Comment by deeb on Beyond the Reach of God · 2011-11-25T09:20:18.231Z · LW · GW

Nice. Here I present what I genuinely think is a flaw in this article, and instead of getting replies, I am just voted down "below threshold". I believe I have pointed out exactly what I disagree with and why. I would have been happy to hear people disagreeing or asking me to look at this from some other perspective. But apparently there is a penalty for violating the unwritten community rule that "Eliezer's posts are unfailingly brilliant and flawless". I have learned a lot from this website. There are sometimes very deep ideas, and intelligent debate. But I think the community is not for me, so I will let this account die and go back to lurking.

Comment by deeb on Beyond the Reach of God · 2011-11-19T15:04:01.266Z · LW · GW

Unfortunately, this post, dated 4 October 2008, blatantly ignores the good sense of the 'Occam's Razor' one, dated 26 September 2007. It is very naive to argue along the lines of "cellular automata are Turing complete, hence we can build a cellular automaton simulating anything we want to". This is just using the term "Turing complete" in the same way as the poor barbarians of the 'Occam's Razor' post use the term "Thor", viz., as a sort of totem you wave around in order to spare you the work of actually thinking things through. Well, of course you can imagine a cellular automaton simulating anything you like, as long as it isn't self-contradictory. But there lies the problem, it is very difficult to know whether some concept is self-contradictory just using natural language before you have actually gone and built it. Who is telling you that all the moral and spiritual aspects of the conditio humana aren't going to pop up in your simulation as epiphenomena, by necessity, just as they did in this universe? That's right, you can't know until you have done the simulation. The smug "Is this world starting to sound familiar?" really cuts two ways in this case.

Comment by deeb on Rhetoric for the Good · 2011-11-01T08:43:35.617Z · LW · GW

I am at a loss how you could list Dawkins as "good science writing". In my opinion, Dawkins is one of the worst things that could happen to intelligent atheism. I have never heard or read him say anything remotely interesting to the intelligent theist. Dawkins apparently thinks "theism" equals "stupid theism" and does a great job debunking variants of theism that are vastly inferior to himself in terms of intellect. Afaik he has so far shown no sign that he even understands intelligent theism. This has had the effect on countless of intelligent people to think that theism is stupid, and you only need to be a little rational to see that. In other words, rhetorics of the Dawkins kind makes sure that the debate that should he had does not take place. In my book, this is not rhetorics "for good". Such has been the impact of Dawkins that I seriously wonder how many of the self-described atheists on this site have ever even stopped to consider the point of view of intelligent theists. In my opinion, as long as you haven't considered or understood intelligent theists, you have no right calling yourself an atheist ("hur, hur, talking snake" is not a refutation of theism).

Comment by deeb on Parapsychology: the control group for science · 2011-07-16T18:46:46.032Z · LW · GW

...this overwhelming evidence coming from paraphsychology studies, and parapsychology studies only.

Before people did these, all we had was overwhelming anecdotal evidence in favour of parapsychology. Every culture, nay, every family is chock-full of reliable witnesses that give accounts of how they personally experienced paranormal phenomena. In the face of such persistent, recurring reports, you can hardly blame people for wanting to investigate. It is only after you do studies under laboratory conditions that you can begin to show that this anecdotal evidence is a product of selection bias.

While I am personally quite convinced that selection bias is all that is needed to explain the phenomena, this doesn't take away the immense cultural significance of the phenomena that were selected in this way. In this sense, parapsychology is not "wrong", it's just cultural (as opposed to supernatural). At the end of the day, science doesn't attach value to anything. It is just capable of describing what arises from what. Meaning arises from subjective choice alone, and as humans we are much more interested in meaning and made-up patterns than in a full list of all hydrogen atoms in the biosphere, no matter how "objective".

Comment by deeb on Parapsychology: the control group for science · 2011-07-16T18:38:21.769Z · LW · GW

actually, this is precisely how I would like people to discuss parapsychology.

What, are you going to defend science or rationalism using unscientific or irrational tactics just because you think that is going to work better? Even if that wasn't detrimental to your own agenda in the long run, you would need to ask yourself at that point what makes you different from any politician defending any ideology at all. Parapsychology isn't "wrong" because it is obvious to the bigwigs in your camp (the "rationalists") that it is wrong. It is "wrong" (or, unsubstantiated) because and only because positive results are not exceeding the positive results expected assuming the null hypothesis. If positive results DID exceed these, we WOULD need to recognize there is an effect. Actually, most people here would probably just see this as proof that we do indeed live in a simulation and would actually be pretty cool with that as they had half-hoped that we did all along.

Comment by deeb on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2011-07-16T18:22:27.567Z · LW · GW

I must agree with GabeEisenstein 100%. It is annoying to keep reading arguments against fundamentalist religion phrased as arguments "against religion".

