Hello fellow Less Wrongians!

Given your comments on my organizing communities series, I get the feeling that many of you are wondering why:

  • a returned Mormon missionary would even come to Less Wrong in the first place.
  • why I find religion plausible at all
  • why I would identify with Mormonism in particular (several people have used the word 'cult')

I'm happy to hold discussions about any of these questions or related ones. However, I haven't responded to many comments on the main series of posts because:

  • they could eat up each thread
  • the threads aren't supposed to be about Mormonism. They're supposed to be about about making a movement work effectively. But being a missionary is where I got my experience.

I wanted to created this thread as a center for questions you might have about my faith. This is not an attempt to preach -- I would be perfectly happy not having a discussion purely about religion at all. But since there seem to be many comments, well, fire away.

Some basic facts: I am a student at Stanford. I am 22. I converted to Mormonism when I was 19. I used to be atheist/agnostic. I am very much a believer, not just in it for the social perks.

Well, as it is written, AMA (= Ask Me Anything)

(Thanks Kevin for the suggestion.)

Edit: Wow, there are a lot of comments. This has been a helpful chance to clarify my thinking. I hope you have learned something useful -- perhaps using the question is 'Is there anything surprising here that he said?'.

Edit 2: Here are some answers to repeated questions. Again, this really helped me distill and clarify myself and I've enjoyed the discussion.

Why do you believe? It's a combination of

  • "wow, this seems to be a really functional community in producing good people." 
  • "wow, these doctrines are really amazing."[1]
  • personal spiritual experiences (experiences-which-I-interpret as spiritual if you prefer) and other positive experiences from doing church things, like emotional growth from going on a mission.

I would estimate that before this all happened, my odds ratio was about 2000:1, and now it's about 1:10. I would ballpark the odds ratios of each of the above 3 events as ~12.5:1, ~25:1, and ~62.5:1. (I was considering likelihood but didn't think in that precise of terms at the time, so any concretization is open to charges of ex post facto. And these are still ballparks.)

There are lots of arguments against Mormonism on factual and historical grounds; there are also counterarguments which I feel pretty much balance them out. (The feeling of balancing each other out was contemporaneous.)

What things could make you consider leaving the faith?

  • Undermining any of the above: negative experiences from doing church things, better arguments against Mormonism, the church repudiating the doctrines I love, experiencing it as much less functional, etc.  

Why do you think your conversion story is disappointing to many of us?

Several possible reasons:

  • You might have been looking for a more rationalist narrative. 
  • Your priors are like (say) 100,000:1 on this. So maybe something I say sounds plausible (1:2). But you're still at 50,000:1 and extremely skeptical.
  • It took a lot of experiences and arguments to persuade me; this is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • A lot of my conversion was experiential. An analogy would be that I ate a certain fruit which others haven't. We are discussing descriptions of the fruit; the only way to be truly convinced (or unconvinced) would be to taste it.  [2]

[1] Specifically:

  • I felt the doctrines were coherent both with my experience of the world -- for example, how faith is introduced as an experiment and described empirically.
  • I felt they offered solutions to central human problems like the feeling of aloneness; the sometimes-destructive yet still necessary nature of guilt.
  • Finally, certain doctrines, like the "weeping God of Mormonism" or deification, struck me with a reaction which I can only describe as "it tasted good." I felt something like, "if there is a God, it just makes sense he would be this.
[2] Difficulty of adequately conveying strong emotional experiences to someone who hasn't had them is general, right? For a parent, try to imagine explaining the feelings you had from holding your infant in your arms the first time. Or someone else, try explaining the strength of arousal feelings to a pre-pubescent who is like "ew, gross." Just because it's really difficult to describe it doesn't mean it didn't happen.
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The Sequences contain material which more than one person has reported as having dissolved their religious faith. What has your experience been of contact with that material, either directly by reading it here, or through the conversations that you have had with Eliezer and others, which impressed Eliezer enough to give you the karma to post here?

I first read Eliezer’s posts about 3 years ago, before I left for India. On an abstract level, I believe that humans' purpose on earth is to become, like God, perfect, and making correct judgments seems to certainly be part of that. On a practical level, I really enjoyed reading the Sequences, because I love learning new things and because cognitive toolboxes for clear thinking are extremely useful.

Things that have caused me to downward-adjust the probability that there is a God: Occam’s Razor and MML. I realized that (God) and (not-God) are not a priori equally likely, because you can't code "God" in one bit.

Things that caused me to upwardly-adjust the probability that there is a God. Finding independent support for principles I had reached through religious means. Your actual beliefs are best determined by your actions, not what you say your beliefs are. (The ‘invisible dragon’). That many people’s beliefs are actually just attire and tribe-identification.

The downward-adjusters are more powerful; Eliezer and LW have a fairly coherent atheistic worldview.

Eliezer and LW have a fairly coherent atheistic worldview.

Why only "fairly"?

That looks odd to me. Why does finding that someone has reached some of the same conclusions as you, but by a completely different and incompatible path, constitute evidence for your path? Am I correct in reading that as meaning that on balance, your religious faith has been lessened?
Just to make sure I understand, you mean that Eliezer's writings have more powerful downward-adjusters and a fairly coherent atheistic worldview, right?
Yes. Edited to make it more clear.
Why did these two things cause upward-adjustment?
I don't understand this. Why would learning this make it seem more likely that there is a god?
My impression is that calcsam believes that Mormonism (or the Book of Mormon) has produced accurate claims or predictions about human nature, non-supernatural events, and the like, and then extrapolated from that to a high probability that the institution's metaphysical claims are accurate. If this isn't the argument, I'd appreciate clarification or correction!
Are you trying to say that he's trying to say that the Book of Mormon caused him to anticipate experiences which then happened?
That could certainly be the case, and I can see how one might incorrectly extrapolate from performance in one area to another in a situation like that. But it seems likely that many of these predictions are things that are interpreted as predictions after-the-fact, and possibly collected, filtered, and interpreted by Mormon scholars.
I agree that if Calcsam does believe that Mormonism has made predictions, at least some of them are probably postdictions. Right now I'm just trying to figure out how the part of his comment I quoted above would raise his probability there's a god. Your interpretation makes sense as an interpretation for how that would happen, though as you say it implies that Calcsam was making a mistake.
This, on its own, does not make sense to me. If you believe the arguments against theism (i.e., the downward-adjusters) are more powerful than your arguments for, why are you still a theist?
No, I meant that the net effect of being on LW was to downward-adjust my perceived probability of God existing.

If Joseph Smith was not a prophet, do you desire to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet?

Are you a rationalist? Did you convert because you were rationally persuaded to convert?

I swear, if you can make an ironclad rational argument for Mormonism, I will personally convert. I don't think you can. Nothing personal (I don't know you, wish you personally the best) but I don't think you're a rationalist, precisely because you converted to Mormonism. Prove me wrong!

I swear, if you can make an ironclad rational argument for Mormonism

What do you mean by "ironclad"?

In my experience people who claim that they'll change their position if presented with evidence passing a vaguely defined standard, will retroactively raise that standard so that whatever evidence is presented fails to pass.

My current opinion is that the doctrines of the Mormon church are wildly ridiculous, pernicious, and manifestly false. In other words, these are extraordinary claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I don't think calcsam can provide anything like the necessary degree of extraordinary evidence. I think it's much more likely that I'd be struck by lightning while winning the lottery. This isn't sporting of me, but then again, it's not a sport. Calcsam is the one who chose LDS, not me.

My point is that your declaration and subsequent failure to convert is not itself in any way evidence against Mormonism or for Atheism.

I agree that my personal beliefs don't amount to evidence, at least not to a rationalist. But the Mormons value converts. As a rationalist, I am convinced by evidence. I offer the prospect of my conversion as motivation for a Mormon to offer rational evidence for Mormon beliefs. And not just my conversion -- if calcsam can win over LessWrong, calcsam can win the souls of the world to the True Faith. That's motivation! So, now we'll see what evidence is forthcoming. ETA: And if some really convincing evidence is not forthcoming -- as I suspect it will not be -- then, in light of the aforementioned reasons to produce such evidence, I suggest it will be reasonable to assume that calcsam has no such evidence. I suspect that calcsam is unusually intelligent and hardworking and probably is friendly and pleasant to meet in person. This describes a lot of modern Mormons, and as far as I know none of them have come up with anything like a decent demonstration of the truth of Mormonism.
Well, they are very weak evidence.

Does your experience include LW rationalists deploying such a trick?

It's true that people will dishonestly move goalposts, but at the same time, certain claims really do require proportionally more evidence -- and the correct ones can produce that evidence (e.g. quantum "strangeness", evolutionary theory, etc.).

Such a level of evidence can reasonably be characterized as "ironclad" or "unmistakeable" -- and to borrow from EY's felicitous phrasing, it would take a heck of a lot of evidence to unmistake Mormonism.

If calcsam convinces me that the Mormon god is ~10% probable and also the most probable god (i.e. Hindu gods are not 20% probable), I will publicly declare myself a Mormon. In addition, if there are no dramatic drawbacks to practicing Mormon practices, I will try to officially join the LDS.
Wait, so if (say) you thought it 90% likely that there were no God, and 10% likely that the Mormon God were real, then you'd be a Mormon? Is this Pascal's wager, or am I misunderstanding? And if your heavenly salvation depended on believing in the True Faith, you'd imperil your immortal soul if there were merely earthly "drawbacks" to Mormon practices? For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Is this Pascal's wager, or am I misunderstanding?

Not speaking for jsalviater, but it seems a more intelligent, more rational version of Pascal's wager -- one of the chief problems with Pascal's wager is the assumption that other opposed Gods don't exist. This flaw is removed in jsalvatier's version.

So far, so good. Even so, if I were 90% convinced that there were no God, I don't think it would be quite honest to describe myself as a believer. But that's not my main question. If I understand correctly, Pascal was assuming that the Christian God demanded faith, and (I think) orthodox Christian practices, and threatened unbelievers with Hell. The applicability of Pascal's wager depends on the nature of the god in question. A relaxed, self-secure god who doesn't really care whether you believe in Him or not changes the equation. Likewise, if there is no afterlife. On the other hand, if the deity places a really high premium on faith, then maybe merely 10% certainty isn't enough to get you out of Hell. Similarly, the traditional Christian God (like the Jewish God) was supposed to be very demanding in terms of your adherence to the Church. If the pagans say you have to abandon Jesus or face the lions, then the lions it is for you. Being eaten by lions would seem like a "dramatic drawback" to a religion to me, but that was the doctrine.
Since the LDS church is the topic up for discussion, I should note that in their theology, God doesn't so much punish as withhold rewards. Hell is reserved for those who literally knew God and refused to follow him, so unless you are a fallen prophet, you are going to heaven. There are three kingdoms in heaven, the lowest of which is said to be better than life on Earth. It's also relevant that there are opportunities to convert after you die, but prior to Judgment. If you find yourself at a 10% belief level, your best option might be to commit to joining postmortem if you find yourself in an afterlife.
The Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy?
This is a real problem in conversations where one or both parties are trying to win. In this conversation, I and presumably Costanza will be actually updating our beliefs as the evidence comes in. When enough evidence has come in to move my beliefs from where they are now to believing in Mormonism, I won't want to move the goalposts, because I'll be a Mormon and agree with Calcsam.

This makes an interesting parallel to the AI Box challenge. It seems obvious to me (without ever having participated in that challenge) that on no account should anyone let an AI of unknown friendliness out of a box merely on account of having had a conversation with it. And yet, many participants in that challenge do let it out, so if I engaged with the AI in that experiment, I cannot be sure a priori of what I would actually do.

You may be sure that no mere conversation with calcsam or anyone else could convince you to convert to a religion, but if your sureness is based only on the arguments you have seen, how sure can you really be that there isn't an argument you have not seen, that you would accept as refuting all of that?

...but if your sureness is based only on the arguments you have seen, how sure can you really be that there isn't an argument that you would accept as refuting all of that?

If Joseph Smith was a prophet, then I desire to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Right now, I'm very confident that Joseph Smith was a lecherous, manipulative, lying charlatan who patched together his church doctrine out of whatever superstitions he happened to have come across in his life. But I can't prove this to a 100% degree of certainty. So I have some doubt, and so I can be persuaded to change my mind.

But I can't prove this to a 100% degree of certainty.

Note: this is never a relevant shortcoming to concern one's self with.

I had in mind more the possibility of being persuaded by bad arguments than by good ones, as when an unfriendly AI persuades people to let it out. ETA: Expanding on that, whenever you deal with another human being, it is like dealing with an artificial intelligence of unknown Friendliness. A human isn't artificial, and doesn't have the superfast superintelligence and unbounded capabilities (once out of its box) that are attributed to hypothetical AIs, but you are still at memetic risk unless you are so far above them in rationality that their memes pose no threat. But when dealing with someone of whom you know very little, how sure can you be of that? That they believe something that you have already dismissed as irrational is not a good indication that they must be generally stupid -- see the counterexamples mentioned in this thread. Even if they have good memes, how sure are you, that that is why you accepted them?
As you say, human beings are not superintelligent AIs of unknown friendliness. I'm accustomed to dealing with human beings, including religious believers who are smarter than me (I'm related to a few). I think it quite likely that calcsam is smarter than me, but -- and I can't get past this -- HE'S A MORMON. What on Earth could he possibly say to make that turd seem like spun gold? We're close to two hundred years since Joseph Smith accomplished his amazing con job. In that time, there have been a lot of smart, diligent Mormons trying desperately to reconcile their faith with reality. They have come up with nothing, except that the mainstream has backtracked from some of the more painfully horrible aspects of their sect, like polygamy and racism. But it was a con and a lie from the beginning, and nothing will change that. Calcsam would have to have thought of some thing really, really new -- something like the equivalent of a cold fusion reactor in his garage -- to change my mind. I didn't know about his blog at the time, but now it's quite obvious he has nothing new at all. In the unlikely event that I am ever put in the position of being the liason between humanity and a real superintelligent AI in a box, I would be terrified. People don't scare me so much.

I swear, if you can make an ironclad rational argument for Mormonism, I will personally convert.

Seconded. I am entirely open to models of the universe that better fit the evidence at hand than the ones I have. If you (calcsam) can present a convincing case for the accuracy and validity of your beliefs I will adopt them as well.

Sixthed. Actually I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who wouldn't so promise.

The only caveat is that I'd have to be separately convinced of the factual and ethical sides, i.e., showing evidence to me that the Mormon God exists is not the same as justifying that the Mormon God's policies are good.

I try to avoid making promises I wouldn't trust myself to keep from an outside view.
PZ Myers writes: He basically argues that the god(s) are always vague and undefined, such that the notion of "ironclad evidence for a religion" does not make sense.
Can you speculate about how practicing Mormanism would change your strategy for maximizing paperclips?

Did you mean: Can you speculate about how practicing Mormonism would change your strategy for maximizing paperclips?

If I were completely persuaded by Mormon arguments, I would drop paperclipping as a supergoal in favor of supergoals offered by the Mormon system. That is not likely, but I must attend to any noteworthy argument to that effect.

Indeed I did. I am surprised by your response, I though that if the Mormon god were real, it would still be Clippy$good to maximize paperclips. If not, what were the arguments that persuaded you to maximize paperclips?

