Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-10-05T01:59:32.000Z · score: 58 (60 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 209 comments

A few years back, my great-grandmother died, in her nineties, after a long, slow, and cruel disintegration. I never knew her as a person, but in my distant childhood, she cooked for her family; I remember her gefilte fish, and her face, and that she was kind to me. At her funeral, my grand-uncle, who had taken care of her for years, spoke. He said, choking back tears, that God had called back his mother piece by piece: her memory, and her speech, and then finally her smile; and that when God finally took her smile, he knew it wouldn’t be long before she died, because it meant that she was almost entirely gone.

I heard this and was puzzled, because it was an unthinkably horrible thing to happen to anyone, and therefore I would not have expected my grand-uncle to attribute it to God. Usually, a Jew would somehow just-not-think-about the logical implication that God had permitted a tragedy. According to Jewish theology, God continually sustains the universe and chooses every event in it; but ordinarily, drawing logical implications from this belief is reserved for happier occasions. By saying “God did it!” only when you’ve been blessed with a baby girl, and just-not-thinking “God did it!” for miscarriages and stillbirths and crib deaths, you can build up quite a lopsided picture of your God’s benevolent personality.

Hence I was surprised to hear my grand-uncle attributing the slow disintegration of his mother to a deliberate, strategically planned act of God. It violated the rules of religious self-deception as I understood them.

If I had noticed my own confusion, I could have made a successful surprising prediction. Not long afterward, my grand-uncle left the Jewish religion. (The only member of my extended family besides myself to do so, as far as I know.)

Modern Orthodox Judaism is like no other religion I have ever heard of, and I don’t know how to describe it to anyone who hasn’t been forced to study Mishna and Gemara. There is a tradition of questioning, but the kind of questioning . . . It would not be at all surprising to hear a rabbi, in his weekly sermon, point out the conflict between the seven days of creation and the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang—because he thought he had a really clever explanation for it, involving three other Biblical references, a Midrash, and a half-understood article in Scientific American. In Orthodox Judaism you’re allowed to notice inconsistencies and contradictions, but only for purposes of explaining them away, and whoever comes up with the most complicated explanation gets a prize.

There is a tradition of inquiry. But you only attack targets for purposes of defending them. You only attack targets you know you can defend.

In Modern Orthodox Judaism I have not heard much emphasis of the virtues of blind faith. You’re allowed to doubt. You’re just not allowed to successfully doubt.

I expect that the vast majority of educated Orthodox Jews have questioned their faith at some point in their lives. But the questioning probably went something like this: “According to the skeptics, the Torah says that the universe was created in seven days, which is not scientifically accurate. But would the original tribespeople of Israel, gathered at Mount Sinai, have been able to understand the scientific truth, even if it had been presented to them? Did they even have a word for ‘billion’? It’s easier to see the seven-days story as a metaphor—first God created light, which represents the Big Bang . . .”

Is this the weakest point at which to attack one’s own Judaism? Read a bit further on in the Torah, and you can find God killing the first-born male children of Egypt to convince an unelected Pharaoh to release slaves who logically could have been teleported out of the country. An Orthodox Jew is most certainly familiar with this episode, because they are supposed to read through the entire Torah in synagogue once per year, and this event has an associated major holiday. The name “Passover” (“Pesach”) comes from God passing over the Jewish households while killing every male firstborn in Egypt.

Modern Orthodox Jews are, by and large, kind and civilized people; far more civilized than the several editors of the Old Testament. Even the old rabbis were more civilized. There’s a ritual in the Seder where you take ten drops of wine from your cup, one drop for each of the Ten Plagues, to emphasize the suffering of the Egyptians. (Of course, you’re supposed to be sympathetic to the suffering of the Egyptians, but not so sympathetic that you stand up and say, “This is not right! It is wrong to do such a thing!”) It shows an interesting contrast—the rabbis were sufficiently kinder than the compilers of the Old Testament that they saw the harshness of the Plagues. But Science was weaker in these days, and so rabbis could ponder the more unpleasant aspects of Scripture without fearing that it would break their faith entirely.

You don’t even ask whether the incident reflects poorly on God, so there’s no need to quickly blurt out “The ways of God are mysterious!” or “We’re not wise enough to question God’s decisions!” or “Murdering babies is okay when God does it!” That part of the question is just-not-thought-about.

The reason that educated religious people stay religious, I suspect, is that when they doubt, they are subconsciously very careful to attack their own beliefs only at the strongest points—places where they know they can defend. Moreover, places where rehearsing the standard defense will feel strengthening.

It probably feels really good, for example, to rehearse one’s prescripted defense for “Doesn’t Science say that the universe is just meaningless atoms bopping around?” because it confirms the meaning of the universe and how it flows from God, etc. Much more comfortable to think about than an illiterate Egyptian mother wailing over the crib of her slaughtered son. Anyone who spontaneously thinks about the latter, when questioning their faith in Judaism, is really questioning it, and is probably not going to stay Jewish much longer.

My point here is not just to beat up on Orthodox Judaism. I’m sure that there’s some reply or other for the Slaying of the Firstborn, and probably a dozen of them. My point is that, when it comes to spontaneous self-questioning, one is much more likely to spontaneously self-attack strong points with comforting replies to rehearse, than to spontaneously self-attack the weakest, most vulnerable points. Similarly, one is likely to stop at the first reply and be comforted, rather than further criticizing the reply. A better title than “Avoiding Your Belief’s Real Weak Points” would be “Not Spontaneously Thinking About Your Belief’s Most Painful Weaknesses.”

More than anything, the grip of religion is sustained by people just-not-thinking-about the real weak points of their religion. I don’t think this is a matter of training, but a matter of instinct. People don’t think about the real weak points of their beliefs for the same reason they don’t touch an oven’s red-hot burners; it’s painful.

To do better: When you’re doubting one of your most cherished beliefs, close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts the most. Don’t rehearse standard objections whose standard counters would make you feel better. Ask yourself what smart people who disagree would say to your first reply, and your second reply. Whenever you catch yourself flinching away from an objection you fleetingly thought of, drag it out into the forefront of your mind. Punch yourself in the solar plexus. Stick a knife in your heart, and wiggle to widen the hole. In the face of the pain, rehearse only this:1

What is true is already so.

Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.

Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.

And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.

Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.

People can stand what is true,

for they are already enduring it.

1Eugene T. Gendlin, Focusing (Bantam Books, 1982).

209 comments

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

comment by Douglas_Knight2 · 2007-10-05T03:04:41.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Science was weaker in these days

Could you elaborate on this? What do you mean by Science? (reasoning? knowledge?)

The thing whose weakness seems relevant to me is a cultural tradition of doubting religion. Also, prerequisites which I have trouble articulating because they are so deeply buried: perhaps a changing notion of benevolence.

comment by Danfly · 2012-04-09T17:18:45.618Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'll take a wild stab in the dark and say that he probably meant that the method of reasoning was not as sophisticated back then. You could call the Aristotelean method of reasoning from empirical observation a "strengthening" of science. Nevertheless you could still say that "science" was much weaker back then compared to Popper's critical rationalism, with its emphasis on falsification.

Nevertheless, I'm sure I will be informed if this interpretation is wrong, which will hopefully help me be less wrong in the future.

comment by TGGP4 · 2007-10-05T05:10:35.000Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't describe me at all. I was a full-bore Fred Phelps-style ultracalvinist (only an apathetic quietist rather than an activist). I was proud that my faith was so pure I could fully admit that God does this or that thing we find abhorrent because we are so pitiful in comparison to Him and His Plan that the very idea of questioning His Wisdom is laughable. I would say "You cannot question the goodness of His actions because there was no good before God defined it, whatever God does is good by virtue of His doing it and when you say one his actions is "bad" it is only a reflection of your complete inability to know what good is in comparison to Him". I believed in evolution and like you knew the importance of not having a human-centered perception of the world. God was not merely not a 20th century American, he was not human, was not of this planet or even of this universe. He was utterly incomprehensible, and what we did know of Him was only what he had chosen to let us (whose significance in His Plan we cannot know) hear, which left room for a dishonest and misleading approach to us (though we were to think of it as being as benevolent as a parent telling their children, mentally challenged ones at that, about Santa and the Tooth Fairy). I discussed that phase of my belief here, noted one of the contradictions in my God-conception here at Gene Expression and mentioned the resemblance of the deity I was supposed to revere to H.P. Lovecraft's Azathoth here.

comment by Tiiba2 · 2007-10-05T05:25:53.000Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I know it's not entirely on topic, but biblical physics seems like a more important test of the Bible's truth than God's morality. If God does not follow the arbitrary laws of human society, what does that prove? Nor does the Bible wrongly saying that God is merciful mean much - what would you do if you were God and had to write a book? But if the Bible accurately states the age of the Universe, that's something. In the end, the only important issue is whether you're going to hell or heaven.

I actually think it's rather irrational for someone to think that God's cruelty is an argument against His existence, and this seems a common opinion among atheists. I mean, I believe in Stalin, who also claimed to be a milkmaid's best friend while executing anyone who looked at him funny.

comment by robirahman · 2016-01-15T16:53:56.143Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think God's cruelty in the Bible is evidence that there isn't any god, but it is evidence against the benevolent, omniscient, personal, omnipotent kind of theism that Christians and Jews would argue for.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-15T18:14:52.010Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Out of the list of adjectives it's evidence only against the "benevolent" part and that's really just the old problem of theodicy (why does God permit evil).

comment by Jiro · 2016-01-15T21:19:57.714Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If he isn't omniscient or omnipotent, then it could be some of the bad things he does are the most benevolent that he could do given his limited abilities.

comment by Psychohistorian2 · 2007-10-05T06:09:22.000Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Tiiba: Because it is very hard to read ambiguity into moral acts. One can say that six days is not meant literally (even if the original language says that - though I'm not saying it does; I don't know). One cannot say that the firstborn of Egypt were all just sleeping.

Furthermore, one cannot explain away deception. Maybe God actually made the Universe in six days but wants us to think it was longer to test our faith. Yes, that's a lousy argument, but one might conceive of it being true. As for other offenses, God makes the laws of physics, so he obeys them at his whim.

By contrast, an action making God appear evil necessarily makes him incomprehensible for many religions. If you say that God is good, and that he slaughtered innocent children, and you believe that such a slaughter is wrong, then any defense of God must change the meaning of "God is good" to something completely unrecognizable. Either good is true of God by definition (What He does is good) or it is the "big plan" strategy, in which case it is actually good but you are too stupid to understand why, meaning he is good in a way that we necessarily cannot understand.

So, to end this rambling, people pick moral attacks because they don't allow the "Well, it's obviously false, therefore, it isn't meant literally!" defense. It also attacks concepts of God on a somewhat different level.

comment by Vamair0 · 2017-01-11T06:51:37.777Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If there is a heaven and the killed firstborn went there, then killing them (or anyone else, for that matter) is quite harmless. And killing is wrong for people not because it causes harm, but because God forbids it. It's a strange view, but not an obviously inconsistent one. On the other hand I've always shied away from moral attacks just because the counterargument of "So, God's not benevolent, now what? You still had to worship it for a few decades or you are going to literally burn for eternity" seemed so obvious. Like it seems pointless to argue that Dumbledore is evil when you're trying to prove he never existed.

comment by CaosSorge · 2017-05-31T06:50:33.589Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But if somebody is willing to admit that their respective bible or holy book lied about their God being benevolent, that should raise the probability that other parts of their book lied as well. Most of all, unlike everything else that it has been pointed out was inaccurate in the bible, that one cannot be explained by saying it was a metaphor. It would be something it could not be denied was either a severe exaggeration or a lie. That starts touching on uncomfortable territory for most theists because they have admitted part of their 'side' is flawed.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-10-05T06:30:34.000Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

TGGP, different people will rehearse different defenses, depending on what they think is strong - what they genuinely don't anticipate being called on, at least by themselves. You're an atheist now, so there was probably something you didn't think about, in the corner of your mind, which you can think about now. What was it?

comment by GreedyAlgorithm · 2007-10-05T07:38:00.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ha, this just happened to me. Luckily it wasn't too painful because I knew the weakness existed, I avoided it, and then reading E. T. Jaynes' "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science" gave me a different and much better belief to patch up my old one. Also, thanks for that recommendation. A lot.

For a while I had been what I called a Bayesian because I thought the frequentist position was incoherent and the Bayesian position elegant. But I couldn't resolve to my satisfaction the problem of scale parameters. I read that there was a prior that was invariant with respect to them but something kept bothering me.

It turns out that my intuition of probability was still "there is a magic number I call probability inherent in objects and what they might do". So when I saw the question "What is the probability that a glass has water:wine in a ratio of 1.5:1 or less, given that it has water:wine in a ratio between 1:1 and 2:1?" I was still thinking something along the lines of "Well, consider all possible glasses of watered wine, and maybe weight them in some way, and I'll get a probability..."

Jaynes has convinced me that the right way to think about probability is plausibility of situations given states of knowledge. There's nothing wrong with insisting that a prior be set up for any given problem; it's incoherent to set up a problem without looking at the priors. They aren't just useful, they're necessary, and anyone who says it's cheating to push the difficulty of an inductive reasoning problem onto the difficulty of determining real-world priors can be dismissed.

If only I'd asked around about this problem before, maybe I would have discovered meta-Jaynes earlier! Speaking of that, why haven't I seen his stuff or things building on it before? I feel like saying that 99% of people miss its importance says more about my importance assignment than their seeming apathy.

comment by g · 2007-10-05T08:54:56.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Tiiba: Also, most religions define God as being supremely good; evidence against the existence of a supremely good god is evidence against those religions even though it's consistent with some other religions almost no one believes in. To get from there to positive "I have good reason to believe there is no god of any sort" atheism requires further work, but if your only reason for believing in God in the first place was tied to a particular religion, and since observationally that's true of the great majority of theists (which suggests, for agreement-theorem-ish reasons, that maybe all the best reasons for believing in God have that characteristic) it provides grounds for not positively believing in God any more.

comment by jeff_gray2 · 2007-10-05T09:25:34.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

People don't think about the real weak points of their beliefs for the same reason they don't touch an oven's red-hot burners; it's painful.

Eliezer, unless I missed the analogy, people gloss the weak points to avoid finding themselves in error and avoid the pain of getting 'burned' by woeful ignorance. Perhaps I give humanity too much credit, but I think this is not the primary disincentive for most religious people. Laziness & Apathy are the first stage, where most people drop any thoughts they had of re-evalutating 'their' beliefs.

I observed this tendency in 13 years of private christian school, and at many churches (and I still love my parents...) As soon as people started to think about big problems, like the problem of evil, it became clear that they weren't going to be able to solve it by dinner-time. Since New Testament theology is strewn with paradoxes, most people seemed to merely accept doctrine as a super-strength version of 'Belief as Attire.' For some reason, something didn't click in my brain, b/c though I belonged to the group, I enjoyed exploring heterodox interpretations and other non-sanctioned ideas which unsettled the 'conventional' others.

Anyway, to actually examine the weak points of a religion like christianity or judaism is a huge project for one inside their system. I thought that I would have to master philosophy, logic, ancient languages, theology, and become a lay expert on physics and evolutionary biology in order to square the sacred text with the Life.

Belonging to a religion allows a person to let others do their thinking and believing for them, and that is the real problem. If all christians were Kierkegaards it would be a different situation (and I suppose if all Jews were Spinoza).

I guess I agree w/ Eliezer, I just think most people lie down once they realize the effort it will take to reach the next stage where you 'face-the-pain'.

And the thing that I didn't think about, being indoctrinated from the beginning, was that perhaps the bible wasn't/couldn't be inerrant; the perfect word of god. (Scary to think that there could be such relevant doubts that didn't even register!)

comment by jonvon · 2007-10-05T14:16:24.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

here here, living out what is not true is much more painful - and not just in the long run. it is more painful every day.

i grew up a christian. there is a parable about a man who gives up everything he has in order to find the "pearl of great price" which he knows is buried in a field. so he sells everything to buy the field, and then he is able to legally dig up the treasure. in other words he's done the work and has the right to the reward. i know this will sound crazy to most christians, but giving up christianity was my way of selling everything i had to find the pearl of great price.

comment by AndyCossyleon · 2010-09-08T14:31:49.779Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes.

This is how I felt as well, that my personal discovery of atheism was merely the next step in my life having been raised as a Christian. Losing religion and coming clean about it was the test of my integrity, which was formed under the wing of the Bible and Christianity.

comment by waveman · 2011-03-22T10:17:02.592Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

giving up Christianity was my way of selling everything i had to find the pearl of great price

It's very hard to do. I gave up Christianity 39 years ago and I'm still finding large chunks of it floating around in my brain. This was the point of "God is dead" - people no longer believed in God but unconsciously carry on as if it were still true.

comment by Silas · 2007-10-05T17:06:20.000Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer_Yudkowsky: This seems to contradict your previous trivialization of the "9/11 hijackers are cowardly" claim. If indeed probing our beliefs at their weak points is painful, backing away from this is a sign of cowardice. Blowing yourself up in an attempt to kill off the people who disagree with you, instead of intellectually confronting this, and exposing yourself to that pain of being wrong, is indeed cowardly, even if you are sacrificing something precious in the process.

Americans may feel unjustifiably comfortable in retreating to "9/11 terrorists were cowards". They may endorse this purely because of pro-American bias. However, the claim is fundamentally correct, even if people support it for the wrong reasons.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-10-05T17:21:14.000Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Silas: Ah, so the US soldiers in Iraq are cowards because they shoot people instead of arguing intellectually with them?

Rationality is not the default state of a human being. It requires an effort just to get a human mind to the point where it perceives a scary duty of argument. I have no evidence that the 9/11 attackers got to this point, so I have no evidence that they were scared enough to be intellectual cowards.

comment by TGGP4 · 2007-10-05T17:34:48.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose in some sense I had not been a believer for some time, but my history of being a Christian had put in me a desire to be one whether or not I actually thought it was true. Like many youngsters I had started out with a primitive God-concept of the kindly old man in the sky variety who watches over us and occasionally intervenes sometimes. As I grew older and wiser I made omniscience, predeterminism and so on a more important part, so that God was now the inactive clock-maker (which seemed logical to me). The nature of God came to be shaped by what I knew about the world rather than my view of the nature of the world being affected by my concept of God. God was essentially out of the picture and the only justification I had for including him was the prime-mover argument (which I would now say brings in a conclusion inferior to maximum entropy). It wasn't that long ago I first announced to anyone else I had stopped believing, and still haven't told those I know personally. As I mention in the link, it was reading people like the folks at gnxp that pushed me over the edge. I was able to read them and take what they said seriously because, as I mentioned, I didn't feel my faith was threatened. There were occasional mentions of Bayesianism, but it was mostly the notion of belief as a probabilistic guess based on evidence that got through to me. I wanted to have a more accurate view of the world and tried to adopt that standard of belief. I also knew about how most people's religious beliefs (I did not initially think to include my own in that category) were not grounded in evidence, but group membership/arguments from authority and flawed intuition/heuristics. Eventually those concepts collided and I decided to consciously evaluate whether the evidence really suggested the existence of the judeochristian God. My conclusion was no and I had not really thought the evidence suggested it for some time but had a "preference over belief". Once I admitted I didn't actually believe I couldn't make myself believe anymore whether or not I had that preference. Can anyone honestly say "I believe this even though it isn't actually the case"? I can't really think of any killer argument against God I hadn't considered though.

comment by Pseudonymous2 · 2007-10-05T17:42:22.000Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

To do better find someone smart who disagrees with you. He'll do a much better job of questioning your beliefs than you ever will.

