Shambhala Buddhism

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"The Great Stupa"

Hi everybody! I know I’ve been delinquent in my posting duties. This Shambhala post is coming more than two weeks after the episode was actually released. I was hoping Jeff could get around to doing it at some point, since he’s a more engaging writer than me, but alas he has found a job and now has limited time to devote to blogs. Strangely enough I have now been unemployed for nearly a month and I am still too busy to post on time. Job hunting and despair are sucking up quite a bit of my free time.

So let’s get down to business… Some months ago Jeff had the idea of heading up to Shambhala Mountain Buddhist Center – a kind of Buddhist retreat in the gorgeous and moderately remote area of Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. It’s about an hour northwest of Fort Collins.

It actually took quite a while to get permission to do any kind of recording up there, because whoever was in charge of media relations was quite reluctant to agree to anything, fearing we would do some sort of ambush interview and edit the show in such a way as to make the center in particular or Buddhism in general look bad. Seriously. I was accidentally CC’d an internal email to this effect. But once we convinced the gatekeeper that we had no agenda and that this episode is essentially for our own edification on Shambhala Buddhism (and an excuse just to go into that beautiful area) then everyone involved was beyond accommodating and generous with their time.

Michael Gayner, director of Guest Services of the center, and Joshua Mulder, stupa architect, gave us a bit of a private tour from “basecamp” to the center’s stupa, a few hundred feet higher up in elevation. As we walked they explained to us about Shambhala Buddhism and their experiences with it.

By the way, this is going to be a picture-heavy post. Deal with it.

Michael and Jeff walking up to the Stupa.

The fountain of junk we mention toward the end of show.

The plastic card in the foreground might be the Blockbuster card that Jeff was taken with.

Apparently I have reached my limit regarding pics I am allowed to upload to WordPress without paying a fee, so instead I will link to them from now on. Hopefully it turns out okay.

These are from my Picasa album

Jeff and Michael recording in from of the “junk” structure

A view from the stupa looking toward the rockies

Views of the beautiful and intricate design from the outside

Views from the inside

Upon arriving at the stupa I went inside and sat crossed-legged on those cushions they have on the floor and closed my eyes and for a few moments. It was pure bliss. It may have been that I was tired of walking and out of breath, but whatever, it was nice.

I would like to give a special thanks to Joshua and Michael for being so generous with their time and expertise to a couple of strange atheists from the city.

Joshua

Joshua and Michael

Here’s a link to the whole Picasa album if you would like to browse

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Science Communication

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Today’s podcast is all about how to bring science to the masses. Jeff and I attended a mixer following a two-day long workshop at CSU.  We basically grabbed some random people there and started chatting them up, starting with two working scientists fresh out of the workshop telling us what they learned. Then we were fortunate enough to talk to Nancy Baron, Director of Science Outreach at COMPASS and author of Escaping the Ivory Tower, and she told us why it is important for scientists to get their research into the public sphere. Finally we speak to Susan Moran about her experiences as a science journalist in both print media and as the host of a local radio show.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

Steve Wells Episode mp3

LIFT Podcast on Itunes (remember, a subscription costs nothing, but it helps us get that shallow, impersonal sense of external validation that is all anyone really wants out of life)

We start out the podcast with an interview with Steve Wells.  Steve Wells is easily the most important skeptic you’ve never heard of, and though you may not know the man, you definitely know his work.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve found yourself in this situation.  About four beers into a six pack you decide to bounce around a few web news sites; after all, you’re in your refractory period, and you’re starting to worry that if you scamper any further down the YouPorn rabbit hole, your internet service provider is going to put you on some special list.  Anyways, as you click from story to story, you see it, out of the corner of your eye . . . a comment with the word “Truth” in it, that’s right . . . capital T Truth.  

As you start to read the comment, your child like innocence is shattered;  sure, you thought you were just watching a video of Asimo the dancing robot, but “Souljah4christ84” says that according to Revalation 13:11-18, the beast will come in the form of a super computer, and the technicians at Honda are just helping to bring about the biblical Apocalypse; not only is he right, but he has the bible passages to prove it?!?

But, here’s where the panic sets in, what to do, what to do?  Someone is saying something bat-shit insane on the internet, for this you will not stand, but you’ve had a glass of OJ now, and you’ve just realized the girl in the Asimo video is insanely hot, (seriously, go take a look, I’ll wait) you have ten minutes, at best, to throw a couple of passages back in souljah boy’s face, but that bible the Gideons tossed at you outside of Brewfest is nowhere to be found.  That is when you let Steve Wells author of the Skeptics Annotated Bible save the day.

