Is Humanism A Religion-Substitute?

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2008-03-26T04:18:10.000Z · score: 30 (30 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

For many years before the Wright Brothers, people dreamed of flying with magic potions.  There was nothing irrational about the raw desire to fly.  There was nothing tainted about the wish to look down on a cloud from above.  Only the "magic potions" part was irrational.

Suppose you were to put me into an fMRI scanner, and take a movie of my brain's activity levels, while I watched a space shuttle launch.  (Wanting to visit space is not "realistic", but it is an essentially lawful dream—one that can be fulfilled in a lawful universe.)  The fMRI might—maybe, maybe not—resemble the fMRI of a devout Christian watching a nativity scene.

Should an experimenter obtain this result, there's a lot of people out there, both Christians and some atheists, who would gloat:  "Ha, ha, space travel is your religion!"

But that's drawing the wrong category boundary.  It's like saying that, because some people once tried to fly by irrational means, no one should ever enjoy looking out of an airplane window on the clouds below.

If a rocket launch is what it takes to give me a feeling of aesthetic transcendence, I do not see this as a substitute for religion.  That is theomorphism—the viewpoint from gloating religionists who assume that everyone who isn't religious has a hole in their mind that wants filling.

Now, to be fair to the religionists, this is not just a gloating assumption.  There are atheists who have religion-shaped holes in their minds.  I have seen attempts to substitute atheism or even transhumanism for religion.  And the result is invariably awful.  Utterly awful.  Absolutely abjectly awful.

I call such efforts, "hymns to the nonexistence of God".

When someone sets out to write an atheistic hymn—"Hail, oh unintelligent universe," blah, blah, blah—the result will, without exception, suck.

Why?  Because they're being imitative.  Because they have no motivation for writing the hymn except a vague feeling that since churches have hymns, they ought to have one too.  And, on a purely artistic level, that puts them far beneath genuine religious art that is not an imitation of anything, but an original expression of emotion.

Religious hymns were (often) written by people who felt strongly and wrote honestly and put serious effort into the prosody and imagery of their work—that's what gives their work the grace that it possesses, of artistic integrity.

So are atheists doomed to hymnlessness?

There is an acid test of attempts at post-theism.  The acid test is:  "If religion had never existed among the human species—if we had never made the original mistake—would this song, this art, this ritual, this way of thinking, still make sense?"

If humanity had never made the original mistake, there would be no hymns to the nonexistence of God.  But there would still be marriages, so the notion of an atheistic marriage ceremony makes perfect sense—as long as you don't suddenly launch into a lecture on how God doesn't exist.  Because, in a world where religion never had existed, nobody would interrupt a wedding to talk about the implausibility of a distant hypothetical concept.  They'd talk about love, children, commitment, honesty, devotion, but who the heck would mention God?

And, in a human world where religion never had existed, there would still be people who got tears in their eyes watching a space shuttle launch.

Which is why, even if experiment shows that watching a shuttle launch makes "religion"-associated areas of my brain light up, associated with feelings of transcendence, I do not see that as a substitute for religion; I expect the same brain areas would light up, for the same reason, if I lived in a world where religion had never been invented.

A good "atheistic hymn" is simply a song about anything worth singing about that doesn't happen to be religious.

Also, reversed stupidity is not intelligence.  The world's greatest idiot may say the Sun is shining, but that doesn't make it dark out.  The point is not to create a life that resembles religion as little as possible in every surface aspect—this is the same kind of thinking that inspires hymns to the nonexistence of God.  If humanity had never made the original mistake, no one would be trying to avoid things that vaguely resembled religion.  Believe accurately, then feel accordingly:  If space launches actually exist, and watching a rocket rise makes you want to sing, then write the song, dammit.

If I get tears in my eyes at a space shuttle launch, it doesn't mean I'm trying to fill a hole left by religion—it means that my emotional energies, my caring, are bound into the real world.

If God did speak plainly, and answer prayers reliably, God would just become one more boringly real thing, no more worth believing in than the postman.  If God were real, it would destroy the inner uncertainty that brings forth outward fervor in compensation.  And if everyone else believed God were real, it would destroy the specialness of being one of the elect.

If you invest your emotional energy in space travel, you don't have those vulnerabilities.  I can see the Space Shuttle rise without losing the awe.  Everyone else can believe that Space Shuttles are real, and it doesn't make them any less special.  I haven't painted myself into the corner.

The choice between God and humanity is not just a choice of drugs.  Above all, humanity actually exists. 