Better still, find many such people.

comment by Arandur · 2011-08-01T00:51:13.298Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That would be why I'm here. :3

comment by AnneC · 2007-10-06T00:31:58.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When you're doubting one of your most cherished beliefs, close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts the most.

This is good advice.

I started doing this around 9 years ago, because at the end of adolescence I experienced a sudden "mortality awareness". I imagine this is probably common -- that is, many people probably experience a moment in their life when the fact that they, too, are getting older, comes into sharp relief. But in my observation, most people seem to respond to this moment by saying, "Oh well, I'm just not going to think about that". I couldn't not think about it, though. I was already an atheist at this point, but when I was 20 I still hadn't come up with much of an approach for thinking about how to live my life in full awareness of biological vulnerability. So I forced myself to imagine becoming very old and sick, to imagine contracting cancer, to imagine every single worst-case scenario that would lead to pain and death (not just mine, but that of my family, etc., as well).

I didn't mention this to very many people, but those I did seemed to think it was "unhealthy", and that I was exhibiting a kind of OCD-like obsession with doom. But it was a phase I needed to go through, so that I could process the worst-that-could-happen without just reacting emotionally to it. It isn't that I'm "fine" now with the idea of horrible things happening -- of course I would like to avoid them -- but that I don't think that "not thinking about horrible things" is an effective means of avoiding them. I figure that (a) there are some things that could very well happen regardless of what I do or how I think, and (b) I am more likely to come up with an effective strategy for avoiding something bad if I don't hide from thoughts about that bad thing.

Also, after processing the "worst case scenarios" I thought up, I came to realize that even if every bad thing I can imagine happens at some point, life is still infinitely worth living in the meantime -- this is especially pertinent in how I try to approach the subject of life extension, because I think it would lead to damaging bias (e.g., overconfidence with regard to the development of effective biotech solutions for radical longevity in my lifetime) if I were to make my ability to live without despair contingent upon achieving this longevity.

comment by Benoit_Essiambre · 2007-10-06T03:45:59.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I call myself an atheist. However, I actually think believing in a vague god is based on probabilisticly rational and bayesian kind of thinking, at least for the limited context humans live in.

I say 'vague god' because I believe most people who believe there is a god and have somewhat solid arguments supporting this fact often use fallaciously the wrong level of conceptual abstraction to support their own specific god. The word god is not very well defined and there is quite a large margin around the definition to play with. I find the best arguments, like the prime-mover or entropy argument, are bayesian in a certain context but even where they make sense, they prove nothing but a very vague god. Theists have a very annoying tendency to use these arguments, which in reality, only support the fact that there is 'something' that somewhat fits the definition of "god" (in that it is a creator) that is complex enough to have 'created' the universe (assuming the concept of 'creation' makes sense outside the universe), or at least something which created the thermodynamic order found in the universe. There is never any good evidence for the specific gods, only for some vague god that is probably more similar to a physical phenomenon like the big bang than to the gods of religious literature.

Now why do I think the vague gods are, in some sense, rational ? It came to me while I was thinking about bayesian probabilities, while reading Jaynes book. In most problems, propability is conditioned on some variable I, representing general contextual knowledge. The equations often take the form of P(H|O,I) which represents the probability of an hypothesis H knowing some observations O and other more general facts 'I'. Jaynes never said much about 'I' except that it is whatever else we know about the problem. I like to think of 'I' as a sort of low enthropy bounded context. I sometimes call it the 'contextual urn' because probability texts often idealise this information into an urn. The contextual urn need not have a hard boundary like a real urn, its bounds can be empty space as distance itself or even time can isolate things in the universe. (As an aside, I think studying how we recognise these contexts and their bounds could explain a lot about how we reason and how to make predictions about the universe. It is a hole in probability theory which needs to be understood before we can build Jaynes rational robot) 'I' is some recognisable context that allows us to make predictions. The fact that it is recognisable means it has properties that we have seen before. The contextual urn defines a sitation, a spacio-temporal region, that is low entropy enough to be recognisable and that repeats itself often enough that we can learn things about it.

The next thing I noticed about the relationship between 'I', 'O' and H is that we can kind of view 'I' and O as a cause of H and effects seem never to be more complex than their causes. This is particularly true about creation as far as we can take a creator and his creation to be a cause and effect (Which philosophers like Hume accepted). Taking an information theoretic perspective, if something can create someting else, it contains all the information to create it and probably more. It is at least as complex entropically as the thing it creates. Humans have always lived in a world where this was true almost all the time and hence it is perfectly reasonable for them to deduce using bayesian reasoning that's how things pretty much always work. It is not hard to see then that living organisma, humans or even the universe in general contain a great amount of complexity and there has to be something even more complex which created them. e.g. god.

If we look further than our immediate existence, we find out that it is not always true that a cause is more complex than its effect. Because of random variations, an effect is not very probable to be more complex than its cause but it CAN happen sometimes. And as a result of natural selection, it is possible for the complexity of populations of effects to increase given a bias which makes the more complex survive more than the less.

Evolution is not something that happens in the time-scale of a human life therefore it is not very useful to us. We thus have evolved and rationally learned during our lifetime that effects are probably always less complex than their causes. And in the context of a relatively short life span this is right!

We have to look at a wider timespan to see that there is actually another way for complexity to arise and that it explains the complexity we observe much better than the gods of religions. This is of course the theory of evolution.

I think this explains why theists feel so threatened by evolution. It's because it is the only good alternative for the creation of complexity. And although most people don't understand the principles of entropy and thermodynamics, most people's innate Bayesian reasoning leads them to the right conclusions: When they see the alternative explaining the creation of complexity and when they see how well the theory of evolution fits historical evidence, their last argument for the belief in god vaporises.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2007-10-06T04:23:02.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Benoit: The universe may actually contain almost no information despite looking complex, just like (say) pi or e.

Anne: I love your comment. In Buddhism (as I understand), it is recommended to meditate every day on your death and the deaths of your loved ones, so you can consider the possibility without going crazy. I always thought that sounded like a good idea.

comment by AnneC · 2007-10-06T06:07:57.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nick: I'm not a Buddhist (definitely can't grok the reincarnation stuff), but in a lot of ways I can see where the Buddhists are coming from, especially with regard to "letting go of attachments".

comment by Benoit_Essiambre · 2007-10-06T14:28:28.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I dunno Nick, your link implies the 'multiple universes' interpretation of quantum theory, and like Jaynes and Einstein, I tend to disagree with this interpretation. But yeah, I'm sure there exists some kind of physical explanation that when written down is more similar to a scientific article than a religious text. We just don't know it yet.

comment by waveman · 2011-03-22T10:12:35.296Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

multiple universes... I'm sure there exists some kind of physical explanation

It is well explained in "Quantum Mechanics and Experience" by David Z. Albert.

Essential the many worlds theory works like this (on one interpretation):

There is really one universe. It is the deterministic world of the wave function. Our apparent universe is actually just a projection of that deterministic wave function. There is no collapse of the wave function, it just seems like there is, due to decoherence.

If you imaging a movie screen showing two different stories at once, there is just one movie, but each of the characters in each story behave as if they are aware of their story. In our world, decoherence is what creates the multiple stories.

At least one survey of physicists found MW was the most popular interpretation of QM; at worst it is mainstream.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-10-06T16:40:42.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Many-worlds was invented by Everett in 1957. Einstein died in 1955. Einstein and Jaynes both disapproved of the Copenhagen interpretation - I have no evidence that either ever considered many-worlds or even heard of it. Both of them objected to inherent randomness, and MWI gets rid of this.

comment by ksvanhorn · 2011-01-18T04:42:48.666Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

??? Jaynes died in 1998. It strains credulity to imagine that he wouldn't have been aware of the MWI.

comment by Benoit_Essiambre · 2007-10-06T18:53:55.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I see, that's is not how I had understood it. I guess I should just leave this stuff to physicists.

comment by Benoit_Essiambre · 2007-10-06T19:18:53.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But Eliezer, Wikipedia says about the Copenhagen interpretation:

Aage Petersen paraphrasing Niels Bohr: "There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."here is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."

Doesn't this imply that Bohr didn't believe in inherent randomness but in randomness in the "description"? This seems like the same position as Jaynes and Einstein to me. Is Wikipedia wrong here? What am I missing???

comment by buybuydandavis · 2011-09-28T01:10:33.125Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In one of Jayne's paper's, he discusses how Bohr relentlessly talked only on the epistemological level, which many of Bohr's interpreters mistook for the ontological level.

It was the Clearing up Mysteries paper, section Confrontation or Reconciliation. http://bayes.wustl.edu/etj/articles/cmystery.pdf

So to answer your question, Bohr believed in randomness in the description, and didn't speak of inherent anything - didn't speak on the ontological level.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-28T01:42:39.050Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The papers of his hosted there, are those all of his papers?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2011-09-29T11:22:35.687Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you go to the top level address http://bayes.wustl.edu/

You can navigate down to everything available on Jaynes, plus papers from a lot of other folks.

You can probably get the original draft of his magnum opus as latex or .pdf files somewhere in the web as well, although it was removed from that site once the book was published. It includes chapters that weren't published in the book.

comment by Jacob_Stein · 2007-10-07T18:49:39.000Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if atheists ever get a chance to think about the weakest points of their beliefs? http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-atheism-is-not-religion.html

comment by xamdam · 2010-04-25T17:36:45.953Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Secondly, atheists seem to be invariably highly selfish people. It is apparently impossible to find a well-documented case of an atheist who was kind, honest, sober and sexually responsible. It is impossible to find a case of a government that officially promoted atheism, which demonstrated any great concern for the welfare of its citizens"

Biggest donation ever made - Warren Buffett (considers himself an agnostic).

It is true that some of the worst people of this century were 'atheists'. That's probably because many religions contain a payload of decent values, and doing what these people did takes not being scared shitless about god ripping your head off. But to me that's like putting down chemistry because Nazis used it to kill people.

As a general rule, whenever you turn to your version of 'morality' to undermine someone's logical argument you are showing your hand (as not being interested in the truth).

comment by gwern · 2010-04-25T18:31:34.320Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Bill Gates is apparently agnostic as well, for the second (?) biggest donation ever made.

comment by Wesmaster160 · 2010-12-30T05:02:14.464Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Im not taking a side on this little arguement, but Jacob posted an arguement against atheists, and the two examples of counter-evidence given were about agnostics. Did I miss something?

comment by HonoreDB · 2010-12-30T08:49:09.808Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Those of us who do take either side generally count agnostics as atheists. Atheists do so due to a Russell's Teapot, empiricist-type attitude (and the political advantages of counting the more polite members of a tribe).

comment by TobyBartels · 2010-12-30T09:19:08.082Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The replies are a bit narrowly and inappropriately focussed, considering how universally bad Jacob's post was. (I can go through it more thoroughly if you think that this would be worth while.)

I can only guess that xandam is a fan of Warren Buffett, so that a reference to donations by atheists (of some sort or other) caught his eye.

comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-23T19:20:17.729Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see why anybody bothered, really, there is a more than adequate rebuttal in the comments themselves.

Most poignant: who's responsibility is it to define a deity? The believer or the nonbeliever?

The crux of the Jewish Philospher's argument is that atheists have trouble defining "god", yet why in the world would they be expected to define something they don't believe in? Do I have to know all the major and minor Roman deities in order to not believe in them? Of course not, the idea is silly. Jewish Philosopher certainly doesn't believe in them, yet I doubt he knows them all. By his own argument, how can he possibly not believe in them either?

The arguments sound intelligent on the surface, but it doesn't take a whole lot of questioning before you realize they are silly and illogical (primarily ad hominem, followed closely by the straw men).

comment by W · 2007-10-08T16:04:22.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Biblical literalism is a relatively new phenomenon, and mostly a Christian one. Jewish (and many Christian) theologians have for many, many centuries regarded such things as the seven-days, two-parents creation story as myths. The questions isn't whether the mythology is true in the sense that science is true; of course it isn't. The question is whether what the mythology is intended to communicate is true.

The moral offense that moderns tend to find in the story of the killing of Egypt's firstborn is rooted in our individualist morality. The ancient view was that every member of the tribe was to some extend morally responsible for the tribe as a whole. When the pharoah offended, all of Egypt suffered, just as later all of Israel would suffer for the offenses of idolators and such.

I suspect that collective morality on that scale is quite alien to most of us, but it's fundamental for understanding the biblical worldview. But still we might ask, for instance, Are all Americans to some extent to blame for Iraq, or is blame restricted to the formal government and chain of command, or to those who voted for Bush, or to those who voted for Bush and those who didn't vote at all, or ...?

comment by Belkar15 · 2010-12-07T09:18:28.257Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Truly there is no moral or scientific evidence to the existence, or nonexistence of the Jewish god (which is not the same as the Christian god; I have not thoroughly studied that one yet, so I cannot make assumptions upon it). The god, as a non-material being that is not confined to space or time, cannot be properly defined by humans, especially when Jewish texts, and more importantly Masoret (tradition; more accurately inherited information not by means of writings), give us very little information about god (bear with me here, I know this is a bit abstract). That is why all scientific definitions of god are so vague. No one has ever bothered to tell us (I mean religious Jews) what god is, and quite frankly, it does not matter. What matters in Judaism is not the Belief in god, but the Law (Belief is, of course a basis to that Law, but if we take into account that god cannot be proven or dis-proven, that if it were the case, it would have been done, belief becomes less critical). In Israel, for example, 90% of Jews believe in the Jewish god, but only one-third of them follow Jewish law (that is, Orthodox Judaism). The rest keep some of the laws, like Shabbat, or Kashrut, but only those they choose, and they may change their opinions many times. This is because, Judaism is not belief, rather it is "kabalat ol malkhut shamaim" (קבלת עול מלכות שמים) (roughly=Acceptance of the Burden of the Kinghood of God). Those who are religious not only believe in god, they accept a long list of rules, rules that guide their society, way of thinking, and morality.

In WWII, near the end of the Pacific Campaign, two speeches were made. One by Eleanor Roosevelt, and one by Hideki Tōjō. Each of them spoke, to their people, of why the campaign was necessary, why they should continue their support.

Roosevelt’s speech went something like “A glass of milk for every child”, while Tōjō reminded the people that despite the many losses, they were fighting to “preserve the honor of the Emperor” and that theirs was a noble sacrifice. We see here two totally different values: On the one hand, the needs of the people, on the other hand, the honor of the Emperor. These values were used to convince people of opposite justifications: The American, and the Japanese.

The amazing thing is that these speeches worked. The Japanese truly believed in the honor of the Emperor as a principle worth dying for, while the Americans truly believed in “the needs of the people” as a principle worth dying for.

If, say, an American said to a Japanese man and said to him: “But what of the starving children?” He would answer “Who cares! What of my dishonored Emperor?” People choose their principles, not by using logic, but rather base their logic on their highest principles, and from them glean new, sub-principles.

In short, so long as your religion does not give you science to learn (which will undoubtedly be disproved and proved again through the ages), but principles to follow, the only reason for you to leave that religion would be that you do not hold those as your highest principles, and therefore it is only a matter of time before those principles clash with your highest principles.

The reason one does not believe, is that he believes differently.
comment by buybuydandavis · 2011-09-28T00:49:33.682Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This brings up a point that has become clear to me - religion is to be attacked not on truth grounds, but on specific moral grounds, as concretely and personally as possible.

And yes, denial and evasion is the root of almost all crazy.

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2012-02-14T23:26:14.167Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This rings so true. For years I've celebrated passover, without really considering what happened, or even if it was true. I'm glad my family is liberal enough, and I didn't ONLY rehearse the strong points, but it was interesting for me at the time how the creation myth uncannily fit in with the Big Bang theory.

That said, I was permitted to not only doubt, but not even have to defend. I just didn't follow my thoughts through. "Considering all this, is there any reason to actually worship a God, if that exists, which is unlikely? Moreso- oooh, youtube video giving a simple enough explanation to quantum physics that even I can understand it! I'll think things through later." and never actually arriving at the conclusion.

Judaism has, to me, still seemed most open and accepting of questioning. The philosophies are certainly interesting, and continue to affect me now - the core of "question everything" that I strive to follow originated from Judaism. Well, for me anyway. The lesswrong community has helped me even further, though. I still consider, if you are to believe in something before you become atheist - as in, a logical threshold you need to cross to become logical, Judaism has the lowest.

I'm not quite sure what there is to add to this, though. There is nothing more to add, in my opinion. Insightful.

comment by HungryTurtle · 2012-04-13T13:41:20.823Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to ask if you have turned this idea against your own most cherished beliefs?

I would be really interested to hear what you see when you "close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts" rationality and singularity the most.

If you would like to know what someone who partially disagrees with you would say:

In my opinion, the objective of being a rationalist contains the same lopsided view of technology's capacity to transform reality that you attribute to God in the Jewish tradition.

According to Jewish theology, God continually sustains the universe and chooses every event in it; but ordinarily, drawing logical implications from this belief is reserved for happier occasions. By saying "God did it!" only when you've been blessed with a baby girl, and just-not-thinking "God did it!" for miscarriages and stillbirths and crib deaths, you can build up quite a lopsided picture of your God's benevolent personality.

Technology cures diseases, provides a more materially comfortable life style for many people, and feeds over 7 billion. By saying "rapid innovation did it" when blessed with a baby girl who would have died in birth without modern medical equipment, and just-not-thinking "rapid implementation of innovation did it" for ecocide, the proliferation of nuclear waste, the destruction of the ocean, increase in cancer, and the ability to wipe out an entire city thousands of miles away, you can build up quite a lopsided picture of technological development's beneficial personality.

