News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 28, 2010 in News

BBC: The End of God?

Peter Railton and Richard Boyd have given perhaps the most famous defenses of naturalistic moral realism. Neither persuade me, but here is a summary of Boyd’s famous paper “How to Be a Moral Realist”, in two blog posts: one, two.

Another non-surprise: Atheists and agnostics know more about religion that religious people do.

Buddhist monk prays 3,000 times a day for 20 years, leaving footprints in the wood floor – instead of, you know, going out into the world and changing things.

For presentations, Keynote is a step above PowerPoint. (People ask, “Why do your presentations look so good?” My answer: “Because I use Keynote, not PowerPoint.”) But Prezi takes presentations beyond slides. What I really want is Prezi embedded in Keynote slides. Learn Prezi here (switch to HD). Prezi is an easy way to make your presentation stand out from every presentation your audience has ever seen before.

P.Z. Myers buries a Bible and a Koran.

Linguist Daniel Everett on Philosophy Bites.

This is a news website article about a scientific paper.

David Sloan Wilson slams Richard Dawkins for his “pre-1975″ evolutionary biology.

Yesterday was Los Angeles’ hottest day in recorded history. I was still running the AC at 11pm.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Emil Karlsson September 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

I find it amusing that Luke seems to pick up any anti-Dawkins diatribe, even when it is horribly outside mainstream, like group selection. The title of the link even makes the appeal to novely fallacy. Group selection, if you will, is pre-1964 evolutionary biology.

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Heads Up September 28, 2010 at 10:23 am

Dude. Plantinga is speaking at Biola next week for FREE.

http://www.biola.edu/academics/sas/apologetics/events/#Plantinga

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 10:25 am

The Daniel Everett interview is good. If you like it, take a look at his presentation at The Long Now Foundation;
http://fora.tv/2009/03/20/Daniel_Everett_Endangered_Languages_and_Lost_Knowledge

As for the monk, aren’t there drugs available to handle OCD?

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mkandefer September 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

“This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link. ”

http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2010/09/challenge-to-theists-and-their.html

Perhaps you know of some Luke?

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 11:36 am

Mkandefer, I was thinking the same thing. As many of the people commenting at at Sandwalk, I’ve asked similar questions and never get a good answer. Assertions are made, and dogmas are claimed to be axiomatic, or alternate ideas are attacked (why?), but without these and other similar power grabs I get nothing.

I’ve even broken it down to a set of very simple questions and have gotten nowhere.

For example, many Christians and other theists use the phrase “god exists”/”God exists” but they can’t tell me;

1. How do gods “exist”?

2. What is a “god”?

At most I get confused replies like “Well, God exists you must have faith!” or “Isn’t it obvious?” or “There is only one God. The others don’t exist.” or “I don’t have proof, but you can’t prove God doesn’t exist!”.

Well, OK, but that’s not what I’m asking. I’m not asking for evidence, a logical proof, or for them to pull a god out of their pocket. I’m just asking for an explanation that shows what this “god” thing(?) is and how it is; how it exists.

A cat exists in some ways that a rock does not, and a rock exists in ways that a mathematical formula does not. In each case, what existence means for each can be fleshed out in a clear explanation with understandable details.

In the same way, I can describe what a cat is, what a rock is, and what a mathematical formula is.

Then, I get comments about how incomprehensible God is. Well, if they don’t comprehend it even in the most basic ways — what’s the point?

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Zeb September 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Buddhist monk prays 3,000 times a day for 20 years, leaving footprints in the wood floor – instead of, you know, going out into the world and changing things.

In terms of desires fulfilled/desires thwarted, I would roughly guess that you are chastising this guy for only making into the 90th percentile of humanity.

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cl September 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Buddhist monk prays 3,000 times a day for 20 years, leaving footprints in the wood floor – instead of, you know, going out into the world and changing things.

