Request for input: draft of my "coming out" statement on religious deconversion

post by jwhendy · 2012-03-03T21:58:20.038Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 117 comments

Edited 3/4/2012: I shortened up the summary a bit and add the following update:

Thanks for the lively comments. As a preliminary summary of things I've found quite useful/helpful:

Overall, I was initially a bit discouraged. This took a lot of effort and so it's frustrating to contemplate changing directions. Due to reading a very generously shared similar PDF document (from someone I'll leave anonymous unless they'd like to be named), I'm much more upbeat about doing so. I plan to:
  • Create two documents. One very simple, plain-language, frank relating of the fact that I no longer believe in god. I'd like to write it just as though I were saying it personally to someone, easing them into hearing this (like Bugmaster suggested, except that actually doing this in person is impractical for me)
  • The second will be my actual list of reasons. I think it will be valuable to actually spell them out, and many will want to know reasons anyway (and probably ask)
A question that came up in me from the comments below is what worth this actually brings about. I don't find myself compelled to write a dissertation-style document defending my power tool purchases, Linux custom kernel options, or why I listen to the music I do. I am aware of a desire for validation, to feel that I've done enough with respect to my "quest," to prove myself on this topic. I'm still wrestling with whether this is completely irrational and unnecessary, or only partially so, validated by the fact of my social/environmental circumstances that do present some real obstacles that this document could help alleviate.
Open to any thoughts on that last bit as well. Thanks again for the valuable input.

It's almost one year later, and I've finally made tangible progress on some of the input suggested in my post about being non-religious in a primarily religious environment. That is, I have a near-final draft of a "coming out" statement I plan to share with a majority of those who know me.

I was involved in two religious communities for about six years of my life (SPO and CCR). Two years post-deconversion from Catholicism, many of them still do not know I no longer believe in god. This can make for awkward interactions for myself, as well as for my wife, who's still a believer. She thought it would be helpful if everyone was on the same page, as did I.

I'd like input from anyone willing to read my statement below. Whatever comes to mind will be helpful. I had a first draft done in Sept 2011 that I sent to my parents and brother (both non-religious) as well as a few of my blog readers. I'll post their input in perhaps a week to avoid influencing any expectations you currently have for the document.
Many thanks for thoughts and comments (or support/hesitation concerning with proceeding as described above). Also, thanks to the LW in general for all the previous support and encouragement during a difficult time. For a sometimes intimidating band of rationalists, your words have been surprisingly comforting and helpful when I've come here in emotionally difficult times. Many thanks for that; I think this document will help a lot with me moving on with my life and I value the input from this community.
As a forewarning... it's 10 pages single-spaced. I don't anticipate it to be an agonizing read, though. I hope it's well written enough to be interesting and easy reading.
My statement in pdf

117 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-03-04T00:04:38.400Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My sad prediction: Few will read past the title page. Maybe as far as the first paragraph.

Why? Because you're implying that them being wrong about everything is possible. This generates an ugh field of overwhelming strength.

Likely results: nothing you say in the paper will be taken in by your intended audience. Worse, they will read as far as that first paragraph and then fill in the blanks with their received preconceptions of atheists. If they discuss your apostasy amongst themselves, it will be in terms of said stereotypes, and nothing to do with anything you've actually said, written or thought, ever. Perhaps I'm being unduly pessimistic ...

The document is worth having for yourself. I expect some will read it and actually take you seriously. This will make it worth it.

Edit: I've just realised the above falls afoul of "plausible is the opposite of probable" - a compelling story of a possible outcome is strictly less probable the more details you add. Still feels like an outcome of sufficient likelihood to be prepared for, though. (Am I wrong there?)

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:38:53.643Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment. I hope that won't happen, but definitely see your point.

Because you're implying that them being wrong about everything is possible.

Assuming you read it (or the first page), do you think that my paragraph about intentionally not offering any specific reasons will be any encouragement/enticement to stick around for the rest? I didn't add any arguments specifically because what you said above is so true. No one can listen or empathize once they feel the need to defend.

Also, given that many of these people really do care about my wife (and I), do you think personal connection would offer any additional incentive/motivation?

Thanks for the valuable input. My brother suggested that writing it for myself was perhaps the most valuable aspect of the document as well.

ETA: Having re-read the freethoughtblog post, I think I get it more now. It's not just the content... it's my existence as an atheist and admitting it that's potentially offending. To be fair, I did very much want to insert quite a good amount of hope and happiness toward the end to remove any views that to deconvert alone is what causes sadness/bad fortune, etc.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-03-04T15:30:48.742Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that's what I was trying to say - "atheists exist" is a sufficiently threatening thought to block all further consideration.

(And, of course, Catholic apologetics is some of the most sophisticated in Christendom.)

Idea that occurs to me: Do you think you could do a single-page summary? There's a chance they might read it and not just go "ah, an atheist - tl;dr". Then they can have the ten-page version if they like. "For the full version, see my blog."

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T17:41:34.100Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gotcha. I'm still not sure my specific readership will say, as you put it, "An, an atheist -- tl;dr," but I'll keep thinking about this. I hoped it would be concise (not necessarily 1 page, but not 10, either). As with most of my things, it ended up much longer than I expected. Thanks for the continued input.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-04T01:36:07.784Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the objective you're trying to achieve with this document ?

Neither are nor my close family members have never been religious, so it's hard for me to put myself into your target audience's shoes. Still, if I did something radical, like joining a snake-handling Pentecostal cult; and if I chose to announce my decision by way of a 10-page, single-spaced document full of scholarly references; then I would expect my family members to feel hurt. They'd expect me to talk to them on a more personal level.

Those are just my two cents, though.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:59:54.239Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair points. Did you read the document? Other than a handful, none of my footnotes are scholarly references.

Some of this is from a practical standpoint. I had coffee and dinner and lunch dates with many, many close friends/acquaintances to tell them in person. The community I was involved in contains some 500 people. I don't know if I can have such an interaction with all of them. I'll keep thinking about this point, though. Maybe this would be counter-productive.

ETA: Oh, and sorry... I didn't answer the main question. My primary objective is simply to inform all those who still don't know after two years. I was a member of a community and disappeared. I'd like people to know why, and not have heard via a telephone game. Those who are really important already know. Many beside that know me, don't know yet.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-04T02:13:27.904Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair points. Did you read the document? Other than a handful, none of my footnotes are scholarly references.

I just finished reading it, and I found it quite moving. It has a few minor syntax errors, but other than that it's good.

The community I was involved in contains some 500 people. I don't know if I can have such an interaction with all of them.

Ok, I see, your family is an order of magnitude larger than mine. In this case, a document is probably the best way to go, otherwise you'd have to dedicate a year of your life just to talking to everyone :-)

My primary objective is simply to inform all those who still don't know after two years.

That makes sense. There's a danger that some people might find your document a bit, well, preachy; they might feel that you're trying to deconvert them, not merely inform them. I personally don't think your document comes off that way, but I'm trying hard to put myself into your audience's shoes. But maybe I'm over-compensating.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T02:39:10.769Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just finished reading it, and I found it quite moving. It has a few minor syntax errors, but other than that it's good.

