Friday, June 27, 2008

Was Princess of the Stars Tragedy An ACT of GOD?

CBCP Online carries Bishop Teodoro Bacani's admonition to Sulpicio Shipping Lines to "stop blaming God" for the tragedy that befell its 23,000 ton Princess of the Stars ferry:

MANILA, June 26, 2008—When an accidental death occurs or weather disaster injures or kills people, is it fair to classify such troubling events as deliberate acts of God?

Certainly not, said a Roman Catholic bishop as he urged Sulpicio Lines to stop blaming God for the sinking of the ill-starred Princess of the Stars off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province on Saturday.

Novaliches Bishop-Emeritus Teodoro Bacani claimed the tragedy that killed hundreds of people fall under one of two categories—time and chance and human error.

He said God, or some other force for good, cannot orchestrate a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences.

Bacani said in this litigious age people are always looking for someone to blame and in the absence of anyone, people tend to blame God because the tragedy was a result of a “natural” event.

It’s quite clear the world is riddled with inequality but the bishop doesn’t accept that God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings.

In the case of the latest maritime disaster, Bacani said it is usually the result of being at the wrong place or in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

He said the tragedy could have been prevented if only the authorities and the vessel officials made a “better judgment” during a raging typhoon.

For the bishop, the ship should have not been allowed to cruise because of the bad weather.

“That is not an ‘act of God.’ That is a human error,” Bacani said in an interview over Church-run Radyo Veritas on Thursday.

“Lives of many people were really at risk at that time. The trip should have been cancelled,” he also said.

Bacani called on officials of Sulpicio Lines to “reflect” first whether the tragic event was an “act of God” or an “act of human imprudence.”

He said people should be more vigilant in examining themselves, admitting their weaknesses and mending in their own ways.

“As we do, we’ll start to see that God has been much fairer with us than we could have ever imagined,” Bacani said. (Roy Lagarde)

I'm fairly certain of course that the lawyers at Sulpicio had no intention of "blaming God" for the tragic fate of the ship and its passengers. The use of the term "an Act of God" is really legalese for the simple word "accident" -- an event over which one has little or no control. Likewise I am fairly certain that there were indeed acts of commission and/or omission by the Company, the government, the crew and others, that might be described as "acts of human imprudence" involved. These remain to be sorted out in the ensuing investigation (which won't necessarily settle the issue either, going by the historical record).

Now in fairness to Bishop Bacani, he does allow that this event occurred due to either "time and chance" and/or human error, and though he appears to blame the event on the latter category, he is giving Sulpicio the benefit of the doubt in the former, since "time and chance" would appear to be equivalent to "accident."

But I want to raise some theological or philosophical questions that the good Catholic Bishop's statements have provoked in my own mind.

According to the article, "God, or some other force for good, cannot orchestrate a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences." Also the Bishop does not accept that "God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings."

I wonder if the Bishop means to suggest by this that perhaps it was some other force, like the Dark Force, the opposite of El Shaddai, that orchestrated a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences. Perhaps it was Satan who mischievously tweaked the strings of the weather and brought about those dreadful consequences.

It's a rhetorical possibility, but accepting that would only beg a further question. Why did not the Force for Good not get up from the sitting position and stand up to the Force for Evil in order to thwart the dreadful consequences of the Other's mischievous actions?

It brings up the broader question that was the subject of a Conference on Science and Religion that I attended a few years back at the Ateneo's East Asian Pastoral Institute on "divine action in historical time" -- whether God indeed directly interferes with the Laws of Nature and changes history through miracles and direct involvement with the affairs of men.

The answer to this according to the Catholic religion is YES. Divine Action is evident, sez the Church, at several decisive moments of history--for example when He/She/It created the world some 8,000 years ago (if you believe the calculus of Bishop Ussher) and when he founded the Holy Catholic Church by sending down his only begotten Son to take away the Sin of the World, a lil more than 2,000 years ago. And of course, numerous miracles through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of His Son, and the 10,000 or so very special human beings called Saints (most of whom just happen to be Italians, for some strange reason, despite Pope John Paul II's strenuous efforts at holy roman egalitarianism).

It would seem therefore that the God of Good being described by Bishop Bacani is highly selective about when, where and on whose behalf He momentarily suspends the Laws of Nature (which he presumably controls with theocratic supremacy). Otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that the good Bishop is committing a patent act of Deistic heresy since the Catholic teaching is that sometimes He does benedightly tweak the strings to prevent dreadful consequences of one kind or another or to cause some good thing to occur.

What criteria if any the Deity uses to decide if or when to take Divine Action is of course part of the enduring and obscure mysteries of the infallible Catholic magisterium. Perhaps He just rolls some dice and it just so happens that throw during last week Sulipicio Lines came up snake eyes?