In a project spanning over a decade, Steve has worked his way through the Bible, the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, marking flaws, contradictions, and flat out absurdities to create one of the most powerful online tools available to skeptics, atheists, and the religious alike.  During our interview, Seth and I got a chance to ask Steve about some of his experiences working with the SAB project, his book “Drunk With Blood: God’s Killings in the Bible”, his plans for a possible print version of the SAB, as well as a few of his “favorite” bible passages.   It’s an interview you won’t want to miss.

Later on, inspired by our talk with Steve, Seth and I round out the podcast by tossing mics in front of a handful of drunken skeptics for an erudite and rational dissections of a few of their “favorite” bible verses.

Finally, we wrap things up by reminding you to give us a 2 and 2, tell two friends, and take two minutes to leave us a review on the interwebs.

Thanks for listening.

Animal Ethics

Link to mp3

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This episode features Dr. Alastair Norcross from the University of Colorado. Kai Haswell and I caught up with him at the Pickle Barrel in Fort Collins to talk about his life and his work over a pint. This was immediately after the first day of a two-day animal ethics conference held at Colorado State University sponsored by the philosophy department.

photo courtesy of Susan Gerbic

Kai

photo by Amy Maass

Kai and I basking in the hatred of the loathsome WBC

For  those who do not know Kai he is a philosophy grad student at CSU, and as such, much more qualified than me to be asking questions on the topic of ethics.

Then less than an hour later I head over to Wild Boar for our weekly skeptic circlejerk where Jeff speaks to Joel MacClellan from the University of Tennessee. They talk for quite a while on the topic of sentience. What organisms are sentient? How can we know? Do sentient beings deserve our moral consideration? What about non-sentient beings?


Joel MacClellan, an alumnus of the University of Akron (BA, Philosophy, 2002) and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Tennessee.  His philosophical research includes Environmental Ethics and Animal Ethics, Ethical Theory, Philosophy of Science/Biology, and History of Modern Philosophy.

Dr. Aaron Sholders

LiFT podcast featuring Dr. Aaron Sholders (audio link)

For the Apple iTunes inclined: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/leaders-in-free-thought/id426025086

Today we have my old biochemistry prof (who happens to be a devout Christian) on the podcast and we discuss theology and Christianity. After recording he sent me an email which I have reproduced below.

Hey Seth

So I enjoyed the opportunity to sit down with you and Jeff and have an interesting conversation.  As I have replayed the conversation in my mind a couple of thoughts have come to my mind.  Obviously these won’t make it on the podcast but I wanted to share them with you.

First, I believe I misused the term “brute fact”.  The term I was actually looking for was “properly basic belief”.  The fact that an observable physical world exists is a “properly basic belief”.  I don’t know if the idea of a necessary being would fall into the category of a “properly basic belief” but Alvin Plantiga (a very successful philosopher from Notre Dame) has made this argument (or at least the argument that belief in God is properly basic) and published it in a 3 part series through Oxford Press.  He is not what you would call an evidentalist, William Lane Craig would be closer to an evidentalist although he does appear to have leanings similar to Plantiga in some ways.  So I feel I misused the term “brute fact” sorry for my ignorance of philosophy, it is not my realm of expertise that is for certain (although I do enjoy it!).

Second, I wanted to let you know that I do feel that it is important for Christians to come to a correct interpretation of Genesis and the bible as a whole.  This is in regards to our discussion about creation, evolution, design etc.  I did state that I believe that God created in a single manner but we may not know what that was.  Having said that I do feel it is important, for the Christian, to seek the truth in this very important realm of science, philosophy and theology.   I myself have not embarked fully on this study BUT I hope to.  I do have strong leanings toward ID as I see this as having great explanatory power at the molecular level, in particular the information stored in the genome.  What I haven’t done is really formalize this argument in my mind nor have I taken significant steps toward an argument against evolution as a whole.  So this is closer to my area of expertise and again we find some ignorance but we are all in different stages of learning :).  I can say this, I feel fairly confident that evolution has a much more difficult time explaining:

1. The origins of Information bearing molecules capable of self-replication.
2. The origins of complex macromolecules such as proteins.
3. The origins of the first cell and the complexiities that it would entail.
4. The flexibility that would have to exist within a genome to allow the origins of new species.
a. Mutation has not been demonstrated to confer this type of flexibility other than by inference.