Thanks! I got some specific corrections from a blog reader; I'll update and re-upload the new version to avoid repeat corrections. Glad you liked it.

...your family is an order of magnitude larger than mine...

Well, community of religious believers. The family who will receive this, if any, is probably only ~20 strong. Which, in that case, perhaps I should wait until the next family get together to announce in person. Though, the best time tends to be at meal time, and the last time that would have happened, I got asked to pray at Thanksgiving because my family thinks I'm the "holy one." I didn't think it was the best time to deny or announce my nonbelief... so, embarrassed as I am to admit it, I faked it. Apparently, they didn't know the difference.

There's a danger that some people might find your document a bit, well, preachy...

Fair enough. My brother commented that it was "processy." I could see taking my explicit explanation of how I go about things as implying that however they went about their belief isn't as good as mine and thus they would deconvert if they investigated as well. I'll keep that in mind.

Many, many thanks for reading the whole thing and providing input.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-03-04T03:44:50.627Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My immediate gut reaction (to your first paragraph) is that you're trying for a deeply profound style, and that makes me want to stop reading. I understand exactly why that feels like the right style for an account of apostasy, but it's infinitely better to be as basic and plain-spoken as you would be in a casual conversation. (After all, you're not trying to win a prize for style or satisfy the requirements of academics, you're trying to help your friends to see and respect where you're coming from.) Edit your first page until you can read it out loud to a stranger and have it sound like natural speech.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T03:57:02.006Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, and I was. I also started that first (naturally), so I think the idea of finally writing this was more dramatic to me at the time, hence what you're picking up. Hopefully the rest isn't like that (as much). I'll re-read with this in mind and try to be more natural.

Edit your first page until you can read it out loud to a stranger and have it sound like natural speech.

Well put, especially in terms of having something tangible to know when it's right.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-03-04T04:30:56.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right, the rest of it is much better in style (although the last paragraph has the same problem). Also, thanks for the link to the Outsider Test- this is exactly what precipitated my own apostasy as well. In the midst of my usual cycle of faith and doubt, I started asking myself what someone who was like me except for my social and psychological pressures would think of the evidence. The answer was frighteningly clear once I started thinking like that.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T05:05:04.740Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The conclusion was also written on the very early side :)

Re. the Outsider Test, one of the most eye opening things for me, albeit recently and much post-deconversion, was listening to an Islamic convert from Christianity (example). While I still might not agree with his reasons, it was enlightening to hear someone talk with passion, conviction, reasons, scriptural backings, and so forth about a completely alien faith... all while using the same language, emotion, and excitement that I did about my faith.

comment by atorm · 2012-03-04T11:57:31.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I sensed this but couldn't put words around it. Thanlk for doing so, as I will now have a better idea of what to say about this kind of writing.

comment by AlexMennen · 2012-03-04T00:34:41.831Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to know how religious people will react to it, it might be helpful to get feedback from religious people.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T00:48:37.076Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point, and I am. I've cross posted at my blog where I have religious, non-religious deconverts, others in similar situations, and religious readers. I'll also be sharing with closer friends in the target groups for pre-screening. This was one of many places I wanted to turn for input.

comment by TimS · 2012-03-04T04:27:06.190Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very well written piece. I enjoyed reading it.

The parts discussing the evidence on the historical existence of Jesus are likely to be the most provocative parts, and they are practically the first thing you discuss. I understand that this was an important part of your de-conversion process, but if there were a way you could eliminate or delay this discussion, I think it would be helpful in preventing your intended audience from being turned off by the writing.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-03-04T11:33:43.187Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The bits on Josephus soft-pedals the state of affairs (i.e., the whole paragraph was likely a complete lie inserted by Eusebius). However, quoting from the Catholic Encyclopedia on the subject may help (a suitable authority to refer to).

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T05:22:38.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a good point I hadn't considered. Maybe I should stick to my overall plan and keep all reasons out of it. Your'e correct about my reason for including it; it was the major turning point. The point where I first questioned. I'll think more about rearranging or just ditching it and linking to it somewhere else.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-04T00:39:10.813Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I found it pretty readable and interesting, though most of what was new to me was how you were treated by a lot of the religious people you know. I was surprised that Jesus not making more of a splash in his own time was that important to you.

How are you and your wife handling your children's (ir)religious education?

I was going to recommend Julia Sweeney, too.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:34:13.270Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment. I kept some of the worst reactions from my religious acquaintances out of the document, by the way :)

I was surprised that Jesus not making more of a splash...

It wasn't, by itself. But consider someone with belief in belief, but who doesn't know it. Imagine the first time they encounter some belief that doesn't pay rent (say the bit about flour impermeability) and it brings down the whole thing. I actually think I had real belief... but I'm just illustrating the nature of what I think happened. Reading this bit about Jesus was the first time I actually saw that my religion might fall into the category of something to be examined, just like everything else. It was the first time I realized I had never researched it to begin with. Hopefully that makes more sense.

On it's own, it probably is inconsequential (many apologists have plenty of reasons for why Jesus wasn't more noteworthy). As the first chink in my armor... it was life changing.

How are you and your wife handling your children's (ir)religious education?

Good question. It's up and down. I advocate for raising them aware of religious beliefs, but not teaching any one of them as true. My wife is [obviously] more inclined to raise them Catholic, and sometimes feels very obligated to do so. Recently, she attended a conference for women in which the speaker made the point very emphatically that raising one's children Catholic was one's duty to god.

She came home and was very renewed in her conviction that this was her mission. I was very troubled by it, mostly because it felt like she had been invigorated to disregard my opinion and rights as a parent, not necessarily because it would have led to raising my children religious. She talked about the matter like it was a one-sided decision.

Subsequently, her trusted Catholic small group informed her that she didn't need to be this forceful and that she could just "live as a witness" and that would be fulfilling her duty. So... I guess we're back to where we started. My older daughter (3.5) does pick up quite a bit of religious stuff ("playing Mass," singing alleluia, etc.), but I think she just likes the ritual and imitating what she sees. I try not to worry about it even though it bothers me.

So... hopefully that paints some of the picture. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-04T01:41:41.251Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you haven't already, you might want to think about what to say when your daughter gets told about hell.

I didn't get told about hell as a possibility when I was a kid (my background is not-very-religious Jewish), but I gather it can be quite a shock.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:55:15.642Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point, though Catholics are (can be?) pretty darn mild when it comes to hell. My wife and surrounding community are super tame concerning things like that. There's no outright judgment, but they still probably pray for the future of my soul.

I also plan on opposing things that seem to be unjustified/unreasonable outright. Hell would be one. First communion at age seven is another example. No child can comprehend what they need to in order to profess that a wafer just had it's essence turned into the flesh of a non-physical deity while retaining all of its physical characteristics.

While things seem to be okay at the moment, we haven't crossed a time-sensitive binary option bridge like communion yet. Thus, I don't know what the reaction will be toward my resistance. My wife is very sensitive to her social environment and I think she will feel a lot of guilt and shame for not having her kids go through visible rituals like the sacraments (like everyone else's kids).

