Big Bang Blues

Photo Credit: Exyt via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Exyt via Compfight cc

Since yesterday was Chinese New Year, which is traditionally celebrated with firecrackers (except in Davao City), I thought of talking about the Big Bang Theory and the misconceptions surrounding it.

I got the impression that some people are just so miseducated about it when I got into a couple of arguments with biblical creationists regarding the matter. One person posted a recent science article on Facebook entitled, “Quantum Equation Suggests the Big Bang Never Occurred and the Universe Has No Beginning” and then challenged evolutionists to explain that. I found that so misguided because the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory are two different things. He responded by saying that evolution started with the Big Bang, which while technically true, is still a non-argument. The Big Bang is an explanation of how the universe began while evolution is an explanation of how life forms change over time. So invalidating the Big Bang does not suddenly cancel evolution. I did not even point out then that instead of questioning evolution, he should probably question his own beliefs first.  After all, he’s the one with the holy book that starts with the phrase “In the beginning…”

Things got interesting when another creationist called the Big Bang theory an invention of atheist scientists who simply wanted to do away with God. She further claimed that it was an illogical theory because it could not explain how life came from non-life (something it was NOT set out to explain in the first place). What I found hilarious was when she asked if anyone had ever seen life come out of an explosion like that of dynamites or bombs. I found that such an uneducated premise to begin with that I simply told her to learn the science first because she had no idea what she was talking about.

So what is the Big Bang Theory and how did it come about?

Well, first of all, it was not an explosion like that of a firecracker. The expression was coined by British Astronomer Fred Hoyle in a 1950 radio broadcast, “to create a picture in the mind of the listener.” It is more accurate to say that there was a very rapid expansion of the universe at the beginning of time. In other words, it was as if there was nothing in one moment and in the next, the universe was there, and growing at a very fast rate. Although “moment” is probably still an inaccurate term because time and space (as we know it) began with that expansion.

Anyway, the theory had its beginnings in the 1920’s. Edwin Hubble observed that other galaxies were moving away from our own at a very rapid pace. This led to the thinking that at some point in the past, galaxies were much closer to each other and if you went further and further back in time, you could eventually trace everything back to single point called a singularity. It was when that singularity expanded that our universe came into being. That is the Big Bang Theory in a nutshell.

Another observation that backs up the theory is the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. If the universe was much denser before, then it would certainly be hotter than it is now (since heat would dissipate as galaxies moved further apart). If so, we should be able to find some traces of this heat, and that is exactly what astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered in 1965, which earned them the Nobel Prize.

Now, the Big Bang Theory is certainly not the ONLY model of how the universe began, but it is the most popular as it is considered to best fit the evidence we have SO FAR. It is not simply the product of an atheist scientist’s propaganda against the Bible. To think that way would be to discredit decades of research and study by both theist and atheist scientists alike.

That being said, there ARE valid criticisms and objections to the theory, but one must first learn the science in order to fully understand what these are, and to frame them in the proper context. To do otherwise would be downright silly, irresponsible and childish.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Saving A Life

Photo by Martina Audrey Uyboco
Photo by Martina Audrey Uyboco

When I started this column two years ago, I didn’t know it would last two years. Ever since I was in my early twenties, I had a dream to be a columnist. I would pick up different newspapers, turn to the opinions section, and wonder how these writers could churn out essay after essay every week, and in some cases, even every day.

But this little dream got tossed in the corner for around 20 years. I never bothered applying as a columnist, because I didn’t know what I could write about that I could sustain for more than a month or two.

Then I got older, had more experiences and life stories under my belt, and thought that maybe I should give it a try now. So I looked for a friend who used to be a journalist, and who I tapped before to give seminars to my students who handled the school paper, and found out she was already editor-in-chief. I got in touch with her, showed her some of my stuff, and here we are.

Here I am at the keyboard on Wednesday midnight, trying to beat my Thursday deadline. I had originally entitled the column “Friday the 13th” hoping to write something about superstition and science but I couldn’t really think of anything interesting or original along that line.

So I tried a tactic that has worked for me in the past. When I can’t think of anything to write, I start writing about writing and see where that goes.

Oh look, I have 5 paragraphs already.

Some people don’t know why I bother writing. It’s certainly not for the money. Why do I torture myself so week after week, wracking my brain, squeezing words and ideas out of it? Perhaps it’s my way of organizing the many jumbled thoughts I have. Perhaps it’s my way of reaching out to others and helping along their journey as I too seek my way and fumble along my own path.