Of course one could argue that science has yet to show how these things can be explained BUT we want to avoid “God-of-the-Gaps” argumentation.  And in a sense the way I have put these statements would be invoking “God-of-the-Gaps” argumentation.  I use these examples not as a formal argument but rather as “clues” that may indicate that evolution is not as powerful of an explanation at the molecular level (so this would be an argument against evolution but not an argument for intelligence).  Having said this, the design argument, when properly stated is not invoking “God-of-the-Gaps” argumentation.  The reason is that the design theorist is attempting to demonstrate that the physical world demonstrates marks of intelligence.  William Dembeski’s work is by far the best example of this in that he demonstrates that intelligence can be detected via “specified complexity”.  I, as a biochemist, feel that the genome demonstrates marks of “specified complexity” and thus marks of intelligence.  Notice here that the argument is not stating that “evolution can’t explain xyz therefore God did it.”  The argument is saying that: “This is how we detect intelligence (eg specified complexity), the natural world exhibits specified complexity, therefore intelligence was used to bring it about.”

Finally, I have yet to see how complex chemistry can bring about true and objective meaning.  When a biochemist sets up the following reaction in a beaker: Glucose + ATP –> G6P + ADP the beaker does not have “meaning”.  Now extend this into a multicellular organism such as you and I.  At the molecular level there is much more complicated chemistry going on HOWEVER it is still just chemistry.  Why does this level of complexity all of a sudden bring about meaning?  This is a hard argument to grasp onto for the reductionist because they naturally feel “meaningful”.  I agree that the reductionist does have meaning but does not have a worldview to support their belief in a meaningful existence.

Again glad I got to talk to both you and Jeff I enjoyed the experience.  Finally, I think it is only fair to tell you that I am praying for you, Jeff and Jeric.  I know this is “meaningless” to you but still wanted to let you know.

Aaron

I mentioned Shannon Deaver at the top of the podcast. She does all our logo work, including the one at the top of this page and the icons for our upcoming iPhone app. Here is her website.

Best of Skepticamp Part 2

Here’s the second episode in a two-part series on our little SkeptiCamp conference here in Fort Collins.

Best of Skepticamp Part 2 (audio)

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First up is Mike Vincent who gave a talk on promoting science to non-scientists. You can view his talk in its entirety on YouTube. During the clip of his talk that we play he mentions that this picture should be in every textbook:

from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

In our discussion we discuss his collage of science popularizers

Albert Einstein, Richard Dawkins, Neil de Grasse-Tyson, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Hawking, Bill Nye, The Mythbusters, They Might Be Giants, Mr Wizard (Don Herbert), Sir David Attenborough, and Tim Minchin

Next up is Norman Schultz who is a philosophy professor in the Denver area. He discusses moral theories with us including cultural relativism, utilitarianism, and contractualism (aka social contract theory).

And lastly we feature Chalmer Wren discussing his talk “The Numbers Game: The Misuse and Abuse of Statistics”

YouTube link: Part 1 and Part 2

*BONUS* Diversity in Skepticism

*BONUS* Diversity in Skepticism

Hey Kids,

Today’s bonus content is a meditation on a very important issue in the skeptical movement (whether you are aware of it or not), and that is diversity. I won’t bother going into the issue here in this post; instead I will let the guests of our podcast do the talking.

The show begins with a clip from our Diversity in Skepticism panel from our recent Skepticamp conference, which began a large discussion within out own local community. YouTube video of the panel: Part 1 and Part 2.

Diversity in Skepticism Panel

left to right: Logan Baxter, Joel Guttormson, Amy Maass, and Jamie Folsom

Diversity in Skepticism panel

Joel's face compelled me to upload this picture

Our fearless moderator

We speak to Joel Guttormson, the atheist firebrand of Colorado (in my opinion).

Joel Guttormson

We also speak to my wife, Cassandra (or “Kasi”) Yoder for her take on the panel and the issue of diversity in skepticism as a whole.

Kasi in Rocky Mountain National Park

Kasi and Seth

Lastly, we speak to Jamie Folsom (who sounds suspiciously like Joan Cusack)  for her reflective thoughts on the panel and the phrase “people of color.”

Jamie Folsom

That’s it folks!

Here’s our iTunes link for all you Apple fanboys and fangirls http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/leaders-in-free-thought/id426025086