Religious and Rational?

post by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-09T20:12:28.609Z · score: 3 (18 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 86 comments

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  Religious and Rational?
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86 comments

Reverend Caleb Pitkin, an aspiring rationalist and United Methodist Minister, wrote an article about combining religion and rationality which was recently published on the Intentional Insights blog. He's the only Minister I know who is also an aspiring rationalist, so I thought it would be an interesting piece for Less Wrong as well. Besides, it prompted an interesting discussion on the Less Wrong Facebook group, so I thought some people here who don't look at the Facebook group might be interested in checking it out as well. Caleb does not have enough karma to post, so I am posting it on his behalf, but he will engage with the comments.

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Religious and Rational?

 

“Wisdom shouts in the street; in the public square she raises her voice.”

Proverbs 1:20 Common English Bible

The Biblical book of Proverbs is full of imagery of wisdom personified as a woman calling and extorting people to come to her and listen.  The wisdom contained in Proverbs is not just spiritual wisdom but also contains a large amount of practical wisdom and advice.  What might the wisdom of Proverbs and rationality have in common?  The wisdom literature in scripture was meant to help people make better and more effective decisions.  In today’s complex and rapidly changing world we have the same need for tools and resources to help us make good decisions.  One great source of wisdom is methods of better thinking that are informed by science.  

Now, not everyone would agree with comparing the wisdom of Proverbs with scientific insights.  Doing so may not sit well with some in the secular rationality community who view all religion as inherently irrational and hindering clear thinking. It also might not sit well with some in my own religious community who are suspicious of scientific thinking as undermining traditional faith.  While it would take a much longer piece to try to completely defend either religion or secular rationality I’m going to try and demonstrate some ways that rationality is useful  for a religious person.

The first way that rationality can be useful for a religious person is in the living of our daily lives.  We are faced with tasks and decisions each day that we try to do our best in.  Learning to recognize common logical fallacies or other biases, like those that cause us to fail to understand other people, will improve our decision making as much as it improves the thinking of non-religious people. For example, a mother driving her kids to Sunday School might benefit from avoiding thinking that the person who cuts her off is definitely a jerk, one common type of thinking error.  Some doing volunteer work for their church could be more effective if they avoid problematic communication with other volunteers. This use of rationality to lead our daily lives in the best way is one that most would find fairly unobjectionable.  It’s easy to say that the way we all achieve our personal goals and objectives could be improved, and we can all gain greater agency.

Rationality can also be of use in theological commentary and discourse.  Many of the theological and religious greats used the available philosophical and intellectual tools of their day to examine their faith. Examples of this include John Wesley, Thomas Aquinas and even the Apostle Paul when he debated Epicurean and Stoic Philosophers.   They also made sure that their theologies were internally, rational and logical.  This means that, from the perspective of a religious person, keeping up with rationality can help with the pursuit of a deeper understanding of our faith.  For a secular person acknowledging the ways in which religious people use rationality within their worldview may be difficult, but it can help to build common ground. The starting point is different.  Secular people start with the faith that they can trust their sensory experience.  Religious people start with conceptions of the divine.  Yet, after each starting point, both seek to proceed in a rational logical manner.

It is not just our personal lives that can be improved by rationality, it’s also the ways in which we interact with communities.  One of the goals of many religious communities is to make a positive impact on the world around them.  When we work to do good in community we want that work to be as effective as possible.  Often when we work in community we find that we are not meeting our goals or having the kind of significant impact that we wish to have.  It is my experience this is often a failure to really examine and gather the facts on the ground.  We set off full of good intentions but with limited resources and time.  Rational examination helps us to figure out how to match our good intentions with our limited resources in the most effective way possible.  For example as the Pastor of two small churches money and people power can be in short supply.  So when we examine all the needs of our community we have to acknowledge we cannot begin to meet all or even most of them.  So we take one issue, hunger, and devote our time and resources to having one big impact on that issue.  As opposed to trying to be a little bit to alleviate a lot of problems.

One other way that rationality can inform our work in the community is to recognize that part of what a scarcity of resources means is that we need to work together with others in our community.  The inter-faith movement has done a lot of good work in bringing together people of faith to work on common goals.  This has meant setting aside traditional differences for the sake of shared goals.  Let us examine the world we live in today though. The amount of nonreligious people is on the rise and there is every indication that it will continue to do so.  On the other hand religion does not seem to be going anywhere either.  Which is good news for a pastor.  Looking at this situation, the rational thing to do is to work together, for religious people to build bridges toward the non-religious and vice versa.

