Debate. More fun in the Philippines

Filipinos need a robust public debate about religion and atheism. I believe it’s good for the mental health of all Filipinos. Questions like “Why are we here?” “What is the purpose of life?” need to be addressed. Or corrected, as articulated by Professor Richard Dawkins in his recent debate with Cardinal George Pell in Sydney. Dawkins argued that “the question why is not necessarily a question that deserves to be answered. ‘What is the purpose of the universe?’ is a silly question. You can’t ask ‘Why do mountains exist?’ But you can ask ‘What are the antecedent factors that lead to the existence of mountains.” Debates reveal flaws in our arguments too. First the debate exposed the Cardinal’s ignorance when he claimed that our species descended from Neanderthals; the second probably shocked some staunch Catholics when the Cardinal claimed that the story of Adam and Eve was just a “sophisticated myth used to explain evil and suffering rather than a scientific truth.” Online poll at the end of the debate showed Dawkins won getting 76% of the 20,000 voters who decreed religious beliefs do not make the world a better place.

Filipinos need to watch more debates in television, internet, universities and town halls. These debates hopefully will encourage the Filipino public to think more deeply about their personal beliefs and why they hold them. In a country where faith is deeply held without question, logical and factual arguments will certainly elevate the quality of public discourse. I have watched numerous debates on God, morality and faith and I marvel at the intellectual grasp of the debaters in the US and UK.

The advantages of debates go way beyond uplifting intellectual discourse. On a personal level, they offer an alternative way of looking at reality. Debates promote critical thinking, appreciation of reason and evidence, and free inquiry. On a social level, debates can open up a discussion on the necessity of secularism in Philippine society. Secularism is the only way to secure diversity and freedom in society. A great part of secular way of life is being lost in the Philippines today, because of the massive preoccupation of many religious leaders to influence public life and policies, like the RH Bill, using ethics and morality from scriptures and doctrines.

Leading the charge for secularism are atheists, agnostics and freethinkers who argue for a wall of separation of state and church in public life as advocated by Thomas Jefferson. Our own 1987 Constitution contains provisions for the non-establishment of religion in government and upholding of religious freedom, which were patterned after the US First Amendment. The danger of religious fundamentalism is rampant in the present day. They seek to impose their brand of morality everywhere. Atheists and agnostics and freethinkers all over the world are united in fighting this continuing threat. We are ready to debate and engage the public in reasoned discussion about God, morality and faith.

Last month, March 24, 2012, the Reason Rally was held in Washington DC. Regarded as the “Woodstock” for atheists and skeptics, the Reason Rally attracted over 20,000 participants from all over the US. And just last week in Australia, the Global Atheist Convention was held in Melbourne with the title “A Celebration of Reason”. The three day event, April 13-15, sponsored by the Atheist Foundation of Australia, was attended by the many prominent scientists and philosophers including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

And now it’s the Philippines turn, the First Atheists/Agnostics Convention in Southeast Asia will be held at the Bayview Hotel Manila on April 21, 2012. The convention is sponsored by the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS). Dan Barker, a successful musician and former pastor turned atheist and co-founder of Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in the US, is the guest speaker. This is an event whose time has come.

About the Author: Allan Espinosa is a member of Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS), he is a Sydney resident, if you’re interested to join PATAS, call 0433234939 or email aespinosa1972@hotmail.com


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