The unquestioned rightness of rapid, continual technological innovation that disregards any negative results as potential signs for the need of moderation is what I see as the weakest point of your beliefs. Or at least my understanding of them.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-13T13:50:32.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yup, implementation of technological innovation has costs as well as benefits.

What kind of moderation do you have in mind?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-04-13T13:59:38.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Based on our earlier discussion of exactly this topic, I would say he wants to use some way of slowing down technological progress... My main argument against this is that I don't think we have a way of slowing technological progress that a) affects all actors (it wouldn't be a better world if only those nations not obeying international law were making technological progress), and b) has no negative ideological effects. (Has there ever been a regime that was pro-moderation-of-progress without being outright anti-progress? I don't know, I haven't thoroughly researched this, so maybe I'm just pattern-matching.) Also, I'm not sure how you'd set up the economic system of that society so there weren't big incentives for people or companies to innovate and profit from it.

Of course, "no one has ever succeeded at X in the past" isn't an unstoppable argument against X at all... But I am worried than any attempt to transform our current, no-brakes-on society into a 'moderated' society would be messy in the short term, and probably fail in the long term. (At our current level of technology, it's basically possible for individuals to make progress on given problems, and that would be very hard to stop.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-13T14:18:47.511Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with your claim that our current society has no brakes on technological innovation. It does have such brakes, and it could have more if we wanted.

But slowing down technological innovation in and of itself seems absurd. Either technological innovation has been a net harm, or a net gain, or neither. If neither, I see no reason to want to slow it down. Slowing down a net gain seems like an actively bad idea. And slowing down a net harm seems inadequate; if technological innovation is a net harm it should be stopped and reversed, not merely slowed down.

It seems more valuable to identify the differentially harmful elements of technological innovation and moderate the process to suppress those while encouraging the rest of it. I agree that that is difficult to do well and frequently has side-effects. (As it does in our currently moderated system.)

Which doesn't mean an unmoderated system would be better. (Indeed, I'm inclined to doubt it would.)

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-04-13T14:23:15.298Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems more valuable to identify the differentially harmful elements of technological innovation and moderate the process to suppress those while encouraging the rest of it. I agree that that is difficult to do well and frequently has side-effects.

I think there might be a part of my brain that, when given the problem "moderate technological progress in general", automatically converts it to "slow down harmful technology while leaving beneficial technology alone" and then gets stuck trying to solve that. But you're right, I can think of various elements in our society that slow down progress (regulations concerning drug testing before market release, anti-stem-cell-research lobbying groups, etc).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-13T15:15:36.545Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure... this is why I asked the question in the first place, of what kind of moderation.

Framing the problem as the OP does here, as an opposition between a belief in the "unquestioned rightness of [..] innovation that disregards any negative results" and some unclear alternative, seems a strategy better optimized towards the goal of creating conflict than the goal of developing new ideas.

Since I don't particularly value conflict for its own sake, I figured I'd put my oar in the water in the direction of inviting new ideas.

I don't think I know anyone who seriously endorses doing everything that anyone labels "technological innovation", but I know people who consider most of our existing regulations intended to prevent some of those things to do more harm than good. Similarly, I don't think I know anyone who seriously endorses doing none of those things (or at least, no one who retroactively endorses not having done any of those things we've already done), but I know people who consider our current level of regulation problematically low.

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-19T14:55:43.980Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Similarly, I don't think I know anyone who seriously endorses doing none of those things (or at least, no one who retroactively endorses not having done any of those things we've already done)

FWIW, I know plenty of libertarians who think regulation is unquestionably bad, and will happily insist the world would be better without regulations on technological advancement, even that one (for whatever one you'd like).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-19T14:59:09.356Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I believe you that they exist. I've never met one in real life.

comment by HungryTurtle · 2012-04-20T15:13:56.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think we have a way of slowing technological progress that a) affects all actors (it wouldn't be a better world if only those nations not obeying international law were making technological progress), and b) has no negative ideological effects.

By "negative ideological effects" do you mean the legitimization of some body of religious knowledge? As stated in my post to Dave, if your objective is to re-condition society to have a rational majority, I can see how religious knowledge (which is often narratively rather than logically sequenced) would be seen as having "negative ideological effects. However, I would argue that there are functional benefits of religion. One of which is the limitation of power. Historically technological progress has for millennia been slowed down by religious and moral barriers. One of the main effects of the scientific revolution was to dissolve these barriers that impeded the production of power (See Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia). However, the current constitution of American society still contains tools of limitation, even non-religious ones. People don’t often look at it this way, but taxation is used in an incredibly moral way. Governments tax highly what they want to dissuade and provide exemptions, even subsidies for what they want to promote. The fact that there is a higher tax on cigarettes is a type of morally based restriction on the expansion of the tobacco industry in our society.

Stronger than taxation there is ability to flat out illegalize something or stigmatize it. Compared to the state of marijuana as an illegal substance and the stigma it carries in many communities makes the limitation of the cigarettes industry through taxation seems relatively minor.

Whether social stigma, taxation, or illegalization, there are several tools at our nation’s disposal to alter the development of industries due to subjective moral values, next to none of which are aimed at limiting the information-technology industries. There is no tax on certain types of research based on a judgment of what is right or wrong. To the contrary, the vast majority of scientific research is for the development of weapons technologies. And who are the primary funders of this research? The department of homeland security and the U.S military make up somewhere around 65-80% of academic research (this statistic might be a little off).

In regards to non-academic research, one of the primary impetuses may not be militarization, but is without doubt entrepreneurialism. Where the primary focus of a person or group is the development of capital the purpose of innovation becomes not fulfilling some need, but to create needs to fulfill the endless goal of cultivating more wealth. Jean Baudrillard is a very interesting sociologist, whose work is built around the idea that in western society no longer do the desires (demands) of people lead to the production of a supply, but rather where desires (demands) are artificially produced by capitalists to fulfill their supplies. A large part of this production is symbolic,, and ultimately distorts the motivations and actions of people to contradict the territories they live in.

comment by HungryTurtle · 2012-04-20T14:19:51.425Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, I would moderate society with more positive religious elements. In my opinion modern society has preserved many dysfunctional elements of religion while abandoning the functional benefits. I can see that a community of rationalists would have a problem with this perspective, seeing that religion almost always results in an undereducated majority being enchanted by their psychological reflexes; but personally, I don’t see the existence of an irrational mass as unconditionally detrimental.

It is interesting to speculate about the potential of a majorly rational society, but I see no practical method of accomplishing this, nor a reason to believe that, I see no real reason to believe that if there was such a configuration would necessarily be superior to the current model.

Either swimmer or Dave, are either of you aware of a practical methodology for rationalizing the masses, or a reason to think why a more efficient society would be any less oppressive or war driven. In fact, in a worst case scenario, I see a world of majorly rational people as transforming into an even more efficient war machine, and killing us all faster. As for the project of pursuit of Friendly AI, I do not know that much about it. What is the perceived end goal of friendly Ai? Is it that an unbiased, unfailing intelligence replaces humans as the primary organizers and arbiters of power in our society, or is it that humanity itself is digitized? I would be very interested to know…without being told to read an entire tome of LW essays.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-20T14:27:35.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is it that an unbiased, unfailing intelligence replaces humans as the primary organizers and arbiters of power in our society, or is it that humanity itself is digitized?

Pretty much the first, but with a perspective worth mentioning. Expressing human values in terms that humans can understand is pretty easy, but still difficult enough to keep philosophy departments writing paper after paper and preachers writing sermon after sermon. Expressing human values in terms that computers can understand- well, that's tough. Really tough. And if you get it wrong, and the computers become the primary organizers and arbiters of power- well, now we've lost the future.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-20T14:57:42.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Either swimmer or Dave, are either of you aware of a practical methodology for rationalizing the masses

For a sufficiently broad understanding of "practical" and "the masses" (and understanding "rationalizing" the way I think you mean it, which I would describe as educating), no. Way too many people on the planet for any of the educational techniques I know about to affect more than the smallest fraction of them without investing a huge amount of effort.

It's worth asking what the benefits are of better educating even a small fraction of "the masses", though.

or a reason to think why a more efficient society would be any less oppressive or war driven

That depends, of course, on what the society values. If I value oppressing people, making me more efficient just lets me oppress people more efficiently. If I value war, making me more efficient means I conduct war more efficiently.

My best guess is that collectively we value things that war turns out to be an inefficient way of achieving. I'm not confident the same is true about oppression.

In fact, in a worst case scenario, I see a world of majorly rational people as transforming into an even more efficient war machine, and killing us all faster.

Sure. But that scenario implies that wanting to kill ourselves is the goal we're striving for, and I consider that unlikely enough to not be worth worrying about much.

What is the perceived end goal of friendly Ai? Is it that an unbiased, unfailing intelligence replaces humans as the primary organizers and arbiters of power in our society

Similar, yes. A system designed to optimize the environment for the stuff humans value will, if it's a better optimizer than humans are, get better results than humans do.

or is it that humanity itself is digitized

Almost entirely orthogonal.

comment by HungryTurtle · 2012-04-21T00:37:55.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That depends, of course, on what the society values. If I value oppressing people, making me more efficient just lets me oppress people more efficiently. If I value war, making me more efficient means I conduct war more efficiently.

So does rationality determine what a person or group values, or is it merely a tool to be used towards subjective values?

Sure. But that scenario implies that wanting to kill ourselves is the goal we're striving for, and I consider that unlikely enough to not be worth worrying about much.

My scenario does not assume that all of humanity views themselves as one in-group. Whereas what you are saying assumes that it does. Killing ourselves and killing them are two very different things. I don't think many groups have the goal of killing themselves, but do you not think that the eradication of competing out groups could be seen as increasing in-group survival?

Almost entirely orthogonal.

You are going to have to explain what you mean here.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-21T00:52:33.873Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So does rationality determine what a person or group values, or is it merely a tool to be used towards subjective values?

Dunno about "merely", but yeah, the thing LW refers to by "rationality" is a tool that can be used to promote any values.

My scenario does not assume that all of humanity views themselves as one in-group. Whereas what you are saying assumes that it does.

I don't think it assumes that, actually. You mentioned "a world of majorly rational people [..] killing us all faster." I don't see how a world of people who are better at achieving what they value results in all of us being killed faster, unless people value killing all of us.

If what I value is killing you and surviving myself, and you value the same, but we end up taking steps that result in both of us dying, it would appear we have failed to take steps that optimize for our goals. Perhaps if we were better at optimizing for our goals, we would have taken different steps.

do you not think that the eradication of competing out groups could be seen as increasing in-group survival?

Sure.

Almost entirely orthogonal. You are going to have to explain what you mean here.

I mean that whether humanity is digitized has almost nothing to do with the perceived end goal.

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-13T14:55:19.803Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely barking up the wrong tree there. Chaos-worshippersDynamists like me are under-represented here for such a technology-loving community - note that the whole basis of FAI is that rapidly self-improving technology by default results in a Bad End.

Contrast EY's notion of AGI with Ben Goertzel's.

comment by HungryTurtle · 2012-04-14T13:19:28.191Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely barking up the wrong tree there.

I am asking for Eliezer to apply the technique described in this essay to his own belief system. I don't see how that could be barking up the wrong tree, unless you are implying that he is some how impervious to "spontaneously self-attack[ing] strong points with comforting replies to rehearse, then to spontaneously self-attack the weakest, most vulnerable points."

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-04-15T03:42:14.117Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer hasn't argued for the unquestioned rightness of rapid, continual technological innovation. On the contrary, he's argued that scientists should bear some responsibility for the potentially dangerous fruits of their work, rather than handwaving it away with the presumption that the developments can't do any harm, or if they can, it's not their responsibility.

In fact, the primary purpose of the SIAI is to try and get a particular technological development right, because they are convinced that getting it wrong could fuck up everything worse than anything has ever been fucked up.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-04-15T07:05:18.503Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In fact, the primary purpose of the SIAI is to try and get a particular technological development right, because they are convinced that getting it wrong could fuck up everything worse than anything has ever been fucked up.

Well put. SIAI needs to adopt this as a mission statement! :P

comment by HungryTurtle · 2012-04-18T12:20:30.477Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could you show me where he argues this?

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-04-18T13:57:18.307Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm afraid I don't remember which post he discusses the idea that scientists should worry about the ethics of their work, and I'm having a difficult time finding it. If you want to find that specific post, it might be better to create an open request in a more prominent place and see if anyone else remembers which one it was.

Although it would take a much longer time though, I think it might be a good idea for you to read all the sequences. Eliezer wrote them to bring people up to speed with his position on the development of AI and rationality after all, so that if we are going to continue to have disagreements, at least they can be more meaningful and substantive disagreements, with all of us on the same page. It sounds very much to me like you're pattern matching Eliezer's writing and responding to what you expect him to think, but if his position were such a short hop of inferential distance for most readers, he wouldn't have needed to go to all the work of creating the sequences in the first place.

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-06T18:02:49.392Z · score: -16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

How has Rationality, as a universal theory (or near-universal) on decision making, confronted its most painful weaknesses? What are rationality's weak points? The more broad a theory is claimed to be, the more important it seems to really test the theory's weaknesses -- that is why I assume you bring up religion, but the same standard should apply to rationality. This is not a cute question from a religious person, more of an intellectual inquiry from a person hoping to learn. In honor of the grand-daddy of cognitive biases, confirmation bias, doesn't rational choice theory need to be vetted?

HungryTurtle makes an attempt to get to this question, but he gets too far into the weeds -- this allowed LW to simply compare the "cons" of religion with the "cons" of rationality -- this is a silly inquiry -- I don't care how the weaknesses of rationality compares to the weaknesses of Judaism because rational theory, if universally applicable with no weaknesses, should be tested on the basis of that claim alone, and not its weaknesses relative to some other theory.

Please note that negative points to this post, or failure to respond will only provide further evidence that LW is guilty of confirmation bias. Its sweet when you get to use cognitive biases against those that try to weed them out. (Yes, I'm trying to goad someone into answering, but only because I really want to know your answer, not because I'm trying to troll).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-06T18:22:23.668Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If by "Rationality, as a universal theory (or near-universal) on decision making" you mean using Bayes' Theorem as a way of determining the likelihood of various potential events and consequently estimating the expected value of various courses of action, which is something that "rationality" sometimes gets used to mean on this site, I'd say (as many have said before me) that one big weakness is the lack of reliable priors. A mechanism for precisely calculating how much I should update P(x) from an existing made-up value based on things I don't necessarily know doesn't provide me with much guidance in my day-to-day life. Another big weakness is computational intractability.

If you mean more broadly making decisions based on the estimated expected value of various courses of action, I suppose the biggest weakness is again computational intractability. Which in turn potentially leads to sloppiness like making simplifying assumptions that are so radically at odds with my real environment that my estimates of value are just completely wrong.

If you mean something else, it might be useful if you said what you mean more precisely.

It's worth noting explicitly that these weaknesses are not themselves legitimate grounds for choosing some other approach that shares the same weaknesses. For example, simply making shit up typically results in estimates of value which are even more wrong. But you explicitly asked about weaknesses in isolation, rather than reasons to pick one decision theory over another.

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-06T19:08:21.686Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I don't mean any weaknesses in particular, the idea laid out by EY was to confront your greatest weaknesses, so that is something for those that follow the theory to look into -- I'm just exploring :).

I guess what I'm not following is this idea of "choosing" an approach. Implicit in your answer I think is the idea that there is a "best" approach that must be discovered among the various theories on living life -- why does the existence of theory that is the "best" indicative that it is universally applicable? The goal is to "understand reality," not choose a methodology that is the "best" under the assumption that the "best" theory can be then be followed universally.

Put differently, to choose rationality as a universal theory notwithstanding its flaws, you're saying more than "its the "best" of all the available theories -- I think you must also believe that the idea of having a set theory to guide life, notwithstanding its flaws, is the best way to go about understanding reality. What is the basis for the belief in the second prong?

Saying "well i have to make a decision," so i need to find the best theory doesn't cut it. It is clear there are times we must make a decision, but you are left with a similar question -- why are humans entitled to know what to do simply because they need to make a decision? Perhaps in "reality" is there is no answer (or no answer within the limits of human comprehension) -- it is true you're stuck not knowing what to do but you surely have a better view of reality (if that is the reality).

The implications of this are important. If you agree that rational choice theory is the "best" of all theories, but also agree that there is (or may be) a distinction between "choosing/applying a set theory" and "understanding reality" to the greatest extent humanly possible, it suggests one would need more than rationality to truly understand reality.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-06T19:15:34.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(...) it suggests one would need more than rationality to truly understand reality.

I'm not sure what you mean. In such a case, rationality dictates that IFF you truly want to understand reality, you should find that "more" that is needed and use it instead of rationality. This is the rational course of action. Therefore it is rational to do that thing "instead of" doing rationality. Thus being rational means doing this thing that leads to understanding reality.

This seems to imply that if you keep recursively applying rationality to your own application of rationality, you end up finding that that which leads with highest probability to the desired goal is always rationality.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-06T19:26:00.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Implicit in your answer I think is the idea that there is a "best" approach that must be discovered among the various theories on living life

No, I don't think that's implied. We do make decisions, and some processes for making decisions lead to different results than other processes, and some results are better than others. It doesn't follow that there's a single best approach, or that such an approach is discoverable, or that it's worthwhile to search for it.

The goal is to "understand reality,"

Is that the goal? I'm not sure it is.

I think you must also believe that the idea of having a set theory to guide life, notwithstanding its flaws, is the best way to go about understanding reality.

As above, I neither agree that understanding reality is a singularly important terminal goal, nor that finding the "best theory" for achieving my goals is a particularly high-priority instrumental goal.

So, mostly, I feel like this entire comment is orthogonal to anything I actually said, and you're putting a lot of words in my mouth here. You might do better to just articulate what you believe without trying to frame it as a reply to my comment.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-06T18:35:00.309Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Please note that negative points to this post, or failure to respond will only provide further evidence that LW is guilty of confirmation bias.

This is not the only hypothesis that downvotes to this post or failures to respond provide evidence for. It also provides evidence, in the Bayesian sense, that people think you're a troll, or that your writing is suboptimal, or that only a few people managed to see this post in the first place, or... etc.

Anyway, it is not entirely clear to me what you mean by "rationality," but I'll use a caricature of it, namely "use Bayes' theorem and then do the thing that maximizes expected utility."

One big problem is what your priors should be. Probably no human in the world actually uses Solomonoff induction (and it is still not entirely clear to me that this is a good idea), so whatever else they're using is an opportunity for bias to creep in.

