they are not aware of its damaging repercussions in our society? Are they aware that political dynasties encourage patronage politics, nepotism, favouritism and corruption in government? It doesn’t make sense to say that political dynasties and corruption are mutually exclusive issues. Those who claim otherwise have nothing in their heads but hubris.

A fundamental factor that must be kept in mind is that the power and resilience of political dynasties stemmed from the kind of values, attitudes and political orientations of Filipinos as members of society. These norms have been an integral part of our political culture. Philippine politics, along with other aspects of society, rely heavily on kinship and other personal relationships. It is a sad reality that elections in this country which is supposed to be the cornerstone of democracy, is often seen as a popularity contest. Because our political parties are merely nominal political institutions, majority of the voting population gauge candidates based on surnames rather than principles. To win a local election, one must assemble a coalition of families. To win a provincial election, the important families in each town must be drawn into a wider structure. To win a national election, the most prominent aristocratic clans from each region must temporarily come together. A family's power is not necessarily precisely correlated with wealth--numbers of followers matters more--but the middle class and the poor are sought mainly for the votes that they can deliver. Generally, however, the country's political system has become so parochial and expensive that only the economic elite and traditional politicians (with very few exceptions) have clear and effective advantage of becoming successful politicians. As a result, our system of politics is but a hodgepodge of an elitist ideology. Rarely will we, the masses, be candidates ourselves.

x x x

I often hear people argue that the Constitution is the ultimate solution to end political dynasties in this country. I’m not quite sure whether the crux of the argument espouses constitutional amendment via people’s initiative or that the Constitution as presently worded has already prohibited political dynasties since day one. Either way, I submit that our present Constitution offers more problems than solutions.

Part of the strong public reaction against political dynasties has something to do with the confusion that 1987 Constitution has engendered. Twenty five years have passed (and still counting), the anti-political dynasty provision languishes in the dark and remains a dead letter law. Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policies) sec. 26 of the 1987 Constitution states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” As a general rule, the state as a matter of policy is mandated to prohibit monopoly of political power. Fresh from the experiences of martial rule where concentration of political power was very much the rule rather than an exception, the framers of the 1987 Constitution sought to cure this malady by democratizing political power from top to bottom. For those of us who studied political law under the 1987 Constitution would surely agree that the term limits of public officials and their corresponding accountability to the people are written in this light. The 1987 Constitution, unlike the previous ones, exacts much higher standards for public officials and provides a mechanism to check, limit and equalize access to public office.

The 1987 Constitution has been taunted as a talkative document because of its unprecedented length. For the record, it has fifty-eight (58) pages, 39,000 words and punctuation marks with ninety-seven open ended and ambiguous provisions that were addressed to Congress. The phrase “as may be defined by law” in the anti-political dynasty provision is only among the fifty (50) provisions under the present Constitution which required enabling laws before they can be implemented. Bear in mind that the 1987 Constitution was framed in the wake of EDSA revolution, most of its provisions are knee-jerk reactions to the abuses of the Marcos regime. Thus, at the insistence of Constitutional Commissioner Jose Nolledo, one of the distinguished members of the 1986 Con-Com, the anti-political dynasty provision was included in the 1987 Constitution but only to be neutralized by a seemingly innocent phrase, “as may be provided by law.” But since Congress is the principal playground of self-perpetuating politicians, logically they will deliberately disregard this constitutional policy, as if it is a ghost provision. Obviously, members of Congress will be directly affected if they will activate the anti-political dynasty provision, it will work against their selfish interest to wit: perpetuation of political power; and likewise it will definitely affect their relatives and friends who are dominating the local scene. Indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely!

All is not hopeless. The problem with most of us is that we rely too much on that seemingly inutile constitutional provision just because it looks pretty darn good on paper. In life, constitutionality is not everything. Like it or not, we cannot solve our problems with political dynasties if we keep on mumbling constitutional incantations hoping that our lawmakers would one day experience some moral epiphany of sorts. “What are we in power for?” is still, and will always be the rule in Philippine politics.

I submit that when the Constitution enunciates principles and state policies the same should be self-executing without the need for an enabling law. At least that’s what my feisty law professor taught us in constitutional law. Note that what is at issue here is not that the present Constitution failed to correct the misdeeds of the past, but, for reasons of urgency, the framers did not include a clear-cut definition of political dynasties. How then should we enforce the spirit from which the Constitution has been formulated? The answer is quite obvious. But voters opt to be oblivious- a rather sad story to the aspirations of the 1987 Constitution. In the end, the Constitution is nothing without us. We demand highly from our supreme law democratic safeguards, but on hindsight, have anyone of us thought highly of what we can do to achieve these safeguards? Let me end my discourse by echoing the words of Manuel L. Quezon, he said: Constitutions are not worth the paper they are written on, if people do not live as they should in a democracy.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Layeta Bucoy's "Walang Kukurap"


Playwright: Layeta Bucoy
Director: Tuxqs Rutaquio
Lights Designer and Technical Director: Katsch Catoy
Sound Designer - TJ Ramos
Production Designer and Stage Manager : Jerome Aytona
Artistic Director: Nanding Josef

(Fri) September 14, 21, 28, October 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm
(Sat) September 15, 22, 29, October 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm
(Sun) September 16, 23, 30, October 7 at 3:00 pm

Tanghalang Huseng Batute
Cultural Center of the Philippines


With the approaching midterm legislative and local elections next year, Walang Kukurap is set in an ordinary town in the Philippines, as it explores the dynamics of traditional politics and the emerging brand of politics brought about by first time politicians. It follows the story of five families who are intertwined in the political landscape of a town ruled by black money and opening itself up to an impending political dynasty and the detestable tentacles of opportunism.