Not to mention, once they're at that age, all of our friends' kids will be receiving communion and ours will be sitting there. This will be a stab in the heart every single week.

comment by Nicholas_Covington · 2012-03-04T05:18:58.259Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's inspiring, and beautiful. You should be very, very proud of your rationality, adherance to the Socratic method, and your determination to create and maintain a happy marriage and beautiful life. I know you will achieve your goals. You deserve to.

comment by atorm · 2012-03-04T11:51:52.786Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that jwhendy should be proud of himself, but "You deserve to achieve your goals" and "You will achieve your goals" are probably not related. Don't assume that this will turn out great with everyone receiving the document crying and hugging and saying how they'll always love you no matter what. The world doesn't work that way, and being prepared for that is more important than praising the (admitted) inspiration and beauty of this piece.

comment by Nicholas_Covington · 2012-03-05T23:37:25.584Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, of course things may not work out exactly like an Oprah special. But I think that even if there is anger/bitterness/backlash at first, things will, in time, work out and his family will accept him, provided he handles the situation with care (which I predict he will) and provided that his family is composed of people who are somewhere in the vicinity of reasonableness. They may not be. But permanent disownment by a family for purely religious reasons is rare, in my experience. Don't get me wrong: it happens. But as someone who grew up and lives in the bible belt, it is not common.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T13:24:02.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment. Similar to atorm, I did think it was perhaps a bit over the top in terms of its optimism, but I appreciate the gesture.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-03-04T18:26:16.877Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hope you make your final version available as HTML as well as PDF so I can link people to it - thanks!

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T19:17:26.057Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could do that -- I wrote it in org-mode, which lets me export to nearly anything. I'll have to tweak some of the LaTeX specific stuff, but should be doable. Is it that the html version definitely displays in a browser vs. having to download a pdf if no browser plugin is available? Or to read on mobile devices? Just wondering what the appeal of html is. Thanks!

comment by dbaupp · 2012-03-05T10:42:11.309Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All of those. And:

  • the pagination of an html page (i.e. none) is better for reading on a computer screen,
  • text resizing/zooming for people who need larger text, and
  • (I have a feeling that) screen reader software can read a webpage more easily than a pdf.
comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-05T13:48:26.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for clarifying.

comment by stoat · 2012-03-04T16:30:43.376Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a low attention span but I read through your entire document and when I reached the end I was surprised because I had the impression I was still reading the preliminary part. So, for what it's worth, I found it easy to get through.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T17:43:39.801Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a good sign. Thank you for your donation of time and effort!

comment by Costanza · 2012-03-04T00:17:11.374Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for honesty, and for conscientiously documenting it in a very readable format, and for courage. Of course, we who already choose to read LessWrong are not the intended recipients of this message -- we're the choir, and don't need to be preached to. We've arrived at this forum from many different backgrounds, along many different paths. You came from Roman Catholicism. Eliezer came from Judaism. Some LessWrongers were never religious at all.

Your message is not to us, but to your own friends and family, who remain active believing Catholics. By coming out of the closet as an atheist, you are evangelizing the truth and making the world a slightly better place. You know this, of course. At the same time, it can feel like (I don't say it is like) betraying or at least hurting people who have nothing but love for you. With that said, you're showing far more respect to your religious friends and family by honestly dissenting than you would if you simply went through the motions without faith.

As an aside, have you looked at Julia Sweeney's videos or books? She talks about leaving the Catholic church as an adult, and the times in her life when faith would have been very comforting. Nothing you don't know already, but sometimes it's good to hear people who have gone on the same path as you.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:21:00.752Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the note. Hopefully it will be well received by others. I've listened to Sweeney's main audio/tour/thingy (can't recall the name at the moment), but may have to revisit it again. (I noticed NancyLebovitz also mentioned it.)

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2012-03-04T16:23:45.666Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good read. I think that's a description of an intellectual journey, if is not so similar to EY or Luke, maybe is the beggining. Joining in the Bayesian Conspiracy put you in a good path. Rationalists should win.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T17:44:53.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment. As I put in the document, I'd like to move toward what I consider to be more productive endeavors, including diving in more fully here at LW.

comment by atorm · 2012-03-03T23:28:18.420Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I enjoyed reading that. I spotted a few grammatical errors, so I will offer this: if you make this available to me as a Google Document and give me commenting rights, I will go through it within the next week with my editor hat on and mark up everything I think should be changed. Even if you don't want to do that, good job: that was a fairly enjoyable read and will probably do what you want it to as is.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-03T23:39:55.848Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for reading it. I can export from org-mode into open document format and probably upload it. I'll get back to you if I do so. Many thanks for the proof-reading offer!

that was a fairly enjoyable read...

Anything that would make it more enjoyable? Or any examples of what mad it "fairly" enjoyable vs. "very" or simply "enjoyable"? (Just curious.)

Same for the comment "...will probably do what you want it to..." is that simply based on not knowing my exactly situation or due to some particular content that has you hesitant about saying it will do what I want it to? (Just inviting specifics if you have them; if it was just a general impression, no worries!)

comment by atorm · 2012-03-04T12:04:06.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was fairly enjoyable because it was no Terry Pratchett or Ender's Game, not because of any points that really hurt it. And you are correct about "probably" referring to my lack of knowledge regarding your situation (mostly the people involved).

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T13:47:24.583Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed, I'm no pro. Thanks for the clarification!

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-03T22:09:51.879Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't take this the wrong way at all, but I did not read all of it; it was not interesting enough. (I read three pages) But that is due primarily to a complete disinterest in religion, nothing else. It was very well written, and I suspect that my apathy wouldn't apply to your target audience.

For what it's worth, congratulations on taking the time to write all of this out so that you can explain to people. It is imaginably a very difficult thing to do for someone in your situation.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-03T23:37:24.341Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for taking the time and effort to read what you did and for the kind words.

comment by shminux · 2012-03-03T22:56:10.454Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why can't you just move to a place where people are not defined by their faith (and split, if your wife cannot accept who you are)? Then you need no statement, just live your life. Can you answer this without falling into a sunk-cost trap?

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-03T23:03:37.129Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do marriage, two kids and home ownership fall into the sunk-cost category?

ETA: Missed the note about divorce (which indicates that marriage does fall into your sunk-cost trap definition). What qualifies as "wife cannot accept who you are?" Don't get me wrong, it's definitely crossed my mind, but in the absence of some kind of abuse, blatant disregard for my equality/dignity, or something similar... I'm not sure I have good reasons to muck things up that badly in a practical sense (even if starting anew might bring about some relief and eliminate the need for any kind of statement at all).

comment by atorm · 2012-03-03T23:26:01.643Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably not unless you're a sociopath who wouldn't be affected by losing relationships you valued.

comment by Incorrect · 2012-03-03T23:50:37.922Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do the great majority of cases of not being significantly enough affected by losing such relationships to prevent the avoidance of the loss of the relationship from being primarily engendered by the sunk-cost fallacy imply the presence of sociopathy?

