Theism, Wednesday, and Not Being Adopted

by Alicorn2 min read27th Apr 2009341 comments



(Disclaimer: This post is sympathetic to a certain subset of theists.  I am not myself a theist, nor have I ever been one.  I do not intend to justify all varieties of theism, nor do I intend to justify much in the way of common theistic behavior.)

I'm not adopted.  You all believe me, right?  How do you think I came by this information, that you're confident in my statement?  The obvious and correct answer is that my parents told me so1.  Why do I believe them?  Well, they would be in a position to know the answer, and they have been generally honest and sincere in their statements to me.  A false belief on the subject could be hazardous to me, if I report inaccurate family history to physicians, and I believe that my parents have my safety in mind.  I know of the existence of adopted people; the possibility isn't completely absent from my mind - but I believe quite confidently that I am not among those people, because my parents say otherwise.

Now let's consider another example.  I have a friend who plans to name her first daughter Wednesday.  Wednesday will also not be adopted, but that isn't the part of the example that is important: Wednesday will grow up in Provo, Utah, in a Mormon family in a Mormon community with Mormon friends, classmates, and neighbors, attending an LDS church every week and reading scripture and participating in church activities.  It is overwhelmingly likely that she will believe the doctrines of the LDS church, because not only her parents, but virtually everyone she knows will reinforce these beliefs in her.  Given the particular nuances of Mormonism as opposed to other forms of Christianity, Wednesday will also be regularly informed that several of these people are in a position to have special knowledge on the subject via direct prayer-derived evidence2 - in much the same way that her parents will have special knowledge of her non-adopted status via direct experience when she wasn't in a state suitable to notice or remember the events.  Also, a false belief on the subject could have all kinds of bad consequences - if the Muslims are right, for instance, no doubt Hell awaits Wednesday and her family - so if she also correctly assumes that her parents have her best interests at heart, she'll assume they would do their best to give her accurate information.

Atheism tends to be treated as an open-and-shut case here and in other intellectually sophisticated venues, but is that fair?  What about Wednesday?  What would have to happen to her to get her to give up those beliefs?  Well, for starters, she'd have to dramatically change her opinion of her family.  Her parents care enough about honesty that they are already planning not to deceive her about Santa Claus - should she believe that they're liars?  They're both college-educated, clever people, who read a lot and think carefully about (some) things - should she believe that they're fools?  They've traveled around the world and have friends like me who are, vocally, non-Mormons and even non-Christians - should she believe that her parents have not been exposed to other ideas?

Would giving up her religion help Wednesday win?  I don't think her family would outright reject her for it, but it would definitely strain those valued relationships, and some of the aforementioned friends, classmates, and neighbors would certainly react badly.  It doesn't seem that it would make her any richer, happier, more successful - especially if she carries on living in Utah3.  (I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.)  It would make her right.  And that would be all it would do - if she were lucky.

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?  I have priorities that I'd probably put ahead of being right, too; I'm just not in a position where I really have to choose between "keeping my friends and being right", "feeling at home and being right", "eating this week and being right".  That's my luck, not my cleverness, at work.

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.


1I have other evidence - I have inherited some physical characteristics from my parents and have seen my birth certificate - but the point is that this is something I would take their word for even if I didn't take after them very strongly and had never seen the documentation.

2Mormons believe in direct revelation, and they also believe that priesthood authorities are entitled to receive revelations for those over whom they have said authority (e.g. fathers for their children, husbands for their wives, etc.).

3I have lived in Salt Lake City, and during this time was, as always, openly an atheist.  Everyone was tolerant of me, but I do not think it improved my situation in any way.



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This post raises a whole constellation of connected questions, so here are my thoughts on all of them:

If the question is "Can Wednesday be religious and still be a smart person who's good at using rationality?", the answer is empirically yes (eg Robert Aumann).

If the question is "Can we still call Wednesday rational if she's religious?" the answer is to taboo "rational" and let the problem take care of itself.

If the question is "Is it okay for Wednesday to be religious?" the question is confused in the first place and any answer would be equally confused.

If the question is "Should Wednesday choose to believe religion?" the answer is that you don't voluntarily choose your beliefs so it doesn't matter.

If the question is "Should Wednesday, while not exactly choosing to believe religion, avoid thinking about it too hard because she thinks doing so will make her an atheist?," then she's already an atheist on some level because she thinks knowing more will make her more atheist, which implies atheism is true. This reduces to the case of deception, which you seem to be against unconditionally.

If the question is "Should I, as... (read more)

9Simetrical12yThat's not necessarily true. Perhaps she believes Mormonism is almost certainly right, but acknowledges that she's not fully rational and might be misled if she read too many arguments against it. Most Christians believe in the idea that God (or Satan) tempts people to sin, and that avoiding temptation is a useful tactic to avoid sin. Kind of like avoiding stores where candy is on display if you're trying to lose weight, say. You know what's right in advance, but you're afraid of losing resolve. Certainly whatever your beliefs, some people who disagree with you are sufficiently charismatic and good at rhetoric that they might persuade you if you give them the chance. (Well, for most of us, anyway.) How many atheist Less Wrongers would be able to withstand lengthy debate with very talented missionaries? Some, certainly. Most, probably. All? I doubt it. Overall, though, an excellent response, and I agree with almost all the rest of it.
8[anonymous]11yI used to think this way. "I won't read Mein Kampf because I might turn out a Nazi." This is actually a very insidiously bad mindset. You should believe any argument that can convince you (in fair conditions -- reading Mein Kampf in a calm frame of mind in your own living room, as opposed to under conditions of intimidation in Nazi Germany.) If Nazism is awful, it will still be awful even when you know more about it. And, indeed, most of us don't turn into neo-Nazis when we read Mein Kampf. Sure, we have bounded rationality. But I don't see how, in probabilistic terms, you can be more likely to get it right without accumulating more evidence. (Maybe your priors are wrong.) If you really think you couldn't stand up to debate with a talented missionary, maybe you aren't really an atheist; maybe you should be glad to change your mind. Psychologically, I think it's much better for people to trust their reason in this way. It makes it possible to live with more courage. I don't want to live with my head down hoping I won't be exposed to the wrong things.
5Alicorn12yActually, they got the name from Wednesday Addams. If the kid doesn't like the name they will call her Wendy instead. (They want two girls and a boy: Wednesday, Christabel, and Nicodemus.)
4David Althaus9y( I hope it's ok to respond to such an old comment...) Um, but IMO most humans will be happier if they become atheists ( eventually). AND, what is far more important, with every new atheist the Sanity Waterline [] will raise which in turn increases the likelihood of surviving existential risks. And that should be ( or at least close to) the primary concern of every utilitarian. There are many more reasons I can think of, but these should suffice;) Or do I miss something?
0Bugmaster9yI know your comment is quite old, but I just wanted to say that this was my favorite comment on LW so far.
0[anonymous]12yHowever, isn't this the question we want to know the answer to? Will rationalism not answer it, nor even allow us to ask it?
-3Roko12yalso disagreeing here. I don't value a religious person's arguments relating to the singularity at all, and whilst I think we should tolerate them in the interest of free speech, this should be done grudgingly and with disclaimers like "this person cannot have a sensible view on the singularity, treat their output on the subject as noise". This is because, if you are religious (in the theistic sense, which is really what we're likely to encounter and what I'm talking about), you believe that there is a divine agent watching over us. This has obvious false implications concerning the singularity. Suppose you tell a theist that there's a serious risk that smarter than human AI could wipe out the whole human race. They'll be thinking "this couldn't happen, God would prevent it" or "oh, it's ok, I'll go to heaven if this happens". Wherever the argument goes next, you are talking to someone who has such radically different background assumptions to you that you won't get anything useful out of them. Why is this differs from most other subjects is that the religious conception of divine intervention is tailored so that it is consistent with our everyday observations. Thus any religious person who is vaguely sane will have some argument as to why God doesn't prevent earthquakes from killing random people. So God allows small injustices and crimes, but the main point is that everything will be OK in the end, i.e. the ultimate fate of our world is not in question. The debate concerning the Singularity is directly about this question. There are other failure modes which theists will have disproportionately over atheists, of course. To me it seems that an unerring and (essentially) non-evidence based belief that everything will turn out OK is indictment enough. Amongst the other failure modes: belief in existence of souls and of the divine place of human intelligence is likely to produce skewed beliefs about the possibility of synthetic intelligence. Various results of
5Vladimir_Nesov12yTreat everyone's opinions as noise, unless you are about to make a decision. Consider each argument on its own merits, not as data, but as a metaphorical construction that allows you to recognize a way to move forward your own understanding of the facts you already know.
1AlexU12yYou've never heard of the ad hominem fallacy, I take it?
0Roko12yThe fact that a believer in a loving and all powerful god can't really be taken seriously on the singularity is not a claim about their character, and thus doesn't qualify as ad-hominem. It is a claim about the arguments they are going to put forward: in the presence of the background assumption that there's a loving god watching over us, you can't make sensible decisions about the singularity.
2AlexU12yDiscounting an argument because of the person making it is pretty much the textbook definition of ad hominem fallacy. Also, it should go without saying that being a theist doesn't automatically mean one believes in a loving and all-powerful god watching over us. And anyway, I still don't follow the logic that being a theist means one can't make sensible decisions about the Singularity (insofar as one can say there are "sensible decisions" to be made about something that's basically a sci-fi construct at this point.)
1Vladimir_Nesov12yWhat distinguishes the topic of singularity from any other pursuits in which theists are empirically known to be able to excel? In each case, knowing that a person is a theist somewhat decreases your confidence in the accuracy of their judgment, but not dramatically. Is there something specific that places this topic in different light? (I think there is, but I don't feel like spinning a lengthy argument right now, and I'm curious about how thought-through that harshly-downvoted sentiment above was.)
0Roko12yIf you are religious (in the theistic sense, which is really what we're likely to encounter and what I'm talking about), you believe that there is a divine agent watching over us. This has obvious false implications concerning the singularity. Suppose you tell a theist that there's a serious risk that smarter than human AI could wipe out the whole human race.They'll be thinking "this couldn't happen, God would prevent it" or "oh, it's ok, I'll go to heaven if this happens". Wherever the argument goes next, you are talking to someone who has such radically different background assumptions to you that you won't get anything useful out of them. Why is this differs from most other subjects is that the religious conception of divine intervention is tailored so that it is consistent with our everyday observations. Thus any religious person who is vaguely sane will have some argument as to why God doesn't prevent earthquakes from killing random people. So God allows small injustices and crimes, but the main point is that everything will be OK in the end, i.e. the ultimate fate of our world is not in question. The debate concerning the Singularity is directly about this question.
1Vladimir_Nesov12yI don't believe this is a valid thought in this form, or maybe you failed to formalize your intuition enough to communicate it. You list a few specific failure modes, which I don't believe can cover enough of the theistic people to reduce the probability of a theistic person producing valid singularity thinking down to nothingness. Also, some of these failure modes overlap with related failure modes of non-theistic people, thus not figuring into the likelihood ratio as much as they would otherwise.
0Roko12yThere are other failure modes which theists will have disproportionately over atheists, of course. To me it seems that an unerring and (essentially) non-evidence based belief that everything will turn out OK is indictment enough. Amongst the other failure modes: belief in existence of souls and of the divine place of human intelligence is likely to produce skewed beliefs about the possibility of synthetic intelligence. Various results of dark-side epistemology such as disbelief of evolution, belief in "free will", belief in original sin and belief in moral realism ("god given morality") preventing something like CEV. I've heard the following fallacious argument against the transhumanist project from a lot of theists: humans are imperfect, so the only way to improve ourselves is to take advice from a perfect being. Imperfection cannot lead to less-imperfection. Also, I didn't claim that the average atheist has sensible opinions about the subject. Just that "theist" is a useful filter.
0AlexU12yYour conception of "theism" -- a tremendously broad concept -- is laughably caricatured and narrow, and it pollutes whatever argument you're trying to make: absolutely none of the logic in the above post follows in the way you think it does.

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

I had to do this until I was able to sever myself from parental support at age 20. It certainly wasn't pleasant and sometimes I still have nightmares about being discovered breaking the Sabbath (though I've told my parents long since). But if you ask me whether I would have rather remained religious,


Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?

If Wednesday can partition, that puts an upper bound on her ability as a rationalist; it means she doesn't get on a deep level why the rules are what they are. She doesn't get, say, that the laws regarding evidence are not social customs that can be different from one place to another, but, rather, manifestations of the principle that you have to walk through a city in order to draw an accurate map of it. She can't understand the causality behind the rules, or she would simply know beyond all at... (read more)

if you can believe in God, you can believe in anything.

The trouble with that is that I believe in some pretty weird things. I believe in a universe with a hundred billion galaxies, each of a hundred billion stars, of the Earth being a globe rushing round the sun when it appears to be still, with the sun going round it. I believe these things not because I have worked them out for myself, but because I understand that Academe believes them, more or less, and people with whom I associate believe them.

5AlexU12yRight. The idea that we as individuals arrive at our scientific beliefs via perfect rationality is a fiction. It's good to keep in mind that our scientific beliefs are a product of a particular social network -- we believe things largely because people and institutions we trust believe those things. The difference between being a Mormon and being a scientific materialist is less a qualitative difference (i.e., one person is rational, the other is not) than one of degree, circumstance, and where you place your faith.
3Vladimir_Nesov12yThe historical causes of the different kinds of worldviews held by different people may be similar, but it doesn't make the different worldviews themselves similar. The evolution was implemented on the same kind of physics that fires up the stars, yet a snail is nothing like a giant ball of plasma. The answer to "2+2=" doesn't depend on where you place your faith. Even if you zealously believe that the answer is 78, even if that's what you were taught in school, just like the other kids who were taught different answers, the answer is still 4. And there is a rational reason to believe the global scientific community, once you grow strong enough to pose the question: they are often right, and they self-check their correctness.
1AlexU12yOf course, different worldviews may be qualitatively very different, but the point I'm making is that our personal reasons for adopting one over the other aren't all that different. My reasons for believing various scientific findings have much more to do with the sociology of my upbringing and current environment than with the actual truth or falsity of those findings. I did some lab experiments in high school and college, but to extrapolate from those personal verifications to the truth of all scientific findings is to make quite an inductive leap.
1Vladimir_Nesov12yWhen you are still weak enough to be shaped into a zealot by any community, independently of their goodness, of course you don't make that choice, by definition. You may well remain unable to make that choice, if this ability is taken away from you by the worldview you were fed with. But rocks don't have that power either. So, there are two questions on the table: whether there is objective difference, relative to your implicit own goals, between different worldviews instilled in you by the environment of your upbringing, and whether the people are capable of noticing that difference and acting on it. On the presence of objective difference, I wrote in the comment to which you replied, and you seem to agree. Whether you ever grow strong enough to consider the decision to change your worldview currently significantly depends on your initial worldview, and on your native intelligence. With native intelligence a given, we can only improve this situation by spreading empowering memes.
2Alicorn12yI don't know your parents, but I know the people who will be Wednesday's. Nothing terrible will happen to Wednesday if she deconverts: she would make her parents a little sad, and they would probably try to argue her around, but they would not do her harm or kick her out of the house or otherwise mistreat her in any way, shape, or form. I do not object to deception in self-defense (or defense of others in Jews-in-the-attic-in-Nazi-Germany situations), but Wednesday will not require deceptive self-defense.