Wisdom still stands on the street calling and imploring us to be improved--not in the form of rationalist street preachers, though that idea has a certain appeal-- but in the form of the growing number of tools being offered to help us improve our capacity for logic, for reasoning, and for the tools that will enable us take part in the world we live in.  

Everyone wants to make good decisions.  This means that everyone tries to make rational decisions.  We all try but we don’t always hit the mark.  Religious people seek to achieve their goals and make good decisions.  Secular people seek to achieve their goals and make good decisions.  Yes, we have different starting points and it’s important to acknowledge that.  Yet, there are similarities in what each group wants out of their lives and maybe we have more in common than we think we do.

On a final note it is my belief that what religious people and what non-religious people fear about each other is the same thing.  The non-religious look at the religious and say God could ask them to do anything... scary.  The religious look at the non-religious and say without God they could do anything... scary.  If we remember though that most people are rational and want to live a good life we have less to be scared of, and are more likely to find common ground.

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Bio: Caleb Pitkin is a Provisional Elder with the United Methodist Church appointed to Signal Mountain United Methodist Church. Caleb is a huge fan of the theology of John Wesley, which ask that Christians use reason in their faith journey.  This helped lead Caleb to Rationality and participation in Columbus Rationality, a Less Wrong meetup that is part of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. Through that, Caleb got involved with Intentional Insights. Caleb spends his time trying to live a faithful and rational life. 

86 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-10T00:27:33.447Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Secular people start with the faith that they can trust their sensory experience. Religious people start with conceptions of the divine. Yet, after each starting point, both seek to proceed in a rational logical manner.

This is one of the false moves of Christian apologetics. Religious people start with faith in their sensory experience as well. Fetuses don't "start with conceptions of the divine", and there is no concept of "the bible" or "the koran" to have faith in without faith in sensory experience.

Religious folks start from sensory experience as well, but at some point they start overriding sensory experience and the methodology they use with it with religious commitments. I suppose they're not alone in that, and not the worst. "There is a man in the sky who will punish/reward me depending on whether I obey him" is only wrong, and not "not even wrong".

Having said that, in my experience Christians are more rational than most where their "concepts of the divine" do not intrude, and this fellow is doing "God's work" in trying to bring a conscious commitment to rationality to Christians.

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-02-10T00:57:20.998Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could be much worse than that. I'm sure babies don't start with a Bayesian prior which assigns some probability to induction working, but nor do they start with object permanence. That may be a conclusion.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-10T02:04:14.735Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think object permanence as a conclusion is demonstrable - babies learn that, first google check says at 8 months.

On a prior on induction, neurons are be doing something to develop. I wonder if some of that something somewhere looks like induction. I'd guess so.

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-02-10T06:19:55.610Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mm, that doesn't rule out a hardwired conclusion (a question which might be hard to formalize) which always occurs given the development of the brain. In principle, I suppose, we could isolate babies and show them a lot of videos or holograms inconsistent with object permanence.

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-10T21:03:10.114Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know I have actually not read that in Christian apologetics. I believe its there but in the context of this article it came out of discussion with Gleb.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-11T01:24:05.051Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That? I don't know what you're referring to.

I'll assume the quote I included.

It's part of popular christian apologetics here in the US.

For example, if you watch the Hitchens vs. Theist debates for Hitchens' book tour of 'God is not Great', one of the standard theistic moves was "you start from faith in your unjustified foundations, and we start from ours". Douglas Wilson was a good example of that.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T00:40:43.595Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Religious folks start from sensory experience as well, but they start rationalizing rationalizing from concepts of the divine

Not sure what you meant by the italicized rationalizing and repeating it there, can you expand on that?

Having said that, in my experience Christians are more rational than most where their "concepts of the divine" do not intrude, and this fellow is doing "God's work" in trying to bring a conscious commitment to rationality to Christians.

Yup, this is one of the reasons I'm glad Caleb is participating in Intentional Insights - he's a great bridge across the secular-religious divide in bringing rationality to Christians.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-10T02:06:52.293Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure what you meant by the italicized rationalizing and repeating it there

Repeating was a typo, and rationalizing wasn't the best term to use. I didn't know what I meant. I was being snarky and not thinking too hard. I'll try again.