Cristina Medina, the widow of the slain former mayoralty candidate Marco Medina runs for vice mayor, banking on her husband's good surname. Though her husband advocated good governance, she runs for money, and thus finds herself in the middle of the traditional web of violence, corruption, and power struggle. Her niece Rhoda plunges into the political fray upon the prodding of her mother Melba who has long resented the comparison between her husband and Cristina's husband.Trying to retain their hold over the town are Purita and Molong, a couple who is a product of calculated political maneuverings as Purita's businessman father guided Molong's rise from Boy Scout personnel to town mayor. A victim of unfortunate circumstances, tricycle driver Panchang tries to bring an oasis of order in her family's economic chaos by transacting with the powerful, abiding to the rules of their game, and thus having a taste of misguided victory. Businessman Santiago enters the political landscape, a former Bureau of Customs official with unexplained wealth, intending to rule over the town's economy by conquering its political sphere. Well meaning Doray, a university science professor, tries to stand by what is good for the town, but as she herself runs for mayor, a series of unfortunate events hamper the goodness that she has to offer. Interspersing their stories are gambling and drug lords Alex and Lu and an armada of young adults who struggle with this generation's political and economic realities.

As all of the characters try to prevail within a corrupt system, the audiences are taunted, teased about the political realities in their respective towns, and eventually, in order to ensure the election of the deserving candidates, challenged to be vigilant, to not even blink in choosing to whom they are to give their sacred votes.

Headlined by the members of Tanghalang Pilipino's Actor's Company, Walang Kukurap also includes veteran actors and actresses. The fusion manifests an interesting blend of youthful energy and honed discipline in the acting department.

Several interviews are conducted in enriching the material with the members of the whole production team contributing individual stories and insights concerning corruption and politics.



With the TP Actors Company:

For inquiries on ticket reservations, group sales, sponsorships, special performances, please contact:

Cherry Bong Z. Edralin
Marketing Manager
Cultural Center of the Philippines
2/F Production Design Bldg. CCP Complex
Roxas Blvd. Pasay City
P +632 8321125 local 1620-1621
F. +632 8323661
Mobile: 0917-750-0107 / 0918-959-3949
Wireless landline: +632 218-3791

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Confessions of a Closet Darwinist

I’m a no big fan of science. My unscientific state of mind can be traced back all the way from high school. I must say I hated all science subjects, and biology was on top of the ranking. I was a lazy student alright and I’m not exactly proud about it. If you are interested to know why I cursed biology to the bones, it is this: I just can’t fathom the fact how biology could help me land a job in the near future when all we did in class is to cut open an innocent frog and memorize its body parts to pass the exam. In all fairness, my esteemed biology teacher Mrs.B. (and may she rest in peace) cannot be faulted why I was never a diligent student in her class. I was destined to be that way. Or to put it in a scientific perspective, I guess it was all part of my own evolution as a thinking person.

I regret never to have religiously studied the rudiments of biology in high school. It could have been a lot easier to understand what I have been reading and digesting all these years. As I dabbled with philosophy, studied esoteric ideas of great men who left a significant mark in the annals of history, strangely it was in the arena of science, biology in particular, that I came to know my newest hero. His name is Charles Darwin, the influential English naturalist who wrote this gigantic book, The Origin of Species.

Beyond the notion of frog-hunting, it was in my high school biology class when I first heard the name Charles Darwin. Back then, I pictured him merely as one of those typical textbook scientists famous for some weird scientific ideas and discoveries of his day. When I first heard my biology class teacher explaining in general how evolution by natural selection works, I was surprisingly in awe of its beauty and elegance. Just imagine how simple life forms could develop over long periods of time into increasingly complex creatures that we see today and you’ll get the entire picture. Maybe Darwin was right after all, at least scientifically. Evolution by natural selection seemed to be the most plausible natural process to explain why there are vast array of plants and animals on our planet. Given sufficient time with life-permitting conditions in our environment, who knows what the natural outcome might be, right? Anything seems possible. Nothing is static. Everything is susceptible to change. When we observe things around us that appear to be purposeless, or when we bellowed at the freaks of nature featured in the Discovery Chanel, the theory of evolution seem to fit perfectly in the grand scheme of the natural world.

Initially, my unscientific mind was willing to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. Not until, Darwin went further and introduced the idea that you and me share a common ancestor with apes. I was appalled by his claim. I felt disgusted to know that I’m just another animal species roaming this part of the jungle. Wandering around, preying on others. I know then that as a teenager I exhibited some kind of animalistic tendencies, especially towards the opposite sex. Touché! But who would have thought that science has a different view. A view that would make this supposed impish behaviour perfectly natural and normal. True enough, my ignorance in the realm of science made me wonder if Darwin could have been insane or something when he introduced this ludicrous idea that human beings came from the same common ancestor as the apes. If at all he was sane I said to myself, Darwin was simply guessing or playing hunches on this one. After all, the theory of evolution by natural selection is just a theory. And just like any other scientific theory floating around, the theory of evolution can never be accepted as a fact unless backed up by provable and well-reasoned explanation.