Isn't this an argument in favor of her becoming an atheist, if the side effects to her are less than to me?

Just because she'd incur a lesser cost doesn't mean she has to value the end enough to tolerate even that lesser cost.

1jscn12yThe terrible thing has already happened at this stage. Telling your children that lies are true (i.e., that Mormonism is true), when they have no better way of discerning the truth than simply believing what you say, is abusive and anti-moralistic. It is fundamentally destructive of a person's ability to cope with reality. I have never heard a story of deconversion that was painless. Everyone I know who has deconverted from a religious upbringing has undergone large amounts of internal (and often external) anguish. Even after deconverting most have not been capable of severing ties to the destructive people who doomed them to this pain in the first place.
0MendelSchmiedekamp12yThere are rationally beneficial forms of partitioning using that same skill - such as the application of estimated beliefs in appropriate contexts. That suggests that partitioning is not anathema to rationality. To my mind what is much more problematic is giving a free pass to particularly enshrined beliefs may have a contagion effect on other beliefs preventing you from properly evaluating them. In which case our partitioned theist may even have an advantage. At least Wednesday knows for sure some of her irrational beliefs. How many of us can say the same?

As an ex-Mormon, I had to personally confront this issue. My family, extended family, friends, neighbors, and the large majority of my hometown are Mormon, so the social costs of leaving my church were extremely high. While in high school, I was primarily in the closet, but I'd express the occasional doubt. Just the suggestion that the church could be tested against evidence resulted in people avoiding conversation with me, my now-wife being warned by mutual friends not to date me, and my parents sternly lecturing me. Note this was merely because I considered the possibility of contrary evidence, not a public expression of disbelief.

In the counterfactual world where I chose not to explore the veracity of religion, my high school years would have been significantly happier, I would have avoided prolonged conflict with my family, I would have served a two-year religious mission, and I would likely be attending BYU right now. In some ways, it does genuinely feel like this would have been better, but I can say with confidence that I made the right choice.

I could easily pick out reasons why someone shouldn't remain Mormon specifically, but I want to engage the least convenient world fo... (read more)

4MrHen12yNot to be a total jerk and imply you are a total jerk, but the way you merely consider the possibility of contrary evidence matters a lot. I simply want to point out that there is no chance in the world of accurately describing what you or someone like Wednesday would go through in a sentence and there is always an easy option to tilt the histories in your favor. Someone's perceptions of their own attitudes is difficult enough without trying to remember what your emotional state at age 14. I can hear someone say, "I was only asking questions," and know that the words are true but are a complete lie at the same time. Linguistics is easy to twist into your favor. Again, I am not implying you match any of these descriptions. I just saw an old pattern and felt like pointing it out (at the risk of focusing on the minutiae of your comment).
6badger12yI agree that is a common failure mode, and I could be misremembering. I made that statement because I did know a handful of people who would belligerently "question" people about religion, and I am pretty sure I was not one of them. I only spoke to intimate friends about my thoughts, and even then, it was done rarely and with extreme hesitancy. It is the sort of thing that spreads through gossip though, while could also explain some of the negative responses. With my parents, around age 17, I started to outright refuse to attend church, but the troubles started before then. I got a stern lecture from my mom about age 15 for making a statement that assumed evolution was true. Thanks for alerting me to the potential problem, but I will respectfully claim it doesn't apply.
1MrHen12yWhich works for me. I am glad you are willing to accept the question.

I'm not sure why you are so dismissive of your first footnote. The question of being adopted is a testable hypothesis. Whether you actually test it or not, you do not need to rely on your trust of your parents to know the truth here. Since the claim that you are not adopted is not particularly extraordinary there is little reason to actually go and test it. Also, knowing the truth here one or way or the other probably would change very little about how you live your day-to-day life.

Religious claims are extraordinary and if true would have a profound impact on how you should live your day-to-day life. Many "religious believers" are in fact so good at partitioning that this is not the case - they do not live as though their beliefs are true.

Yes, I will make value judgments concerning the merits and characters of both those people and people who "apply reason" in an irrationally discriminatory matter.

0LongInTheTooth12yYes, this is the crux of the difference between the two scenarios. We accept many things from authority figures at face value, but they fall into two categories, testable and untestable, and we can easily figure out which is which.
1AlexU12yI'm not sure those categories are as meaningful as you think. How many scientific findings are you capable of verifying personally, right now? And believing you're capable of verifying them, "in principle," is quite different altogether...

This is a great post because it shows just how hard one has to stretch the meaning of "win" to find a way in which atheism always "wins." In the example, it seems that Wedesday "wins" by remaining a Mormon, unless she just happens to place some kind of high personal value on metaphysical truth that can only be satisfied by holding the epistemically correct belief. There's no reason why that should be for everyone, though -- there's a pretty strong case both for not caring at all about these questions, as well accepting one's "default" view if it's too costly to shed. Say Wednesday never becomes a philosopher, but instead, goes into business, or becomes a journalist, or a doctor. It's difficult to imagine how the "less wrong" position of atheism would help her "win" in any of these endeavors, and, in all likelihood, the practical costs incurred by deconverting would swamp any marginal gains she'd get from changing her metaphysical stance on God.

I think people on LW are very hesitant to admit that their strong attachment to "true" metaphysical beliefs may have nothing to do with "winning," but rather, could just be an idiosyncratic personal preference (which is perfectly OK).

7MBlume12yPersonally I would consider the debilitating sexist and sex-negative messages packaged with Mormonism to be a profound sort of losing in and of themselves, but that's beyond the scope of this blog.
5badger12yI agree that there is no reason atheists always "win". Maybe becoming a theist while holding all other beliefs constant will be an improvement, but I don't think this is a practical analysis. Ceteris paribus, Wednesday should stay Mormon, but the cognitive algorithms would make her stay Mormon are very likely to have detrimental effects on net.
0HCE12yhuman beings are capable of having domain and context-specific cognitive algorithms. preferring comforting but false metaphysical truths does not mean she will prefer (more than others) reassuring but maladaptive beliefs about her local environment. her incentives to believe in some fanciful anthropomorphized abstraction are of an entirely different type than her incentives to believe true or false things about the intentions and motives of those she will interact with professionally, say. are theists more or less likely to demonstrate competence on card-selection tasks or other tests of rational belief formation?
1badger12yI agree people are capable of partitioning. Theists likely do the same as atheists in emotionally disconnected circumstances like a card-selection task. But this doesn't establish Wednesday is better off as a theist than as an atheist overall. And at least in the Mormon case, where decisions can be fully justified by "I felt good about it, ergo God endorses it", I am willing to claim that theists are less likely to engage in something even as basic as cost-benefit analysis.
1HCE12yi did not say it established she was better off as a theist than as an atheist. i was merely pointing out that being a theist does not make anyone more or less likely (as far as i know) to believe things which are false about their local environment (beyond those things which necessarily follow from their beliefs, e.g., this priest sure is wise in the ways of the Lord! he must be wise about other things, too!). do we have any data suggesting atheists hold more accurate beliefs than theists about phenomena that they experience firsthand?
1AlexU12yPretty doubtful, especially controlling for IQ and education...

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists....

I don't think we should exclude them. But that doesn't mean we can't confidently inform them when we know they're wrong.

My favorite rationalist quote ever is "I don't have to agree with you to like or respect you" (Anthony Bourdain). Just because we know theists are wrong doesn't mean we have to be jerks about it. If Newton could make that mistake, anyone can, and we all know how hard it is to climb out of those sorts epistemic holes once you've found yourself in one.

But we shouldn't confuse "not being jerks" with "pretending not to know things that we do in fact know, so that people don't think we're jerks"

3byrnema12yWhat is the relationship between being a good rationalist and having above average or exceptional intelligence? Is climbing out an epistemic hole something anyone can do? It's not an idle question: it has an immediate consequence of whether or not we can fault Wednesday for being religious. Would it be an ethical failing, a failing of innate talent, or something else?
2smoofra12yInnate talent helps, good teachers help, good parents help, good books help. But luck helps more I think. Most people only get one chance to get it right, if they're lucky. Wednesday probably won't even get that.
-4jastreich11y"[N]ot to know things that we do in fact know," and "Confidently inform them when we know they're wrong." Except, as a rationalist, you can't say that you know there is no god. You may be able to say that you believe it to be unlikely that there is a god, or that you have seen no evidence that would make you believe that there is a god. The fact is that it is (near) impossible to prove a negative. Likewise, you cannot say that you know there is are no purple polar bear, fairies, unicorns or black swans. The burden of proof does always fall to the affirmative, but you can't rationally and conclusively prove the negative.
4arundelo11yUsing "know" to mean "have exactly 100% certainty" means you can't prove a positive either. (I don't "know" that the computer in front of me exists, but the probability that it is an illusion or trick is low enough for me to ignore.) LessWrong wiki entry on absolute certainty []
3smoofra11yWhat do you think you're adding to the discussion by trotting out this sort of pedantic literalism? Unless someone explicitly says they know something with absolute 100% mathematical certainty, why don't you just use your common sense and figure that when they say they "know" something, they mean they assign it a very high probability, and believe they have epistemologically sound reasons for doing so.
1thomblake11yYou're using a definition of "know" that practically nobody would endorse (assuming they also accepted your other premises). Once you have certainties expressed properly as probabilities, a contextualist epistemology falls out naturally. (though there are other nuanced views that would work)

What would have to happen to her to get her to give up those beliefs? Well, for starters, she'd have to dramatically change her opinion of her family.

I don't really buy this line of your argument. I disagree with my parents about quite a number of issues, religion and politics included. I also in retrospect disagree with some of their choices about how to bring me up (school choice etc.). At no point did I have to dramatically change my opinion of them. I didn't have to stop thinking they had my best interests at heart, or stop thinking they were intelligent and educated people. Part of the process of growing up and being exposed to the wider world is the realization that people disagree on all kinds of issues and that you can't rely on any single authority as a source of truth. People can be wrong without being liars, stupid or ill-informed (by comparison to the general population).

[-][anonymous]11y 9

Should you be Wednesday's "atheist auntie?" I would say yes.

You're asking, "What does she gain from being an atheist?" Well, there are several possibilities -- someone mentioned a happier sexuality -- but, in my opinion, what really matters is the end of the divided will. Sooner or later, most people find some tenet of their religion that they disagree with, or think is silly, or even horrible, but they're convinced that God wills it. How do you disagree with God? Well, in my case, for a long time, my basic moral premise was "... (read more)

7ata11yIn my experience, people in non-fundamentalist religious traditions tend to change their God to match their new opinions. (That's no way to live either, but at least it can be less mentally burdensome than blaming oneself.) Edit: I'm saying that sincerely, and I hope it doesn't come off as smarmy/ignorant atheism. It's an accurate description of most of the liberal religious people I know.
[-][anonymous]11y 11

I don't think there's much harm in that. It's what my parents and best friend do, and I admire them. They say they're religious, but when it comes to brass tacks they'll use their own common sense every time.

Religion, worn lightly in that way, is just clothing for whatever your beliefs are. If you believe in social justice, say, you may quote Jesus or Isaiah to that end, but your convictions are pretty much your own. Religion, if not taken at face value, is a pretty nice bundle of poetry, song, holidays, and moral precepts, which may not be bad as a component of one's life. I'm not entirely sure I don't want to keep up participating myself, just to be a member of the community.

Religion taken seriously is a completely different animal. If you're sufficiently literal-minded, you can't wear it lightly. You wind up like I did in high school, working in a genetics lab and seriously believing that my gel electrophoresis wasn't working because God was angry with me. I can look back on that time with some degree of amusement now, but it was hell. I was pretty damn close to drinking acrylamide on several occasions. (Happy ending of sorts: there turned out to be a physical explana... (read more)

2MinibearRex10yDidn't come off that way to me. It's what I did for a few years, before I finally gave up my beliefs.

If Wednesday sees the argument for cryonics and dismisses it out of hand because her religion guarantees her an infinite life, and if a positive singularity occurs >100 years from now, Wednesday will lose nearly everything in that one moment of dismissal, because of her religion.

7AlexU12yA problem I have with the LW community is this background assumption that infinite life somehow equals infinite utility, that living forever is clearly the rational goal, and that anyone (the vast majority of people, it seems) who doesn't express any particular zeal for this notion is deluded, irrational, or under religion's spell. A long, healthy life is certainly desirable to most people, but I think there are good, irreligious, perfectly sensible reasons for not placing any great value on immortality or living to see the distant future.
2lessdazed9yMy pet peeve is when people equate living for a long time with living forever or immortality. Pet peeves are like opinions, everybody has one.
3Alicorn12yNot necessarily. I have a different Mormon friend who wants to be immortal - not just in the going to heaven sense, but also in the not dying sense. She'd probably go for cryonics, if she saw an argument informing her of its potential. Maybe Wednesday would too.
9JenniferRM11yStephanie Meyer's [] "Twilight" books are fascinating in this regard. Meyer is Mormon and she doesn't inject her religion into her books any obvious ways (for example, theological issues are never mentioned and none of the characters attends church) but there is a fascinating "pro life" theme that includes both the desire to procreate and the desire to be an immortal vampire if and only if it is possible to be a vampire who restrains their innate urge to tear out the necks of mortals and feast upon their blood. Once I started reading vampire chick lit with an interpretative frame that it was a sort of "publicly accessible" meditation on the real world ethics of transhumanist immortalism, these stories became a lot more philosophically interesting. I watched Vampire Hunter D after seeing the connection and found myself rooting for the vampire :-P The critical thing I'm trying to point to is that Meyer's story appears to be anti-abortion and also pro-vampire. And then there's the existence of the Mormon Transhumanist Association []... Personally I think that the lesswrong community might have a phobic reaction to theism specifically because some religious people (especially first generation converts to new religions of which Mormonism has many) are prone to mentally flinching from obvious conclusions... and sometimes they use their theology to justify doing kind of messed up things to their children. The children grow up and sometimes leap to specifically materialist atheism in an emotional counter-reaction. I have not seen strong evidence in either direction for materialism versus an idea like simulationism except to the degree that materialism inherently pre-judges the answers to questions like (1) whether there might be some "supernatural" monkey business going on in the corners of apparent physical reality or (2) whether a timing attack on physics might produce interesting results (or cause
3Alicorn11yI don't see a sufficient justification to interpret Twilight as anti-abortion independent of the fact that Meyer is a Mormon. It's against forced abortion, but the person whose choice is relevant - the pregnant woman - wants her baby, and takes steps to keep it, over the objections of generally sympathetic characters who advise her otherwise.
0Sticky11ySo... have you provided her with the arguments?
2Alicorn11yShe wants to sign up but needs to a) talk to her fiancé, and b) wait until after the wedding, which is currently eating her money very hungrily.
0gjm12yThat's a lot of ifs. If Wednesday deconverts, and then there's a positive singularity 30 years from now and it happens that some key people involved in its early stages are Mormons who somehow take steps to ensure that ex-Mormons get as little of the benefits as possible, then she will lose nearly everything on account of her deconversion. But so what?
7hamflask12yI would say that a religious person dismissing cryonics is at least an order of magnitude more likely than the scenario you proposed.
4gjm12yI take it you mean that the whole scenario MBlume proposed is at least an order of magnitude more likely than the whole scenario I proposed. Quite possibly; but not, I think, much more than an order of magnitude. And I don't think either scenario dominates the landscape in such a way that we can tell whether or not Wednesday should deconvert on the basis of that one scenario. "If you do X, the very bad thing Y could be a consequence" is not generally a good argument for doing X.

