On Truth, On God, and On Faith (religious (obviously)) (Atheist material for believers instead of other atheists/ attempted use of a spoonful of sugar)

post by Bound_up · 2016-12-20T23:07:35.369Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 37 comments

This is a link post for https://atheistkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/on-truth-on-god-and-on-faith/


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comment by onlytheseekerfinds · 2016-12-25T02:12:14.222Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many of the "details" of God's character - his status as creator of the universe, his moral perfection (subsuming his honesty) and all that would essentially make a conception of God one that's worth adulating, is bound up in Anselm's definition of God: "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". (edit for clarity: from this definition follow the attributes ascribed to God that are commonly treated as essential)

Thoughtful people would recognize a difference between ascribing to God inessential properties, such as gender, and essential properties, such as infinite love. A failure to notice which properties can be doubted without changing the subject would extend uncertainty about whether or not God possesses some inessential property into uncertainty about his core properties. Was that where you were going?

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-27T13:36:54.972Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the same rule applies to essential as well as inessential properties.

You should believe them in proportion to the evidence you have for them. Belief that there exists an all-powerful being is justified insofar as there is evidence for it, and believing that that being is male is justified insofar as there is evidence for that.

You should drop every part of the belief, essential or inessential, for which you do not have sufficient evidence.

As for "summing up" all the essential things in a "maximally great being," to conclude that such a being exists requires that you have good reason to believe that each PART of that concept is true, the power, and the knowledge, and the morality and so on.

Replies from: onlytheseekerfinds
comment by onlytheseekerfinds · 2016-12-27T17:30:19.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can believe that some object fails to possess some property for reasons other than a lack of evidence. For example, I believe there are no integers greater than three but less than two. This is not merely because I've never encountered such a number, but because the integers are defined such that I can believe with unfailing certainty that I never will. Anything that might be both greater than three and less than two is by definition not an integer.

Similarly, any conception of God worth taking seriously to begin with is not simply any arbitrary vector in the space of all possible properties. The orientation of the "god vector" along any given axis should satisfy at the very least some aesthetic criterion - and if possible some logical one - which accords with a rank ordering of all positions by some definition of "greatness". Without a metric of greatness by which to specify the location, or range of locations, of a conceptual vector along dimensions of interest, there is no concept whatever left to be analyzed.

If it is given that such a metric is a necessary element in a obtaining a robust, non-arbitrary conception of God, it follows that the same rules emphatically do not apply to both essential and inessential properties. Some properties can be rejected out hand merely because they violate the rank-ordering necessary to identify the concept in question.

Moreover - essential properties may not be asserted to not belong to at least one object without simultaneously denying the existence of that object (since any object satisfying the spanning set of some concept's defining properties is an instantiation of it), whereas inessential properties may be regarded as either applying to the object or not without compelling us to adopt any particular propositional attitude towards its existence.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-28T01:51:51.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea of conceiving gods according to aesthetic properties and so on...I'm not entirely clear on WHAT specifically is supposed to be better about this, and I don't think I see how doing so will change the likelihood of the actual existence of any such being.

Maybe some specifics will help us out here. Suppose you have reason to believe some very powerful being exists, say, Australia disappears tomorrow.

This justifies believing in some very powerful thing or set of things, maybe beings maybe not. If we then found additional reason to think it was probably a being or set of beings, that would still leave open the question of, say, the honesty of the beings, or their lovingkindness, their patience, etc.

Each of these qualities, if proven, would still leave open all the others. To argue that all are true, you have to establish each of them.

Replies from: onlytheseekerfinds
comment by onlytheseekerfinds · 2016-12-28T09:22:54.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not entirely clear on WHAT specifically is supposed to be better about this

You don't see any advantage in compressing sectors of possible-property-space into algorithmically decompressible representations? I suppose the unspoken assumption on my part has been that reality is itself in some sense non-arbitrary, and that organizing the candidate elements of your ontology by unifying principles would allay the unnecessary multiplication of entities.