Growing up as a nominal Christian

I was raised in an Evangelical household, one where you had to be in articulo mortis to skip Sunday service or family devotions. Obviously, I learned to read at a very young age because our shelves were stacked with Christian literature, mostly bible story books for kids. The “Creation Week” in the Book of Genesis had to be one of my favorite bible stories. I was certain that I understood the Bible correctly: God created all living creatures, including human beings, in their present form during the six-day period known as “Creation Week.” The Bible did not say that these creatures, like the animal species have evolved over long periods of time, from less advanced life forms to complex ones. God created dogs as dogs, cats as cats no more no less! I could not imagine, not even in my wildest dreams that human beings are not special creations from a supernatural being whom we call God. The Darwinist view that human beings could have merely descended from the same common ancestor as the apes is simply preposterous. We are special creations. Human beings are created with a purpose. Despite my rudimentary knowledge on biology, I concluded that science limps as it walks on the issue of origin. No one, not even Charles Darwin and his ilk, could ever explain how it all began in the first place.

At the back of my mind however, something bothered me tremendously with what Charles Darwin is saying. My sudden three-hundred-sixty degree turnaround could hardly be considered intellectually-based or anything. I guess even if someone could present me with rock-solid evidence to support evolution, still I would suspend my judgment at that time. I would remain adamant and will refuse to accept it as a fact. I would go even further and label it as the work of the devil. I was fearful of Darwin’s theory because of its simple yet striking implication on the meaning of life. Although not a boxing enthusiast, I can tell that Darwin had just delivered a one-knockout punch, the heaviest blow unleashed against what I perceived to be an untouchable opponent. Looking back, my dismissive attitude was perhaps a smokescreen designed to conceal whatever reservations and doubts I had concerning one of the central dogmas of my faith─ the biblical story of creation. Ultimately my puerile mentality has something to do with the kind of intellectual laziness that most Christians are endowed: I know the Bible is true because it’s the Bible!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a theologian to grasp why the theory of natural selection would be so controversial. From the time Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 to this day, the debate continues. The once already volatile relationship between science and religion became more intense and defined with the theory of origin of species out in public. If new creatures are created by natural process, what is left for God, the creator of the universe? If evolution is true, then the biblical account in Genesis that human beings have descended from Adam and Eve is false.

So where do I stand between these two seemingly opposing views? My mind tells me to follow the trail of evidence wherever it may lead. In my years of personal study, research and discourses with people of different stripes, I come to the conclusion that evolution is fairly acceptable. Evolution is not a myth invented by some lunatic scientist who simply wants to take God out of the picture. Evolution is more than just a “theory” it is a fact, a scientific fact. When science uses the word “theory,” it means “explanation.” Creationists, perhaps overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, are of the notion that “theory” is synonymous with, “I’m not quite sure about it, that’s why I call it a theory.” Perhaps a simple illustration would suffice to repair this misconception. If evolution is false because it is just a theory then almost all great scientific discoveries would be false either. A cell would not exist because scientists allude to a “theory” called the Cell Theory to explain the subtleties of living cells. How about the Atomic Theory, a theory that teaches us the behaviour of atoms, does it mean that atoms do not exist? Likewise, the Theory of Evolution provides the blueprint for evolution and explains how its process and mechanism work.

Evolution and the Creation story

What is evolution anyway? Let me begin by saying that Charles Darwin did not invent evolution, he merely noticed it. In simplest terms, evolution is defined as the gradual accumulation of functional adaptations. In order for evolution to work successfully, three essentials are needed (1) time (2) genetic variety among offspring and (3) a mechanism for preserving only beneficial variation. Thus, from a simple life form, an organism can develop into a complex creature. Evolution basically posits that organisms change through time. Then it proceeds through the branching of common descent. Given enough time, changes within a species can accumulate into large changes that create new species or an increasing number of new species. The primary mechanism of evolution is of course Natural Selection. If natural selection is the process from which organisms are indebted for survival or extinction, what place then for a Designer? We must understand that natural selection is not a force but a description of a process. It shows us how the process works. There is no intelligent force behind the “selection” of organisms, there are no conscious choices involved in the process. In order to survive and reproduce in a given environment, one must have the right qualities (adaptations) superior than those of other species in the animal kingdom. Mammals like us are not here by chance. Neither are we here by random selection. We are what we are because we are naturally selected to live and experience life to the fullest.