I think it's far from clear that staying religious will make her happier than not.

What if she's gay?

OK, I'm guessing that your Mormon parent friend isn't very comfortable with those teachings of the church. Perhaps they even openly reject them, and will make sure their daughter knows they think anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense, even if it's the preacher. Perhaps they'll make sure and do that long before they know anything about her sexuality. How will they be with the next boundary?

Maybe it's bisexuality, or SM, or polyamory, or trans, or ma... (read more)

1Alicorn12yFor the purposes of the point I had in mind I'm assuming Wednesday will be cisgendered, heterosexual (or bisexual and unaware of that/aware but okay with not expressing it), and at least vanilla enough to be comfortable in Mormon culture.
8MBlume12yI really don't think there is any "vanilla enough to be comfortable in Mormon culture" -- Mormon culture teaches overwhelming repression of fundamental sexual drives. It tries to make people feel guilty for masturbating, for Cthulu's sake. I don't care who you are, what your orientation is, what your kinks are -- that kind of repression is damaging.
4Alicorn12yWhat if you're a (romantically inclined) asexual? Edit: They exist. I know one. (I also know a non-romantic asexual, so I know the difference.)
3MBlume12yWouldn't the expectation of bearing children be a bit of a problem there? Mormons are supposed to have (procreative) sex eventually, as I understand it. Still, it was a mistake on my part to try to hold and defend the proposition "there is no such thing as a well-adjusted Mormon" -- I'm sure they are a few. My point is simply that the belief structure is very widely damaging -- that knowing nothing about Wednesday, the overwhelming probability is that she would be much better off were she free of it.

Yes, they are expected to have kids, but asexuals don't have to be repulsed by sex, it just doesn't interest them in and of itself. The one I mentioned plans to have children naturally if possible and doesn't talk about sex as a horrifying ordeal, just a neutral prerequisite. If she were going to adopt, I'd expect her to talk about the paperwork similarly.

6frozenchicken10yAs a member of the aforementioned subgroup, I endorse this representation. Well said.
0lessdazed9yImpressed you said so publicly and hope it helps people feel less restrained from "coming out" in general. I would not have been able to do so were I in a position like yours. I was able to recently share something a few orders of magnitude less difficult [] to talk about.
1MBlume12yhuh, didn't know that, thanks =)
6NancyLebovitz11yIt's quite likely that Wednesday will have children, and not unlikely that at least one of them won't have a sexuality that fits well with Mormonism. Are those odds enough to say that Mormonism is a loss for Wednesday?
3Paul Crowley12yEr, am I missing a reason why it's valid to look only at that side of the scales when weighing up what our attitude to religion should be?
3Alicorn12yHence my disclaimer. I'm only talking about a small subset of theists, represented by Wednesday, who are happy, comfortable, and totally immersed in their religion. An uncomfortable Wednesday would have extra reasons to be suspicious of Mormonism, and I would have less sympathy for the choice to remain in the faith.
0Paul Crowley12yIs there more to this than if you only allow beans on one side of the scale then it's not hard to guess how it will swing?
3MrHen12yI think you are putting the beans on the wrong scale. Alicorn is not measuring proper attitudes for religion. What is being measured are attitudes toward people explicitly like Wednesday. This is less taking all the non-Wednesday theists off the religion scale and more taking the Wednesday beans to a completely different scale. Whether you find that useful is completely relevant, but I think it is interesting.

It doesn't seem that it would make her any richer, happier, more successful...

Sounds like you weren't raised Mormon. :)

I was, so naturally what I'm about to say is extremely personal and important to me, and likely to be subject to the "what's true for me must be true for all Mormons", which is absurd, as most Mormons do not go one to become atheists as I have, but still...

...I cannot imagine how one could embrace the beauty and magnificence of this big world if one is stuck in the much smaller world of Mormonism. The contradictions mount and ... (read more)

0JohnH10ywhat contradictions?
4ChrisPine10yWow... this was from a long time ago, and I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, but I can try some guesses: Contradictions in fact: there's really no good evidence for god or Jesus or the Book of Mormon or the Bible... these things are (at least to me) clearly false. (This is a site on rationality, not atheism, so I don't want to get caught up in a discussion on atheism... but if one is honest and rational, the contradictions abound.) Contradictions in morality: Is alcohol really wrong? Smoking? Coffee?? Not sure what the Mormon positions are on things like oral/anal sex with one's spouse, but I'm pretty sure that they are not at all into masturbation, threesomes/foursomes/moresomes, bi-/homosexuality, swinging, or just about any form of polyamory. Sorry, but these things are fun!! They are simply not sinful, and not wrong. (Sure, any of these could be abused, but the same could be said of candles or canned corn... "could be abused" is not a sufficient condition for "sinful".) And finally... I'm not sure if there are any vegan Mormons (there probably are), but it seems like the Mormon position on such things (I don't claim to know! only guessing!) is that animals are here for humans to use. As a vegan, I vehemently disagree. I'm guessing that the Mormon church would not have a problem with a member living a vegan lifestyle (would not consider it wrong to so do), but would consider it wrong (at least in the sense of "incorrect", if not in the sense of "immoral") to believe that killing animals is wrong. I don't think there's a lot of room for one to make up one's own mind about morality/ethics in the Mormon church (and probably in many religions). Considering how many things I think are wrong that the church is just fine with, and how many things the church thinks are wrong that I think are tons of fun... I would be far less happy to still be Mormon. I'm guessing that's what I was trying to say, almost exactly one year ago.

It would make her right. And that would be all it would do - if she were lucky.

Huh. Do you need me to post a few dozen links to articles detailing incidents where Mormons did evil acts because of their religious beliefs? I mean, Mormonism isn't as inherently destructive as Islam, but it's not Buddhism either.

Anyway, even if Wednesday ended up living her life without once doing harm to others or to herself because of her beliefs, deconverting would still be a good idea: At the very least, theism will distort the rest of her priorities, because they wil... (read more)

4Simetrical12yDo you have empirical evidence that Mormons are more likely to cause harm than atheists? (Let's say in the clear-cut sense of stabbing people instead of in the sense of spreading irrationality.) Mormons might do more bad things because their god requires it, but atheists might do more bad things because they don't have a god to require otherwise. They might be more likely to become nihilists or solipsists and not care about other people, say, acting purely selfishly. A priori, I have no idea which one is correct. It seems that as a rationalist, you should be wary of assigning high probabilities here without direct empirical evidence. Especially since you presumably suffer from in-group bias. But perhaps you're aware of studies that support your view that religion is harmful in a simple sense? (If you consider spreading religion inherently evil, then you have more reason to presume that Mormonism is harmful. You would still have to argue that the harm outweighs any possible benefit, but you'd have a stronger case for assuming that. However, by your comparisons to Islam and Buddhism you seem to mean plain old violence and so forth.)
4CronoDAS12yDo you have empirical evidence that Mormons are more likely to cause harm than atheists? (Let's say in the clear-cut sense of stabbing people instead of in the sense of spreading irrationality.) I'll claim that, yes, I do have such evidence. The Mormon Church funded many advertisements in favor of California Proposition 8 [] which denies civil rights to homosexuals.
0Simetrical12yEven accepting the premise that voting for the proposition was clearly wrong, that's a single anecdote. It does nothing to demonstrate that Mormons are overall worse people than atheists. It is only a single point in the atheists' favor. I could respond with examples of atheists doing terrible things, e.g., the amount of suffering caused by communists. Anecdotes are not reliable evidence; you need a careful, thorough, and systematic analysis to be able to make confident statements. It's really surprised me how commonly people supply purely anecdotal evidence here and expect it to be accepted (and how often it is accepted!). This is a site all about promoting rationalism, and part of that is reserving judgment unless you have good evidence. I really don't think a systematic analysis of the morality of Mormons vs. atheists exists, for any given utility function. That kind of analysis is probably close to impossible, in fact, even if you can precisely specify a utility function that a lot of people will agree on. To begin with, it would absolutely have to be controlled to be meaningful ― the cultural, etc. backgrounds of atheists are surely not comparable on average to those of Mormons. I think this is an issue that rationalists just need to admit uncertainty about. That's life, when you're rational. Only religious people get to be certain most of the time about moral issues. A Mormon asked the same question would be able to say with confidence that the atheists caused more evil, since not following Mormonism is so evil that it would clearly outweigh any minor statistical differences between the two groups in terms of things like violent crime. If you believe in utility functions that depend on all sorts of complex empirical questions, you really can't answer most moral questions very confidently.
5badger12yI think these two sentences are contradictory. If it is a point in favor of the proposition that atheists are better in some regard than Mormons, then it does something to demonstrate the general case, if only weakly. Rationality is not about reserving judgment until ideal evidence is available. Rationality is incorporating all the evidence at your disposal. I agree that most of the evidence available is mixed and weak, so it shouldn't be overweighted, but it is still relevant.
0Alicorn12yI agree that this was not a good thing for them to do, but I don't think it falls into the "clear-cut sense of stabbing people".
0Alicorn12yI'm operating under the assumption that Wednesday won't grow up to do anything evil, since it's pretty unlikely. I think my friend and her husband have good genes and will be good parents; the remaining factors aren't quite so determinate.
2Furcas12yIt's not unlikely at all. We already know that her parents will commit one evil act: They're going to indoctrinate their daughter into believing a bunch of nonsense before she's even learned to read, rather than let her make up her own mind. And if Wednesday remains a Mormon, chances are that she'll do the same to her own children.
3Technologos12yI would hesitate to call that an evil act. If nothing else, evil requires the intention to do harm, where here the parents are almost certainly intending to do precisely what they believe is in the child's best interests.
5steven046112yIf you're a Nazi and you take a pill that causes you to believe Jews are dangerous nonsentient vampires, is killing Jews thereafter less evil? Well, probably in that case all the evil moves causally upstream into the pill-taking. But that, I think, is the same thing we're saying about the pill that is Mormonism.
5MBlume12ybut the pill was administered you by your parents, who received one from their parents... if the evil moves upstream to the pill-taking then all (or most) of the evil of mormonism moves upstream to Joseph Smith.
3Paul Crowley12yAnd of course there's no reason for it to stop there. For some reason we haven't explicitly talked about this here AFAICT, but if you're a materialist there's no hope of assigning ultimate evil to people anyway, and there's no point in trying. I'm not saying you disagree.
6MBlume12yI don't know by what words to call it, but there is something that to me differentiates the moral qualities of Joseph Smith teaching Mormonism to his followers, and Wednesday's parents teaching it to her: Joseph Smith (I assign high probability) explicitly knew Mormonism to be false, and spread belief in it, knowing its likely consequences, in order to increase his own wealth, status, and opportunity for sex.
2steven046112yThat is also the case we're considering in the context of this post -- someone who has evidence that Mormonism is false, but chooses to ignore this evidence for personal gain, and spreads belief in Mormonism by first spreading it in herself.
1Vladimir_Nesov12yFrom one perspective, assuming that spreading lies for profit is actually wrong, that most people would see it on reflection as a less preferable option, and assuming that JS wasn't a mutant, he was mistaken about whether he improved his life by doing so.
1MBlume12yfixed =)
2Technologos12yBeyond that, I'd find it hard to call any insane person "evil." How do we blame somebody for receiving incorrect sensory inputs? Of course, this gets into all kinds of analytic philosophy and the "social construction" of sanity. Which is precisely why I want us to be careful what we call evil.
4Furcas12yBy the same reasoning, an Inquisitor who tortured a woman to death because he was certain she was a witch and that witches are agents of the Devil did nothing evil. Well, whatever, call it 'harmful' instead of evil, if you like. The point is that religious beliefs make those who hold them do things that they would consider evil (or harmful) if they were better rationalists. To quote Steven Weinberg: "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
0Technologos12yExcept that torturing a woman because of a belief that she is a witch is not done for her sake. Regardless, if we are going to judge all good-faith attempts to help somebody else evil unless the information therein imparted conforms to our present beliefs, then I suspect a great deal of the information we give each other (including on this site) will be judged as evil by the same standard in the future.
2gjm12yWhat, never? While I can't be sure of the actual (as opposed to professed) motivations of people who tortured alleged witches, I'm pretty sure that in some cases the ostensible purpose of the torture was to produce repentance and thereby save the witch's immortal soul. For someone who believes in immortal souls and heaven and hell and so forth, that could easily end up seeming like a transaction that benefits the torturee overall. (I agree with your second paragraph, though I'm not sure anyone's doing quite what you describe.)
3CronoDAS12yThis exact reasoning was generally used to justify the torture of heretics (not witches) until they recanted. After all, no Earthly torture could ever be worse than eternity in Hell, so most versions of utilitarianism would allow anything that keeps souls out of Hell.
2Technologos12yNo, you're right, I'm sure there are cases in which torturers could at least rationalize that what they were doing was for the sake of the woman's soul. I've often wondered, from my time as a Catholic: if I intentionally kill someone at the moment of their confession/absolution, such that their soul is perfectly clean and I have extremely good reason to believe (within this framework) that their soul will go to Heaven, would I not be making the truly ultimate sacrifice? If my soul then were to go to Hell, I would have been literally as altruistic as it is possible to be, so my soul should go to Heaven; knowing that, however, might make me go to Hell? Which is why reasonable moral systems ought to be slow to categorize others' good-faith actions as evil--we never know what we are doing wrong. There's some chance that future civilizations will think of me as evil for eating meat--hell, they could think of our civilization as barbaric for consuming living beings at all, rather than synthesizing sustenance some other way. Still, point taken.
2gjm12yNot the truly ultimate sacrifice from that perspective, no. I recommend Jorge Luis Borges's short fiction Three versions of Judas [] for further ideas along those lines.
0Alicorn12yI think the sort of evil act in question is more along the lines of "go about stabbing people" than "be honest with your children about your theistic beliefs and encourage them to adopt them too".

Would giving up her religion help Wednesday win? [...] It doesn't seem that it would make her any richer, happier, more successful - especially if she carries on living in Utah. [...] It would make her right. And that would be all it would do - if she were lucky.

When asking if she wins it would help to understand what winning means. Is the contest being right? Than she wins by being right. Is the contest not pissing your family off? Than she wins by not pissing her family off.