53 comments

Comments sorted by oldest first, as this post is from before comment nesting was available (around 2009-02-27).

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-03-26T05:00:51.000Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW
The choice between God and humanity is not just a choice of drugs. Above all, humanity actually exists.

That's not the choice we're facing. We don't 'choose' humanity. Humanity is, whether we choose to accept it or not, just as God isn't, whether we choose to accept it or not. We choose whether to adopt humanism, or not.

And, when you get down to it, humanism is just another drug that lets people feel good. The knack is to realize that 'feeling good' isn't the goal, just a method natural selection used to get creatures to head towards the goal, and all of the hacks people have created to produce bliss are ultimately self-destructive.

Feeling good is not the point.

comment by Dojan · 2011-12-03T20:51:00.507Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Feeling good is not the point from the point of view of evolution, but it may well be for us. No one ever declared that we must do what evolution tries to make us do, just because it's evolution that created us.

[Edit:spelling]

comment by anonymous12 · 2008-03-26T05:28:52.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If a rocket launch is what it takes to give me a feeling of aesthetic transcendence, I do not see this as a substitute for religion. That is theomorphism - the viewpoint from gloating religionists who assume that everyone who isn't religious has a hole in their mind that wants filling.

Eliezer, there is evience that people do have a God-shaped hole in their minds. Razib @ gnxp.com has documented this extensively. For instance Buddhism is a nominally non-theistic religion, yet it has independently evolved into worship of the "Lord Buddha", or some Bodhisattva, etc. [1] [2]

comment by Kingreaper · 2011-08-30T21:55:21.203Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

But is the hole really "God shaped" or is it, in fact, "big powerful human" shaped?

Because theologians describe God with specific terms, and properties; but most religious people I know just think of God as a "big powerful human" even when their preachers tell them all these theological properties, their mind seems to shape it into "big powerful human" shape.

comment by athmwiji · 2008-03-26T05:53:47.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In peaceful moments when my mind is clear i become aware of my own experience and the passage of time independent of what my specific experience is at that moment.

I consider this to be a religious experience.

Also, it seems to be the only thing about me that is consistent over time. Certainly I do not now think the same way I did when I was 10 years old, nor do i look the same, or want the same things. My memory connects me more to that 10 year old then other people, but even my memories are suspect.

Through my empathy i can recognize that the experiences of other people are similar in this regard, and so i feel the distinction between myself and others is arbitrary. In this way i can transcend personal identity, and death.

No gods. No afterlife. No reincarnation. No fairy tales.

Scientific models help us by giving accurate predictions, but they are not the only models worth considering. Other models present an ontology that gives meaning to our experiences. People who consider money to be valuable accept the ontological authority of the market place in much the same way that catholics accept the ontological authority of priests over which crackers are the flesh of god.

comment by Z._M._Davis · 2008-03-26T06:28:53.000Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Caledonian, not the goal--of whom? Not the point--of what? You write as if you think the Evolution Fairy is going to smite us if we don't consciously try to maximize inclusive genetic fitness.

comment by Unknown · 2008-03-26T07:03:45.000Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that Eliezer keeps lecturing us on how God doesn't exist, instead of telling us more interesting things, is strong evidence that he himself has a religion shaped hole in his brain, as he points out himself (when talking about marriage.) On the other hand, anonymous is incorrect to assume that everyone has a hole like this; it may be that Eliezer has it on account of his family background. Many other people don't have such a hole. For example, g (is he still around?) doesn't give any sign of such a hole.

comment by TGGP4 · 2008-03-26T08:25:49.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer has been discussing his delight in spacecraft, which seems different than humanism. Mencius Moldbug has a seven-part series on the religious nature of humanism ending here.

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T10:02:31.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd have to chime in with the first anonymous person, who said:

Eliezer, there is evience that people do have a God-shaped hole in their minds.

In fact there are even scientists who are trying to find evolutionary psychology based explanations for why religious memes co-evolved with specific brain faculties that make us susceptible to them. To put it simply: we may all have a religion shaped hole in our heads, because it may have been adaptive to have them in our Era of Evolutionary Adaptedness. For example:

http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875666

So when you sway this:

Eliezer: If I get tears in my eyes at a space shuttle launch, it doesn't mean I'm trying to fill a hole left by religion

you may very well be wrong: you may not realize that you are trying to fill a religion shaped hole, but you are.

comment by Ben_Jones · 2008-03-26T10:39:09.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Roko & co: Can we try and pin down what exactly we mean by a 'religious-shaped hole'? I mean, even if there is such a hole, perhaps it's just a 'fulfilment-hole' that many have traditionally filled with religion.