With respect to the topic at hand: you can posit the existence of any kind of omnipotent being you like. God might be an all-powerful Mushroom. Everything in the universe may, in some deep sense, be a Mushroom. Mushrooms are thus the most Godly object in reality. This jars my intuition about what reality might plausibly be like a lot more than the idea that God is "love", or a "universal mind", or so on. Now the first question that comes to mind is why? Is there any logical or scientific reason to believe that reality at a level that is completely hidden from observation forever, is more likely not to be a really just a Mushroom?

There are at least two ways to respond to these questions. One of them is to say - alright, yes, to say that God is a fungus seems perverse. If we're going to speculate on metaphysics, let's search for some set of principles according to which we make our metaphysical suppositions, and investigate what they imply. That way we at least might have a chance at further insight into the nature of reality.

The other thing you might do is to placidly accept that the universe may be arbitrary and perverse, and that no matter how bizarre a conception of God you may posit, there's no reason to prefer a conception that jars the intuition less. If nothing else, this seems to block the way of inquiry.

Now this so far doesn't have anything to do with how you find out what actually exists. It's more a defense of employing good taste (the definition of which I leave open) when speculating on what could exist.

I don't think I see how doing so will change the likelihood of the actual existence of any such being

It's not supposed to. It's more an explanation of why the "God could be dishonest and you don't have any reason to believe he isn't" line of attack fails to account for the fact that there are reasons that people take some ideas seriously and others not, despite a lack of accessible evidence on the issue.

Each of these qualities, if proven, would still leave open all the others.

That is correct. What I'm trying to get across is that there's a set of qualities which offer a conception of God that would be worth hoping is true; and that the ability to make Australia, or the universe, vanish on act of will is not sufficient to win the appellation of 'God'.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-28T10:31:57.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, certainly. I may have misunderstood the intended scope of your points.

I said I didn't see PRECISELY what was good about this thing, but I can see how it might be nice in some ways I hadn't bothered to think about before. Aesthetics, yes, that's nice. Compressible for easy communication? That's nice, too :)

Consistent with human intuition, well, that has some benefits, too, perhaps.

It still seems to me that none of these nice things make any such beings any more likely to exist, but if I understand now, you don't disagree with that, either.

Sure, there are certain conceptions of God I would be happy to discover were real, and others I wouldn't, and a whole spectrum between and beyond that.

comment by Erfeyah · 2016-12-21T10:13:28.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are more than a few misconceptions about the idea of god as it is a word that can mean wildly different things (as the article points). When people have discussions they tend to support or refute the more naive formulations of god and then generalise to all the rest. The hard thing for a rationalist is to suspend the decision of holding a view and feel comfortable in admiting ignorance. For example rationalists (in my experience) tend to be atheists instead of re-exploring the philosophical implications of the god concept in all its different formulations. In the case of people pulling away from irrational beliefs this might be essential as a cooling period but it can lead someone away from the search for truth into yet another belief system.

I will give you an example:

There are formulations that state that there is an approach towards life, connected to selflesness, that has a particular effect to the individual. It is not understood through the intelect but is experienced. Its result is direction of action. The trust of the indication of the direction they call faith. In more primitive cultures such formulations were connected to the idea of god for practical reasons but it is not neccessary.

So in this formulation (which we do not know if it is true), faith is not based on belief but on some kind of experiential knowledge. This is a rational proposition with the possibility of being true and it has abstracted the idea of God to "something outside of them that humans can by their nature interact with".

Naive rationality can sometimes, philosophically speaking, throw out "the baby with the bathwater".

Replies from: Viliam, Bound_up
comment by Viliam · 2016-12-21T15:19:50.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we are talking about a different thing, why insist on using the same label? Just move on.

Using the same label for different things is a highway to confusion.

Replies from: Erfeyah
comment by Erfeyah · 2016-12-21T15:54:10.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your answer,

Unfortunately I fail to see the relevance of the linked article. It was about someone banging his head on the wall (metaphorically speaking) trying to get through. I am just examining the wall. Carefully. Instead of dismissing it.