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-10T21:02:01.440Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Finally got a chance to start an account. Sorry for the delay. I've enjoyed reading the comments and there are some very good point raised. I realize now that trust in sensory experience was not the strongest argument. What I was hoping for with it was to show an example of faith that secular people can relate to. It does not seem like it landed so I may have to keep thinking about what those might be. Realizing that there is not going to be anything directly analogous to religious faith. I wonder if something like "faith in the scientific method to help understand the world" might better illustrate the point I was going for?

comment by goose000 · 2016-02-11T06:42:26.038Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

C.S. Lewis addressed the issue of faith in Mere Christianity as follows:

In one sense Faith means simply Belief—accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people—at least it used to puzzle me—is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue, I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue—what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then— and a good many people do not see still—was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other. When you think of it you will see lots of instances of this. A man knows, on perfectly good evidence, that a pretty girl of his acquaintance is a liar and cannot keep a secret and ought not to be trusted; but when he finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge and he starts thinking, “Perhaps she’ll be different this time,” and once more makes a fool of himself and tells her something he ought not to have told her. His senses and emotions have destroyed his faith in what he really knows to be true. Or take a boy learning to swim. His reason knows perfectly well that an unsupported human body will not necessarily sink in water: he has seen dozens of people float and swim. But the whole question is whether he will be able to go on believing this when the instructor takes away his hand and leaves him unsupported in the water—or whether he will suddenly cease to believe it and get in a fright and go down. Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

Although many religious people use the word differently, this is how I use Faith, and I propose that it would be an acceptable one to facilitate this discussion: a determination to hold on to what you have already established a high confidence level in, despite signals you may have received from less rational sources (i.e. emotions).

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-12T14:23:44.017Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly the CSL definition is I think one of the best for faith. I think though that the lived definition of faith is as trust in God. Because most Christians, me included, would not say that hey believe in God without any evidence at all. The evidence is experiential, feeling forgiven, feeling loved, or some other deeply personal moment. Those moments may not be proof that you can take to a wider society or really anyone who has not had them but they are very real to those who experience them.

comment by RainbowSpacedancer · 2016-02-12T05:42:15.110Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

So Bayes update on intellectual arguments, but not on your emotions when you consider them likely to change in the immediate future? That seems like a good virtue if one desires accurate beliefs.

comment by gjm · 2016-02-12T10:10:01.835Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is, and I think "faith" in this sense is indeed an intellectual virtue. But it seems to me that

  • many, many uses of the word "faith" by believers are describing something quite different and are in fact endorsing belief in the absence of evidence or in the teeth of contrary evidence;
  • even when the meaning is broadly in line with CSL's here, most applications of it refer not to holding on to belief merely "in spite of your changing moods" but advocate much firmer persistence than that. A Christian who after lengthy consideration is beginning to think that the problem of evil is insoluble is likely to be enjoined to exercise "faith".

The second of those is not necessarily unreasonable. E.g., if you know you are about to talk to someone supernaturally persuasive, able to come up with extremely convincing arguments for any position true or false, you might do well to precommit to not being moved by whatever arguments they might offer you. Christians might suggest (indeed, in another place Lewis does suggest) that the influence of the devil is like that. But the possibilities for abuse are very obvious.

[EDITED to add: I see that at least two people have downvoted this. Rereading it, it still looks perfectly reasonable to me. I don't suppose anyone who dislikes it would do me the favour of saying why?]

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2016-02-11T06:02:37.451Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It may help to point out which conception of faith you have in mind. For example:

  • faith as a feeling of existential confidence
  • faith as knowledge of specific truths, revealed by God
  • faith as belief that God exists
  • faith as belief in (trust in) God
  • faith as practical commitment beyond the evidence to one's belief that God exists
  • faith as practical commitment without belief
  • faith as hoping—or acting in the hope that—the God who saves exists
  • etc...
comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-12T04:38:57.771Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

faith as belief in (trust in) God

I think that's the strongest move. Faith as allegiance, trust, submission, etc.

There has always been a fundamental equivocation in "Faith in God", which most atheists mistake only as "Belief that some being exists", and not "choose to trust and obey God".

When you combine that with our notion of instrumental rationality and rationality as winning, you have a clear path to the rationality of faith in God:
Choosing to trust in God and submit to God leads to winning.

I recall a Christian gal I knew in high school saying "I just concluded that I would have a happier life if I believed in God." At the time, that struck me as blasphemous. I was appalled. You believe it without regard to correspondence to reality? Self willed delusion? But once one no longer makes a fetish of epsitemic truth, it's perfectly sensible.

comment by gjm · 2016-02-12T09:47:03.402Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

you have a clear path to the rationality of faith in God: Choosing to trust in God and submit to God leads to winning.

Do you in fact believe that to be true? (For the avoidance of doubt, I mean: do you believe that it corresponds to reality?)

once one no longer makes a fetish of epistemic truth

The word "fetish" has a value judgement built in (e.g., the relevant definition in the OED is "something irrationally reverenced"), and I don't see any reason to agree with that value judgement. If we rewrite your statement without that inbuilt sneering, here's what we get.

