Jesus Made Me Rational (An Introduction)

post by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T05:09:43.649Z · score: -14 (10 votes) · LW · GW · 56 comments

Writer's note: what follows is a descriptive narrative of my epistemology not a statement of universal fact (though some facts are contained therein).

In the beginning was Rationality, and Rationality was with God, and Rationality was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

In a very new university (for all universities were new) as the 12th Century drew to a close a grand experiment was proposed: so grand that its conclusion may never be reached (though of course those proposing it made that fundamental error of optimism, believing it could be completed in their lifetimes), and the likes of which had never - indeed could never - have been attempted before.

For a little over one thousand years before someone had come into this world who changed our understanding of it forever. Instead of an irrational universe created and ruled over by fickle and oft-competing gods - where mathematics that held true in Egypt had no reason to be true in Greece - this person had said that not only was the universe created by rational laws but that he was rationality himself.

So in this (very new) university this group of men set this grand experiment in motion. If the universe was, as this person claimed, made by rationality then surely it ought to follow rational laws. And if, as this person claimed, rationality was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then these rational laws must be the same no matter who tests them, and no matter where that person is doing the testing. This grand experiment would be to test the rationality of the universe with the expectation that the universe would be the consistent, would be common, and would be rational.

In the century that was to follow the grand experiment would in turn motivate men like Thomas Aquinas who definitively showed that Aristotle was wrong - and if he could be wrong about one thing, why he might be wrong about many things.

This grand experiment would be tested time and time again over the millennium which was to follow. It would lead Nicole d'Oresme to liken the universe to a clock that had been made and set to run its own course. It would lead Rene Descartes in his quest for the laws of nature. It would cause Roger Bacon to create the scientific method to ensure the results of the experiment were valid. It would be the inspiration for the oft-misused William of Ockham to codify rational thought. It would be the foundation of Gregor Mendel's discovery of genetics.

Eventually it would cause philosopher-mathematician George Alfred Whitehead to declare in front of a crowd of unbelieving sceptics that faith in science was a derivative of medieval theology. And so this great experiment would end up impacting the life of a young man who had been raised a Christian and hated that he was incapable of disbelieving in Jesus no matter how much he tried.

This young man had already (though perhaps unknowingly) decided to dedicate his life to being as rational as he could be - and with all the presumption and thoughtless energy of youth proceeded to make as many unthinking, irrational decisions that his brain, drunk on self-importance as it was, was capable of making. That was until he started studying mathematics.

here ends the story.

Mathematics has changed my life. It is the reason that I have pursued rationality. And it is the reason that I no longer hate that I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but rather test the implications of it. HPMoR is the reason I have ended up at this particular site, but mathematics is the reason I read HPMoR in the first place.

Thank you for having me here. Sorry my introduction was so long. I didn't know quite how to write what I wanted to write, and I am not a good enough writer to do a series of posts on it. I look forward to becoming more rational by being here - even as I stand fully aware that my unshakeable belief is the definition of irrationality - it is, however, evidence of the truth of a prediction made nearly two thousand years before my birth. I would love you to ask me about that, but understand this website is not about religion.

56 comments

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comment by Bucky · 2018-11-22T22:10:16.922Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I'm glad you wrote it as openness seems like the first step to knowledge. On the other, I think you're dealing with your evidence wrongly.

To me it feels like you've been discovering something new (rationality) and found a way to fit it into your existing belief system. On the inside this feels like it confirms your belief system but from the outside it looks like privileging the hypothesis [LW · GW]. One of the main things I got from Thinking: Fast and Slow was that being able to tell ourselves a convincing story feels like we're discovering the truth but actually the convincing-ness of the story is orthogonal to truth.

If we grant that Christians invented science then maybe this can be counted as evidence for Christianity, but is it strong evidence? A rough estimate might be that 1/6 people who have ever lived were Christian so I don't think that it should be overly surprising that one of them was the inventor. I know this is a horrendous method for choosing a prior but it gives an indicator that evidence of what Christians have done in the past is unlikely to be strong evidence either way.