If "winning" is maximizing value, what does she gain by being ... (read more)

Interesting post. Are your friends Jasper fforde fans? (Wednesday...)

Atheism tends to be treated as an open-and-shut case here and in other intellectually sophisticated venues, but is that fair? What about Wednesday? What would have to happen to her to get her to give up those beliefs? Well, for starters, she'd have to dramatically change her opinion of her family. Her parents care enough about honesty that they are already planning not to deceive her about Santa Claus - should she believe that they're liars?

That would be very uncharitable of her. ... (read more)

0gjm8yWhat does this mean? (I had a look on the web and found only what I take to be your source -- a blog entry at "The Last Psychiatrist" -- and a few other references to that. Its meaning was no clearer to me in that context. It looks as if TLP is also quoting but if so there's no indication of where from.)
4Qiaochu_Yuan8y"Books" refers to accounting (e.g. the records you would use to keep track of your business transactions). A common euphemism for manipulating your records, e.g. to lie to the IRS for tax purposes, is "cooking the books." "Keep two books" means "have two sets of records of your business transactions, one which is the actual set and one which you use to lie to people." "Keep no books" means "don't keep track of your business transactions." The metaphor, as I interpret it, is that you should maintain a distinction between what you believe and what you signal believing (or else you run the risk of losing track of both, mixing them up, etc.).
0gjm8yYes, I'd thought it was probably "books" in the accounting sense. However, I was either too dim or too ethical or both for the idea "a person or company might deliberately not keep accounts, in an attempt to make fraud easier" to have occurred to me. Thank you. (Personally, I prefer to keep exactly one book.)
4Qiaochu_Yuan8yReally? I interpret this to mean "signal believing exactly the things I actually believe," which strikes me as a terrible idea in general. If you're determined to believe true things, some of the things you believe will end up being things you can't say [], and saying them would not be instrumentally a good idea. Michael Vassar once pointed out that a commitment to saying what you believe disincentivizes believing things you can't say, which is, y'know, bad, and his advice was that rationalists should become more comfortable with lying. (This is of course distinct from "signal that I signal believing exactly the things I believe," which is a great idea. If that's what you were doing, then great! Carry on.)
2gjm8yI am determined to believe true things. I don't believe there's anything I can't say (though I have a little trouble with "heteroskedasticity") but indeed there are things it's usually better not to say. So I usually avoid saying them. If this requires a load of extra bookkeeping then I've failed to notice so far. Lying requires that second book; not saying things when saying them would have bad consequences, even if you'd otherwise feel like saying them doesn't appear to.
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yI don't make a strong distinction between lies in the colloquial sense and lies by omission. "Not saying things when saying them would have bad consequences" still requires that you keep track of what things it would have bad consequences to say.
6gjm8yI find extremely few occasions when there's any need to be actually deceptive by not saying things. For the rest, no keeping track is required; a policy of the form "tell the truth, but don't say things that will cause too much trouble" suffices. A difference between this and actually lying (in which category I include "lying by omission") is that in order to lie credibly and not get caught, you need to remember just what lies you've told to whom (in the best case, I suppose you can get by with just two "books", keeping track of the truth for yourself and a single set of lies for everyone else) and make sure it's all coherent. But any two subsets of the truth are consistent with one another.
5Qiaochu_Yuan8yFair. I think I shouldn't have used the word "lie" because it seems to have primed you into a direction other than the one I was headed, but I don't know a good substitute. One kind of lie I have in mind is things like explaining Newtonian physics to physics students instead of quantum mechanics or relativity. The implicit claim that Newtonian physics accurately models reality is in some sense a lie, but it's a good enough approximation for many purposes and also useful for understanding what comes after. An analogous kind of lie in interpersonal relationships is the following. Suppose I'm on OKCupid and it asks "are you a feminist?" Before a few months ago, my answer would have been an unhesitating "yes." Now I'm not so sure. I'm trying to keep my identity small [], and "feminist" is a term that comes with a lot of baggage. I don't know if I want that baggage in my identity. I'd at least like to taboo "feminist" by default. Nevertheless, very little has changed about how I actually treat women. I want people on OKCupid to know that. They'll have a better understanding of me, or more precisely how I treat women, if I answer "yes" to this question than they will if I answer "no."
3CCC8yI have heard this sort of thing referred to as "lies-to-children". Your average junior school is full of them. (All numbers are on the number line! The atom is like a very tiny solar system!)
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yYes, so I guess what I'm saying is that I also don't make a strong distinction between children and adults.
2satt8yI've been thinking that "keep your identity emergent" or "keep your identity honest" might be better advice than "keep your identity small". That is, people should let their identity emerge as a consequence of their individual object-level views, instead of deriving their individual object-level views from their identity. That reversal of causation seems to me the problem with identity, not identity in itself. So instead of deleting almost all of my identity (and how would I know which little bits to keep?), I should figure out my object-level beliefs first, and then summarize them as aspects of my identity. Using feminism as an example, if I notice one day that I'm identifying as a feminist, I stop and ask myself about each of the individual object-level issues that feminism touches upon. If my views on those object-level issues really & truly align with those connoted by the "feminism" label, I might as well identify as a feminist; the identifier arises organically from the beliefs. If my views don't align with it, then I should stop identifying as a feminist. (My views could of course change over time, in which case I adopt/drop the identification accordingly.) Your comment shows one advantage to this approach: it's less liable to mislead people than simply keeping one's identity "small". If I agree with the X-ist cluster of beliefs and behave accordingly, other people might well have a more accurate model of me if I self-identify as an X-ist than if I stoutly refuse to identify as such. (Of course, if I want to taboo "X-ism" in a conversation, it can make sense to avoid identifying as an X-ist. But doing so indiscriminately can increase confusion & exasperation rather than reduce them.)
5Nornagest8yI'd expect it to be extraordinarily hard to keep the causation one-way, even if you're trying hard and are aware of all the consequences. In order for something to be promoted to conscious attention, it has to make it through a set of perceptual filters which include some coherence checks with your existing identity: it's quite possible to believe earnestly that you're taking into account all the data even as you silently drop half of it from your consideration. To make matters worse, I'd also expect it to be extraordinarily hard to keep identity criteria stable. For example, the kids in the famous Robber's Cave experiment [] (Sherif et al., 1954) readily generated stereotypes for themselves, all to support a more or less fabricated image of a distinct identity group; and this certainly isn't limited to the laboratory, as the behavior of whatever political group you like the least should demonstrate! The lesson seems to be that identities aren't static classification functions; justifications and superstitions accrete around them like nacre in the guts of an irritated oyster, growing and feeding back into an increasingly tangled complex of beliefs.
0satt8yYou and Qiaochu_Yuan raise good points. I suspect that if identity is as sticky & accretive as you suggest, trying to purge my identity could prove at least as hard as wearing my identity loosely on my beliefs. But that is just a guess on my part — I ought to chew on what you've said for a bit.
2Qiaochu_Yuan8yOne of the benefits I've found from keeping my identity small doesn't seem to be reducible to keeping my object-level views honest. Namely, I've recently identified areas of my life in which my identity was preventing me from trying new things, e.g. I thought of myself as the kind of person who didn't care about nutrition or exercise. I wasn't mistaken about any property of the world but I was supplying myself with excuses for not expanding my comfort zone. (Edit: Academician describes this happening to him in this post [] which I think is a useful follow-up to Keep Your Identity Small.)
1gjm8yWith the first sort of kinda-lie, there's again little keeping-track needed. You have some particular not-quite-right theory that you're putting forward; it's basically coherent and matches the world reasonably well, because otherwise you wouldn't be using it. And even if you slip up and mention some quantum or relativistic stuff to your students, no serious harm is done. With the second sort, surely it's universally understood that all you're saying when you answer this sort of question is that "yes" is a less misleading answer than "no". So again I don't see any particular need for keeping-track on this account. If I were making an OKCupid profile and had to answer that question, I too would answer yes. If asked in a context that allowed for a more detailed answer, I would give one. No lying or other deception required. (Of course that might discourage possible partners who don't like detailed answers, but that's a feature, not a bug.) I have encountered very few situations in interpersonal relationships where deliberate deception is required. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not claiming that I absolutely never lie. But not lying is my goal, I seldom deviate from it, I strongly suspect that most such deviations I make are actually not in my best interests, and I have not found it necessary to keep track of anything much about The Lies I Tell Others. You may of course believe me or not, as you please :-).
0[anonymous]8yThat doesn't feel particularly tongue-twisty to me, for a word of that length. Try “red lorry, yellow lorry”. :-)
0gjm8yOh yes, there are other worse things of similar length. I confess that I chose that example partly because I like the word.
0Dan_Moore8yI think homoskedasticity has more intriguing possibilities as a desired-for attribute that begins with 'homo.'

The thing with atheism, or a naturalistic outlook generally, is not what it does for individuals but what it does for society generally to have more "out" atheists/naturalists. Maybe individually-speaking it'd make some peoples' lives harder but the more openly atheistic individuals we have the better off we all are. I think that's a good reason to both encourage others to become openly atheistic and to become openly atheistic oneself despite negative consequences.

0Alicorn12yIt's unlikely that Wednesday would - without deconversion - think that having more open atheists wandering around would be a good thing in and of itself.
3MBlume12yFunny thing: before deconversion, I read Dispatches From the Culture Wars [] and occasionally Pharyngula [], and generally perceived them as being the good guys and many of my own coreligionists as the bad guys. Of course, this state of cognitive dissonance only lasted a few months, but still.
3Alicorn12yIt's not at all uncommon to side with the perspective character, so to speak, when you read about someone - even someone who disagrees with you. Additionally, siding with certain sorts of atheist bloggers and against the theists they oppose could signify a desire for tolerance more than a belief in the metaphysical propositions at hand.

In maybe 15 years of time, Wednesday comes to this place, or what this place has become by then. She is still a Mormon, and is welcomed. She is interested in participating, because she is open minded enough, educated, and the community is tolerant and helpful. So she gets to learn about rationality, and is taken into the process of becoming a rationalist herself, and a productive, healthy member of the rationalist community.

My question : and after a few months or years of that, does she still remain a Mormon, or a believer in the supernatural ?

If yes, how ... (read more)

I read this, and thought of Wednesday: "Among all American religions, Mormonism is the single most sexually guilt ridden. Mormonism scores 37%% higher in sexual guilt than even Catholics."

from here:

I don't know how many ex-mormons you've talked to, but I've talked to quite a few, and in nearly every case we were miserable in the church, and much happier outside of it.

2MixedNuts8yThat's purely filtering, isn't it? Anyone who isn't miserable, or doesn't expect to stop being miserable if they get out, stays in.
1ChrisPine8yThe second part is largely a filtering effect, yes. I probably should have left that part out. But the first part was a study done on Mormons, not ex-Mormons. Extreme sexual guilt is a big part of growing up Mormon. I've heard a number of stories of "good" Mormons getting married and finally being allowed to have sex, and... they can't do it. They can't handle it. Or they manage to, several days later, only to end up feeling horribly guilty about it, locked in the bathroom, crying... It's not a happy religion.
1fubarobfusco8yThat seems to assume that people always do what would make them less miserable, even if they don't know that to be the case.
0Nornagest8yI wouldn't venture to speculate how much more dissatisfied with the church ex-Mormons are than average active Mormons, but I think we can expect to see a substantial difference just from identity effects.
[-][anonymous]9y 2

we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning

Well, yes. That heuristic tends to work, because partitioned theism is usually correlated with bleed-over into other spheres of reasoning, which can hurt people (immortal soul belief discounting cryonics thus leaving person-containing brains to rot in graves). Human partitions are never perfect, and so it is better from a mathematical standpoint to have none.

After all, we are required under pain of stupidity and becoming victims of clever fraudsters, to follow the mathematical theorems of bayesian reasoning.

If everybody outside your state believed you were adopted, wouldn't that make you want to reconsider? That's one point where I don't accept the analogy.

0Alicorn12yLess than a quarter of all Mormons live in Utah, and less than half of them live in the United States. They're just very thick on the ground in that one location.
2steven046112yOK, not literally everyone. Point stands, though -- you cannot rationally treat your family's beliefs as more informative than the beliefs of strangers on the other side of the planet with the same relevant characteristics.
0Alicorn12yNobody except my parents has the same relevant characteristics with respect to my being adopted, and as far as the Mormons are concerned, nobody except the current Prophet (Thomas S. Monson at the moment) has the same relevant characteristics with respect to the correct beliefs about theism.
1steven046112yWhat are they? Lots of people call themselves Prophets, claim to be divinely inspired, etc. Surely you don't believe people born in Japan should look to Monson for epistemic authority. Whether God exists and what he's like doesn't have anything to do with whether you were born in Japan or Utah, so why should your beliefs as to whether God exists and what he's like depend on whether you were born in Japan or Utah?
1Alicorn12yThey shouldn't, if your goal is to be right - my point is that Wednesday's goal does not necessarily have to be being right.
3steven046112yIf that is your point, then I don't see what work the adoption analogy is doing.
1Alicorn12yI could demand a DNA test, if I valued being right about my not having been adopted over not annoying my parents/insinuating that they are liars, or over not spending money on the test. I don't have that value ordering, so I just trust them when they tell me so (and consider my other evidence adequate support, although as I mentioned, I wouldn't say I need it.)

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

Maybe we should add an option to the next censur that asks whether people feel welcome to know whether the theists that exist on lesswrong actually feel unwelcome?

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

Well, I'm not Mormon (and not called Wednesday), but I'm not atheist either. I've never felt particularly unwelcome here. So I think that there is a place for Wednesday.