I think about this type of thing often. One thing I like about the Bible is that it preaches not just a life of prayer, but a life of action. Believers are commanded to go out into the world and change it for the better. When you read James 2, for example, you find statements like,

If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?

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lukeprog September 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Heads Up,

Alas, I can’t make the time. :(

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Martin September 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm

mkandefer,

I followed your link and added a comment. I can’t help myself from jumping into the fray. I spent time fighting creationists, fighting climate change deniers, and now apparently I’m fighting atheist ignorance. All pointless, I know.

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Martin September 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Luke,

Yesterday was Los Angeles’ hottest day in recorded history. I was still running the AC at 11pm.

Fuck. Even down here in San Pedro on top of a cliff with ocean breeze it was into the upper 80s until about ten PM. We have no A/C in these here parts. :(

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Reginald Selkirk September 28, 2010 at 1:40 pm

The feud between David Sloan Wilson and Dawkins has been ongoing for quite some time. The major point of disagreement seems to be group selection, although it seems that they just don’t like each other and will disagree on almost anything.

DSW and Edward O. Wilson made an attempt to revive group selection (which has been on the outs in evolutionary biology) a few years ago, and misrepresented Dawkins’ views on the topic. Dawkins responded: “D. S. Wilson should apologise. E. O. Wilson, being the gentleman he is, probably will.

DSW also provided negative criticism of RD’s book The God Delusion which was, quite frankly, pretty stupid.

DSW, although an atheist, has voiced strong accommodationist views. Frankly, i suspect he has been campaigning for a Templeton prize. (Some of his research has been funded by Templeton.)

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lukeprog September 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Reginald,

I think that’s all fairly accurate.

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ernest carl September 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

“…if you think the world and its structures are contingent — contingent on God’s freely choosing to make them one way as opposed to other possibilities — you’ll think looking to see is the appropriate way to find out. In this way the empirical nature of science, as well as its basic charter, arise out of a theistic way of looking at the world and fit in well with it.” –Plantinga, Knowledge of God (2008)

Is it really possible (esp. working scientists) to take this person seriously?

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stamati September 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Luke, I like your stuff most of the time, which is why I read you daily, but on occasion I think you can be annoyingly overconfident. This is in regards to a few things you’ve said, with your comment on the Buddhist monk being the straw that broke etc.

You update this blog regularly with detailed and well written articles. Your research is excellent. You’ve interviewed 68 people for your CPBD podcast and you’ve read 300 self help books. That takes a lot of time. Couldn’t you have used the past year or so to, you know, feed the less fortunate, work on a suicide hotline, or in other ways make the world tangibly and immediately a better place for people? Why waste your time stroking the intellectual egos of affluent white males?

If you’re thinking it’s unfair for me to assess you like that, then you’re right. I don’t know you. I don’t know in what way or how many people benefit from your writing or your obvious dedication to your pursuit of truth. But I’d assume it’s about what people get from that monk.

To carve in wood
Or to carve in word,
What is the difference?

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lukeprog September 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

stamati,

‘Annoyingly overconfident.’ Can you give me an example?

Now, concerning my choice to focus my life on moral philosophy and worldview naturalism rather than, say, soup kitchens or microlending or digging wells in Africa or working a suicide hotline…

The first reason I focus where I focus is because it fits my skills and temperament and passions better than, say, manning a suicide hotline or digging wells.

The second reason I focus where I focus is because I’m a systems thinker. Individual acts of charity can help individual lives, but China’s policies lifted 300 million people out of extreme poverty in a few generations. If bad systems and policies are in place, we will only ever still have more people to feed at the soup kitchen and more wells to dig, and we won’t make much progress. So I’m a particular kind of systems theorist, though I do occasionally make loans on Kiva or buy a goat for someone, too.