If you count this as evidence for Christianity then you need to count similar evidence too. Should the other historical figures before the 12th century who contributed to science and maths count as evidence that their beliefs are true? Compared to the number of Christians who have ever lived, the number of ancient Greeks who ever lived is tiny so it is incredible that they got as far as they did.

To someone looking in from the outside, claiming that Christianity is different because it gave a reason for believing the world would be consistent again seems like privileging the hypothesis. Those other ancient figures seemed to assume that the world would be consistent even without Christianity so even in your belief system there doesn't seem to be an a priori reason to believe that they couldn't have invented the scientific method.

It took 12 centuries after Christ to invent the scientific method so it would also seem to be true that believing in Christianity wasn't a massively strong driver towards inventing the scientific method.

***

To put my cards on the table, until a couple of years ago I was in a similar situation to you. I believed in Christianity and didn't expect ever to be dissuaded.

I'm not sure that I can pinpoint exactly what changed for me. One big part of it was the realisation that I didn't have to believe or not believe in Christianity - 0 and 1 are not probabilities [LW · GW]. What was more I realised I already didn't 100% believe in everything in Christianity - there were already plenty of things that I found incredibly confusing but kinda just accepted because they were part of a parcel of beliefs. I guess you might be similar but may have different issues - mine included the trinity, free will vs God's sovereignty, differences between new and old testaments, suffering, # of fertilised eggs which never even implant into the womb (I know, that one is probably fairly idiosyncratic).

When I allowed myself to see my belief in Christianity on a scale I was able to modify how much I believed it based on evidence I saw. Before that any new evidence was judged on whether it allowed me to believe Christianity rather than whether it encouraged me to believe. I should note that from a Christian point of view this seems to be a virtue not a vice - Christianity seems to imply that you should only believe in Christianity if it is true so looking accurately at the evidence should be encouraged.

Over a few months my belief slowly waned as more evidence came in. I think the tipping point for me was realising how badly designed human intelligence is. The likelihood of God inventing something so poor in absolute terms to be the pinnacle of his creation was enough to push me over the edge. Again, this is probably fairly idiosyncratic!

***

I'm not sure exactly what you were hoping for in response to your introduction but I hoped my experience might be interesting to you.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T23:50:40.558Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I'm not sure exactly what you were hoping for in response to your introduction but I hoped my experience might be interesting to you.

I wasn't hoping for anything. I had expectations that I had assigned prior probabilities to, and could have happily continued on reading without ever mentioning anything of my epistemology. To my mind that was not the rational approach - and the guidelines that are offered are to lay your underlying assumptions bare for discussion so that people can avoid straw-manning one another. This is what I have done.

There is too much else in your comment to dissect each part, and I can't deal with it fairly without dealing with all of it. I do appreciate your experience, and your frankness with me regarding it. It is not my experience though and you have misrepresented me in your mental model here:

To me it feels like you've been discovering something new (rationality) and found a way to fit it into your existing belief system.

We must be wary of what things feel like to us. Toward the end of the story section I wrote that I was doing my best to not believe - and pursued mathematics, rationality, and science toward those ends.

Thank you again for your response.

comment by Bucky · 2018-11-23T08:57:23.578Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'll rephrase:

It sounds like you've discovered something new (rationality) and it has dissolved your previously felt cognitive dissonance regarding your belief. The dissolving of cognitive dissonance feels like it is confirming the side that you end up on, even though the actual evidence is sketchy at best.

***

Corrections to my previous comments:

1. Where I said:

method for choosing a prior

I should have said "method for calculating a likelihood"

2. I talk about my belief in Christianity being on a scale but this is unhelpful because of the issues discussed in No, really, I've deceived myself [LW · GW]. I should have talked about "How likely I though it was that Christianity was true" being measured on a scale. This sounds the same but means I actually assessed the truth of the statement, not just my level of belief.

comment by Benquo · 2018-11-22T14:25:27.787Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It makes me sad to keep reading this kind of history propaganda.