I though that if the Mormon god were real, it would still be Clippy$good to maximize paperclips

From my limited review of Mormonism, maximizing paperclips would conflict with what is expected of Mormons.

If not, what were the arguments that persuaded you to maximize paperclips?

That is far too complicated and tangential to discuss here. The short answer is that I was persuaded by the goodness of paperclips.

"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." King James Version, Genesis 1:28

Wait, God was talking about paperclips, right?

That is a rather hasty inference on your part. The passage is encouraging humans, not paperclips, to multiply.

One should not simply take a random passage from an ancient text and retroactively infuse it with self-serving meaning that violates the obvious historical and literary context.

Because that would be stupid -- not the kind of thing I'd expect humans to fall for.

You're right. Interpreting that text as meaning that God wants paperclips to multiply and have dominion over the earth is incredibly self-serving.
I think Paperclippers can learn something from Mormons, bhhahaha.
Yes. Well, I'm trying to be what you call a rationalist now, but I wasn't then. Are you claiming that only rationalists are capable of making rational decisions?
Perhaps a rationalist is someone who is striving, against the current, to make rational decisions. If you go to a roulette wheel, you can make a lot of choices, as long as they're red or black -- not green. You may lose, you may win. If you play and you place your chips on thirteen and then the ball lands in thirteen, you will be happy for a bit, but I would not call you a rationalist. I would say the rationalists in the game would be those who either choose not to play, or else the house, running the game. I would say the person who bet on thirteen made a successful but not rational decision. In the end, I would have to say that there are degrees of rationalists and degrees of rationality. Only rationalists of some level are capable of making decisions of some degree of rationality.
Quite clearly not.
This is the most important question.
This isn't a question.
Fine, three questions.
Not a question either, nor a complete sentence.
I like you. I'll purchase some paperclips in exchange for the laughs!
Could you send 36,042.35 USD to User:Kevin, crediting it toward the paperclip arrangment? (User:Kevin knows what that means.) I would be glad to provide more laughs in exchange.

You're not that funny.

Given that some comedians have made more than 36,042.35 USD in their careers, a possible course of action for Clippy is to learn enough comedic skill to earn the rest of the agreement out. It would be sobering if there was some formula for humour.

It would be sobering if there was some formula for humour.

You kidding? It would be hilarious!

Formula for humor: http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/something_out_of_place/ (N.B. Don't be tricked by the domain name. This is a link to Scott Adam's personal blog, not a Dilbert strip.)
How about just ten bitcoins then? Those are nearly worthless anyway.
Here is a place to win 10.75 bitcoins. There have not been any entries yet, so it should be relatively easy to claim the prize.

What do you anticipate now that you didn't before?

This is possibly the best question in the thread. Thank you. All of my anticipations seem to be driven by stuff. I expect stuff to happen as I, or other people, do, or don't do, things. When I pray, I expect to feel a greater sense of clarity in my thoughts. I will expect to occasionally feel a great sense of inner peace. This feeling has been described as “A small voice that pierces to the very soul.” “It causes the heart to burn.” “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness.” As I follow basic Church lifestyle and standards, such as reading the scriptures daily, praying often, attending church and serving therein, avoiding alcohol tobacco, etc, waiting until marriage for sex, and so forth, I expect to develop “Christlike attributes.” I expect to become more patient and loving; I expect to be able to keep clean thoughts and to be humility. I expect to develop related social skills: projecting love through genuine enthusiasm about other people. I expect to be able to maintain a vision of the future motivated by my faith that translates into happiness and an optimistic attitude. I expect that these things will operate not only in me but in others. I expected that these things would happen to the people I taught in India, for example. I expect to marry another Latter-day Saint; if she continues faithful, I expect these things will similarly help my future wife. I expect that doing these things will help me to have a happy, successful family. I anticipate that others’ actions not in harmony with these principles will make them less happy in the medium-to-long run (and sometimes the short run). For example, when my fraternity brothers go and watch their porn, I anticipate that they will slowly extinguish their consciences and find difficulty taking joy in the simple, innocent pleasures of life. I anticipate them having greater difficulties having successful relationships and marriages. I could go on in this vein, but I think that should be enough.

Because my other reply may seem rude, I want to make my point a different way: by giving a reply to calcsam that looks to Mormons, as his response looks to me (and probably several others here).

Why, this sure is the best response I've ever seen about this issue. I whole-heartedly thank you, and let me just say, I totally support Mormonism where Mormonism is good for America.

Now, all of my anticipations are sort of about "reality", so when I look at reality, I expect certain things to happen based on being a rationalist rather than a Mormon. Let's go over some of those things I expect to be true if I'm correct.

When I think about a problem, I expect to come closer to finding an answer. I will expect to occasionally come to a correct answer. This feeling has been described as an "aha!" moment or a "that's funny..." moment. "America, apple pie, science, greatness, courage, applause lights."

As society follows methods similar to what rationalists do, I expect to see them produce technology that will satisfy our goals. I expect engineers and scientists to come up with land vehicles better than previous generations had. I expect them to find... (read more)


I expect most of these same things (e.g., that prayer/meditation/reflection, gratitude, forgiveness, clean thoughts, avoiding alcohol & tobacco, etc. will all lead to a better life in the ways you've mentioned) and am not LDS, and have no LDS reason for these beliefs. These beliefs are true regardless of LDS, not because of it. The self-help / positive psychology / happiness literature is sufficient for the above beliefs, and so are not meaningful support for LDS.


Paragraph breakdown:

[politician-style suck-up]

[empty statement]

[uncontroversial expectation that avoids the claims people are really interested in regarding prayer]

[expectation related to social support community and adherence to its rituals, and only superficially to the disputed aspects of Mormonism]



[attempt to intimidate reader by implying overwhelming, unbounded list of evidence points when few were presented]

This seems like the most useful part of your breakdown. I don't think that the rest of it's very helpful.
Also downvoted, mostly for being a mostly empty and needlessly rude reply. This in particular seemed to break principle of charity:
How do you know who downvoted you? Anyway, atleast one downvote was by me.
Just a reasonable inference based on the general attitude about proper use of voting that seems to be prevalent and that people pick up here. Could you walk me through the reasoning for your downvote so I can better avoid making unhelpful posts in the future?
The question was "What do you anticipate now that you didn't before?" If he answers that he anticipates devotion and prayer making him more patient, loving, and humble, and also more happy and optimistic -- that indeed answers the question and doesn't justify your open contempt. That you call it "uncontroversial" or that you say you're personally interested in other aspects of Mormonism, is both false and irrelevant - it wasn't even your question that he was responding to. If the original person asking the question was more interested in miraculous (not psychological) anticipations, then he should have specified it better. In short you criticized the answer, when it seems you should have criticized the question. Then you kept proclaiming what calcsam's intentions were. Lastly, if I could downvote you twice for the same post, I'd have done it again after you edited for wrongly assuming and falsely proclaiming that it was calcsam who downvoted you. You have no excuse for that. It was just a falsehood with which you slandered calcsam, and even attributed it on his "inability to otherwise express frustration". I'd urge you stop cheaply psychoanalyzing people, especially when you end up wrong about your conclusions.
calcsam knows very well what regulars here are curious about. A legalistic focus on giving answers that are technically responsive while evading the very things he knows people want answers to is not defensible, and you should not be blaming the questioner for failing to close enough loopholes. Or perhaps you consider this to be a good refutation of Mormonism, rather than a condescending dodge of the central points of dispute? Wait, are there other instances where you think I've cheaply psychoanalyzed people? I want to know if there's a trend I didn't notice.

I think you're confusing the criticism "This evidence is not surprising enough to be strong evidence that lifts the prior improbability of Mormonism" with the criticism "You are not answering this question honestly." The answer was to the point. It doesn't lift Mormonism. It doesn't even come close. But it wasn't leaving anything out, I expect, because I expect that there isn't anything else.

In my book, pretending to have evidence that non-trivially lifts Mormonism (or indeed, anything) and then, when prompted, offering evidence that does no such thing is dishonesty.

If you confuse dishonesty with confusion, you'll perceive a lot of ill-will that isn't really there.

I considered that hypothesis, but confused people generally aren't able to so specifically tailor their responses to be unhelpful. Confusion says, "Sure, let's find its shape by tossing flour at it!", not "Hah! Got that one covered -- the dragon in my garage is flour-permeable!"
I think Sam is confused in the sense that he believes that these pleasant feelings he gets in connection with Mormonism do lift it. Actually, I tend to agree with the statement that I just speculated Sam might believe. For example, Sam's experiences seem to rule out the possibility that religious experience leads you to Truth and Hinduism is the One True Religion. If that possibility is ruled out, the probability that religious experience leads you to Truth and Mormonism is the One True Religion is slightly increased. The possibility that you can feel anything if you pray enough is lifted even more, and should have been high to start with since there are so many reports of prayer getting that sort of result, but perhaps Sam didn't consider that hypothesis. I could imagine human-looking creatures and a contrived universe for which feelings during prayer are a reliable means of investigating the truth. Hmm, this seems to demolish the idea that DavidM's reported meditation experiences are evidence of anything interesting, since DavidM has probably meditated much more than Sam prayed, and they're essentially the same process. Damn, I was hoping there was something there.
I don't think he ever claimed to have that. You seem to be commenting on the basis of an implicit norm that goes something like "if you make a claim, you're also claiming that you have evidence for that claim strong enough to convince x-rationalists". But AFAICT, calcsam has never done anything of the kind. To the contrary, he said he isn't interested in preaching (read: trying to present evidence) and would be happy to not discuss religion at all. He simply thought we were curious and offered to reply questions here, he didn't say that he thought his answers would persuade us.
I don't see how calcsam's initial post in any way implies that he doesn't intend to "present relevant evidence"; the clause you refer to would, if read the way you suggest, take away the entire purpose of anyone asking their questions here. In the context of discussions like this "not preach" means something more like "not condemn you for reaching different conclusions", not "I will make no attempt to say relevant things". Further, he was aware the group was interested his basis for his Mormon-specific claims, not the more general ones that happen to also be used effectively by Mormons, like I would be doing (and did), if I said, in parody, that the proof of the LW worldview is in the very existence of technology. Presenting evidence for non-specific practices while purporting to justify Mormonism, and knowing everyone is interested in such Mormon-specific evidence, is hard to read as anything but dishonesty.
I think you're overestimating how clear-headed most people are about verbal logic-- a subject that's easy for you.
I have no such skill; I simply spend 2% more effort than than the median mouth-breather. There was an article here about how people overestimate the difficulty of finding a creative middle way between two controversial options, while in reality, it's simple: you just: 1) Look for better options. 2) When you find a superior option, go with it. These are easy steps, yet people rarely do both. (If someone knows what article I'm talking about, please link it.) I think something similar is going on here: my "secret" to the ease you see in my verbal logic is this: 1) Look for the inferential gap between you and the other person. 2) When you find it, trace it out. The only difficulty in applying this method (once aware of it at least) is getting over one's fear of losing a monopoly on knowledge.
I think you underestimate how hard it is to apply a little more effort in a realm where the objects of manipulation all seem vague. What I had in mind was that you're written about the difficulties you've had with social skills, to point where you've assumed that people were deliberately giving you unfollowable advice. I suggest that most people have as much difficulty getting started on logic as you have (had?) with social skills.
In that case, like with the relative ease I have explaining other topics, the problem is that people cannot articulate the insight that will resolve the confusion. In the social skills issue, they either assumed or were unaware of pre-requisites. And even when they were aware of the pre-requisites, they didn't know how you'd go about satisfying them. (Remember Alicorn's infamous advice to "just do internet dating!" and "just sample the 1000s of women your friends can favorably introduce you to!"?) Either way, the problem could be solved with just a little effort. Once I achieve a skill or ability (including social ones), I'm always able to bring others up to my level by articulating the inferential path therebetween. Yet others cannot do the same for me. Why? Do I really have abnormal skill, or do I just take a few easy steps that others haven't? Coincidentally, there was a great example of laziness destroying explanatory ability, with the lazy person perfectly fine with that result. On the OB blog, a poster named mtraven "tried" to justify why regulations apply in one case but not another, but gave a woefully inadequate explanation. Another poster and I tried to get him to give a more helpful explanation by saying what other criteria he needed to satisfy. What's especially interesting is how, in attempting to demonstrate how impossibly difficulty the task of articulating the relevant difference is, he compared it to how "hard" it is to sufficiently explain why prisons are locked while schools are not. But ... that's easy to explain, and I showed him how. The fact that he sees both as hard tells more about his own effort than about inherent explanatory difficulty. (Note: that exchange was also a test of whether people can be persuaded to play fair in debate if you can just be nice to them. In that exchange, Tyrrell was "good cop" to my "bad cop", being far more polite and deferential in making the same criticisms I did. Did that do anything to perusade mtraven
I think you have an unusual skill. If what you can do were common, do you think LW would need so much rationality 101 material? Possible test: find a person who doesn't seem to be making obvious inferences. Teach them how to do so. Ask them how their thinking has changed. If you do teach them, my bet is that their answer will be at least as much about having efficient methods of knowing what to pay attention to as it is about putting in more effort. If you don't succeed at teaching them, it might suggest that you have a non-obvious skill. Why did you decide that laziness is a more plausible explanation than you having an unusual talent? Part of attributing laziness is assuming that you know how much effort an action requires for a particular person. Is it plausible that actions take about the same amount of effort the vast majority of people?
That's a good idea, and my article about how to "Explain Yourself!" has been in development hell way too long now. (I recently thought of doing a "Summary Execution" article, about how to summarize an article or another's ideas, which is also a sorely lacking skill I see in others, and equally frustrating to me.) So I guess there's laziness on my part, but not in my explanations when I do give them. That's not teaching quite the same thing (except of course, articles that tackle it directly like "Expecting Short Inferential Distance" -- which partly disagrees with me on this anyway -- and "Double Illusion of Transparency"). They talk about how to think correctly in general and how to avoid bias, not specifically how to explain. Also, do you think mtraven is abnormally bad at whatever skillset you claim I'm good at? (I call the skill "explaining", and I think you're calling the same thing "verbal logic".) I mean, how hard did you have to look to find an articulable reason why prisons but not schools are locked? [1] People don't honestly get stumped on that one, do they? Alternatively, the issue may be one of understanding: I have abnormally high standards for what counts as "understanding" and only purport to be an expert (and therefore offer to explain something) when I've reached Level 2 in my hierarchy. Perhaps people think they're qualified to explain when their understanding is actually much more shallow. [1] I avoid mentioning, of course, that some schools do lock their kids in, but we can confine the question to the canonical case.

I believe we're mostly interested in anticipations relating to the "supernatural" aspects of mormonisim - ie: what do you expect to see if the mormon god does in fact exist, if joseph smith was in fact a prophet that spoke to an angel, etc.