[...] You believe it without regard to correspondence to reality? [...] But once one stops caring about whether one's beliefs correspond to reality, it's perfectly sensible.

And, yeah, if you don't care whether your beliefs correspond to reality then you won't be bothered by someone else not caring whether their beliefs correspond to reality, and that may be convenient sometimes. But on the whole I am inclined to agree with Eliezer that "not making a fetish of epistemic truth" is a bad strategy overall.

Also, if it becomes known that to you truth is only a matter of strategy, no one is ever going to trust anything you say ever again. I asked you a question above, but no matter what answer you give I am going to harbour a suspicion that the question you're really answering is more like "which answer will produce results I like better?".

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-02-12T16:32:35.265Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is entirely fair to the point buybuydandavis was making. By "making a fetish of epistemic truth," I don't think he meant not caring about truth at all, but not putting it above everything else. In reality, everyone cares about truth, but they also care about other things. And that means that our actions are going to be affected by our concern about truth, but they will also be affected by our concerns about other things.

This includes actions like making statements. And no one is exempt from this, because everyone cares about more than one thing. If someone says they care only about truth and nothing else, it is untrue, and in fact is an example of its own untruth, because the person who makes this untrue claim must be motivated by something other than truth in making the claim.

I care a lot about truth, and more than most people do, as far as I can see. But that does not mean that I don't care about other things. I do, and those other motives can and do affect my statements and beliefs, even if I try to minimize those effects. Certainly I would be unwilling to adopt a false worldview for the sake of other motives. But if someone else cares a bit less about truth than I do, and a bit more about other things, and consequently accept a false worldview for the sake of those other things, I am not horrified by that, even if I would be unwilling to do it myself. In that sense I find the statement by buybuydandavis's friend understandable.

In a similar way, "truth is only a matter of strategy" is probably not entirely true of anyone. But everyone is going to have their statements affected by their other motives to some degree, and in that sense I am suspicious of everyone's statements, including my own, much in the way you say here.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-13T00:04:46.279Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By "making a fetish of epistemic truth," I don't think he meant not caring about truth at all, but not putting it above everything else.

Winner.

comment by gjm · 2016-02-12T20:30:29.466Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think he meant not caring about truth at all

Sure. Neither, in fact, do I. But let's be clear: the question was never just "should we care about truth more than everything else?" but "should we care about truth more than anything else when deciding what to believe?" and I think answering no is much more reasonable in the first case than the second. Prioritizing truth when deciding what to believe is no more "fetishizing" than prioritizing minimal aberration when having eyeglasses made, or prioritizing drinkability when arranging your town's water supply. You may pay some attention to price or aesthetics, but you'd generally be crazy to get lenses that don't actually do a reasonable job of correcting your vision or drinking water that will poison you.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-13T00:06:37.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I consider prioritizing truth over winning as fetishiizing truth.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-12T05:08:19.027Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Choosing to trust in God and submit to God leads to winning.

Sometimes.

And sometimes you pick the wrong god.

And sometimes you get burned at the stake as a heretic, anyway.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-12T06:02:55.942Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By "path to the rationality of faith in God", I meant "an argument you can make for the rationality of faith in God".

I'm not saying that's a slam dunk or anything, but I can see a plausible argument for it.

Yes, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. A convincing argument would not require a guaranteed road to winning.

comment by bogus · 2016-02-12T07:02:38.841Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Instances where you 'trust and obey' something without regard to its epistemic truth but seeking something else out of that 'trust' or 'faith' should arguably be regarded as aliefs, not beliefs. So is it rational to alieve in a god? Well, the answer will probably depend on what your goals are and what god, or gods, you're alieving in at any given moment. If you're part of a group of warriors trying to enter some kind of collective berserker-like frenzy, it may be rational to alieve in a warlike deity like Mars, Thor or (at some level, at least) the Abrahamic god/Yahweh. But maybe you have other goals, and you'd do best by placing your faith in an entirely different deity.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-02-10T21:48:08.121Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I was hoping for with it was to show an example of faith that secular people can relate to.

While I believe "faith" as a concept is insufficiently defined, I suspect its definition would have to be expanded too much for it to occupy some of the space of secular epistemology.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T21:15:15.717Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No worries, delays happen!

Regarding secular experiences relating to religion, you might want to check out the discussion here about the article written in response to yours. Might pick up some good ideas there for relevant points to make.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-02-10T01:12:32.161Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

rationality is useful for a religious person

This changes the entire color of your text. It makes it sound like its intended audience is believers, not seculars.