(I'm trying to see if I understand the implications of your statement properly. I would think there could be other factors involved that wouldn't necessarily prevent the relationship from being considered valued. Perhaps those are rare enough to not affect your statement.)

comment by atorm · 2012-03-04T11:40:02.093Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not a psychologist, and perhaps the use of "sociopath" was hyperbole. And I can imagine the (to my mind) sad situation of being surrounded only by relationships so shallow that no one would suffer much distress if you just picked up and moved, but it definitely looked like that was not the case here, and I would like to think that it's not the caae for most married couples with children. I'm not saying that the sunk cost fallacy doesn't come into play when a couple is considering divorce (I suspect it's very strong), but I think that even in most divorces there are emotional (and other) repercussions that should be looked at as results of your choices rather than as artifacts of cognitive bias.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-03T23:30:17.052Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whew, though I'd like to know what shminux thinks, too. Actually, I think I already know -- whether the comment was edited, or I just missed it... I didn't see the "and split, if your wife..." in his response.

comment by shminux · 2012-03-03T23:57:07.776Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tried to clarify it in my reply. And no, I didn't edit this particular comment.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T00:01:48.320Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Got it; I read in haste then. My apologies.

comment by Dallas · 2012-03-04T01:23:54.627Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Assuming you survive for more than the next ten years or so, yes.

Also, your wife is Catholic. If you issue an ultimatum to deconvert, we end up with one of the three following scenarios:

  1. She accepts.
  2. You divorce her. She doesn't remarry, probably causing her vast emotional harm.
  3. You divorce her. She caves in to emotional pressure and remarries, ousting her from the conventional Catholic community.

All three scenarios weaken overall religious influence and raise the probability that your children will be epistemologically sane. I consider this preferable.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:48:11.622Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about other options:

  • She doesn't deconvert. We remain married, happily.
  • She doesn't deconvert. We remain married, unhappily.

I also predict she could get an annulment pretty easily given my deconversion, which adds another option:

  • I divorce her. She gets married when she's ready and is not ousted from the Catholic community.

Also, it seems like you've honed in on the beliefs of my children and wife as the most important factors (with a side of my wife's future unhappiness, but I'm not sure if you counted that toward the weakening of overall religious influence). Do you think there are other factors to weigh?

In any case, I find the most valuable point to be your reminder to me that this is long term. I've tried to keep that in mind, though weighting near unhappiness vs. far improvement is definitely a potential trap. I'm 27 and thus probably do have more than 10 years.

Nonetheless, it still strikes me as a complex situation and I'm not settled on how to judge potential future states and sum the collective happinesses of the stakeholders.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-04T18:41:43.636Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about this:

  1. She doesn't deconvert. The extended Catholic community preserves the story of how jwhendy became an evil atheist and abandoned his wife and children as a result.
comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T19:20:29.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A very possible outcome. What's missing is what I pointed out above in my response to Dallas.

Nonetheless, it still strikes me as a complex situation and I'm not settled on how to judge potential future states and sum the collective happinesses of the stakeholders.

How does one factor in various happinesses, potentially negative views of myself and atheists in general, my childrens' development/emotional/intellectual health, and so on?

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-04T01:39:43.184Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bit harsh on the wife, though...

comment by shminux · 2012-03-03T23:56:02.453Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I didn't realize you had kids. Should have figured it out, given your religious background.

I did not mean a legal divorce. Separating is a tough decision, too, especially with kids, but if you, say, found an attractive employment away from the area you are in, and worked/lived there most of the time, only visiting on weekends/holidays, it might give you a perspective on what you really want.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T00:06:33.399Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I didn't realize you had kids. Should have figured it out, given your religious background.

Might I suggest you work on your tact in human interactions?

Re. a split simply in the proximity sense, that did occur to me/us during a particularly low point -- mostly from my wife in order to help me figure out what I want. I think if I were in a lower emotional state, I'd consider that option more.

comment by shminux · 2012-03-04T00:20:56.983Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Might I suggest you work on your tact in human interactions?

Feel free to spell it out for me how the inference that religious background => kids soon after marriage is offensive.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T00:33:20.080Z · score: 2 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you should have figured it out, and didn't, did learning so give you a dose of hindsight bias? I suspect that only after learning I had kids did it seem like a dead obvious fact that this was because I had a religious background. Now that you've found out, you will insist that I need to accept that the generalization was deserved.

Even if the two can be correlated (and that only even works with certain religious groups), I'm more commenting on the use of generalizations/stereotypes in general. Even if they're correct, it doesn't seem to add anything to point out someone meets it.

For example, what if I told you the timing of my children had nothing to do with my religious beliefs?

Lastly, pick a demographic typically associated with drug use. Should someone confide in you that they did drugs, would your next comment be, "Oh, I didn't realize you did drugs. Should have figured it out, given your age/race/sex/etc. combination?"

comment by shminux · 2012-03-04T01:02:12.691Z · score: -8 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the explanation. I regret that you found my off-hand comment annoying/offensive. I guess I will refrain from commenting on your posts, as I see no way to avoid this reaction in the future.

EDIT: weird, a note of disengagement provokes a quiet negative reaction. I must be missing something.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T01:17:14.523Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This also seems like an odd, blanket generalization. We've had one set of interactions on one post... ever. How do you know what will happen in all my posts?

I was simply surprised that you'd think you obviously should have realized I had kids given that I was religious. And so I said something.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-04T02:26:31.927Z · score: -8 (26 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a prospective modal Catholic I was unsatisfied by your apostasy; I guess I expected you to explain what specifically convinced you, and so when you say that Catholic apologetics in general didn't seem as convincing as atheistic/naturalistic arguments there's nothing keeping me from drawing my default conclusion, i.e. that you're not particularly skilled at philosophy. I suppose you're not really trying to get into that much detail, but if we had been close friends at some point then I would still be dissatisfied: what specifically do you think you know that you don't think I know? How confident are you that I don't know what you think I don't know, how confident are you that you know what I think you don't know? I'd like some serious Bayesian decision theoretic analysis, including Schellingian game theoretic models that demonstrate a thorough understanding of social psychology; this is clearly an important part of your life, you should be taking it at least that seriously. Right now there's nothing to suggest anything besides the default explanation for conversion, i.e. largely-unconscious far-sighted social pragmatics were ultimately in favor of conversion. I think you'd have to be at a Michael Vassar or Nick Tarleton level of apparent rationality before I could feel justified in interpreting your conversion in a more charitable light, because I trust them to have seriously thought through much of the important hermeneutics; if you don't outwardly demonstrate such skills then I must presume their absence, and thus don't see your conversion as providing any evidence about what decisions are actually justified. I wouldn't be surprised if smart Catholic readers of your explanation for your apostasy felt the same way even if they had trouble articulating the true underlying reasons for their intuitive judgment.

On an unrelated note, I don't think it's as long as you make it out to be; it was an easy read and kept me engaged enough that I didn't compulsively switch tabs or take a bath or whatever, which is a good sign.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T03:01:08.912Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the honest reply. You are probably much smarter/informed than I am (not stated in a negative/sarcastic manner at all; I really mean that).

I guess I expected you to explain what specifically convinced you...

I stated why I didn't do that in my document. I consider the aspect of relating to friends/acquaintances, mutual understanding/sharing, and simply coming out more important than risking 1) no one reading it to understand/empathize, 2) people getting upset, and 3) unintentionally kicking off about 100 email debates.