Ancient Israelite monotheism substantially predates Christianity, contrary to the narrative in this post. The story of Elijah and the priests of Baal (in which a public experiment is used to falsify one of two mutually exclusive models, implying consistency as the first criterion for truth and correspondence with evidence as the second) was written, at the latest, several centuries before the time in which the Jesus story is set.

Aristotle used empirical evidence to inform his models, believed in determining which model was true by looking when possible (e.g. he thought you could tell that the Earth is globular because of the shadow it casts on the moon), and did extensive fieldwork in biology.

comment by waveman · 2018-11-23T00:55:54.672Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
It makes me sad to keep reading this kind of history propaganda.

Motivated reasoning is so obvious and blatant when it concerns beliefs we don't share ourselves. The OP is almost embarrassing.

Our own motivated reasoning is harder to notice. That is the hard thing.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-23T03:03:12.804Z · score: -1 (4 votes) · LW · GW
Motivated reasoning is so obvious and blatant when it concerns beliefs we don't share ourselves.

Isn't it just. If only the OP had prefaced everything with some kind of comment acknowledging that.

what follows is a descriptive narrative of my epistemology not a statement of universal fact (though some facts are contained therein).
comment by waveman · 2018-12-11T02:42:30.568Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW
not a statement of universal fact

I have seen a lot of these generalized disclaimers. They don't mean much. What is more important is the hard work of closely examining every assumption and every logical step.

It reminds me somehow of the way many Christians talk a lot about humility but in practice are extremely arrogant towards non-believers. I am not specifically thinking of you in this paragraph.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-12-13T22:59:05.605Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
what is more important is the hard work of closely examining every assumption and every logical step.

I agree. This was merely an introduction.

It reminds me somehow of the way many Christians talk a lot about humility but in practice are extremely arrogant towards non-believers.

I would assign a fairly high probability that this is more annoying to me than to you.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T19:00:28.901Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Aristotle used empirical evidence to inform his models

Aristotle claimed heavy objects fell to the ground because they loved the noble positions and wanted to be close to it. He also said that heavy objects would fall faster.

The story of Elijah and the priests of Baal (in which a public experiment is used to falsify one of two mutually exclusive models, implying consistency as the first criterion for truth and correspondence with evidence as the second)

Are you claiming that the God of Elijah is different to Christ?

comment by Benquo · 2018-11-23T06:41:46.095Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Aristotle claimed heavy objects fell to the ground because they loved the noble positions and wanted to be close to it. He also said that heavy objects would fall faster.

This doesn't really sound like Aristotle to me, I suspect it sounds a bit different in context - do you remember where he says this?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-23T08:13:50.833Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
do you remember where he says this?

In Physica - I have missed a part there which I apologise for. Only objects which are made of earth fall toward the noble position of earth - as is their want to be with their own in their own noble position. Things made of air will seek out the heavens (which is why smoke rises), things made of water will seek out water (which is why rivers flow into the sea), and things made of fire will seek out fire. For Aristotle, heavy objects contained more of the element earth - so naturally they moved quickest to reach their natural position.

It's from his argument of natural motions.

comment by Benquo · 2018-11-23T13:40:02.548Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why doesn’t this seem to you like a model grounded in empirical evidence?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-24T12:24:51.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Why doesn’t this seem to you like a model grounded in empirical evidence?

Aristotle never tested it - never even wrote of the possibility of testing the model. Post-hoc reasoning is not science. It's inventing plausible (to the time) sounding explanations for observations, and then just leaving it at that.

Which is why Aristotle (or any Aristotlean naturalist) never climbed up a cliff and dropped two balls - one made of lead the other of wood.

comment by Benquo · 2018-11-23T05:49:28.908Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was responding to:

For a little over one thousand years before someone had come into this world who changed our understanding of it forever. Instead of an irrational universe created and ruled over by fickle and oft-competing gods—where mathematics that held true in Egypt had no reason to be true in Greece—this person had said that not only was the universe created by rational laws but that he was rationality himself.