It is my view that the evolutionary theory and the biblical story of creation are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true at the same time. One must stand out as fact and the other as a myth. They cannot be harmonized. Either you accept the literal truth of the “Creation Week” or distort the text of Genesis to accommodate scientific truths. Religious-minded individuals, whether they are Muslims or Christians, would bend high and low just to defend the truthfulness of the “holy book.” Because the Bible (or the Qur’an for that matter) is deemed to be the word of God, any doubts as to its veracity is unacceptable. The holy book, as they say, will forever be true to its word. Again, I could hear the fallacious dictum “I know the Bible is true because it’s the Bible” stinging my ears. The premise is quite simple: the creation story, one of the central dogmas of the Christian faith, is to be taken literally therefore, the theory evolution is a myth. What then is the staid response of the” righteous” in the face of rock-solid scientific evidence against a sacred dogma of faith? Obviously, they resort to all kinds of interpretations, patching loopholes one from the other. Rattled by an obnoxious idea that would offend their religious sensibilities, some would choose to accept every word of the Bible as literally true. The religious-literalists believe that since God created all life forms during a brief period known as the “Creation Week,” dinosaurs, gorillas and human beings walked the earth hand in hand together. As any avid student of science would know, this interpretation directly contradicts scientific evidence like the fossil records found in the geologic column. However despite overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the theory of evolution, fundamentalists are determined to undermine science by making it appear than no conflict exists between the two domains. But believe me, a stark conflict does exist. If evolution says that we’re all descended from a common ancestor as apes, would someone in his right mind say that it sounded like Adam and Eve? If God created us in His own image would you then conclude that God looks like an ape? Or perhaps He is an omnipotent ape? If you happen to be a religious-minded mammal, why not pick up a basic science textbook from your dusty shelves. Try flipping the pages and compare it with the wordings of the Book of Genesis. I’m sure you would be surprised with what you’re about to discover.

Dabbling with Intelligent Design

In the spirit of fairness, let us not single out one interpretation. It would be unfair to discredit the Book of Genesis by selective observation; the good book after all deserves a fair treatment in the marketplace of ideas. How about if we shun from the literal reading of the creation story, what would be the alternative? Perhaps because the evolutionary theory is widely accepted in the science community as fact, religious-minded individuals tend to be more liberal these days. In the Christian community as well as in the academic circles, a group of respected Evangelical intellectuals emerge as the vanguards of modern Christian thinking. This group is popularly known as the Intelligent Design Movement (ID for brevity). ID advocates believe that not every word of the Bible is literally true. Ergo, while the miracles of Jesus Christ in the New Testament are to be interpreted literally, the Book of Genesis should be understood in its metaphorical sense. So in a way if the literalists distort science to reconcile with Genesis, ID on the other hand distorts Genesis to make it harmonize with modern science. To some extent, ID accepts evolution to be true in so far as variations within plants and animals are concerned. Or when a strain of bacteria acquires immunity from antibiotic or rats acquire immunity to a particular type of poison, ID theorist concede that evolution is a fact. But as we know Darwin did not stop there. He goes hundred miles further by claiming that life began millions of years ago with simple cell creatures. And through mutation and natural selection, these simple cell organisms developed into complex creatures we see around today, including us. While ID advocates undeniably agree that micro-scale evolution has factual and scientific underpinnings, they disagree on one significant detail that could possibly account for life’s complexity. Quite similar to the argument raised by theologian William Paley more than centuries ago, ID intellectuals believe that some adaptations are too complex that could not have come about gradually through natural selection (e.g. the cellular evolution).

The gist of ID’s theory is that the vast majority of adaptations could have come about by Darwinian natural selection and only a small minority appears to be intelligently designed. In his book On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin made a daring admission,” If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, then my theory would absolutely break down.” Microbiologist Michael Behe, one of the leading progenitors of ID, took the challenge and published the critically-acclaimed book Darwin’s Black Box. In response to Darwin’s challenge, Behe offered recent biochemical discoveries that would show that Darwin was partially wrong with his theory. A case in point is the Cell. A cell, according to ID theorists, appears to be “irreducibly complex” in its structure which could not have been the result of Darwinian natural selection. I’m not a scientist but here’s how Behe’s argument works. Let us suppose that a cell has four parts and removal of any one of them will cause the cell to die. Now since all parts is indispensable to the operation of the cell no one of them could have come about in gradual stages until the other four were in place. Thus, the cell could not have evolved at all because the appearance of that cell requires that all four parts to be gradually evolving before the cell could work. From there, ID theorists felt that they have just debunked Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, after all the efforts to come up with a plausible scientific explanation on Nature’s complexity, ID intellectuals bolted out from the scientific world and preferred to take the supernatural route. Since there are no available scientific explanation to account for these “irreducible complex” adaptations, ID theorists assume that an Intelligent Designer might be the answer. Could the Intelligent Designer be the God of the Bible? Because ID presumably operates in the arena of science with a tinge of theology, ID intellectuals are careful enough not to mention the word “God” in any of their books. They insist with all their might that ID is science-based rather than pseudo-scientific.

It could have been an astounding scientific discovery had Behe offered a scientific alternative for Darwinism. Instead ID took a big leap from science all the way to theology, from natural to the supernatural. At this point, Intelligent Design has voluntarily unmasked itself, and exposed what their movement is really all about. Some religious fundamentalist labelled them as a “cult” for butchering settled religious doctrines, secular scientists mocked at them for their pseudo-scientific theories.

