Assumptions and Presumptions

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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.

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Gelo Strikes Back

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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.

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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, 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 and Roger Haenni (CEO and co-founder of

Another international speaker, Vlad Sapozhnikov (CEO and co-founder of 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.

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An Eternity of Torment

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At what point would you let your child take his own life?

My friend Gelo decided to respond to an example I brought out last week, of a parent stopping his child from committing suicide. He asserted that the reason for stopping the child is that the parent still holds out some hope that the child would see the error of his ways and change his mind.

“But what if there is no such hope?” asks Gelo. “What if your child has his mind set on taking his life and will keep attempting until he does so. Do you tie him up to make sure he won’t? To what extent are you willing go to stop him? See, I suspect there will be a point where you’ll decide to let him be. Chaining him to the ground will arguably be worse, after all. And, basically, that’s the point of hell.”

Another friend, Nicky, pointed me to an article from Catholic Answers entitled, “What is Hell?” which briefly reminded me of a poorly-worded church announcement that said, “The topic for next Sunday’s sermon is ‘What is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.”

Anyway, I get what Nicky and Gelo are driving at — that hell is not a place of torment but an eternal state of separation. In short, if you decide you don’t want to be with God, then God respects that choice and lets you be — which is the essence of freedom. Will there be pain and suffering? Well, the Catholic view is that the pain is more of the pain of isolation and loneliness, rather than the pain of being roasted alive — like standing and facing the corner of eternity while everyone around you is dancing and partying.

It was interesting growing up as a Protestant in a Catholic school. I remember a church sermon where the pastor seemed to take delight in describing how much hell was going to hurt — what being burned feels like, and how the fires of hell were going to be much worse. And then I got the “separation” explanation from the priest in school and I remember thinking how wimpy Catholic doctrine was.

But back to Gelo’s point — assuming that is the case, what if the child could communicate with you after death and says that he regrets his choice and would like to live again. If you, as a parent, had the power to restore him to life, would you do it?

I suspect that no parent in his right mind would say, “No, he made his choice, it’s too late now.”

In fact, I know of a dad who has a daughter, but does not approve of the daughter’s choice of husband-to-be. Yet, he does not fight with his daughter over her choice though he did provide plenty of warnings and advice. Still he allowed her to make her own decision.

In that way, he said, he keeps a good relationship with her and she will always feel free and welcome to come back to me should the marriage turn sour or his husband turns out to be a wife-beater or worse.

So whether one believes that hell is a place of active torment or simply a state of separation, why should that state be eternal? That is what I do not understand.

Why would we not have the freedom to make different choices after death? If a human father could be considerate and forgiving to a daughter who defies his wishes, how much more should a heavenly father be considerate and forgiving as well, especially after the child has fully experienced the consequences of his actions and has come to regret them?

And so regardless of whether the pain is physical or emotional, the question would be why a loving God would allow it to go on and on for all time. Would it not be more an act of mercy to simply snuff that soul out of existence?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Good News

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“Share the gospel! Preach the good news!” is something I would often hear while growing up in church.

But what is this gospel? What is the good news?

Very often it would distilled into one Bible verse: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Countless sermons have been written and preached on this one verse alone. I remember hearing one about a bridge operator who brought his son to work one day. His job was to sit in a booth and control the mechanism which raises a bridge when there is river traffic and lowers it when there is none to allow land vehicles to pass through. On that day, he saw a tourist boat full of people approaching the bridge so he started the machine which would raise the bridge. As the bridge slowly went up, he heard his little boy cry out and to his horror, found him caught in the mechanism that was raising the bridge. If it opened fully, his son would be crushed. He was about to stop the machine but he saw that the boat was fast approaching and it would crash into the bridge if it was left unopened. With tears in his eyes, he allowed the bridge to open, crushing his son while allowing the boat of happy people to pass through, blissfully unaware of his huge sacrifice.

Stories like this, especially prevalent during Christmas and Easter,  are meant to highlight the love of God in giving up his only son to suffer and die in our place, for our sins. All we have to do in order to avoid this terrible fate, as the verse says, is to believe.

What is rarely questioned is why or how we were destined for this fate at all, but there is a ready answer for that nonetheless — the doctrine of depravity — that we were born imperfect, stained with the “original sin” of Adam and Eve; that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we strive to be good, “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and we will never be good enough to stand in God’s presence UNLESS we accept the sacrifice of his son.

Otherwise, it’s off to the torture chamber for us – hell, endless suffering, eternal separation with God, and so on and so forth.

But let’s back up a bit, who created this system anyway? Who is the architect of all these? Isn’t it God as well? The Christian belief allows no other being to rival God. In other words there is no “evil God” that is equally as powerful and locked in a cosmic struggle with him. Satan is depicted as a fallen angel, just one of God’s creations, that he can actually disintegrate any time he likes so he doesn’t really count. In fact, Christians like to say that God is in control of everything and that includes the devil — that the only reason he hasn’t been blown up to bits is because God still has some purpose for him to play in his grand scheme.

So if we are to follow this logic, it is really God sending people to hell unless they believe that he sent his son (who is also himself) to this little backwater town in the Middle East, to be one of them and to suffer and die for them. And he did this all at a time before TV, radio and the internet were invented. And so all those generations of poor folks in China or on the island of Hawaii, who never heard of this story until hundreds of years later have been fed to the fires of hell just because they didn’t believe. But it’s ok because even though it is hard for us to understand, we just need to have to trust that it is all part of God’s divine plan and that all things will come out just fine in the end.

“But God doesn’t send people to hell,” some people would argue with me. “That is the logical consequence of their choice. If they don’t want to be with God, that is not God’s problem anymore. In fact, that is the essence of freedom — God will not force people (who do not want to be with him) to be with him.”

Well look, people do not choose to go to hell. Though some might jokingly say hell is more interesting than heaven, but what people choose is other beliefs, which is largely a product of the geographic location and culture they were born into. And if you really think about it, they don’t even get to choose. They are indoctrinated from day 1, when they don’t even have the mental and intellectual capacity to understand what is going on. And God is sending them to hell for this?

And that other thing about God not forcing people — well let me leave you with this example — if a parent sees his child about to hang himself or jump of a cliff, is the parent going to stand idly by and say, “Well, kid, look, I really can’t stop you if this is what you really want. I mean, I should know better but I don’t want to impinge on your freedom, you know.”

No, the parent would do everything possible to save the child, freedom be damned.

If God exists, then he has the power to forgive and accept people as they are, whatever their beliefs or  choices are. Heck, ordinary people can do this, why can’t God? There is no need for a hell except for the doctrine of depravity which ought to go there.

Now that would be good news.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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