Thwarting a Catholic conversion?

by Jay_Schweikert2 min read18th Jun 2012204 comments

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Personal Blog

I recently learned that a friend of mine, and a long-time atheist (and atheist blogger), is planning to convert to Catholicism. It seems the impetus for her conversion was increasing frustration that she had no good naturalistic account for objective morality in the form of virtue ethics; that upon reflection, she decided she felt like morality "loved" her; that this feeling implied God; and that she had sufficient "if God, then Catholicism" priors to point toward Catholicism, even though she's bisexual (!) and purports to still feel uncertain about the Church's views on sexuality. (Side note: all of this information is material she's blogged about herself, so it's not as if I'm sharing personal details she would prefer to be kept private.)

First, I want to state the rationality lesson I learned from this episode: atheists who spend a great deal of their time analyzing and even critiquing the views of a particular religion are at-risk atheists. Eliezer's spoken about this sort of issue before ("Someone who spends all day thinking about whether the Trinity does or does not exist, rather than Allah or Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is more than halfway to Christianity."), but I guess it took a personal experience to really drive the point home. When I first read my friend's post, I had a major "I notice that I am confused" moment, because it just seemed so implausible that someone who understood actual atheist arguments (as opposed to dead little sister Hollywood Atheism) could convert to religion, and Catholicism of all things. I seriously considered (and investigated) the possibility that her post was some kind of prank or experiment or otherwise not sincere, or that her account had been hijacked by a very good impersonator (both of these seem quite unlikely at this point).

But then I remembered how I had been frustrated in the past by her tolerance for what seemed like rank religious bigotry and how often I thought she was taking seriously theological positions that seemed about as likely as the 9/11 attacks being genuinely inspired and ordained by Allah. I remembered how I thought she had a confused conception of meta-ethics and that she often seemed skeptical of reductionism, which in retrospect should have been a major red flag for purported atheists. So yeah, spending all your time arguing about Catholic doctrine really is a warning sign, no matter how strongly you seem to champion the "atheist" side of the debate. Seriously.

But second, and more immediately, I wonder if anybody has advice on how to handle this, or if they've had similar experiences with their friends. I do care about this person, and I was devastated to hear this news, so if there's something I can do to help her, I want to. Of course, I would prefer most that she stop worrying about religion entirely and just grok the math that makes religious hypotheses so unlikely as to not be worth your time. But in the short term I'd settle for her not becoming a Catholic, and not immersing herself further in Dark Side Epistemology or surrounding herself with people trying to convince her that she needs to "repent" of her sexuality.

I think I have a pretty good understanding of the theoretical concepts at stake here, but I'm not sure where to start or what style of argument is likely to have the best effect at this point. My tentative plan is to express my concern, try to get more information about what she's thinking, and get a dialogue going (I expect she'll be open to this), but I wanted to see if you all had more specific suggestions, especially if you've been through similar experiences yourself. Thanks!

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Catholicism of all things

Of the branches of Christianity, and perhaps of all religions, Catholicism has the most developed theology, the most rigorous set of justifications for belief, the longest intellectual tradition and tries the hardest to be convivial with reason. Other branches and other religions would be a lot more surprising (unless you're counting Quakers and Unitarians, for which religion has very little to do with "belief" as we understand it here.) Especially for a self-described virtue ethicist.

I think you're forgetting about Orthodox Jews, who have the Catholics beat on pretty much all counts (age, complexity, and at least arguably "reason"). Of course, it's all mere rationalization -- the bottom line has already been written. And the Orthodox tend to reason within their framework rather than trying to justify their framework to outsiders, presumably because they're not seeking converts.

Catholicism has probably spent a heck of a lot more money on complex proselytizing than Orthodox Judaism. Also Catholics were competing with the Protestants - rabbis have no real competition, since their only audience is Orthodox Jews. But mostly, my point is just that there's this huge, worldwide organized Church that has spent who knows how many equivalent billions of dollars on theology. It's amazing how little they've accomplished, really, given how much they've spent and how many geniuses it wasted (theology was the string theory of its day), but they still did end up with something. Probably an equivalent amount of raw genius, if not money, was wasted on Orthodox Judaic halacha, but in a much less competitive, outside-world-facing way.

