Sunday, November 28, 2004

Of creation, evolution, and monks arguing over angels doing the cha-cha

My old friend Mike Quijano, a contemporary at the Ateneo Law, once chided me for theologizing on air. And for a long time, I have refrained from making comments on theology, because it is not "my battlegound." But Sassy Lawyer has enlivened my interests on this field with a discussion on the history of man. And in spite of the risk of getting berated by Mike Q., straight from Mt. Fiji where he is based, I will indulge a bit to find out if I still have my bearings.

On the Creation-Evolution Debate

Did man get here by evolution or by creation?

If this question were asked in a courtroom, my instincts will immediately get me at my feet:

Objection, the question is misleading. It falsely assumes that the theory of creation makes the theory of evolution impossible, in the same manner, that it falsely assumes that the theory of evolution makes the theory of creation impossible.

Creation is not an event of the past. It is unfolding at this very moment in space and time. Thus, if we assume that evolution is true, it is consistent with the theory of creation, because creation posits that God created us, and is continuing to create us, just as evolution may have happened, and is continuing to happen.

Fr. Roche, S.J. my theology professor, once asked our class, when did God create the world? One classmate said, “Father, ... in the beginning.” Then Fr. Roche said,"Are you saying that God is not creating you now?”

Then he got a notebook and said, “Class, do you understand? If God decides not to create this notebook any more at this very moment, this notebook is not going to drop to the floor. This notebook is going to vanish.”

In other words, it’s not as if God created man in the beginning, and left him alone on his own. Rather, it is a creation that is happening at this very moment. It is the sustenance that has allowed us to exist since the beginning of time, until this very moment, perhaps even until tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on

Micketymoc comments, "according to biochemist Peter Atkins, the given physical conditions of the universe allow for an infinitely lazy Creator - a God with absolutely nothing to do! The natural processes of the cosmos take care of making the stars, the plants, and us."

My take, if God were lazy, Mr. Atkins, would not exist.

Thus, creation and evolution are not diametrically opposed concepts. Both could be true. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Phenomemon of Man attempted to reconcile the two. I would leave this debate on this point, and proceed to be what is the heart of the matter: Whether true knowledge springs from faith, science, or both.

What's wrong with faith?

I can remember only three significant philosphical attempts to arrive at a logical proof of God.

1. St. Anselm said "God is something that which nothing greater can be thought." If this were so, then God must exist, because if God existed only in thought, then you could think of something greater than God--namely, God existing in reality, not just in thought. But you can't think of anything greater than God. So God can't exist only in thought, but must exist in reality, too. It takes a while to sink in. But check out this site for further explanation.

2. St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica offers five proofs of God

A. The Prime Mover Argument

The argument states that all things have a prime mover who we understand to be God.

"...Whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.?

B. The Efficient Cause Argument

The argument states that God is the efficient cause which gave effect to our existence.

"In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God."

C. The Ex-contingencia Argument

Here St. Thomas goes on a reductio an aburdum argument, as he argues if nothing existed before, then nothing would have ever existed at all. Thus, something must have existed by itself to make other's existence not just possible but a reality, and that something must be God.

"We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God."

The fourth and fifth, I cannot understand. Look it up yourself here.

3. Pascal's Wager

The last one is not a proof but rather an encouragement for us to believe that there is a God. For if God doesn't exist, we lose nothing if you believe or not. But if God does exist, and you believe, then you gain all. But if you don't, then you lose all. More here.

Given that humanity is finite, as is human perception, the scientific and logical inquiry towards finding the infinite God appears to be doomed from the start. But the three propositions above are the best that humanity can come up with. I would say, they are not bad at all.

Ultimately, enlightenment comes with faith. If faith becomes the jump off point from which all inquiry about God begins, then everything appears to fall into place. I would not pretend that faith is error-free. What with all those people they executed for believing that the world is round? I would say, however, that faith seeks understanding, and with understanding comes knowledge and wisdom.

Faith as a method of knowing appears to be belittled by most thinkers. Indeed, it is not the method by which we can determine whether one plus one equals two or whather the sun is the center of the solar system. It is, however, the method by which we can know the answer to the questions that ultimately matter: What is happiness? What is death? What is life? After all, these questions have answers that no other mode of knowing can find.

What's right with science?

Can we say that the scientific method can lead us to the truth? The scientific method is not exactly bug-free, as it were.
Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
argues that science does not evolve gradually toward truth, but instead undergoes periodic revolutions which he calls "paradigm shifts." And through out the history of science, we find our scientists hopping from one paradigm to another, never quite getting “it” until a new paradigm comes a long. This is the reason why Newton’s Laws of Physics are completely incompatible with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. And you can bet, one day, our scientists will be ready to say that Einstein is out of fashion — just like Newton after Einstein posited his famous e=mc2 equation. The raging debate within the scientific community between proponents of quantum physics on one hand and believers of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, on the other, is a demonstration that that day is about to come.

Indeed, the scientific method has not brought us to the point where we can truly claim that the scientific theories of the day are standing on firm ground. The fact that Newton’s Law of Physics stands inconsistent with the Theory of Relativity in the same manner that the Theory of Relativity is incompatible with quantum physics, makes me wonder: Will science ever give us the answer once and for all?