My argument was that within the concept of god and other concepts found in various mystical traditions there are many components that are not demonstrably false (to say the least). To bundle these concepts together with easily refuted ideas (miracles, virgin birth etc.) and then declare them all false and the issue decided is a mistake in reasoning.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-21T18:35:35.514Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point made there, I suspect, is that we should just say "Oops, we were wrong about God. Oh well." And then, if there are things we don't know about the universe, we should recognize that we have no reason to call them things like "spiritual" or "God," and we should even be wary of doing so, as it suggests we're using a defense mechanism against admitting we were just completely wrong about the whole God idea

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-22T00:14:59.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are mistaken about this. Not wanting to change to some other word is not because they do not want to admit they were wrong. It is because they do not want to abandon their tribe. By telling them that they should not use that word, you are telling them that they should abandon it.

That's wrong. You should tell them they can use the word "God" for anything they like, and still believe the truth, without having to abandon their tribe.

Replies from: Bound_up, Viliam
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-22T12:07:55.317Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Viliam is right.

Maybe there are some who need coddling, but that's a question of strategy, not clear thinking. If we're aiming for clarity, then what each personally should personally aim for is to just admit when they're wrong and abandon any dishonest comforts like calling God "the spirit within all of humanity."

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-30T15:40:07.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not talking about coddling anyone. I am talking about caring about the truth rather than about what words people use.

It is usually a mistake to "just admit when they're wrong," because even people who are wrong usually saw some truth as well, so if they abandon everything, they will be abandoning the true part of what they believed together with the false part.

It is not a "dishonest comfort" to use the word "God" for something different from what other people use it for, as long as you know what you are using it for.

My basic objection to your proposal is this: it comes across as "Abandon your tribe and come over to mine! Your tribe is bad and mine is good!" I object to that proposal because there are not "good" and "bad" tribes. Tribes are just people, made up of a mixture of good and bad, in every case.

And the fact that you are so interested in people not using the word "God," even to refer to something that exists, suggests that it not only comes across in that way, but it is in fact what you are doing. If you simply cared about the truth, you would not care what words people used to express it, as long as they believed the truth.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-30T16:05:33.988Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you read "A Human's Guide to Words" from the sequences? I recommend it highly, and I think it clears up our disagreement.

If we were computers, or perfect philosophers, you would be completely correct. As it stands, you're still mostly correct. Unfortunately, humans have certain defects which require us to take certain precautions, including caring about connotations as well as denotations, as also history of usage and so on.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-01-01T21:21:07.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I've read the post you mention. But since you didn't fully spell it out, I'm not sure what you're intending to say. I can think of at least two interpretations, one I would disagree with, and one I would agree with.

1) You might be saying that it is impossible to do what I am suggesting given the way people actually relate to words. In this case I would disagree, and I also suspect that you would not apply such a principle consistently, e.g. to speaking about the gender of trans people.

2) You might simply be saying that doing what I am proposing has an epistemic cost. In that case I would agree. For example, take someone who is raised believing in God. He might think, "God is the principle or principles most responsible for the world." Understood in that way, God might very well be the laws of nature or something like that. But if the person previously believed that God was a person, then continuing to speak in that way will make him tend to think "as if" the world was caused by a person, even if he specifically denies it. I agree with that, but have two things to say about it:

First, for such a person, saying that "God does not exist," also has an epistemic cost. Because this will tend to make him think "as if" there were no principles responsible for the world. It is not obvious which cost is worse. Personally I think that "there are no principles responsible for the world" is falser than "a person is responsible for the world," even though both are false. Of course you can respond that you simply don't accept the false thing: but that is possible whether you speak the one way or the other.

Second, there are non-epistemic costs and benefits, and you have to consider these when you consider which way to speak. This is why I brought up the tribal issue: even if the epistemic cost of speaking of God as something existing is higher than speaking as an atheist, it might turn out (at least for people who are members of some communities) that overall the cost of saying that God does not exist is higher.