I think that the rise of ID movement in the academic circles has something to do with the recurring criticisms against the Church. (Here I'm referring to organized religions founded on a monotheistic belief-system.) From the time of Galileo to the publication of Darwin’s book on evolution until today, the Church has been accused of intolerance towards science. (Dan Brown’s best-selling novel Angels and Demons sheds light on the perceived "traditional" war between science and religion.) The ID movement in recent years has published scholarly materials in an attempt to merge religious dogmas and scientific truths. I myself have been a vociferous reader of Intelligent Design literature, books authored by scientists M. Behe and W. Dembski. I enjoyed their books a lot because of the intellectual satisfaction I get. Clearly, these ID intellectual giants illuminated my mind on the intersection of science and religion. ID restored my faith that not all religious-minded mammals are dumb. Still I wish Christians should spend more time reading books of the same calibre and throw away all their non-sense praise-the-lord antics in the garbage bin. But despite the smokescreen and euphemisms hidden in the façade of ID, It is my view that the fulcrum from which ID arguments stand is more akin to theology rather than pure modern science. This is problematic because as they go along with their brand of science, ID proponents end up perverting the Book of Genesis and possibly the Bible itself.

Reconciling belief in God and Darwinian Evolution

I accept evolution as much as I believe in God. I subscribe to Darwinism as much as I believe in “Creationism.” If science has proven that human beings descended from a common ancestor as apes then so be it. If science has proven that living organisms are but a product of natural selection sans intervention of the supernatural, then by all means, bring it on! But let me point out one important observation: the theory of evolution does not belie the existence of a Creator. Neither does it say that evolution can explain life’s origin. Whether evolution is true or not, it does not in any way affect my belief that there is a Creator somewhere looking at the universe.

I do not agree that if someone accepts evolution he then becomes an atheist. Evolution does not necessarily imply atheism or the belief that there is no God. At the very least, Darwinian evolution will force someone to step back, take off his mythological blinders and look at the scientific evidence more carefully. But religion has its way of discrediting Darwinian evolution. Of course, if evolution claims that life began in the primordial soup of life then human beings are nothing but the “outcome of mindless collocation of atoms.” Consequently, defenders of the faith are quick to point out that with Darwinism as a dogma, morality is jettisoned because human beings are devoid of any transcendent cause from which to ground their objective moral law. In other words, and let me be frank about this, acceptance of Darwinism if taken to its logical conclusion causes a person to be immoral. Let me put it in a logical way: Evolution implies that there is no God, (which I do not agree) therefore belief in the theory of evolution leads to atheism. Without a belief in God there can be no morality therefore human beings will be reduced into visceral animals. To the uninitiated, religious-minded individuals in particular, if acceptance of evolution leads to immorality why bother looking at the technical details of science? Why waste your time trying to understand about Cambrian explosion, the fossils records, and all the intricacies that science has to offer? It’s enough that Christian apologists have persuasively linked Darwinian evolution with the towering monsters of the 20th century namely Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. Indeed, if evolution is synonymous with moral degeneration who would want to subscribe to such a view of human destruction? But this is a misunderstanding. The evolutionary theory is not a dogma, not even a worldview that seeks to explain the “why” questions. It is my humble view that Darwinian evolution as a scientific explanation has little to say on the issue of origin much less on morality and meaning. In fact, even Charles Darwin in his time was not quite sure what to say on the issue of origin all he could offer was a brave speculation, a scientific guess how life came to be in this planet. So let us not burden ourselves by putting up the historical ramifications of Social Darwinism to disprove evolution. The fears and apprehensions echoed in the pulpit of these hallowed churches have nothing to do whether evolution is true or not. Like in the courts of law, the scientific evidence for evolution must be weighed on its own merits. If you think that acceptance of a scientific view will challenge your faith in God then think again. I mean does it really bother you what process He used to create life? If He so decides to let nature take its course would you abandon your faith just because science offers a natural explanation of the process? C’mon! Think again.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, science in a way cemented my faith in God. Evolution by natural selection does not disprove or diminish God’s awesome powers. In fact the reverse is true. Darwinian evolution as a scientific view of the natural world illuminates the grandeur of God’s works as the great architect of the entire universe. Let us not shy away from science simply because of its age-old association with atheism. Believers must embrace science for what it is and what it’s capable of in the same way “legit” theologians embrace their theology warts and all. (Most pastors of Evangelical churches these days are not exactly theologians in the truest sense of the word. Most of them are self-proclaimed preachers whose only pedigree is guts!) In the best-selling book The Language of God, Dr. Francis S. Collins, a Christian scientist and head of the Human Genome Project explicated on the relationship of faith and science: Science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul, and the mind must find away to embrace both realms.

We all fear what we do not understand. Most people know little about evolution. Some refuse to talk about it because of its moral implication. Others somehow do not think that evolution would likely affect their lives. Whatever their motives are, let me say that the greatest threat against faith is not science but IGNORANCE. Case closed. Closet opened. Whalah! I am a Darwinist!