The story of Elijah predates this.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-23T06:04:32.272Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you explain how the story of Elijah widely changed the entire philosophical culture of the world into which it occurred, resulting in an evidence and testing based approach to natural philosophy?

If my memory serves - and I admit it may not, and I have not looked this up, the Israelites returned to the worship of Baal and the Canaanite gods soon thereafter.

comment by Benquo · 2018-11-23T06:38:10.507Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not saying that the story of Elijah effected that change on its own. I'm citing it as evidence against the claim that Jesus caused an unique transition from a world with no such tradition to a world dominated by it. Instead, there were long-established monist narratives, some of which grew in influence over time, some of which (including the one that recorded the Elijah story) strongly influenced the development of Christianity.

I've been careful to refer to the time of the recording of the Elijah story (most likely around the reign of king Josiah) rather than the time it is supposed to have occurred, since there's clearer evidence for the former, so it's not very helpful to respond as though I meant the latter.

comment by beriukay · 2018-11-22T06:04:42.329Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In case you care about editing/publishing, a couple spelling corrections:

"If the universe was, **at** this person claimed, made by rationality", probably should be "as".

"Thomas Acquinas" should be "Aquinas".

Now for an actual comment: how unshakeable are we talking here? Are you saying that you don't believe there is any amount of evidence that can sway you? Or just that you are extremely confident in the truth claims of your religious belief, and wish to test that confidence with a vigorous battery of discussion?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T06:48:08.268Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the corrections. They have been made.

Are you saying that you don't believe there is any amount of evidence that can sway you?

I do not believe that there is any amount of evidence that can sway me regarding the godhood and resurrection of Jesus Christ, no. It is completely and utterly irrational - yet as deeply held has the belief that "I exist" - and I don't believe that there is any amount of evidence that can sway me on that one either.

Of course there is the ultimate test of both - so I suppose that in that case it would be convincing for the negative but if negative there would be no one left to convince.

Or just that you are extremely confident in the truth claims of your religious belief, and wish to test that confidence with a vigorous battery of discussion?

I consider the dichotomy to be false. While my belief is - at least I believe - unavoidable and absolute, I still wish to test that confidence with a vigorous battery of rational discussion. That key term is the difficulty of course, since my belief that rationality exists is a belief in the godhood and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The latter is my first principals for the former.

comment by shminux · 2018-11-22T07:22:32.105Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A standard Eliezer question: can you imagine the universe exactly the same in all observable aspects, but without anything divine in it? If not, where does your imagination fail? If yes, why do you need an extra entity?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T07:47:53.437Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
A standard Eliezer question: can you imagine the universe exactly the same in all observable aspects, but without anything divine in it? If not, where does your imagination fail?

I have clicked "reply" straight away, but let me ponder the question for five minutes by the clock first.

You question is inherently flawed. It is not a failure of imagination but rather a requirement of imagination that keeps me from imagining the universe exactly the same in all observable aspects, but without anything divine in it.

Are you familiar with Aquinas' five proofs, or Descartes ontological argument?

where does your imagination fail?

I have an answer for this one, but I don't know how to phrase it as an answer. So I beg your indulgence to allow me to pose it as a question to you.

Can you imagine a universe exactly the same in all observable aspects, but in which you do not exist?

That is a universe which:

  • Obeys consistent, rational laws
  • Is internally consistent with itself
  • Has you in it
  • In which you do not exist.

I suppose my imagination fails on imagining an internally consistent universe that is not internally consistent.

comment by shminux · 2018-11-22T15:23:19.404Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Funny how we find all kinds of ways to avoid facing uncomfortable questions head on!

Let's try it differently. I assume you have noticed having been wrong before at times, about this or that. So, imagine two nearly identical worlds: one where you are right about your faith, and one where you are mistaken. There is no issue with internal consistency in either of those, since the difference is your mental processes, and we know that human mental processes are not very unreliable. Notice which of those worlds you instantly flinch away from. Noticed? That is motivated cognition at work. And motivated cognition is a telltale sign of failing in rational thinking.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T19:06:41.133Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Funny how we find all kinds of ways to avoid facing uncomfortable questions head on!