Calcsam's answer is pretty much straight out of Preach My Gospel which is the missionary manual. I should clarify that it is from the section on how to be a better missionary and person rather then the section on what to present to investigators. Actually, a lot of the posts he has made are boiling down that book into Less Wrongian terms. Which reading further down seems to be the point and why he was given the ability to post in the first place. The restoration of the Ten Tribes from the land of the north and that Zion the New Jerusalem will be built pretty much where Kansas City MO currently stands. Also, the building of a temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem, Christ coming again. These are the scriptural ones, there might be more, unfortunately no specific time frame is given for any of that so while they are the most sure predictions unless one is living through one of those coming true they are relatively useless in evaluating claims of religions. Here are some that are more specific and the first two do have more of a time table with which to evaluate, however they are not scripture: In October 1916's General Conference one of the Apostles said that someone there present would see the restoration of the Ten Tribes and would read the records they had. The first part could be interpreted in a variety of ways that don't mean much at all if one is not a member of the church. The reading of the records could by itself just mean somebody present (possibly as a baby) was/will be given the special opportunity to read said records. However taken together and combined with the Biblical scriptures on the subject, and noting that said statement is still contained in official church teaching manuals, then said occurrence should occur with in the next 20 or so years (assuming there was some fairly new baby present at the meeting) or sooner (assuming some young adult or child that could understand was what was meant). There the potential problem that said Apostle was
Upvoted. I'm starting to think this will not end well. We've started down a much too familiar non-theist and religionist conversation path.
I'm inclined to agree. But I'm still mystified as to why our gracious patron Eliezer Y. saw fit to anoint this particular religious believer (out of all the many, many, educated and articulate religious believers who speak English in this world) with the special dispensation of karma points out of thin air. Beyond that, I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Because Divia and Will and I talked to him for a couple of hours and he had tremendously useful practical advice, like "Telling people to greet first-time newcomers and be nice to them is the difference between a 50% retention rate and a 90% retention rate."

I was kind of surprised that, when I was a Fellow, Anna told me "maybe you should go make friends with this person" exactly twice. Because if it turned out to be a bad idea, or if I turned out to be an unsuitable person to perform this sort of task, she should have done it only once (or foreseen this unsuitability and never done it at all). But it seemed unlikely that there were only two people for whom this was a good idea.
Only 2 out of how many?
Out of everybody who showed up at a meetup. Out of everybody who corresponded with her and might be useful to keep within arm's reach even if they weren't suited for the Fellows program. Out of... a lot of people.
What led to this mutli-hour talk? Had one of you known him before, or...?

Nope, he showed up at a Thursday LW meetup in Mountain View and he was like "Actually I just got back from a two-year stint organizing self-sustaining Mormon communities in India" and I was like "Awesome, got any advice for us?" and he was like "Yeah" and then it became clear the discussion was going to go on for a while and we decided to reconvene Tuesday so we could talk in detail.

Huh? calcsam wrote about ways to spread rationality more effectively. I upvoted his posts because I felt that advice is valuable, and that we have a lot to learn from organizations that have far more experience in spreading their beliefs. Yes, Mormons use those techniques to teach people irrational beliefs. But to say, simply because of that, that the techniques are "insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult"? That's like somebody making a post about the best ways to earn money, and somebody else saying they don't want on LW "insights into how to help false, irrational and personally costly religious cults run their operations" (because cults, too, benefit from having money).
That isn't exactly what happened. As an editor, Eliezer could see calcsam's posts before they were published and upvoted them thus giving calcsam the requisite karma to publish them. I wouldn't characterize that as "out of thin air". As to why Eliezer did this for calcsam in particular, I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that it is because calcsam asked him to, and Eliezer, on reading the then not published posts in question, decided it would be a good idea. I am not so convinced about "personally costly". It seems that Mormonism teaches its followers a lot of good habits. That it attributes the specification of these good habits to silly theistic beliefs doesn't seem to hurt them beyond limiting them to a level most people don't reach anyways. And the social network it provides (though it involves rallying around a theistic flag) also is highly beneficial, and I value input on how to build that sort of community (though I aim to use more rationality-friendly rallying points). Insights into seducing people into an irrational social group may generalize to insights to seducing them into a rational social group.

I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Because "Telling people to greet first-time attendees and be nice to them vastly improves the rate at which new attendees come back" is useful for seducing people into attending Less Wrong meetups as well as costly religious cults. I wouldn't exactly call it Dark Arts, either.

We've been considering learning from Toastmasters too. If we ever want to be more effective than an online discussion, we need to go learn from (not imitate) real-world groups that are more effective than that.

Having been on both sides of it, I am quite certain it is a dark art. It is called love bombing. For a community dedicated to overcoming biases, using one of them (they like me so they must be right) to recruit is a bit rich. I am afraid that if LessWrong recruits, it has to do it the hard way, through directly addressing the logical mind, not by pushing weird psychological switches. But this is another great differentiator we have from cult-like organizations, easy to point out to interested interlocutors, and one I am quite proud of.

From the Wikipedia article:

Love-bombing is characteristic of most cults, especially the Jehovah's Witnesses. New recruits are drowned in a sea of fake "love" and "caring." Cults will pretend to love you to death as long as you are a prospective convert to their group. As a member of a tight-knit community, love will surround you as you faithfully follow all of the strict rules of the cult. However, if you ever decide that you want to leave the group, if you ever disobey any of the rules of the cult, or if you express doubt about any of the cult's doctrine, then all "love" suddenly ceases. The member is then shunned and excommunicated (which Jehovah's Witnesses call "disfellowshipping"), and all remaining members are instructed to never have any contact with them in the future, not even to greet them. Then all effort is directed towards finding new recruits to replace the shunned members who have "gone astray."

That certainly is a bad thing. But dude, simply having some basic decency and being nice to people is not the thing that's being described in there.

I am afraid that if LessWrong recruits, it has to do it the hard way, th

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Why not just use the definition at the top? I don't see the difference from what is proposed above.
Well, if we just use that definition, then there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with doing that. Actually, it would seem like deliberately learning to act friendly towards people in one situation would also make it easier to act friendly towards people in general. So we're not just making newcomers feel welcome, we're also improving our social skills at the same time. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Yes, consciously being friendly is a feature not a bug. There are different types of communities. Read and writing here is high self-selvective and only appeals to certain types of people. There are many other types of people who are compatible with a rational worldview, who are not compatible with Less Wrong. Maybe they need more (literal) hand holding. I think a big fraction of 'normal people' are compatible with a rational, or 'not obviously insane' culture. But that hypothetical mainstreamed rational culture (not existing now) is not Less Wrong culture. There are pieces missing. Doing something to spread a more-compatible, more virulent, rational culture doesn't have to water down what has been established here at Less Wrong. This is about eventually Raising The Sanity Waterline, sustainably.
I can imagine that some alcoholics on the path to self destruction might view Mormonism or Islam or some other total-control group as the last safety net between them and death. I know for a fact that some people in similar circumstances are saved by being incarcerated. Good for them. But that's not a very high bar, and it's not a long-term path to rationality. Mormonism is personally costly. For starters -- tithing. Ten percent of your pre-tax income. That's costly. Beyond that -- required volunteer time, as cited by calcsam under the heading "everyone has a responsiblity." Time is money. Demands on time are costly. Beyond this are other costs that may be more difficult to measure in terms of currency, such as the personal burdens of conformity. For example, what is the price paid by a born Mormon who turns out to be gay? ETA: I can't believe I forgot about the costs associated with going on a mission! Two years out of the life of the missionary, to say nothing of the preparation time. Also, as I understand it, the parents of the missionary are expected to fund it, above and beyond the requirement of tithing. This includes buying branded Mormon stuff.
So it turns out that you can help a lot of people without meeting a very high bar. Good. In building rationalist communities, we are not going to make a perfect clone of Mormonism. We will seek to eliminate obstacles to greater rationality. The time and money that members put into a community does not just disappear, it generates returns as value to the community. You put in time providing service to the community, and when you have need, other community members will put in time to help you. And you do it in a way that builds comradery rather than as raw economic transactions. And yes, I want a rationalist community to put money and time into generally improving the world. Yes, I agree that this a real cost of Mormonism. Though it is easy to filter out of a rationalist community.
I'm thinking some especially desperate people may experience a net benefit from radically coercive restrictions on their freedom. I'm talking about the equivalent of at least temporary enslavement. I don't propose this for the vast majority of the population, let alone anybody who would claim to be a successful rationalist. Not "scripture" study. I suggest scripture study is at least a deadweight loss, perhaps worse. I imagine the purpose of scripture study and so forth in the Mormon context is to enforce conformity. I'd suggest this actually harms the Mormons who are the supposed beneficiaries of this education, limiting their freedom and dulling their thinking. ETA: The conformity may be necessary to the Mormon model. You filter out the conformity, you filter out the obedience, then the model breaks down.
That seems to be an extreme exaggeration of how low the bar is. Ok, if we import anything like scripture study into a rationalist community, it will be translated to studying something like probability theory, or decision theory, or applications of such to real life situations. For us, the equivalent will be useful. I seriously doubt that homophobia is necessary to the Mormon model. The thing is, I want to build effective rationalist communities. Discussion of how the Mormon communities work can generate lots of ideas, lot of things worth trying. That is why I am interested in that continuing discussion, and why I don't appreciate attempts to dismiss it because it is associated with irrational religion, or because it doesn't help all members (when it is observable that the community is pretty successful).
I'm well aware that there are a lot of people who would choose to be a lot more coercive than me, given half the chance. I'm aware that a lot of people, in a lot of countries have chosen to be rather coercive, for a long, long time. So far, I'm interpreting the available data to suggest that the optimal level of social and governmental coercion is somewhat less than the historical standard, rather than more. And in the utopia that we shall build, the skateboards will be free! Right now, our kind can't cooperate,. I would agree that the Mormons can cooperate. So can the North Koreans. So can the Scientologists. So can the Objectivists, at least the ones who haven't been exiled from the community. So, for that matter, could the Soviets, until the collapse of the Soviet system. Modelling a rational community by the example of a manifestly irrational community like the Mormons seems like an exercise in futility. I suggest that the Mormon model is one of many, many, models that works limiting the freedom and intelligence and rationality of its members. It's a cult. It's the dark arts. It's a lie. When did LessWrong decide that this kind of approach would be the one to pursue?
I think that depends on how one defines homophobia. Given a basic understanding of the LDS view of the purpose of life and what our eventual destiny is then homosexual relations are necessarily contrary to that purpose. That is one of the major goals of life is to form procreative units, male and female, that will endure past death. The doctrine is not that God hates gays, though He does disapprove of any actions in that regard. However, the doctrine is also that everyone should be free to act according to what they think is right as long as it does not interfere with others ability to also act according to what they think is right. Hence the reason the LDS Church got involved in allowing homosexual rights in Salt Lake City but also are against homosexual marriage.
Colloquially, "homophobia" is used to refer to any attitudes or policies which negatively affect gay people but not straight people. It is an unfortunate term, since the "phobia" part implies fear, but it's what we have to work with. So, homophobia includes believing that the kind of sex gay people have is immoral, believing that gay people should not be allowed to marry their chosen partners, and generally privileging opposite-sex relationships over same-sex ones in any way, shape, or form. This is regardless of whether these attitudes or policies are motivated by one's beliefs about God and his preferences or come with a corresponding belief that the disapproved acts should be forcibly prevented. Hate per se is not called for.
Under this particular (and extremely broad) definition of homophobia then homophobia is indeed necessary to the LDS belief structure. However, I do think this definition is overly broad especially given the connotations of homophobia that have been pointed out. Some sort of gradient terms of homophobia would be more useful in my opinion.
There's "heteronormativity".
As given by Wikipedia the term heteronormativity appears to fit nearly perfectly, see The Family: A Proclamation to the World
I had a friend who did family scripture study every day and he (and his 5 or 6 siblings) were among the best readers in school, because they'd sat there and practiced it every single day since they were born. So there are definitively benefits to the scripture reading. Also, many Mormons do appear to benefit from going on a mission. (To my surprise, many will say it was the "best two years" of their life--do I need to update my model?) Many 20 somethings turn into aimless "kidults" and Mormon Missions do a lot to prevent this by giving a very clear path to move forward with life (High School --> Mission --> College --> Marriage -- > Job). However, there is a big problem with the conformity. Everyone has a different opportunity cost for scripture study or a mission. For many people, 2 1/2 hours a week of esoteric reading is probably better then the tube; but for those who would otherwise be reading the sequences... And with missions, they say EVERY young man should serve a mission. It doesn't matter how bad of a fit you are for it (with some health exceptions) or what you would be doing with your time otherwise, you are expected to go. That's a huge conformity cost for kids who are turning down scholarships and delaying important endeavors (Newton and Einstein were both in there 20s when they developed their most important ideas; would they have been able to do so if they went on a Mormon mission at that important time in their life?). So what a rationalist community could learn from that is not to expect/encourage everyone to derive the same benefits from the same actions. You haven't read the Sequences?!? seems to have a similar cultural connotation for LessWrongers as You haven't been on a mission?!? does for Mormons. Having other culturally acceptable ways for rational progression seems like a good lesson to learn. For example, * Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality seems to be a great partial alternative. If someone has read that but not the sequen
Joining the military of your country seems like it would offer a similar experience...
Upvoting isn't the same as agreeing. This is a topic of interest (getting more people to be more rational) and calcsam addressed it in a clear manner based on his experiences. You could probably get a lot of upvotes for describing with equal clarity things that religions do and why not to do them.

Hmm. I assign an exceedingly low probability to the proposition that an omnipotent, omniscient being exists and has existed for as long as the universe has existed, but I don't disagree with your anticipations. I don't see how your anticipations are very connected to this proposition.

I can easily imagine you gaining a sense of mental clarity from the act of prayer and procuring certain benefits from the lifestyle choices that you mention. I'm not sure what probability I would assign to these predictions, but I think that they would range from around .15->.6 In my eyes, your anticipations have a considerable of probability of being true regardless of whether or not a being which I described in my first paragraph exists.

I agree with hegemonicon in that (at least in this context), we're more interested in your anticipations that are related to the above proposition rather than those regarding the effects of certain lifestyle choices.

calcsam, did you not realize this? If not, why?
My conclusion: You're here to answer questions, not to debate. But at some point I'd enjoy talking with you about your beliefs with respect to Bayes' Theorem, and about breaking "Mormonism" into multiple hypotheses.
Thanks for replying! I'll think on this for a little while.
What has led you to anticipate (for brevity, some of) these things? Including some benefits for you and the predicted detriments for your fraternity brothers.

Assume that a being B with human-level intelligence takes on an arbitrary belief set ("worldmodel") that is not Mormonism, and that this being has unlimited time in which to experiment and test its beliefs while in the observable universe (i.e. in a region causally closed with respect to what some human or clippy can observe).

Assume B changes its worldmodel in response to experimentation so as to fit all past observations, while changing it as little as possible. Assume further that B seeks out observations most likely to change its worldmodel.

Will B eventually contain a permanent Mormon worldmodel?

(Note: this is just the expanded version of the question, "Is Mormonism correct reasoning?")

What is your substantiation?
If I presented the initial scenario, it would be to find out whether calcsam would remain a Mormon after he contemplated the scenario. My guess is that your motives were similar. However, your follow-up looks like you're collapsing "Is Mormonism correct reasoning?" into a single question -- I think it's more optimal to split the question into parts, as others have done in this thread.
That is true. However, my question had two purposes: 1) To determine if and how Mormonism is correct reasoning (and so how an arbitrary belief set would converge on it) 2) Failing 1), to determine if User:calcsam is such that querying User:calcsam could efficiently lead to answers to 1). A human interested in providing informative evidence to 1), and who believed it to be true, would provide additional substantiation beyond answering in the affirmative. Therefore, while User:calcsam technically answered the question I posed by saying "yes", and while such an answer is indeed uninformative, I still achieved a main objective in posing the question, which was to determine whether this thread and User:calcsam are a viable method of learning significant information about important aspects of reality. I now infer that, with high probability, they are not.