My cod-psychology two pence: people like feeling part of something bigger and grander. What's bigger and grander than being in a Super Happy Agent's Super Club? Can one feel comfortable with the notion that there probably isn't a bigger, grander scheme? I don't have too much trouble.

If it's not a religion-hole, but simply an innate desire to feel something profound, then surely better to fill it with something you can see, feel, touch, understand. That said, God's never spoken to me - I imagine that must be a pretty fulfilling experience.

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T12:10:51.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Roko & co: Can we try and pin down what exactly we mean by a 'religious-shaped hole'? I mean, even if there is such a hole, perhaps it's just a 'fulfilment-hole' that many have traditionally filled with religion."

From the economist article:

"Dr Sosis therefore concludes that ritual constraints are not by themselves enough to sustain co-operation in a community—what is needed in addition is a belief that those constraints are sanctified."

"In short, awareness of a ghost—a supernatural agent—made people less likely to cheat."

Various scientists mentioned in the article are trying to find an evolutionary explanation as to why a tendency to believe in religions would be adaptive. One idea is a resurrection of group selection, but there are others. The point is that there are plenty of scientists who are looking very hard for some mechanism whereby a tendency towards religious belief is genetic.

When I say "religion-shaped hole", I mean certain brain structures which co-evolved with primitive tribal religions in our EEA. These brain structures may be quite specific - it may be the case that not just any old "happy belief" will do; for example a belief in the imperfect and somewhat random power of human progress [c.f. the space shuttle launch] might not cut it. Susceptibility to beliefs which fit a fairly specific list of criteria may be HARD CODED into the average human brain. My guess for these properties might be:

  1. The belief system must refer to deities/a diety who is extremely powerful, more so than any human, and it is not possible to deceive the diety about how you have acted.

  2. The diety/deities are the ultimate explanation for the existence of the world and all natural phenomena in it

  3. The diety/deities will punish any cheating on the members of one's tribe/social group, and reward co-operation and self-sacrifice

  4. The diety/deities deal with you once you have died, this treatment depends on how much you have co-operated/defected in life. [and furthermore, death IS NOT simply the end of existence]

I am unaware of any religious belief systems which don't fit this list; but this is perhaps true by definition. Until a few hundred years ago, almost every single human being on the planet held these beliefs, with some appropriate entity as "the deity", and today, as far as I am aware, these beliefs are held by something like 90% of the humans on this planet.

comment by Hopefully_Anonymous · 2008-03-26T12:28:32.000Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm glad to see robust criticism of Eliezer and his foil-seeking relationship with religion on this blog. Let's encourage Eliezer to focus more on innovating ways to overcome bias and less on these type of foil-seeking contrasts (the guy who likes space shuttles vs. the guy who claims to believe in Jesus as God).

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2008-03-26T12:44:52.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My cod-psychology two pence: people like feeling part of something bigger and grander.

This isn't just your idea, actually.

"[T]here is the pleasant life — having as many of the pleasures as you can and the skills to amplify them — and the good life — knowing what your signature strengths are and recrafting everything you do to use them a much as possible. But there's a third form of life, and if you're a bridge player like me, or a stamp collector, you can have eudaemonia; that is, you can be in flow. But everyone finds that as they grow older and look in the mirror they worry that they're fidgeting until they die. That's because there's a third form of happiness that is ineluctably pursued by humans, and that's the pursuit of meaning. I'm not going to be sophomoric enough to try to tell Edge viewers the theory of meaning, but there is one thing we know about meaning: that meaning consists in attachment to something bigger than you are. The self is not a very good site for meaning, and the larger the thing that you can credibly attach yourself to, the more meaning you get out of life."

Roko: The Sadducees were one religious sect with no belief in an afterlife. There are probably others (some Australian Aboriginal religions come to mind, but I can't find a cite). Buddhism in its original and more austere present forms (if that counts as a religion) lacks #1 and #2, and promises #3 and #4 through natural law rather than a deity. Still, those beliefs describe the vast majority of religions.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-03-26T13:19:01.000Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
You write as if you think the Evolution Fairy is going to smite us if we don't consciously try to maximize inclusive genetic fitness.

Read the last quote. Acting against the grain of reality tends to cause the actor to cease being real.