1jooyous8yMaybe there are implementable and surveyable things we can do to become more welcoming?
3CCC8yFrom my point of view, one of the best ways to be welcoming is simply to be polite. It's simple but extremely effective. A second, simple method is to avoid the use of sarcasm; in a pure-text medium, it will almost always be misinterpreted as sincere by someone. Add in a good understanding of the halo effect [] and how to avoid bias on that count and I think you're halfway there. The other half relies on the visitor; for best results, the visitor should operate under the same constraints of politeness, avoiding sarcasm, and avoiding halo-effect bias. That's my view, anyhow. I'm not quite sure how best to survey these, although they do seem to be fairly widely implemented already.
2jooyous8yI agree with most of those, but I'm not convinced that's the best we can do? For example, it's not quite the same thing to be polite as it is to be effusively welcoming (I was just reading this article [] and I believe religious groups are extremely good at that that initial meeting where they really effusively offer to help you out with everything) which also is difficult to do in a text medium. (I feel like I use the most exclamation marks out of anyone here!) Feeling like people are tolerating you is different than feeling like they like you and want you around. =] I also think politeness is not quite enough to handle frustration, which may mess up otherwise productive discussions. For example, when someone offers interesting counter-arguments, I usually don't have a problem thinking about them pretty calmly. But I've found people will frequently talk past each other? Like someone will say a lot of correct things that I agree with that, but that don't really address my initial concern -- which is pretty frustrating and causes me to make less sense when replying to them. Maybe adding some kind of handshake culture where we have a "Do I understand that you are saying (paraphrase)?" before we start discussing something would help with that issue? This would be consistent with making sure we understand the problem [] before offering solutions. And maybe we could mark different threads with different levels of these handshake requirements? Something! But also just generally writing in a style that takes into account that the person we're engaging ... might be frustrated.
1CCC8yBut would that be better? If one is too effusively welcoming, that might be seen as creepy and chase people away. Now, the optimal strategy would be one that creates a true impression that one is liked, and that others would like one to remain around. (If someone is not liked, then the optimal strategy, assuming infinite resources and time, would be to persuade them to become more likeable). The question, then, is what strategy creates that impression? I think that the karma system does a part of that; it allows a visitor to find out which behaviours are appreciated and which are not in a simple and straightforward way. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ah; I think that this is, strictly speaking, a seperate issue; the issue of clear communication. Paraphrasing the other person's argument is, I've found, often a helpful way of dealing with such a situation; so the handshake that you propose is a valid solution. However, the already-present meme of tabooing certain words [] seems to me to have the same, if not greater, benefits. A certain degree of empathy - by which I mean, understanding what the other person is thinking - is also a useful skill to develop for this sort of situation.
4jooyous8yOoh, here's another community practice that would be nice to adopt: after you have a long comment thread with someone where you clarify some stuff, if they said "oh okay, now I undstand!" instead of just disappearing when they understand, it would feel much better. That's happened to me a few times here. =\
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yIf they disappear, how do you know it's because they understand and not because they don't understand and don't care anymore?
2jooyous8yThat's exactly the problem! There's currently no way to tell, although it would be useful to know. It would be nice if disappearing consistently indicated not caring anymore so you could gauge how effective you are at clarifying things.
1CCC8yI quite see your point, and I agree. That would be useful data. While some may simply upvote the post that made them understand instead of replying, I don't think that that would be sufficient; neither the identity of the upvoter nor the reason for the upvote would be readily apparent.
3jooyous8yI think the practice of chewing apart someone's religion is pretty emotionally trying and leaves the person feeling like the community hates their entire being/identity, despite their generally polite and civil tone, and the top level article is about acknowledging and repairing emotional damage after exchanges like this. So, some sort of active statement of "I still like you! You are still cool! Thank you for the nice discussion! Would you like to also talk about this here math thing? I would love to know what you think!" would hopefully make chewed-apart people (Wednesday?) feel much better about hanging around here. Actually, I think the "I still like you!" issue is pretty similar to the sarcasm issue in written word. Because IRL you can use subtle clues to show you still like the person, like smile and speak softer after you're done debating god and things. Or pat them! Here, all I've got is exclamation marks. And text emoticons?
1CCC8yYes, it would be. In my experience, I haven't felt that my religion has been chewed apart; by and large, most people on the site seem to shrug and ignore it. So this situation hasn't yet turned up here for me. Though you are right; such a sentiment would go a long way towards repairing emotional damage. Actively pointing out and encouraging behaviour that you like is a good way to get people to behave that way more often. I think that's most of the reason for the karma system; to upvote posts encourages similar behaviour in the future. Replying, with specific reasons for an upvote, encourages a more specific behaviour (and upvoting the encouraging post will probably reinforce the enouragement). In person, I'm told that eye contact and attentive listening work surprisingly well.

Wednesday will also be regularly informed that several of these people are in a position to have special knowledge on the subject via direct prayer-derived evidence

I don't think we can fault Wednesday for not challenging the anecdotal evidence of God if it hasn't occurred to her to do so. She might not be very interested in religion, and, having no desire to think deeply on the subject, is willing to take their word for it. In fact, she may really be agnostic about religion, and is a prime candidate for conversion.

It is when she is faced with evidence... (read more)

2Alicorn12yIt is my suspicion that "agnostic" may be too generous a word for someone who accepts a convenient religion because she doesn't care. "Apatheist"?
1byrnema12yDo you dislike this version of Wednesday? Certain words ("too generous", "convenient", "doesn't care") make me feel like you're angry with her.
1Alicorn12yHmm. I hadn't been aware of disliking this version. However, I do have a general dislike of thoughtless (by which I just mean not thinking very much, not "inconsiderate") people. And that combines with the unease I have with the idea of a future in which her parents have - by their own lights - failed to parent her well enough; I have enough empathy with my friend to be disturbed by such a scenario, even though by certain standards of course I think some such situations would be an improvement. It's possible one or both of those emotional reactions was conveyed in my word choice.

Wednesday is wrong. Yet it might well be better for an average Wednesday to remain religious.

The costs associated with remaining religious depend on how you'd live your life otherwise, on whether you'd realistically find something better to do with your attention and caring. In a perfect world, deconversion will always be worthwhile. Given the real-world overhead and apathy/blindness to opening opportunities, it may not be.

The case of Wednesday an excellent example of why I argued that religious belief can be perfectly sane.

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?

I think many theists criticized are not quite as immersed as Wednesday will be. Believing what you thinking is right doesn't require going out and alienating all your friends with it (though I've had som... (read more)

Almost everyone who thinks he or she has higher priorities than being right actually does not have higher priorities than being right, but doesn't place enough priority on being right to see that this is the case. This is why we should avoid the "rationalists should win" mantra -- figuring out what "winning" means is at least as essential as actually winning.

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

Rejecting options out of hand is bad, especially when the alternatives suck.

0MrHen12yAfter parsing this, I think you are saying: 1. Many people who think they have higher priorities than being right 2. Do not have higher priorities than being right 3. But do not know they do not have higher priorities than being right 4. Because they do not have a high enough priorities with regards to being right So, replacing "priorities" with "X" and "being right" with "Y" we get this: 1. Many people who think they have higher X than Y 2. Do not have higher X than Y 3. But do not know they do not have higher X than Y 4. Because they do not have a high enough X with regards to Y Which is a very mean and uncharitable way of saying I do not know what you mean. I think my difficulty is that I rank priorities against themselves. To me, Priority of 55 makes no sense. Fifty-fifth Priority does. Bumping priority up means replacing a higher rank with a lower rank. If something has no higher priority is is First Priority. With these definitions, your statement makes no sense because (2) and (4) are incompatible.
4steven046112yOK, I can see how that was unclear, but I stand by the statement. Figuring out what one's true goals are is itself a problem that one can apply rationality to. Many people think applying rationality doesn't help achieve their goals well enough to be worth the costs. But they're wrong: rationality helps achieve their true goals well enough to be worth the costs. If they applied rationality enough, they'd find out that their true goals aren't what they thought they were, and conclude that applying rationality was indeed worth it. An irrational person cannot reliably assess the cost of being irrational. A rational person can. People who have chosen rationality almost always agree choosing rationality was worth it. Red and blue box, one of them contains a diamond. Wednesday asks, "how would this "rationality" thing help me get to the red box, which contains the diamond?" But the diamond is in the blue box.
3conchis12yYes, a fully rational person is better able to assess the relative costs of being irrational vs. rational. But this knowledge won't help them much if it turns out that the costs of being irrational were lower after all.
2MrHen12yYeah, that makes more sense. I think there is a danger in telling someone they do not know what they really want or what their true goals are, but I understand your point and agree.
2Nick_Tarleton12yI don't think the danger is in saying that another doesn't know their true goals so much as in thinking that you do know them.
0Vladimir_Nesov12yThat's open to interpretation. The procedure by which you are figuring out what " winning " means is itself a rational pursuit, that should better be precisely targeted, with " winning' " in that meta-game already fixed. You have to stop somewhere, and actually write the code.
1steven046112yYou do indeed have to stop somewhere, but any algorithm that stops before rejecting everything that's at least one tenth as wrong as Mormonism is broken.
1Vladimir_Nesov12yHuh? The algorithm doesn't stop, the meta-meta-goal has to be fixed at some point.
0Alicorn12yCan you help me disentangle what you mean by this? There seems to be some equivocation. I rejected that option for ethical reasons. The alternatives do suck, but "carry on believing as always" and "deconvert, then tell an uncomfortable truth" are at least not unethical.
4steven046112yFor clarification, see my reply to MrHen []. Choosing to believe falsely and then speaking honestly is at least as unethical as choosing to believe truly and then lying. The former amounts to lying and then committing the further ethical crime of believing one's own lies.
[-][anonymous]9y 0

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

I tend to agree with you, but I'm curious: Why do you say that?

I think she shouldn't lie to everyone because it's hard to do and she's better off leaving town or maybe just not lying, depending on how Mormons treat non-Mormons in their midst. In Pennebaker's "Opening Up", he does a reasonably good job of demonstrating that systematic inhibition like that has negative health consequences.

Let's say we live in a world where it is not clear who is adopted and who is not. Most believe a Billion or less are non-adopted, and that they themselves are non-adopted. A few say everyone is non-adopted, some say being non-adopted isn't even possible.

If you believe just 13 million* people worldwide are non-adopted, you need good evidence to believe you happen to be one of them.

Believing you're not adopted based on little evidence makes perfect sense if you're in a world where the vast majority of people are not adopted (or know they are)

*13 million=LDS membership (wikipedia)

[-][anonymous]12y 0

As an ex-Mormon, I had to personally confront this issue. My family, extended family, friends, neighbors, and the large majority of my hometown are Mormon, so the social costs of leaving my church were extremely high. While in high school, I was primarily in the closet, but I'd express the occasional doubt. Just the suggestion that the church could be tested against evidence resulted in people avoiding conversation with me, my now-wife being warned by mutual friends not to date me, and my parents sternly lecturing me. Note this was merely because I conside... (read more)

I'm reminded of the post a while back on whether an Atheist/Rationalist society would be effective in war.

I have trouble understanding why they wouldn't be (which seems to be the opinion of most of the others here). In an objective moral sense, if Truth doesn't matter more than Winning, then what does? Implicitly most here behave in accordance to that statement - I'd suggest that the amount of time devoted to this site exceeds the amount required for merely winning in contemporary society - but most seem to balk at the concept that Truth might require th... (read more)

6Z_M_Davis12yI think the standard reply here is that utilons (or utils, or whatever your favored terminology for this) is a standardized measure of whatever-it-is-you-care-about. You might not want to risk 1000 (say) dollars for even odds of 10 000 dollars--that all depends on your personal marginal utility of money. But if you don't think you'd want to risk 1000 utilons for 10 000 utilons at even odds, that just means you're defining utilons incorrectly. By definition, if I understand.
2orthonormal12yIAWYC, but I don't think Aurini was necessarily making that mistake. I read their comment as stating that, even when their "shut up and multiply" answer would or should be the same, people are wired to behave differently towards gambles when the stakes are higher. Not that they should, but that they do. For example, my conscious dollars-to-utility function is nearly linear in small increments from my present position; if I had a 1-in-5 chance of turning $10 into $100, I'd go for it. However, my conscious (lives saved)-to-utility function is practically linear in small populations; but if I had a chance to gamble 10 lives against 100 at 1-in-5 odds, it would be psychologically more difficult to make the clearly correct choice. Or any choice at all; decisive paralysis is a probable actual outcome. There are sensible evolutionary reasons for this to be the case, but it raises the question of what to do about it for people in positions of power.
-4Aurini12yOn a deeper level, I'm suggesting that we over-estimate the utilon-level of own lives. Personally, I think your average North American thinks their own life far more valuable than it actually is. Honestly, I really can't pint to factual evidence when it comes to 'the value of human life.' - but back in University, I honestly thought that Latin was a more accurate representation of human-life value than Christian English was - and at the present day, knowledge of transhumanism seems to justify it. We are expendable: truth and justice matter.
1badger12yI can't parse this. What does Latin or English have to do with the value of life? The ways the concept is expressed in the two languages? What does transhumanism have to say about Latin?
0Sticky11yI would argue that people actually take the larger gamble when they enter romantic relationships, certainly when they get married, and probably with some other decisions like that.

Wednesday will be informed that not only several but everyone in the entire world is in a position to have special knowledge on the subject via direct prayer-derived experience. She will also be informed to seek out these experiences for herself as ones persons experiences can not be applied to another person. Further those experiences should not be a general feeling of good-will, feeling at one with the universe, strong emotions, uncontrollable crying, etc. as those are not the characteristics of the spirit per LDS doctrine (or dogma if you insist). Inste... (read more)