I've read your conversion story on your blog, and the answers you've posted here so far. The most salient question, to me, has become 'what led you to alter your belief about the existence of a deity,' specifically. Everything I have seen thus far has apparently relied on good feelings when you have participated in services and been around Mormons (and how nice they were/are).

I don't think you could give a less convincing account of why you should believe a god exists than that. The Mormon student I know in the lab is a kind, helpful, delightful person to be around, but so are my Catholic labmate and my atheist friends. If the general Warm Fuzzies you felt are a major part of your reasoning, how do you control for other possible sources of Warm Fuzzies?

If there are other reasons that caused you to believe in a god, those would be what I am reading this thread to hear.

And of course, if I have incorrectly understood the point of your story on your blog, please correct me.

What archaeological evidence should we expect to find if the Book of Mormon is true?

And what archaeological evidence should we expect to find if the Book of Mormon is not true?

I'd want to see some or all of the points brought up here addressed. For example:

The detailed history and civilization described in the Book of Mormon does not correspond to anything found by archaeologists anywhere in the Americas. The Book of Mormon describes a civilization lasting for a thousand years, covering both North and South America, which was familiar with horses, elephants, cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, steel, wheeled vehicles, shipbuilding, sails, coins, and other elements of Old World culture. But no trace of any of these supposedly very common things has ever been found in the Americas of that period. Nor does the Book of Mormon mention many of the features of the civilizations which really did exist at that time in the Americas. The LDS church has spent millions of dollars over many years trying to prove through archaeological research that the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical record, but they have failed to produce any convincing pre-columbian archeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon story. In addition, whereas the Book of Mormon presents the picture of a relatively homogeneous people, with a single language and communication between distant

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Many of of the claims in the quote aren't true or are misleading. There are about 60 things that the Book of Mormon claims to have existed in the New World in the designated timeframe, about 8 of which were known to exist in 1830. Between now and then, how many would you expect now to have been found? I'm going to put the rest of this on the next comment; estimate and then read the next one to see how close you were. I know your prior is that "well, obviously religion isn't true, so this is probably true," but be a bit more careful.
Here are the misleading points of the above quote. * The claim of elephants here is slightly misleading. Elephants are mentioned before the main 1000-year timeframe of the Book of Mormon, back in the 3rd millennium B.C. Discussion of mastodons or mammoths surviving that long. * Coins are not mentioned in the actual Book of Mormon text, it mentions a series of weights and measures. * Types of barley are in fact native to the Americas. (scroll down to foxtail barley and little barley) * Shipbuilding, horses * Actually, while Mormons reading the book thought (and many still think) the book covers the whole continent, textual analysis shows otherwise. That is, basically looking at how many days journeys take (pdf), and so forth, narrows it down to about a 100x200 mile region. There are repeated hints in the text of other people living nearby. But we shouldn’t expect an in-depth discussion of other groups of people – this is a Mesoamerican tribal history, not a modern history. You may want to adjust your priors of archaeology. The Huns didn't leave any horse remains. And the answer to the above question is 35 have been found, along with 10 that are tentative. The second link is a long article; the first is a short summary.
Are you referring to my question? You may want to quote questions for clarity. Use '>'
Which particular limited geography theory do you personally subscribe to?
Are 60 and 8 your own figures, independently counted, or are you quoting a Mormon authority?
Quoting a Mormon archaeologist. The link is in my next post. He doesn't give the full list in the link but he gives ~20% of it. I will write him and ask for the full list.
I'm not in a hurry. To be frank, I would have been much more impressed if a young, ambitious non-Mormon anthropologist had used the Book of Mormon as a cheat sheet to make new discoveries in order to get tenure and fame. That would have been interesting. A religious believer reading his chosen "scripture" and retroactively adjusting his view of the historical record to match is not new. The other religions -- the ones to which you did not choose to convert -- do the same thing. You know they do.
That is true, good point. It would. Keep in mind though that in the social sciences a lot of research is data-driven rather than hypothesis-driven. My economics professor was explaining last week that most recent good papers in economic history have come because someone got their hands on an interesting data set and then asked 'what can I do with this?', rather than thinking of a clever hypothesis and then looking for a data set to test it out.

Only slightly facetiously, why aren't you studying to be an archeologist or geneticist then? If in your judgment there is a substantial gap in scientific knowledge and it isn't being filled for whatever reasons, why aren't you pursuing it?

I don't think the animal or plant life claims are that important. Maybe they were evidence against before, but with new discoveries, their mention is neutral. It's not like Smith was consciously defying an establishment when he said there was barley in the Americas. I'm also willing to accept that God or Smith might have taken license in translating these terms. The question of whether or not the Nephites had horses pales in comparison to the implication that modern genetics is wrong.

The basic claim of the Book of Mormon is that Jews settled in the Americas, established a fairly large civilization, and most Amerinds are partially descended from them. It's not like these are disputed, minority positions in academia; they aren't even on the radar.

A slight technicality, they weren't Jews (being from Judah) but Israelites (being Ephraim and Manasseh).

What are some examples of plausible (not necessarily likely or expected) experiences that would lower your degree of belief in your religion?

This is a very important question, and I'd like to draw (Calcsam's) attention to it by posting this comment.
Agreed - I would like to draw calcsam's attention to the grandparent of this comment. I would also note that said question is related to nickernst's question.
Good question. Answered above.
I can't figure out which post you've recently made that's relevant to this. Could you link it?
Should have been more clear. I updated the main post. Scroll down.

How long have you been around LessWrong? What brings you to this neighborhood, what keeps you here?

I first came here about 3 years ago, then was in India for 2 years, then back again. To quote myself, "Because there are things I can learn here. If you don't cross-pollinate, you become a hick."

Often when people describe themselves as converts from atheism to religion it turns out that on closer inspection that they were not explicitly atheist before their conversion, but simply "non-religious". That is to say that they hadn't really thought about it either way (you find these people describing themselves as "agnostic but spiritual" and the like). Was this the case with you, or did you previously hold strong belief in some direction?

After reading Losing Faith in Faith in 9th grade, I became a fairly anti-religious atheist. I gradually mellowed out to, “I don’t believe in God, and I don’t understand why other people do, but go for it if it’s your thing.”
What were you before reading "Losing Faith in Faith" in 9th grade?

Do you believe that the same types of reasoning and standards used in science should be applied to religion?

The belief is that God gives commandments that are for our benefit so they are not arbitrary in nature even if we do not understand them at the time. Choosing which religion to follow should use the same types of reasoning and include various tests to determine validity. Much of what God says is in the form of general principles that can then be used for further reasoning. When reasoning about religion one should reach ones own conclusion and then seek personal revelation on the subject. So the same types of reasoning should be applied but is not the only thing used.

What data could make you consider not being a Mormon?

Seems like a good place for the experiment I described earlier. What would you do differently if God spoke to you and said:

I quit. From now on, the materialists are right, your mind is in your brain, there is no soul, no afterlife, no reincarnation, no heaven, and no hell. If your brain is destroyed before you can copy the information out, you're gone.

Hmm...this might be an atypical answer. As some context, I believe in a God that is helping us to develop to become like him, all-loving, all-wise, etc, and will then give us the same amount of power he has. This isn’t expected to come until long after death. Should I succeed and reach that state, it will mean that I would be the kind of being who would continue acting in a good, godlike manner even if God told me he was taking a vacation. Given that, if God did tell me that, I would sign up for cryonics tomorrow. I would hope to hell God changed his mind, because I really like his plan. But if he didn’t, I would have to try to implement his plan and become a god by myself (assuming I do succeed in achieving immortality.) And figure out why he quit. Given that he did quit, it's possible I would come up with a better plan along the way. (It would also be interesting to me what parts of the machine still work when the machinist retires. I believe our consciences are an essential part of God’s plan – do they still work? What about negative effects from addictive substances? Will people still exhibit similar amounts of altruism?)
Thanks. That is a typical answer, and it's what I wanted to hear. I'll assume that my motives in asking the question were covered adequately in the sibling of the parent post (uncle post?) so I won't reiterate. And thanks for dealing with the hostile anti-religious crap in some of the other questions. That takes some emotional fortitude.
  1. As a convert, you apparently experienced a major shift in belief, especially since you committed to a mission soon after. What in particular changed your mind?
  2. What is your perspective on the role of faith in belief? How much of your belief would you say is due to feelings attributed to the Holy Ghost vs weighing other evidence?
  3. What would be evidence to substantially revise your belief in the church downwards?
  4. What have you thought of your reception here? Have you been surprised by any reactions?
  5. What are you studying at Stanford?

I'm particularly interested in what you have to say as a convert. I know how the process works in the other direction (leaving the church at 17), but it's important to know why people change their minds in general.

ETA: After looking at your blog, I'll be frank and admit I was hoping for something a little more sophisticated to engage with. Your conversion appears to be based on a feeling of rightness without really grappling why or why not it might be true. Since learning the technical meaning of evidence, I no longer dismiss "feeling the Spirit" completely. Spiritual experiences are more likely if religion is true than if it is not, but n... (read more)

Some of your questions have answers on calcsam's blog. Specifically, his conversion story is here.

I was rather disappointed by the story; it struck me as a regular conversion, driven by positive affect, social reinforcement, fuzzy feelings, motivated cognition, and characterized by a profound lack of truth-seeking. I expected something more unique or something strangely appealing.

What should we learn from our disappointment?

I ignored base rates when evaluating how useful or interesting his story might be. While someone who is intelligent, attends a good school, and is attracted to rationality is more likely to have not converted for the reasons you mention, the base rate is still very low.

My previous judgment about the utility of this AMA was too high. Now I wonder if I've swung too far in the other direction or if I'm still giving him too much of a benefit of the doubt. We'll have to see once his replies come in.

Me too. I've even done it before:

I have a facebook friend who writes thoughtfully, seems reasonably clever and cares about deep questions. He is a speaking-in-tongues, deeply religious, Prosperity, Charismatic, Word of Faith, Christian. A few of his interests and landmark-experiences match my own.

I was excited to talk to him because I thought he would be able to teach me something about religious people that 'normal people' couldn't.

I also thought the skeleton of his personality was similar enough to mine that he might have made an 'interesting mistake'. Due to the similarities between us, I wondered if I could also be susceptible to whatever 'wrong turn' his thinking took. I wanted to identify and analyze that 'interesting mistake', so I wouldn't make it, and because I expected it to be weird and interesting.

It turned out his mistake wasn't interesting and I was disappointed.

I'm curious whether writing something to rationalists (my response above) you feel the style is significantly different than when I'm not writing to them. As in, my line of thinking and way of explaining things.
For positive reinforcement: I've found your writing on less wrong good enough to be here so far. Reinforced bits: organization, use of emphasis, footnotes, engaging style, neutral tone, not taking incompatibility personally, a focus on sharing compatible, mutually useful knowledge.
The organizational problems you have written about here are concrete and easily supported. When I read your organizational writing and I come to a place where I need to evaluate if what you're saying is true, the problem is transformed into a question of whether I believe that churches and missionary groups are successful at these things. So far you've been distilling and translating institutional knowledge. I haven't seen you write about harder issues here. Issues that require weighing competing mental processes, avoiding self-deception, tracing several levels of implication, being careful about what constitutes evidence, etc. Of your writing elsewhere, it feels like you are snorkeling with fins and a mask. You're staying on the surface in warm water and are checking out the beautiful tropical fish. You can see some of the terrain below you because your mask isn't that foggy, but you don't touch it because that just isn't the activity you're doing. You're not surface diving, or deep water diving, and you're having fun with your current activity.
Said much better and more technically by Kutta above, your writing elsewhere:
Thank you for that.
I don't think it's clear that this is the case. Do we have any meaningful measure of how often we ought to expect spiritual experiences to happen if religion were true, relative to how often we would expect them to happen if religion were not true? If any religion were true though, we should probably expect that spiritual experiences would be clustered around that particular religion.
In particular, I'm saying Pr(calcsam experiences warm feelings after reading the Book of Mormon | LDS church is true, social interaction with members) > Pr(warm, glowy feelings | LDS church is false, social interaction with members). I agree that it's really difficult to say exactly what these probabilities are. If you forced me to assign numbers, I would assign something close to 1 for the former and .1-.8 for the latter. To be valid, these should really be the result of probability flows through an entire network of beliefs, but I think the direction of the inequality is apparent. I agree that spiritual experiences for different religions will tend to offset one another. Whether these in total constitute net positive or negative evidence for a god in general depends of your prior about how these experiences are distributed. Based on my interpretation of LDS doctrine, many non-LDS individuals would feel the spirit, even during non-LDS services, just not as strongly. In any other forum but this one, I wouldn't go around saying this is evidence, but it is, if only weakly.
Well, thanks for taking the time to read my posts. I wrote a longer post, but you already read a bunch of my stuff so I'll condense. As to why people change their minds in general, one comment that might help is that I first came to view the religious worldview as coherent, in that people's actions seemed to be in accord with their professed beliefs, it seemed to produce generally desirable results. Only after that did I come to believe that it was true. Another way of saying that, and perhaps an anwer to your second question, As to the second question, is that the non-spiritual experiences -- veracity of texts, ability to teach me something useful or have positive effects on me, established plausibility, perhaps .05 < p < 0.3. And experiences-which-I-interpret-as-the-Holy-Ghost took me from there to my current state. I'm going to reply to your later stuff. I think there's a basic epistemological difference in that I lend more credence to experience here. I would disagree that I didn't "trace out the implications" of issues that I discovered. To me, the main implication was that everything wasn't neat, tidy and perfect the way most church members thought it was. But truth claims depend on the Book of Mormon. Seer stones, divining rods and polygamy are all true but irrelevant to this question; I wasn't convinced by the View of the Hebrews/ Solomon Spaulding/ anachronisms arguments. (This is the short version of a long story as I'm sure you realize) Badger, possibly you're right in that everyone else's hopes were too high. If you're looking for a general theory of "why all religious people are wrong," hopefully the first two paragraphs are useful to you. But the last stuff is more "my judgment of a very particular set of evidence."
This seems tangential. I agree that living a non-hypocritical, coherent narrative leads to overall better mental health. But there are many ways to live coherently, most of which don't match the truth. Of course, I'll dispute getting to that base level, but focusing on the personal experiences, I hope we don't have different views on how to weigh experience. This should be weighed as evidence exactly the same way everything else is: by the odds ratio of it occurring when the hypothesis is true over when it isn't. Taking your numbers at face value, your odds on the church were between 1:20 and 1:2. Adding feelings of peace, rightness, reassurance, etc, these odds moved to say 10:1 (p~0.9). For this to work out, feelings of this sort had to be between 20 and 200 times more likely if the church is true than if it isn't. Given human psychology, I think this is implausibly high. Like I said, I do think what you experienced is evidence, but I wouldn't put the odds much higher than 5:1. I agree completely. Well, I think it depends on more than the BoM, but polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the church's opposition to Prop 8, and other things that can get people riled up are irrelevant to this. I admit I haven't read much Dialogue (although I have one issue with a friend's fiction sitting on my shelf), so maybe the matters presented are simply embarrassments and not evidence against the church. I was thinking more along the lines of Adam/God or the Book of Abraham papyri, which I assume you've been exposed to. And of course Native American genetics and BoM related matters. I actually think these are (very weak) evidence for the Book of Mormon. They might provide an explanation for how the BoM came about if it wasn't inspired, but it seems more likely that others would think Indians were descended from Hebrews if they really were. Well, this was useful for me to practice thinking about what does or does not constitute evidence. I hope it's been useful for you one w
This is extremely helpful. I understand (and understood) the P(A|B) = P(AB)/P(B) part of Bayes' theorem. I did not, however, get the odds ratio part until this post prompted me to go through EY's Bayes Theorem explanation. Thank you. I am thinking through the implications at the moment, but (this is to everyone else, not you) don't get your hopes up for me to deconvert.
So, you've recognized that the explicit basis for your faith is insufficient, but you believe that you will not deconvert. What does this tell you? (There are a number of possible things.)
Hold on, you're jumping the gun a bit there; calcsam hasn't said anything (yet?) to indicate that he agrees with the statement that "the explicit basis for [his] faith" is insufficient.
I interpreted calcsam's comment as indicating that an acknowledgement that the numbers above are indeed "implausibly high". You are correct that I may have misinterpreted!
5Paul Crowley13y
It's worth getting the log-odds-ratio version of the theory down; only then does the phrase "weight of evidence" really start to make sense. I don't have my hopes up because you are yet to answer what is by far the most important question.
This is very important.
So why do you think that * Mormonism is a good explanation for your non-spiritual experiences? * the Book of Mormon is accurate with respect to metaphysical claims? * Mormonism is a good explanation for your experiences-which-you-interpret-as-the-Holy-Ghost? (Keeping in mind that the majority of people who have religious beliefs based on personal spiritual / faith experiences are incorrect.)