Is that bad from the actor's perspective? How should I know? But actors who view that as good, or who act regardless of that consequence, tend not to accumulate in existence. They do not endure.

We are descended from the actors who survived their environments, who one way or another made the choices that went along with the grain. Now the grain has shifted, but we're repeating the same patterns.

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T13:45:18.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

@Nick: Thanks for that; from the wikipedia article on the Sadducces:

The Sadducees were members of a Jewish sect founded in the second century BC, possibly as a political party. They ceased to exist sometime after the first century AD.

I think this really drives home my point - a sect split off from judaism (a religion which very much DOES believe in the afterlife) and within a few generations went extinct again. Moral of the tale: No belief in afterlife = not a viable religious belief system.

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T14:04:50.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

@Hopefully Anonymous: I'm glad to see robust criticism of Eliezer and his foil-seeking relationship with religion on this blog. Let's encourage Eliezer to focus more on innovating ways to overcome bias and less on these type of foil-seeking contrasts (the guy who likes space shuttles vs. the guy who claims to believe in Jesus as God).

I'm not criticizing the fact that Eliezer is promoting the benefits of placing emotional investment in the merely real. I'm just disagreeing with him on one specific point of fact: the scientific evidence seems to suggest that humans have an in-built desire to hold a religious belief system, as I defined it above.

Furthermore, I think that overcoming belief in the unreal is an important part of overcoming bias. Just look at the Intelligent Design movement in the US - an example of how emotional investment in unreal things leads to the worst kind of sophistry: a concerted attack on rational thinking and science.

comment by Cyan2 · 2008-03-26T14:06:33.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
I think this really drives home my point - a sect split off from judaism (a religion which very much DOES believe in the afterlife) and within a few generations went extinct again. Moral of the tale: No belief in afterlife = not a viable religious belief system.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc. You have to examine the full story of that extinction and others like (and unlike) it before you can make this assertion in confidence.

Susceptibility to beliefs which fit a fairly specific list of criteria may be HARD CODED into the average human brain.

The more specific the list, the less credence one should give it. Evolution will build just enough structure to let environment provide the rest of the information.

Religion is only one source of group cohesiveness conveyed by deeper meaning. The other major one I can think of off the top of my head is nationalism. The role of ritual would probably be best understood by examining it in all of the contexts where some deeper meaning is the binding agent, not just religion. Military rituals would be a good place to start.

comment by Liz_W · 2008-03-26T15:13:58.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you that atheists who experience awe or similar emotions in response to non-religious phenomena are not necessarily trying to fill a God-shaped hole. I don't follow the distinction you make between my experience of God and yours of the space shuttle launch, though. If sharing the experience of the space shuttle does not detract from your awe, why should sharing the experience of God detract from mine?

comment by josh · 2008-03-26T15:30:22.000Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Feeling good is not the point."

but it sure does feel good.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2008-03-26T15:47:42.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To those defending religion by lauding "a god-shaped hole in the mind": how would you react to a custom-designed pill which went to that part of the brain and plugged the hole? Or better yet, a vaccine which stopped it up permanently (and could be given with the other "shots" to an infant)?

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2008-03-26T16:08:47.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Liz, space shuttles exist. God, on the other hand.... I may be missing something, though, as I don't see where "sharing" comes from.

Julian, I don't see anyone defending religion, just pointing out that people do have a God-shaped hole. I find it plausible that that hole exists, and personally I'd like to plug it to the extent that I have one, but only if I was confident that doing so wouldn't reduce my feeling of transcendent awe at real things.

comment by Glen_Raphael · 2008-03-26T16:08:54.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The claim that religiously-inspired music is inherently more beautiful than atheistically-inspired music initially seems plausible but on reflection it seems clear there is a severe selection bias at work. The majority of religiously-inspired songs that have been written actually suck, as do the vast majority of songs of any sort. A few early churches cultivated an environment in which singing and songwriting were well rewarded, something one could make a career out of. Many talented people spent lifetimes writing song after song - most of them terrible - for the church and hundreds of years later a few of the songs that survive from that era are lovely. Do you really think Handel couldn't have written a decent song about atheism if he'd been paid to do so? Or at least, one that we'd regard as good if people had been singing it for centuries?

But you're looking at the output of professionals at the height of their craft, winnowed by time. It's like comparing Casablanca with some recent student art film projects and claiming black & white movies are inherently better.