Secular people start with the faith that they can trust their sensory experience.

There are two main problems with that statement. First, the secular view has no place for the category of "faith." It's just not a concept we use. It's seriously inaccurate to call our reliance on sensory experience "faith." Second, everyone starts from sensory experience, including religious people. All your conceptions of the divine were learned via some sensation (reading, conversation, etc.).

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-10T20:53:27.997Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article is aimed at both. Yes, it is probably more aimed at believers because as a minister that the audience most receptive to me. For believers I hope to show that rationality is not always antithetical to religious practice. For secular people I hope to show that there are things in common between the religious and the secular. We dont have to always be at odds. Your right and others who have pointed it out are right that we all start with sensory experience.. It would be interesting to discuss where sensory experience begins to lead religious people to faith.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-12T05:07:35.418Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's fine to call it faith in sensory experience - I choose to use it as data.

The second is the stronger argument, IMO.

Actually, if the Rev made that argument to religious people, that would be a strong argument in favor of basic empiricism. You only get to God through empiricism.

Though that's probably a better argument for a Deist than a Methodist.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-02-12T13:41:02.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's fine to call it faith in sensory experience - I choose to use it as data.

What else could you ever possibly use as data?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-14T23:18:10.957Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things you imagine. Things you reasoned "a priori".

comment by Vaniver · 2016-02-10T01:56:45.174Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All your conceptions of the divine were learned via some sensation (reading, conversation, etc.).

I think the underlying assumption--that internal experiences are also 'sensory' in some sense--is a better place to start here, because discussing that clearly requires a non-unitary view of the mind. A mind could start out believing in the divine for only internal reasons, and so we would like to have a viewpoint that can see which pieces cause and propagate that belief.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-02-10T14:58:44.235Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A mind could start out believing in the divine for only internal reasons

Covered before. Beliefs don't pop up spontaneously in the mind without some external origin.

comment by Vaniver · 2016-02-10T17:07:35.034Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Beliefs don't pop up spontaneously in the mind without some external origin.

As a question of neuroscience, I'm not sure this is actually true. If people can be more easily conditioned to be afraid of snakes than cars, is the implied underlying belief that snakes are scary of external or internal origin?

(If one says 'external, because it's genetic,' well, the whole brain is genetic in the same sense. If one says internal, what difference between a predisposition to believe snakes are scary and a predisposition to believe the divine exists?)

I agree with you about the dynamics of correct thought; I don't agree that this is necessarily how actual minds work by default.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-02-10T18:32:22.540Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Humans are genetically hardwired to be afraid of snakes, but the programmed part of this trait involves automatic response behaviors; it doesn't always have to translate into a conscious belief.

Believing in the divine is an extension of the pattern-recognition and agency-detection skills. Those are innate traits, but the kind of phenomena that elicit such a conclusion are in the physical world.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-09T20:45:08.647Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This piece seems to be aimed at religious people and tries to persuade them that "rationality" is not a swear word.

Why is it here?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-09T20:56:36.507Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I explained that above the piece itself - Caleb Pitkin is the only Minister who is also an aspiring rationalist, and I thought LWs would find his perspective enlightening.

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-10T20:40:41.744Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I dont think I'm the only one. I just think I'm the only one to get mixed up in the rationality community. Thanks to Gleb and Columbus rationality. Most mainline protestant ministers are well educated and many are deeply engage with the practice of critical thinking

comment by Brillyant · 2016-02-11T16:27:05.717Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most mainline protestant ministers are well educated

What do you mean by "well educated"? What do you mean by "most"?

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-12T14:31:19.259Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean that for the main line denominations i.e. Methodists, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic and a good amount of Baptists to be a fully ordained minster you have to have an undergraduate degree then do Master of Divinity program. So, I think most mainline denominational minsters have been to college and even graduate school. Anyone can call themselves a Pastor and set up church so maybe the majority of Pastors in America are not well educated but large mainline denominations have educated clergy.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T20:50:56.775Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caleb, by aspiring rationalist I mean one who is engaged in the rationality community, it's a LW jargon term :-)

comment by Val · 2016-02-10T20:48:57.745Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the objectives of LW is to fight against biases. I've seen several comments on this site in previous topics, which paint an almost strawman-like image of religious people (especially Christians - probably as they are the largest group in the countries where most LW readers live), and a strong disbelief against the possibility of faith and rationality co-existing. Therefore an article or a discussion about the compatibility of religion and rationalism might have its merits here.

comment by JohnC2015_duplicate0.34499772964045405 · 2016-04-18T04:04:35.993Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, being religious and at the same time rational is really hard to merge. However, I totally agree with you when you say - rationality can be useful for a religious person is in the living of our daily lives. :)

Making a "good" decision is different from making the "right" decision, but these 2 can be achieved in one decision making.