Once in a while, I get the occasional comment or the occasional email that encourages me to go on and continue what I’m doing. Here is one such letter I got that surprised me because it comes from someone in his eighties. It is a response to last week’s article, “Do You Believe In God?”:

Dear Andy,

You have saved my life. It is difficult to live in a world in which everyone considers you as an old idiot who must be humoured, or as a person who has no idea of “the truth” and must be enlightened. Unless one is very sure of oneself (and that itself is a trait which frightens me) one ends up wondering whether they are right and you yourself are wrong. Almost all of my former socialist and communist friends lost their belief either at the time of the Hungarian uprising or the collapse of the Soviet Union and now find it more comfortable to live in an “artistic” world of literature, music and painting.  I felt certain that if I was alone then I was likely to be wrong – “they are all out of step except me”.  In literature I felt that people like Tolstoy approached my ideas – but then justified them in a very strong belief in Christianity. You are the first person who has shown me that I am not alone.

Einstein’s answer was inspiring – am I foolish in considering it as part of the Jewish liberal tradition. Of course we are supposed to believe in that nasty God you describe, but somehow Einstein and others seem to have benefited from these ideas which they probably encountered in their early life.  I’ve got to give that more thought.

Once again – THANK YOU FOR – HOW CAN I PUT IT? showing me that I am not a freak with strange, confused ideas about all of (or most of ) the important issues in life.

John

Thanks also, John, for showing me that I am not alone and that I am not a freak. Or maybe both of us are freaks. But rest assured, there are many more out there.

One thing for sure, you have also saved my life as much as you say I have saved yours.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

 

Do You Believe In God?

Photo Credit: itspaulkelly via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: itspaulkelly via Compfight cc

Dear sir,

Your articles are interesting but I am confused. Sometimes you talk like an atheist and sometimes, you talk as if you’re not. So let me just ask you straight, do you believe in God or not?

Chris

=====

Dear Chris,

The question you ask seems like a simple one to answer. I can answer “Yes” or “No” and that would be the end of it. The problem begins when I start to think hard about the question — because there is that one word that we might not agree on — that word is “God.”

What “God” means for you and what it means for me may be totally different things. If by “God” you mean the “God” in the Bible who commanded that homosexuals be put to death (Leviticus 20:13) and that rebellious children must be stoned (Deuteronomy 21:22), then no, I no longer believe in that God.

If “God” for you means “Jesus” (forget that Old Testament dude — which you really can’t because they’re both supposed to be the same guy even though one is the son and the other is the father but they’re one anyway), then I’m still working on that. I am currently reading a book, On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier which advances the idea that Jesus was not a historical person but a myth. I’ll probably devote a future article or two on this topic when I have read more but so far (I’m around 25% into the book), Carrier is presenting a well-referenced and well-thought out case. This is definitely scholarly work and not some run-of-the-mill conspiracy theory.

If “God” for you means “Allah” or “Krishna” or “Vishnu” or “Cthulhu” or any of those, I probably don’t believe them either but I claim only a very shallow understanding of them given my background.

If “God” for you means the universe (or some creative, unexplainable life force) — like if you’re the type of person who says, “Thank you, universe,” or “The universe told me this or that,” then I feel some kinship with you. Another person recently asked what I thought about Albert Einstein’s views on God so I did a little research and found an interview where he was asked the very same question you ask me now. I think he gave a very intelligent reply (though that shouldn’t surprise anyone). He said:

“Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”

An interesting reply, don’t you think?

Good morning, universe.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Was There A Miracle?

Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

One of my regular readers, an American IT expert visiting Davao, who calls himself Charlie5 (he says he is a Daoist and a shaman), sent in a response to last week’s article, After The Pope Has Gone. He makes some interesting counterpoints to my article and I decided to publish his reply in whole (making only minor edits for spelling and brevity):

Was there a miracle?

The miracles, if they occurred, would have taken place in the ‘netherworlds’ of the hearts and minds of the true believers, miracles that inspired the outpourings of grace that would have been noticeable by the people present at the mass. I was at the SM mall watching with hundreds of Davaoeños, and when they raised their white handkerchiefs with the crowd, I thought it to be a moment of grace, similar maybe to a really good episode of “Little House on the Prairie.”

Is grace a miracle? Do you take it for granted, the grace of spontaneous outpouring hearts and out-flowing love?

I enjoyed your article this morning, and I liked the idea you came up with, on the Vatican offering to pay for the whole mess. I hadn’t thought of that solution to the dilemma clearly present as we watched all the coverage leading up to the event. That would indeed have been grace, taking the pope’s message of poverty and humility further into practice, and would have set a fantastic example.

We have heard the Catholic Church complain now, though, for at least a decade, about financial losses, churches closing left and right. Of course from where we sit, they still have gold plated roofs at the Vatican, things like that. My guess is, though Francis himself may have honestly wished for it, he’s probably like a democratic ‘President Obama’ trying to implement his ideals with a republican legislature tying him back down, ‘checks and balances’, as they say. I bet Pope Francis couldn’t have made it happen if he wanted to, because, as the philosopher Hegel said, this is not the divine infinite we live in, this is the realm of the finite, the realm of inequality.

And I disagree with you about the answer to the tears.