...this is clearly an important part of your life, you should be taking it at least that seriously.

Agreed, and so I invested two years of most waking thoughts on this. How does social psychology play into whether or not a theistic being is real or not? Also, see the apologist's turnstile (I'm the "John" mentioned, just as a neat tidbit).

On that note, do you express consistent dissatisfaction with your fellow Catholics on a weekly basis? I hardly expect that many/most/the majority of them expended as much mental and emotional energy into the study of religious apologetics as I did. If you don't accept my apostasy as legit, do you accept the beliefs of most of your fellow Catholics as such? They know less than I do and yet are (at least based on my surroundings of extremely devout (in the dedication-to-Mary-daily-mass-and-adoration-novena-saying sort of way) Catholics) more confident in their beliefs.

...the default explanation for conversion, i.e. largely-unconscious far-sighted social pragmatics...

Could you provide some more specifics? Like I want to sin or don't like my friends or what?

I think you'd have to be at a Michael Vassar or Nick Tarleton level...

And are they Catholic or non-religious? If non-religious... do you accept their apostasy?

I wouldn't be surprised if smart Catholic readers of your explanation for your apostasy felt the same way...

That very well may happen.

...it was an easy read and kept me engaged enough that I didn't compulsively switch tabs or take a bath or whatever, which is a good sign.

Why thank you.

While I'm not smart enough to do it (yet), I would love to see a Bayesian analysis (since you mentioned it) on the probability that a god who values the salvation of souls in the highest degree would require the subject comprehension and intellectual dedication you demand to order to believe (or not). Or require the words of a book spread on foot as the only means toward knowing which specific god is real. Or even that given one true god, the other fake ones would also use the means of an inspired text to spread knowledge of themselves.

Or lastly, that the reading of another fasle god's text could prevent someone from having an inkling whatsoever of being wrong for the rest of their lives, even while having full awareness of competing gods/texts. This is the equivalent of saying that a human (for that's what the authors of non-true-god texts are) like Dan Brown could prevent billions of potential Christians from being so due to their encountering the DaVinci Code before the Bible.

ETA: Oh, and I meant to ask: feel free to provide links/references to what you find most convincing concerning theism.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-03-04T03:36:09.187Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Will Newsome is a theist in the same way that Clippy is a paperclip maximizer.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-05T08:49:28.728Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is sort of off-topic, but from the blog post you linked to:

The implicit assumption behind this tactic is that criticizing or denying a religion should require more knowledge about its teachings than joining it. But in reality and in logic, the opposite should be true: Assent should require a larger amount of evidence than denial, if only because the person who makes a positive claim always has the burden of proof to support it. An atheist is perfectly justified in saying that they disbelieve a religion because they know of no evidence in its favor, but a theist is never justified in saying that they believe a religion because they know of no evidence against it.

Why does this argument apply to Christianity but not to, say, big bang cosmology? Why am I not only allowed to profess belief in big bang cosmology but am positively expected to profess belief in big bang cosmology, despite the fact that I have very little understanding of the relevant arguments? If it's for reasons that are particular to Christianity, then why are we playing outside view burden of proof tennis?

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-05T18:43:30.347Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great question! I was quite surprised to read this, and think it's quite the valid reply. In pondering it... my answer would come in a couple of ways.

1) There's nothing intrinsically different. If someone says "I believe in big bang cosmology" and has no trackable fact/reasoning path back to "why," they are unjustified in believing in big bang cosmology. Now, perhaps it will track back to "everyone talks as if the big bang is legit" or "I always see these articles that talk about the big bang and so I guess I figured it was real." Fair enough; belief based on authority/word-of-mouth alone isn't the greatest reason for belief, but they could track it to something at least.

2) The [probably not unique] term, "epistemic baggage" occurred to me as I thought about this. For example, what comes along with or is implied based on believing that the big bang happened? The universe exists? Entropy won't decrease on its own? Something happened and that's why we're here? I don't see a ton of practical implications from believing the big bang, at least for the layman.

Similarly, from a survey of the landscape... science has tended to converge about the big bang.

What about religion? 2000 years (or ~1400 years post-Islam (or ~150 years post-Mormonism (or ~50 years post-Scientology))) has not brought a convergence of religious truth. It could be, as you say, that we just don't have the theories and methods of analyzing the landscape well enough yet to judge between them.

Or it could be that they offer nothing objectively testable or predictive and thus beliefs can co-exist without clashing (there's never going to be a showdown where we get rid of all these silly heresies).

In any case (answering my second point first), religions have not converged. At a time when there were many competing cosmologies, I think it would have been equally odd to take a stand for big bang cosmology because some minority said it was true. Now, knowing the field and then comparing competing ideas would allow one to be justified in professing belief in cosmology -- they have surveyed the landscape and made the best call they could (even better would be to believe with some sort of confidence interval).

This is where we are with religion, yet billions of believers are professing near 100% confidence in their beliefs without having surveyed anything at all -- apologetics, other religions, other holy texts, etc. And we are not living in the religious analog to big bang scientific consensus in order for that to allow hiding behind.

Lastly, there is far more practical (well, theoretically, but I'll get to that) baggage with religion. To profess belief isn't to accept simple things like "I'm here, and the big bang implies how I got here" (you already know your here -- how does the method it came about affect your life?). It's to profess things like bread turning into the flesh of a man, the state of an immortal soul, that the mind isn't what the brain does, and that we can know what god wants us to do with our lives by asking him to speak to us, and that we fell from a more perfect state by "sinning" among other things. There's waaay more baggage associate with professing religious belief compared to whatever you think led to our universe.

I said above practical yet theoretical because the above are technically what doctrine is supposed to require of its believers, but I doubt most of them think about these things to any degree. Thus, it's mostly going through the motions, social bonding/comfort/security, and feeling good by doing good deeds that will please the god they think is watching.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-05T08:19:54.362Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't accept my apostasy as legit, do you accept the beliefs of most of your fellow Catholics as such?

I don't accept them as individually providing very much evidence at all; in the vast majority of cases other factors screen off any evidence.

...the default explanation for conversion, i.e. largely-unconscious far-sighted social pragmatics...

Could you provide some more specifics? Like I want to sin or don't like my friends or what?

Well it's a default explanation so I don't have anything for you specifically in mind. But that you're a member of LessWrong means there's a fair bit of pressure on you to believe whatever LessWrong thinks it's good to believe, and if your brain has decided that you're not getting much benefit or a feeling of recognition and status from the Catholic social sphere then it's liable to find ways to play up the importance of meshing with alternative social spheres like LessWrong. I don't deny that you've searched for truth in good faith, but you can search in good faith for ages and still be unsure what to do; the actual deciding factors tend to be unconscious or sentimental drives.

I think you'd have to be at a Michael Vassar or Nick Tarleton level...

And are they Catholic or non-religious? If non-religious... do you accept their apostasy?

