(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)

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.

That'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.


I 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.

2Marion Z.
Sorry for doing such an insane necro here, and I'll delete if asked, but I don't think this is right at all. Broadly, in the real world, I accept the premise "avoiding listening to opposing positions is bad." I do not believe that "if you really don't think you could stand up to debate with a talented missionary, maybe you aren't really an atheist" because I don't think it scales up.  I am a human, I have mechanisms for deciding what I believe that are not based on rationality. I have worked very hard to break and adapt some of those mechanisms to align more with rationality, but they still exist.  An arbitrarily good debater/absurdly charismatic person could absolutely, with time, override all of the work that has been done to make me accept things like logic and evidence as the basis for the world. In truth, I'm not sure that such a charismatic or intelligent person exists on Earth, and if they did I don't know why they would want to convince me of these things, but I can imagine a person who would and could. And I do not think that being able to imagine that person means I should stop believing in what I believe, because I am not a perfect rationalist.  In practice, your answer is almost always right. If Adolf Hitler is charismatic and convincing enough to override your "nazism is bad" belief, you probably didn't hold it very strongly or are not doing rationalism very well, or he is right (just to clarify, he is not). You should expect that he cannot convince you, and if you have a decent reason to read his work you should not avoid it for fear of being convinced. But the argument doesn't generalize 100% of the time, is all I'm saying
5David Althaus
( 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?
Actually, 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.)
I know your comment is quite old, but I just wanted to say that this was my favorite comment on LW so far.
However, isn't this the question we want to know the answer to? Will rationalism not answer it, nor even allow us to ask it?
also 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 da
Treat 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.
You've never heard of the ad hominem fallacy, I take it?
The 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.
Discounting 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.)
What 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.)
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.
I 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.
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 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.
Your 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.

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)

Not 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).
I 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.
Which works for me. I am glad you are willing to accept the question.

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.

Right. 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.
The 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.
Of 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.
When 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.
I 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.
The 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.
There 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?

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.

Yes, 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.
I'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).

Personally 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.
I 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.
human 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?
I 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.
i 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?
Pretty doubtful, especially controlling for IQ and education...

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).


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 "I suck." That's no way to live.

Religion can work very well for people who can compartmentalize, or not take it too seriously. Most religious people treat it as a pleasant tradition and an impetus to do right, and that's pretty much okay in my book. Not everyone is a big fan of consistency the way I am -- I have a rather black-and-white personality. But if you are a stickler for consistency then religion will break you and terrify you, and actually prevent you from living well.

You do her no harm if you're her "atheist auntie." If she stays a Mormon she'll just be a cosmopolitan one who can say "some of my b... (read more)

In 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.

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)

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

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 mount, until one of the following must happen:

  • one gives up on Mormonism,
  • one gives up on Worldly Things,
  • one learns to not be bothered by contradictions. (am I missing any possiblilities?)

I claim that giving up on the Extra-Mormon world does make one much less happy, and I just can't imagine being happy in a life of contradictions... but maybe that's just me?

Anyway, for the sake of their happiness, I want my children to have the whole world open to them, and I hope Wednesday will have the same.

what contradictions?
Wow... 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.

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"

What 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?
Innate 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.

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.

A 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.
My pet peeve is when people equate living for a long time with living forever or immortality. Pet peeves are like opinions, everybody has one.
Not 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.

Stephanie 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 peop... (read more)

I 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.
So... have you provided her with the arguments?
She 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.
That'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?
I would say that a religious person dismissing cryonics is at least an order of magnitude more likely than the scenario you proposed.
I 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)

For 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.

I 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.

What 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.)
Wouldn'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.

As a member of the aforementioned subgroup, I endorse this representation. Well said.
Impressed 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.
huh, didn't know that, thanks =)
It'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?
4Paul Crowley
Er, 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?
Hence 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.
1Paul Crowley
Is 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?
I 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 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)

Do 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.)
Do 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.
Even 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.
I 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.
I 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".
I'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.
It'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.
I 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.
By 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."
Except 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.
What, 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.)
This 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.
No, 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.
Not 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.
If 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.
but 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.
4Paul Crowley
And 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.
I 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.
That 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.
From 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.
fixed =)
Beyond 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.
I 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".

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)

What 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.)
"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.).
Yes, 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.)
Really? 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.)
I 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.
I 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.

I 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.

Fair. 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."
I 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!)
Yes, so I guess what I'm saying is that I also don't make a strong distinction between children and adults.
I'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.)
I'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.
You 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.
One 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.)
With 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 :-).
That doesn't feel particularly tongue-twisty to me, for a word of that length. Try “red lorry, yellow lorry”. :-)
Oh yes, there are other worse things of similar length. I confess that I chose that example partly because I like the word.
I 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.

It's unlikely that Wednesday would - without deconversion - think that having more open atheists wandering around would be a good thing in and of itself.
Funny 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.
It'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.

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)

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: http://www.atheismresource.com/2012/sex-god-a-new-and-fascinating-book-by-darrel-ray

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.

That'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.
The 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.
That seems to assume that people always do what would make them less miserable, even if they don't know that to be the case.
I 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.

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.

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)


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.

Maybe there are implementable and surveyable things we can do to become more welcoming?
From 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.
I 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.
But 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.
Ooh, 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. =\
If they disappear, how do you know it's because they understand and not because they don't understand and don't care anymore?
That'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.
I 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.
I 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?
Yes, 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)

It is my suspicion that "agnostic" may be too generous a word for someone who accepts a convenient religion because she doesn't care. "Apatheist"?
Do you dislike this version of Wednesday? Certain words ("too generous", "convenient", "doesn't care") make me feel like you're angry with her.
Hmm. 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.

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.

Less 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.
OK, 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.
Nobody 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.
What 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?
They shouldn't, if your goal is to be right - my point is that Wednesday's goal does not necessarily have to be being right.
If that is your point, then I don't see what work the adoption analogy is doing.
I 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?

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.

After 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.
OK, 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.
Yes, 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.
Yeah, 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.
I 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.
That'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.
You 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.
Huh? The algorithm doesn't stop, the meta-meta-goal has to be fixed at some point.
Can 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.
For 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.

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)


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)

I 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.
IAWYC, 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.
On 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.
I 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?
I 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.

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.


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)

It 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?
Miracles 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.
Question: 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?
A 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.
I'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).
Okay. Could you instead share why exactly you think your experiences would be dismissed, and why you think these reasons are incorrect?
See JoshuaZ's comment below for exactly why I think my experiences would be dismissed.
He 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?
There 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 very little to do with Mormonism, but was us