References from my personal library:

Atheist Universe by David Mills
Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer
Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael Behe
The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Evil and Suffering Matter

“If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” Augustine

In early 2004, my father was diagnosed of lung cancer. Being the optimist that he was and a lover of life, he fought hard to survive. After a series of tedious chemotherapy and other high-prized medication, still, there was no showing of positive signs to recovery. His doctor, who often assured us of his greater chances of survival, now seemed hopeless when my father had not responded to his medication the way he expected. We were stunned to see our father’s deteriorating condition. We can feel the pangs of his ordeal. But knowing that he had always been a robust fighter, he never complained nor blamed anyone for his condition. We on the other hand, the watchers, are the impatient ones. We can’t seem to understand what was happening. No amount of medical explanation could ease our worries. But my father, with Bible on hand, kept on assuring us that God would rescue us from this unfortunate event. “I will be healed,” he said more than couple of times. And all of us just can’t hold back our emotions. We were teary-eyed in the hospital room, all trying our best to conceal our weaknesses. I believe it was his Christian faith that led him all throughout his suffering. The longer we stayed in the hospital, the stronger his faith grew. Reality however bits really hard. His insurmountable faith was not solely enough to keep him alive. If only we had millions to sustain his medication, I guess my father would have never stopped fighting. But at some point, we need to decide as a family. Until finally, perhaps seeing the hopelessness of the medication with coffers almost empty, he simply uttered, “I just want to go home.” As painful and frustrating as it was, we had no choice but to grant his wish. And so off we go. And soon, off he went.

My father lasted only a month after we left Manila. While the sun was about to rise for the rest of us, it was already setting down for him. I can still remember that dawn when my aunt called me only to break the saddest news of all: Papang is gone! Those exact words still haunt me up to this day. The news of my father’s demise loosened all emotions kept inside. Afterall, it was I who was with him in every inch of his ordeal. And his strength made me feel strong too. Not until that day. My chest was on the brink of explosion. Tears were endlessly flowing as if wanting to wash away the grief that owned my every limb. The pain was unbearable if not excruciating. Papang was no longer here to comfort his little Pey. I felt lost like a little child. But I am a child no more and Papang would not want to see me this way. It was indeed difficult to clear my thoughts then but I tried hard enough to hang on desperately and rationalize everything as part of reality. On board the airplane heading home, questions lingered on my mind. “Why did something like this has to happen?” And I began to question the purpose of pain and suffering in this world, “C’mon God, my father served the ministry whole heartedly yet you took him away from us, what in the name of reason is that?” It was by far the unhappiest flight of my life. For the duration of that flight all I ever did was to control my tears and emotions. Yet tears just kept on flowing incessantly and there was no way I could have stop it. Only Papang could stop it. As the in-flight attendants were busy with their chores smiling at every passenger while serving refreshments, there I was languishing with the thought that my father was gone─ gone forever!

Years later as I witness a friend so devastated with the tragic death of his mother, killed in a car accident, an officemate whose child is stricken with an incurable disease, a mendicant afflicted with leprosy, I can’t help but sympathize with their predicament. I’m sure as human beings they too asked the same age-old existential question: If there is a loving God then why is there so much suffering in the world?

Before going into the heart of the matter, let me just dabble a bit with the philosophical aspect of the problem of evil and suffering in general and try to decimate whatever intellectual reservations you might have concerning this existential issue. For purposes of clarity however I shall be using moral and natural evil interchangeably. In any case, let me remind the reader that even in philosophical realm of argumentation God is not expendable.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

What is evil in the first place? Evil in simple terms is a departure of what is “ought” to be. For evil to exists, goodness too must exist. Evil therefore is not something that has an existence on its own rather it is a corruption of that which already exists. To illustrate, tooth decay can only exist if the tooth exists. As Christian philosopher Norman Geisler notes, “Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth-holes in a garment. “But I must hasten to note that to say evil has no existence of its own is not the same as saying that evil is an illusion or unreal. Evil is the corruption of something good, that is to say “it is not an actual entity but a real corruption in an actual entity.” Thus, it stands to reason that evil is real and suffering is a conspicuous form of evil.

The problem of evil and suffering arises because God claims to be all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good yet evil exists. Let us focus on the two divine attributes namely, God being all-powerful and all-good. At first blush, common sense can easily point out the logical contradiction of these claims. How can God be all-good when there is so much evil and suffering in the world? Consequently, if He is held to be all-powerful then certainly to defeat evil is effortless yet the opposite seems to be true, evil never cease to exist. To reconcile the three concepts is almost logically unsound because either you have to deny any of the three concepts exists or modify the concepts altogether to achieve consistency. How then should we respond to such overwhelming evidence of suffering and evil while at the same time keeping God in the picture? Famous skeptic David Hume raised the possibility that the Biblical God does not exist in this scathing manner: Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing whence then is evil? The perceived logical contradiction of the divine attributes with the existence of evil stems from an erroneous appreciation of concepts. What does it mean when we say God is all-powerful? I think it is here where the questioner attempts to explain everything away just to make his point. By all-powerful, most skeptics think that God can do everything and anything. But “omnipotence,” at least from the theistic sense, is not to be understood as “omnivolitional,” meaning God can will anything. If that be the case then God can will himself into extinction. God can will himself to make mistakes. So if we are trying to achieve coherence, then we must avoid contradiction to make the assertion logically valid and truthful. Thus, “omnipotence” does not mean that God can do everything. It only means God can do anything that which is possible. Anything that which is meaningful. He can’t make squares circles because the analogy poses mutual exclusivity. As Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft explains, “God can do everything that is meaningful, everything that is possible, and everything that makes sense at all. God cannot make himself cease to exist. He cannot make good evil.” To say that God is all-powerful, and that includes the power to make mistakes, is to create a self-contradiction. If we seek coherence on the divine attributes of God, I think the problem is not with God's nature or character but the validity of the question itself.

