Assumptions and Presumptions

Photo Credit: joshtasman Flickr via Compfight cc

As promised, this is my reaction to Gelo Strikes Back, published last week. If you’re only just getting on board now, I suggest you read the 2 previous articles before that to get a complete picture: Good News and An Eternity of Torment.

I do agree with Gelo’s first statement that his view is “difficult to discuss since it asks one to assume so many premises that all individually need a boat-load of unpacking.” That is, to really understand where he is coming from, one needs to delve into the reasoning and philosophical arguments that lead him to make such conclusions or statements.

This is why a lot of theist vs.atheist debates usually end up with bashing and name-calling, probably because it is so much easier to do than to really listen and understand where the other person is coming from. But Gelo is one of those people with whom I’ve gotten past this stage and we can dive into each other’s arguments without the usual frivolous animosity found in these sorts of discussions.

So my main contention is that he makes so many statements about the soul — what it is, how it behaves and acts, and so on — but how do we really know that any of that is true or that the soul actually exists? Yes, Thomas Aquinas has written about this which is really based on Aristotelian philosophy but it would be too long to recreate the arguments here. But let it suffice to say that there has been a certain amount of thinking behind this — and I recognize that — and it’s not as if these assumptions were just concocted out of thin air because good old Tommy A had nothing to do one afternoon and dreamed up all these things.

Yet, still, at the heart of it and no matter how logical the train of thought is, these are still assumptions, because no soul has ever come back to tell us conclusively what the afterlife is like. Although there are many individuals who have testified on “coming back” after having a near-death experience (NDE), their accounts of the afterlife don’t really match each other’s accounts and seem more a product of their mind and existing beliefs about it than any real experience. That is, a Christian with NDE would most likely see Jesus (a Catholic might see “Mama Mary”) and someone exposed to Buddhist teachings, would most likely have feelings of being “one with the universe.” I’m not saying they’re lying but that their mind may have created situations that seemed so real that even they believe it actually happened.

The great physicist Richard Feynman said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

Reality can sometimes be stranger than fiction and may not necessarily follow logic as we know it. For example, it was logical for scientists to assume that the atomic model follows the same gravitational model they observed in space. They assumed that there was a huge nucleus in the middle with the smaller electrons going around it in orbits much like the planets go around the sun. But actual experiments showed this was just not true and so the whole new field of quantum mechanics was developed and contained many new theories that seemingly defied the logic of that day. One of these was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which even Einstein could not accept.

Now it doesn’t bother me so much when people make their own assumptions about the afterlife and their picture of reality. What galls me is when they tout their own assumptions as fact and don’t even bother to recognize or acknowledge that they may be dead wrong about it all.

But in the end, even Gelo agrees that he does not know with certainty, only that the arguments from Thomism make certain conclusions that are hard for him to deny.

I, on the other hand, prefer to remain skeptical and would probably wait until this life is over to find out if there is indeed something that awaits beyond. As Anthony de Mello declares: “Too many people worry about the next life when they don’t even know what to do with this one.”

So I’ll figure out this life first.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Gelo Strikes Back

Photo Credit: giveawayboy Flickr via Compfight cc

The following is Gelo’s response to my previous article, An Eternity of Torment, which I have decided to publish in full, with only minor edits for brevity and correctness. My own reaction to it will come out in the next article:

The Catholic view is kind of very difficult to discuss since it asks one to assume so many premises that all individually need a boat-load of unpacking. But you asked for it, Andy.

Before any talk of why a ‘soul’ that’s destined for hell after the death of the body remains so destined, it’s important to know, first, what exactly a ‘soul’ is, and second, what our natural knowledge of God is in this life.

On knowledge of God: it will suffice for now to say that God is the good. The Good Samaritan knows God insofar as he knows the good, despite that he doesn’t know God in a completely theologically sound manner. Now, with that aside..

On the Soul: Aquinas argues that a soul–or that part of us which remains after death–is pure intellect and will. (This wasn’t concocted willy-nilly, btw, as it all follows from his metaphysic, which all follows from his Aristotelian philosophy.)

Now, the Will follows the Intellect insofar as the intellect chooses the good towards which the will becomes directed.

  1. The difference is that while the soul is attached, so to speak, to a corporeal body, its intellect has the ability to reason discursively–viz. it reasons from premises to conclusions, it favors one appetite over another, etc.

All that is to say the intellect can decide (or choose) between seemingly good things. But once the soul is detached from the body, there now exists nothing (be it cognitive processes or competing passions and appetites) that could lead it away from what it had already habituated itself to think is good. And, lacking the ability for sensations or imaginations–an ability it once had when attached to the body–there now exists for the soul no way of obtaining new knowledge.