I am not saying that science is useless. The advances in technology that we are enjoying today are all products of good scientific work. But that begs the question: Can science lead us to the truth? Can we break out of our paradigms and find being?

Well, our understanding of paradigms is a good start -- but what if it is in itself a paradigm? Who can possibly tell?


Which way is better?

Micketymoc asks, "How does “faith” approach the truth in any way that’s significantly different from monks arguing on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

To which I answer with the same question, "How does “the scientific method” approach the truth in any way that’s significantly different from monks arguing on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

Micketymoc, answers my question, "The difference between monks arguing over angels doing the cha-cha, and scientists working to understand natural processes is, scientists get results!"

What results? Ptolemy's sun theory? Newton's out of style Laws of Physics? Einstein's soon to be discarded Theory of Relativity?

Sassy Lawyer inquires, "So, are we saying that truth is a matter of faith?

I am glad she asked that question, because now we are brought to the ultimate inquiry: What is the truth about death? Corrolarily, what is the truth about life? I am willing to let go of all scientific knowledge (if there be any) and technological advancements of this world if someone could give me a certain answer on the truth about death. For ultimately, man’s mortality makes all things seem but trivial, and I believe that at some point in any person’s life, he/she would find no knowledge more important than the truth about death. Where could man turn to? Science? Logic?

And to go back to Micketymoc's question comparing the monks with the scientists, the difference is this: the monks will ask only questions that ultimately matter. While scientists study what happens when an apple hits your head, monks inquire about what happens when you die. And after scientists have created their towers in the sky, monks declare, all things must pass. "What profits a man...?"

Well, that leads me to the “R” word.

The parting shot

Micketymoc asks, "Perhaps you see the goals of science differently from those who actually pursue science themselves.

The whole goal of science is understanding - but it’s a goal that will never end. Because humanity cannot claim absolute knowledge - the best we can do is to asymptotically approach it, but never attain it."

And I have exactly the same thoughts about faith -- the whole goal of faith is understanding, a goal that may never end. And as stated earlier, given that humanity is finite, as is human perception, the scientific and logical inquiry towards finding the infinite God appears to be doomed from the start. And here is where faith scores the winning points:

Faith is open to the possibility of the divine revelation of the absolute truth. Faith prays for the absolute truth. And with God's grace, some people have been able to see the absolute truth.

So I don’t belittle those monks arguing over angels doing the cha-cha. For indeed, they may have the answer once and for all.


(second revised post)
Thanks to Sassy Lawyer and Micketymoc.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Small Drugstores to Close for Giving Tax Creditable Discounts? You Gotta Be Kidding

The Establishment has a story about the possible closure of small drugstores if the Department of Health implements the full 20 percent discount to senior citizens as mandated by law. The story is obviously a press release masquerading as news. While the story banners a cause and effect slant, it doesn't explain enough how it arrived at that conclusion. The report said that the average spread of small drugstores per drug is only about 5 to 10 percent. It didn't report, however, what percent do the senior citizens' discounts take out of the total sales of these drugstores. Or are we supposed to believe that small drugstores sell only to senior citizens? Ha -- what a joke. The drugstore receipts of my four kids can belie that claim. Besides, the discounts are tax creditable, and taxes take about 30 percent of income. This means the discounts that they give to senior citizens may be applied as tax payments. So there is no loss there at all. They have to pay taxes, don't they? These are details that were left hanging by the press release. What makes them think they can fool us? Pray these people don't grow old.

(Revised post)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bro. Mike's Big Loan

Most recently, the Establishment bannered the story of the PHP 353 Million loan granted by the PAG-IBIG Fund, a government controlled mutual fund intended for housing loans, to the El Shaddai Group. Why a story like this deserved a banner headline complete with a three column picture is beyond me. Perhaps, the spin doctors have intended to produce the effect of a jovial atmosphere to welcome this big loan. But they’re stupid to think that we can’t see through this fa├žade.

Who brokered this deal, and how much money did he or she make? In the banking sector, a loan is deemed a sale. Sales have brokers, and brokers earn commissions. Whoever brokered this deal is now a very rich man or woman, for that matter. I don’t have any problem with that really. Commissions are part of the transaction cost shouldered by the borrower, which the borrower ultimately has to pay. So nothing lost there yet. Besides, we all are entitled to earn our livelihood. But my problem lies with the process through which this loan was subject. A huge loan like this should have been subjected to the most rigid standards of credit investigation and financial analysis. Trouble is, when you dangle a huge pile of money on the face of a decision-maker, it is very likely that the decision is corrupt. And in the banking sector, corrupted decisions do not manifest themselves until it’s time to pay back, and the borrower cannot pay back.

Further, how much of the entire net worth of the PAGIBIG FUND is this PHP 353 Million? If the El Shaddai Group defaults, will our precious PAGIBIG FUND be able to survive? In the banking sector, they have what they call the single borrower's limit, which is the limit that any single borrower can loan in proportion to the bank's net worth. The Bangko Sentral has set this at 25% of the bank's net worth. Of course, the rule doesn't apply to the PAGIBIG FUND, but prudence dictates that the handlers of the FUND should have taken this into consideration. Otherwise, they should not be sitting there playing with our hard-earned cash.