This article says it all! A very good read! Thanks!

comment by Val · 2016-02-10T21:11:30.163Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When the topic of religion and rationality comes up, I think the classification atheist / theist might be a very flawed one in this topic. I propose a different classification:

Let's consider group A to be people who are curious about whether there is much more to our world than what we can perceive with our organs and our instruments. They ask themselves whether there might be some higher meaning in this world, whether we are really just looking at shadows cast onto the wall in a cave, thinking that that's our entire universe, while there might be something much more out there, something we can't even imagine. And these people search for ways to experience this feeling, they seek to understand the concept most people call "God". Some of them find it, and become theists. Some people don't find it, or assign a different concept to it, or find other goals which they perceive to be more fulfilling, and become atheists/nontheists. But both of these know what they were searching for and don't condemn those who reached a different conclusion.

Let's consider group B to be people who wish to feel that they are better than other people, or at least that there are plenty of people who are worse then them. They want to belong to a group, to a community, where they are respected because they have similar opinions as others in the group. Another major motivation for joining that group is that they can now feel themselves to be superior to people outside of this group. To this group belong those atheists, whose main motivation for being an atheist is that they can feel themselves superior to people who they consider stupid, and also to this group belong those religious, whose main motivation for being religious is that they can feel themselves superior to people who they consider immoral.

I think the difference between the groups A and B are much bigger than the difference between atheists in A and theists in A, or between atheists in B and theists in B.

I admit that I'm basing these observations on my personal experiences, but as I'm eager to explore different communities with very varying value systems, I had the opportunity of meeting many people from all 4 groups of the above classification.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T21:30:49.979Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would add group C: people who do not make a personal choice, but rather just become whatever the social circle around them (which can be defined more narrowly or more widely) expects them to be. They just say whatevs... and take the default offering.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-12T04:03:57.337Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For many people, the Truth is what is socially useful.

And though I find it revolting, I have a hard time saying they're wrong. Well being for a member of a social species is largely determined by social status and allegiances.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-12T05:06:44.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a hard time saying they're wrong

Wrongness, of course, depends on what you're optimizing for.

If you really really want to be a bona fide member of your tribe, well, then you live by your tribe's fate and you die by your tribe's fate.

Some people would call you loyal. Other people would call you a sheep.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-12T06:05:15.312Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people would call you loyal. Other people would call you a sheep.

And some would call you wise in the ways of winning.

comment by Val · 2016-02-10T22:44:12.840Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, but my point was not a comprehensive segmentation of the whole population, but the existence of the groups I mentioned. Also, the border between B and C might be blurry.

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-10T21:17:42.891Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with this assessment. I often think of it using the language of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is at its core the belief that I arrived at the only/best/real answer and that anyone who didn't is either dumb or bad. It leads to disrespect of other groups and an unwillingness to see any sort of common ground. In my opinion both theist and atheist groups can produce that sort of fundamentalists. Though religion produces many more. Let's hope more people will join group A.

comment by Brillyant · 2016-02-12T17:02:57.703Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fundamentalism is at its core the belief that I arrived at the only/best/real answer and that anyone who didn't is either dumb or bad.

Doesn't this pretty well summarize traditional Christianity?

Jesus is The Way, The Truth, The Life; the only way to the Father/salvation. Those who deny this are considered "lost", "unsaved", "evil" by their nature, and literally condemned for all of eternity.

There is a noticeable recent softening of the fire and brimstone bits of Christianity. But it seems to me this is mostly just a PR move.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-02-10T04:46:15.632Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Marketing rationalism

Truth seeking as an optimization process

you're welcome

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-10T00:36:22.752Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caleb does not have enough karma to post, so I am posting it on his behalf, but he will engage with the comments.

Well let's get Caleb some points then.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-12T03:58:04.006Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People downvoting that? Really?

So what? Let's not talk to a Christian rationalist? Christians are too icky for you?

comment by gjm · 2016-02-12T10:12:39.567Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are other possibilities. E.g., "If Caleb wants to post things here, let him earn his own karma" doesn't seem an altogether unreasonable position.

(I did not downvote the comment.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-13T00:17:53.385Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Grown up actually reported to be doing things for rationality in Christian communities wants to post and discuss here. Can't post because he doesn't have karma points.

Particularly with all the hand wringing about lack of content and activity at LW, little is served by delaying his posts.