Another big problem is how you should actually use Bayes' theorem in practice. Any given observation contains way more information in it than you can reasonably update on, so you need to make some modeling decisions and privilege certain kinds of information above others, then find some kind of reasonable procedure for estimating likelihood ratios, and these are all more opportunities for bias to creep in.

And a third big problem is how to actually compute utilities. Before you do this you need to address the question of whether humans even have utility functions, whether they should aspire to have utility functions (whatever "should" means here), and if so, what your utility function is...

These are all big problems. In response I would say that ideal decision-making is not a thing that we can do, but understanding more about what the ideal looks like can help us move our decision-making closer to ideal.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-06T18:39:54.402Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, here are my assessments of rationalities weakest points, from what I have read on Less Wrong so far. (That means some of these use "Rationality" when "Less Wrong" may be better used, which could be a crippling flaw in my list of weaknesses.) It sounds like you may be looking for something like these:

1: Several aspects of rationality require what appears to be a significant amount of math and philosophy to get right. If you don't understand that math or the philosophy, you aren't really being a rationalist, you're more just following the lead of other rationalists because they seem smart, or possibly because you liked their books, and possibly cheerleading them on on occasion. Rationality needs more simpler explanations that can be easily followed by people who are not in the top 1% of brain processing.

2: Rationality also requires quick explanations. Some people who study rationality realize this: When attempting to automate their decision theory, consider the problem "How do we make a computer that doesn't turn the entire universe into more computer to be absolutely sure that 2+2 is 4?" is considered a substantial problem. Quick answers tend to be eschewed, for ever more levels of clarity which take an increasing large amount of time, and even when confronted with the obvious problem that going for nothing but clarity causes, Rationalists consider it to be something that requires even more research into how to be clear.

3: Rationality decision problems really don't rise above the level of religion. Consider that in many rationality decision problems, the first thing that Rationalists do is presuppose "Omega" who is essentially "God" with the serial numbers filed off. Infinite (Or extremely high) utility and disutility are thrown around like so many parallels of Heaven and Hell. This makes a lot of rationality problems the kind of thing that those boring philosophers of the past (that Rationalists are so quick to eschew) have discussed ad nauseum.

It's hard to really grasp the scope of these problems (I'm one of those people in part 1 that doesn't quite get some of the mathier bits sometimes.) And I'm not sure any of them are fatal to rationality as a decision making method, since I still read the site and consider it trustworthy. But if you were going to look for weak points, you could start at any of these.

Does that help?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-06T18:54:18.349Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Leaving aside the rest of this comment, please note that in many cases we throw around large numbers and high probabilities in order to obviously break fragile systems that wouldn't break as obviously if we threw small numbers and middle probabilities.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-06T18:59:33.738Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That makes intuitive sense to me, since I've worked in programming. Thanks!

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-06T18:56:03.827Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

On the distant chance that you're actually attempting to be reasonable and are just messing it up, I downvoted this post because I automatically downvote everything that tries to Poison the Well against being downvoted. Being preemptively accused of confirmation bias is itself sufficient reason to downvote.

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-06T19:44:46.031Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, EY. I am asking a real question in that i want to know what people think of the question.

As a person that does not think rationality is as useful or as universal as people do on this site, I am at a disadvantage in that i'm in the minority here, however, I'm still posting/reading to question myself through engaging with those I disagree with. I seek the community's perspective, not to necessarily believe it or label it correct/wrong, but simply to understand it. My personal experience (with this name and old ones) has been that people generally do not respond to viewpoints that are contrary to the conventional thought -- this is problematic because this community is best-positioned to defend weaknesses (claimed or real) regarding rationality. Looking at it another way, if I believe that rationality has serious flaws, I need to be able to defend myself against YOUR best arguments, but can only do that if someone engages with me so I understand those arguments first.

The point of my post was to ask a serious question and poke you guys with a stick, hoping the poke elicits a response to the question -- frankly it worked, and now i will swallow, learn from and hopefully respond to the various comments. So long as negative points don't prevent me from reading and posting, i could care less about what points i have -- I also note that I was clear about my intentions about wanting to goad an answer.

Perhaps you disagree with my methods, but since my goal was to hear multiple perspectives, and got more than I usually do, i see its a win for instrumental rationality. And, if my follow-ups suggest I'm not an troll/general a**, perhaps I wont have to use dirty tricks going forward!

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-06T19:03:24.574Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

First off:

Please note that negative points to this post, or failure to respond will only provide further evidence that LW is guilty of confirmation bias. Its sweet when you get to use cognitive biases against those that try to weed them out. (Yes, I'm trying to goad someone into answering, but only because I really want to know your answer, not because I'm trying to troll).

This is usually considered a very bad sign and to be against community norms and/or ethics. Many people would/will downvote your comment exclusively because of the quoted paragraph. My first impulse was to do so, but I'm overriding it in favor of this response and in light of the rest of your comment, which seems like a habit of reasoning to be strongly encouraged, regardless of other things I'll get to in a minute.

So, first, before any productive discussion of this can be done (edit: from my end, at least), I have to be reasonably confident that you've read and understood "What Do We Mean By "Rationality"?", which establishes as two separate functions what I believe you're referring to when you say "Rationality as a (near-)universal theory on decision-making."

Alright. Now, assuming you understand the point of that post and the content of "rationality", could you help me pinpoint your exact question? To me, "How has Rationality confronted its most painful weaknesses?" and "What are rationality's weak points?" are incoherent questions - they seem Mysterious - to the same extent that one could ask the same questions of thinking, of existence, of souls, of the Peano Axioms, or of basically anything that requires more context to properly compute those questions for.

If you're trying to question the usefulness of the function "be instrumentally rational", then the most salient weakness is that it is theoretically possible that a human could attempt to be instrumentally rational, end up applying it inexactly or inefficiently, waste time, not recurse to a high enough stack, or a slew of other mistakes.

The second most important is that sometimes, even a human properly applying the principles of instrumental rationality will find out that their values are more easily fulfilled by doing something else and not applying instrumental rationality - at which point, because they are applying instrumental rationality and the function "be instrumentally rational" is a polymorphic function, the next instrumentally rational thing to do is to not be instrumentally rational anymore, since it is what maximizes "winning", which as described in the first link above is what instrumental rationality strives for. In this case, using instrumental rationality in the first place if you were already doing the other thing that maximizes value could be considered an opportunity-cost virus, since it consumed time and mental energy and possibly other resources in a quest to figure out that you shouldn't have done this.

However, if you look at the odds using the tools at your disposal, it seems extremely unlikely that it would be the case that being rational is less efficient towards achieving values than other strategies, since optimizing for expected utility, over all possible strategies in all possible worlds, is mathematically the strategy most likely to achieve optimal utility. This sounds like a trivial theorem that follows from standard peano axioms, but I don't recall seeing any example of this particular statement being formalized like that.

By simple probability axioms, it is even more unlikely that what you're already doing is better than applying instrumental rationality and finding out the actual non-rational strategy that is optimal for your values, let alone compared against the expected utility of the probabilistic expectations of instrumental rationality itself being optimal versus the low probability of it leading to some other non-rational optimal strategy.

Basically, it seems like the only relevant weaknesses of applied instrumental rationality are: computational (in)tractability, unlikely chance that some non-expected-winning-maximizing strategy might actually be better for maximizing winning (which can't be known reliably in advance anyway unless you happen to defy all probability and by hypothesis already contain the true knowledge of the true optimal strategy for the agent your mind implements), and some difficulties or risks during implementation by us humans as a result of bugs and inefficiencies in human hardware.

When this is applied in a meta manner, where you rationally attempt to choose which strategies instead of applying a naive version of rationality, such as many of the ways described in the Sequences on LessWrong, then as per bayesian updating and the tools available to us, this seems to be probabilistically the most effective possible strategy for human hardware. Which means that on a statistical level, the only weakness of instrumental rationality is that it's hard to understand correctly, hard to actually implement, and hard to apply. The other responses to your comment have more details on many ways human hardware can fail to be optimal at this or have/cause various important problems.

comment by jooyous · 2013-02-06T19:12:17.469Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please note that negative points to this post, or failure to respond will only provide further evidence that LW is guilty of confirmation bias. Its sweet when you get to use cognitive biases against those that try to weed them out.

I see these wonky pseudo-threats around the site a lot and they're really confusing to me. Of course I'm biased! I'm a human! Just because I'm hanging around this site doesn't mean I've cleared all my biases and now become a perfect rational agent.

On one hand, I do want to weed out cognitive biases in situations where they're hindering my decision-making in important areas of my life. On the other hand, I still have a lot of information to sift through in the real world, so maybe some of the shortcuts my brain uses are pretty handy to keep around. One example of these would be "talk to people that don't threaten you; discourage people that do." Sure, this might be filtering out some potentially good discussions, but it still seems like a pretty good heuristic to me, especially out there in scary meatspace. ^_^

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-06T19:32:41.142Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I see these wonky pseudo-threats around the site a lot and they're really confusing to me.

FWIW, I mostly understand them to be attempts at manipulating listeners into avoiding a particular behavior by associating that behavior with a low-status condition, coupled with the belief that on LW being biased is seen as a low-status condition.

comment by jooyous · 2013-02-06T19:45:25.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But hopefully most LWers don't go around thinking being biased in any way is awful and they must be completely unbiased at all times. Right? So I'm not sure where the manipulative people pick up that idea. I definitely think we should minimize bias when making important decisions, but when deciding what posts to read/reply to? I will proudly use a shortcut!

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-02-06T19:50:20.043Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As a matter of policy, I always downvote any comment that includes anything like your final paragraph.

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-06T19:58:11.391Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is a response to theOtherDave -- I can't respond anymore to threads! you guys win! crush dissent based on superficial factors that "automatically result in downvotes" and thus ignore criticism! fool proof!

Is that [understanding reality] the goal? I'm not sure it is As above, I neither agree that understanding reality is a singularly important terminal goal, nor that finding the "best theory" for achieving my goals is a particularly high-priority instrumental goal.

ok, sorry to put words in your mouth -- what is your goal then? Is it not fair to say the goal is "understand reality" and "achieve your goals"? I'm ignoring the second because its personal -- the first goes to a normative understanding of reality, which presumably equally apply to each of us.

perhaps your definition is different, but my understanding is that epistemic rationality is focused on understanding reality, and it uses rational choice theory as a means to understand that reality.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-06T20:30:52.495Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

(This comment is entirely about the meta-subject and your approach to this discussion, and doesn't engage with your dialogue with TheOtherDave.)

I can't respond anymore to threads! you guys win! crush dissent based on superficial factors that "automatically result in downvotes" and thus ignore criticism! fool proof!

This is, in local parlance, called a Fully General Counterargument. It does not engage with the arguments we present at all, does not present any evidence that its claim might be true, but applies optimized sophistry to convince an audience that its claim is true and the alternatives untrue.

The response blocker is an anti-troll functionality, and does more good than harm to the epistemic hygiene of the community (as far as I can tell).

Dissent is not crushed - if the community norms are respected, even very contrarian arguments can be massively upvoted. However, this usually requires more research, evidence and justification than non-contrarian arguments, because according to the knowledge we have an opinion that disagrees with us starts with a lower credibility prior, and this prior needs more evidence to be brought up to the same level of credibility as other arguments that the community is neutral or positive about.

We¹ understand that it can be frustrating to someone who really wants to discuss and is interested to be blocked off like this, but this also seems to double-time as a filter for new users. New users that cannot muster the patience to deal with this issue are very unlikely to be mature and respectful enough to participate productively on LessWrong, since many of the relevant behaviors do correlate.

The best way "around" the block that prevents you from responding to comments is to PM users directly, and if something you want to say is of public interest it is usually recommended to ask a more neutral participant of the discussion or someone you believe will represent and transmit your message well to post what you have to say for you. Some users have even experimented a bit with this in the past and shown that changing the username that posts something does change the way even LW users will read and interpret the content (there are many reasons why this is not always a bad thing).

Overall, when you want to criticize LW ideas, we expect you to have thought about it a reasonably large amount of time (proportionally to how much others on LW have already thought about it), we expect some evidence to be presented because if most LWers don't believe the claim this is bayesian evidence that it is not worth believing, and we expect you to use terms and concepts that are close to the ones we use or present evidence that the words and concepts we use for something are not adequate and you have more appropriate suggestions.

However, as it is, your criticism doesn't seem to offer any evidence-based claims, your questions seem poorly defined and tainted with confusion, your attitude is providing strong evidence that you are not willing to update to evidence or engage in any sort of rational and useful discourse, and I had great difficulty writing my previous response because I was attempting to meet you as close as possible to your concepts and terminology rather than start from the LessWrong common ground and local jargon, since it seemed unlikely that simply phrasing it in my own standard words would have fared any better than what I assume you've already read.


  1. For as much of LessWrong as I can speak for, which is probably not much - I'm a relatively recent user and I have made no major contributions that I'm aware of. This applies to each time I use "we" in this comment.
comment by non-expert · 2013-02-06T20:52:12.416Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

DeFranker, thanks for the detailed note -- I take your points, they are reasonable and fair, but want to share a different perspective.

The problem I'm having is that I'm not actually making any arguments as "correct" or saying any of you people are wrong. The observation/statement for the sake of discussion does not mean that there is a conclusory judgment attached to it. Now, to the extent that you say i need to have a better understanding to make dissenting points, fair, but all I want to know is what the weakest arguments against rationality are, and question what relevance those weaknesses, if any, on the determination about the amount of time and energy to be spent on rational choice theory, as opposed to another theory or no theory. This seems particularly appropriate with respect to THIS article -- which asks that believers of a theory question the weakest positions of that theory -- whether in application or whatever. This is an analysis for believers to perform. Again, I'm not saying you don't have any strong arguments to weaker positions or that you even have weak positions -- I'm asking how those that follow rationality have approached this question/issue and how they've disposed of it.

It would seem those that follow a theory have the greatest responsibility to consider the strongest arguments against that very theory (which is exactly why EY posted the article re: Judaism). Why is it so inappropriate to hold rationality to the same standard? I'm not presupposing an answer, I just want to know YOUR answer is so i better understand your point of view. Perhaps your answer is "its obvious this theory is correct," without more. I would be fine with that simply because you've answered the question -- you've given me your perspective. Sure, I may ask additional questions, but the goal is not to be right or win some online war, the goal is to learn (my effing name is "non-expert" -- you dont' have to worry about me telling you that you're wrong, but i may question your logic/reason/etc.) I cannot learn unless I understand the perspectives of those that disagree with me.

And regarding the quoted text -- yes, while i appreciate i did not follow the "culture" or norms of this site, I had looked at this site as a place for substantive answers/discussions. I'm not making a fully general counterargument -- I'm simply pointing out that attacking my jokes/jabs allows you to avoid my question -- again, to be clear, I didn't ask the question to prove you're wrong, I'm asking the question to hear your answer!

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-06T21:22:26.884Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Now, I agree with most of what you said here. However, some of it doesn't quite parse for me, so here's my attempt at resolving what seems like communication issues.

(...) but all I want to know is what the weakest [strongest?] arguments against rationality are (...)

This doesn't really tell me anything about what you want to know, even assuming you mean "strongest arguments against rationality" and/or "weakest arguments for rationality".

Arguments for something are usually coupled with a claim - they are arguments for a claim. Which specific claim are you referring to when you use the word "rationality" in the claim above? I'm not asking a trick question, I just can't tell what you mean out of several hundreds of thousands of possible things you could possibly be thinking about. Sometimes, it could also be for or against a specific technique, where it is implied that the claim is "you should use this technique".

To me, the phrase "arguments for and against rationality" makes as much sense as the phrase "arguments for and against art" or the phrase "arguments for and against numbers". There's some missing element, some missing piece of context that isn't obvious to me and that wasn't mentioned explicitly.

Here are some attempts at guessing what you could mean, just as an exercise for me and as points of comparison for you:

  • "What are the strongest arguments against using bayesian updating to form accurate models of the world?" (i.e. The strongest arguments against the implied claim that you should use bayesian updating when you want to form accurate models of the world - this is the standard pattern.)
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that forming accurate models of the world is useful towards achieving your goals?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that forming accurate models of the world is useful to me?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the use of evidence to decide on which beliefs to believe?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the usefulness or accuracy of probabilities in general as opposed to human intuition?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that humans have anything resembling a utility function, desires, or values?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments that choosing the action with highest expected utility is not the best (most optimal) way to achieve human values?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that calculating expected utility is not (always) a waste of time?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that anything can even be truly known or understood by humans?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments that if nothing can be truly known, it is meaningless to attempt to be less wrong?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the best way to achieve a goal being the best way to achieve that goal?" (yes, I know exactly how this looks/sounds)
  • "On LW rationality is sometimes referred to as 'winning'. What is the evidence against the claim that humans want to win in the first place?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the idea that human values make any sense and can ever be approximated, let alone known?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that taking actions will limit the possible future states of the world?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against the claim that limiting the possible future states of the world can help achieve your goals and fulfill your values?"
  • "What are the strongest arguments against humans being able to limit possible future states of the world to the right future possible states that will achieve their goals?"

Feel free to pick any of the above reductions (more than one if need be) as a starting point for further analysis and information exchange, or preferably form your own more precise question by comparing your internal question to the above. Hopefully this'll help clarify exactly what you're asking us.

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-07T17:07:31.775Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

DeFranker -- many thanks for taking the time, very helpful.

I spent last night thinking about this, and now I understand your (LW's) points better and my own. To start, I think the ideas of epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality are unassailable as ideas -- there are few things that make as much sense as the ideas of what rationality is trying to do, in the abstract.

But, when we say "rationality" is a good idea, I want to understand two fundamental things: In what context does rationality apply, and where it applies, what methodologies, if any, apply to actually practice it. I don't presuppose any answers to the above -- at the same time I don't want to "practice rationality" unless or before i understand how those two questions are answered or dealt with (I appreciate its not your responsibility to answer them, I'm just expressing them as things I'm considering).

"Weaknesses" of rationality is not an appropriate question -- I now understand the visceral reaction -- However, by putting rationality in context, one can better understand its usefulness from a practical perspective. Any lack of usefulness, or lack of applicability would be the "weakness/criticism" I was asking about, but upon reflection, I get to the same place by talking about context.

Let me step back a bit to explain why I think these questions are relevant. We all know the phrase "context matters" in the abstract -- I would argue that epistemic rationality, in the abstract, is relevant for instrumental rationality because if our model of the world is incorrect, the manner in which we choose to reach our goals in that world will be affected. All I'm really saying here is that "context matters." Now while most agree that context matters with respect to decision making, there's an open question as to "what context actually matters. So, there is always a potential debate regarding whether the the world is understood well enough and to the extent necessary in order to successfully practice instrumental rationality -- this is clearly a relative/subjective determination.