I think they are both religious in the relevant sense, but not specifically Catholic. I accept their non-Catholicism as evidence against something but not really against the truth of Catholicism as such; it's more evidence against the benefit of tying yourself to Catholicism specifically rather than trying to forge a new religion. I think they have more agency than I do right now and so I don't think their non-Catholicism is much evidence that I'd be wrong to convert to Catholicism or that they think that I'd be wrong to convert to Catholicism. Ultimately I would like to make a new religion, which is I think what they'd like to do, but in the meantime I think Catholicism is the best religion around. I think this idea of a religion being true or false is clearly misguided; it's more a question of how you interpret the world and what institutions allow for more and more-justified optimization of the world, which is heavily contingent on pragmatics of human psychology.

While I'm not smart enough to do it (yet), I would love to see a Bayesian analysis (since you mentioned it) on the probability that a god who values the salvation of souls in the highest degree would require the subject comprehension and intellectual dedication you demand to order to believe (or not). Or require the words of a book spread on foot as the only means toward knowing which specific god is real. Or even that given one true god, the other fake ones would also use the means of an inspired text to spread knowledge of themselves.

This is why I emphasized social psychology and game theory, because doing thorough analyses of questions like these is simply too difficult. We have to find a way to take people's impressions and cultural traditions and use them correctly as evidence, because so much thought has implicitly gone into answering questions like these that there's no easy way to directly access. And maybe the way we're posing the questions involves presuppositions that aren't in fact accurate, e.g. maybe we think that others believe something that they only say they believe when really they believe this other thing that is more reasonable but if we deny the former then that means unjustifiably denying the latter. This sort of thing happens constantly, and without very good models of social psychology, game theory, cognitive science, and hermeneutics generally we simply can't even come close to getting the right answers.

Oh, and I meant to ask: feel free to provide links/references to what you find most convincing concerning theism.

I don't think there are references that explain the sorts of things that got me interested in theism in the first place, specifically various intuitions about moral philosophy and decision theory. After I had those I could look into Kant or Aquinas and be impressed, but I don't know if I would have realized the depth of their arguments if I hadn't thought about the moral philosophy and decision theory on my own first.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-05T18:23:17.777Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't accept them as individually providing very much evidence at all...

Hard to tell what you meant. I didn't mean to ask whether you accept their belief as providing evidence for theism... only whether or not you think their belief is justified given the level of knowledge you expect from me not to believe.

Well it's a default explanation so I don't have anything for you specifically in mind.

But I still don't understand the meaning of that default explanation... and so I just meant "what types of things count as fitting the definition of 'largely-unconscious far-sighted social pragmatics'?" (I think you answered it in your next bit, though.)

But that you're a member of LessWrong means there's a fair bit of pressure on you to believe whatever LessWrong thinks it's good to believe...

My deconversion was significantly in motion prior to finding LessWrong (first doubts in Dec 2009, first comment here in Jan 2011, which suggests I might have found LW from this post from Jul 2010?).

...the actual deciding factors tend to be unconscious or sentimental drives.

How would I identify whether this is or is not the case, especially if they are unconscious?

I think this idea of a religion being true or false is clearly misguided; it's more a question of how you interpret the world and what institutions allow for more and more-justified optimization of the world, which is heavily contingent on pragmatics of human psychology.

I like how you put that, and thanks for the explanation re. Vassar and Tarleton. I definitely approached my "quest" with the primary focus of trying to determine whether or not there was a deity who cared what I did and whether or not the Catholic faith had something special with respect to such a deity's wishes/plans/texts/etc.

You continue to return to social/pragmatic aspects, which continues to leave me puzzled as to whether you think the Catholic Church's primary advantage is that it's most aligned with the wishes/truths concerning a god of some sort, or whether it's beliefs are just a side effect and what really matters is that it has the best social/pragmatic rules/suggestions for human beings of any competing religion.

This is why I emphasized social psychology and game theory, because doing thorough analyses of questions like these is simply too difficult.

Gotcha, and I'm glad they didn't seem difficult only to me :)

After reading all that, though, it still leaves me puzzled that a being who wants us to know about it would reveal itself (bible) in a time when we had none of these probability and game theories, and no formal study of social psychology.

After I had those I could look into Kant or Aquinas and be impressed, but I don't know if I would have realized the depth of their arguments if I hadn't thought about the moral philosophy and decision theory on my own first.

After reading this post, I think it would be fantastic if you simply laid out some x-part series here on LW specifying more about your current beliefs. At the moment, they seem paradoxically very strong yet vague. As in, you strike me as being rather confident in theism (or various theistic tenets) while typically offering very vague statements about specifically what they are (more on this in a different response, as it fits better there).

My read of this post/threads suggest that what happened is that you came out and asked "Why is theism wrong?" Then a bunch (like ~500) comments took place explaining various objections, and you concluded that everyone was attacking someone else's theism, which isn't what you hold or think is really theism.

Perhaps a new post with specifics might help more (or point me to more of that if it already exists).

Thanks for the dialog.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-05T19:26:35.978Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't mean to ask whether you accept their belief as providing evidence for theism... only whether or not you think their belief is justified given the level of knowledge you expect from me not to believe.

Oh, no, not really; I think on the whole their reasons for believing what they do aren't very good, and that if their belief is justified it's mostly the result of epistemic luck rather than their personal epistemic abilities as such.

But I still don't understand the meaning of that default explanation... and so I just meant "what types of things count as fitting the definition of 'largely-unconscious far-sighted social pragmatics'?"

Sorry, misinterpreted you. I think the question of "why do people generally (profess that they) believe what they (profess that they) believe" is a very interesting question and worth serious study, but that any simple answer I attempt to give will be laughably oversimplified.

My deconversion was significantly in motion prior to finding LessWrong

Okay, then my points re LessWrong don't apply at all. It's probable that my default model doesn't apply and that your reasons for deconversion are largely due to your philosophical and general epistemic intuitions.

...the actual deciding factors tend to be unconscious or sentimental drives.

How would I identify whether this is or is not the case, especially if they are unconscious?

By noticing conscious rationalization, mostly. That would at least clue you in that something funny is going on, if it is.

You continue to return to social/pragmatic aspects, which continues to leave me puzzled as to whether you think the Catholic Church's primary advantage is that it's most aligned with the wishes/truths concerning a god of some sort, or whether it's beliefs are just a side effect and what really matters is that it has the best social/pragmatic rules/suggestions for human beings of any competing religion.

I think that if you're trying to optimize for truthful and useful doctrine about morality and theology then Catholicism is the best bet unless you're astoundingly good at discovering the truth on your own. But I'm not highly confident in this judgment; you should learn from whoever is wise, and if for some reason the wisest person who's easily available is a Zen Buddhist, then you should likely become a Zen Buddhist. If there are no wise individual people around then I think Catholicism has the most reliably good infrastructure of doctrine, but again I may be wrong.

After reading all that, though, it still leaves me puzzled that a being who wants us to know about it would reveal itself (bible) in a time when we had none of these probability and game theories, and no formal study of social psychology.

If YHWH is around then He is indeed playing a subtle and puzzling game.