(FWIW, here's the closest thing that I've written... Hymn of the Flying Spaghetti Monster )

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T17:08:27.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

@cyan: Post hoc ergo propter hoc - you make a fair point. Examining the other examples that nick gives might give me a slightly larger sample size. Do we have a Buddhism expert or someone who knows about the aboriginal Australians? Well, to be fair, the aboriginal Australians didn't exactly do very well for themselves, but there are other more compelling reasons for this. As far as confusing correlation with causation, I might quote the Wikipedia article again:

Most of what is known about the Sadducees comes from Josephus, who wrote that they were a quarrelsome group

which suggests that they lacked social cohesion. So the chain of causation would be that a lack of belief in afterlife caused lots of internal arguments, which led to their demise.

Cyan Said: The more specific the list, the less credence one should give it.

Yes, but look at all the evidence I have in favor of my quite (but not too) specific list: all of the world's major religions fit all of the criteria on it. (with "austere" Buddhism perhaps lacking somewhat, but how many "austere" Buddhists are there?) It looks to me like my list is well-supported by the evidence.

But this is a bit of a digression; I can't do a very thorough investigation into the scientific origins of religious belief. I think I have shown sufficient evidence to cast doubt on the assertion that we don't have a "religion-shaped hole" to fill.

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T17:14:14.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Julian: how would you react to a custom-designed pill which went to that part of the brain and plugged the hole? Or better yet, a vaccine which stopped it up permanently (and could be given with the other "shots" to an infant)?

extremely positively. I'd put it in the water supply like we do with fluoride ;-0

comment by Michael_G.r.2 · 2008-03-26T17:34:26.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You made me go to Youtube and watch shuttle launches..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qWWgvzWHUs

comment by Doug_S. · 2008-03-26T17:45:54.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We can use this as an "atheist hymn":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b7qaSxuZUg

comment by Alan_Crowe · 2008-03-26T17:58:17.000Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW
When someone sets out to write an atheistic hymn - "Hail, oh unintelligent universe," blah, blah, blah - the result will, without exception, suck.

I've just submitted my Militant Atheists' Marching Song to Reddit. Does it suck? Since I wrote the words, it is not my place to judge.

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2008-03-26T18:18:37.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as the hypothetical anti-religion pill... I'd be hesitant, not due to love of religion, but cooerced brain modification seems like it's a extra super duper "warning, warning, thar be demons past these gates" level of "eeek"

Brain modification/upgrades... "wheee! sign me up!"

Cooerced brain modification/upgrades... this is where I say "okay, wait, seriously think things through here."

comment by Unknown · 2008-03-26T19:31:37.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Julian's comment about "defending religion" reminds me of Eliezer's talk about the Blues and the Greens, and about politics; since religion is the Hated Enemy, we have to support every possible argument against it, and one possible argument is that religion is 100% foreign to human nature. So if anyone admits that this argument is flawed, he is supporting the Hated Enemy and must be condemned as a heretic.

comment by Manon_de_Gaillande · 2008-03-26T19:57:24.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If people do have a religion-shaped hole (I can tell at least some do), what are they supposed to do about it? Ignoring it to focus on real things will not plug the hole. Modifying your brain or creating a real godlike thing is not possible yet. So what are we to do?

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T20:58:24.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

if people do have a religion-shaped hole (I can tell at least some do), what are they supposed to do about it? Ignoring it to focus on real things will not plug the hole. Modifying your brain or creating a real godlike thing is not possible yet. So what are we to do?

I think that the best thing to do is to plug that hole with humanism or, better still, with transhumanism. Of course this is the opposite to what Eliezer is saying in the post, and it has its problems, but I think that it is the best of a bad lot of options. If you are going to think of transhumanism as your "life stance" [polite terminology for religion substitute], then there are some things you should be very careful about:

  • Resist the urge to turn H+ into a cult: don't assert the truth of a statement just because it supports the transhumanist stance. Support a statement if and only if it is true, and cross your fingers that the truth will turn out to be rather nice ;-0

  • Transhumanism has no high priests, and we should strive to make sure that it never does. Avoid leader worship.

  • Don't make AGI into a Super Happy Agent, but do make a successful friendly AGI into one. There's a difference. It is very likely that an unfriendly AGI will do very nasty things to us, but it seems likely to me that a friendly AGI will surpass or wildest dreams in terms of good outcomes. [Do we have evidence for this? Is this pure wishful thinking? Well... I think a reasonably defensible and non tautological argument could be made, given a suitable definition of "good outcome", of "friendly" and of "intelligent", using our observations of various levels of intelligent agents which are less intelligent than ourselves. Actually the difficult bit is defining "good outcome"]

(credit for these goes to Eliezer, you can find them all here on overcoming bias)

comment by anon12 · 2008-03-26T22:09:03.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"There are atheists who have religion-shaped holes in their minds. I have seen attempts to substitute atheism or even transhumanism for religion. And the result is invariably awful. Utterly awful. Absolutely abjectly awful."