I must also note that Gabe did not get any meaningful reply to his point "that orthogonal-to-facts religion can be valuable, and that it is not a modern phenomenon". He was told to "read all antitheism posts". Well, how about a link to a specific paragraph in a specific post that addresses the very specific issues he raised? Namely, why do people keep focussing on debunking fundamentalist religion (reinterpret the fossils, believe in talking snakes, etc.) and then pretend they have debunked "religion" or "theism", completely ignoring the deep intellectual history within religious thought dealing with exactly these questions? ("you concentrate on fundamentalist or other strange examples, never the work of thinkers like Buber, Merton, Campbell, Watts, [and].... Wittgenstein's views on religion, as found in his essay on Frazer's Golden Bough.") Where in the "antitheism posts" do I find a treatment of these aspects, and why is everything I come across always tailored to debunking fundamentalism instead of dealing with the questions that will crop up if you ignore the fundamentalists and talk to religionist philosphers who are actually intelligent? And even apart from points that may be covered in other posts which I have not seen, GabeEisenstein has pointed to a number of glaring flaws or mistakes in the current post standing on its own, which would merit some attention in themselves, first of all the implication that religious ethics has not evolved over the centuries, and that it'ts a choice between the Iron Age and atheism. That's a false dichotomy if I have ever seen one.

Comment by deeb on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2011-07-16T17:57:13.706Z · LW · GW

You went to great length there to show that ancient (pre-Hellenistic) religion was actually indistinguishable from culture. I absolutely love the description of the Old Testament as a "stream-of-consciousness culture dump", that's exactly what it is. But then you somehow go on to derive from this that it is incorrect that "religion cannot be proven or disproven". But if we agree that religion in antiquity was indistinguishable from culture, how are you going to defend that a culture can be "disproven"? Ancient Hebrew culture is just that, a culture, just like Aztec, Sioux, Celtic or Vedic culture. How are you going to "disprove" that? Except perhaps you are confusing "religion" and "theism", and suppose that theism is in some way central to religion. But then you should say theism, which is completely detached from picturesque Iron Age culturescapes. For theism, you should focus on Hellenistic and Roman authors, who said intelligent tihngs such as "credo quia absurdum". You aren't going to "disprove" Augustine by making fun of Elijah. But while you focus on theism, you should make very sure not to confuse "theism" with "contemporary naive US Bible-thumping". It is a great fallacy in much of what I read from US atheists that they tend to equate "religion" with "theism", "theism" with "monotheism" and "monotheism" with "braindead biblical literalism".

I understand that much of US atheism is tied up in fighting a political war against conservative bible-thumpers. But it is a bad sign if people start confusing this political war with actual religious philosophy. So you wish for a society where there is a notion of "marriage" based on the historical institution known by that name, but both separate from religion and detached from the sex or gender of those choosing to register. This is of course your right, and within your powers you can exert influence that may or may not result in your desired outcome. But nothing about this changes the fact that the word "marriage" historically describes an institution that very much depended on both sex and religion. And accepting religion as a simple historical and ethnological given, I frankly don't see any room to "disprove" anything about it: You are perfectly free to disapprove, but that's not the same as disproving anything. Oh, by "disprove" you mean you do not believe that the world's myths are factual records of historical events? I don't know how the Iron Age Hebrew priesthood would have reacted to this idea, but every intelligent religionist from Plato onward would just have smiled at your naivete. Yes, there are the less intelligent religionists, like, say, Torquemada or Jack Chick, but if you are interested in criticizing a philosophy, shouldn't you out of intellectual integrity talk to its most intelligent proponents instead of having a field day with the idiots in its camp?

Comment by deeb on Safety Culture and the Marginal Effect of a Dollar · 2011-06-15T07:56:53.635Z · LW · GW

"Estimate a 10% current AI risk"... wait, where did that come from? You say "Let A be the probability that an AI will be created", but actually your A is the probability that an AI will be created which then goes on to wipe out humanity unless precautions are taken, but which will also fail to wipe out humanity if the proper precautions are taken.

Your estimate for that is a whopping 10%? Without any sort of substantiating argument??
... Let's say I claim 0.000001% is a much more reasonable figure for this: what would be your rationale supporting that your estimate is more plausible than mine? Using my estimate, it suddenly becomes much more worthwhile in terms of lives saved per dollar to just build wells in Africa.

(addendum, in fact, I would argue that utility is not to me measured in lives-saved-per-dollar, or else you would need to invest in increasing fertility in Africa so you can then go on to save more lives by building wells. Instead your utility should be a stable and happy Africa (Africa because that's the most unhappy continent right now, so your payoff will tend to be greatest if you invest in Africa) -- for which end the rational thing to do will be invest in birth control rather than wells. But that's a different story)

Comment by deeb on How not to move the goalposts · 2011-06-14T10:20:54.490Z · LW · GW

I agree this is an excellent post. In fact, I just created an account and came out of lurking just to vote it up. Yes, the example came out a little forced and unnecessarily convoluted, but the point made is extremely important. To those who clamp down on the post on grounds of lack of formal rigour are missing the point entirely. You are so preoccupied with formulating your rationality in mathematically pleasing ways, applying it to matrix-magic and Knuth-arrow-quasi-infinity situations, that you are in danger of missing the real-life applications where just a modest bit of rationality will result in a substantial gain to yourself or to society.