Indeed, all this is worthless speculation at this moment. Although, I’m really itching to send my associates to get a first hand account of the procedure that this loan went through were it not for the fact that this can take a huge amount of manhours, and it might not be welcomed by the big bosses who approved this loan who happens to include my Kabayan from Pola, Or. Mindoro Vice President Noli Boy De Castro . But it is something you cannot take away from a PAG-IBIG FUND contributor for the last nine years who has not earned any dividends on the fund or secured any of its loans.

So in the end, this is what I can tell Big Brother Mike: I've blogged this day so I won't forget. You owe us. PAY. EVERY. PESO. ON. TIME.


(revised post)

Sassy Lawyer's blog on the same topic here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Church and Taxes

In his column today published by the Establishment, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. writes that "...the constitutional exemption (from payment of taxes) of churches covers only property used exclusively, actually and directly for religious purposes. It does not cover property not so used. Nor does it cover income from legitimate business operations of churches..." Full article here.

The power to tax includes the power to destroy. This is the logic that emboldens the government to impose high taxes on liquor and tobacco. Of course, the clerics were jesuitic enough to maneuver the constitutional provision exempting religious property from taxation. And Fr. Bernas claims that the "...tax exemptions for religious property are given in order to ensure religious liberty..." This means that the government will not be able to destroy the church through the power of taxation.

This leads me to the point: what about religions that advocate the destruction of government? Does this mean the government will be helpless to tax the same entities which advocate its overthrow?

I have an uncle who swears that his religion is San Miguel Beer and Philip Morris. He is a dutiful believer, and in fact, he worships them everyday. Can he invoke the constitutional provision that Fr. Bernas explained?

It's really very tricky. Nobody regulates churches. That would be unconstitutional, wouldn't it? Nobody even has a legal definition of a church. If I put up a church of my own -- say the "Sun Tzu Church of War" -- does that mean all my properties, if any, are exempt from tax? The answer is Y - E - S. Indeed, by the very nature of religious freedom, any legal challenge to my Sun Tzu Church of War is likely to be repelled. For the state has no business meddling with the affairs of the spirit, it has no choice but to tolerate it and give it tax exemptions.

Time was a person could be executed for believing that the world is round. Our forefathers have made a very significant achievement in the recognition of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. It is significant enough as to make the state helpless to tax church properties in perpetuity.

Well, the wealth witch hunt is on. Whoever brandishes wealth is suspect. Not even the church can escape from the heat. This is the reason why the church itself had to make an announcement to clarify its tax exempt privileges. But methinks, the church has done its homework (what's this centuries-old church and state relationship for?).And the government should poke it nose elsewhere -- unless, of course, we are ready to challenge the logic of exempting religions from taxes. And by doing so, are we regressing to the days when religious freedom was a dream?

By the way, you might be wondering, are there any people who will risk eternal damnation in order to save taxes? Ha -- you might be surprised, but my answer is privileged.

(second revision)

Read the Sassy Lawyer's reaction here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Statement of Assets and Liabilities for Private Employees

The Establishment has noted a draft bill that proposes to require private employees to file their statement of assets and liabilities. Please see Lifestyle checks up for private workers (Philstar.com - The Filipino Global Community) The bill proposes to require all private sector workers, professionals and other civilians with an annual income of at least P100,000 to file their statement of assets and liabilities (SAL)in the same manner as that of public sector workers.

The idea is to force everyone to state for the record what they own and what they owe, and match this with their declared annual income. If they don't match, then the BIR can build a potential case for tax evasion. It sounds pretty good in theory, but the question is -- can the government be trusted with that data?

If you have an enemy, for example (who may be like a fomer boss, former wife, business and political rival, etc.), and this enemy gets elected into office, which allows her access to these data, you're toast. You are never going to sleep peacefully without a call from the BIR everyday of your life. Maybe if you are clean and are able to match your SAL with your income, your enemy can leak your SAL to the kidnappers and extortionists, in which case, your family is toast. You may not even be able to trust your security guard, even if you can afford one.

Even assuming that this enemy does not get herself elected to office, she can easily link with somebody in government to do that for her. And who in this country does not have a link to a government official? Even your friendly neighborhood squatter can have direct access to a corrupt congressman.

Clearly, this disclosure requirement will make private individuals vulnerable to a lot of attacks, legitimate and illegitimate. Sadly, government's record in protecting private data is poor -- and not just this government. While the proposed bill may be an efficient way to address the problem of tax evasion, the inefficiency in government, which is inherent in any organization particularly in the area of security, will bring prejudice to the individual that will outweigh the benefits of this proposed measure. We may be able to increase revenue collection, but our citizens will live in a state of anxiety -- what with their unexplained wealth (or unexplained poverty, for that matter) resting in a public database for all their enemies to see. Bottomline: we can't trust the government with our private data. Just look at how the SSS and GSIS manage to release loans to tampered accounts. The possibilities are frigthening.

What if you don't have enemies? Maybe you are already dead.

(second revision)