4JoshuaZ10yThere a lot of problems with this. Confirmation bias is a major one (people are likely to remember the times that their perceived/claimed revelations turned out to be correct and not think as much about the misses), as is the fact that people do engage in unconscious processing. Personally, I've had dreams where I've talked to dead mathematicians. They've been helpful. Does that mean one should believe that I was talking to those spirits? Or, more relevantly for this purpose, do you think that Ramanujan's beliefs that his math came from Hindu deities [] were justified given the correct, novel mathematical results he received? Moreover, when Mormons do speak of personal revelation, they aren't almost ever testable claims (e.g. will this coin flip land heads or tails), but personal life advice issues, just like in many other religions, making it essentially impossible to tell if the revelation was at all helpful. This also is connected to the fairly serious problem that if the LDS church wants to be tested based on its capacity for correct revelation, one needs to deal with both the fact that the revealed claimed in the LDS texts (such as the claimed ancient civilizations) don't fit with archeology at all. Except that shunning isn't just something that is done by some members of the LDS. It is a practice that is so common that separate communities have been built for such individuals (The LDS church is not the only example of such, Charedi(ultra-Orthodox Jews) have the same thing but that's not what is relevant here.) You may want to be aware that in general, at Less Wrong, we aren't terribly interested in LDS apologetics or apologetics from any other religion. As far as we're concerned almost all traditional notions of deities have very low probabilities, and general apologetica is unlikely to do much. There are forums to discuss that sort of thing; we are not one of them. In the case of the Wednesday post, the point had
3CuSithBell10yIt sounds like you're saying you've received testable knowledge you couldn't otherwise have received in this manner. Would you mind expanding on that?
-2JohnH10yMiracles do not follow belief but follow those that believe. Having read a fair number of articles on this site, I know the kind of dismissal to expect should I share any specific experience of mine. As these are sacred to me, I consider it not prudent to share them in a place where I know they'll be ridiculed. However, I know that everyone that is willing may themselves have such experiences. I know that God is real, Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was a Prophet, and Thomas S. Monson is a Prophet. I know that if anyone follows the steps laid out in Moroni 10:3-5 (see also Alma 32, James 1:3-5) they can for themselves gain such knowledge.
3JoshuaZ10yQuestion: If a chassidic Jew came in here and said the same thing about miracles he saw his Rebbe perform, would you take his miracles with the same level of credence that you assign your own? If not, why not?
-2JohnH10yA complete answer of this would require a fairly detailed look at the LDS view of faith. To be short there are many multiples of ways that miracles may occur. Miracles do not by themselves produce faith in anything as the chassidic Jew should know. ( per Egypt not being converted and the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel in the wilderness despite the miracles that were performed (at some point daily) in their behalf). The existence of a miracle does not by itself say anything about a belief system. "And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith." - 2 Nephi 26:13 You might want to look more at the topic of LDS and their view of Jews (see Orson Hyde's dedication of Jerusalem for the gathering of the Jews in 1842, as well as Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and most other prophets in all of LDS scripture). Interesting question for someone that isn't interested in apologetics.
3JoshuaZ10yI'm sorry if the example of a chassidic Jew created more theological complications than intended. The point was a member of another religion. If it helps, imagine a religion completely orthogonal to anything in the Abrahamic tradition, like say Hinduism. Do you treat your own perceived miracles as different from those of the Hindu? If so, why are they different? I am not the general LW community. I consider apologetics to be very interesting. But LW has a general established set of goals and attitudes about these things, so I will focus here purely on the basic issues related to epistemological and rationalist considerations. Hence the focus on how you would respond to other religions making fundamentally similar claims. And I'll only do so as long as there's not a feeling that our discussion is damaging the signal to noise ratio. I will however recommend that you read the Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions sequence [] (it is admittedly rather long).
-3JohnH10yFaith is a principle of action as well as power. The first part of my response still holds. Even the scripture in part still holds, the Holy Ghost testifies of truth wherever it is to be found. So miracles are not a basis for belief but arise out of belief. Further there are other supernatural entities that can be a part of miracles besides God. I have read a fair number of those, somehow I hadn't stumbled on the whole sequence, thank you for the link.
0JoshuaZ10yThat doesn't answer the question in any useful way. I'm not sure what this means. If miracles are not part of the basis for belief why do you think that Wednesday can use them as part of the justification for her faith? And if someone performs miracles and says that Mormon deity isn't real or is actually an evil entity, how would you respond?
-2JohnH10yI didn't say Wednesday could use miracles but could use the Holy Spirit (which might be considered miraculous). "And if someone performs miracles and says that Mormon deity isn't real or is actually an evil entity, how would you respond?" Having actually dealt with this claim before I can point to "by their fruits ye shall know them" with the rest of that chapter. As well as "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself". As well as "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith". I also would say pretty much what I have already said.
-1JoshuaZ10yThe same point applies. I don't care whether one calls it "miracles" or "special knowledge"- the essential point applies. If someone else had access to the essentially the same claimed experiences how would you respond? I see. And if the other individual has his own set of contradictory scriptures, how do you decide that your set is better than his set?
0JohnH10yThe belief is that the Holy Spirit will not lie and will tell the same truth to everyone. So I would need to know specifically what was claimed, what knowledge was received, and if there actually is a contradiction. If the person claims to have contradictory experiences to me yet everything else still matches then I would ask if their experience is reproducible. That is, my claim is that there is a specific procedure to receive revelation so I would want to know what theirs was. If there is none then I would be willing to dismiss the claim as someone that was aware of my faith attempting to deceive me. If there was one and it involved morally objectionable actions then I would chalk up the claim to a different entity, if the claim involved mind altering drugs I would chalk it up to the drugs. If the procedure did not involve something morally objectionable then I would be willing to test it out. If an apparently contradictory answer was received I would then attempt to receive further revelation from both sources, specifically asking what was happening. In particular I would attempt to find some specific life action that is different between the sources of revelation and then see what the effects of following or not following that action are in other people. If either is obviously bad then I would know which one I don't want to follow. If there is no obvious ill effect to either then I would ask each which one I should follow and see if there was a consensus. If both forms do agree as to which I should follow then that is the one I would follow and I would hope that an explanation could be had on the other source. If there is no agreement and no way for me to determine if either is lying then I would go see a doctor to see if something is off with me. If there is and some method of fixing the problem is given I would then repeat both procedure to see which still responds. If they both still respond or if I am determined to be fine then I would decide at that poi
2CuSithBell10yOkay. Could you instead share why exactly you think your experiences would be dismissed, and why you think these reasons are incorrect?
0JohnH10ySee JoshuaZ's comment below for exactly why I think my experiences would be dismissed.
2CuSithBell10yHe seems to be asking why your miracles count as evidence for your faith when other people have similar experiences deriving from contradictory faiths. However, it seems like you're saying that these miracles don't count as evidence for any faith, including your own (except in a strict Bayesian sense, I guess). Is that accurate? My question was different - it was about the nature of these miracles in themselves, not their relationship to a faith. If you're able to extract information from miraculous sources, I'd be very interested in your methods (especially as they are intended to be reproducible). Could you demonstrate this? Alternately, if you still think a demonstration would be dismissed, could you explain on what grounds it would be dismissed and why one would be incorrect to do so? (Or, alternately, whether you believe that we would be correct to dismiss your claims due to some sort of information disparity - though this seems an unlikely position.) Alternately-alternately, when you say that "if anyone follows the steps laid out in Moroni 10:3-5 (see also Alma 32, James 1:3-5) they can for themselves gain such knowledge", that seems to imply I could try it myself and validate your claim. Is that your understanding?
-3JohnH10yI think you looked at the above comment, not the below one. You are basically accurate in saying miracles don't count as evidence of any faith, by themselves. The Spirit is a nescessary condition for determining what faith is right. (faith in this post is a collection of beliefs, faith in the other post is action, or trust, in beliefs) In as much as the Spirit is miraculus I should amend the statement to outward miracles do not, by themselves, count as evidence of anything, they merely indicate that more information is needed. It is only reasonable that I trust my own experiences. It is also reasonable that I validate my exeriences by keeping a journal of those experiences and periodically reviewing what was recieved and what happened afterwards. This should cut down on the confirmation bias. My experiences are valid for me, but for anyone else they are point of data that like a miracle doesn't provide sufficient evidence for anything as there are mutliple competing claims. Throwing out evidence you disagree with or that you think is a black-swan event is not a halmark of rationality. However as they can be viewed as low probability events and there could be errors in reasoning, errors in observation, and errors in transmission of those observations means that your model of the world should not be updated unless you yourself can replicate the events. The method of how to recieve a response is in the scriptures cited. The response should be in both your mind and in your heart. You can try it yourself and validate my claims. Realize though that you are dealing with an entity that is both intelligent and has your best interest in mind, see Alma 32:17-20 for more on that subject.
1CuSithBell10ySo I take it you're not willing to demonstrate this ability? Say, by predicting what I've written on an index card (or whatever similar sort of verifiable prediction you're able to access)? If that's the case, then I could certainly try to do so. Could you help me figure out what precisely I have to do such that you will predict success? The language of the text seems a little opaque. For others' convenience, I'll repost them here: Moroni 10 3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. 4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. 5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. So it sounds like what I have to do is simply ask honestly for a sign of some verifiable sort? Or do I ask for more specific knowledge?
-1JohnH10yAlready covered this: "Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. 18Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. 19And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?" Alma 32:17-19 Further, "An adulterous generation asks for a sign" which should itself be sign enough. Yes. See also D&C 9:7-9 which gives a further example, though it is for translating sacred text so while the method of asking is the same the method of response may not be. Also, you may want to define what you mean by honestly. Honestly being curious as to what will happen is not sufficient if it does not also include a real intention to follow God's commands if a response is received. You cannot fool God and He isn't a wish granting genie.
5CuSithBell10yEssentially what I'm asking for is a reason to believe it. That could include accurate predictions about things regarding which I have no relevant knowledge. It does not include reports that such things are possible and have happened but cannot be produced right now, and it does not include the fact that I am asking for a reason. I am willing to ask, in humility, for such a reason, from anything that can hear my inner thoughts directly so as to be able to respond. If there is a God that can do so, and belief is in my best interests, and that God has my best interests in mind, then it follows that I should be presented with something convincing to me. If I actually discovered that, say, there is an afterlife and an eternity of reward or punishments depends on one's mental state, I'd seriously consider proselytizing (though in a different manner from most proselytizers). If I discovered that some notion of objective good was not only coherent but obtained in our world, I'd probably alter my behavior drastically. Certainly, I think the prior probability of any specific organized religion being true is infinitesimal (and would in most cases I'd first have to be convinced that it's logically consistent), and a particular religious experience of nonspecific fuzzies would cause me to question my sanity first, but if I had a coherent religious experience that held up on future observation, and provided real reasons to alter my beliefs, I'd do it in an instant. We do not disbelieve because we have seen even the slightest hint that it is true but we wish to rebel or disobey. We disbelieve because there is absolutely no reason to believe. I have in fact actually tried this in a different context, and managed to produce an altered mental state, but saw no evidence of the supernatural, nor even a subjective 'experience of the divine'. But it sounds like, when you imagine someone actually trying what you said would work for anyone, your mind jumps to reasons why it won't wo
-1JohnH10yRecent discussion brought up another one. D&C 93:30 "All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it to act for itself, as all intelligence also; Otherwise there is no existence. 31. Behold, here is the agency of man"
-2JohnH10yNo, I am just used to dealing with people that don't bother to actually try and understand the procedure and only try it partially. If you note I responded with scriptures on the subject, the same scriptures I started out with to define the procedure, so it is really just clarifying the procedure. That is an extremely subjective statement. I will do the best I can, but from experience I know it is not likely to be sufficient, but I have been wrong about applying experience on here before so hopefully I am wrong. 1. Prophecy of the Civil War (not terribly impressive in my opinion given that other people also predicted it, but the rest of the section that is in is interesting) 2. The word of wisdom (D&C 89) prohibits substances that at the time it was given were thought to be helpful or at least not harmful which are now known to be otherwise. (some people think that the substances are still helpful) 3. The first law of thermodynamics is in the D&C (however it is dependent on assuming by element the meaning is classical element and not chemical element, a fair assumption in my view but I just had a debate on the subject recently with someone that chose to disagree) 4. The Jews have/are being gathered from their long dispersion to their ancient homeland, as prophesied in the 1840's at about the same time the Jewish leadership in Europe stated that their would be no physical gathering. 5. Utah, a name forced on the territory by the US Federal Government, means top of the mountains (or people of the tops of the mountains). Reporters from the eastern US at the time of dedication of the Salt Lake Temple referred to it as the mountain of the Lord's house (due to the granite it was built with). "And it shall come to pass in the last days, [that] the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." - Isaia
4CuSithBell10ySo we're clear, these are intended to be reasons to believe in prophecy, not Mormonism, right? These sound pretty vague and after-the-fact, and there's no info about specific predictions made beforehand or how often this source is wrong. More to the point - is this what convinced you? If not, what did?
-2JohnH10yHow are they evidence against Mormonism? Considering that only one of those can be accepted as valid prophecy by anyone other then a Latter-Day Saint without theological complications, I think they are stronger evidence for Mormonism in particular then for prophecy in general. The prophecies were given beforehand so I don't understand this part of your response. Are you asking for prophecies that haven't happened yet? If so, how would that be evidence of anything? Please find a wrong example. I am unaware of any specific prophecies that meet the criterion to be prophecies that were not stated as being conditional on some action that have turned up false. Convinced me of what? I had experiences with the Spirit that would be applicable for almost any religion on the planet before I had experiences that were specifically about my religion. So knowledge that there was a God came before knowledge of which Church was correct. Going back to Moroni 10:3-5, I eventually decided that I needed to know for myself if the Book of Mormon was true. So I read it as directed and prayed about it as directed and relieved the answer that it was indeed true. It was only afterwards that experience that I actually read the D&C, The Pearl of Great Price, The Old Testament, and everything other then the Gospels in the New Testament. I likewise repeated the procedure for all of them, and due to the insistence of evangelicals I have dealt with repeated the procedure multiple times on the entire Bible, the New Testament, and the Gospels. This was under the hope that when they said they would do the procedure on the Book of Mormon if I did on whatever it was they said (their idea not mine (and no, none of them ever cracked the Book of Mormon that I can tell )). Does that answer your question?
3Alicorn10ySpeaking of the read-the-book-of-Mormon-and-pray-about-it-and-get-a-straight-answer experiment, I've actually told a couple of my friends that I will eventually do this in the name of empiricism, but it's such a profoundly boring book that I haven't gotten very far yet. Is there a way to read it that makes it more interesting? Why isn't scripture better-crafted?
2TheOtherDave10yIt is hands down the most boring religious text I have ever read; I would be surprised if there was a more interesting way to read it. The Koran confused me more, and Dianetics annoyed me more, but the Book of Mormon wins on boring.
1Alicorn10yYeah, but I didn't tell any of my friends that I would read the Koran or Dianetics. I did find some entertainment value in the fact that when I opened the Book of Mormon for the first time, I discovered that Orson Scott Card ripped off its plot for the Memory of Earth series, but... he's a much better writer.
0TheOtherDave10yYeah; I got the same amusement in the other direction, though it makes Card seem to be reaching harder.
2Scott Alexander10yLiveblog it. Chapter by chapter.
1Alicorn10yWould you read that?
1JoshuaZ10yIf you are going to do this, make sure that you set aside in advance what you are going to test. And make sure that it is a) easily verifiable and b) not something that could be in your subconscious memory. The most obvious thing to do would be to have now a computer pick a random number, store that in a file somewhere and then when you are done, check if the number (if any) that comes from inspiration matches the number in question. Mark Twain had some comments about that [].
1Alicorn10yWould you like to generate and hold onto a random number for me that I can request as proof, or should I just do this myself?