5David_Gerard9y+1
5NancyLebovitz9yThe remarkable thing about halacha is that an effective legal system grew out of it. When Jews in Europe didn't have access to the mainstream legal system, rabbinical courts worked well enough.
2shminux9yEven a broken clock...
3Furcas9yI don't think inventing incredibly convoluted ways to rationalize a bottom line is trying to be "convivial with reason". In fact, it's the exact opposite.
9Jack9yI didn't say it wasn't a religion.
3Tyrrell_McAllister9y"Convivial with" doesn't mean "conforms to the prescriptions of". One way to be convivial with reason is to invent convoluted rationalizations so that reason hums along happily without realizing that it's being thwarted.
2insufferablejake8yThere is a base level scaffolding here called A. A is based on shaky assumptions and essentially a choice to 'believe' in something, and nothing else. People standing on A refuse to look below it, or question why/how it came about, but instead they build these fabulous castles and really intricate structures, the supports and beams for which they easily carve out of A -- since nobody is going to think about how A came to be, or what supports it, we can just have it give us more pillars and beams for the next floor of the castle. Let's build as many floors, as we want. I do not see this as rigour, or worthy of any merit.
2OphilaDros9yIs your background Catholic? Asking because although I haven't delved in depth into 'justifications for belief' of various religions recently (I stopped shopping around for a religion 16-17 years ago), I don't remember Catholic justifications as being particularly stronger than that of the others I was reading up about (Islam/Buddhism/Hinduism).
0stcredzero9yWhat you're talking about has more to do with the typical person's relationship to their religion than belief. (Or "belief")
-10ChrisHallquist9y

My formerly agnostic girlfriend of over 5 years just joined a local Catholic congregation.

The best thing you can do for your friend, is to be a friend. Listen to her and support her as a fellow human being. If you have an agenda for what you want her to be, she will most likely be able to sense this.

Just be her friend and accept her for who she is. If she finds that the Catholic community doesn't accept her wholeheartedly, be there for her. If she finds acceptance there, then accept that too.

Hating people for being wrong is a seductive and tricky thing and can lead to unproductive situations. Limited but generous forgiveness and acceptance are optimal strategies in an imperfect world with imperfect communications channels and fallible actors. (Refer to: Axelrod's Prisoner's Dilemma tournament, and a Tit-For-Two-Tats.)

There's always the possibility she will change her mind again. Ask yourself, would you want to be permanently shunned because you didn't come to the correct conclusion fast enough? What would you think of a community with members that acted in that fashion?

It's difficult. I decided to end a friendship recently, due to the friend's wholehearted embrace of catholic doctrine. I just didn't want to be around someone with her views on homosexuality, abortion and contraception. Not sure if this was the right decision, but I no longer found her company enjoyable, and I thought I was unlikely to change her mind.

I find it much easier to be friends with more liberal christians. They are wrong, but in a way that I find easier to deal with.

ETA: could someone explain why this has been downvoted twice? I'm quite new to this site, and would like to know how to avoid this.

ETA2: No longer downvoted, so ignore previous question!

Picking your friends by their politics seems like a bad way to maximize personal well being, unless they insist on talking about it all the time. Indeed people who ostracise others because of ideology are often the ones who can't stop talking about it:

A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject. --Winston Churchill

Most people compartmentalize quite well and most humans are hypocrites. In the real world people with weird or "evil" ideologies can still make great friends and can be good people. And people with wonderful sounding belief systems can be horrible human begins. Don't underestimate the utility she may bring you and how much utility you can bring her by continuing the relationship.