I wrote to a friend a few days after the pope’s mass, a woman back in the US who suffers with just such a question and with just such pain, and explained this pope’s graceful response, a response similar to one my dad once displayed in my presence; my dad was a former Jesuit, the same order that this pope came from (Francis is the first Jesuit pope in the history of the Catholic Church).

My dad was also a Jesuit priest at Fordham, until he got my mom pregnant with me.

Well, one day, very late in his life, maybe a couple of years before he died, we were getting into the elevator with our groceries from C-Town (he called it “K-town” for the weird logo) to our 6th floor apartment on Marion Avenue, and this old guy got into the elevator with us.

Apparently a tattoo of a six digit number was showing on his arm and my dad asked this stranger, ‘Excuse me, but does that mean what I think it means?’

And the older Jewish man replied ‘Yes, I am a survivor of Auschwitz’.

And it shocked the hell out of me, 15 or 16 years old at the time, to see my father break down in honest and total tears, and take both of this man’s hands in his, and say, in complete tears, crying with compassion, “God bless you! God bless you!”.

I did tear up, at several points during the pope’s mass.

And when I wrote to my friend back in the US, I told her truthfully, ‘As I write this tonight, it is suddenly pouring here in Davao, pouring irrationally hard like a New Orleans thunderstorm, like the universe itself is crying.’

For weeks I’d been struggling to find the right way to answer the personal pain that she had finally opened up about via email and eloquently explained to me. I took a couple of shots at it on my own – I thought I was a smart and strong shaman – but I failed completely and she let me know it, speaking of her simple need for empathy.

When the pope cancelled his speech on the environment on the fly and launched into his explanation, how “it is only when Christ cried, he’s capable to cry, that he understands what’s going on in our lives”, THAT was the miracle I had been asking the universe for, waiting for without knowing it. And I cried for my friend.

Charlie5

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

After the Pope Has Gone

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle describes the recently concluded papal visit as a “miracle,” though I wonder what constitutes a miracle for the good cardinal. Miracles must indeed be in short supply these days if what transpired could pass for one.

It would have been a miracle, for example, if our security personnel did not have to eat, drink or piss on duty, obviating the need for MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino to suggest that they wear adult diapers. Though it was a practical suggestion, it would have been another miracle if God had bestowed the good chairman with a little more wisdom not to make a public announcement of the matter, as it quickly became the subject of ridicule and embarrassment, so much so that the PNP had to make a statement that policemen won’t be wearing diapers while on duty.

It would have been a miracle if corrupt politicians suddenly burst into flames as the Pope delivered his message at Malacañang, urging political leaders to “be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.” Oh what a happy bonfire that would have been. On the other hand, we would probably be left with no political leaders. But then again, is that so bad? I wonder.

It would have been a miracle if government did not have to spend millions of taxpayers’ pesos (not all of which are from Catholics) to ensure the Pope’s and everyone’s safety and security during the event. As it is, papal visits probably cost us more than we think they do. A worker’s group, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, is demanding to know how much was spent on the Papal visit, in the spirit of transparency. I do not have the exact figures for this but the same source states that a total of 40,000 security personnel were employed during the 5-day visit. This does not include opportunity and business costs lost during the cancellation of flights and the declaration of non-working holidays.

I am not talking about expecting angels to appear from the sky to act as the Pope’s bodyguards, thus nullifying the need for our government to spend for security. That may be too much to ask. The Vatican opening its checkbooks and offering to reimburse this third-world country for all the expenses incurred would be miracle enough for me.

It would have been a miracle if Philippine media had enough sense and dignity to refrain from making major headlines of the Pope’s every move. “Pope Opens Car Door Himself,” for example. How is that news? I’m glad I didn’t see “Pope Goes to the Toilet Himself.”

It would have been a miracle if the Pope could have provided a clear answer to the girl who asked him why children like her have to suffer — have to be abandoned by their parents or forced into prostitution. Yet, in the end, all he could do was embrace her in silence, and he later on implored the audience to “learn to weep, truly weep.” Now I am not belittling this response as I have no answer myself. But I would hardly call it miraculous.

It would have been a miracle if Kristel Padasas, who was listening to the Pope’s mass in Tacloban, had not died when strong winds caused the scaffolding beside her to fall on her.

It would have been a miracle if Metro Manilans picked up their own trash instead of leaving a mess after the Pope’s mass in Luneta.

And it would be a miracle, if after all this hullaballoo over the Pope’s visit, we see a decline in corruption and TRAPO politics. It would be a miracle if we see a decline in poverty levels, if we have more level-headed officials making sound and fair policies.

But as evidenced by a senator who doubts the Pope’s own words when he admonished Catholics to not breed like rabbits, even if it was clearly caught on video, and could easily be verified with the Big “G” (Google), nothing much has changed. Government is still filled with corrupt and inept people. The poor and suffering are still poor and suffering.

Miracles are indeed in short supply and I wouldn’t put much stock in them.

The pope has gone back home. The euphoria is over. There are no miracles or superheroes. If we want change, we better get to work.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Filipino Freethinkers.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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