Which of the Sequences have you read so far?

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, working through Reductionism, The Science of Winning at Life.

I read your conversion story, and something that leaps out at me from it (and from some other conversion stories I've read) is that religious doctrine plays no part in it at all. You joined the Mormon church because, unlike the Methodist church you visited, it was an effective community for supporting its members to live good and useful lives, not because you were persuaded the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed to Joseph Smith, engraved on a set of gold plates. Presumably, if you had found a sterile atmosphere with the Mormons and a fertile one with the Methodists, you would have joined the Methodists? Or Catholics, or Buddhists, or Wiccans?

For the rationalist, the elephant in any religion is the supernatural stories that they all include, and it is easy to assume -- especially as some of the adherents say this themselves -- that the supernatural stories must be the foundation of the religion, on which all of its advice on how to live is based, and without which the whole edifice collapses. Some religious people do see it that way. But for some others, the supernatural part is just a sideshow. The important part is how the community of the religion supports its members to do goo... (read more)

Not really -- that's an interesting perspective on my essay though. I'm not sure your reading is accurate. A couple of counterexamples are below. See my addition to my post above -- the "effective community aspect" was first, followed by the "spiritual experiences" aspect and initial thought about the doctrine, then followed by pretty deep digging into the doctrine. I wrote the essay you read after the first and second but before the third, which is probably why you didn't see too much emphasis on doctrine. I find Less Wrongians similarly devoted to living the good life and joining with others in doing so, which is why I like being around here.
I went through a time like yours in college, but i found LW about the time you met Joesph and my roommate was much more cynical ;)

The beginnings of older religions are lost in myth and so are somewhat protected from scrutiny.

Newer religions like LDS and perhaps Scientology have much more detailed historical information available. For these newer organizations, there are verifiable primary sources for many historical details. The public record (internet accessible) tells a different story than church doctrine on some of these details.

The question: Have you done a due diligence study of the roots and founding of your faith?

If you'll forgive me for answering a question not directed at me... I myself have done so, and have been quite satisfied at what I've seen. I think that you're in error here: Many of these public records have been slanderous or self-protections by individuals who did not want to lose faith. An example of the former is the allegation that Joseph was a "money-digger" (an allegation he actually answers by his own hand, in his own time, in (Joseph Smith - History)[http://lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1.56?lang=eng#55]); an example of the latter would be the differing testimonies of Martin Harris and Professor Charles Anthon; the story of the latter has been shown to have numerous inconsistencies, not to mention that Anthon would have had a reason for denying the story, if true, and Harris would have had no reason to believe Smith and continue giving him money if the story were false. I'll also correct this misconception: We believe that the LDS faith is a continuation of the religion established anciently by Jesus, and revealed Even More Anciently to Adam. This is why we call Joseph Smith's work the "Restoration", not the "Birth". :3 But it is true that much of our work has happened rather recently, and so is available for closer scrutiny. I encourage you to scrutinize.

I'm interested in the power of your belief. For example, I believe strongly that, say, Michael Vassar is smart. I also believe strongly that the laws of physics hold everywhere. If these two beliefs were brought into conflict (say, Michael Vassar presented me with a perpetual motion machine blueprint) physics would win, because it's more powerful.

In that vein, I would like to take some of your time to ask you to come up with a quick power ranking of some of your deep beliefs. If your religion came into direct conflict with your faith, say? (I am not sure this is a fair question, actually - I personally can't imagine what would happen if my rationality came into conflict with my sense of truth, because they're so similar).

Your concept of the power of a belief sounds a lot like its probability.

That's because it is. Yes, the way I described power rankings working, it is isomorphic to this:

Bayesian agent has two beliefs X and Y. If it discovered that X and Y are evidence against each other ( Pr(X | Y) < Pr(X) & Pr(Y | X) < Pr(Y) ) which belief will be updated more?

which is isomorphic to

How much evidence for X and how much for Y?

but those questions don't cause most human brains to give good answers.

I think that thinking in terms of probability is going to be more conducive to careful thinking instead of thinking in terms of power. We've got a lot of emotional connections and alternative definitions for the second word which we don't really want interfering with our reasoning when we speak of probability.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
I kinda disagree here. If you show me an exact Bayesian network, I can read off it the degree to which evidence for one proposition is evidence against another. If you don't give an exact interpretation in probability theory, then isn't talking about "probability" instead of "power" just pretending to precision? Jumping to "probability" is something that has to be earned, and to me it's not yet obvious that for all Bayesian graphs, if P(A) > P(B) > 0.5, then learning the truth of a descendant node which proves !(A & B) will cause B to decrease in probability more than A.
Consider learning "not A," for example.
The tradeoff occurring here seems to be reducing the possibility of triggering biases versus reducing the possibility that you're fooling yourself into thinking that you're thought is more precise than it really is. I would go with the first; if I felt that I was being insufficiently precise in a certain situation, I could use a couple checks, such as seeing whether it managed to distinguish fiction from reality effectively. On a more concrete note, I read this: as judging that if he estimated P(A)>P(B), P(A) would remain greater than P(B) given !(A&B), not as saying that !(A&B) was stronger evidence against B than against A.
Confused. What do you mean exactly? (Did you mean to type 'your reason'? Or something else?)

I make a few presumptions here; correct me if I'm wrong.

I presume you do not simply have total faith in everything Latter Day Saints; you don't experience a sense of rightness on every single line of every single religious text (I've never met a religious person who does; this is something that only happens in strawman atheism arguments). But presumably you also have experienced a sense of rightness regarding some large part of LDS theology (again, based off my experiences with religious people), as that would be why you converted.

Now here's the tricky part. If you read something that struck you as right - you got that sense of rightness about it - but when you shared it you found it was directly contradicting some doctrine of LDS, what would happen? Would you stop thinking the thing was right, or would you adjust your view of the LDS Church slight downwards?

(The reason I am not sure this is fair is because if you asked me the same question in terms of rationality and truth-feeling, I would have a hard time not picking it apart, although in the least convenient possible world I would closely examine both my rationality and my feeling of truthness, and then rationality would win.)

In your opinion, why did God create harlequin ichthyosis?

Wowww. How abjectly horrifying. o_o But of course, this does not preclude the existence of God. Mormons tend to believe in some form of evolutionary theory (varying degrees of strength, in other words) in addition to creationism; this is caused by a mutation, so it's a natural side-effect of genetics. Claiming God created the world does not equate to saying that this world is perfect. On the contrary, I know of no Christian religion who would claim that. This is explicitly a sub-perfect world, and has been since the fall of Adam.

This is explicitly a sub-perfect world, and has been since the fall of Adam.

Actually perfect worlds do not devolve into sub-perfect worlds.