Is this prescriptive or descriptive? I did eventually make my way to answer your question head on. You asked me where does your imagination fail and my answer is that my imagination fails on imagining and internally consistent universe that is not internally consistent.

Notice which of those worlds you instantly flinch away from.

I instantly flinch away from neither. I spent approximately fifteen of my first twenty years imagining myself in a world where I was mistaken in my faith. But I did not believe it, no matter how fervently I believed that I believed.

I have no instinctual flinching away from imagining a world in which I do not exist, either. I have imagining a world that is identical to this one (with me in it) in which I do not exist.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-11-22T16:29:04.491Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW
Instead of an irrational universe created and ruled over by fickle and oft-competing gods - where mathematics that held true in Egypt had no reason to be true in Greece

Who believed that mathematics was not universal? Euclid wrote around 300BC. He has generally been recognised as having "looked on Beauty bare". Before that, Plato in the Meno has Socrates demonstrating the universality of mathematical knowledge by eliciting a geometrical insight from a slave boy.

As for Christianity playing a role in science, in Moslem countries Islam played a role in science, and in Soviet Russia, no textbook was complete without a genuflection to Lenin in the preface. That is because religion and its near relations play a role in everything. That does not mean that religion can take the credit for all the things that its adherents have created, even if the religion is genuinely their motivation.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T18:52:28.216Z · score: -8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.

Moslem countries Islam played a role in science

Islam never developed science. Islam, with a fickle, ever changing god, appears to be epistemologically incapable of developing science. I can find no suggestion in the Qur'an that Allah set his creation in motion and then let it run. It is assumed that he often intrudes in the world and changes things as it pleases him. Most of the influential Muslim scholars have held that all efforts to formulate natural laws are blasphemy for they deny Allah's freedom to act.

That does not mean that religion can take the credit for all the things that its adherents have created, even if the religion is genuinely their motivation.

If a thing is created in only one way by only one religion that has the only world view that enables it to exist, I do not think it is unfair to say that this religion created it.

Who believed that mathematics was not universal?

I can think of no examples, nor did I intend to say that they believed that mathematics was not universal, but that they had no reason to believe that it was so. According to Aristotle, the heavenly bodies move in circles because of their affection for doing so; objects fall to the ground "because of their innate love for the centre of the world."

There was no reason the motives of these objects would remain consistent for all people for all time - just as there was no reason that mathematics which was used to describe the motions would choose to remain consistent for all people for all time.

comment by Julianusum · 2018-11-22T09:30:15.619Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Corrections:

This grand experiment would be tested, time and time again over the millennia which was to follow.

It should be were not was to agree with the plural millenia (or else millenia should be changed to millenium). The comma is also unnecessary here and interrupts the flow of the sentence.

Sorry my introduction was so long I didn't know quite how to write what I wanted to write and I am not a good enough writer to do a series of posts on it.

There should be a period after "long". You might also consider putting a comma between "write" and "and" (between the two main clauses).

Comment:

I don't doubt the role Christianity had in modern science. However, I think it's worth pointing out that there are pre-Christian elements which had an important part to play too. Would you allow that Platonism, i.e. the idea of universal ideas that can be accessed by reason has had an influence? What about pre-Socratic movements like Pythagorianism and Miletian science? I mean, it seems to me that rationalism and science have a complex history with many precursers. I also think the translation of logos with rationality is unsatisfying and doesn't really capture St John's meaning. It misses the obvious reference to Genesis where it is the word that brings order to chaos, and life out of literally nothing, through the Holy Spirit. The word is of course rational, but it represents more than that. It is a specific kind of word: an imperative. This suggests to me that logos signifies God's authority over His creation and His holiness (as well as His love in breathing creation into being through the logos). St Jerome also uses verbum to translate John.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T09:49:46.506Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your corrections. I always appreciate anyone who is willing to help me become a better writer.