1JoshuaZ10yI've generated a random number. To verify, there's a relevant SHA-1 string. I will send the string to any trusted user. I'm not going to put the SHA-1 hash here to eliminate the possibility that someone will claim that Alicorn inverted the hash, either deliberately or subconsciously. I would consider such subconscious inversion to be unlikely, but it is nice to control for as many variables as possible.
1JohnH10yNo clue, see Ether 12:23-29 where Moroni the last prophet in the Book of Mormon pretty much appears to ask that very question of the Lord.
1Alicorn10yI looked it up, and it does seem that the question is asked, but it does not appear to be properly answered. Can you interpret God's reply there for me in some answer-ish way? It's pretty hazy.
2CuSithBell10yThat's not what I meant - I was just trying to clarify my understanding of your chain of thought. Anyway. My problem with these predictions was that they generally sounded like what they predicted was determined after those things happened, e.g. the second law of thermodynamics was not formalized by a Mormon. If you really haven't considered this, then suppose: if I write down a thousand very specific predictions, and one of them comes true, would you call me a prophet? If you would, your standards are insufficient for your beliefs to correlate well with the truth. Wikipedia lists a number of supposedly failed predictions - the hour of Jesus's return was nigh (within a generation) in 1830 but he hasn't arrived, the temple of Zion in Missouri was supposed to be built within a generation, the Civil War didn't end all nations. What about these experiences convinced you of the truth of prophecy and / or Mormonism? Other people have had vague spiritual experiences that convinced them of other, mutually contradictory religions. No one group is in the majority. Thus, no matter what, this is a method that is more likely to convince you of false things. Why were your experiences different?
-2JohnH10yThe Civil War prophecy needs to be read closely to actually understand what is being said, it isn't saying what you think it is. I believe you are referring to D&C 84:5? "which temple shall be reared in this generation" is a command which they didn't do and are chastised later for it. Then continuing vs 6 "For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord..." and so forth which is not a command but a promise. Please see the Kirtland Temple which was built after this revelation was given and did have the promised things happen if the records are to be believed. The hour of Jesus's return is nigh is the history of the Church one on the list of prophecies correct? It is not given as a prophecy in the history of the Church but is an extrapolation by Joseph of being told that if he lived until he was 85 then he would see Christ, which he wasn't sure was a prediction of the Second Coming but he believed it might have been. Clearly, he didn't live until he was 85 so his second possible interpretation of the statement turned out to be true and his extrapolation of the prophecy turned out to be false. Vague? No, they were pretty specific just not specific to only the LDS Church. I am not sure what you are asking given the above, please explain further.
3wedrifid10yAlmost all prophesies do. (But 'understand' deserves quotation marks.)
-2JohnH10yGenerally, I agree with you having dealt with various other groups that also have specific prophecies and trying to understand how something so obviously false is explained away. In any case here is where the debate is: "and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations." D&C 87:3 (well not all of three just from the middle to the end) The debate is if immediately after the South called on Great Britain to help break the Northern Navel blockade that Great Britain would then be attacked by yet other nations or if some time after this call for help that Great Britain would call for help in the case of the World Wars with the Civil War being the start of the Modern Warfare employed during those wars. Take from it what you will.
1JoshuaZ10yThere is a simple way a deity could avoid this sort of trouble. If anyone extreme deity wanted to make a prophecy that was unambiguous they wouldn't need to bother with this sort of claim. There's a really easy type of prophesy that would have been fine until just a few years ago. "The following 200 digit number is prime: _ " If any ancient scripture had that, it would convince almost everyone once we got the technology to verify it. Curiously, regardless of religion, they always seem to be vague prophecies, which are only clear after the fact, or are likely events. We wouldn't need to have discussion about whether a verse meant to apply to a specific war, or anything like that.
-3JohnH10yTrue. However, that isn't what God wants. He already knows that we will follow him if we have absolute proof on the subject, this because we didn't rebel with Lucifer. He wants to know, or rather for us to know, if we will follow him when we don't have such proof. To try and bring this into terms more familiar with this site: It is already know that we will behave properly when it is hard coded to do so. Now the test is to see if we will behave properly when we are free to choose our own morality and utility functions. If so then we become Friendly AI (gods) of our own worlds populated with our children. If not then depending on how badly we screw up will determine what we end up being useful for and if we screw up badly enough such that when the hard coded knowledge is returned we continue to behave badly then we get cast out as being unfit for anything. To assist in this God has placed the knowledge of what to do in such a way that it is accessible if we wish to use it. To not make it too easy He also placed the discarded potential AI's (e.g. the devil and his angels) in a position to interact with us. He has also provided methods such that if we use them parts of the knowledge can be restored to us. Hopefully that is helpful and doesn't step on too many toes.
1JoshuaZ10yThis is a claim I haven't encountered before. I'm curious incidentally what you have to say about the claimed scientific knowledge in the Koran.
0JohnH10yoops, sort of miswrote, it is the first law not second. Well, the second is sort of there too but not nearly in the same way, sorry. I am not familiar with the claims of scientific knowledge in the Koran, I would be interested in seeing the references to that. The LDS position on the Koran is interesting. We do not know if Mohammad was a prophet but generally it appears the authorities in the Church think it is likely that he was, not a presiding Apostle but still having received revelation that was of a general nature for the area he was in. This puts the Koran on the level of Apocrypha which does contain true bits but also contains lots of not true bits so can be inspirational but does not count as scripture. It is my understanding the the Muslims hold the Koran to be perfect so our position is contrary to theirs. Also it is my understanding that not only did Mohammad not write down what revelations he actually received when he received them but they were not written down at all until his death. I, personally, think there is too many layers of filtration over top of whatever was received by revelation to know what was revelation and what was not.
1JoshuaZ10yOk. So where is it? Can you point to the specific scripture? Regarding such knowledge in the Koran, I think you may have missed my point. I'm sorry, since that's clearly my fault since this is the second time I've used an example of an Abrahamic religion that has accidental complicating factors by being connected to LDS theology. So, let's ask the same question instead about say the Vedic texts. (The point by the way if it isn't clear, is that almost every religion has apologists who make this sort of claim about advanced knowledge in their holy texts. Just as each religion has people dedicated to saying why apparent contradictions aren't contradictions, why the archaeological evidence that doesn't fit their claims really does (although Islam is actually one that has much less of this problem than others), and how they have prophesies of subsequent events.)
-2JohnH10yHaving been on an archaeological dig in Belize and having a wife that is a trained Mayan epigrapher, I am familiar with how archaeology is conducted and what is actually known about the subject, at least when it comes to central America. The answer is almost nothing, and my wife will hurt anyone except her grandparents that tries to claim that the Book of Mormon is referring to the Mayans. There is certainly enough evidence to say that it wasn't the classic or pre-classic Mayan (to begin with the dates are wrong, and the geography) In case you didn't know claiming the Mayan were the Nephites is a decently common one among apologetics and it is the stupidest claim I have ever heard from them. It is much more accurate to say that we have no idea where the Nephites were, but that shouldn't be surprising if one actually goes through the Book of Mormon and tries to estimate how big the civilization was and where they lived. The answer is they were small and somewhere in southern Central America. Sorry, this is totally tangent to the discussion but you have my answer to the archeology objection now. It is not the standard one which I don't know what that is anymore. This, because they make things up instead of saying we don't know because apparently saying we don't know doesn't get rich donors to give you money. um. I think I should clue you in on a basic doctrine of the LDS Church. There is no major religion on the planet that does not have complicating factors by being connected to LDS theology (excluding other christian restoration movements such as Jehovah's Witness or Scientology). God has revealed to every nation that portion of the truth that they were willing to receive and they subsequently fell into apostasy. I wasn't trying to hide that, it is taught in the first lesson given to investigators into the church by the missionaries. D&C 93:33 is the main one. See also 93:29 and 131:7-8 for further information on the cosmology being talked about.
1wedrifid10yI love that word. I never thought I'd grow up to be an apostate but now that I have it has such a good ring to it. Even better than heretic.
0JohnH10yShe will also hurt you if you try and say the world will end in 2012 because the Mayans said it would. They didn't, their Calendar Round just increments to the next large cycle then. Even if they had, their idea of the world ending is nothing like our idea of the world ending as for them the world ending was a cyclical event that preceded a new creation and has happened multiple times in the past.
0Estarlio10yThe problem with rhetorical questions is they can be answered in ways that don't support your argument: "18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. 19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?" Alma 32:18-19 I put my keys down when I came into the house - in a sense I know they're with the gun and the wallet and if I turn my head slightly to one side I'll see them. Of course someone may have crept up on me and moved them. I do not - in the strongest possible sense of the concept 'know' that my keys are there. Everything beneath that strongest possible sense of knowledge, however, is simply talking about degrees of more or less well justified belief. So what's being asked in Alma 32:18 produces a positive answer: Of course I believe that which I know. My well justified beliefs are held much more strongly than less well justified beliefs. Which makes of 32:19 something almost completely meaningless. Believing, having cause to believe, is simply what knowledge is. You're essentially asking how much greater X is than X. To which the answer is, 'Not at all. X is the same as X.' -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In all honesty a god, or someone operating under divine revelation, would know how these things evaluated. He would have expressed himself properly.
-2JohnH10yYour argument only makes sense if you are a Bayesian that denies the whole idea of knowledge built off of axioms. Which is funny because Bayes theorem is built off of a set of well defined axioms. How do you know Bayes theorem is true outside of the axioms that it is built off of? Anyways, change it to degrees of confidence such that knowledge is something like 90% and faith is anything below that. Or whatever critical values you wish to use.
0Estarlio10yAlright. I'm happy enough being a Mormon with proof that only makes you right somewhere around 90% of the time. Cough up. Resetting confidence levels is a dangerous game for any person to play with their beliefs. You've said I can set it wherever I like. Fine, I choose to set it such that greater than or equal to fifty one percent confidence will be knowledge of some degree, rather than faith. Do you see the consequences here? I've just reduced the chance that any aspect of your canon and testimony is actually correct to the odds of a coin flip. If you accept those boundaries, then you can't use the book of Mormon or divine testimony or anything like that as something any more substantial than a coin flip to guide your decisions or beliefs. It's essentially admitting that you'd be just as well off using a gambler's dice to guide your life. There's a tension in fiddling with confidence levels like this. Between meaning and proof. If you want an empty faith – then that's very easy to have without obligating yourself to any sort of evidence, but it's not clear there's anything there to believe in. However, if you want to preserve that sort of meaning then you've got to select confidence levels in excess of fifty percent and retain those as faith and that obligates you to some sort of proof. And, by the by: this all works whether or not you're a pure Bayesian. Axioms are true simply by virtue of the rules of the system. They are true in every possible world where the system in which they're constructed can be made to apply. To the truth state of an axiom it doesn't matter whether god will provide testimony or not. If you think knowledge only comes from axioms - (or is built purely on axioms) - then in offering some prediction as being fulfilled you're not being asked for anything that would qualify as knowledge. It's not even clear under such a construction that you're being asked for anything that would qualify as evidence of a particular axiom. Of course the mi
-1JohnH10yPut it this way, if you think that there is a 1% probability (e.g. you are convinced it is bogus) that I am right in stating that if taken seriously God will answer prayers as from the scriptures I provided and this is enough to get you to try out what they say then that was sufficient faith in that instance. Clearly at 1% probability you shouldn't be doing anything else that comes with believing in the Book of Mormon or being LDS (at least that doesn't already coincide with what you think of as being right). If you follow through and get evidence to boost the Book of Mormon to say 70 or 80% level then that should likewise boost the level confidence of what the book says to do to high enough to test them out. Following what the book says and finding it to be right should then boost the level, eventually at least, to whatever you have preset as your critical value to say you know it to be true. If however one waits until they have evidence to suggest something is true with ones preset critical value then one is not acting in faith. If one has evidence at that level and then doesn't follow the commands of God then one is worse off then someone that thinks it is bogus but has had someone tell them it isn't or someone that due to everything else thinks it has 51% chance to be right. Does this make more sense to you?
0Estarlio10yThat doesn't seem consistent with part of the earlier verse you posted. Under the account you're offering faith and knowledge are just different degrees of belief – indeed under that account knowledge is the type of belief with the most cause behind it. Whereas under the account in the verse knowledge and belief seem to be completely different kinds of thing. If you want to call different degrees of confidence faith and knowledge, I don't really mind – the probabilities are what they are regardless of the labels you hang off them - but it doesn't seem to be doing any work that gets you closer to the conclusion you've decided on. You haven't illustrated any difference beyond the claim that at some point of arbitrarily selected confidence it's going to become worse for us if we don't follow the relevant commandments. Which is fine as far as it goes I suppose – why doesn't god provide whatever portion of the evidence doesn't quite tip me over that vital point yet preserves enough meaning to actually be evidence? It strikes me the answer is going to have to be along the lines of 'The more sure you are the more liable you are.' But then the degree of confidence is a measure of degrees of knowledge and you've lost that sharp divide that seems to be required for you to make meaning and faith coexist (i.e. being more sure of the religion's groundings than of a fair coin flip). The objection that I couldn't know because then I wouldn't believe would become rather meaningless – all meaningful faith would be based primarily on some form of knowledge.
-2JohnH10yIt is my understanding that He does. yep. Which it is. An experience once provided does give knowledge of the thing, however it is possible to doubt your experiences. Also, the experiences only provide knowledge of one thing and there will remain many things that are not known with the same surety, some of which may be difficult to understand, and these things must be taken on faith until they too become known. I would think that it is a continuum such that someone totally unaware of anything about the subject is not liable for anything while those that have received knowledge of everything are liable for all of it. Confidence in something not tested is faith. Anything not known with whatever level of confidence constitutes near enough to certainty to not matter for you is taken on faith. Knowledge is anything that is known with that level of confidence to constitute certainty. I am pretty sure that is a consistent translation of the terms into something understandable in this setting, I could be wrong.
0Estarlio10yIf you're right in respect to the prophesies of Thomas S. Monson, I don't see how this could hold. They would be strong evidence. In any case I think, we've got the chunks to start doing some building. But. Also known things are knowledge. You seem to be invoking, admittedly with some degree of displacement, the term in its own description. To a degree – if you're going to build knowledge into the meaningfulness of faith then faith would be something like believing with a greater certainty than the evidence justifies. Since all faith would be tested to some extent, even if very weakly, in order to contain meaning. The problem with that approach is that it never seems necessary for me to believe beyond the evidence. If I put, say, one percent confidence on the idea of god based upon things I see then that's not faith – and if I get more evidence from investigating based on that one percent and believe it to be slightly more likely – do some more investigation and get more... it never becomes faith; it's testing / knowledge all the way up.
-4JohnH10yI know, probably should be changed to "anything that is held to be true with such a level of confidence so as to not make any difference from 100%". That removes the term but doesn't seem to change the meaning. hmm. That would certainly be faith but it doesn't fit exactly with how it is used in, say "Lectures on Faith". The confidence is the faith, it really is that broad of a concept.
1Estarlio10yIf faith is just another word for confidence then knowledge would just be a high degree of faith and that doesn't fit in with how it's used in the Book; where it's held that if you know you don't have faith/believe. If you keep using knowledge to mean a very high degree of confidence and maintain that all meaningful faith is based on knowledge - and not just in the sense of exceeding the level of confidence that evidence justifies - then I'm not sure how it's possible for meaningful faith to exist. Since: If it meets the level of confidence that the knowledge justifies, then it's not faith. And if it exceeds the level of confidence that evidence justifies then it doesn't fit how it's used in "Lectures on Faith". And I take it just as a given that faith is not to believe /less/ than the evidence justifies - especially with 1 John 4:1 commanding people to test their prophets.