Not altogether unreasonable either, eh?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-11T19:14:08.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looks like that's happening now

comment by OrphanWilde · 2016-02-09T20:53:31.035Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like this one, for a change. I'm uncertain LW is the place for it, except insofar as it might be a useful starting point.

You could allocate more space to talking about historic rationalist figures in the church, I think, as examples to live up to; some suitable imagery about leading the world into the light might work.

comment by RevPitkin · 2016-02-10T20:46:50.898Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Augustine would be an interesting candidate. John Wesley from my own denomination. Many of the early church theologians. We live with a fairly well developed system of theology and Christian belief . However, the early church had to define and articulate the faith. For this they used the methods of logical inquiry available to them based on the idea that theology had to be understandable and had to be internally consistent. So many of them used tools of logical and reason to examine the Christian faith. Were many of them rationalist in the modern sense, no but were they in their time and place yes.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-02-10T04:46:30.890Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

'reverend bayes'

comment by gjm · 2016-02-10T08:37:00.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He proved a theorem that LW-style rationalists are (rightly) fond of. That's not particularly the same as being a rationalist in any useful sense.

But if you are going to use him, note that "Reverend" is supposed to accompany a person's full name, not just their surname. You don't say "Reverend Bayes" or even "the Reverend Bayes"; you say "the Reverend Thomas Bayes" or "Reverend T Bayes". (I think "Reverend Thomas" is more acceptable than "Reverend Bayes".

Also, when you write "Reverend" seven times in one short paragraph, it starts to look really odd :-).

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T00:41:28.513Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, nice idea! I'll see how Caleb feels about it for future articles.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T01:57:19.060Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does Caleb have a LessWrong account?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T02:32:17.845Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He's getting one to engage with the comments here.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T02:35:32.938Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So when you said "Caleb does not have enough karma to post, so I am posting it on his behalf", that wasn't exactly true, was it?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T03:38:55.423Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How was it not true? He indeed did not have enough karma to post.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T03:42:26.812Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because he didn't have an account to start with?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T05:34:49.039Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if he didn't have an account, he therefore did not have enough karma to post, so the statement is true :-)

But regardless, he got an account just for engaging with the comments on his article, but couldn't post the article from his own account because he didn't have enough karma.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T06:07:13.693Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if he didn't have an account, he therefore did not have enough karma to post, so the statement is true :-)

Right, and I didn't go to the World Economic Forum in Davos because I was otherwise occupied.

A piece of advice: try to avoid small lies said for no good reason.

comment by pragmatist · 2016-02-12T06:39:41.109Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that your objection here is driven mainly by a general dislike of Gleb's contributions (and perhaps his presence on LW), rather than a sincere conviction about the importance of your point. I mean, this is a ridiculous nitpick, and the hostility of your call-out is completely disproportionate to the severity of Gleb's supposed infraction.

While Gleb's aside might be a "lie" by some technical definition, it certainly doesn't match the usual connotations of the term. I see virtually zero harm in the kind of "lie" you're focusing on here, so I'm not sure about the value of your piece of advice, other than signalling your aversion towards Gleb.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-18T18:52:43.690Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

this is a ridiculous nitpick

No, I do not believe so.

I see virtually zero harm in the kind of "lie"

And I do not agree with this either.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-02-12T17:23:17.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree that there is zero harm in statements like the one in question. "Small lies said for no good reason", when they are noticed, cause suspicion about a person's motives. And if a number of LWers are already suspicious of Gleb's motives in general, such behavior is bound to worsen their suspicions.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T15:39:56.123Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

avoid small lies said for no good reason

I'd appreciate if you avoid calling me a liar. He would have posted the article from his own account of he had enough karma, but since he just got an account, he could not post it. What's wrong with this statement? It seems like you're really trying to read everything I said here in the worst possible light, Lumifer. Please be more rational than that. This is so not worth it, and unlike you.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T16:35:44.138Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd appreciate if you avoid calling me a liar.

Then you should avoid telling lies.

OrphanWilde a while ago gave you a useful piece of advice: learn to shut up. Evidently, it didn't take.

LessWrong does not have a habit of re-posting blog entries by people who are not on LW. The usual way in such cases is to just provide a link -- or, if the person wants to actually make the post, he comes to LW, makes an account, and then asks for enough karma to make the post. This system works quite well.

You didn't like this approach because you wanted more than just a link, you want to copy-paste the entire text and, evidently, Caleb couldn't be bothered to come here, make an account, and ask for karma. So you did your copypasta, but you knew that this wasn't in line with LW customs. So you lied -- you inserted a sentence that, in your mind, was a minor useful little white lie -- you said that it's you who's posting and not Caleb because Caleb doesn't have enough karma.