With that in mind, any attempt to apply instrumental rationality would require some thought about epistemic rationality, and whether my map is sufficient to make a decision. Does rationality, as it is currently practice, offer any guidance on this? Lets pretend the answer is no -- that's fine, but then that's a potential "flaw" in rationality or hole where rationality alone does not help with an open issue/question that is relevant.

I'm not trying to knock rationality, but I'm not willing to coddle it and pretend its all there is to know if it comes at the cost of minimizing knowledge.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-06T21:29:41.464Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to start a discussion about the weaknesses of rationality based on the assumption that understanding reality is the correct thing to value, I recommend you just do that.

Asking me what my goals are in the context of insisting that my goals ought to be to understand reality, just confuses the issue. Coupled with your insistence that you're just asking questions and all this talk about winning and crushing dissent and whatnot, the impression I'm left with is that you're primarily interested in winning an argument, and not being entirely honest about your motives.

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-07T04:42:48.945Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

no -- im not saying your goals ought to be anything, and i'm not trying to win an argument, but appreciate you will interpret my motives as you see appropriate.

let me try this differently -- there is an idea on LW that rationality is a "good" way to go about thinking [NOTE: correct me if i'm wrong]. By rationality, I mean exactly what is listed here:

Epistemic rationality: believing, and updating on evidence, so as to systematically improve the correspondence between your map and the territory. The art of obtaining beliefs that correspond to reality as closely as possible. This correspondence is commonly termed "truth" or "accuracy", and we're happy to call it that. Instrumental rationality: achieving your values. Not necessarily "your values" in the sense of being selfish values or unshared values: "your values" means anything you care about. The art of choosing actions that steer the future toward outcomes ranked higher in your preferences. On LW we sometimes refer to this as "winning".

My question relates to putting these two ideas/points into context, but with more of a focus on epistemic rationality (because it seems you need to know the world (i.e. context) in which you're making decisions before you apply instrumental rationality) -- is epistemic rationality practiced through a methodology? (probability theory/decision theory/something else?) or is the description above just an idea that is to be applied generically, e.g. just taking into account cognitive biases? If its just a description of an idea, then does that mean you cannot really "apply" it, you more just try to keep the general tenets in mind when thinking about things?

if theres a methodology (or multiple) to be used to practice epistemic rationality, does that methodology(ies) apply to help understand all aspects of "reality" (again, keying off EY's definition)? [NOTE: It seems reality, if it could be understood, would mean the broadest understanding of who we are, why we are here, and how our world works day-to-day. Is LW using a different definition of reality?] If more than one methodology could apply depending on the situation, how do you distinguish between those methodologies?

If the "chosen" methodology(ies) for epistemic rationality is NOT appropriate for certain decisions, what alternatives are to be used? Also, how do you describe the distinction between the decisions for which the chosen methodology(ies) works and those decisions for which it does not?

To be clear, I'm asking to get context for how rationality fits within the larger picture of the universe, including all of its uncertainty. I realize you may not have answers to all these questions and that there may not be consensus about any of it -- thats more than fine since all i'm looking for is responses, i don't care what they actually are. for example, you or others may make certain assumptions for certain of the questions to make necessary simplifications/etc. - all of that is fine, I just think the questions need to be considered before you can credibly apply (or seek to apply) rationality, and want to see if you've thought about them and if so, how you've handled them. If I'm being unreasonable or missing something with my questions, so be it, but i'd be interested in your thoughts.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-07T04:57:27.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lot depends on how broad a brush I understand the word "methodology" to cover, but if I'm correctly understanding what you mean by the term, no, there's no particular methodology for how to practice epistemic rationality; it's more like what you refer to as "trying to keep the general tenets in mind while thinking about things".

That said, I suppose there are common practices you could call endorsed methodologies if you were in the mood.

For example, attaching confidence intervals to estimates and predictions is a practice you'll see a lot around here, with the implied (though not formalized) associated practice of comparing those estimates/predictions with later measurements, and treating an underconfident accurate prediction as a failure of prediction (that is, an event that ought to trigger recalibration).

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-07T16:36:40.880Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Great, thanks, this is helpful. Is the answer to the above questions, as far as you practice rationality, the same for instrumental rationality? it is an idea -- but no real methodology? in my mind it would seem decision theory could be a methodology by which someone could practice instrumental rationality. To the extent it is, the above questions remain relevant (only in the sense they should be considered,

I now have an appreciation of your point -- I can definitely see how the question "what are the flaws with epistemic rationality" could be viewed as an meaningless question -- I was thinking about epistemic rationality as more than just an idea -- an idea WITH a methodology. Clearly the idea is unassailable (in my mind anyway), but methodologies (whether for rationality or some other purpose) could at least in concept have flaws, or perhaps flaws in that they cannot be applied universally -- it was this that I was asking about.

Interestingly, your response raises a different question. If epistemic rationality is an idea, and not a methodology, rationality (as it is discussed here) leaves open the possibility that there could be a methodology that may apply/help with practicing epistemic rationality (i.e. consistent with the IDEA of rationality, but a methodology by which you can practice it).

As I think most appreciate, ideas ( not necessarily with respect to rationality, but generally) suffer from the fact that they are general, and don't give a user a sense of "what to do" -- obviously, getting your map to match reality is not an easy task, so methodologies for epistemic rationality in the abstract could be helpful so as to put the idea to practice.

This is particularly important if you're practicing instrumental rationality -- This type of rationality is practiced "in the world," so having an accurate (or accurate enough) model is seemingly important to ensure that the manner in which you practice instrumental rationality makes sense.

Thus, a possible shortcoming of instrumental rationality could be that it depends on epistemic rationality, but because there isn't a clear answer to the question of "what is real," instrumental rationality is limited to the extent our beliefs regarding "what is real" are actually correct. You could say that instrumental rationality, depending on the circumstances, does not require a COMPLETE understanding of the world, and so my observation, even if fair, must be applied on a sliding scale.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-07T21:05:33.182Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that it's a lot easier to talk about flaws in specific methodologies than flaws in broad goals.

Agreed that a decision theory is a methodology by which someone could practice instrumental rationality, and there's a fair amount of talk around here about what kinds of decision theories are best in what kinds of scenarios. Most of it goes over my head; I don't really know what it would mean to apply the different decision theories that get talked about here to real-world situations.

Agreed that there could be a methodology that may apply/help with practicing epistemic rationality. Or many of them.

Agreed that in the absence of complete information about the world, our ability to maximize expected value will always be constrained, and that this is a shortcoming of instrumental rationality viewed in isolation. (Not so much when compared to alternatives, since all the alternatives have the same shortcoming.)

comment by non-expert · 2013-02-06T20:25:04.752Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How has Rationality, as a universal theory (or near-universal) on decision making, confronted its most painful weaknesses? What are rationality's weak points? The more broad a theory is claimed to be, the more important it seems to really test the theory's weaknesses -- that is why I assume you bring up religion, but the same standard should apply to rationality. This is not a cute question from a religious person, more of an intellectual inquiry from a person hoping to learn. In honor of the grand-daddy of cognitive biases, confirmation bias, doesn't rational choice theory need to be vetted?

HungryTurtle makes an attempt to get to this question, but he gets too far into the weeds -- this allowed LW to simply compare the "cons" of religion with the "cons" of rationality -- this is a silly inquiry -- I don't care how the weaknesses of rationality compares to the weaknesses of Judaism because rational theory, if universally applicable with no weaknesses, should be tested on the basis of that claim alone, and not its weaknesses relative to some other theory.

NOTE: re-posting without offending language in the hopes i dont need to create a new name. looks like i lost on my instrumental rationality point, got downvoted enough to get be restricted. on the bright side I am learning to admit i'm wrong (i was wrong to misread whether i'd offend LW, which prevented me from engaging with others on substantive points i'm trying to learn more about).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-02-06T21:57:09.436Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Absolutely.

In fact, when used properly it's an entirely overt attempt to manipulate speakers, in order to influence the speaking that goes on in ways that the site prefers, and it is specifically endorsed by the site for that purpose. (It is also frequently used to express annoyance or to manipulate speakers for other purposes, which the site may or may not endorse.)

comment by jooyous · 2013-02-06T22:11:12.893Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think "the way the site prefers" just equates to the way the site prefers. When you're hanging out on the site, the way the site prefers is more relevant to you than this other "Good" thing.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-06T22:18:56.422Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently, sometimes, stating the obvious tautology really is the best way of killing a strawman.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-06T22:23:59.610Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Rationality means listening to objections.

Please provide evidence. I challenge this claim.

"Listening to objections" is not what provides the highest expected utility based on my information and model of the world. By my previous definition, rationality meant winning and being less wrong. Using those tools, I determine that listening to objections is not the best way to be less wrong or win.

Edit: Also, I really think this whole thread should go here, judging by the current trend of discourse.

comment by jooyous · 2013-02-06T22:25:10.928Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Rationality means listening to objections.

Yes, definitely. But when there is a large number of objections, rationality also means prioritizing which objections to address with which allocation of resources. And the site prefers to address those objections that aren't wrapped in threats and insults. =]

comment by Nornagest · 2013-02-07T01:21:05.746Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Because Bayes says you should update when presented with contrary evidence. Because Bayes doens't say you can sweep evidence under the carpet. Because Confirmation Bias is bad

The fact of an otherwise unexceptional objection is only evidence against an idea when you get more objections than you'd expect an arbitrary true idea in its reference class to get. Ideas touching on political or identity issues, for example, can be expected to garner a certain proportion of objections merely from tribal effects, with no particular implications for truth value.

The content of objections is a different matter and pretty much has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Parsing content carries costs, however, and so there are situations when it's not going to be worth your time -- as for example when it comes from a source with a known history of trolling or poor-quality reasoning, or with known-bad axioms.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-02-07T01:30:43.304Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Please don't confuse rationality (a collection of methods) with philosophical rationalism.

comment by CCC · 2013-02-07T06:41:09.579Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

While the Munchausen Trilemma isn't mentioned by name in the article, the ideas behind it are pretty thoroughly examined in The Useful Idea Of Truth

comment by fortyeridania · 2013-10-22T07:44:18.267Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that, when it comes to spontaneous self-questioning, one is much more likely to spontaneously self-attack strong points with comforting replies to rehearse, then to spontaneously self-attack the weakest, most vulnerable points.

Typo: "then" should be "than."

comment by noonehomer · 2014-04-27T21:24:42.841Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Um... were you ever really Modern Orthodox? What about "Baruch Dayan Emes" after someone dies, or the continual affirmation of God after tragedy with kaddish? You, sirrah, have many blind points on this subject. I believe that God gave the Torah. God is not wrong. God created humanity, and He does not have to treat them as thinking beings beyond the dispensation He gave. He destroyed the Egyptian army, as was His right, and yet He STILL mourned and would not let the angels sing, yet He allowed the humans because He understood they could not be expected not to celebrate. You shouldn't talk about things you don't understand, since you clearly haven't learned very much of the Midrash or, for that matter, much about Judaism period.

I'm sorry your experience with religion scarred you. That doesn't give you the right to make broad generalizations.

EDIT: To those who down-voted me, my point is that his fundamental premise is that any "real" question will lead to his answers, i.e. rejection of faith. That's narrow-minded and not at all rational

For the record, the simplest answer may be the best way to go based off of information, but germs weren't the simplest answer when it came to figuring out where disease came from. History shows, again and again, that what seems to be the simplest answer is often wrong. So I don't like your logic.

And that's a lovely quote at the end. Truly. But I don't think it entails the rejection of God or Judaism to question what I believe.

Besides, how can we ever know what's true? I like Kant's system for this. We can't know what the real world looks like, only what our brain understands. For all I know, you're not real. I'm not real. The point is, knowing is impossible, and truth is impossible without some sort of leap of faith. You choose to trust your brain. I trust in God, which makes a lot more sense to me.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-06T21:03:53.886Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Can anyone point out the weakest points in christianity? You need to know enough about it and you need to give it considerable thought.

(I am christian. As long as I can remember I have adopted a mindset of skeptical thinking and self doubt, but since I in real life don´t know many people who are smarter than me and knows enough to say anything about christianity, I ask you. My mom is agnostic and pretty clever, but she can come up with better arguments for a God than I can. A fair warning, I doubt that many here knows enough about christianity to actually come up with something, but I would be positively surprised if someone did. I have some weak points of my own, but it would be very useful to see if I have missed something instead of just sticking with that.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-06T21:17:32.038Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A list that pops up for me, but I don't think they are exactly unusual (and most if not all of them can be found somewhere on this blog):

  • Pain, suffering, death, injustice, etc.
  • Why did rabbits evolve to evade foxes and foxes to catch rabbits?
  • Why would elephants starve to death after they have lost their last teeth, going through all that suffering? Why not a painless death?
  • Why all those design inefficiencies (eyes backwards, testicles on the outside, ...)?
  • Is there anything that is actually evidence for the existence of god?
comment by Vaniver · 2015-04-06T21:23:40.433Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

testicles on the outside

I thought this made obvious sense for temperature regulation reasons. (The eye is a much stronger example.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-06T21:28:34.803Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, if you are limited to the stupid designs that natural selection can produce. But if you are god, you should be able to do better!

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-07T21:57:44.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Then why do mammals need a different temperature in their testicles? Like mammals, birds also regulate their own temperature, and they do just fine with internal testicles.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-07T22:17:11.054Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They evolved from dinosaurs. It could have something to do with that. Mammals are fundamentally different from reptiles and birds. Blame evolution.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T11:20:51.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Didn't mammals evolve from reptiles, too? I think your argument would be stronger if you only left 'mammals are fundamentally different from birds'.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T12:12:01.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes they did, but birds are much more related to dinosaurs than mammals are. All life forms evolved from Unicellular organisms.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T14:27:58.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And why, do you think, did it take biologists until XIX century to agree upon the unicellular part?

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-08T18:55:19.737Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you really believe God is responsible for everything, "blame evolution" isn't really a good answer. Are you claiming that God is constrained in how he could set up evolution?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T19:19:51.922Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think God created the world, then he let it have it´s run. I wouldn´t say that he "set up" earths evolution in any specific way... Except for the creationists (are they even considered christian?) I don´t know any christians who would deny evolution today.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-08T19:48:25.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Creationists describe themselves as Christians, and it's hard to see how anyone else could be in a better position to tell them what they are, especially within Protestantism, where there's no central authority on what the religion is and is not.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T10:58:48.235Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have always believed that you need to worship Jesus as a god, as someone divine, in order to call yourself christian. The source I have used as support for this claim is The 1986 edition of this encyclopedia For the record, it was ultimately supervised by four professors and actually written and produced by many more, including docents in religions.

Jiro says that "blame evolution" is not a good answer. But I have the right to believe in evolution even though I believe in a God. There is no need for a contradiction there.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-09T12:03:35.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have always believed that you need to worship Jesus as a god, as someone divine, in order to call yourself christian.

Most US creationists would indeed say that they do worship Jesus as a God. Most of the Christian's with whom you interact might not believe in creationism but it's a mistake to assume that the people you know are representative for the whole world.

See the gallup poll for the US.

For the record, it was ultimately supervised by four professors and actually written and produced by many more, including docents in religions.

Argument by authority doesn't bring you far on LW. Especially when you make trivial errors such as questioning whether creationists are Christian.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T13:03:55.732Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

At least I wont be alone in the trivial error club.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T12:09:12.939Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I did not downvote this, but I think whoever did meant it as 'actually, you are NOT entitled to believe in evolution'. (People who view evolution through the lenses of genetics and biotechnology and not, say, botany and zoology, intuitively seem to me less baffled by it - not always a good thing. You have to be as baffled as you possibly can, to seek out any weak spots at all.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-09T12:35:55.049Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think whoever did meant it as 'actually, you are NOT entitled to believe in evolution'.

What makes you think so?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T12:42:08.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because 'entitled to believe' doesn't go well with critical thinking?

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-09T21:27:53.901Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The reason that "blame evolution" isn't a good answer isn't that evolution specifically is incompatible with Christianity. The reason is that "blame anything" isn't a good answer, whether it's evolution or something else. God is supposed to be in complete control over the universe. The argument "God only let it happen because of X" is nonsense no matter what X is, because God can do anything he wants; he's not subject to constraints.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-04-08T00:21:31.269Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

they do just fine with internal testicles.

I will admit, I don't know much about bird testicles. But looking into it for 5 minutes suggests that there seem to be more significant streamlining concerns for aquatic and flying animals than normal ground animals, and the different convection for being suspended in water / moving quickly through air suggests to me that it might be easier to do temperature regulation if they're internal (as might come to the mind of any man who's gotten into a cold pool).

comment by gjm · 2015-04-07T00:40:58.424Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

weakest points in christianity?

Depends on what sort of Christianity. For instance, much of blossom's list is clearly addressed to those who believe that God designed earth's living things (directly or less so) but some Christians don't believe that.

Would you care to say a few words about the variety of Christianity you favour?

(In case the answer is no, here are a few suggested weak points for different varieties, all probably expressed too tersely to be more than the barest gesture towards an argument. Hardcore inerrantist fundamentalism: internal inconsistencies in the Bible. More mainstream but still fairly "traditional": arguments from evil and silence. Varieties that stress God's love over his power and suggest that for whatever reason he largely has "no hands on earth but ours", but still see him as exerting moral influence: the fact that Christians are not spectacularly better morally than everyone else. Highly sophistimacated apophatic theology that refuses to say anything definite about God: impossibility of actually having any evidence to speak of for a being so vaguely defined; lack of continuity with the Christian tradition whose existence and longevity are pretty much the only reason for paying any attention to such ideas. All but the last: general shortage of evidence and tendencies for the more impressive sorts to evaporate on closer inspection; maybe complexity penalty for introducing into your model of the universe a god whose properties are so hard to pin down.)

I doubt that many here knows enough about christianity to actually come up with something

I don't know how LW compares with other places occupied by large numbers of intelligent atheists, but my experience generally is that a large fraction of atheists are former theists, many of them former serious and well informed theists. I don't know whether we will come up with anything you find impressive (and of course you may be strongly motivated to find anything we do come up with unimpressive...) but if not it probably won't be out of sheer ignorance of Christianity.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-07T21:41:28.198Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your answer.

Would you care to say a few words about the variety of Christianity you favour?

I am an evangelic christian and within my belief the gospels override everything else that is or can be seen as contradictory. (I don´t read the Torah since I am not a Jew and I do not seek wisdome in the old testament even though I have had a surprinsingly wise teacher who taught me how to interpret that old rubbish in ways that actually made sense to me.) See, if I believe Jesus was divine, I have to value the words of Christ higher than the words of his followers and mortal predecessors.