You can compare this with reading fiction. There can be no reasonable doubt that reading fiction has an epistemic cost, and that in general it will lead you to think "as if" reality were more like the story than it is. But reading fiction can also have epistemic benefits, and it definitely has non-epistemic benefits, so that most people believe (as I do) that the overall benefits outweigh the costs.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2017-01-03T13:15:17.958Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Impossible overstates it. It is sufficiently difficult as to not be worth using it, making things more difficult than they have to be. This, again, relates to clarity. If there are people who need unclarity, that's a strategic concern, not one of understanding things as they are.

  2. In the case of God, I think "God does not exist" is sufficiently obvious. People aren't going to stop expecting the universe to behave consistently because they realized "God does not exist" is probably true. As such, they have effectively distinguished God from the laws of the universe.

I could imagine other cases where the effect you describe is stronger, though. It's an interesting point.

And, of course, again I recognize the non-epistemic part of this decision. If we're pursuing clarity, we should avoid these ambiguous and loaded terms and use others. If it's a question of strategy, we might not WANT that complete clarity, sure.

I'm thinking this might be the majority of our perceived disagreement. If so, I want to emphasize again that my strict lines are only talking about epistemics, about clarity. I recognize that there may be strategic reasons to avoid that clarity.

In other words, I'm not saying "say God when we don't mean God" BAD, "not so say" GOOD.

I'm saying "say God when we don't mean God" UNCLEAR, "not so say" CLEAR.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-01-03T15:15:17.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We probably mostly agree about the practical part of this, although I suspect that due to lack of experience, you underestimate the practical costs of verbal atheism for many people. This at least is suggested by your previous reference to "coddling" people.

I do not think we agree on the epistemic issue yet, since you seem to be saying that there are no epistemic costs to atheism. It may or may not be possible to resolve this disagreement, depending on an issue I will discuss shortly.

But first, when I spoke of an epistemic cost, I did not mean adopting a false belief, or at least not necessarily. I meant a trend toward something false. That is why I used the phrase "as if." So for example one of the reasons that most of us are not much concerned about the epistemic costs of reading fiction is that there is no particular false belief that reading fiction forces one to adopt: there is a simply a trend towards positions more similar to the ones expressed in the fiction. So there is an epistemic cost, but one is not forced to adopt a false belief.

This is relevant to your comment that "people aren't going to stop expecting the universe to behave consistently because they realized 'God does not exist' is probably true." Basically you are saying that this will not force people to adopt a false belief. I agree. But I say that there will be a trend towards a false belief (and I will explain that shortly.) The same thing is true if you speak of God as the principle(s) responsible for the universe. If a person says that God is such a principle, but not a person, they will not expect God to e.g. speak with them personally and give them a revelation. So they have effectively distinguished "God" or the principles responsible for the universe from the personal God of theism. But there will still be a trend towards false beliefs. That is true, in my opinion, on both sides of this issue.

Getting to the point of our disagreement, I think there is an actual false belief that many atheists adopt, and that many others trend towards adopting. Now it may be that you yourself hold this belief. If so, then for me it will be evidence that I am right, since it will show that you have fallen prey to the epistemic cost that I am talking about. But since in this case you will not agree that your belief is false, for you it will be evidence that you are right: you will simply think that I have fallen prey to the opposite epistemic cost.

Thus: "as such, they have effectively distinguished God from the laws of universe." Not if they think the laws of the universe do not exist; for in that case, just as they say that God does not exist, they also say that the laws of the universe do not exist. In other words, we can say that things fall because of the law of gravity. But what is the law of gravity, and where is it found? If it is nothing but an idea in our minds, and nothing at all in the real world, then the law of gravity does not exist, and the fact that things fall is a brute fact which has nothing responsible for it. Many atheists think that this account is true, and in that way they do indeed believe that there are no principles responsible for the world.

As I said previously, I think that this position is falser than theism. Saying that there is literally nothing at all responsible for things is falser than saying that a person is responsible, although both are false. But as I said, you may hold this belief yourself, and in that case, this would indicate to me that I am right about the epistemic cost of atheism, but it would indicate the opposite to you.

comment by Viliam · 2016-12-22T09:03:47.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not wanting to change to some other word is not because they do not want to admit they were wrong. It is because they do not want to abandon their tribe.

So they don't want their tribe to know that they internally admit they were wrong. Then this is about strategic lying.