Note that if she is into virtue ethics she may view severing your friendship over religion a breach of loyalty, not something she would do, which means you are sort of defecting. (;_;)

9coffeespoons9yAs I say below, she did insist on talking about it too muuch :-). It would be interesting to discuss the utility of choosing your friends based on politics, but I fear we'd be going too far off topic!
3GLaDOS9yAh ok, sorry.
0[anonymous]9yAh ok sorry then.

I'm getting to be quite old, and I have very little tolerance for people with strong political beliefs. For people I meet in passing, I generally ignore stupid beliefs and simply transition the conversation elsewhere - it's not worth the time and effort.

However, for anyone I'm going to spend more than passing time with, I usually ridicule and/or contradict what I consider unproductive beliefs if they are expressed strongly. This puts the target on notice that I don't approve and that they had best not talk about it in my presence; occasionally, it gets rid of the target completely, a fact for which I have been grateful many times.

My reasons for so blatantly violating social norms centers largely around the fact that no matter what action I take, I will have at best minimal impact on this person. If I support their view, it is reinforced. If I do nothing, they assume I don't have a problem with it, and it is likewise reinforced. If I directly contradict their view, it also reinforces it, as discussed repeatedly in the articles on this site.

Quite frankly, I have limited time remaining, and better things to do with that time than try to fix an occasional broken belief system in a low- or normal-functioning person. If you're not going to lead and you're not going to follow, then get out of the way.

3stcredzero9yWhat was disagreeable about her company? Was she trying to convert you, or constantly telling you you are wrong? Would she be amenable to simply avoiding those topics, and would you be able to deal with that? Why do you need to change her mind?
1coffeespoons9yShe did want to discuss moral issues quite a lot, and yes she did want to convert me back to catholicism. I couldn't see what could be gained by continuing the friendship. And I wanted to change her mind, because it's better not to be a catholic!
-3stcredzero9yJust because you know it's better doesn't mean you have to harbor a burning desire to change her mind. If you want to change her mind for her benefit, ask yourself, is it better for her to continue to be her friend, or to stop? Of course, this can only work if she can take the same stance with you. You are also free to choose to otherwise, of course. It's enough for me to have posed the interesting questions.
1Crux9yWhy were you friends with her in the first place? I understand not wanting to be around someone with terrible mental hygiene habits (because of the epistemic danger), but that sort of thing becomes rather obvious long before they start telling you all about their new religious conversion.
1Crux9yThis post has fluctuated a bit. I should clarify that I wasn't suggesting that he or she shouldn't have been friends with her in the first place. I was simply posing the question in order to elicit clarification. (I understand how it may have sounded like I was suggesting that though, which is why I'm writing this.)
-1coffeespoons9yI didn't care too much that she's never been much of a rationalist. If I decided that I only wanted to be friends with rationalists I would have to end friendships with a lot of people! I found that her views made her annoying to be around! Perhaps if she'd talked less about her views things would have been different.
0[anonymous]9yWell, I was friends with her when I was much younger, and we were both catholics. After my deconversion, I think I continued to be friends with her for sunk cost fallacy reasons - I didn't want to end such a long friendship!
4David_Gerard9yIs she someone likely to be prone to spiritual binge-and-purge? Does she tend to be intense about beliefs or the lack thereof in general?
4stcredzero9yShe tends to feel everything more intensely, resulting in a great deal of anxiety, but hides this behind a poker face. Many people, including her relatives, thought she'd become a nun before she started going out with me.
2[anonymous]9yGotta love that phrase.
4David_Gerard9ySome people seem to need something to believe, and they are often quite driven people. It may not be religion - we've seen a few around LessWrong, who give up religion and pursue the Singularity with the same intensity, or go the other way.