As in, you strike me as being rather confident in theism (or various theistic tenets) while typically offering very vague statements about specifically what they are

I'm not very confident of theism; I think it's a problem of English that it's very difficult to consistently make claims of >10% but <50% certainty. And what my intuitions say and what my betting odds are are two different things; I know better than to just trust my intuition. The reason my statements are so vague is because it would take a lot of writing to explain my intuitions about moral philosophy and decision theory to people on LessWrong whose perspective differs greatly from mine. Even people who have much of the relevant knowledge and who I would expect to easily see what I believe and why, like Vladimir_Nesov, seem to not really understand the underlying intuitions nor where they would lead if correct.

My read of this post/threads suggest that what happened is that you came out and asked "Why is theism wrong?" Then a bunch (like ~500) comments took place explaining various objections, and you concluded that everyone was attacking someone else's theism, which isn't what you hold or think is really theism.

I think that's a mischaracterization; many of the most highly upvoted comments agreed that it is possible that theism isn't wrong if by theism we mean simulationism (which is what I had contended), and the majority of the objections were along the lines of requesting that we not call simulationism by the name of theism, which is a reasonable request but not an objection to theism.

Perhaps a new post with specifics might help more (or point me to more of that if it already exists).

I think that local beliefs are stacked against mine to such an extent that an extreme burden of proof would be on me to provide strong justification and explanations for all of my claims, which just isn't feasible for me personally in the near future.

Thanks for the dialog.

You too; I'm glad there exists a place like LessWrong where a prospective Catholic convert and a prospective Catholic deconvert can have civil and productive discourse about epistemology and theology.

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-05T20:20:00.889Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm enjoying this more and more. At first (and it was probably apparent), I was pretty defensive, particularly because this is obviously something personal and important and I felt a bit threatened. I think I (at least, maybe "we") have leveled off and are actually getting places now :)

if their belief is justified it's mostly the result of epistemic luck...

Well put, and we agree on that. Though your big bang cosmology example made me realize that this is more true in far more areas of my life than I am aware of (or even care to think about in order to avoid an ugh field).

It's probable that my default model doesn't apply...

Maybe, maybe not. I was around my father and brother during Christmas break and they don't believe. I was with my wife, though, and we both did very strongly. I said rosary on the plane on the way down, tried to take some personal prayer time, etc. So... I'm not explicitly aware of those things, but then again I was in close proximity to non-believers (which perhaps forced me to wonder why they didn't believe, leading me to my first major cognitive dissonance) and away from my typical very-tight-knit Catholic social sphere for ~10 days.

Then again, I've debated my dad about biblical interpretation and tended to view them in a pained manner, as in a "Why can't they just see the truth?" type of way. It was an unusual circumstance, but I've typically held my own without feeling any doubts or uncertainty before. I could see it either way.

I'll check out the link on rationalization. Thanks.

I think Catholicism has the most reliably good infrastructure of doctrine, but again I may be wrong.

We don't have to pursue this more, but I'd be interested in how you think Catholics are so good. Is it, as you said before, by epistemic luck, or because they actually have some sort of connection to a divine being's will/intention? Similarly, just to probe some specifics:

  • Do you sign onto this being having a purpose/design for humans? As in, was the universe created for us to exist as the pinnacle of creation, to live out holy lives, and then spend eternity in a heaven if we've lived good enough?
  • Similarly, with something like contraception (contraversial, I know), the typical route Catholics would take to their stance is that it's "unnatural." God intended sperm to meet the egg and so preventing that in some non-natural way is thus contrary to his will. How do you sit with that specific line of moral thought and subsequent implication derivation (not just on contraception, any don't-fiddle-with-how-god-designed-things line of argument)?

I'm not very confident of theism...

Oh. When I replied at that other thread (though, that was WIN_2011), it was to you saying you were highly confident in an omni-max being, which I took to mean theism.

I think that's a mischaracterization...

Re-read, and I can see that. I think I'm also still having a hard time wrapping my mind around your use of the word "theism" (or at least what you meant a year ago in that post). "Agent-y processes" is not what typically comes to mind when I'm talking about theism :)

To be fair, though, you do seem to be talking about YHWH, or at least perhaps you're saying that people writing in the bible have been interpreting this simulation machine as the analog of a person, but with magic powers and an interest in their eternal future?

You too; I'm glad there exists a place like LessWrong where...

Indeed! Like I said, I feel much more on the same page with you after some back and forth. It's at least been mind opening to some other views and you'll surely have my head involuntarily occupied (well, your ideas) on my car rides to and from work for several days or more.

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-03-05T22:20:59.990Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't have to pursue this more, but I'd be interested in how you think Catholics are so good. Is it, as you said before, by epistemic luck, or because they actually have some sort of connection to a divine being's will/intention?

My own personal belief (not that you were asking me) is that any religion around long enough during periods of intellectual progress will get some sort of internally consistent formulation, however much violence it may do to a naive reading of the original texts. Catholicism is a good example, with the reconstruction of theology by the Scholastics on top of the original revisionism of Paul and later Greek-influenced scholars like Augustine. But you could as easily point to Buddhism, which in areas has some pretty excellent philosophizing to back up its beliefs. (Reading Nagarjuna's Verses on the Heart of the Middle Way, I had the eerie feeling I was reading Sextus Empiricus's sharp logical paradoxes, just with different vocabulary.) Confucianism didn't do too shabbily after 2+ millennia of development, and even something as crude as Shintoism got some pretty heavy intellectual development during the Meiji era and run up to WWII, becoming part of the quasi-fascist nationalist ideology of those periods which apparently convinced the Japanese public and many intellectuals. (Nor did Japanese Buddhism escape this process of rationalizing - read Zen at War.)

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-06T02:14:53.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm quite glad you commented, and interesting take. What about younger religions that still seem to manager to woo people and hold them intellectually captive like Mormonism (~150 yrs) and Scientology (~50 yrs).

Most of humanity is not part of them, but Mormonism in particular is very quickly growing. Do you think it's success had to do with the aspect of being internally consistent, or some other attractive feature?

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-03-10T04:38:40.778Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know about Mormonism. Reading calcsam's articles, I get the impression that the superficial archaeological gloss provides some intellectual respectability. But more generally, I get the impression that right now the Mormon community is still young and functional - like the early Christians, who really did provide a lot of charity, form loving accepting communities, pool their resources, etc. (And lost it as they grew. Any successful startup can sympathize.) If this is so, then we can expect to see their growth level off at some point. Early Christianity began losing it by the 300s or so, which gives Mormonism plenty of time left (but on the other hand, they grew much faster).

How memetically fit their beliefs are now, consistency-wise or appeal-wise, I don't know.