I like to think my contribution to changing minds has a bigger effect than one monk spending all day every day praying to non-existent deities.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Re: The Sandwalk ‘Challenge to theists and accomodationists’ for a 21st century argument for the existence of God

Russel Glasser from The Atheist Experience blog had this to say;

we’ve been asking this same question for many years on our show. We always rush callers to the front when the screeners tell us they claim to have proof that God exists. So far, we’ve been disappointed.

Pretty much everyone says he or she has proof that God exists winds up landing in one of the following categories, roughly in descending order of frequency:

1. They wish to make a first cause argument.
2. Before the call ends they will admit to being an atheist in disguise; they either thought it would be funny to offer a fake proof, or they (correctly) believed that they wouldn’t get on the show unless they lied. Hot tip for people fitting this category: You almost certainly aren’t funny and didn’t impress any of the viewers. Try keeping the lines clear for actual theists instead.
3. They offer some poorly drawn refutation of a particular scientific principle, and then assume that the only alternative to the science is their god.
4. They have some pseudo-scientific argument that is based on some kind of misapplication of a science they barely understand, such as quantum mechanics.
5. They have some kind of even worse pseudo-scientific argument that involves making up “laws” that don’t actually exist.
6. They have some kind of linguistic argument that relies on proving that “God” exists based on purely semantic properties rather than observed evidence.

When these various tactics fail, about half will resort to threatening us with some form of Pascal’s Wager, most likely without knowing who Pascal is.

That about covers the supposedly sophisticated arguments that theology has had to offer in the last 200 years. Seriously. If there are many more then few theists are aware of them.

That — plus brute force claims assertions or claims to knowledge based on personal revelation or scripture or dogma or deistic to monotheist bait and switch philosophizing — is generally what I’ve seen for the last few decades as well.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Another good Alan Sokal quote;

The bottom line is that all of us — conservative and liberal, believer and atheist — live in the same real world, whether we like it or not. Public policy must be based on the best available evidence about that world. In a free society each person has the right to believe whatever nonsense he wishes, but the rest of us should pay attention only to those opinions that are based on evidence.

Source: Taking evidence seriously from The Guardian
PDF: http://ebookpedia.net/Taking-evidence-seriously.html

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm

The Postmodernism Generator;

http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo

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ildi September 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

To carve in wood
Or to carve in word,
What is the difference?

Pretty as that sounds, the monk wasn’t carving anything. I googled the story to get a better handle on how one prays 3,000 times a day. The telegraph.co.uk has a better description with more pictures; every day at sunrise he comes to the temple, places his feet into the same spot and kowtows thousands of times. When he was younger, he could kowtow 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. Now he’s down to a thousand, and when the weather gets cold, he can only manage 500.

So, basically, he’s been doing serious aerobics in place for the past 20 years. I’m sure it’s very Zen, but is this really what is meant by leading the contemplative life? What wisdom has he shared with his fellow monks? What benefits has he brought to his community? If it weren’t for the religious imprimatur, he’d be just another sideshow attraction.

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cl September 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Luke,

‘Annoyingly overconfident.’ Can you give me an example?

I know the question was tossed to stamati, but one recent example that comes to my mind is your claim that DCT is false because God does not exist. That, to me, is annoying overconfidence at its highest – but I imagine you’ll just dismiss it nonchalantly again – as you have.

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lukeprog September 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Hermes, that is classic.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Luke, as Derrida said, “Society is intrinsically responsible for class divisions”. It could be said that Lyotard’s model of cultural nationalism holds that the raison d’etre of the poet is social comment, given that consciousness is interchangeable with culture.

Source: http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/604859051

I wonder if someone has whipped up a few sectarian theistic generators? A pseudo far-eastern new-age one or a Christian literal + American country fascist version? On the last one, there’s always FSTDT.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Cl, since you are back for a bit today, could you comment on the Alan Sokal quote I posted earlier?

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stamati September 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Luke,

I understand why you’d chose to do this over some other kind of philanthropic venture, and I respect your work and the fact that you use your talents. We must do what we love, and your dedication inspires me personally.