I wonder if anybody has advice on how to handle this

I personally would refrain from publicly criticising her thinking, life choices and core identity on the internet. For example:

But then I remembered how I had been frustrated in the past by her tolerance for what seemed like rank religious bigotry and how often I thought she was taking seriously theological positions that seemed about as likely as the 9/11 attacks being genuinely inspired and ordained by Allah. I remembered how I thought she had a confused conception of meta-ethics and that she often seemed skeptical of reductionism, which in retrospect should have been a major red flag for purported atheists. So yeah, spending all your time arguing about Catholic doctrine really is a warning sign, no matter how strongly you seem to champion the "atheist" side of the debate. Seriously.

... this is insightful and valuable as a warning to others and for your own future reference. But it is more something to do once the victim has already been written off and attempts at influence abandoned.

4Jay_Schweikert9yThis is a fair point, and I'm presently debating whether to go back and remove or at least soften this language. For most people, I think you would be right. But I think the situation may be different here because my friend has a long-running atheist blog where she deals with exactly these sorts of criticisms all the time (indeed, I myself have often posted to the effect of "I really think you're taking this too seriously, being too tolerant, etc."). She was also part of the same college debating society that I was in, and I know that she enjoys intellectual sparring even on subjects this personal -- indeed, she's welcoming it right now on the very post I linked to above. So I think it's unlikely she'd be seriously offended by any of what I'm saying now. Your general point is still a good one, though, so I appreciate the advice. The Internet is a smaller place than we think.

Too late, Jay! I found the thread :)

But you guessed right, I don't mind the comments above at all, but they'd be more conducive to a productive fight if things like "taking seriously theological positions that seemed about as likely as the 9/11 attacks being genuinely inspired and ordained by Allah" were hyperlinks.

4Jay_Schweikert9yAh, well that certainly saves me from having to decide what to do here. I initially wanted to avoid linking to your blog too much in my original post, just because I didn't want to send people off discussing particular religious issues that weren't really relevant to what I was talking about. But the specific episode I had in mind when I wrote this was the debate you hosted with Matt -- in particular, his assertions [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/02/gay-marriage-and-male-friendship.html] that we need to put homosexuals back in the closet to protect same-sex friendships. Likewise, perhaps, with the literal-but-not-physical understanding of transubstantiation [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2011/02/time-for-a-few-facts.html]. Relatedly, my apologies for not realizing you were at least a quasi-regular member here. I knew you were familiar with a lot of the core Sequences material, but I didn't know you read or posted on day-to-day stuff with any regularity. I stand by the substance of what I said, of course, but I probably would have structured it differently if I'd expected you to be interacting in this forum. I certainly didn't intend to create anything like a "she's turning, get her!" dynamic.
9palladias9yI read the curated blog, not the discussion forum so much. You got rumbled by google analytics, which showed me a lot of traffic coming from here. I'm actually going to the July rationality minicamp, so if any people in this thread are going to, they can distill the best of this thread for what I assume are forthcoming fights.
9Karmakaiser9yPlease, please, please blog this. I would love reading it.
5Viliam_Bur9yI would like to ask this: Do you expect any experience [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i3/making_beliefs_pay_rent_in_anticipated_experiences/] (before death, of course) that you would not predict using an atheist point of view?
4Paul Crowley9yNo fights, just opportunities for us to use each other's brains to update for greater accuracy!
0Will_Newsome9yPerhaps we should fight over whether one should actually convert? Of all actual institutions and traditions I lean most towards Catholicism but have not converted due to e.g. moral uncertainty about what counts as consent to delusion and what counts as unjustified endorsement of suboptimality. Catholicism has more and subtler truths in it than you can find anywhere else, but... — Charles Spurgeon
1Dentin9yMy gut instinct is to find ways to get her to think about other religions instead. If she's basing her belief on an emotional feeling and needs an anchor, you might be able to point out that there are other religions which have more general anchors, instead of extremely specific ones. I could see the discussion going along the lines of "which is more likely, a major earthquake happening in california, or a major earthquake happening in california that strikes los angeles?", eg "which is more likely, the existence of a god, or the existence of a god that also happens to be made in the image of man?" Regardless, the more general her anchors are, the easier it will be for her to give them up, or convert them into something more correct. I've seen people go from "some arbitrary god is out there" to "god is the universe" to "there is no god" pretty easily, but to shed the shackles of "I believe in our lord and saviour jesus christ who died for our sins" is much harder, if only because it's so much more specific and detailed.