Viewed in this context, it would make a fool out of God to bestow free will upon human beings with no possibility of moral evil. Imagine a world without pain and suffering and we will end up like robots for we would not have the capacity to make choices and freely love. But is it correct to say that God is the creator of evil? To say that evil is a product of creation is to say that evil can exists on its own. “No, he (God) created the possibility of evil: people actualized that potentiality,” said Kreeft in the best-selling book The Case for Faith. “The source of evil is not God’s power but mankind’s freedom. Even an all-powerful God could not have created a world in which people had genuine freedom and yet there was no potentiality of sin, because freedom includes the possibility of sin within its own meaning. It’s a self-contradiction, a meaningless nothing, to have a world where there’s real choice while at the same time no possibility of choosing evil.” As one noted Biblical scholar put it, “Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will.” Therefore, the claim that God is all-powerful is in fact logically consistent with the existence of evil.

David Hume’s emotion-laden critique of God is a valid one for it touches the heart and soul of human existence. His tirade on the divine attributes of God represents our own hidden presuppositions on the mystery of evil and suffering vis a vis the existence of a loving God. The terrorist attack in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 or the occurrence of the Nazi holocaust seems to validate Hume’s thesis. Where was God when Hitler committed genocide or when Stalin murdered his own people all for the sake of power? If indeed there is a God, and he is what he claims to be, these atrocities would have not happened. But let us pause and analyze the core of this existential question. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Here for the sake of argument Hume impliedly accepted God to be all-powerful and has shifted his critique on God’s character to demonstrate contradiction. If He is all-powerful then certainly He cannot be called all-good for refusing to prevent evil. Thus, since laws of logic dictate that contradictions cannot be true at the same time, it is therefore logical to conclude that God does not exist. How then should we debunk this type of philosophical word games? Does the abundance of evil and suffering really disprove the existence of an all-loving God? Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias has a unique method, sort of a philosophical judo in dealing with this problem: The existence of God cannot be disproved by introducing the reality of evil and wickedness. Those categories only exist if an absolute moral law exists. And an absolute moral law exists only if God exists. Implicit in the equation of Hume’s critique on God is the smuggled assumption of an absolute moral framework from which he ought to judge God as malevolent if he refuses to wield his power to defeat evil. What was he really saying when he categorized God as malevolent if he is able but not willing to defeat evil? Is he saying that such behavior ‘ought’ not to be good of a God who claims to be all-good? In any of these assertions, Hume has just invoked a moral law in raising the question, a moral law which declares: It would be immoral of God, with all the powers at His disposal, not to prevent evil and suffering in this world. Hume’s critique of God had in fact unearthed his own assumption of an absolute moral law that squarely contradicted his conclusion─ that there is no God. In other words, the abundance of evil and suffering does actually prove the existence of God rather than disproving it. Let me illustrate further on this point. Again I will borrow Dr. Ravi Zacharias’ succinct argument:

When you assert that there is such a thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good. When you say there is such a thing as good you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be a standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral law giver—the source of the moral law.

The fact of the matter is it is impossible to judge evil from good unless there is an infinite reference point that is supremely good. And it is here that God is indispensable for He alone can exhaust the definition of absolutely good. “If God does not exist,” writes Fyodor Dostoevsky, “everything is permitted.” To categorize Hitler’s actions as evil one must reconsider his assumptions implicit in the statement he is making. If one is to claim that Hitler’s actions as evil can someone also disagree and say that the holocaust is perfectly right? I’m sure someone can but can he validly justify his assumptions that a moral law should be viewed as a matter of taste or personal preference? The answer is no. To call God as ‘malevolent’ for allowing evil things to happen, the questioner must in the first place, show how he has arrived at an absolute moral law from which he anchored his moral critique on God. If he has none then he will end up shooting his own feet by raising the question in the moral context. There’s no other way of doing it and the questioner is trapped with his own assumptions. Man cannot be the measure of everything. Any philosophy that has built its moral structure with the assumption that a transcendent being is expendable finds itself groping in the dark. History is replete with lessons that our judgment on what is right and wrong cannot be trusted. The horrible crimes committed by Hitler and his peers founded on a godless philosophy should alert us that man could never be the measure of an objective moral law. In sum, we could never escape reality that without God as an infinite reference point, there are no moral absolutes from which to distinguish right and wrong. Otherwise “one is like a person on a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a compass.”

Is there a purpose in allowing evil and suffering? “All is for the best in the best of all possible words,” so said Voltaire in his magnum opus Candide, a satire on misplaced optimism. But is there really an ultimate purpose behind every suffering and evil from the Christian purview? I sincerely believe there is. Albeit our world may not be the best of all possible worlds but it is the best way to the best possible world. Most of us think that because there is so much evil and pain in this world God is not dealing with it at all. At best, God is not finished yet. If He claims to be an all-powerful God then nothing, absolutely nothing is impossible. If He single-handedly created the universe, defeating evil is piece of cake. Popularly stated: If God is all-good, he will defeat evil. If God is all-powerful, he can defeat evil. Evil is not yet defeated. Therefore, God can and will one day defeat evil.