-3JohnH10ywhat do you mean by meaningful faith? Knowledge would be certainty. However, this site works with the assumption that certainty is impossible so I am trying to get everything to work under that assumption. I am looking at my computer right now so I am certain it exists were I to look away I would be slightly less certain of its existence. That difference in certainty of the current existence of the computer seems to constitute faith as used in scripture and lectures on faith. However, I am still certain that the computer did exist while I was looking at it even if I am not looking at it currently, I know it existed then (I would say that my degree of certainty of it currently existing would still constitute knowledge, but as used it would seem to be in some sense faith). According to this site I can not say that I know with certainty that I am male. I wonder what the confidence level is that I exist or that you exist. I have seen examples of saying that one can not be certain of the prime numbers or of 1+1=2. To me all these things are certainties, I know them even if in reproducing that knowledge to an outside observer I might err in doing so. This is what I mean by knowledge, if you can come up with a better way of explaining it in terms of this site where there is no certainty other then what I have explained then please do so.
0Estarlio10yYou seem to be meaning two things by knowledge, depending on the context in which you use it. I would suggest that you might find it easier if you use the words 'information' or 'evidence' when talking about justifications for a level of confidence/faith. And only use 'knowledge' to signify whatever high degree of confidence you've decided to use as your cut-off point for hands-in-fire-get-burned, I'm-looking-at-the-computer-and-it's-still-there levels of certainty. It still seems to me that you're going to end up with problems if you hold faith as being another word for confidence. Since even certainty (100% confidence) is still a degree of confidence – and also knowledge under such a definition. But scripture holds that knowledge isn't faith – which is the same as saying if you hold that faith and confidence are synonymous – that knowledge isn't a degree of confidence (even 100% confidence). It seems to me to be a deeper problem than one of definitions. You're going to have problems if you say that faith just refers to the preceding 99.9 recurring % levels of confidence, too. You've said that it's a general enough idea, in “Lectures on Faith”, to just be taken as a synonymous term with confidence. But even putting that problem aside, when you wanted to start talking about scripture again I suspect you'd end up saying either, 'People don't believe that which they know.' Or, 'People don't believe that which they have faith in.' But belief isn't one of those fuzzy terms, like knowledge or faith. The meaning can't be altered to fit a particular argument without doing significant damage to the network of references into which it fits. If I say I believe my computer is in front of me while I'm typing on it, (which going by your standards would also be knowledge,) then there's no significant question what I mean. Just as it's coherent for me to say that I believe my front door is locked, when strictly speaking I've heard one of the other occupants of the building c
-1JohnH10yI think you are right in this assessment. ??? - you lost me here. Why would I end up saying that people don't believe that which they know? Why would I have to redefine belief? Take the Word of Wisdom for instance the experts in the health fields are still not able to agree as to whether coffee, tea, and alcohol are good or bad for you in the long run. The LDS Church however has consistently said they were. If the revelations from God are correct then one would expect that those that follow the revelations would be healthier than similar populations, which is indeed the case. Is this the type of thing that you mean?
2Estarlio10yAlma 32:18 [I]f a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. But if knowledge was just a belief with 100% confidence, then that you knew it would mean you had quite a few causes to believe it. I suppose you could also end up saying that knowledge was uncaused belief but that seems even more problematic I'm not surprised, risk profiles don't tend to reduce to a substance being absolutely good or bad for you. It depends on your genetics and the interaction of various chemicals in the drink, not all of which have linear relationships with consumption. So far as coffee goes, broadly speaking, the consensus among the experts - i.e. those publishing studies into the effects of coffee - seems to indicate that consumption beneath four cups a day has more health benefits than risks, unless you happen to have gastro intestinal problems or need iron supplements. Paper filters seem to reduce risks even further. Tea seems to be okay as long as you don't put milk with it or drink it while it's incredibly hot. Or drink stupid amounts, of course. Alcohol? Well one or two drinks seems to be linked to reduced mortality - at least in the UK. The French seem to do well with it, though it may just be because of their diets. Heavy consumption does seem to be very bad for you. In principle, yeah. I don't think the WoW is very strong evidence by itself because there are loads of other possible explanations for health variances, and depending on the rationale the range of likely guesses may not have been all that wide, and because, IIRC, it was originally hot drinks in general which was changed later on when it became untenable; but it's the right sort of thing, yeah. If LDS's prophets consistently make better predictions than experts, then they've probably got access to some sort of privileged information to narrow their range of answers down. Either that or they're just vastly more rational than the experts, but the odds of that are slim.
-1JohnH10yI always took it to mean that if one knows something one has no cause to doubt it. Belief as defined at does work with saying that one does not believe something one knows, being if a statement has proof then one does not believe it (see # 2). It seems to be using belief-in as opposed to belief-that. If not then you are right that my definition of knowledge doesn't work. It appears to have been clarified in July of 1833 when the revelation was given in February of 1833.
-2JohnH10yWhat is your confidence level that putting your hand into a campfire is will burn your hand? edit As in I assumed you were intelligent enough to see everything you said and to assume that I was also intelligent enough to see such things.
0Estarlio10yClose enough to 100% that it makes no practical difference. That doesn't seem to leave you any better off though. Which, yes, I assumed you'd seen. If the level of confidence you wish to select is to be high - perhaps even very high - before faith becomes knowledge, then the level of proof you can offer without destroying faith will be almost equally high. Even if we go all the way out to 100% you've just taken on a greater burden of proof. This isn't some abstract thing. We should be able to sit you down in a room with a fair coin - or some other thing that can be relatively easily measured - and have you call it. See what statistic it approaches - how God does against blind chance. If knowledge is to be 70% confidence and god only calls it 69% of the time that 1% difference preserves your faith. The same for whatever level of confidence you select. The only way the objection offered in Alma makes any sort of sense is if there is no such difference with which to preserve faith.
-1JohnH10yIf I were claiming to be psychic or something then maybe. You have pretty much the same opportunity to try this out using the given method as I do. However, what makes you think that God is willing to play such a game? He isn't a genie or oracle that grants every random wish. I could be wrong but I doubt He would be care to be treated so lightly. Um, I think you have the wrong idea on the type of confidence we are talking about. If we did such a coin toss experiment and the person trying to communicate with God got it right 69% of the time that would give a much greater than 69% estimate to the existence of said God. That is getting 69% of all coin tosses right over a very large subset of coin tosses should lead one to first check to make sure that the coin is a fair coin, then lead one to use a different coin even if it is, and then lead one to try and eliminate all other possible explanations, and if it is still 69% of the time right then one should a) believe fairly highly in however the person is getting that information and b) take that person gambling or have that person pick stocks for you (or figure out how to do it yourself) before publishing any results of the study.
1Estarlio10yI already know it doesn't work for me. Perhaps I wasn't taking it seriously enough – whatever that means. You have a god that reveals his existence to guide his followers on matters of relatively minuscule importance but won't reveal his existence to save someone's immortal soul? He's already playing the game. His values may be very different to our own but he's playing. (Assuming of course he exists.) I don't think it's treating him lightly either. Some kid tells you they're a god you just smile and nod, some adult say it you ask them demonstrate some suitably implausible power. When you take something seriously you test it. Generally the more seriously you take something the more you test it – resources allowing – not less. Treating him lightly would be dancing off to believe in some random god because I got the warm fuzzies when I went to a church/mosque/whatever, or because of what I read in some book. It's not like he's being asked to do it as a parlour trick. It's not random either – it's for a purpose. Someone's immortal soul may or may not be in jeopardy. I think so too. Whatever calls would give you a 69% confidence then.
-2JohnH10yOk, agreed. I assume you mean there is a god? Also agreed. This is what I was assuming you were asking to have happen. I am working on a longer response now that I have a better understanding of what it is you are requesting.
-3JohnH10ySecond part As to the most recent specific prophecies from the living prophet Thomas S. Monson so far I have come up with this: The fall of Communism in Europe was what opened up those countries. It to me therefore seems that President Monson was prophesying the current unrest in the dictatorships throughout the world and that this will eventually allow for LDS missionaries to enter some of those countries. As the missionaries are not currently in any of the countries (nor is the unrest overwith) this is one that we should be able to watch develop. Plus the prophecy that there will be more temples built. Further revelation given is such things as the calling of a new apostle, the calling of missionaries, and other adminstrative things which while important to the Church I doubt anyone outside of the Church cares (excluding some ex-mormons (along with some social mormons that don't understand the doctrine) that are really upset over Prop. 8 and the reaffirming the Churches stance against homosexual behaviors, which they really should have known anyways). I have previously listed some of the other prophecies that have come true as well as some other prophecies that to me seem very specific. I can try finding more but in the end it will almost always be possible to say that "my idol did it" or anyone could have known that or "Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken" or other such things. I am very much of the opinion that signs, prophecies, and miracles will not and should not provide sufficient evidence to convince someone without they themselves asking God to know if it is true. They should, however, provide evidence enough to begin to act and to be willing to test things out. I do know of another precedure that is empirical but it is asking a lot more of people. Also, I am not asking for donations to my church, as I explain: Malachi
1khafra10yYou should look at information gain when evaulating the strength of a prophecy. For instance, "closed countries will become open at some point in the future." Assume this requires a major change in government, then look at the expected rate of major government change--I'm going to make a guess of a 2% chance per year. After 14 years (1976-1990), observing a government change major enough to open a country gives you around 2 bits of information. That means this "prophecy" is approximately as impressive as prophecying correctly that a fair coin will come up heads twice. Even if you read the prophecies with no bias whatsoever, if you're charitable enough to forgive 3 failures for each 1 amazingly correct prediction, the prophet cannot lose.
-1JohnH10ySome of the nations were opened up before 1990. Further, this is not saying one country opened up but many. Perhaps you are not aware that in 1976 it appeared as though communism would last forever and saying not just one but that all of Soviet bloc would not be communist in 14 years was viewed as an impossibility. Where are the failures?
0khafra10yI'm not familiar enough with the publications of the LDS church to list any. Reading the linked speech, "opening new areas" did seem to be the only thing one could fairly call a prediction. Perhaps there are no unfulfilled predictions in the historical records. More likely, perhaps most prophecies had different possibilities for information gain; even that prophecy--1 major government change every 50 years was just a guess, although the single government change in the USSR was the proximate cause of each country's opening. But all I really meant to say is that a prophecy is not a boolean quantity, but a point on a continuum from correctly predicting "the sun will rise tomorrow" to correctly predicting "the sun will not rise tomorrow." Before treating a prophecy as evidence for any particular properties of the prophet or the prophet's sponsor, you should locate it on that continuum.
-3JohnH10yhmm.. looks like it will be multiple comments as it is too long. Some of this I will have already covered in other responses, I hope it is okay if I cover it again. I think the best place to begin is to explain what the purpose of life is and then go from there. That is, there are reasons God operates the way He does and they are directly related to why we are here on Earth. It will seem round about and I am sorry for that, I can't think of a shorter way to answer that would communicate the necessary information. First, Gods goal for us is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man". That is we are here to gain a body (in case anyone is wondering, you have succeeded at that part) and to qualify to return to the presence of God which will allow us to become gods ourselves (Joint-Heirs with Christ). Therefore the goal is to have us obtain the same state of power and knowledge that God has and just as we do not wish to give god-like power to an AI that is then going to screw things up so too God does not wish to do the same to us. Previous to this life we lived in the presence God being His sons and daughters and we knew, as we could see him, saw the power he had, and had sufficient understanding to know, that He was God and what was right. Even in this state of knowledge 1/3 of all of God's children fell, they rebelled against God and were cast out into Hell (for simplicities sake I will use the term Hell, it isn't entirely accurate to do so but the purpose isn't to give you a complete understanding of all the details), forever. Those of us who get born on Earth did not fall but followed what was right when we knew for a surety that it was right. Due to the fact that we did not fall we receive bodies and even after we die will again receive our bodies to no more part from them in the resurrection. This is what is meant by immortality and it is a free gift to all. As to eternal life it is up to us on earth to live according to what we know to
0Estarlio10ySo why has he revealed himself even at a low level of confidence? People supposedly already know right from wrong so that's not it. If his revealing himself helps people to do right rather than wrong more than it imperils them, then in his not revealing himself to me I have lost something. (It's less probable that I will do right and thus I have been imperilled.) If he helps at a particular level of confidence less than he imperils then it doesn't make sense for him to reveal himself to anyone. If they're equal then there's no purpose in it. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Assorted thoughts on the rest: Eh, there's a tension between power and justification. If you take it to the extreme, omnipotence and reason are mutually exclusive criteria. (Outside, perhaps, of an inability to commit logical contradictions, but that doesn't really seem to be involved here.) I'd be more than happy to give symmetrical power to an AI, assuming I had godly powers. The whole issue is that a recursively improving AI might become far more powerful than ourselves. Why do we need to qualify to return if we followed him and didn't fall? Above you said we were here to gain a body and to qualify to return to the presence of God. However, if we become unworthy of returning to God that removes a lot of the reason for being here. Why not be embodied and immediately die? The purpose of life then having been completed. You've already said knowledge is an incredibly high degree of confidence – indeed you've said that it's practically indistinguishable from certainty - which you've in turn tied to proof. I've seen no proof of right and wrong. A feeling certainly isn't proof; asides from anything else I've felt different ways about ethical issues at different points in time. Then you have the cultural variances in preferences and emotions.... Again you've tied knowledge to being a high degree of confidence. If it's easily confused with othe
-2JohnH10yDid you not understand that the peril of knowledge is only if one does not follow what one knows? Knowledge is not something to be feared but to be sought after and this is true of all knowledge. Of course with knowledge comes responsibility to use that knowledge well and this is again true of all types of knowledge. I actually had a discussion on Less Wrong already that covered this. The only purpose of life is not just to gain a body but also to see if we would choose to follow what is right. I do not know what the state of those that die before they are able to make such choices is except that they are saved and exalted. I see I did not explain that this life is for testing to see what we will do without the constant certainty we had before. This is a personal thing, if Him revealing Himself to you helps you to do right rather than wrong more than it imperils you then in His not revealing Himself to you, you would have lost something. The only way it would hurt more than help is if you were to listen and to not follow, just as the only way it would help more than hurt is if you were to listen and to follow. Would you then be willing to entrust that AI with control of some world populated with billions of people? We would need to precisely define omnipotence as it is often understood to be an nonsensical concept. Also, the type of omnipotence that God actually has (as understood by me, a Latter-Day Saint) is nothing like what other Christians claim He has. There are more restrictions then just an inability to commit logical contradictions. If I have said something contradictory then please point it out so I can see if that is what I actually meant and if it is, if that is actually what the doctrine is. This goes back to why God reveals Himself, so that we can find out what is actually right. If you are doing what is right to the best of your understanding and knowledge as it currently is then that is fine. If with a greater understanding things you tho
1CuSithBell10yProviding solid evidence is the only way to reach people who don't believe things without evidence. Some sort of effort in that direction would be expected of someone benevolent towards these people who predicts that this belief would be valuable. That's the way it seems to me at least.
-1JohnH10ySo a prophecy of something happening in the world at large does not count as evidence if it comes true but predicting a coin toss does?
3Nornagest10yA prophecy counts as evidence of privileged information insofar as it generates accurate predictions. Generally it doesn't, by itself, tell us much about the source of that privileged information, but the circumstances surrounding its creation might imply some intelligence worth updating on. On the other hand, essentially all of the prophecies -- regardless of their source -- that I'm aware of are unfulfilled, unverifiable, vague or ambiguous enough to have no predictive value, or outright fraudulent. Now, I'll be happy to update if the Rapture happens on May 21 as the billboards lining my commute keep insisting, but I'm not holding my breath.
0CuSithBell10yYeah, this.
-2JohnH10yTo begin with the Rapture as understood by the evangelicals will never happen. Therefore, it will not happen on May 21. I seriously doubt saying that will increase anyone's estimation of my religion. I have provided specific examples of prophecy that have been fulfilled. I am also able to provide more if it is so desired.
[-][anonymous]12y -1

Ok, slightly off topic. One of my best friends in eighth grade realized that his sister wasn't exactly his sister in our biology class. We were doing punnet squares, with the recessive blue eyes example. His parents both had blue eyes and blond hair, and his sister had brown hair brown eyes. A few decades ago, his mom might have gotten away with it. Deception is bad.