This was a lie because it was intentionally designed to mislead. The problem wasn't the Caleb did not have enough karma as a newbie. The problem was that Caleb didn't have an LW account at all. You knew that LW doesn't like copy-pasted third-party posts -- that's why you bothered to attempt to create the impression that Caleb is an LW member and merely lacks karma for a post.

And it might well have worked, except that a bit later you mentioned that Caleb will be making an account to answer questions and at that point the inconsistency became rather obvious. Little lies do trip people on little details, you know.

It seems like you're really trying to read everything I said here in the worst possible light, Lumifer.

Not necessarily. You post mostly dreck, so I react to it appropriately. If you were to post interesting texts looking like they were written by a human instead of a HuffPo bot, I would also react appropriately. In this case, however, it was just a simple matter of disliking petty gratuitous lies. I think that providing disincentives for those on LW is a rational move :-P

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T18:18:32.158Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never claimed that Caleb is an LW member, Lumifer. Stating that Caleb doesn't have enough karma to post was a shorter way of saying that "Caleb does not currently have an LW account, but he wants to discuss the post on LW. Therefore, he got a new account. A new account doesn't have enough karma to post, so therefore I am posting it on his behalf." Why waste people's time with those whole three sentences when I can just have a brief clause in a sentence? The fuller explanation does not carry any more benefit than the brief one, in my perception. Besides, others posted stuff on behalf of people without enough karma plenty of times, for instance here.

So please don't go accusing me of everything negative under the sun because you don't like my writing. Thanks!

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-02-10T19:13:55.883Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People normally interpret other people's statements according to the context implied. So for example, if I said, "So how come you haven't given yourself up for committing serial murder?", people would assume that I think you are a serial murderer, and they might even describe this by saying that I said you were, even though I would not have said that in a technical sense.

In the same way, "Caleb doesn't have enough karma," implies the context that he has a Less Wrong account with insufficient karma, and it would be normal to say that you said this, as Lumifer is doing, even if you did not do so in a technical sense. It was in fact quite unnecessary to do this, nor was it necessary to use three sentences. You could have simply said, "Caleb doesn't have a Less Wrong account yet."

That said, since he does not appear to have shown up in the comments yet, I rather suspect that you might be the motivating force here and that really he is not all that interested in posting on Less Wrong.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T20:53:38.312Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In saying "doesn't have enough karma," I was pointing to the obstacle to him posting. It's easy to get a LW account - takes one minute - but it's not easy to get karma sufficient to post.

I think you might have missed his comments, his LW name is RevPitkin.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T19:05:32.762Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never claimed...

As I said, "intentionally designed to mislead".

""Caleb does not currently have an LW account, but he wants to discuss the post on LW. Therefore, he got a new account."

LOL. You're tripping up on tenses. If Caleb "does not currently have" (present tense), he could not have "got" (past tense). He only could "be getting" (present continuous) or "will get" (future).

others posted stuff on behalf of people

I notice that the post in the thread your link leads to says "This post was collaboratively written together with..."

Sure you don't want to reconsider taking OrphanWilde's advice?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T20:54:17.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In saying "doesn't have enough karma," I was pointing to the obstacle to him posting. It's easy to get a LW account - takes one minute - but it's not easy to get karma sufficient to post. Anyway, I don't think this thread is helpful to continue anymore.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-10T21:10:23.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's easy to get a LW account - takes one minute - but it's not easy to get karma sufficient to post.

It is trivially easy. You put up a comment saying "I wish to make a post about this-and-that, but lack karma. I would appreciate gifts of karma so that I could post" and lo and behold! in a few hours at most you have sufficient karma to post.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-10T21:19:30.322Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much would a user have to know about LW to think to do that? Heck, even I didn't think of suggesting to Caleb to do that, as that notion didn't occur to me. You're failing at other minds.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-11T01:38:17.638Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much would a user have to know about LW to think to do that?

I've seen it happen, and more than once, too. I think all you have to know is that you need a particular quantity of internet points and that people can give them to you for free. You just ask.

You're failing at other minds.

I will concede that my expectations of certain LW users might have been too high :-P

comment by Elo · 2016-02-10T22:54:07.652Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're failing at other minds.

comment by Sarginlove · 2016-04-19T13:21:39.858Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's great! I have always wanted to solve my problems my own self, with this post am now able to understand how to become rational eliminating those thinking errors and also being able to understand my problems and solving it without any religious belief or intervention. Really a nice post.

comment by Furcas · 2016-02-09T20:15:45.510Z · score: -2 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seriously?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-09T20:31:34.309Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seriously!

comment by avwenceslao · 2016-04-19T03:58:53.097Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the great work.