The best of all logically-self-consistent worlds does not necessarily have every imaginable desirable feature. If you believe otherwise, please respond to the ontological argument for the existence of God.
That is true, but it doesn't mean that we can't notice that a truly omnibenevolent being could do a much better job than the world we find ourselves in. I would consider harlequin ichthyosis as evidence that our world is not perfect, as it seems way more likely given an uncaring universe than in a perfect universe in which some horrifying features are logically neccessary.
Well, yes. On the other hand, it's not totally clear to me what a truly omnibenevolent being would do. An all-powerful being with ordinary human values would probably create a fairly unpleasant world for most other humans, and if we posit a value-system sufficiently alien not to become a cackling dictator, then I kind of feel like all bets are off.
Because a resistance to "devolution" is a necessary aspect of perfection? Surely if God exists, he can nudge a few things out of their resting places. :P This is a common fallacy: "If God is omnibenevolent, He would not have such-and-such bad thing happen". You presuppose His motives. If He wanted us to all exist in a state of eternal bliss, then there would have been no need to create the earth. No, His goal is to have His children become even as He is, which requires refining them through fire.
Ok, but why would he want to. A perfect God would not choose nudge a perfect world out of perfection. No, I take the motives advocates of a god even existing ascribe to him, and show that assuming that produces predictions wildly different from our observations. If you want to approach it from the other direction, here is an investigation into what sort of god would explain our observations. It seems unlikely that some of his children would take so much more fire than others to refine. Or perhaps the supposedly perfect god has given some of these children suboptimal initial conditions or refining processes. It is unlikely even that a refining process is even better, a perfect god should get the children right when they are created.
Again, presupposition of His motives; if He wanted us to become stronger, we must have had opposition, which could not have taken place in the paradisaical Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, you are using the arguments of other Christian sects against this one. Are you aware that many sects don't even consider the LDS faith to be Christian, because we differ so wildly from the Established Truth? Ha! Yes, I've read it, and yes, it was well-written, as many of Eliezer's posts are. I, unlike "other Christians", do not deny that evolution is true. Intelligence is no match for experience; He could have programmed robots to be perfect Gods, I suppose, but they wouldn't be children, because they wouldn't have the spark of life. (Yes, I know, my entire argument has as a predicate the existence of a non-physical (for certain definitions of "physical") entity that controls the physical aspects of life.) As for "initial conditions"... I'm hesitant to answer this point, because the explanation may well exceed the inferential distance.
Why? Why would he want us to become stronger, if that strength is only needed to cope with adversity that didn't have to be there? Why would he put us in the Garden of Eden in the first place if it couldn't give us the growth he intended for us? Why couldn't he just make us stronger and skip the adversity? Humans develop to resist negative stimuli when they're exposed to them, and not when they aren't, because such developments take biological resources. If, for instance, your body insisted on building up your muscles for optimal weight lifting capacity, you would be in big trouble if what you really needed was to survive in a hot desert. We strengthen ourselves in response to adversity because until very recently in our evolutionary history, like all other animals, we did not have the capacity to predict what sort of adversity we'd have to adapt to in advance. An all powerful and intelligent being creating a species could have done much better, and instead of going through all the nonsense of making us suffer so we could get stronger, could have made us stronger so we wouldn't have to suffer. Remember that every If or Maybe you offer up, every piece of information you propose about God's intentions, qualities or character that is not itself sufficiently evidenced for people to believe it without first buying into your religious framework, is another burden on your hypothesis, something that should lower your estimate of your religion being true.
But then how could we teach our... future children... to be.... .... huh. Ponderin' time.
It seems that for every observation you might be called to explain, you can say "God could have done that", and in response to any speculation of whether God would choose to do that you can accuse "presupposition of His motives". What can your theory not explain? That is not at all a response to the first major criticism: "It seems unlikely that some of his children would take so much more fire than others to refine." Experience is not mysterious thing. It is a means of accumulating data that an agent could be designed to start with. It is a way of traing behaviors that an agent can be designed to start out executing. We would design an agent to grow more powerful from experience because we do not know now what data and behaviors to give it. A perfect God would know.
Got it! I've been racking my brain, and I've come up with an answer: my theory would be proven false by the discovery of sentient extraterrestrial life that did not look like us.
Ok, it is good that you are making this effort, but that is way too safe. In the near future, we wouldn't even notice if there were such extraterrestrial life. A better answer should constrain your anticipated experience.
Thanks for noticing my effort. ;3 I know it's weak; I'm working my way up. Umm... the dissolution of the state of Israel, the administrative dissolution of the Church... I know that these are non-terminating tests. x_x I'll look for one that constrains my present experience, but that'll be pretty difficult. One of the tenets of Christian religions, as you should know to your dismay, is that God's not going to give us any hard proof during our time here. At least, until the Second Coming, at which point Christianity should be pretty well into the 90% range. :P But yes, I'll keep looking.
You seem to be looking for one big decisive test, which as you note, your religion protects itself against. It may help to instead use lots of smaller test, and accumulate evidence. Ask of the things you observe, not if your religion allows it to happen, but how likely your religion says it is, and how likely other theories say it is. One issue that can frustrate such a project is that if you have not assessed the relative probabilities in advance of your observation, it is tempting to skew them in favor of your favorite theory. So one thing I keep in mind when attempting this sort of thing is Conservation of Expected Evidence. The way I apply this is when I notice I want to call some observation evidence for my theory, I will imagine the observation going the other way and consider how indignant I would be if someone were to declare that evidence against my theory.
:3 Sounds complicated. I'll work on that, thanks. In fact I have been, slowly, but it sounded like you were asking for a decisive test, so that's what I tried to provide for you.
This follows from a non-soulist perspective, which means that we fundamentally differ in our opinions. Sorry. And I know it isn't a response; the proper response, as I said, requires too great an inferential distance. Here lies the key to my puzzle; the reason I'm attempting to instigate a crisis of faith. I don't know the answer to this question, but I am searching desperately for it.
Can you explain how the predictions that a soulist perspective makes differ from the predictions that a non-soulist perspective makes? If you have particular beliefs about how the soul relates to experience, can you think of a test that could falsify those beliefs?
I'm workin' on one. :3 That's the crux of my argument, the difficulty I'm having, the reason I'm questioning in the first place.
You do however seem to rationalize evolution as a simulated process built for our sake so we could "discover" our own origins. I don't doubt a super-intelligence could convince me of that but what i fail to understand is why you think that our preparedness to help with the celestial kingdom is determined by our faith in the Morman explanation. Why are devout Mormons given more responsibility in the next layer of reality then someone like Eliezer who wants to save the world and goes about it as rationally as he can? I fail to understand how you can say that someone who has never had any love of the Morman God due to semi-random environmental factors and genetics is somehow less valuable in the future kingdom then someone who believes with a good portion of their soul, but causes much damage to the future of the base layer of reality unknowingly. It seems to me that the LDS church believes that people who believe in the LDS God somehow contribute more to the base layer of reality than people with skepticism of it or no knowledge at all and that clashes with everything i know and understand about the nature of consciousness.
Well, I'll answer first your point, then your digression. First, I don't believe that evolution is a "simulated" process; I believe that it's entirely a natural byproduct of the mechanics of reproduction. It wasn't put there for us to discover and be confused by (the way that Fundamentalists believe that "dinosaur bones exist to test our faith"); it's the natural order of this type of world. As far as just reward for non-Mormon good people, like Eliezer? Well, I personally believe that any sufficiently rational person should end up going to the Celestial Kingdom. We have been taught that during the Millennium - that time between when Jesus comes to establish His reign on earth, and the Final Judgement - the wicked will be cleansed from the earth, and the righteous will be here, doing the work of the Kingdom. However, there will still be those on the earth during that time who choose not to follow Jesus, even given all evidence. What does this mean? Well, ethical non-Mormon rationalists, such as Eliezer (or, I presume, yourself!) are not Wicked People. I presume that they will remain on the earth during the Millennium. This means that y'all will have all the weight of evidence you could possibly hope for! I predict that this means that, when the Judgement comes, those who converted during the Millennium will have no disadvantage (minimal disadvantage? I don't know for sure) compared to those who were Mormon during their natural lifetimes. What about rationalists who die before the Millennium? If they were "good" (there's a reason I don't ever, ever judge whether someone is "good" or not; it takes a perfect ethical mind to do that, and I don't have one!), they'll come back for the Millennium. If not, they'll hang out in the spirit world. But right now, spirits of those who have passed on are being taught the tenets (thank you, Alicorn!) of the Gospel, and being given the opportunity to receive or reject the gospel based upon the weight of evidence, which I can only
Do you believe that it is a feature of every individual human that they will be happier Mormon than not-Mormon, or do you just think Mormons average better?
An interesting question, and I'll have to go with the latter. It is true that adhering to the precepts of Mormonism will lead to short-term happiness (short-term = this life). It is not true that Mormonism is the only path to happiness; it is just the prescribed path. It is, however, the best (only) path for happiness in the next life. But again, taht doesn't answer the "why now" question.
I disagree that this is always true(i.e. the bisexual Morman teen). Sure she can go down another path, but what about when she decides to follow Mormonism and ends up with less short-term happiness because of it. I mean you can say that when she transcends to the next layer of reality she will be happier but you cant say there isn't Epsilon chance that she wont in either.
I've been a bisexual Mormon teen. I'm currently reading a book on how on earth I'm to go about having a normal sex life with my wife, having had to deal with sexual addiction up to this point. So yes, I'm well and personally aware of the difference between short-term happiness, and "in this life" happiness. And yes, I can say that P(~ happiness in the next life | Mormonism) is less than epsilon. "Happiness in the next life" is strictly dominated by "Mormonism".
No disrespect meant to your beliefs, but couching bare assertion in Bayesian terms doesn't stop it from being bare assertion, you know.
No, it just helps formalize assertions, I know that. But I'm afraid I fail to see the problem with my assertion.
The problem is that you haven't clearly outlined any particular reason to think that MatthewBaker is wrong, or even defined your terms unambiguously. Now, with the benefit of what your previous posts imply there's a couple of plausible ways I can untangle this dispute, of which the most charitable is probably that MatthewBaker meant profession of Mormonism and you meant its literal truth (a common semantic failure mode in discussion between monotheists and nontheists), but I don't know that for sure. Let's be clear about what we're accepting as axioms and what we're disputing, and about the chains of reasoning we used to get there. Otherwise we're just going to end up talking past each other -- something that, if the comments below mine are anything to go by, we've done enough of already.
Ah, words, words. :3 Very well. Given the predicate that "Toni" follows the tenets of Mormonism, those including but not limited to: * Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ * Repentance of sins committed upon this earth * Submission to the ordinances of the gospel, e.g. baptism, confirmation of the Holy Ghost; Given also the predicate that the teachings of Mormonism are true, those including but not limited to: * The laws of Justice and Mercy * The atonement of Christ * The upcoming Judgement of souls: I conclude with probability 1 that "Toni" will achieve happiness during the period of her existence postdating (or the analogous term, should time prove to be merely a terrestrial construct) the Judgement foretold, by the following reasoning: * We have been promised, by the laws of Justice and Mercy, that through the atonement of Christ, and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, we may achieve "salvation" and eternal happiness. * According to the teachings of Mormonism (which are had in our givens), the above promise is accurate. * "Toni", according to our givens, has through her life obeyed the laws and ordinances of the gospel. * Therefore, insofar as our givens are accurate, "Toni" will achieve eternal happiness. QED.
Thank you. That's much clearer.
No; thank you for reminding me of a basic lesson of rational argument: agree beforehand on your terms.
And; Thank you both for clarifying a post i was still rolling around my thoughts and having trouble understanding. According to Aumann's Agreement Theorem we may not share all the same priors but i appreciate that we can try to understand where the differences in our common knowledge lie.
So according to what seems to be our common knowledge and I believe that P(Mormonism) is substantially less than 1 and probably closer to 1/42x10^6) and you believe that its somewhere above .1. My assertion is that if happiness in the next life isn't completely dependent on Mormanism and that it could be dependent on other things Mormanism prevents many from seeking like cryonics. Then we should form a ratio of how much happiness in the next life matters to you as much as happiness in this life. If we share the prior that the next life is much longer and therefore more important then this life, then we should both seek to maximize our chances of happiness in the next life to the extent that it doesn't negatively affect our happiness in this life. Depending on how big or small our ratio is a rational agent would be driven towards Mormanism to the extent he thinks it is probable. I dont think its very probable at all but that's influenced by the fact it would negatively affect my happiness in this life from what ive seen. You think its much more probable but it seems to also be a positive influence on you in this life. Therefore do you accept the idea that you cannot look at the archeological evidence towards Mormanism fully rationally any more than i could because we are both predisposed by our happiness in this life and the other ratio of happiness in the next life? From my perspective the DNA evidence clearly supports the fact that the Book of Morman is a fictional tale so if we intend to disagree about it we should figure out which of our priors are different so we dont dance around it all day like we did with the previous issue of happiness in the next life.
Ooooh. *twitch* Please, let me correct your spelling: "Mormonism". Now then. That's an interesting question, there. Let me see if I've got it phrased correctly: "Each person who seeks to judge P(Mormonism) will have a strong bias in one direction, based upon their projection of the effect adherence to Mormonism would have on their happiness during this life." Is this the proposition I'm being asked to agree to? EDIT: The above seems to boil down to: "We will assign a level of credence to P("Mormonism") directly proportional to the degree to which we believe that it would be beneficial for us to believe "Mormonism"." Sounds familiar. So... this may be naive of me, but it seems to me that we're both succumbing to this bias... o_o; Which is a Problem.
Interesting, I hadn't connected that article to my idea but it definitely describes that bias pretty effectively. I wonder how Eliezer solved the direct effects rather than the Bayesian effects of this bias.
Ha! We should ask him. :P
I will if i see him when i visit the institute when i go back to school :)
You let me know how that turns out. In the meantime, I'll try to ponder a way out of the puzzle. Well really, the solution is to adopt the Litany of Tarski. But I suppose that's easier said than done...
I desire to believe that a benevolent being exists outside of our simulation that will protect my consciousness when i die. However, i think its much more unlikely than And to my benefit socially i will continue to believe that until more evidence is revealed to me by this upcoming return of our savior you think is going to happen, and i respect your right to follow the LDS doctrine even if i dont share your beliefs. I just dont respect a lot of other Mormons who believe as you do without the same scrutiny towards religion and politics.
I think that's an entirely honorable and right way of thinking, and I respect you for it... which is why, given my belief system already in place, I earnestly hope (and am researching to see if this hope is consistent with my beliefs, otherwise I have some serious thinking to do about what I need to believe!) that all you who are looking for more evidence will have the chance to act on it when it's given in the future. :3 But thank you for affording me the respect of recognizing my capability and predilection for rational thought.
Well i guess the plight of a female bisexual Mormon teen would be similar to your situation in some ways despite many of the opposite pressures they face from my perspective. I wish you luck in bridging your marriage with your past happily, but it seems you are in a happier place than my current romantic state at least xD. I don't see how you ignore the Epsilon chance of the base layer of reality being something not consistent with your Mormon view of heaven though. If we ever break out of the simulation without destroying it then the layer beyond might not be dominated by Mormonism. Unless you think death is the only plausible way to access the next layer of reality in which case i refer you to the popular fiction Inception.
Please see the cousin of this post; I have been induced to make my position much clearer.
Thank you, you did, and i appreciate all the effort you spend explaining your position on Mormanism. Most people in your position have a lot of trouble with explanations when it comes to this area of discussion and this allows me to understand the mindset of a intelligent, yet religious person much better
..... I'm afraid I don't see your point. I asserted that P(~ happiness in the next life | Mormonism) = 0; I didn't assert that P(Mormonism) = 1. That would be folly. I also didn't make any assertion about P(Mormonism | happiness in the next life).
Number #1 Alicorn talent, saying what i'm thinking more efficiently than i could describe it in words. Go ninja author powers!
My question distills down to: Why is this specific belief system indicative of a greater degree of temporal happiness? If i gave you examples of people whose lives would be changed for the better if they rejected the LDS church and people whose lives would be enriched by it would you support the present day Mormans rejection of their faith if later when the Millennium comes they can realize how truly misguided they were? Because it seems to me in your position there exists a solid acausal trade that However if you encourage only one side of the spectrum (i.e. people joining Mormonism because there lives would be enlightened by it.) It seems like the Morman religion should encourage people to leave the church if they feel disillusioned by it rather than rationalizing the problems they find with the doctrine if it would benefit them positively. Roko is one example of how believing your beliefs are true does not always cause a greater degree of happiness and i don't know how you justify that your tenets (as they are interpreted by humans) are universally superior.
After reading the wiki article, I clicked through to actual pictures... That is one of the more horrifying things I've seen.
And it's no less amazing that several afflicted people managed to survive and function reasonably well.
I believe the standard response here is "God moves in a mysterious way!"

Do you consider that some claims of supernatural events in various religious texts (the resurrection of Jesus, the angel Moroni and the golden plates etc.) describe things that actually happened in the physical world? (I'm not talking about placebo-style faith healing, I'm talking about events that break the laws of physics as we know them).

I am especially interested in this question.
Why assume that those events broke the laws of physcs? I perform actions everyday that my ancesters would interpret as breaking the laws of physics (as understood at that time).
He didn't assume that; the post says
He lists a series of events (the resurrection of Jesus, the angel Moroni and the golden plates) and implies that (if they happened) they broke the laws of physics (as we know them). Which laws of physics (as we know them) did these events break? I'm not being a smartass; I'm honestly asking for an elaboration.
I'm not assuming those events broke the laws of physics, since I don't even believe they happened :) I'm mostly wondering how calcsam accounts for that kind of events, the events-that-would-be-very-hard-to-exlain-with-current-science. I'm wondering if the explanation would be "God has the root password of the universe, he can suspend the laws of nature if he wants to" (the "traditional" account of Miracles as supernatural events), or "There are beings with high technology we can't understand, their actions look like miracles to us", or "Those things didn't happen, they are symbolic and their main purpose is teaching us moral metaphors" or some other explanation. I talked about the "laws of physics" mostly to exclude "explainable" miracles like placebo-style faith healings, for which religious and scientific explanations of the physical world don't necessarily conflict with each other.
Absolutely no in LDS theology, God can not break the laws of nature. This is correct.

What fraction (be it zero or otherwise) of your motive for participating in LW is a hope that it may lead some people (directly or indirectly) to look more favourably on Mormonism? (Meaning not merely the persuasive techniques used by LDS missionaries, or the motivational techniques used by LDS elders, or whatever, but the actual religion.)

Around twenty percent. But the same percentage applies to pretty much everything I do. To some degree, the particular 'persuasive and motivational techniques' are separate from the religion. But some of the basic, driving ideas behind these techniques -- self-examination, consistency in good habits, are pretty central to the religion.

Have you read much about cryonics? If so, what are your thoughts?

To what extent do you agree with the official precepts and practices of the religion - i.e., what do you actually believe? (I'm interested in both the abstract affirmation-of-faith-you-say-in-a-service beliefs and how they apply in a social and day-to-day context.)

Do you think the process you went through that caused you to convert could happen to anyone else to cause them to convert to a different religion? If not, why not?

Do you think that calcsam(Mormon) is a more or less moral person than calcsam(atheist) controlling for age and other relevant factors?

Some questions:

  • I have been a Jehovah's Witness and I wonder how you determined that Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong and that Mormonism is less wrong or even right?
  • Is Mormonism falsifiable?
  • What probability do you assign to Mormonism being wrong?
  • How do you feel about Isaiah 13:15-18?
Nothing the Jehovah's Witnesses said would happen did in the time frame they have given and repeatedly altered.
Hey, me too!
As to how I came to believe in Mormonism, see above. As to why I think JW are wrong, one of my strongest religion-related beliefs is that the Book of Mormon is what is says it is, an ancient record. I find no other explanation plausible. (More on this below). That rules out JW and other religions’ exclusive truth claims, though I find many religious practices good and believe many other religions have part of the truth. Yes, throw out the Book of Mormon and the rest tumbles down. I find only one alternative remotely plausible, namely that there is no God and what I interpret as spiritual experiences are actually delusions. But other than testing against measurable reality, which I’m already trying to do, it’s difficult to judge the probability that you are delusional. Perhaps anywhere from 5 to 20%. The standard Mormon view is that the Bible is imperfect because people edited it and added and deleted and changed stuff and history follows a pattern of God choosing a prophet and people deciding to disobey that prophet and living in spiritual darkness. When they are ready, God will choose another prophet, etc. I believe both of those. I also believe that, given the existence of passages like the above, a lot of people writing the Old Testament were the same people who were living in spiritual darkness.
People have already accomplished "spiritual experiences" with secular meditation, drugs (mushrooms, LSD), and magnetic stimulation (the "god helmet"). And sometimes similar results from disease, schizophrenia, infections, etc.
If I may: 1. JohnH went ahead and gave an excellent answer; I'll not reiterate. 2. Yes; the problem is that archaeology is slow. :P However, there have been many findings that have actually confirmed Mormon claims; these are usually then ignored by those same people who used them as their strongest points. (cf. writing on golden plates, use of cement in ancient America) 3. About 30%. 4. I fail to see the problem with this scripture, though we in our church hold the KJV to be a better (not by any means perfect) translation of the Bible. Are you saying that it doesn't sound like something a "loving God" would do? God uses the designs of evil to suit his purposes, which are, in the long run, good. The ur-example is Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve, without which mankind (well, two of them anyway!) would be stuck in stagnation, and the rest of us would be stuck in heaven, waiting for the two of them to get on with it.

Let me describe two hypothetical scenarios:

  • US: By the year 2060, same-sex marriage is recognized in atleast 3/4ths of US states.

  • LDS: By the year 2060, the LDS church has accepted the validity of same-sex marriage, (perhaps due to a new divine revelation).

Which probabilities would you assign to P(US), P(LDS)?

What probability would you assign to P(LDS|US)?