Please notice that the Bishop, perhaps unintentionally did call the event "a natural disaster." He has to, of course, in order to absolve God of conjuring up the tremendous meteorological forces that created Typhoon Feng Shen, as well as to reject any supposition on the part of heathens like me that the weather might be in the mischievous hands of the Other Force.

But he also insists that this was a case of "human error" -- not of Divine cruelty or negligence, that the tragedy could have been averted if we would only more carefully examine ourselves, admit our weaknesses and repent of our sins, we would discover that “As we do, we’ll start to see that God has been much fairer with us than we could have ever imagined.”

There you see, those seven hundred plus drowned souls really had it coming to them, in the infallibly fair judgment of the Force for Good we call God, because Sulpicio Shipping Lines made a human error and did not properly mind the Mind of Yahweh.

Speaking of which, this commercial for Yes HDTV in Israel is making it big on YouTube


manuelbuencamino said...

makes one wonder what the bishop will call the boxing day tsunami and the recent china earthquake.

Anonymous said...

The bishop should have consulted the all omnipotent queen by the Pasig River. That one speaks to the Almighty or He/She/It speaks to her. She would know.

blackshama said...

The Good Bishop is well within what Catholic theology teaches. God doesn't wish evil but may allow it to happen. The REAL THEOLOGICAL QUESTION is why he/she allowed it to happen. This is the problem of evil that theologians through the ages have tried to deal with. Scientists like me can't!

As for DJB's rhetorical question

"Why did not the Force for Good not get up from the sitting position and stand up to the Force for Evil in order to thwart the dreadful consequences of the Other's mischievous actions?"

Well Bacani is not a Manichaean dualist. Only the Divine CReator has the say here. He/she can give the Evil One (a mere creature that turned Evil because it had Free Will) the same liberties we have to cause bad things.

God does interfere and may suspend natural law if he/she chooses to do so. But I would rather stand on the Anglican CS Lewis side of the issue rather than on the Romanist view . God very very rarely will ever go along this route. Why should he/she? There are a lot of physical laws that God need not tweak for us to get a sense of the miraculous. This view is also held in Judaism in which physical laws are used by God to demostrate his/her omnipotence.

Since we mortals cannot ever understand all the physical laws of the universe,there will be some phenomena that we can't explain save as a "miracle". But science will catch up.

In fact the Catholic Church cautions on over reliance on miracles. With such an attitude no wonder the Church gave rise to SCIENCE!

As for the "Princess of the Stars" disaster what needs to be explained is how come human decision making failed to anticipate the confluence of bad events due to the weather.

You don't need theology to answer that but forensic science.

Nature is neither evil or good. Meteorological events are due to chance. Howevwer

DJB Rizalist said...

To me there is no deep mystery in the concept of God, which is a creation of human vanity, an axiom we choose adopt to explain things we cannot explain. It is like the matter of Euclidean geometry's parallel postulate. Simply getting rid of the postulate that "God exists" also gets rid of the logical contradictions and the need to make further postulates to prop up that first one, such as "divine revelation" and "ecclesiastical tradition" and finally "infalllibility". And since abolishing the axiom of God's existence does not lead to granting a license for immorality I'm comfortable with the compleat replacement of Religion by Science, which you rightly point out arose out of Religion, much like non-Euclidean geometries allowed us to have a far more powerful and correct understanding of the Nature and the Universe.

As for your statement, "In fact the Catholic Church cautions on over reliance on miracles."--does not the claim of the Church to be performing the PHYSICAL miracle of transubstantiation, in thousands of Holy Masses all over the world, on a daily basis constitute "over-reliance" on miracles, as it is an insistence that God daily suspends the laws of molecular biology and chemistry and a dozen other physical laws upon the simple muttered request of men in funny costumes?

blackshama said...

Ha ha ha! I think it is so pompous for us to say that God is a creation of human vanity. I would opt that God is a product of Darwinian evolution!

Well as for "transubstantiation" what is changed is the substance but the accidents remain the same. That definition stumps science since in order for us to do science the substance of what is being observed should be known by sensing its accidents. That is to put in in Aristotelian terms!

So transubstantiation doesn't require the suspension of physical laws.

But when people get cynical, God can tweak physical laws and play a trick on us. Those are the supposed Eucharistic miracles. But the sceptical person would say those are hallucinations.

So we get back to that memorable scene in "Contact" and that Ellie Arroway moment!

Jaywalker said...

This is exactly why nothing gets resolved in the Philippines, they go all the way up to "heaven" & "hell" looking for answers that only brings up more questions than answers rather than going back down to earth to see that the cause of all these aberration does not even take a rocket scientist to figure out that what causes such tragedy is really very visible..........GREED & CORRUPTION.

Marcus Aurelius said...

Mr. Fernandez hit this one up too and refers as well to the MV Dona Paz.

It is an interesting question about this notion of the Act of God and placing blame on AOGs. With my six years in the UAE I saw this attitude close up. Young men who when warned of the dangers of running the Nissan Patrol 100 mph through a round-about to get theit Patrol on two wheels, would say Inshallah I'll be okay.