(Note: I am not against strategic lying per se. If my life would be threatened if I tell the truth, I would definitely be interested in learning good methods of strategic lying.)

Replies from: entirelyuseless, Dagon
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-30T15:48:45.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was not talking about strategic lying. It is true, however, that in many such cases strategic lying might be appropriate. This simply reveals more clearly the badness of Bound_up's advice. As I said in another comment, it comes across as, "Abandon your tribe and come over to mine!", and in fact that may be what he intends.

I was talking about using the word "God" to express whatever true elements there are in the idea, and abandoning the false elements, and being quite specific about this. This would not involve any lying, and if you are clear enough your tribe will know quite clearly that you disagree with them. Nonetheless, I assure you that people who believe in God will still feel better about this than if you simply say "God does not exist." So as long as you are only speaking of real things, a person from such a tribe will not get any benefit from denying that God exists, unless he specifically wants to say that he is abandoning his tribe and joining another.

comment by Dagon · 2016-12-22T16:43:51.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So they don't want their tribe to know that they internally admit they were wrong. Then this is about strategic lying.

The best way to show your tribe that you believe their distinguishing "truths" is to actually believe them. In many cases, it's strategic self-deception, rather than internal truth-seeking with outward lying. Of course, distinguishing between these is difficult even reflectively in oneself, and nearly impossible in committed others.

Which is why religion is so often a mind-killing topic. It's hard to trust yourself and impossible to trust others.

comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-21T10:41:14.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds acceptable to me.

It just doesn't sound like faith in God, or like anything supernatural.

I think of it less as baby and bathwater and more like bathwater, and then over somewhere else, there's a baby we're not throwing out which has nothing to do with the bathwater we did throw out.

I have a friend, who, probably in an effort to be super accepting, talks about how she's not an atheist because she believes in humanity or something warm and fuzzy like that.

She ends the conversation if you ask if she believes in any creator being or anything supernatural. Is there some reason to consider doing selfless things because it makes you happy as contrary to atheism or analogous to religion?

Replies from: Erfeyah
comment by Erfeyah · 2016-12-21T14:41:07.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are, to a large extend, right. Trying to use the word god in such an abstract manner can bring into question wether we need to use that word at all. I don't think it is a very useful word anymore as it carries too much with it. What I am trying to say is that I see, repeatedly, people that would purport to be rationalists, to hold beliefs on these subjects instead of holding in mind all the possibilities. It seems to me that many atheists have already decided on the materialist view as if it has been scientifically resolved. The truth is that it hasn't and attention has to be directed towards all the possibilities. It is these possibilities that I call the "baby" that is thrown out with the bathwater. And yes they do include the possibility of higher levels of consciousness.

Clarification: I do not mean anything supernatural as anything that exists is by definition natural. To me the word 'supernatural' does not mean anything. Maybe instead of 'supernatural' the word 'unknown' should be used.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-21T15:49:40.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not think it is a good idea to suggest that God might be dishonest, and that you have no way to prove that God is honest, even if you think you have a proof that God exists.

First, the idea is entirely unpersuasive. And that is clear from the fact that no one believes in a dishonest God -- either they do not believe in God, or they believe that God is honest. So by including this unpersuasive argument, you are making the whole less persuasive.

Second, it does not matter whether you can prove that God is honest or not. Saying, "If God is all powerful, he can deceive you about anything," is necessarily true. Which means that by this standard, you also cannot possibly have a good reason to believe that God does not exist-- since the dishonest God may simply be deceiving you into the false belief that you have a good reason to think that God does not exist. In other words, invoking the concept of an all powerful being that is dishonest is just a skeptical suggestion, and no more compelling than the idea, "if you were a brain in a vat, you would have no way of knowing it." True, but we still do not believe we are brains in vats, despite the fact that brains and vats exist, and in the same way we would not believe in a dishonest God even assuming the existence of God.

Replies from: Brillyant, Bound_up
comment by Brillyant · 2016-12-22T16:05:35.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And that is clear from the fact that no one believes in a dishonest God

They don't? Says who?