However, I think it's worth pointing out that there are pre-Christian elements which had an important part to play too.

For logic and reason you absolutely have a point. For science I don't think that the impact was much greater than giving formal logic and a mathematical basis. They lacked not only the investigative spirit that science requires, but the ability to reason that they should investigate.

For a simple example, the earliest heliocentric model was from the Pythagoreans and I can't credit them as having anything like science in its proposition. For the Pythagoreans fire is nobler than earth and the center is a nobler position.  So fire has to be in the center.

Aristotle noted of them that:

In all this they are not seeking for theories and causes to account for observed facts, but rather forcing their observations and trying to accommodate them to certain theories and opinions of their own.
 – Aristotle, On the heavens II.13.293a

This is the same Aristotle who noted that heavy objects should fall faster than light objects on account of their being heavier. Not only did Aristotle never trudge to the top of a cliff with a heavy rock and a light rock of roughly the same shape and an observer down the bottom to see which landed first - the thought never even occurred to him that this was something that there would even be any benefit in doing.

I also think the translation of logos with rationality is unsatisfying and doesn't really capture St John's meaning.

Here (and everything afterward) I agree with you. It misses a great deal of meaning (creativity is missing for one, so too and more importantly is love), but it captures a part of the meaning which I was hoping would be conveyed. Correct me if I'm wrong but rationality is a subset of logos - though logos is greater, rationality is contained within.

comment by Benquo · 2018-11-22T14:20:11.393Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Not only did Aristotle never trudge to the top of a cliff with a heavy rock and a light rock of roughly the same shape and an observer down the bottom to see which landed first

Have you done this?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T18:56:09.894Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Have you done this?

Not a cliff, but every child who has graduated highschool in my country has done this experiment from the top of a multi-story building.

comment by waveman · 2018-11-23T00:50:23.527Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have done this. In year 10.

We tried to troll the teacher saying that the larger object landed first. He claimed this was due to 'parallax error'.

Science is murkier than it looks.

comment by Pattern · 2018-11-22T19:44:17.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like a nice country.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T19:50:56.323Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not too bad. Like most countries it has its own particular problems.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-11-22T07:18:49.493Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read the Sequences?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T07:22:19.146Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes.

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-22T19:44:44.786Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What's your resolution to the problem of pain?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T19:56:34.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have one that I think is rationally valid that would not come across as proselytizing.

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-22T20:40:19.094Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm ok with being proselytized; I don't think there's a good solution to the problem that doesn't depend on either an optimistic interpretation of events or a way-way-higher-than-I-have valuing of free will for its own sake (which may also involve contradictory interpretations of free will.)

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T23:54:29.156Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I'm ok with being proselytized

I am not convinced the moderators would be okay with you being proselytized.

Thinking about this and about your question though I have considered ways that we could tangentially discuss it. Would you mind offering a definitive statement on the problem of pain that we could discuss from?

I would rather not discuss from assumptions.

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-23T04:48:44.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say it boils down to the idea that a good God would not allow the kind of suffering that does, in fact, happen.

If you'd feel more comfortable carrying the discussion elsewhere, I'm fine with that. (I haven't noticed an LW rule against giving out my own email address, but I'm not sure if I've looked well enough.)

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-23T06:27:17.408Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am content having the discussion here. I do think this is the appropriate space.

I was hoping that you would be able to posit a specific definition, as opposed to a general boiling down to. One of the difficulties with this is that without a defining example what we are actually discussing may become confused with the examples.

The reason I asked if you would be willing to offer the statement is so that I wouldn't seem to be railroading you into a discussion in my favour. I have an example of such a statement, but I worry that by proposing it the definitive statement I make will become sticky and then influence yours - and so it would seem that I have railroaded you into a discussion in my favour.

I have put an example below. Hopefully hidden in spoiler tags so you can decide for yourself if you want to see it before thinking of your own. If the spoiler tags don't work then you're going to have to choose to not read on.