On the issue of death being the point of no return for the soul:

  1. From A, therefore a soul that had been habituated, prior to the death of the body, to be directed to some good other than God will have its will directed to that other good and be locked-on to it eternally.
  2. From 1, a soul whose intellect had been so habituated will be forever separated from God.
  3. Also from 1, a person who was habituated to hate God (or, the good) in this life will very likely be bound to have his will directed away from God upon death.
  4. As an aside, it’s probably not as bad as one tends to think. Well, it is, but not from the perspective of the damned, because if the damned are damned because they will some good other than God, then that entails they probably don’t know what they’re missing. They think they’re directed towards some higher good, afterall.
  5. As another aside, one must understand that the orthodox Christian understanding is that God is the ultimate good, therefore being with God just is what heaven is about, and being away from God just is what hell is about.
  6. As another aside, this isn’t the only theological explanation of the matter. There are others, and ‘universalism’ seems to be the one that’s attractive to most. So a Christian (or anyone interested in concocting a disproof for Christianity for that matter) would do well to consider other explanations should he find this one unattractive, before throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.

All is not lost for the…ehrm.. lost soul, however. What is explained above is the ‘just’ side of God. There is a merciful side as well. I believe this has to do with some form or purgation of the soul after death. As to who will be so treated mercifully, I don’t know. It’s up to Him, I guess. But, like I said, accepting Jesus’ sacrifice is what I believe will make the difference.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Blockchain Manila

This coming January 25, 2018 will be the Blockchain and Bitcoin Conference Philippines, the first major event of this kind in our country. Regular readers of my column know that I am an avid blockchain and cryptocurrency advocate and have written several columns about the subject.

The conference comes just at the right time when cryptocurrencies saw a huge surge of demand and interest for most of 2017. Before, I could only discuss bitcoin and blockchain with fellow techies, but suddenly, people who were not techies were already asking about it and becoming interested. Of course, most of them became interested because of the unbelievable gains in market prices.

Bitcoin, for example, started 2017 at only $960 and surged to $19,500 two weeks before the year-end where it tapered down and corrected to $13,100. Still, that is an impressive 1300% increase in one year. Ethereum started the year at $8 and ended at $720. That’s a 9000% gain. Ripple started at less than a cent, only $0.0065 and ended at $2. That’s an insane 30,000% upside.

If you had put in PHP10,000 on Ripple last January 1, that would now be worth PHP3,000,000. (And no, I sadly did not put money on Ripple).

My interest in this, however, goes beyond market prices because I see the blockchain as a fundamental game-changing technology. This is not just like a casino game where you bet your money and hit the jackpot and I see many people treat it as such. If you do, you might find that you will lose your money as fast as you make it.

The key to making it long term in this game is knowledge. I highly encourage those who are just getting in to understand as much about it as possible and that is why a conference like this is timely, relevant and important.

From the information posted on their website, the conference offers a wide range of topics that will cater to everyone from the beginner to the veteran. Headlining the event will be Zach Piester, one of SIngapore’s largest venture investors and co-founder of Intrepid Ventures and he will be answering these 3 questions:

  1. Will blockchain transform the Internet & the global economy or is it merely a fad?
  2. What are Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and other investment schemes?
  3. Should you invest in ICOs?

The Philippines very own Luis Buenaventura, Chief Technology Officer of BloomSolutions, will talk about how the business of money remittances is being reinvented by cryptocurrencies. Zachary Kelmann, an adviser at Coins.ph, will discuss the technical legalities of ICOs.

Jimmy Nguyen, CEO of nChain Group, will talk about how we can transition from eCommerce to bCommerce (or bitcoin commerce). As a side note, this should be interesting as Nguyen is an advocate of bitcoin cash, of which I am not a huge fan — but I’m willing to listen and learn from what he has to say about it.

Three international speakers will talk about the concept of tokenization, the token economy, and is it right for your business – namely, Ismail Malik (Editor in Chief of ICO Crowd), Kambiz Djafari (CEO and co-founder of Edgecoin.io) and Roger Haenni (CEO and co-founder of Datum.org).

Another international speaker, Vlad Sapozhnikov (CEO and co-founder of Deex.exchange) will explore the concept of decentralized exchanges and ecosystems.

Aside from all the lectures, you will also get to to meet suppliers and vendors of mining equipment and blockchain-based software and solutions, as well as network with other fellow blockchain enthusiasts.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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