But not everyone’s talents are the same. I see your attitude and dedication as similar to this man’s, but not everyone is a systems thinker or a white male with internet access. How can we judge someone for that? Do you know what other services he performs as part of his religious devotion? Do you understand the practices and teachings of Chinese Buddhism? Is he from a Pure Land tradition or a Zen tradition? If you don’t know, the kind of scoffing ethnocentrism you put forth is, I think, in poor taste.

So in the interest of having a better understanding of how much time this monk might spend on prostrations every day, I timed myself doing some. I came up with under 10 seconds per prostration. If you were to just say each one took 10 seconds, you’d come up with 8-9 hours a day of prostrations. If he started at sunrise, he’d be done in the early afternoon. It is not uncommon for people to work in jobs they hate for as long. Is everyone with a shit job useless? Where do you want to draw the line?

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stamati September 28, 2010 at 8:10 pm

ildi,

It’s poetry, dude. Luke’s not actually carving words into anything either.

What wisdom has he shared? I don’t know, and since you don’t either, it may be most honest to withhold judgment.

Take away the religion and he’s a freak show, take away the freak show and what is he?

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lukeprog September 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

stamati,

Ethnocentrism? I did not scoff at his ethnicity. I remarked that spending one’s entire life praying to non-existence people is a waste of time. This is true whether he comes from the Pure Land tradition or the Zen tradition.

Everyone who spends 8-9 hours a day praying to non-existent persons is wasting 8-9 hours of his day, yes.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Stamati, I don’t see the justification for the charge of ethnocentrism.

Did Luke identify the monk as being in a different ethnic group from himself? Did the article even identify the monk’s ethnicity? As I see it, that charge has as much merit as calling someone who disagrees with Islam an anti-Arab bigot. Well, they may be, but if the topic is the religion or a religious practice, it’s not an ethnic issue unless the ethnicity is tied to the religion exclusively. Yet, that’s not the case even for Jews. A charge of ethnocentrism requires more than just a casual religious + ethnic correlation.

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Chris September 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Hermes: Rather than a fundamentalist generator, I think the theistic equivialent to the Postmodern Generator would be the Liberal Theology Generator. I’m thinking something like this:

“Tillich says God is the ground of all being in which one becomes fully human, yet transcends the whole of humanity. Thus, God is the universe’s metaphor of existence, its necessary force that drives all experience. Contrast Bishop Spong, who argues that because God is already working in the universe between events instead of above them, God’s nature is available for all of humanity to participate in. Yet it is for this reason that God is wholly separate yet ‘in’ the world, in the sense that God is a potential individuals can actualize.”

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ernest carl September 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Stamati, I think you’re exaggerating here. Sure, arguing about the existence of hidden entities and religious beliefs seem like a waste of time… but the adverse effects of believing in these things are also palpable. There are a lot of things in Buddhism that I like too e.g. Some strands of the Mahayana tradition do not distinguish between nirvana and samsara, and so, all of one’s saintly efforts must be exerted in the here and now while still alive. I also like the idea where our human sense of personality is all but an illusion… among other things. However, I personally cannot see any virtue from praying 3,000 times a day. You pray so many times that behavior becomes pretty much redundant. Sure, life is all suffering… but what does praying so many times a day actually accomplish? What exactly is the noble goal towards the world there?

—-
Just saw this on telly and I highly recommend: http://naturallyobsessed.com

When it comes to theists of today claiming the field of science as but merely arising from their own (e.g. Plantinga), my automatic reaction is that of absolute disgust. Doing science and actually producing ORIGINAL, and sometimes even useful scientific data is fucking hard. What exactly have current theologians accomplished that is of real-world value?