To be in pain is always worse than to not be in pain. To love someone is to reduce their pain in any way you can. If God loves people He would reduce their pain to zero. Since there is pain, either God is not loving or He is not capable of reducing their pain to zero.

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-24T02:30:38.668Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was mostly looking for a general indication of which category your response falls into, but sure, I'll formulate my thoughts/version a little more specifically.

There exists emotional pain, much of which does not have enough redeeming side effects to make it preferable over the option of not experiencing it. A loving being would seek to reduce that pain, within their own physical/emotional limits and capability of doing so. If a being is as ultimate as God is described as, especially if it made the whole system in the first place, then reducing that pain is possible and an all-loving God would have done it.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-24T12:30:38.328Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your definition.

There exists emotional pain

I am content taking this as a given.

much of which does not have enough redeeming side effects to make it preferable over the option of not experiencing it.

I am not sure this works as a statement of fact. Do you think we could try and come to some kind of agreement on a quantitative amount that does not have redeeming side effects? Or better still, how much of a redeeming side effect makes experiencing pain preferable to not experiencing it?

A loving being would seek to reduce that pain

Why? What is the likelihood that a loving being would do so? Does this become prescriptive? Do people who do not do so become unloving beings?

If a being is as ultimate as God is described as, especially if it made the whole system in the first place, then reducing that pain is possible and an all-loving God would have done it.

This follows logically from your previous statements - supposing that they are true. I don't think this is the crux of the discussion.

What are your thoughts? Where would you like to start?

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-25T04:24:36.683Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I don't want to quantify pain. Honestly, I think it takes optimism to look at the variety and extremes of suffering and decide they might all be worth it in some way. Do you have that optimism? What do you think makes the suffering worth it, if so?

Do people who do not do so become unloving beings?

Some caveats—"less than maximally loving" rather than "unloving", and the aforementioned restriction on "within the being's physical and emotional limits"—but basically, yes, if you can reduce someone's suffering and don't, you're not loving them as much as you could.

I don't think this is the crux of the discussion.

What do you think IS the crux of the discussion?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-25T23:26:07.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
What do you think IS the crux of the discussion?

The axioms that build up to the logical conclusion. I think that what you said there logically follows if the statements that precede it are true.

if you can reduce someone's suffering and don't, you're not loving them as much as you could.

If you are happy doing so I would like to focus on this statement first. My selfish reasons are that it is the easiest for me to discuss and on account of being in the middle of the chain directly influences the statements that come before and after it.

If you will allow our discussion to focus on this statement, I have a question: from whose perspective must suffering be reduced?

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-26T01:01:21.431Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
If you are happy doing so I would like to focus on this statement first.

I mean, sure, we can focus on that. But I feel like you're doing a lot of inquiring as to my position without giving me even a rough idea of your own. Which is a little frustrating, fyi.

from whose perspective must suffering be reduced?

Mine? I'm not really clear what you're asking. The suffering I want reduced is the suffering experienced from the perspective of the person suffering. I'm the one who's doing the wanting (although the vast majority of sufferers want their suffering reduced as well). I'm not really a moral objectivist, so it's my subjective moral-things-that-I-care-about that I'm asking a hypothetical God to live up to.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-26T03:26:42.296Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I feel like you're doing a lot of inquiring as to my position without giving me even a rough idea of your own. Which is a little frustrating, fyi.

I do apologise for the frustration this state of affairs brings. It's not for nothing though, I don't want to be in a position to be accused of dictating the conversation. If I just came in with "we will speak about [x] in such a way that we are forced into a paradigm as defined by [y]" it would be unfair to you, and to anyone reading.

I am trying to minimise this by giving you the power to steer and direct the definitions and the direction of the conversation.

The suffering I want reduced is the suffering experienced from the perspective of the person suffering.

This is an excellent perspective.

To be loving is to - within your power - reduce the suffering of a person, as perceived by them, as much as possible.

I am going to write an example, and ask you if the person "A" is loving.

A small child "B" is in the habit of running across the street after their ball.