I don't know how LW compares with other places occupied by large numbers of intelligent atheists, but my experience generally is that a large fraction of atheists are former theists, many of them former serious and well informed theists.

Yes, my hope was and is that someone like that will answer my question. You are right, your answers do not impress me, you seem to fail to understand important things about christianity. I can come up with much better counter arguments myself, but I really appreciate the honest try. If you would like me to tell you about what I think might be wrong in your picture of what christianity is about, you can PM me or ask me to answer here.

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-07T21:48:17.068Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

you seem to fail to understand important things about christianity

Really? Name the two best examples of people here misunderstanding.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-07T22:09:01.102Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don´t understand what you mean. Examples of people?

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-07T22:23:03.284Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Examples of misunderstandings by people.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T10:52:41.813Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Aha. Well I couldn´t give you 2 examples, I think I already gave you one. Why would you otherwise comment?

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-08T14:41:02.173Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Because I don't see any of them. Just saying "you misunderstand Christianity" isn't really an example. Give some details about what in particular the person misunderstands.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-04-08T16:49:07.582Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You did not give even one. Another user gave some hypothetical arguments against different varieties of Christianity because hardly anyone agrees what the religion entails, and you hadn't explained what you believed. You still haven't explained it clearly. Instead you act like "The holy trinity" has a clear and accepted meaning, and "the Gospels" can only be read in one (trinitarian?) way.

If you write in this impossible-to-engage manner, you should expect people to engage with different positions instead. And gjm most definitely did not assume you believed anything on his list (I assume "his").

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T17:34:46.324Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Dude, Jiro asked for examples of people who misunderstand, he did not ask for examples of what I believe. As for The Holy Trinity, it is found in the Nicene creed, in the Apostle´s creed and finally precised in the Athanasian Creed. It has a clear and accepted meaning amongst theologists. Before you say anything more, know that I got an Laudatur in religion (Evangelisk-luthersk religion, which I can´t translate but it refers to lutheranism,) on my matriculation exam and I won´t tolerate nonsense.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T17:58:09.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay then, could you please answer my earlier question about scientific consensus in one particular instance? State your own opinion. It seems meta-relevant to the discussion. (My impression so far is that you are not as accepting of d-separation as the general public here. As in, the set of mammals and the set of unicellular organisms are d-separated, and at least one set that 'blocks' mammals from unicellulars is 'part of reptiles'. It means that learning some new feature about mammals, you can theorize about the corresponding feature/lack of it in reptiles, but you can't infer much about unicellulars. Consider this model: God -> Physics -> Civilization. God and Civilization are d-separated, with Physics as the blocking set.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T18:28:50.152Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I am too stupid to understand what you ask of me. I don´t even know what d-separation is.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T18:34:29.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I, too, hadn't known about it before joining LW. Make a search on the site or on Wiki, and there is a book by Judea Pearl about causality that can be downloaded from web. It is a bit heavy, though, I am struggling to read it.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-04-08T17:59:18.482Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, this is getting to the point where it doesn't seem worth anyone's time. You seem to have said:

  • that you reject the Hebrew Bible, or at least consider it irrelevant

  • that the Gospels have a clear meaning which we should understand without explanation from you (and which you believe).

This may not contradict itself directly, but it certainly seems impossible to maintain once we admit that countless Christians read passages like that one differently. Why would the Gospel accounts of Jesus be clear to us, when your co-worshipers don't agree on what they mean?

If you do continue the conversation on this topic, please try to explain yourself more coherently.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T18:10:00.684Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I note that you are talking about other comments (not related to Jiros weird question) here. Well, you are a bit ignorant. I never said the gospels should make clear sense to anyone, I said that the holy trinity should make sense. You are the one off topic. I don´t find it useful to discuss christianity with you either, so we can cut off the chat on this so called "topic".

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T18:30:03.552Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah go ahead and downvote me for not wanting to talk to you. How dare I refuse to answer all of your questions immediately, even though you don´t pay any attention to my answers?

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2015-04-08T19:26:01.187Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty sure you're getting downvoted for some combination of the following: unclear, incoherent, unspecific, and impolite. Compared to your growing wordcount in this conversation so far, you have shown little evidence of having something to say.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T19:47:53.685Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is because I waste time on replying to comments while trying to be polite. I think that I have tried very hard to be polite, and it is hard to be specific when people go off topic all the time. It is confusing aswell. I only tried to be critical on my own belifes, but apparently it is forbidden to ask "weak points of christianity" unless you explain all of christianity and everything you believe in at the same time. (When you say that you are a physicists, no one asks if you believe in string theory or inflation, they find out subsequently.)

It feels to me that almost the majority of those who have commented here, totally disregarded my request that they would only answer after seriously thinking about my question and actually be familiar with christianity.

I don´t have time to explain christianity to everyone and I don´t want to, and it don´t help me either. Here is what I can say about my belief: I am an evangelic christian, I confess to the Apostles' Creed and I believe in a personal God. I am enrolled as ev. luther, and I can live with that, but I don´t agree with everything the church does, just as a democrat doesn´t agree with everything Obama does. If there is anything more people need to know, they can ask me personally and treat me with respect, or they can have it and everyone can be happy.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-08T20:05:32.876Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

To be blunt, I'm not really seeing answers from you. Most of your responses to most people's claims have been "well I don't believe that anyway". Meanwhile, you haven't even read most of Christianity.

Your specific responses seem to say very little:

No. But I haven't fully read any non-canon gospels yet.

You haven't done even your basic due diligence. You believe your eternal soul is controlled by God, but you can't be bothered to read a few documents that claim to have worthwhile information? This is absurd. Instead you've randomly latched on one set of documents, which you fully acknowledge are contradicted elsewhere.

I am an evangelic christian and within my belief the gospels override everything else that is or can be seen as contradictory. I have to value the words of Christ higher than the words of his followers and mortal predecessors.

There are direct contradictions WITHIN the gospels. How can something with basic logical error be an ultimate truth? Moreover, most theologians acknowledge that the gospels were not written during Jesus's claimed activities... let alone BY Jesus.

I just "like" the gospels more than the rest of it.

You like something, fine... that doesn't make it true. That fact that you liking something doesn't make it true is simply a fact. Having not even read the alternatives, why does what you 'like' even matter?

If the only ice cream you've ever had is broccoli flavored, a statement that 'you it more than the rest' doesn't mean anything. You need something to compare it to.

Actually read and investigate the various documents across 'flavors' of Christianity that claim to talk about your God. Honestly ask yourself why you only choose the Gospels, and try to think about the various contradictions. You don't need us for this.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T21:42:45.508Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You say alot of things about me which isn´t true.

but you can't be bothered to read a few documents that claim to have worthwhile information?

Not true. I intend to read non-canon gospels, do you know how many there are? I don´t NEED to read non-canon gospels to believe in Jesus, just like I don´t need to read Feynman to believe in physics.

Most of your responses to most people's claims have been "well I don't believe that anyway". Meanwhile, you haven't even read most of Christianity.

Not true, I did not respond that way to "most people´s claims". Prove it. I haven´t even read most of christianity? Yeah? how do YOU know that? The fact that I was amongst the top 5% of all Finnish people who took the matriculation exam in religion the year I did is proof enough that I am not ignorant, at least amongst academics.

You like something, fine... that doesn't make it true.

Never said it would, Totally irrelevant comment, you purposely try to make me look stupid by taking that out of context. Why do you think I used the quotations mark?

There are direct contradictions WITHIN the gospels. How can something with basic logical error be an ultimate truth?

Feel free to refer to those contradicitons you talk about. Meanwhile, in the gospels JESUS do not contradict himself. If he does, prove it.

Honestly ask yourself why you only choose the Gospels

Haha, how silly. I never said I disregard everything that is not the gospels and you know it. I said I prioritize the gospels more, which is 100% logical if I believe that Jesus was a God. Why would I NOT give the gospels higher priority? Yeah, I can´t know that they aren´t falsified, but I can´t know that about any other NT scripture either!

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-08T22:17:59.816Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Feel free to refer to those contradicitons you talk about. Meanwhile, in the gospels JESUS do not contradict himself. If he does, prove it.

Lots of examples:

http://www.evilbible.com/contradictions.htm

http://www.skeptically.org/bible/id2.html

http://errancy.org/

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/06/contradictory-and-chaotic-gospel-lies.html

http://www.christianitydisproved.com/bible.html

comment by Persol · 2015-04-09T01:25:54.089Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

errancy.org is a good reference. A simple reading of the first page should be sufficient to put doubt in the fact that the gospels are completely 'true'.

While this is not enough to convince someone that the Biblical God is false, it at least is a good gate to further discussion. If someone can't acknowledge that there are factual errors and contradiction... I'm not sure what there is left to talk about.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-08T22:56:15.138Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

don´t NEED to read non-canon gospels to believe in Jesus, just like I don´t need to read Feynman to believe in physics.

Absolutely true, but if your belief on some specific part of physics is based on a single untested book which has demonstrable errors, you should read some other sources. Especially when there really isn't a huge volume.

[As a side note 'belief in physics' doesn't really mean anything. If you believe that a dropped apple will fall, you 'believe in physics'... you have direct evidence of it.]

I intend to read non-canon gospels, do you know how many there are?

It's shorter than A Song of Fire and Ice. In your world view, your religious documents should be much more important than George R Martin's musings are to millions.

Never said [liking something makes it true]

You're missing my point. Tour reason for believing the Gospels appears to have no foundation other than your 'like', and as you seem to agree, you liking it doesn't make it more true than all the other religious documents. If you have some other reason for believing it, share THAT and we can discuss. Currently you're leaving everyone to guess why you believe what you believe. If you go ask 10 fellow believes 'why', I guarantee you won't get the same answer each time.

I never said I disregard everything that is not the gospels and you know it.

I never said you did; I said you choose the Gospels over everything else... you have multiple sources, all of which are easily available to you; and you appear to randomly chose a subset. Even worse, you appear to have randomly picked a complete religion.

Your chance of having picked the right religion is near zero. Hopefully any real supreme being doesn't send you to some analogue of hell for believing in the wrong god.

Meanwhile, in the gospels JESUS do not contradict himself.

To be clear, almost nobody claims Jesus wrote the gospels. Different gospels have Jesus saying different things in the same situation. For a straightforward indisputable example refer to Matthew 26:34 and Mark 14:30. A response that the above example may be misquoted could apply to everything Jesus is quoted as saying.

(You can Google other examples, but many could be argued as Jesus telling a story in which he describes different activities. This one is more straightforward.)

Feel free to refer to those contradictions you talk about.

Again, you can easily Google this. The Old Testament is demonstratively wrong on facts, but I suspect you'll say you don't follow that. Mark has a large number of demonstratively wrong facts as well. You're trusting Mark to correctly quote Jesus, when his stories have numerous other mistakes,

comment by Vaniver · 2015-04-08T18:48:16.507Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I said that the holy trinity should make sense.

I didn't downvote you, but you should be aware that this seems like trolling, because the Mystery of the Trinity is seen by most Christians as a famously hard problem.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T19:33:50.365Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you Vaniver, these comments are one of the reasons that I don´t yet have given up on this community and only stick to reading Eliezer´s articles. Yeah, well the malicious/outright stupid people who downvoted me fail to understand/pretend to fail to understand that what I obviously referred to was my earlier comment, about that The Holy Trinity is a widely accepted concept, studied and defined by professional theologists with ACTUAl knowledge on the subject.The implications of the Holy Trinity is indeed a mystery, but the dispute about what it is, is settled since long ago, meaning that there is an actual, real, consensus there.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-04-08T19:54:55.779Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming you're going through in chronological order, you are likely to find the upcoming Illusion of Transparency helpful.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T19:59:25.058Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, yes you are right, That is an article I should reread. I´ll do it before I answer anything else. It is also wrong of me to assume that everyone here is very rational and also to think that just because you are very rational, that means that you are [well informed and intelligent].

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-08T19:58:59.830Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

actual, real, consensus

Far from that. The Orthodox Church fervently rejects filioque, which is official doctrine for Catholics, but not for Anglicans. And that's without mentioning the rest of the entire spectrum of interpretations, ranging from the strong unitarianism of Jehovah's Witnesses to the blatant tritheism of Mormonism.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-08T20:09:43.389Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, well the malicious/outright stupid people who downvoted me fail to understand/pretend to fail to understand that what I obviously referred to was my earlier comment

Insulting people is seldom helpful.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-08T20:12:31.051Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

with ACTUAL knowledge on the subject

The beauty of theological study (and the internet) is that you can look at the source material and translations in detail and directly yourself. You have access to the very small amount of source data on the subject. Most of what people 'know' about the Trinity was made up hundreds of years after the fact.... and quite obviously these theories about the holy trinity have been untested.

comment by gjm · 2015-04-07T23:19:45.511Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Examples of misunderstanding. (Though I think Jiro may have misunderstood your statement that I fail to understand important things about Christianity as saying that the LW population at large fails to understand important things about Christianity.)

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-07T22:18:50.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Besides the entire Old Testament, do you also disregard the books of Acts, Epistles and Apocalypse?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-07T22:20:56.762Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They have lower priority than what could be the words of God. I do not disregard the New testament, I just "like" the gospels more than the rest of it.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-07T22:23:24.314Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you agree completely with the Church's opinion on which books should be part of the Bible and which books shouldn't?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-07T22:36:43.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I take it you refer to christian churches. No. But I haven't fully read any non-canon gospels yet. Do note this is off topic, PM me or continue our old chat instead, you have not answered there yet :)

comment by gjm · 2015-04-07T23:18:48.305Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am an evangelic Christian and within my belief the gospels override everything else [...]

I take it "evangelic", as you're using it, is not identical to the fairly common term "evangelical" despite its obvious shared etymology? Evangelicalism as generally understood is hard to reconcile with calling the OT "old rubbish". I guess you're using it to mean something like "centred on the gospels".

I'd have a pretty good idea of your likely position on lots of things if you were an evangelical in the usual sense (inerrancy of scripture or something close to it, salvation sola fide, strongly substitutionary theory of the atonement, relatively more stress on personal faith and relationship-with-God rather than more corporate things, inclined to skepticism about anything that could be labelled "tradition" or "ritual", etc., etc., etc., etc.) but unfortunately what you've said here isn't terribly indicative.

your answers do not impress me

They weren't answers, they were (as I said in so many words) brief gestures in the direction of possible answers. If you think I would think half a dozen words would convince you of anything, then I think you must think I think you're either much cleverer or much stupider than is at all plausible.

you seem to fail to understand important things about christianity

I honestly do not know how you could possibly be justified in leaping to such a conclusion from what I have written here. I wonder whether you have perhaps misunderstood the nature of my response.

Perhaps it is necessary to say some of the following things explicitly. 1. Christianity -- like any religion -- is not simply a body of propositions; it is also a community, a way of life, a set of attitudes, allegedly a personal and/or corporate communion with God, a rich stream of traditions of many kinds, etc., etc., etc. My comments are addressing some of the propositions because that is what you appeared to be interested in (e.g., talking about "arguments for God") but that doesn't mean I am unaware of the other things. 2. To any simple argument, whether good or bad, there is generally an almost-as-simple counterargument, to which in turn there is generally a counter-counter-argument one notch less simple again, etc. Of course when I say e.g. "argument from evil" I am not suggesting that on hearing the words "argument from evil" a Christian should deconvert on the spot. I am suggesting that there are lines of argument, briefly alluded to by that term, for which at any given level of sophistication the atheist has the better case. I have not actually made any such argument here, and of course I do not expect anyone to be convinced by the mere mention of a family of arguments. Similarly for all the other things I mentioned. 3. I am well aware that there are varieties of Christian thinking that attempt to sidestep some of the arguments I mention -- e.g., denying that introducing God into your understanding of the world makes it more complex, because by definition God is supremely simple. For each such, though, (a) there are other varieties that don't attempt the sidestep, and further (b) disagreeing with something is not the same as failing to understand it.

Or perhaps none of that helps. Who knows? Anyway, I would be interested to know a few examples of things you believe I fail to understand about Christianity. I think it would be more productive to tell me here out in the open, but if you prefer to PM me then feel free.

(I was a Christian for -- depending on exactly how you count -- at least twenty years. I have held (minor) leadership roles in Christian organizations. I have a few shelves of theology books, maybe 90% of which I have read. My wife is still an active Christian. It is of course possibly that I completely fail to understand fundamental things about the religion that was central to my life for decades (either because I never did, or because abandoning the faith exposed me to some kind of demonic possession, or whatever) but I would suggest that you consider the possibilities (1) that you have arrived at your conclusion prematurely and/or (2) that you would consider that, say, 80% or more of serious Christians fail to understand important things about Christianity. Which, of course, might be true.)

[EDITED to clarify a sentence in which I inadvertently used the word "common" with two quite different meanings.]

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T10:50:46.918Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I take it "evangelic", as you're using it, is not identical to the fairly common term "evangelical" despite its obvious shared etymology? Evangelicalism as generally understood is hard to reconcile with calling the OT "old rubbish". I guess you're using it to mean something like "centred on the gospels".

Wikipedia Yes, it may be confusing but I tend to use words in their original meaning. It is good to check anyway, since english is not my native language.

I honestly do not know how you could possibly be justified in leaping to such a conclusion from what I have written here. I wonder whether you have perhaps misunderstood the nature of my response.

Perhaps I arrived prematurely at the conclusion, but as I said, I think you might have misunderstood, I didn´t say you actually had. If I mean to say that you are wrong, I say that you are wrong. Okey, so you only hint at stuff. Well that don´t help me, is that a more political azccurate term?

Anyway, I would be interested to know a few examples of things you believe I fail to understand about Christianity. I think it would be more productive to tell me here out in the open, but if you prefer to PM me then feel free.

Okey, I will point out the hings I saw as weird. 1. "Hardcore inerrantist fundamentalism: internal inconsistencies in the Bible." Why would a christian need to be a hardcore fundamentalist and interpret the whole Bible literal? You don´t interpret science fiction literal. I guess you mean that this only apply to SOME christians. 2. "the fact that Christians are not spectacularly better morally than everyone else." Well, this seems like an ambitious statement in my eyes. Compare all the countries with a cross in their flag with countries that don´t have it. Compare BNP and corruption, crime rate and wellfare etc etc. Now think about this: Why WOULD christians need to have higher moral? Where do you find that premise in the NT? It seems to me like that isn´t based in christian theology at all, but if you have 20 years experience as an active christian maybe you know something I don´t. 3. "Highly sophistimacated apophatic theology that refuses to say anything definite about God." Hah! Like we have been very successful at definitely defining the universe for hundreds of years of scientific struggle. Anyhow, here are something to consider;

  • The holy trinity
  • Jesus saying: I am the way and the life
  • The statement that Jesus is the son of God and God and all his teachings showing what he valued and who he was and how he acted, which is kind of the whole point of christianity.
  • First Epistle to the Corinthians, verse (?) 13

Now if we compare this with other religious teachings, I think we will find that we can see differences between the deities.

comment by gjm · 2015-04-08T17:51:10.348Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I tend to use words in their original meaning.