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Chris, capital-E Excellent! If someone could code that, thousands of hours of unproductive mirth would be sucked into the ether.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Stamati, while I don’t consider this to be entirely fair towards Tibetan Buddhism leadership, I also don’t think that they have had proper scrutiny either. The Chinese invasion of Tibet? That’s bad. How Tibet was run prior to the Chinese? Also bad. Part of that ‘bad’ stemmed from the fact that it was a theocratic government.

http://canterburyatheists.blogspot.com/2008/12/dalai-lama-hail-neo-medieval-tibetan.html

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Luke, more useless actions from Buddhists;

Prayer wheel turns for Christchurch earthquake victims
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10672069

Excerpt; “An Auckland Buddhist temple is inviting New Zealanders to use its new prayer wheel – said to be the world’s most powerful – to pray this weekend for world peace and for calm in earthquake-ravaged Canterbury.”

Most powerful? Really? Powerful?

I guess dividing by zero allows anyone to make such a claim and not really be lying.

* * *

You may ask; What earthquake?

New Zealand Treasury Doubles Estimate of Earthquake Cost to NZ$4 Billion ($2.9 billion USD)
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-08/new-zealand-treasury-doubles-estimate-of-earthquake-cost-to-nz-4-billion.html

Oh, and people died in the quake too. Just saying.

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lukeprog September 28, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Hermes,

Love the dividing by zero line.

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Hermes September 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm

[ tips winged helm ]

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Joel September 28, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Boyd’s argument from moral realism sounds alot like religious apologetics. For example, regarding intuition (replacing ‘moral’ with ‘religious’:

Scientists have unconscious beliefs that are generally approximately true, which are called “scientific intuitions.” It is possible that we have religious intuitions in the same way (206). We might have a hard time verbalizing or even identifying religious intuitions, but they can be approximately true when they are based on a strong understanding of religion in general.

Seriously? I know that Boyd is defending moral realism, not putting foward a positive argument for it, but he doesn’t address the core issue: that (regarding intuition and also disagreement) there being no special moral facts is a superior explanation to why people disagree over morality, as compared to the explanation that there are such facts and people are mistaken. We can even account for the illusion of objective morality: conflating subjective desire-value and objectivity. On the other hand, accounting for moral facts that are vastly different from normal facts or even desire-value facts, seems impossible.

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TaiChi September 29, 2010 at 3:00 am

Oh, and people died in the quake too. Just saying.” ~ Hermes

Huh? Nobody died because of the quake. Well, one guy had a heart attack, but who knows whether that was correlation or causation. In fact, that’s the remarkable thing – the earthquake was similar to Haiti’s, but that one left 200,000+ dead. Shows you what a difference a strict building code makes.

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Hermes September 29, 2010 at 4:02 am

TaiChi, I am corrected. Thanks.

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ildi September 29, 2010 at 4:48 am

It’s poetry, dude. Luke’s not actually carving words into anything either.

What wisdom has he shared? I don’t know, and since you don’t either, it may be most honest to withhold judgment.

Take away the religion and he’s a freak show, take away the freak show and what is he?

lol, thanks for the clarification, dood; however, your point was that both are creating something, no? Have you seriously visualized how quick and repetitive his motions are to complete 3,000 in one day? His behavior is atypical for a Buddhist monk, to say the least; this guy is the equivalent of a Catholic going into a church and genuflecting/making the sign of the cross over and over and over and over and over…. not what anyone considers ‘prayer.’

Take away the freak show and he’s, what, very fit?

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Reginald Selkirk September 29, 2010 at 6:19 am

stamati: But not everyone’s talents are the same.

What is your talent, being a concern troll on the Internet?