I'm not opposed to the idea of some hyper-powerful creative entity, and I see no reason to believe it is honest or dishonest, or that such a classification would even apply.

The idea that "God must be honest" seems to be an ideal derived from culture and attached to a deity as a necessary condition.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-24T02:09:29.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not say that everyone believes that God is honest. I said no one believes in a dishonest God, and you did not contradict this or provide an example of such a believer.

The reason people do not believe in a dishonest God is not cultural, but it is the same reason that no one believes in any skeptical scenario, namely that such beliefs cannot be useful for any purpose whatsoever.

Replies from: Brillyant
comment by Brillyant · 2016-12-27T14:28:45.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not say that everyone believes that God is honest. I said no one believes in a dishonest God

Meh. Okay. It might depend on definition. You've offered no evidence anyway.

The reason people do not believe in a dishonest God is not cultural, but it is the same reason that no one believes in any skeptical scenario, namely that such beliefs cannot be useful for any purpose whatsoever.

I don't see any reason people can't believe things they also see as lacking purpose.

Further, I don't really know what you are talking about.

Replies from: onlytheseekerfinds, entirelyuseless
comment by onlytheseekerfinds · 2016-12-27T18:13:55.715Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see any reason people can't believe things they also see as lacking a purpose

Because believing in something - really believing in it - is not costless. It comes at the cost of those other beliefs incompatible with the one in question. This doesn't make it impossible to harbour beliefs without any useful purpose, but it's a reason to expect to to be uncommon. Should an idea be incorrect merely because it's uncommon? No; but if it's both rare and intrinsically unappealing - lacking both the force of reason and the weight of mass assent, why then should it be taken seriously?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-30T15:23:55.027Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People can "believe things they also see as lacking purpose," if you mean that they believe the thing lacks purpose, e.g. I might believe that the stone lying on the ground over there is pointless. But the fact that I hold the belief is not pointless. In the case of the stone, I hold the belief about it in order to navigate the surrounding terrain.

And in general, as onlytheseekerfinds noted, beliefs are costly by impeding alternative beliefs, and they also have a cost even in physical energy, since it consumes resources to express them, even mentally. So no one would hold a belief unless there were some corresponding benefits to outweigh the costs. Robin Hanson talks about this a bit here.

Replies from: Brillyant
comment by Brillyant · 2016-12-30T21:04:44.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe life has no absolute purpose. This is probably a costly belief compared to other, more rosy (i.e. religious) beliefs with which I am very familiar.

Nonetheless, I hold the belief I do, despite it's negative consequences (emotional, motivational, psychological, etc.), because I'm compelled to believe this way based on the evidence.

As I said, I don't see any reason someone couldn't believe in a non-honest god. I've talked to deists who don't consider "honesty" a characteristic that applies to the sort of hyper-powerful entity they believe created all things.

If our conscious experience is a simulation, then are the creators of that simulation (i.e. the gods) being "honest"?

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-01-01T21:00:13.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are factually mistaken about whether life has a purpose. Of course to see whether we actually disagree about this I would have to know why you added the word "absolute" there. But it looks to me like you just agree with Eliezer that reality in itself is indifferent. As I have said in other threads, I think reality in itself is good. Evidence that reality is purposeless, for me, would be a reality where there are no tendencies. Of course it is hard to imagine such a world, and it may be entirely impossible. But there is nothing strange about this: since I think that reality is fundamentally good, I think that trying to imagine a reality which is not good is trying to imagine a reality that lacks the fundamental stuff of reality -- i.e, an unreal reality, which is a contradiction.

In any case, I accept that this is your opinion and that you think you are compelled by evidence to hold this. But in that case, you think that you benefit by having an accurate map of reality. And this benefit could offset the costs you mention. If it does not offset them, then perhaps you should reconsider your opinion. And about being "compelled to believe," you are not compelled to believe anything. There are clearly people who reject evidence, and you are as human as they are, so you can reject evidence if you wish to do so. Whether or not people do so will depend on whether or not they value having an accurate map of reality, or at any rate how they value that compared to other things, since everyone has at least a little bit of desire for an accurate map. So you are only "compelled" because you think that the benefit of the accurate map outweighs those other costs you mention.