Eliezer,

Don't you're early writings, i.e. "Meaning of Life FAQs", exhibit this tendency? Aren't they such attempts? I just want to know how much your views have changed since then. Your site states those writings are out of date, but I am still curious.

Thanks.

comment by Cyan2 · 2008-03-26T22:43:14.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Roko wrote:

It looks to me like my list is well-supported by the evidence... But this is a bit of a digression; I can't do a very thorough investigation into the scientific origins of religious belief. I think I have shown sufficient evidence to cast doubt on the assertion that we don't have a "religion-shaped hole" to fill.

I'm not asking you to do a thorough investigation -- I'm suggesting that you've put too much credence in one possible explanation when there are alternative less or equally complex explanations.

For example, a "life's meaning"-shaped hole in one's brain seems more plausible than a specifically religion-shaped hole. The features on your list may be characteristics of religions that make them particularly good at appearing to convey meaning (or at taking advantage of flaws in human cognition; or at generating a fear-based response; or... etc.). In short, the listed features make religions fit memes -- no religion-shaped hole required. I regard this as a simpler hyphothesis that equally well explains the available facts.

It would be a mistake to proceed as if the available information confirmed the religion-shaped-hole hypothesis. It's plausible -- but that's all.

comment by Roko · 2008-03-26T23:52:48.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

@cyan: "For example, a "life's meaning"-shaped hole in one's brain seems more plausible than a specifically religion-shaped hole."

hmmm... but then where are the large number of successful societies that don't have a religious belief system? Religion is widely acknowledged to be an almost universal phenomenon. The hypothesis that there's merely a "meaning shaped" hole is a less specific prediction than the "religion shaped" hole. Remember, the more specific the predictions a hypothesis makes, the more credence we should give it (assuming, of course, that the data doesn't falsify it). Example: suppose two hypotheses H1 and H2 make predictions about the value of a random variable X which lies between 0 and 1. H1 predicts X will be between 0.01 and 0.99, and H2 predicts that X will be between 0.22 and 0.2201. We measure X to have the value 0.22006. Which hypothesis do you believe? I'd believe H2, because it made a very specific prediction and didn't get falsified.

The same applies to my more specific prediction versus your less specific prediction.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-03-27T00:09:39.000Z · score: 0 (3 votes) · LW · GW
the more specific the predictions a hypothesis makes, the more credence we should give it

Incorrect. The more specific the predictions a hypothesis makes, the easier it becomes to confirm or reject the hypothesis, and the more meaningful investigation and observation can be in evaluating it. But that is why we should treat such hypotheses more seriously than vague ones, not why we should view them as more credible than vague ones.

comment by Cyan2 · 2008-03-27T00:32:38.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Roko, my hypothesis makes the same predictions as yours. It just has less working parts.

This discussion is skirting thread-hijacking, so I'm happy to agree to disagree at this point.

comment by cucu · 2008-03-27T09:02:57.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

nice post - now I know I'm not the only one with tears when seeing a rocket launch :)

comment by Roko · 2008-03-27T10:14:35.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"This discussion is skirting thread-hijacking, so I'm happy to agree to disagree at this point." yeah, ok, that sounds sensible. I don't think anything crucial rests on the outcome anyway. R

comment by Tom_White · 2008-03-27T13:38:35.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you confuse "theism" and "religion"? There are major world religions that are not at all theistic, like Buddhism. It's unrealistic to lump them together, it just makes you look ... silly.

comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-02T22:07:29.555Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe he is including all religions in this category, not just theist religions.

For example, what can Buddhism tell us about reality any more than Christianity? They share the same fundamental problem: they aren't real.

Besides, Buddhists tend to worship Buddha in lieu of a God, anyway, so even that part they couldn't get right.

comment by Captain_Obvious · 2008-03-27T16:05:49.000Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How do we know that the religionists don't have a "space-shuttle-launch"-shaped hole in /their/ heads?

Geez, it almost makes you wonder if maybe religion might be a substitute for science...

comment by Roko · 2008-03-27T16:39:29.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

@captain obvious: How do we know that the religionists don't have a "space-shuttle-launch"-shaped hole in /their/ heads?