With Scientology, they have an interesting esoteric hierarchy of knowledge, which has long been a drawn to humans (think Eliezer's Conspiracy universe, or the Christian Gnostics, for that matter), and a number of half-baked Western & New Age derived techniques that apparently do work - a religious Toastmasters or pickup artist movement, you might say. (I think Luke posted an article on this. Could probably find it googling the 'Scientology stare'.) They haven't been that successful that their success stands in need of explaining; if they are still around in a century and have more than 10 million members, say, then they will be much more interesting a phenomena.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-04T04:05:19.612Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just a quick addition before I give a longer reply (which might take a day or two): apologies if I came across as brusque; I was trying to give my unmediated reaction because I figured it'd be a more accurate simulation of how smart Catholic readers would internally react. In a different context I wouldn't have e.g. just glossed over the fact that you've been thinking about these issues in good faith for the last two years or so.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-04T02:47:19.617Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's a "modal Catholic"? Googling wasn't helpful.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-04T02:58:18.601Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, yeah, it's not a real thing. "Modal" means like replacing the "amen"s with "or so we seem to have been led to believe"s or "or so it seems wise to endorse as true even though what's going on behind the scenes is largely some really tricky game theory that we're forced for pragmatic reasons to pretend doesn't exist"s. If Vladimir_M takes his Catholicism seriously, which I doubt, then it's likely the same kind kind of Catholic that he is. (I admit to trying to troll Vladimir_M into talking about Catholicism with this comment.)

comment by jwhendy · 2012-03-04T03:04:09.784Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. What, then, do you believe when it comes to a deity? I may have misread this comment, but it strikes me as saying that you're Catholic for pragmatic/social reasons?

Put another way: what of Catholic doctrine counts as as "largely some really tricky game theory" and what counts as actually true?

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-04T03:44:30.582Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not actually Catholic, only a prospective Catholic, and it's very possible that I'll never get around to actually getting confirmed; it seems like it would be consenting to the categorical rule of propping up institutions even when you're still rather unsure of how good they are compared to how good you should have expected them to be. I grew up agnostic and at some point identified as atheist, only converting to theism and gaining interest in religions besides Theravada Buddhism after I became a postrationalist one or two years ago; I haven't had enough time since then to come to any firm conclusions about the justification or lack thereof for converting to a particular religion.

Put another way: what of Catholic doctrine counts as as "largely some really tricky game theory" and what counts as actually true?

Oh, gosh. Um.

  • I think it's plausible that there is a God in the Thomistic or Leibnizian or Kantian(?) sense, and my intuition says there is. I think it's probable that there is an entity, identifiable as YHWH, Who seems to indicate that He is the Holy Ghost (Who is the optimization imposed on the physical world by the existence of that Thomistic God), but I have no idea how much evidence I should accept as enough evidence for His implicit claim to be the Thomistic God. There's that whole "by their fruits ye shall know them" thing but I don't know what counts as satisfactorily delicious fruit. It seems like Satan or any other transhumanly intelligent entity could just as easily provide the same delicious fruits, so this would seem to come down to some tricky reasoning about priors. I'm not yet familiar with the Catholic writings on discernment.
  • On the divinity and general metaphysical status of Jesus as Savior, this would seem to be some tricky reasoning about metaphysics on the one hand, and on the other hand, or more accurately on the other side of the same hand, it would seem to be some tricky reasoning about which Schelling focal points to carve out and hold fast to so as not to fall down all kinds of slippery slopes. I notice that if I or someone as generally prudent as me decided to blindly accept that Jesus was their Savior then that would be sheer epistemic laziness without trying to actually understand the social psychology or game theory surrounding why people would go out of their way to emphasize that a certain man had certain properties and that this is important for certain reasons and that doubting this or even doubting something else that would imply doubting this is like trying to "unjustifiably" undermine the allegedly "justified" thing that they're trying to do. This is like taking a very developed Kantian view of things, and honestly it seems really tricky to do right; I'd trust someone like Vladimir_M to do it better than me.
  • I agree in a relatively straightforward way with their cautious eschatology about Judgment Day and the Second Coming of Christ, which I see as straightforwardly mapping onto thinking about a technological singularity and taking seriously its moral implications. Whether or not they were right by coincidence is sort of besides the point, as their emphasis is correct either way. (At some point I would like to talk to the Church to see if they're interested in funding FAI research; unfortunately I'm not sure how competent the modern Church is, nor what factions of it would be competent. Traditionally the Dominicans are impressive.)
  • When it comes to supernatural stuff I generally accept Catholic doctrine, at least provisionally, e.g. the emphasis on not engaging in witchcraft or negotiating with demons.

Those are what stand out to me as the most obvious possible points of agreement or disagreement with Catholic doctrine as straightforwardly interpreted, but I might've missed some big stuff.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-04T05:31:50.700Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you talked about any of these ideas with any actual high rationality Catholics?

I agree in a relatively straightforward way with their cautious eschatology about Judgment Day and the Second Coming of Christ, which I see as straightforwardly mapping onto thinking about a technological singularity and taking seriously its moral implications. Whether or not they were right by coincidence is sort of besides the point, as their emphasis is correct either way. (At some point I would like to talk to the Church to see if they're interested in funding FAI research; unfortunately I'm not sure how competent the modern Church is, nor what factions of it would be competent. Traditionally the Dominicans are impressive.)

Somehow I get the impression that they wouldn't agree with your interpretation.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-04T13:48:46.771Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Somehow I get the impression that they wouldn't agree with your interpretation.

Any of them? How familiar are you with the more philosophically apt and open-minded Church authorities? Are there so few that it'd be impossible to get even a little traction? (I'm thinking a few years down the line when the "save the world" memeplex is better established.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-13T00:01:08.113Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as Catholics you might be interested in talking to, there's John C. Wright. I assume you are familiar with his background.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-04T03:51:30.646Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From what I know of Vladimir_M, to the extent he's a Catholic, he believe Catholicism is intersubjectively true. He doesn't take simulation hypothesis/accusal trade/SL5 type arguments all that seriously if that's what you're asking.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-04T03:58:40.063Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds right. I think I'm what you'd get if you took Vladimir_M's views on hermeneutics but with a perspective on metaphysics that saw them as potentially actually correct rather than acting almost-without-exception as convenient Schelling focal points.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-06T02:14:56.414Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One big difference is that you want to immanentize the eschaton going so far as to invoke actual theology, whereas Vladimir_M would probably he extremely skeptical of such attempts, and quiet frankly so would I.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-06T14:32:13.133Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One big difference is that you want to immanentize the eschaton

(I don't want to as such, it's more that I'm extremely afraid of the potential consequences of not doing so.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-07T04:34:08.574Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One big difference is that you want to immanentize the eschaton

(I don't want to as such, it's more that I'm extremely afraid of the potential consequences of not doing so.)

I'm also afraid of the consequences of attempting to given how well previous attempts have gone.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-03-07T08:51:20.602Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(ETA: Deleted paragraph comparing myself to Hitler because apparently that sort of thing is easily misunderstood or something.)

If you think my trying to immanentize the eschaton has a decent chance of being seen in retrospect as obviously evil and retarded, then I'm morally obligated to pester you to see whether the outside view of inside view makes more sense here. But perhaps we should continue this in another venue, if you'd like. I find it to be a very interesting topic, and also very important to what I do with my life.

ETA: In the meantime I'll read Ride the Tiger by Julius Evola.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-12T23:47:49.939Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the meantime I'll read Ride the Tiger by Julius Evola.

Why Julius Evola? If you're trying to figure out whether to immanentize the eschaton you might want to look at Eric Voegelin.

comment by pedanterrific · 2012-03-04T04:41:54.073Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Extant should be extent.

Sorry, these things bother me.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-04T04:45:03.820Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, fixed.