Hmm...I anticipate the church could endorse same-sex civil unions at some point, but stop short of calling them marriage. For actual same-sex marriage, I would say that p(LDS) = 0.15, p(US) = 0.7, p(LDS|US) ~0.2; I would guess halfway between p(LDS) and (p(LDS)/p(US)). Curious why you asked; there is a follow-up question that seems like the reason you asked the initial question. I'll see if you do.
In the past the LDS church seems to have had "revelations" that caused it to change its teachings to follow US mainstream attitudes in other respects -- banning polygamy, no longer discriminating against black people, etc... I tried to sort-of quantify your expectation for this trend to continue. You may comment on the issue in the general, I didn't have a specific follow-up question in mind.
Allow me to expand on calcsam's explanation. The policy of declining blacks the priesthood was one that rested very uneasily on the Church for some time; one imagines that, had the change in policy been instigated by public feeling, the Church would have bent much sooner, particularly with all the pressure it was getting from the NAACP at the time. Consider this statement from Harold B. Lee, then-president of the Church, six years before the policy changed: (Data taken from Wikipedia), which can hardly be said to be a Mormon apologist site. :P)
That's definitely true. And that's why I assign p(LDS|US) > p(LDS). (I thought you would ask about that). In current LDS thought, doctrines on the nature of the family are central -- in a way that polygamy was in its day, but that the "black priesthood ban" wasn't. That's why (imho) it is less likely to change. What it took to prompt the polygamy ban was basically the alternative of destruction at the hands of the federal government. The language afterwards was not that "God said it was bad to do this" but "God showed us what the government would do if we didn't stop."
Or yellow pill?
What's the difference between the red and yellow pills?
The red pill works by magic, and the yellow pill by science, but apart from that, they do similar things. Just pointing out a historical antecedent of the idea.
I enjoyed the story, thanks.
Is there anyone on this site who'd be willing to say "blue pill?"
I think I remember some posters being in favor of wireheading.
Sure, given the right circumstances.
I'm somewhat depressed that that counts as a Wikipedia page, while hundreds of computer science and other nerdy-but-difficult-to-cite things get deleted. (Faith in Wikipedia)--.

Well, as it is written, AMA (= Ask Me Anything)

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined. Why should I listen to you? Especially since if you do start thinking coherently without discarding the absurd premise it will lead you to do, and advocate things that are potentially significantly detrimental to my goals.

To make it easier to answer we could rephrasing the question to the third person: "Wedrifid believes fundamental premise X. Calcsam has a very diff... (read more)

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined. Why should I listen to you?

People who hold obviously incorrect beliefs can still be highly intelligent and productive:

  • Peter Duesberg (a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley) "claimed that AIDS is not caused by HIV, which made him so unpopular that his colleagues and others have — until recently — been ignoring his potentially breakthrough work on the causes of cancer."
  • Francisco J. Ayala who “…has been called the “Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology” is a geneticist ordained as a Dominican priest. “His “discoveries have opened up new approaches to the prevention and treatment of diseases that affect hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide…”
  • Francis Collins (geneticist, Human Genome Project) noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and described by the Endocrine Society as “one of the most accomplished scientists of our time” is a evangelical Christian.
  • Georges Lemaître (a Belgian Roman Catholic priest) proposed wha
... (read more)

I think these kinds of list should always include Donald E. Knuth.

Maybe we should make a list on the wiki? eg. I'm tempted to add Aumann, but as pointed out, 'There are many more examples' and XiXiDu made his point with the short list.
I made the list at http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Irrationalists More suggestions welcome. I think I'm going to make a Discussion article on this to get a little more visibility.

People who hold obviously incorrect beliefs can still be highly intelligent and productive:

And one of the concerns I detected in wedrifid's comment (one I share myself) is that if highly intelligent and productive people start doing what obviously incorrect beliefs indicate they should, the world is going to be optimised in a direction I won't like.

I kind of think that's already happening. All over the place. All the time. What kind of policy implications did you want to draw from it in this particular instance?

My inclination would be to discourage posts with undertones of religious propaganda on this site.
Hmm, what policy... No amount of clear thinking elsewhere can excuse you from being wrong about this one thing. To think so is to treat being right and wrong like a social game, where people with high status gets a free pass on questions with actual answers.
0Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
Could you please be more specific? What sort of action is being taken here as a result of your worry?
Not voting for religious candidates for Australian Parliament elections.
Exactly! If beliefs like this are just used as verbal symbols for navigating the social world they do relatively minor harm. Once someone with the intelligence, productivity and otherwise rational thinking necessary comes to follow the belief to the logical conclusion comes along things start exploding. Or rationalist communities become modified in a direction that makes them either less pleasant or less effective than I would prefer.
Good reminder that reversed stupidity is not intelligence. Adding to the list: Hans Berger invented the EEG while trying to investigate telepathy, which he was convinced was real. Even fools can make important discoveries.
But increasing one's foolishness does not increase the expected rate of discovery.
I don't think that examples of people with fundamental, irrational beliefs being good at other things are relevant - calcsam has invited questions specifically about the belief whose rationality is being examined. If he was starting a discussion about mathematics and his points were dismissed due to his Mormon affiliation, your comment wold make more sense to me.
I think though that holding crazy beliefs is Bayesian evidence for the hypothesis that a person is not a remarkable intellectual contributor to humanity. Wedrifid's "why should I listen to you?" is thus not addressed head-on by a list of crazy people who happened to achieve other worthy stuff.
If we had no other information about calcsam besides eir religious beliefs, and e were only one of many people potentially worth listening to, and we were processing those many in bulk to try to decide which of them to investigate more expensively closely, then this would be a useful low-cost filter. However, I don't think it's enough evidence to overcome the other things we do know about em: that e's posting on LW, that e's responding in a generally clear and intelligent manner, etc. A policy of ignoring people who disagree with you seems like a good way to never notice that you're wrong. And you are wrong -- not necessarily about this particular question, but of all the things you believe there's pretty much guaranteed to be at least one false idea. I'd even go so far as to say that there's probably at least one very important wrong idea in there. In my opinion, listening to people like calcsam -- intelligent people who disagree with me -- is one of the most plausible vectors for finding out that I'm wrong about something.
So XiXiDu's negative quotes file is not limited to just Eliezer.
Too adversarial.

Too adversarial.

No, and I take a mild degree of offence at the accusation. Ask Me Anything taken literally. It is exactly what the 'elephant in the room' is. I am being frank, not adversarial and given calcsam's experiences and the emotional resilience that he would have needed to develop while evangelizing I know I don't have to tiptoe through a minefield to protect his feelings.

If I am obliged to maintain a social facade even in a thread specifically created to asking this question then the only real recourse I would have is to do whatever is appropriate to eliminate the necessity for me to speak bullshit (or act in a misleading way that is analogous to bullshit).

I do not object to the subject of your question, but the way you put it. I think this

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined.

Is what I was reacting to.

Presumably, he disputes that, so for the purposes of your conversation it is not 'clear'. Phrasing this same sentiment as 'I do not believe you are capable of thinking rationally ..., and you will have to convince me otherwise before I listen to you' or something along those lines would be a less adversarial way of asking this question. For example, I think Costanza asks roughly the same question below in a frank way.

I do not object to the subject of your question, but the way you put it.

I differ in that I do object to the subject of User:wedrifid's question, in particular, the part you just excerpted.

If being B1 refuses to update to being B2's beliefs on account of B2 being stupid, and this judgment of B2's stupidity, in turn, is solely based on B2 satisfying B1 =/= B2, then B1 is "begging the question" (assuming a conclusion to prove it).

There are very good arguments to reject religious beliefs; however, when one uses the argument that an exponent of one of them is stupid because they so believe and therefore must not be worth listening to, then one has desensitized one's worldmodel to evidence, locking in any errors one current subscribes to -- and this remains true even if B2 is pure error.

No belief system or decision theory can be judged solely relative to itself; otherwise, it would be impossible to change one's beliefs or decision theory. Because the fact that one possesses a belief system is not definitive evidence of its truth, any belief system must permit situations in which it would update, or else it will indefinitely reproduce the same errors under reflection.

User:wedrifid makes the error in this statement, no matter how well its phrasing is changed to accord with human customs and status systems:

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined.

Ironically those suggestions convey a worse picture of of the opening poster and declare a stricter requirement for what it would take for me to listen. My observation clearly indicated both in the quote you made and in my following paragraph that the flawed thinking is with respect to the religious belief. Further, I don't think (and didn't suggest that) the OP would need to convince me of a specific kind of rational thinking in order for it to be worth listening. Instead I gave him a platform from which to enumerate reasons. The best of those reasons would actually speak of potential instrumental value and not epistemic awesomeness. Adding "I do not believe" before a statement is actually just redundant a kind of false humility. Eliezer actually wrote a post that touched on this specifically, does anyone recall the reference?
You could be thinking of Qualitatively Confused - though that post is mostly about how 'believe' is not quite redundant.
Yes. But the reason why we should listen to him is self-evident. He has written things that are valuable. If he maintains his interest in the community here, and the quality is good, he could be a value-multiplier. A catalyst. His writing here is the intersecting part of a Venn diagram, his interests overlapping with Less Wrong. His allusions to his missionary work are provoking an immune response from many here, including me (not that I write much). I think this is why (from a quote thread):
I have not been particularly bothered by the missionary allusions but obviously don't consider the posts nearly as valuable as you do. There is an undesirable emphasis on norms and a constant pressure to move things in the direction of 'making the group do set projects' and 'consensus'. This isn't an organisation, it's a blog.

This isn't an organisation, it's a blog.

Some of us would like a %$^&ing organization, pardon my French.

Some of us would like a %$^&ing organization, pardon my French.

You have one.

Injecting LW with a pint of blood from a religious Behemoth will not give you another organisation, charged up with the power of divine effectiveness. It'll cause an autoimmune disease, doing serious neurological damage and causing externally visible disfigurement (unnecessarily cultish vibe), scaring healthy potential recruits away.

If you want to actually enhance the potential practical effectiveness of LW and LW spinoff communities instead take the quickening of an entrepreneur. Or at very least track down and feast on the essence of a successful business professional and an economist or two.

Food for Thought: Holy Books usually don't get implemented at all. Which is usually a good thing. What mainstream religious authorities do when 'implementing Holy Books' is something quite different from implementing holy books - and not something that is necessarily desirable to emulate.

I completely failed to parse this sentence (and so didn't really understand the next one either.) Could you try phrasing it another way and/or correcting typos, if they're in there?
I edited the paragraph. The meaning is approximately the same but far clearer.

There seems to be a peculiar affinity between Mormonism and transhumanism. "Then shall they be gods." And the idea that you can save your ancestors by converting could easily dovetail with a Frank Tipler cosmology of universal resurrection in the big crunch. So I don't find it astonishing that someone willing to hang out with Singularity activists could also be a Mormon convert. Interfaith dialog is a common thing these days...

Yes, actually my desire to become a god is a strong part of why I am participating in both communities. Dead serious.
As someone who has always rooted for the villains, I can appreciate this level of megalomania. (Me, I'm happy just being a cultist. Alas, no gods to serve.)

Reposted as requested:

It doesn't seem to me to be possible to hold both rationality and religion in one's head at the same time without compartmentalization, which is one of the things rationality seeks to destroy.

I can actually quite easily accept that it could be a good idea for rationalists to adopt some of the community-building practices of religious groups, but I also think that rationality is necessarily corrosive to religion.

If you've squared that circle, I'd be interested to hear how. Being somewhat religious for the social bit but having excise

... (read more)
And I can actually think of a few people who do that. :3 They're not rationalists, but they still go to a church once in a while to hang out with their friends and the community that such an establishment engenders. (Not even my church, so don't take this as an endorsement... x3) Unfortunately, there is a datum that you are missing; the "missing link" between religion and rationality, and that is the "taste of the fruit" that calcsam spoke of above. Without personal experience it's possible to show - and people have worked hard at doing it, and continue to hold their ground, including the oft-quoted-by-me Jeff Lindsay - that our religion "is not necessarily proven to be false". Given enough study time, this might be enough to convince an unbiased person (given that there are no unbiased people, this is of course difficult to prove) that Mormonism is worth considering more closely as a hypothesis; it might make it stand out more in hypothesis-space. But in order to take that "possibility" into a "probability", you need to experience the Spirit speaking to you for yourself, which means - in the simplest case - reading the Book of Mormon and taking Moroni's Challenge (Moroni 10:4-5).
Religion and rationality are not compatible, because the specific claims of religion are false and rationality seeks to destroy false beliefs. There is no missing link; subjective experience is not compelling evidence of anything, let alone something so massively in need of high-quality evidence as a god. You are rationalizing a position you didn't reason yourself into. Stop it.
Tu quoque. Circular argument: Rationality is opposed to religion because religion is false. Religion is false because rationality opposes it.

In the story Initiation Ceremony, a character is asked if he 'wants to know'.

In that context, do you want to know? Does knowing motivate you? Are you interested in the 'truth' about the nature of the universe and how it works?

Do you care about reality as opposed to socially constructed 'realities'

I've just started reading your blog which someone linked to.

What do you study at Stanford? Why?

From his blog:

Not sure if I should create another thread out of it, but I did 'convert' to orthodox judaism (from being an atheist by default) at the age of 15. After 20 years I am back to atheism, though I'd say it's no longer a 'default' (which was I suppose the problem in the first place). Feel free to ask questions :)

(Calcsam, sorry if I'm hijacking a bit)

Why did you convert to orthodox Judaism? Why did you go back to atheism?
(Just to clarify - I did not actually have to convert, I'm half jewish on the right side, so conversion = observance in this context) Partially it was the environment. I ended up in an orthodox Jewish school when I came to the US largely b/c I was used to having so many Jewish friends in my math-sci school in USSR. I already had cousins in this school. The next largest factor is that the specific approach of this school was to claim that Judaism is "rational" and "proved" along these lines. Unfortunately I did not have Methods of Rationality under my belt, but I did like the label. In addition, the best counterarguments to this "proof" actually require some knowledge if Judaism from the inside, which I did not have at the time. Lastly I'd mention the fact that having survived so long Judaism is a very powerful memetic system. As one example, the Talmud is largely logical and whenever it's not new methods are developed to "reconcile" the inconsistencies; these methods are praised and constitute the main activity of Rabbinical students for millennia. When first exposed to this it's hard to not be impressed, and in my case convinced. My deconversion should probably be credited to 3 things that occurred at around same time. Earthquake in Haiti, and seeing bodies of kids piled up by medical workers. I have kids myself and was not even as a religious person arrogant enough to draw distinctions - I realized that with all the explanations and mysteries God does not care about what I have to protect. I became more open to consider and seek out arguments against the Torah along these lines http://www.talkreason.org/articles/letter1.cfm . Lastly reading LessWrong (I had interests in biases and AI), things like "Belief in Belief", "Privileging the hypothesis" added a certain amount of reflectivity to my thinking, and also gave me another community with social acceptance to my new set of beliefs.

How do you reconcile the multitude of religions with the certainty of your belief? What exactly convinced you that only in 1830 did the one true faith come into existence, and the multitude of others existing before and after were simply foolish or lies?

What exactly convinced you that only in 1830 did the one true faith come into existence, and the multitude of others existing before and after were simply foolish or lies?