Space shuttles weren't present in our era of evolutionary adaptedness, neither was science.

comment by Captain_Obvious · 2008-03-27T18:17:02.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Space shuttles weren't present in our era of evolutionary adaptedness, neither was science.

OK, but neither was anything like our modern forms of religion. Just because you don't have something to fit a given hole doesn't mean the hole couldn't exist (and of course I'm kidding about the specifics of the shuttle-launch-shaped-hole)

Besides, while "modern" science wasn't present, the overall goal (trying to understand the world we find ourselves in) certainly was. Lacking anything like modern science, people had to "fill in the hole" (in their understanding of their world) with religion.

Regardless of whether that's actually true or not (and I'm certainly no anthropoligist!), my real point is that it's incredibly presumptuous of the religionists to assume that just because thing A causes person 1 to feel similar to how thing B causes person 2 to feel, that person 1 is obviously trying to fill an B-shaped hole with A, which is merely a pale substitute for B, whereas B is "clearly" the genuine article. They don't even consider for a second that person 2 might be filling an A-shaped hole with B!

comment by Roko · 2008-03-27T20:45:49.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK, but neither was anything like our modern forms of religion.

  • really? I'm no expert, but I think you'll find that the religions of even the most primitive tribes satisfy my conditions (1) - (4). This indicates that, although primitive religions are superficially different to, say, Christianity, the essential parts [1 - 4] are unchanged.

Regardless of whether that's actually true or not (and I'm certainly no anthropoligist!), my real point is that it's incredibly presumptuous of the religionists to assume that just because thing A causes person 1 to feel similar to how thing B causes person 2 to feel, that person 1 is obviously trying to fill an B-shaped hole with A, which is merely a pale substitute for B, whereas B is "clearly" the genuine article. They don't even consider for a second that person 2 might be filling an A-shaped hole with B!

I think it's important to note that an innate human tendency to believe in religious myths in no way legitimizes those myths. I think that religion is a way for weak-minded people to delude themselves, and I think that we should strive to get rid of it, even if people have a natural tendency to fall for it.

comment by Jeroen · 2008-03-28T08:36:39.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"When someone sets out to write an atheistic hymn - "Hail, oh unintelligent universe," blah, blah, blah - the result will, without exception, suck."

You are obviously unfamiliar with "le semeur", unofficial hymn of the University of Brussels ("spreading atheism since 1834")

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Semeur

comment by Dov_Henis · 2008-05-13T15:49:17.000Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Science-Informed "Theism" And Religion

Chapter IV of "Life, Tomorrow's Comprehension"

http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-P81pQcU1dLBbHgtjQjxG_Q--?cq=1&p=372

Science-Informed "Theism", And Religion

There is no more competition between science and faith than between science and arts or science and tourism.

Science is systematized knowledge, whereas faith, arts and tourism and a host of other matters are components of culture, where culture is a ubiquitous biological entity of ALL organisms regardless of size or complexity, selected for survival as the sum total of reactions to and exploitations by the genome of the out-of-cell environments, sensed by the OCM, outer-cell-membrane of the genome, where this OCM is simply and plainly a multi-purpose organ of the in-cell resident communal organism, the genome.

(1) Science-Informed "theism" (SIT)

  • Science's "theism" is An (therefore not The) unknowable undefined source of the energy that constitutes the unknowable undefined Universe.

  • The unknowability of the source of cosmic energy, which is also life's matrix, leaves the choice and promotion of our purpose in life to be derived solely from our cognition.

  • A term needs to be drawn for a concept and practice of deriving humanity's purpose and course of life. The term should not be related to theism or religion because SIT is NOT founded on faith-belief, and SIT's ethics code is founded on rational commitment and dedication to Life's inherent characteristic, which is cooperation for survival.

(2) Religion, Scientifically

a. Religion, A Human Evolution Definition

From a posting of mine in an evolution discussion forum, written and meant with complete respectful sincerity, at

http://forum.physorg.com/index.php?showtopic=19160&st=0&#entry286766

"A religion is a human artifact for survival of a specific human cultural phenotype, comprising cultural tool-kit and technique ascribed by its adherents to be of higher esteem and benefit than other human cultural survival plans".

b. Sincerely thinking so

Wondering if religious persons who also "accept" science would accept this definition, even with steady unwavering respect and commitment to their religion. IMO such acceptance would contribute respect to religion and to religious persons.