As I said, I agree that there is no reason why the causes of the world would have to be "honest." I said that there can't be a good reason to believe in an all powerful dishonest being, because there are no benefits to that belief which could offset the costs. Having an accurate map of reality could not be the benefit, because there is no evidence (and there could not be any such evidence in principle) that could possibly indicate that the world was created by an all powerful and dishonest being. Because "dishonest" just means one that wants to deceive you. And such a being will deceive you, since it wants to and is all powerful. So if you think that some evidence indicates the existence of such a being, then your evidence is worthless, since an all powerful being that wished to deceive you would succeed in doing so, even if it simply wanted to make you think that you had good evidence for something -- your evidence might seem completely convincing, but it could be totally false. And you could you have no convincing reason for saying your evaluation of the evidence is not totally false, given that you are saying that there is an all powerful being that wishes to deceive you.

Likewise, there are no practical benefits to such a belief. So there is no reason, neither intellectual nor practical, that could lead someone to believe in a dishonest God.

Still, this is a question of what is possible in practice, not of what is possible in principle. Theoretically someone could mistakenly believe that he got some benefits from the belief, and so adopt it, just as you mistakenly believe that you get an accurate map of reality by saying that life has no purpose.

In the case of the simulation, the creators of the simulation are not gods in the way we are talking about, because they are presumably not all powerful: a simulator as we understand it would have to do some work to change the content of the simulation, so making that change would impose some cost on them. So honest or dishonest, they will not be a "dishonest God" in the way I was talking about it. In any case, I did not say that a dishonest God is impossible: I said there can be no reason to hold such a belief, and that is a different matter. It is not impossible for you not to exist, but there can be no reason for you to believe, "I do not exist."

Replies from: Brillyant
comment by Brillyant · 2017-01-04T22:55:13.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are factually mistaken about whether life has a purpose.

What is life's purpose?

Evidence that reality is purposeless, for me, would be a reality where there are no tendencies.

What does this mean to you? And why are tendencies evidence of purpose?

comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-21T18:33:13.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've tested it. People respond well once they realize that they believe things they have no reason to believe.

The key thing you'll see in most believers is not that they've decided to believe God is honest no matter what, or that they have arguments for it, it's that it's literally never OCCURRED to them that it's a question to ask, in the same way many believe that the issue is atheism vs Allah, or atheism vs God.

Opening their minds to these questions as things that need answers goes a long way. If you have a believer handy, I might recommend asking them if they believe God is perfectly honest and how they came to believe that.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-22T00:18:16.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So have you convinced anyone that God exists and is dishonest? If not, then people are not responding well to your argument, because they still assume "God exists and is honest, or he does not exist at all." In other words, unless you have persuaded someone that God exists and is dishonest, everyone (both theists and atheists) is still assuming the same thing: that God, if he exists, is honest.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-22T12:05:10.462Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People are emotionally attached to their belief. This keeps them from rationally evaluating arguments for the existence of an all-powerful being.

But, if they realize that they can't justify belief in an all-powerful AND honest being...

They don't just keep believing in an all-powerful deceiver. Their emotional attachment is broken, and they are more able to rationally assess the arguments that there's an all-powerful being at all.

Turns out those arguments don't hold up well under rational analysis

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-30T15:43:09.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am skeptical that you have actually persuaded anyone of anything with this particular method.

But even if you have, this just means that you have persuaded them of something unreasonable. The reason to reject a dishonest God is that such a belief would be pointless; so if they have a reason to believe in an all-powerful being, that by itself will suffice as a reason to believe in an all powerful being that is honest.

Replies from: Bound_up
comment by Bound_up · 2016-12-30T15:57:45.881Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look, man, I have nothing to say about whether or not there's any "point" to believing or disbelieving in a dishonest God. I have spoken only on what kind of evidence would suggest such a being was real or not.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-30T16:02:30.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. But as long as it is pointless to believe something, there is no reason to believe it, regardless of the condition of the evidence. This is basically a tautology.