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stamati September 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Anyone else think I’m trolling? If the conversation’s not appreciated, or if I am perceived as being an ass, I’ll stop talking about it, but obviously I feel that there’s an important point to what I’m saying. And that point is something I try to abide by: take it easy on people you don’t understand.

ildi,

Yes, do0o0d, and I actually performed some prostrations to get a sense of it :). His actions are likely atypical, especially for Western Buddhists. Also, he’s probably very fit, but if he’s not very fit? :)

Hermes,

Although I suppose you think I’m ‘dividing by zero,’I agree with you, that from our perspective the ‘most powerful prayer wheel’ is ridiculous, as is a lot of Buddhist cosmology, and I think Buddhists would be better off acknowledging the apathetic agnosticism of their religion’s founder. But I don’t think one has to accept everyone’s expressions of devotion or whatever as metaphysically valid to at least acknowledge that they mightn’t be a total ‘waste of time,’ and might directly produce positive and pragmatic results.

And about the charge of ethnocentrism: it is not solely to do with one’s ethnic group, but can refer to the propensity to instinctively place one’s own traditions, religious values, or social values in superior relation to another group’s.

Luke,

I can’t provide citations to other annoyances. I mostly read them, was annoyed, and forgot about them. Could’ve been my mood that day. I guess this one just stuck out. Thanks for taking time to respond to my comments.

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Hermes September 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm

stamati: Anyone else think I’m trolling?

Nope. That said, your criticism of Luke was like someone saying that because crippled people benefit from having others care for them, everyone should take care of crippled people in their spare time even if it means that no other tasks can be done.

* Would it be good for some more people to help crippled people? Sure.

* Does any one person have that responsibility? Hell no.

Reginald Selkirk was right to label such criticism as that of a concern troll. As can be seen here, this type of attitude is intended to bully someone with an emotional appeal while discarding everything else they do.

though I’ll take it as a mistake made because you didn’t think through your criticism fully before you posted it.

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puntnf September 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Stamati, I don’t think it’s fair to say Luke does not do good work.

With that said, I’m sorry you were offended. I can totally understand where you are coming from, given the assumption that you are Buddhist yourself. I hope it helps to hear that I think most of the comments regarding the issue ITT are not personal attacks on Buddhism/groups of people. Rather, they are straightforward/candid statements regarding certain behaviors; I can see why you take them as ‘condemning’, however, but I hope you’ll take my word for it when I say it probably wasn’t meant to be that way for the most part.

Hope that clarifies things just a tad

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ildi September 29, 2010 at 3:15 pm

shorter stamati: I love it when you take down the other religions, but LEAVE BUDDHISM ALONE!!!

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stamati September 29, 2010 at 6:16 pm

@ildi,

that’s not really the case. as i said i do not agree with the cosmological or supernatural claims of buddhism, and i view some of the things taught as rather manipulative and ill-informed. the same goes for my old religion, christianity, but i still think there’s good in it, and i don’t like it when people poke fun at normal folk trying to do the best they can.

@puntnf,

luke does excellent work, as i said in my posts. and although i study it and practice meditation, i’m not a buddhist.

@Hermes,

in my first post, i said the criticism i made of luke was not fair. i appreciate deeply what he does with this site; he helped me through my own deconversion.

“this type of attitude is intended to bully someone with an emotional appeal while discarding everything else they do.”

paraphrasing luke: “buddhist monk spends too much time praying and is useless.” is this not exactly the attitude you describe above? i feel as though luke was saying that everyone ought to run a philosophy website or be greg mortensen or something. i felt he was being ‘concern trollish,’ according to your definition.

@all,

i sincerely hope this clarifies everything.

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Hermes September 29, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Works for me.

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ernest carl September 30, 2010 at 8:38 am

@stamati
okay. clarification is good.

remember religioustolerance.org
probably is one of the most useful sites out there run by people with diverse worldviews. The goal is of course to understand each other and let the person reading the content judge for themselves.

This site is run by one converted atheist, so I suppose feel of the posts here wouldn’t be as congenial to extreme believers/religious practitioners. I think that alone for a caveat emptor should have been readily apparent–probably even expected.