Not a bad policy. The trouble is that saying "my version of Christianity is rooted in the gospels" doesn't really do much to distinguish you from everyone else, because pretty much all Christians consider that their version of Christianity is rooted in the gospels. So describing your variety of Christianity as "evangelic" tells me rather little.

as I said, I think you might have misunderstood

Well, your actual words were "you seem to fail to understand important things about christianity". But it's OK; I'm not offended.

so you only hint at stuff

Well, you know, I did consider just asking you "so what kind of Christian are you?" and refusing to say anything about what might be the strongest arguments against any kind of Christianity until the kind is precisely specified. I thought it might help us move forward a bit quicker if I gave some indication of the kinds of arguments that might be appropriate, so that we could work in parallel on figuring out (1) what kind of Christianity to look for good arguments against and (2) what those arguments actually are.

Why would a christian need to be a hardcore fundamentalist and interpret the whole Bible literal?

They wouldn't. My whole point was that there are different kinds of Christians with different kinds of Christianity. One kind -- by no means the only kind -- is the hardcore fundamentalist who claims to believe everything in the Bible (not necessarily literally, but I never claimed otherwise). If I were looking for good arguments against that kind of Christianity, one thing I'd look at is inconsistencies between different bits of the Bible (that appear to be intended as straightforward history or doctrinal teaching rather than any kind of metaphor).

I guess you mean that this only apply to SOME christians.

Yes. If I hadn't already made that clear enough, I apologize. (I thought I had.)

Well, this seems like an ambitious statement in my eyes.

Really? You think a good default position is that Christians are spectacularly better than everyone else, morally? OK.

(I think the cross-country comparison you suggest is totally invalidated by lots of other things that historically happen to correlate a bit with Christian heritage.)

Why WOULD christians need to have higher moral? Where do you find that premise in the NT?

Christians are supposed (at least according to some varieties of Christianity, the ones I'd be taking aim at if I were making that kind of argument) to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, who is the source of all goodness and value in the world.

Christians typical pray frequently (both individually and if following standard liturgies of various churches that have them) for their hearts to be purified, to be cleansed from sin, to be enabled to live righteously. This seems like very much the kind of prayer that the Christian god might be expected to grant, if he were real (it is clearly in line with his stated goals; it doesn't require "interference" with the world beyond people's minds; the minds in question are of people who have already declared themselves willing for him to change them, and are specifically asking him to do it.)

Like we have been very successful at definitely defining the universe for hundreds of years of scientific struggle.

Well, actually, we have. Spectacularly so. Do you really disagree?

[EDITED to add a few other things since I had to write the above in a bit of a rush, which is one reason why it's too long:]

Some suggestions in the NT that Christians should be much better morally than they generally are: 1 Peter 2 says that Jesus "bore our own sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin but live to righteousness"; one can read that as talking about some kind of "imputed righteousness" that doesn't actually involve acting righteously, but I think it's a stretch and more to the point a Christian of the particular kind I said this might be a good response to wouldn't take that position. 1 John 1 and 2 similarly talk of being "cleansed from all unrighteousness" and again I don't think it's likely that the author means some purely formal transaction that doesn't involve actually becoming morally better. He seems to admit only reluctantly that genuine Christians might continue to commit sins at all. In chapter 3 he goes further: "No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him." Now of course 1 John paints with a very broad brush, but there it is in the New Testament and even if the author is overstating his case he must mean something by it. That famous chapter that you recommended I should consider, 1 Corinthians 13: read it in its context; it is saying that love (with that whole extravagant litany of virtues it brings along with it) is the most important gift of the Holy Spirit that is supposed to be present and active within every Christian's heart. Galatians 5 has a lengthy list of "fruits of the Spirit" (which Christians are supposed to exhibit) and most of them are moral virtues (and the corresponding "works of the flesh" opposed thereto are mostly moral vices).

here are something to consider

I'm afraid it's not obvious what sort of conclusion you're hoping I'll draw from your list. Rather than guessing, I'll comment briefly on the individual items in it. I may very well be missing your point, though.

  • The holy trinity ... seems to me a doctrine of doubtful coherence and at best ambiguous support in the NT documents that are generally reckoned the foundation of Christian doctrine. Some Christians contemplating it have had neat ideas (e.g., the idea that the love Christianity makes a big deal of is found within, so to speak, the very structure of the Deity). I don't see that Christianity is any more likely to be right, or beneficial, on account of having this idea in it.
  • Jesus saying: I am the way and the life ... and the truth; don't forget the truth. Anyway, again I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be being impressed by here. There's a fair chance that Jesus's grand-sounding "I am ..." sayings, found only in John's gospel, were in fact made up by the author of that gospel -- don't you think they're the sort of things that the authors of the synoptic gospels might have been expected to record? So if you're working towards a "lord, liar or lunatic" argument then I don't think this is a great place to start. (Such arguments have other weaknesses, but I won't belabour them unless it turns out you really are making one.)
  • The statement that Jesus is the son of God and [etc.] ... well, it's a statement. I don't find that contemplating it fills me with awe or certainty that he must have been who the NT writers say he said he was. Many other religions don't make similar claims about their founders; I guess that's part of your point; but I'm not sure where you're going from there. (Lord/liar/lunatic again?)
  • First Epistle to the Corinthians, [chapter] 13 ... yeah, it's a fine piece of writing. So are some other things in the Bible. I don't see that they're supernaturally good, though, if that's where you're heading; I'm not familiar enough with other religions' scriptures to know how good their Best Bits are (though I know Muslims sometimes say that the sublimity of the Qur'an is evidence of its divine origin).
comment by gjm · 2015-04-08T22:29:29.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just a note: I see your comments in this thread are getting downvoted, but it's not by me.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T17:57:57.573Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know.

comment by gjm · 2015-04-09T22:02:00.462Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just out of curiosity: How? Has someone else been boasting of doing it?

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-04-08T01:37:33.891Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You have yet to tell us what you believe, apart from the tribal/political reassurance about evolution. What do you mean by "divine" (this is important for prior probability), and what evidence do you believe you have for this variety of Jesus?

I assume you know that scholars largely consider the Gospels unreliable. The earliest one dates from during or after the war that destroyed the 'Second Temple', and we know of no Christian leader in Jerusalem who survived it. Shortly before this Nero supposedly persecuted the Christians in Rome. We know nothing about the history of Christianity at the time when the Gospel of Mark likely appeared, which weakly supports the claim that all the leaders were dead. We can't name anyone who definitely had the power to insist on points of doctrine or prevent innovation.

On the assumption most favorable to the reliability of the early Gospels - that someone in the know wrote them to preserve original Christianity in this difficult time - we should still conclude that they have a lot to do with theological/political disputes of the time which we know nothing about. We should expect to misinterpret something in the text through not knowing this context.

comment by Wes_W · 2015-04-07T02:11:40.998Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if this will feel relevant to you, but a big one for me in retrospect is that the concept of "faith" is really suspicious. When someone says "no, trust me unconditionally on this, I know you have doubts but just ignore them even though I will never address them in any concrete way," that person is lying to you.

I always thought of God as truth-loving. If faith is a virtue, then God's own commands undermine and obscure the truth, while making all sorts of lies equally defensible. The whole structure of the need for faith is just really weird if Christianity is true - but perfectly logical if Christianity is false.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-07T22:06:03.843Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A good point. I considered this when I was younger and still hadn´t fully turned my head towards christianity. (I still have a long way to go but I now consider myself christian.)

As I see it, we all have our basic premises. Just how much we depend on them differs. We all make fundamental choices. (In case you have read hpmor; Like Harry did when the sorting hat warned him about how unlogic it was for him to hope and risk that he would not turn into a dark wizard if he was sorted to any house but hufflepuff. He knew he was going to choose rawenclaw, but he couldn´t put words on WHY, and yes, that may be seen as suspicious.)

I think it is all about WHAT you put your faith in. Yes, you are allowed to doubt anything. And you should not blindly believe in something until you are ready to actually put your faith in it. It is a risk you take. Willingly. Kierkegaard once said something along the lines: "To have faith is to throw yourself out over a seventy thousand fathoms deep and hope that someone catches you." I don´t respect stupidity, as in suiciding by jumping off a cliff. But I do respect Kierkegaard. When you have found something you are willing to put your faith in, you need that bravery.

The need of faith (in christianity) may seem weird, if you do not know what you are supposed to have faith in. It is an important part of christianity to realize this. Many fail to draw any useful conslusion from the fact that Jesus says that we will be saved if we believe. And I do consider the conclusion that there is no god to be a useful conclusion if that is the best answer that mind can produce. Everyones way is their own making and should be respected. Those who "believe" in something just for the sake of it are not doing it right as far as I can see.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-07T22:38:41.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To me the weakest points of Christianism are two:

  • The lack of evidence for the existence of its deity. Even proving that a deity exists is not enough; you would still need to prove that the deity you found is the one described by the Bible. And proving that the Christian deity exists would still not be enough; you would also need to prove that the Bible describes it accurately. And even then you would need to prove monotheism, i.e. that other possible gods aren't real too.

  • The internal inconsistencies and factual errors in the Bible. Specialized websites like IronChariotsWiki and RationalWiki can give better descriptions of this problem than I could.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-07T23:27:14.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not quite sure what you want to see when you ask for the 'weakest point in Christianity'. I thought the easily found arguments and frequently discussed arguments were compelling enough by themselves. I was a regular Sunday school attendee, continued to go to church (for social reasons) even after I started to think the whole thing was random, and genuinely enjoy having these sorts of discussions

The main things that I found had weight is that it's taking the numerous world religions and saying 'this one' without any great reason. When the correct selection may damn you for eternity, it's worthy of considering the alternatives.

  • From an outside view, I see no reason to privilege the supernatural portions of Christianity over other religions. Rhetorically, what do you find as the weak points of every other religion? Don't many of these apply to Christianity?
  • Generic inconsistencies - having read all the Biblical texts (some multiple times), and referencing databases for discussions of the original pre-translated text, the number of straightforward contradictions is outstanding. If we just assume for a second that some of the text was effectively the word of god, you still don't know which parts. And that's disregarding every other religion's text, seemingly without justification.
  • Inconsistencies in practice - some branches of Christianity heavily discount the Bible due to the above.... but this makes the problem WORSE. It just dilutes the 'god content' even further. Arguments of your specific practitioners being 'inspired by god' needs to address all the people who disagree with you but say the same thing.

The specific details about Christ, and your 'flavor' of Christianity, are besides the point in light of the above. Other than popularity, Christianity still has the same problems as Zeus and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

All that said, the best argument for Christianity seems to be as a placeholder belief and social system. For some people it's better just to pick a set of beliefs and go with it (IE: it's a complex/unknowable local minima problem that's 'good enough').

P.S. - I'd be interested in hearing your arguments 'for' God. I've yet to see one that isn't so broad to be effectively meaningless. You might want to just google your argument for God and see if there aren't already identified issues.

comment by dxu · 2015-04-07T23:49:23.621Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The main things that I found had weight is that it's taking the numerous world religions and saying 'this one' without any great reason.

In fact, it's even worse than that. You're not selecting from the set of all existing religions in the world today, but rather from the set of all possible religions, even those that haven't been invented.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-08T00:21:48.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True and I didn't consider that... but assuming a supreme being had any impact in humanity, it is reasonable to assume that the set of practiced religions are more likely to be true than the set of not discovered religions.

I was trying to minimize the possible tangential arguments. I think trying to expand from 1 religion to 19 major religions is enough to show the problem without going to ~200 religions, which allows room to argue about applicabiliy/similarity of subtypes. Going to all possible religions allows room to argue about applicability of set theory.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-04-08T00:51:28.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know the best approach for convincing flawed humans, and I would certainly start with the argument from other existing religions (rather than the world-creating cheese sandwich someone came up with). But objectively, given the vast set of possible alternatives that religions ignore, the only real significance to Hinduism or whatever vs Christianity is that it helps show belief is not much evidence for truth. It gives us some evidence (at least in many cases) but not necessarily a significant amount compared to the complexity penalties involved with detailed religious claims. And even an Abrahamic God (or a divine Gospel Jesus, if we treat that as overlapping rather than a proper subset) is pretty detailed if we combine historical claims with some meaningful traits of divinity.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-08T01:02:49.523Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know this has been discussed before, but I'm not convinced that complexity penalties should apply to anything involving human witnesses.

Suppose someone theorizes that the sun is made of a micro black hole covered in lightbulbs, and there is no obvious physics being broken.... this is an obvious place to use complexity penalties. Simpler models can explain the evidence.

With the Bible though, we have witnesses that presumably entangle the Bible with a divine being. Complexity penalty in this case shouldn't penalize for extra details. (Considering complexity penalties may still point to "this story is made up for social reasons, and here are some prior sources" instead of "god did it"... but this isn't due to the amount of detail provided.)

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-04-08T01:22:50.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...What? As a technical matter, the laws of probability say that evidence (eyewitness or otherwise) tells us how to update a prior probability, and ultimately a complexity penalty seems like the only way to get sensible priors.

I take you to mean that in a real eyewitness account, we should expect details. That seems more or less right, but largely irrelevant to what I'm saying - even the idea of a human-like mind is more complicated than it appears. That's before we get to the details of the story (which we might doubt to some degree, in more trustworthy cases, even while paradoxically taking those details as evidence for some core claim).

Even the bare claim that God was involved with certain historical figures is another logically distinct detail we need to penalize before we get to the specifics of any one Gospel or source for the Torah. So the evidence of witnesses would need to overcome this penalty. And of course, in order for them to justify the beliefs about God, we would need to understand what that word means and how someone could directly or indirectly observe its object.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-08T02:13:42.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I may have misread your initial comment. To paraphrase to check my reading: you are penalizing due to complexity of a 'god' prior but, on the balance, eyewitness details should increase your estimate of the claimed witnessed set being true. More details from eyewitnesses do not then penalize further. The complexity of the god models are just so complex in the first place, that eyewitness details don't increase your estimate much.

What I'm not grasping is what this sentence meant:

And even an Abrahamic God (or a divine Gospel Jesus, if we treat that as overlapping rather than a proper subset) is pretty detailed if we combine historical claims with some meaningful traits of divinity.

Functionally, we're talking about the set of vaguely Bible shaped gods... not all the details would need to be true. Eyewitness claims that this bible shaped god interacted with a historical figure should STILL increase your estimate of it happening.... even though that increase may still be infinitesimal.

Excepting things like "the following sentence is false", eyewitness details should always increase the chance of something like the referenced object existing. It may in parallel also provide evidence that the 'custody chain' is faulty or faked... but that's a different issue.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-04-08T09:23:21.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much. I'm saying that "vaguely Bible shaped," rather than "touched down only in Jackson County, Missouri in 1978," is itself a detail to be justified.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2015-04-09T06:43:29.600Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, why? If God existed, I'd expect the true religion to be among actually existing ones.

comment by Wes_W · 2015-04-09T07:18:17.067Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As long as it's a god with a Big Divine Plan in which humans play a role, sure.

If the gods created the universe so they could watch the big shiny hydrogen balls, and don't care about the emergent properties of complex proteins on that one planet in that one galaxy, we wouldn't necessarily know about it.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2015-04-09T10:19:32.031Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well crap.

I guess that when I thought "religion", I thought "system of worship", not "system of belief". To me the a religion would be "true" if it accurately responded to a demand for worship or obedience or such. If the creators of the Universe have no preferences over our actions, then at most you could have a, well, description of them, but not much of a religion thus defined. Discovering such beings would not make me a religious person.

Of course now that I thought of it explicitely, I realize this is a rather narrow definition.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-04-08T19:14:53.543Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From my point of view the most hazardous thing about Christianity (this may also be the weakest point logically, but that's a different claim) is that Christianity posits a realm which is different from and superior to what can be perceived directly and thought about logically. This makes it rather easy to treat people very badly, both other people and oneself.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T23:05:07.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

After reading a sizable amount of your responses, I have to ask if your interest is truly in finding weak points of your religion, or if you are merely trying to defend your beliefs to a (largely) atheist audience--possibly hoping to win a few converts, or at the very least trying to reassure yourself of your beliefs.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T19:06:04.929Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

No, I don´t try to defend my beliefs to you. I don´t even want you to convert. I want you to walk your own ways in life and come up with your own conclusions. I am used to debate religion with christians myself. Many of the arguments used by people here, such as inconsistences in the Bible, are the same arguments I have used myself, when arguing with fundamentalists and conservative believers. The problem is, I am not one of those.

The male stereotypes of the Father and the Son and the lack of mother and daughter are to me, some of the strongest evidence for why christian churchs are the results of politics rather than divine intervention. Another is the fact that even amongst many protestant christians, Paulus is considered a higher authority than Jesus himself, or in other words, some christians assign the gospels lower priority than the interpretations of a mortal man who never met Jesus. (A teacher I once met actually said that the words of Paulus was such a good explanation of what Jesus most probably meant, that we therefore should disregard the words of Jesus himself to some extent.)

The hipocrits here downvoting all of my comments, even those not related to this, simply does it as a punishment for my insolence, something they think they are entitled to because of their Tribal status as atheists, and my inferior status as a theist. I must admit I was originally expecting more of this community.

Where I was raised, people rather looked down on christians and not the other way around. I can honestly not imagine how it is to live in a place where people look up to you if you say that you are christian.

I value critical thinkning and I understand that this is impossbile if you are not free to think about whatever you want. I read all kinds of science and I love physics. That passion has been with me longer than my outspoken christinaity and I have come to respect ordinary scientists alot more than I respect someone who tells me that she/he is a rationalist. Thomas Bayes was a Presbyterian minister and Alber Einstein was a hardcore theist and none of these guys are famous for that, because they did not waste all their time arguing religion with atheists.

The amount of upovotes you got here proves to anyone actually reading my comments and understanding them, just how little you actually pay attention to my what I actually say and just how pointless it is for a theist to try to discuss religion here on LW. But I am used to that people harass you just because you tell them that you are christian. Still others value reason more than compassion.