The Emotional Problem of Evil

Now that we have confronted the logical problem of evil vis a vis a loving God, let us now deal with the emotional problem of evil. Let us now look at my own existential journey so far and how I responded to it.

In the Christian worldview the problem of evil, pain and suffering is not really a problem. In fact, it is a manifestation of God's awesome character that can be summarized in a single word: love. God created the universe with a pupose. We are not here by accident or by chance chemical reactions as scientist, the so-called "brights" would like us to believe. Thus, evil and suffering must be viewed in the context of God's purposes that give meaning and significance in our lives. Sometimes things appear to be pointless and meaningless. When something bad happens that is beyond human comprehension, we don't seek refuge from philosophical or scientific theories, instead we turn to God for comfort. Then ask him why these horrible things had to happen. What is the ultimate meaning of life. What is the significance of suffering. All of these questions are deeply rooted in our nature as human beings, sort of a reflex, because we are designed to feel and question our existence one time or another.

If God does exist, how can he be called all-good while allowing my father, his faithful servant, to suffer and die? I’m sure someone out there has asked the same question and it never gets old. We could always tell similar stories of personal pain and sorrow. No one could escape this dreadful feeling of losing a loved one. The sad part in life is each and every one of us will have his fair share of pain and suffering. But the hardest part to accept in all of human existence is the fact that we will all die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We must understand that from the standpoint of God all is not lost here. Yes it’s true that once a loved one dies the thought of never seeing him again, at least in our lifetime, is the most painful stage of the ordeal. And for sure as we struggle to understand the meaning of a ‘lost’ life God takes his share of the burden and constantly feels our pain. But we must note that God is the author of life and the power to restore it is inherent in His divine authorship. While we may conclude that a life is lost in death, God has a different way of looking at it by restoring life to the one who has ‘lost’ it. “The life that is ‘lost’ is not lost when it is in the hands of the one who made it and sustains it.” I’m sure by now my father is more than happy to know that a life with God in heaven is so much greater than the life lived in flesh.

Few years back, as I witness a close friend so devastated with the tragic death of his mother, killed in a car accident all I could mutter was, “Everything must have a purpose.” I know it was a lame explanation for what had happened but it has to be right? Surely I thought, if death is meaningless then life is meaningless too and vice versa. Be that as it may but how can we, those who are left behind to grief, find meaning in the face of suffering, say death of a loved one? When my father died, the one who suffered the most was his lifelong partner for many years─ my mother. His death made my mom plunge into the depths of depression. Moving forward without him became a day by day struggle. As her children we tried our best to comfort and remind her that all is not lost when Papang died and that we are still here to take care of her, to love her. Of course we knew how unsuccessful we are in comforting her for we could never replace the warmth of his embrace. My father indeed was a tough act to follow.

On my part,I suddenly lost interest in my law studies. My grades went down and my performance in class was gravely affected. Back then, he used to brag that his youngest son was in law school and all that he really wanted after retirement was to see my name in the rolls. Of course, he witnessed how my eldest brother took his oath as a lawyer at the PICC, but my case was a special one. I guess probably because I’m the prodigal bunso in the family. Unfortunately,the big ‘C’ took him away while I was still at the inception of my law studies. It took years before I was able to pull my act altogether.

So where was God amidst the raging storm that struck us? I believe He stood right in the middle. For those who bears the bereavement and must survive the loss of a loved one, God offers utmost comfort and healing. It is here that we Christians can find the ultimate purpose behind our sufferings. In Cries of the Heart, Dr. Ravi Zacharias made this wonderful reminder:
Across history the greatest testimonies of the all-encompassing grace of God have been demonstrated, not as psychological ploys, but because of the real presence of God in the life of one who lives with that pain. God not only gives inner healing and sustenance but the promise that those who have been separated will meet again. Relationships that are made in God never die.
I always cling to that promise that someday, somewhere in heaven our family will be whole again. And believe me, God never fails to fulfill his promises and that makes our relationship with Him so fascinating and real.

Atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said that, "Men and Women can endure any amount of suffering as long as they know the why of their existence." Ironically, I have to agree for there is some profound biblical truth in his pronouncement. Belief in God and the commitment to follow Christ makes us resilient amidst overwhelming pain and suffering. Our endurance comes not from the "primieval soup" of life but from the character of God as exemplified in the holy book. The wonder of God's character by allowing His sinless son to be crucified speak of one very important aspect of the problem of evil and suffering; that He can take even the worst of evil and turn it to good ends.

As I revisit the life of my beloved father, I realized what a wonderful life he had lived. Unlike other people, his joy of living does not come from mundane sources like material things or academic pedigree. His, came from God. Happiness to him came handily by serving the Lord through the ministry. While sophisticated philosophers struggled for centuries with existential issues on how to achieve happiness, my father had made it all appear too simple for him. In his epitaph these words are inscribed which best explains his simple yet profound biblical philosophy in life, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

■Zacharias, Ravi K. 2008. The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheist. Zondervan
■Steele, David R. 2008. Atheism Explained. Open Court Publishing Co.
■Strobel, Lee 2000. The Case for Faith. Zondervan
■Rhodes, Ron. 2003 “Tough Question about Evil” in Who Made God (Geisler, Norman and Zacharias, Ravi K. as General Editors) Zondervan