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Zeb September 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

I think everything stamati said was right on. There is a difference between ethnocentrism and racism. Luke’s comment appears to be ethnocentric particularly because he does not refer to ethnicity. Instead of acknowledging that this monk is doing this praying in a vastly different culture and society, and investigating what the function and value of the prayer is in the culture, Luke judges his actions based on Luke’s own cultural standards and values. Stamati raises the valid question of how much different the monk’s prayer is from the philosopher’s writing within each person’s cultural and social context. If ‘making a difference in the world’ is standard by which we judge action (which itself is a cultural standard, not a universal), how much of a difference does the average philosopher’s work make, compared to this monk’s prayer? I mean, other than consuming vastly more resources? But I think stamati’s point is that both the philosopher and the monk are doing valuable work if each one and a number of people around him value his work.

Luke, how do you figure that “praying to non-existent persons” is necessarily a waste of time? Is it because the non-existent persons can’t be influenced to perform favors for the praying person? I don’t know how to find out the details of the kind of prayer the monk was practicing, but the repetitiveness and brevity of each “prayer” (the journalists word in this case) suggest that this a kind of contemplative prayer similar to the Christian “Jesus prayer,” the Muslim dhikr, Hindu mantras, etc. The point is not only or mainly to influence the entity prayed to, but to affect the person praying and perhaps the world at large. Even if nothing supernatural goes on, such prayer certainly affects the person praying, and indirectly may influence the world at large. We know nothing of what the monk does outside of prayer time, but who knows how his prayer may affect how he lives otherwise, the quality of his interactions with other, and their responses to him? Not to mention that he might simply value the experience of prayer itself, and other people may value the feeling they get from knowing he is doing the prayer, and may themselves act differently because of it.

Finally, if it is a waste of time to pray to non-existent persons, what about making movies about them, reading stories about them, or singing songs about them? What is the difference in value between what this monk has been doing, and what Matthew Bellamy has been doing? The biggest difference I see is that Matthew Bellamy has consumed thousands if not millions of times more natural resources in pursuit of being an awesome rock star, compared to this monk’s pursuit of being an awesome monk. And there’s ethnocentrism for you: Rockstar=awesome, contemplative monk=lame.

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lukeprog September 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Zeb,

What? I’m guilty of ethnocentrism because I don’t talk about his ethnicity at all?

That’s crazy talk.

When, exactly, did I say that Matthew Bellamy was having a positive moral impact on the world?

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Zeb September 30, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Luke you’ve praised Matthew Bellamy’s music in the same sort of off hand way that you’ve criticized this monk’s prayer. But would you say that Bellamy should stop making music and spend that time going out into the world and changing things? It’s not a big deal, but I think it would be pompous and arrogant to say that for either. And that’s maybe what stamati was getting at about “overconfidence.”

So failing to recognize differences in cultural context does not count as ethnocentrism in your book? Ethnocentrism, unlike racism, does not necessary mean thinking that one’s culture is superior to all others; it also includes failing to realize that one has a specific culture, and therefor assuming that the standards and values of one’s culture are just normal and apply to everyone everywhere. Maybe you actually weren’t doing that, but the fact that you did not mention ethnicity does not defend you against ethnocentrism.

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Hermes October 2, 2010 at 5:34 pm

FWIW, the Sandwalk Challange to Theists now has 500 posts (2 1/2 pages of blog comments), along with an off-line comment thread of over 100 at the Atheist Experience blog.

http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2010/09/challenge-to-theists-and-their.html

http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2010/09/good-luck-with-that-larry.html

I’m reading the comments backwards (newest to oldest) right now to see if anything interesting is on offer. Unfortunately, it looks like quite a few comments are to or from lee_merrill who didn’t seem to get what is being asked in the challenge when I read it a few days ago. Maybe he now gets it and is on topic?

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ernest carl October 4, 2010 at 11:44 am

@Zeb

Did Luke say/imply monks were lame? No. Luke’s target was clear, concise and specific: it was about one particular monk’s OC behavior. Spare us the sociology lessons when it’s really called for — this isn’t one of those instances.

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