I believe in a God that willingly exposed himself to the same evils that we face and who sacrifaced his life for us, because he loved us. I believe in love and compassion. I believe in forgiveness and an open mind. I share the same values as many atheists, the difference is that I believe in a God that share those values aswell. For monotheists it is not a question of which God to believe in, it is about that we try to learn about that God and who that is. The most important messages Jesus tried to teach us, whether he was mortal or not, is that we should love each other and that children are the saviours of this world. I believe in a God who knows us, our shortcomings and our doubts, who knows our fears and our pain better than we do ourselves, becuase "he" knows what we are missing. God is not a male, but rather genderless, the ultimate power, who will stay with us, alwyas, in love. I believe in love, that is my personal and universal God.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-04-09T19:47:06.347Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No, I don´t try to defend my beliefs to you.

Then what exactly is going on here?

The point of looking at your belief's real weak points is that it's easy to find strong points to attack, and thus one can feel like they've engaged with their doubts when in fact they have avoided them.

Is asking us to find the weak spots of your particular flavor of Christianity attacking a weak point, or attacking a strong point? If you look back over your comments, you will note a number of times when you talk about not expecting people to understand, or pointing out that you don't believe the various things that people are pointing out as weak spots in other forms of Christianity. It seems to me that this allows you to claim that you have exposed your beliefs to attack and them have survived--when, in fact, that is not so.

To elaborate, consider the following:

The amount of upovotes you got here proves to anyone actually reading my comments and understanding them, just how little you actually pay attention to my what I actually say and just how pointless it is for a theist to try to discuss religion here on LW.

Is this what it looks like to attack a weak point, or a strong point? Was the goal here to reach mutual understanding, or to show that LWers aren't capable of discussing religion?

Note that in the comment that started this all, you claimed that you had found some weak spots on your own. Why, then, are you not talking about those? Suppose you knew that at the end of this conversation you would be a convinced atheist, and you were trying to minimize the amount of time it would take to get to that conclusion. Would you have said the same things in the same way?

(I apologize for the Bulverism, but in this context it seems unavoidable. Just asking you to search your motivations doesn't seem likely to succeed, because I want to raise this specific hypothesis.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T20:38:10.277Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn´t want to influence the eventual weak points that others knew of by telling about my own. That would be contra-productive.

Is asking us to find the weak spots of your particular flavor of Christianity attacking a weak point, or attacking a strong point? If you look back over your comments, you will note a number of times when you talk about not expecting people to understand, or pointing out that you don't believe the various things that people are pointing out as weak spots in other forms of Christianity. It seems to me that this allows you to claim that you have exposed your beliefs to attack and them have survived--when, in fact, that is not so.

Aha! A valid question at last! My answer is that I did not estimate the rate of success by asking that question HERE to be more than about 40%, but if I would estimate the same question again, I would assign it about 5% probability. But aksing here would not diminish the chance for me to learn something new. Some contradicitons in the canon-gospels that polymathwannabe has indirectly introduced me to caught my interest, even if they were displayed at a website that was called. "The church of theists sucks." Hehe. But rest assured, I do not intend to just ask YOU about weak points!. I have constantly been thinking about my doubts for years, and not until lately I have started to come to terms with them. Understand that I did not TRY to come to faith in Jesus, at least not deliberately. (When I was a kid my mom once said I could be a hindu for all she cared and the majority of my friends are atheists.)

If someone actually had asked about my own weak points earlier on I would have told them. To those who asked in a PM, I gladly have shared my doubts. But right now I don´t want to expose them as much, in this hostile environment, caused by a few. All the crap I get here has finally forced me to realize that it will probably not be worth the effort to discuss here. I mean, a religion is not such a big deal if it´s teachings are compatible with laws and morals that co-existing non-believers hold, and still people here treat religious beliefs like the plague? I don´t see why. THIS would be intersting to know. Because there is no threat to anyone else in what I believe. The reasons for my moral may be irrational to some extent, but not a potential danger.

Was the goal here to reach mutual understanding, or to show that LWers aren't capable of discussing religion?

To me it was reaching mutual understandning, that is why I bothered answer so many comments. If I failed horribly, at least I honestly tried.

I do not blame you for your Bulverism in this comment. I find it well used and justified. Since I do believe, I can´t see how I would become an atheist, but I do not fear to become one. From my current perspective I believe that God will care for you who are atheists aswell, even though you do not believe in God, if you already value love above all else and honestly try to treat others well, just as well as you treat yourself. (I count in friendship and compassion in love.) Since I believe that God works this way, I won´t fear becoming an atheist before I have already became one, and then I will think to myself, that I had no reason to fear becoming one in the first place, since there is no God.

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-11T08:24:34.383Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I mean, a religion is not such a big deal if it´s teachings are compatible with laws and morals that co-existing non-believers hold, and still people here treat religious beliefs like the plague?

If you're not willing to discuss the weak points of your religion, you can't claim that its teachings are compatible with the morals of other people. After all, how do you know this? Maybe they're not compatible, and that's one of the weak points you won't discuss.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-09T20:52:27.311Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd never seen the term Bulverism, but I don't think what you are doing would classify. You aren't saying A is false because Okeymaker likes B, you're saying the extraordinary claims with lack of extraordinary evidence doesn't provide much prove A.

And that lack of good evidence does not seems not to matter... which makes me wonder how a discussion can continue. Questioning the motives of the discussion is goal clarification, without which there is no discussion.

comment by dxu · 2015-04-09T22:05:42.679Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The hipocrits here downvoting all of my comments, even those not related to this, simply does it as a punishment for my insolence, something they think they are entitled to because of their Tribal status as atheists, and my inferior status as a theist. I must admit I was originally expecting more of this community.

This is an example of the kind of thing that convinces me you're not here for genuine questioning. A person who is truly trying to doubt, and who specifically asked for others to raise questions of their own, would not call those other people hypocrites. And note that you're calling people hypocrites in response to, of all things, downvotes? All of this says to me that your primary attitude toward the people here is one of hostility. Ask yourself this: is hostility really the right way to respond to questioners whom you yourself asked to question your beliefs? Moreover, is it psychologically realistic that a person with genuine doubts would become so hostile toward his/her questioners at so slight a provocation? Maybe I'm misreading you here, but somehow, I doubt that's the case.

We're not the ones drawing the tribal lines here; you are. Maybe your original comment started out as a genuine request for discussion; I don't know. But somewhere along the line, that sincerity of doubt got lost, and this became another one of those tired, rehashed debates about Christianity versus atheism. You're on the "Christianity" side; we're on the "atheism" side. That's how you've labeled us in your mind: as enemies on a different side of a tribal war. Arguments become soldiers, any ground conceded whatsoever is viewed as some sort of "loss", and that's why you're so eager to accuse everyone here who disagrees with you of hypocrisy.

(Note: I have downvoted none of your comments myself, but I can understand why some others have been doing so. As MarkusRamikin pointed out, you've been doing surprisingly little to make your position arguable, either for or against, and the insults and accusations of "hypocrisy" you've been hurling at people really haven't been helping the matter. At any rate, a bit of advice: don't take karma all that seriously. People aren't downvoting due to some personal or tribal vendetta. Treat downvotes simply as slightly noisy signals of what LW users do not approve of, and would like to see less of in the future. As the age-old saying goes, "It's nothing personal.")

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T22:23:20.278Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you Weedlayer?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T22:40:08.073Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know much about the different sects of Christianity, but I do know when someone is being overly belligerent when they shouldn't. The fact that you're acting so belligerent about this is what originally made me wonder if you were really trying to question your beliefs. (As dxu said, a real person trying to question their beliefs wouldn't attack people they asked to help in the first place.)

No, I don´t try to defend my beliefs to you. I don´t even want you to convert. I want you to walk your own ways in life and come up with your own conclusions.

If the atheists are wrong and you're right and God does exist, I'm sure they'd like to know about it so they can update their beliefs! And if they're right and you're wrong, wouldn't you like to know about it so you can update your beliefs? After all, there's only one reality out there, either God exists or he doesn't. If you really think you're right about God existing, you should be trying to convert us.

comment by gjm · 2015-04-09T23:17:39.395Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Albert Einstein was a hardcore theist

I know this is a totally tangential issue, but: No, he really wasn't. See, e.g., this Wikipedia article.

comment by Persol · 2015-04-09T23:26:04.512Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you please explain why you believe in your God, and not all the others?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-09T23:35:54.894Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can honestly not imagine how it is to live in a place where people look up to you if you say that you are christian.

That is a statement about your own lack of imagination and lack of thinking ability. Saying things like that invites downvotes much more than being Christian.

The hipocrits here downvoting all of my comments, even those not related to this, simply does it as a punishment for my insolence, something they think they are entitled to because of their Tribal status as atheists, and my inferior status as a theist. I must admit I was originally expecting more of this community.

That's passive aggressive and ignores that this community does have well respected Christians with karma > 2000 and 96% approval rate.

The idea that you get downvoted because you are Christian is an excuse.

The most important messages Jesus tried to teach us, whether he was mortal or not, is that we should love each other and that children are the saviours of this world. [...] I believe in love, that is my personal and universal God.

I don't think you do well in that front.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-06T21:11:03.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More than anything, the grip of religion is sustained by people just-not-thinking-about the real weak points of their religion. I don't think this is a matter of training, but a matter of instinct. People don't think about the real weak points of their beliefs for the same reason they don't touch an oven's red-hot burners; it's painful.

I think that Eliezer oversimplifies religious beliefs. People who have witnessed terrible things have kept their faith. People who have witnessed their loved ones being killed and tortured still have clung on to their religion. These people have had all the reason in the world to doubt the existence of a benevolent god. They surely have thought of the weak points, when you find yourself being tortured, you don´t keep your faith just because you want an explanation for everything. And afterward I find it hard to believe they just reasoned away it all. My point is that sheer idiocy probably didn´t convince all of those who have suffered, something else must have fooled them, or a lot of things combined.

comment by gjm · 2015-04-07T00:52:52.895Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This would be a stronger argument if people were generally something close to perfect reasoners, and especially if they were so when subjected to terrible suffering. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. In the face of terrible suffering people are frequently very irrational, and I wouldn't attach much weight to what happens to their religious position in such cases. (They might, e.g., cling to religious beliefs they find comforting, even if the thing they need comforting because of is really very good evidence against those beliefs. Or they might abandon religious beliefs because they're so badly hurt they can no longer conceive of such a thing as a good god, even if they have what are objectively very good reasons to think that their former beliefs aren't invalidated by what they've suffered.)

Even very intelligent and reasonable people who generally try very hard to be skeptical and rational can be extremely irrational about things they've believed for a very long time, grown used to, and built their identities around. Political and (ir)religious positions are particularly liable to be held irrationally. If any part of your belief is founded on the idea that what lots of intelligent and reasonable people believe can't be terribly wrong, you should reconsider that. The existence of lots of intelligent and reasonable Christians is, unfortunately, perfectly compatible with Christianity being obviously crazy when looked at objectively; the existence of lots of intelligent and reasonable atheists, likewise, is perfectly compatible with atheism being obviously crazy when looked at objectively.

(My opinion is that neither is obviously crazy, but that very few reasonable people would be much inclined to think Christianity likely to be right if they encountered it afresh without the influence of a culture saturated in Christianity, and if when they did encounter it they saw an unbiased selection of relevant evidence rather than e.g. meeting it through the preaching of evangelists whose goal is more to persuade than to inform.)

comment by nitrat665 · 2015-04-08T14:50:10.775Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One of the problems with this argument is that the such perseverence is not unique to Christianity in particular and religion in general:

  • Many religions have stories of believers' faith persisting against all odds, so this particular property can't be easily attributed to Christ exclusively.
  • Religion in general does not have a monopoly on perseverance either - people have been known to keep their ideas about the superiority of their country / government / lord / general political idea even with an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing in the other direction or even when threatened with death or torture.
  • Perserverance is not limited to noble acts, like keeping your faith in god or loyalty to your political leaders either. I am pretty sure many of us have personally observed people keeping some sort of belief (non-religious and non-patriotic) that was detrimental and unprofitable to them (even sometimes to such an extent that holding on to such belief leads to severe harm or death).
comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T15:32:45.999Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, but these religions has endured for centuries, unlike your other examples. I dont argue for christianity,( why do you presume that?) I mean that EY oversimplifies religious beliefs in general.

comment by nitrat665 · 2015-04-09T13:53:06.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Religions' centuries-long endurance is an interesting topic to think about. However, there are simpler explanations for the longevity of religious beliefs than attributing them to some sort of supernatural causes - ones involving some sort of memetic selection. I am pretty sure there are good and detailed studies out there in the internet that you could read for a more detailed argument on that, maybe even on this site, but as for a simple explanation, here is a hypothesis that I could come up with in about 5 minutes of thinking:

Here is a list of certain traits that are common to many long-surviving and wide-spread religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the most fitting examples) :

  • Indoctrination starts in the family at a young age
  • The strength of belief (especially, unreasoning belief) is considered something positive and praiseworthy
  • A large value is placed on holding this exact set of beliefs
  • Not-believers (atheists or people with differing religious views) are described as inferior
  • There are promises of reward for the faithful (in this world and after death) and punishment for the unfaithful
  • There are various well-established practices and rituals that can be seen as directly intended for increasing the strength of the belief

At least to me, those seem like the exact traits needed for a set of beliefs to become self-reinforcing and infectious, so I wouldn't be very surprised if a belief set with such traits survived a long time. Actually, I do not remember seeing a post here that would go into more depth on this, but maybe I will compose one, if I have the time and people think it is an interesting topic.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T10:58:14.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

...wait, so if I don't want to believe in a God whose morality is ineffable, who has power over time and matter, and has, they say, surgically altered the course of history on a number of occasions (think the Flood), does it mean I'm making this exact mistake, avoiding my [atheistic] belief's real weak point? I mean, I can't remember any 'manifestation of God's power' that happened in peopled regions which didn't hurt anyone. If he exists, and is supposedly powerful, what are the woes of Egyptian firstborn to me if he can just wipe out the universe?..

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-14T07:59:35.423Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This feeling, anger and not being allowed to doubt, was what I felt after reading Andersen's The little match girl.

comment by Matthew G · 2018-02-16T17:44:20.543Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am new to Bayesian Rationality, and it seems to me to be an ideal worth pursuing. I have so far read only Yudkowsky, and am compling a "further reading list" to continue my journey to reducing my irrationality. Please bear with me as I give you some personal context to my comments. I am a religious, practicing Jew. I don't label myself "Orthodox" or "Modern Orthodox", although I attended an Orthodox Yeshiva and live in a Modern Orthodox community, because a lot of what colors the cultural manifestation of the Jewish religion is based on social influences. I refer to myself as a "Torah observant" Jew. I also attended university, majoring in biochemistry and minoring in psychology, and most of the sections on cognitive biases were not new to me, but framed in a new way that I just didn't see before. I have, in the past, questioned my faith, but since my first read-through of AI-Zombies, learned that I did not ask the right questions. Reciting the Litany of Tarski regarding God once scared me, but now I recite it regularly, because I recognize that I really only want to believe that God exists if and only if God exists. It does me no good to believe God exists if God doesn't exist.

In regards to the first story in this post, I was always taught in Yeshiva that God is responsible for everything, good AND bad, and that we are supposed to acknowledge that in bad cases as well as good. That is why, at a Jewish funeral, the mourners recite the blessing "Baruch ata... Dayan HaEmet", Blessed are You, God, the True Judge" (or "Judge of Truth", direct translation is not perfect), the understanding being that God has decided that it is the right time for that person to die, and we accept that.

I recognize the underlying conflict between the ideas of a benevolent God and certain aspects of Biblical narrative, like God killing all first born children when we can easily imagine any number of alternate ways God could have ended slavery without killing babies (and adults; it doesn't say that the first borns had to be child-aged, and the tragedy is not lessened just because they were grown up). I honestly don't have an answer.

I have tried to sit down and imagine a world without a God, what it would look like. I can't claim that I'm not fooling myself, but in the world that I constructed without a God, Judaism does not exist. I'm not an expert historian, but I've counted dozens (at least) of cultures/nations from the past 3 millenia, going back to what I can find as the first independent corroboration of records of a Jewish (or proto-Jewish, depending on the source) nation, and aside from China, they are all gone. Completely wiped out, remembered only by archeological discoveries, and in the cases of the great world powers, historical records and cultural echoes. Where Judea/Israel differs from China is that the Jews spent the past 2,000 years primarily homeless (a fraction remained in the region that Rome renamed "Syria-Palestina", but many were sold into Roman slavery), and we know from more recent records that at least the past thousand years were marked with countless occurences of genocide, where entire communities were ravaged just for being Jewish. I don't know how to calculate the probability of a nation that is not a superpower (or even a superpower) to remain a recognizable, cohesive unit for 3,000 years, but I imagine it's pretty small, since only one of each has done so. I also don't know how to calculate the probability of a nation remaining recognizable and cohesive despite hundreds of years of dominating countries attempting to eradicate them. To me, that makes less sense than a God who does things I don't understand. Is there no alternative answer that explains how Judaism has survived, or have I stopped looking too soon? I have ordered a number of books written by secular historians who talk about the origins of Judaism to see what kind of evidence they offer one way or another. At what point do I say "I still don't understand this"and put it on the shelf because I don't have the time to dedicate to researching it, and there are more important things to do with my life? Even if I stop believing in God, which is probably unlikely, but not impossible, I will likely continue to be a practicing Jew simply because I like to identify with this tribe, despite the downsides like anti-Semitism.

comment by Icenogle · 2018-06-29T19:42:15.240Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Something important to consider is that you are looking at the continuation of Judaism after the fact. If you were to go back 2,000 years, and try to predict in advance what would happen, it would be reasonable to expect that a society of some sort would survive, though predicting exactly which society of the many available would probably be beyond you.

So yes, Judaism survived against all odds, but the survival of any one particular society would be against all odds. A world without God would likely have some society, and which particular society would be up to a roll of the dice.

Imagine a group of 10 people, and some sort of system which would cause 9 of them, randomly chosen, to die before tomorrow. The 1 would survive because the rules of the system allowed for a survivor, not because of an inherent quality of that one person. In the same way, our world allows for some surviving cultures, though which culture survived is based significantly on luck, not just their deity.

Additionally, China surviving, by your reasoning, would provide evidence that China's religious beliefs are true. In fact, as they're thriving far more than Judaism (by number of people), your reasoning indicates that a shift towards their religious beliefs would be appropriate.

Also worth asking: in a world without a God would you expect to see religion? With many contradictory religions, most would have to have sprung up despite being wrong. It would only be a small shift to suppose that all of them may be.

comment by Teerth Aloke · 2019-04-07T09:11:38.062Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Being a Marxist at one time, I also suffered from this problem.