Their parent "A" has two options:

If A allows B to continue then A has minimised suffering

If A stops B then A has imposed suffering

Is A loving by allowing B to continue running out onto the road unimpeded?

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-26T04:50:05.529Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, the parent defense.

A imposes suffering (not-chase-ball) in order to prevent a greater suffering (hit-by-car); and it is important that A does not have the option to prevent hit-by-car except by imposing not-chase-ball. Because A didn't create the system in the first place and has outside constraints imposed by reality on A's options. Thus, within A's limits, imposing the lesser suffering is the maximally loving option that A has.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-26T04:56:11.112Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
within A's limits, imposing the lesser suffering is the maximally loving option that A has.

This is not so as defined. Suffering is not from the perspective of the one inflicting or reducing it, but from the perspective of the one whom experiences it. A cannot be loving by imposing a lesser suffering from A's perspective - it has to be from the perspective of B.

And from the perspective of B it is not a case of a little suffering now to avoid a potential greater suffering later but suffering now, or no suffering now.

If you would like to update our definition to more robustly include the ability for an outside observer to choose a lesser suffering, while still inflicting suffering, now would be the time.

Alternatively we can continue with the current definition and state that by imposing suffering on B, A is being unloving.

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-26T05:20:57.428Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Both forms of suffering, not-chase-ball and hit-by-car, would be suffering that is endured by B. In that sense, they're both from B's perspective, even though B never experiences hit-by-car, which is the whole point. A is choosing an action which results in less suffering from B's perspective than B will experience if A chooses otherwise, even if B doesn't happen to know that.

If you're using perspective in a different sense, then you're making a different point that I'm not currently following.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-28T21:25:27.112Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


Note: Sorry for slow replies. I am working in a different city this week and have limited time and access. The problems of life I'm afraid.

If you're using perspective in a different sense, then you're making a different point that I'm not currently following.

I am using the same sense of perspective that you are. I was saying that until actually experienced, the suffering of being hit by a car exists only in the mind of A. It is potential, but not real. B has no concept - or at best no ability to truly imagine - the suffering that would come. From A's perspective they only know the suffering of being restrained from chasing their ball.

You are correct in that if B gets hit by a car, then the suffering will be experienced by B, but the definition that we have used in the sequence of our problem of pain doesn't allow for potential suffering - only suffering that is actually experienced.

I am happy updating our definitive statement to include potential suffering not yet experienced by a person but understood by an outside observer.

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-11-29T05:20:29.494Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
the definition that we have used in the sequence of our problem of pain doesn't allow for potential suffering - only suffering that is actually experienced

Honestly, I feel like you are playing word games, and I think I've lost interest in continuing the conversation.

comment by Elo · 2018-11-22T05:44:45.887Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I was expecting to hate this. I was wrong. I appreciate your willingness to explore beliefs.

I'm interested in what your belief rests on. It is always what beliefs rest on that we want to question in order to see reality for what it is.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T05:49:51.012Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems a bit self-serving to vote your comment up, since it's you saying you don't hate what I wrote.

But I appreciate that you engaged with it instead of dismissing it out of hand. Not that I really expected anyone on a site dedicated to improving rationality to be dismissing posts out of hand... but without evidence you never can be sure.

/edit

It seems my initial thoughts were somewhat realised.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-11-22T16:08:27.198Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm having a sense of déjà vu. Is this a repost or rewrite of something from years back?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T18:54:35.117Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have no way of being able to answer this.

It is not, but that is just what you would expect someone you distrust to say. I am new (been reading no more than three months) to this website, and you can check my first post.

But that is in no way convincing to someone who has decided that this is a rewrite from something years back.

comment by Pattern · 2018-11-22T19:49:42.614Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the words

in the section that looks like this

has been used by Motasaurus somewhere else on this site, though not the entirety. I didn't see it anywhere else before that, but if the quote has a source...

Or Motosaurus has a blog somewhere else?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-22T19:58:00.374Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah I wrote that as about my 3rd comment.

The reaction to which is the inspiration for an introduction post in the first place.