  1. Major Conceptual Hierarchies

  2. Religion is a progeny of culture, culture being a biological entity, like

  3. Technology is a progeny of science, like
  4. Biology is a progeny of life's evolution, like
  5. Universal Evolution is a progeny of Energy.

  6. Uniqueness Of Science Among Human Artifacts

During the recent several centuries in the course of human history Science has been evolving at an accelerating rate as a provider of convincing, ever closer approaching, approximate models of the real world.

We understand that Science is just one of the components of our Culture, our package of capabilities to observe the environment, react to it and exploit it for our satisfaction and survival.

Yet there is a distinct, even if still small, growing spreading tendency to accept the findings of evolving Science with ever increasing respect and appreciation, especially in the realms of all forms and types of technology and of life disciplines.

The crucial 21st century question facing humanity is how much further and into which additional disciplines may or should Science be welcome and adopted by society at large, with what hopes and with what expectations.

Dov Henis

http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-P81pQcU1dLBbHgtjQjxG_Q--?cq=1

comment by Zarove · 2008-08-06T01:45:36.000Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I noticed a pattern in your post that I want to address, as its one I see often.

You seem to use the term "Religion" as if it means "Beleif in God". Thus, you pseak of the Religious person and the Atheist, an dhow the Atheist has no religion, and how the religionist asusmes the Atheist has a Religion-shaped hole, that you call Theocentruc reaosning.

But Religion is not "Beleif in God". Religion is actually a world view, and, in point of fact, cannot be gotten rid of. Everyone has a Religion.

That said, Secular Humanism is not a Substitute for Religion so much as a Religion in and of itself. It fills all the basic funcitons of religion, by providing a framework form which the world is undertsoid and a moral pattern.

I also wonder why you have to refer ot relgiion a s'The Original Mistake". I relise your an Ahtiest but do you relalythink beleif in God ( what you seem to asusme is "Religion") is the original Mistake?

Not to soudn trite but, what if your wrong and God exists? And surly beleif in Gid isn't that devistating.

That said, I' off.

comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-02T22:14:00.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I believe Eliezer has referred to "followers of Atheism" as having the exact same problem any religious believer has.

I believe that is the very point he is making in this post.

Atheism shouldn't be a religion, it should be a byproduct. If atheism is your religion, you're doing it wrong. If humanism is your religion, you're also doing it wrong.

That's the point.

Now, to be fair to the religionists, this is not just a gloating assumption. There are atheists who have religion-shaped holes in their minds. I have seen attempts to substitute atheism or even transhumanism for religion. And the result is invariably awful. Utterly awful. Absolutely abjectly awful.

I call such efforts, "hymns to the nonexistence of God".

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-08-29T22:31:55.468Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If God did speak plainly, and answer prayers reliably, God would just become one more real thing, sure. But I would sure hope that God would be an awesome real thing, even more so than shuttle launches. And I sure like me some shuttle launches (speaking of specifically-shaped holes in hearts).

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-08-30T21:36:30.617Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Seconded. I find a lot of religious practices really cool; not so much the bedside prayers, but the fervent devotion of holy people can be really awe inspiring, but the fact that it's built up around something imaginary is a big letdown. I can only imagine how cool religion would seem if it actually did anything.

comment by GDC3 · 2012-03-08T00:24:51.536Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What if I have a strong emotional response to the existence of a creature that would make up such a thing as a religion? I suppose it feels more poignant than transcendant, but I've always had strong tender feelings about other peoples religious beliefs.

If the original mistake was never made it would not be referenced as a meme in fiction, but given that it is mightn't I just as well enjoy God as a fictional character or a cultural tradition to reference but not believe?

I agree that hymns to the nonexistence of God are bad, but that's indeed because they're imitative and not genuinely expressive. But there are genuine emotional expressions to the very real existence of the idea of God. And I think they prove that the "would not exist without the underlying mistake" is too broad.

comment by Michaelag · 2017-04-01T15:59:29.455Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm vaguely surprised that no one has asked, "What about 'Hope Eyrie'?" though I do realize that it is a hymn / anthem for humanism and space travel, rather than against belief in God or whatever.

Hope Eyrie

comment by Дмитрий Зеленский (dmitrii-zelenskii) · 2019-08-16T22:52:11.012Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hymns to the non-existence of God may make sense if one really believes that the world where a God would exist is a worse world than a world where there is no God. Needless to say, that is not what seems to lead their usual authors.