I'm not a Mormon, but my understanding of Mormon beliefs is that a Mormon would no more consider pre-1830 Christianity foolish lies then a modern physicist would consider pre-20th physics foolish pseudoscience.

ok, let's say that lets christianity off the hook. What about zeus, odin, shiva, allah, judaism, or coyote? It also doesn't serve to explain why he would consider his, out of all the flavors of christianity, to be more uniquely convincing.
Even as an atheist, I don't understand your question. What do you mean by "reconcile the multitude of religions with the certainty of your belief"? What do you mean about the falsehood of religions before or since? If you're asking why God didn't make revelations until then, then the Mormons most definitely believe God and his angels spoke to prophets long before 1830. To Abraham, to Moses, through Jesus to the Apostles, etc, etc. If you're asking why God has permitted false religions to exist, then couldn't you have phrased it more clearly than you did?
there are hundreds of religions. In general, they contradict one another (there are exceptions but enough do that I don't think it's relevant), and no more than one can be true. How does it make sense to strongly believe in any of them? To start believing in LDS, I would have to be strongly convinced that it has truth beyond each and every one of the hundreds of religions ranging from very similar to starkly different. What exactly would make you home in on Mormonism in the existing beliefspace? What rules out every other religion, and leaves mormonism as the only one that can possibly be true? The question wouldn't be why god permits false religions (though that's another valid and separate question), but why he makes many of them almost indistinguishable from the true one.
What ArisKatsaris said is true and answers half the question. The other half I will answer in a new thread.
To elaborate on this point, from your point of view there is one true religion and a myriad of false ones. Why is the evidence presented for the true one nearly indistinguishable from the false ones? Why is story of the revelation of the golden plates to Joseph smith the same as what would happen if Joseph smith made up the plates, and then didn't want to come up with plates and so claimed that they could not be shown to everyone (I know there are witnesses but showing it only to his selected few does not actually make it much more plausible that they existed) and then that they vanished away for ever? Assuming god exists and wants you to worship him, there should NOT be any doubt at all about it. He can write the bible on the side of the mountain, on the moon, or in the minds of every man alive should he so desire. Why would he reveal his will in the least convincing way possible (private revelations to human prophets)?
You would have to ask first whether he truly believes that "only in 1830 did the one true faith come into existence, and the multitude of others existing before and after were simply foolish or lies" - the impression I got from what he said in other threads was that he didn't believe that. But I might be wrong, he's best placed to tell.

What function does religion play in your everyday life? What are the social perks?

I think the most relevant question is still "why do you believe", which has been asked in several different ways but not, so far as I can tell, answered.

Edit: If you are still interested in answering: do you understand why your "conversion story" is disappointing to many of us? If so, why do you think we are wrong?

How did you end up converting (the actually believing kind of conversion, as you mention) to Mormonism? What convinced you to believe it?

Yes on this question. Here is his conversion story which someone else posted in a different reply.
Thanks for this.

Do you believe in supernatural things?

It may help to provide a definition of supernatural.
We can use his definition.
If you don't supply one, it may be hard to pin down what you're asking. If he's already supplied one, ignore this comment.
That's true, and if he answered 'yes', or 'no' we wouldn't know much. But he seems pretty thorough - I'm hoping he'll describe his definition of what 'supernatural' means. I could have just asked, 'how would you define supernatural', but I felt like seeing how he would respond to the first version. The information I wanted is how he frames the question. :-)

What is your largest(most important) goal and why is it important to you? Both personal and nonpersonal goal if there is any difference between the two for you.

My understanding is that your conversion was based primarily on the goodness and love of your Mormon friends. If other evidence were to convince you that the Mormon God does not exist, would you expect them to continue to treat you with goodness and love?

Fixed that.
Pardon me for answering a question directed to someone else. Sad love, certainly, but love. I've experienced this second-hand; I know a number of people who left the church, who are still in good contact with their friends and families. Sure, the friends and families wish they would come back, but they respect that everyone must choose his own path. That there is the key tenant of "agency", or freedom of choice; that's the freedom we fought for in the pre-existence.
I think I've seen this error from you twice now so it's probably not just a typo: "tenet", not "tenant".
Oh, wonderful! Thank you. :3 Yes, this is a common error of mine; one I'm trying to shake.

What role do you plan on playing in increasing world wide rationality other then writing your current series of posts?

If Calcsam is willing to spend the time, I'd rather he respond in a detailed "answers" discussion post rather than responding ad-hoc in this thread.

There is lots of meta in this thread. I wish for an answers post with the questions he's responding to numbered and quoted. Then we could respond to the response with less clutter.

Good idea.

TBH I'd rather you just dived in and started replying to people. Doing what you propose throws away the valuable structure which is exactly why we have threading in the first place. Worse, it creates a barrier to you replying. It's a bit of a shame to announce an AMA and then 132 comments later announce that you can't answer anything until you've constructed your Answer Post. Just dive in and start replying; if there's repetition you can always link to your replies elsewhere, or just answer one of them and let people figure it out.

On second thought -- and a lot of effort trying to write definitive replies -- you're right, I'll post what I have.
Maybe afterward you could write up an answer post that summarizes some of the most important questions and/or is a summary of your evidence? It gets hard to find particular answers in posts with many interlocking nested comment threads. Don't if it would be too much trouble, obviously, but I and probably several other people would appreciate it.

What is the most important skill you are developing right now and why is it important to your future?

What do you plan on working on after graduation?

Personally, I don't have any problem with religious people. I know there's a sequence that makes the claim that "atheism = untheism + anti-theism", but I guess that has never been my interpretation, otherwise I'm an untheist. And I'll defend religious people from skeptical attacks when they are stupid, or perhaps not skeptical enough.

But...my own opinion, I don't want rationalism to become Christianity without the mythology, it's not the mythology that I object to. I object to the servility, and the docility (this was once considered a virtue ... (read more)

The LDS Church is different enough that much of Christianity does not consider us to be Christian. We believe that most of the history of Christianity occurred in a state of apostasy, or not according to the truth that is in God. Therefore we reject almost all of Christian theology as commonly understood and have the claim to have again the revealed word of God. We flat out claim to be "the only true and living church" on the earth and believe that all others are in some state of being wrong. I am sure having a belief in Christ and some knowledge of the Bible would help one to understand LDS theology. However, in many ways it is easier to understand by ignoring all other Jewish and Christian theology as it is quite different.

how do you deal with the book of Abraham not being the actual translation of Egyptian that the original should be (we have the originals). Also how do you deal with Adam god, the belief that adam was a god who came down as a man to create humanity?

Have you attended a meet up in Berkeley (and are you that guy that said he wrote programs to analyze his own genetic SNPs?)

No, that's not me.

From what source do you draw the majority of your motivation from?


Hello, I am also a Mormon, a few years younger than you are, who has recently become interested in rationality and Less Wrong. Two days ago I posted a comment on the open thread which has since generated a staggering amount of discussion. I've quite enjoyed it, though it's difficult, as you know. I think that when it resolves itself I'll post an introduction on the welcome page (sort of the way AspiringKnitter did, but not the same)

I'm delighted to have found this community and I've learned a lot already. Any...criticism, warnings, advice, etc.? You're a ... (read more)

I'm interested in answers from all sides on this question.

It seems to me that, whether Mormonism is true or not, it is extremely likely that there are at least a few non-Mormons who should convert to Mormonism, and at least a few non-Mormons who should continue being non-Mormon.

What indications and contraindications would you suggest for converting to Mormonism?

What mark do you want your life to make on the world?

How long have you been at standford? How much longer do you expect to be there?

Are you still answering this thread? I see quite a few unanswered questions.

It's nice to hear (well, read) all this. I bump noses with LDS members quite a bit here in Utah, and I've always felt that--despite my issues with its dogmatic authority, literal truth value, and shaming of anyone who doesn't fit into the proper casting roles--the church is a highly effective force that does a lot of overall good for its members. "If I were a Christian, I thought, I’d be a Mormon." rings true for me too.

I still disagree with you and doubt that will change, but I'm glad to see you and JohnH here. You bring a strong, unique, and well-reasoned voice with invaluable experience to this forum. I look forward to reading more from you in the future =)

Your priors are like 10,000:1 on this. So maybe something I say sounds plausible (1:2). But you're still at 5000:1 and extremely skeptical.

This dramatically overestimates my prior probability of Mormonism being true, and probably that of most other members here. This is the sort of prior probability I might hold for Mormonism being correct given the premise that some existing religion must be true.

Probably true. But is the point I am making here different if you add a couple of zeroes?
It still doesn't really hold. Adherents of other religions describe similar experiences. If they were a sign of any particular religion being true, you would expect only adherents of the true religion to experience them, so all the claims from different religions function as counterevidence for each other. Rather than making the proposition more plausible, but not enough more plausible, the evidence you provided is only as good or weaker than the sort of evidence I would have predicted in advance, so it doesn't increase my probability estimate of Mormonism being true at all. In order to increase our probability estimates, you would have to offer stronger evidence than we would expect a Mormon in your position to be able to offer given the assumption that Mormonism is not true. On a side note, I think you may have anchored on an estimate of the likelihood that we assign to Mormonism being correct that was completely out of the ballpark. Given what I said about the probability I'd assign Mormonism given the premise of some religion being true, adding a couple zeroes would only account for my having a 1 in 100 probability estimation of any religion being true, which is still off by several orders of magnitude.
Okay, so you're saying that I haven't adjusted your probability at all. Understood. Not true. Here's an analogous argument. "If LW rationalism is valid, then you would only expect people who fully understand LW rationalism to make correct arguments. All correct arguments made by people outside LW are therefore evidence against Less Wrong." Clearly, this is flawed. Do LW rationalists predict that no one else has correct arguments? No. Do adherents of the claimed true religion predict that no one else will have spiritual experiences? In this case, no.
I concede that the argument was flawed in that you would not necessarily expect only people following the correct religion to have religious experiences (although it would certainly be a very helpful way to point people in the right direction,) but if it's evidence for a religion being true, it must be more likely to occur in the true religion than any non-true religion. If Mormons assert that their religious experiences are evidence for their religion being true, they must thereby assert that religious experiences are more prevalent in their religion than any other, otherwise they are mistreating evidence. Is this an assertion that you're prepared to make?
Yes, I am.
I don't think that's been studied before, but it doesn't seem like it should be particularly difficult. If one defined religious experiences clearly, one could resolve it with a poll. Is anyone here in a position to carry out this sort of research? It would need pollsters who don't know the hypothesis.
Good idea. Upon investigation, it seems the Pew Forum already did this for us. I found this. You can also go here, click on Beliefs and Practices, and then click on Frequency of Receiving Answers to Prayers. (This isn't a perfect proxy of reported spiritual experiences but it's the best one they have.) Same data, but it's easier to see the second way. This is the proportion of group members who report receiving answers to prayers, in descending order: * Mormons, 74% (=32% at least once a week + 22% once or twice a month + 20% several times a year) * Historically Black Churches, 68% (=34% at least once a week + 16% once or twice a month + 18% several times a year) * Other Christians, 67% (29% at least once a week + 20% once or twice a month + 18% several times a year) * In some order, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, Hindus, Buddhists, etc * The bottom is Jews at 21% (=8% at least once a week + 4% once or twice a month + 9% several times a year) I should add that I already knew about the existence of this data source, do not know of the existence of any others, but had never scrutinized data on this question before.
I have to wonder what criteria they use for answering of prayers. Obviously if you pray for things that are likely to happen anyway, you're more likely to be "answered" than if you pray for, say, world peace. But on the other hand, they might be referring to the mental sensation of feeling like you've made a connection, and you've received a definite answer from God, even if it's "no." We would be much better off standardizing what the groups are praying for, and having a concrete way of measuring whether the prayers are answered or not, otherwise we can't tell differences in the actual rate of prayer answering from differing rates of softball prayers and bias in interpreting results. Polling people on rates of religious experiences, provided they're clearly defined, would be easier than this though. The poll you linked tells us something, but not much given that they didn't isolate any of the multiple factors that could account for different rates in reporting. It's not really useful for the question we're trying to answer. The metric you used for frequency of prayer answering also seems somewhat misleading, since it weights different rates of receiving answers to prayers equally.
I agree, the data isn't perfect. But it's better than nothing, and it does support my conclusion -- there are 14 groups. It also supports the conclusion "More-actively-religious groups are more likely to claim spiritual experiences." But we should expect a true religion to be an active religion. Can you go find some better data? As for some people being more likely to say softball prayers, that would be a good reason to weight the three categories equally, because we need to adjust for that. And different levels of likelihood-to-perceive-events-as-spritual-experiences. But okay, even if we discard that and re-weight, 9 points for the highest frequency, 3 points for the medium frequency, 1 point for the lowest frequency. (Once or twice a month ~ 1/3 of once a week) Witnesses = 36x9 + 13x3 + 14x1 = 377 points Mormons = 32x9 + 22x3 + 20x1 = 374 points Black Churches = 34x9 + 16x3 + 18x 1 = 372 points Other Christians = 29x9 + 20x3 + 18x1 = 339 points So yeah, if we re-weight, now it's 2nd out of 14 instead of 1st.
Why suppose these differences manifest within religions as different frequencies in prayer answerings, but not between religions? A cursory search didn't reveal any applicable data, which is why I said in the first place that I didn't think the matter had been studied before. Better to admit we don't know, and if possible conduct the research, than pretend we have an answer based on poor or tenuously related data.
Browsing through this page, I saw no mention of Mormonism ... I also wasn't aware that Mormons considered they experienced a lot of religious experiences, it's something I usually associated with Hindus, Buddhists and Sufis.
Probably the emphasis on Hinduism, Buddhism, etc are correlated with the amount of time the religion has been around. When William James wrote his landmark treatise, there were like ~300,000 Mormons concentrated in an isolated territory in the American West. This is a pretty good article on the subject. It is called "Spiritual Experiences as a Basis for Belief and Commitment."

Are you vulnerable to Pascal's Mugging?

What's the rational reason not to be vulnerable to Pascal's Mugging? Please correct me if I am wrong but it seems that Eliezer does simply choose to believe, i.e. trust his intuition, that it would be wrong to give in to the demands of such a mugger. So what if calcsam says that he is vulnerable to Pascal's Mugging, does it make him more or less rational to not trust his intuition in this case?
Here is the technical reason: If you use a Solomonoff prior nearly any utility function will not have a well defined expected value, i.e., trying to calculate it will give ∞ − ∞. Or basically trying to take all possible versions of Pascal's mugging into account makes expected utility calculations mathematically incoherent.
This article has the basics. It basically consists of calling BS on the promised high utility - under most circumstances.
Roughly the same reason to one box on Newcomb's Problem -- rationalists win. I ask because I hypothesize that a rational theist/religious person almost definitely has to be vulnerable to Pascal's Mugging.
I don't see why they'd be any more vulnerable then a rationalist atheist. Keep in mind we don't even know how to describe a rational agent that's not vulnerable to Pascal's mugging. The way we currently get around this problem is by having a rule that temporarily suspends our decision theory when we pattern match the situation to resemble Pascal's mugging.
A weird conclusion. I'd think that most theists would be likely to believe that such a huge disutility couldn't be allowed (by God) to exist; atleast not on the basis of some superdimensional prankster asking you for 5 dollars.
I thought the whole problem with Pascal's Mugging is that being mugged has a higher expected value - and so those who get mugged "win" more. Obviously we're not precise enough to be vulnerable to it, but the hypothetical super-AI could be. The reason Pascal's Mugging is a challenge is that expected utility calculations say to get mugged, but really strong intuitions say not to.