Jesus is on the record as saying do not put the Lord Your God to the test, i.e. don't rely on miracles to save one's sorry @$$. Instead of saying Inshallah, my blind curve pass will succeed one should not do it.

Quite clearly people have free will and intellect. Even if I have never experienced a close call brought on by playing russian roulette I know it is the will of God the spinning stops on the loaded chamber roughly 1 time every six spins.

However, there are events some may call divine intervention that others may call pure dumb luck. When something like that happens in our life, The Empress is quick to thank the Lord &/or the Blessed Virgin.

In the end, it sounds like a lot of people in a hurry to get where they wanted to be and ferry operators in a hurry to get some backpocket cash.

DJB Rizalist said...

As you well know, there is an incredible morass of theological explication involved in transubstatiation. I don't propose to debate the details of the same with you in this comment thread, though I will be happy to should you insist. I am here only controverting the claim that somehow the church is sincere about its cautions against over-reliance on miracles as she is patently and tendentiously engaged in the enterprise of miraculous claims for herself on a daily basis, claiming to perform miracles of the most amazing kind every single day simultaneously in many places all over the world.

As for God being the product of Darwinian evolution, that would be an excommunicable apostasy, a fate suffered by Rizal, but not one I would wish upon you, my friend.

DJB Rizalist said...

marcus aurelius,
There are NO sacred cows at Philippine American Commentary and there will be many occasions in the next few months when I shall be considering the utter nonsense of American religiosity, especially from the Religious Right, which appear on both sides of the political aisle. I shall be examining Obama and McCain from these perspectives with a rather merciless eye, I can assure you of that.

blackshama said...

The Church ought to think to the nth times about excommunicating scientists!

It never had the stomach to do it to Galileo.

The Roman Church cannot excommunicate a scientist without reigniting the Galileo affair.

The Church got badly burned in that burned in that one and ended up as the loser!

Despite the apologies of John Paul II,the issue is like an ember still glowing. While Benedict is doesn't intend to pour petrol on that one, his subalterns like Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna are raring to do so.

The media would have a field day with that!

If a Catholic scientist is excommunicated because of science, he/she has the example of the Blessed Galileo Galilei. He couldn't deny science at the peril of his salvation.

"It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved."

Galileo Galilei

Equalizer said...

"I want to know how God created this world. I'm not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details."

blackshama said...

On how God created the cosmos.

He/She did with with a bang!

with utter simplicity and sophistication that fundamentalists will never comprehend.

DJB Rizalist said...

God is a superfluous notion at this stage of human evolution, a postulate that is unnecessary for anything essential such as art or science or morality or the amity of the human race. Indeed, as we go ever forward, I believe the axiom will become a hindrance to further progress. The war on terrorism is in some ways the opening shot in a wider war to simplify the topology of our existence, to close off an avenue that dead-ends at a precipice of superstition, irrationality and conflict.

DJB Rizalist said...

I hope you are not implying, as many misinterpreters of him have done, that Albert Einstein believed in some kind of a personal god and creator. He did not. As his recently uncovered letter clearly states, he saw organized religion as primitive childishness and mainly used the notion of God in a poetic, or at best, Pythagorean sense. He was certainly no Deist, though I think his gentle character, confident in his own superior intellec, always prevented any display of atheistic, Dawkinsian demeanor.

Marcus Aurelius said...

Re Einstein and his belief or disbelief, whatever his views were he certainly referred to God a lot. That famous brawl he had with Niels Bohr is one such example ("God does not play dice").

Back in the late '80s I took a trip to FermiLab with the Physics Club and at one of the experimental areas was a Nun conducting research and she gave us an explanation of the experiment she was running.

In the end, unless you are a fundamentalist (i.e. if your holybook says God created Adam with weight of 80 kg, and a height of 1.8 m and therefore you absolutely positively believe Adam was those absolute measurements) there is no inherent contradiction between science and religion.

I do not believe for a second that society no longer needs religion and those atheists who claim they do not need religion to tell them theft & murder (etc) are immoral are like cotton balls in a vat of red dye the cotton balls can not help but be red. Atheists are like those cotton balls and absorb the predominant morality.


DJB Rizalist said...

The sum of what we know will always be much, much less than what we don't know. But if we see science and religion as different explanations for phenomena that are still unexplained and upon which honest men cannot yet agree on, the contradictions between science and religion will be irreconcilable and incompatible because of the methods by which each one insists upon using without compromise. For example between the scientific method of experimental verification and physical observation, religion depends upon divine revelation and tradition. Thus it took 300 years for Pope John Paul to admit, officially, that Galileo was right about the earth and the sun.

So I am forced to disagree strenuously with your statement that "there is no contradiction between science and religion" as itself historically and patently unreasonable.