Maybe it's just me, but the premise of this post rubs me the wrong way. "Thwarting" a conversion? It seems kinda... I don't know. And I'm probably one of the most anti-theistic people that I know or have interacted with on the Internet. It's not like you're trying to prevent her from slipping into alcoholism. As long as she stays fundamentally the same person, I don't see what the big deal is. People should be respected for how they treat others, not what they believe.

That said, I've read a few "convert back to Christianity" stories and a lot of them have similar hidden/leading indicators. There's always some sort of family/significant other factor; it was usually a huge sticking point during their deconversion from religion. I don't really know a lot of this blogger's backstory, but are her family and/or significant other Catholics? That would explain the jump straight from atheism to Catholicism without some sort of intermediary stage (e.g. deism, generic Christianity, etc.) based on my own personal prior probability about how these things happen.

So if that's the case, "thwarting" again seems sort of insensitive. At least to me it would be insensitive language in this context.

3Jay_Schweikert9yOkay, "thwarting" may have been a bit strong. I probably got a little carried away with the title and picked that word more for style than precision. But as to the "I don't see what the big deal is" point (which a number of people have raised), I do have some concern, because I know how seriously my friend takes integrated belief systems. Some have suggested that this may be a "belief in belief" issue, but that's definitely not the case. She's very much committed to there being a truth of the matter here, and my guess is that if she really did commit to Catholicism, she would be more like a "full-strength Catholic," not a "pick and choose what feels nice and go on my way" Catholic. My model of her was obviously mistaken before today, but I find it hard to believe that someone could go from atheist advocate to committed, full-strength Catholic and yet stay fundamentally the same person. As to the family/SO factor, I don't think that's in play. She previously had a Catholic boyfriend, but they ended up separating a while back (again, this is info she herself has blogged about). I'm not aware that he in particular was involved in this process, nor that family pressure played a significant role.
9Alejandro19yOn the contrary, I'd say that if your friend was always committed to philosophical truth in matters of religion, then her conversion to a fully committed Catholic is more "staying fundamentally the same person" than becoming a cultural, belief-in-belief style of Catholic would be. She has just reevaluated her assessment of some very abstract philosophical arguments about metaethics, metaphysics, reliability of testimony of miracles, etc, and followed her new assessment to what she saw as its logical conclusion. This need not imply any direct change in her basic personality, whereas changing from a committed truth-seeker to a "pick and choose what feels nice and go on my way" would imply more of one, I think.
0JQuinton9yThis seems like a more substantial objection to her conversion. If she becomes a full-strength Catholic, do you see her arguing against abortion, homosexuality / same-sex marriage, responsible birth control, using condoms in Africa, etc. because she'll see those acts as being against her ethics, since now her ethics are going to be that of the Catholic church? Those are actually harmful beliefs (and actually cause people to die in the case of anti-abortion legislation and condom use in Africa), and should be thwarted as strongly as possible. But then again, you might be able to just argue against those points and not so much her Catholicism.

To be honest, I doubt that her true rejection matches her stated objections.

For several years, a lot of my friends have been telling me I had an inconsistent and unsustainable philosophy.

Emphasis mine. Her friends are Christian (probably Catholic). They heckle her when she writes atheist material for debates. Her good friend she talks about theology with is a Christian. That's all there is to it.

Humans are still tribal monkeys who follow the customs of their tribe. You put any person around a bunch of Christians (or Buddhists, or Muslims, or Jews), and they'll probably convert. It takes an extremely unusual person to not adopt the religion of their peers, even with all evidence against it.

Nobody says "hmm, according to my understanding of evolutionary theory, group selection wouldn't be a strong enough force to mediate selfish pressures in evolving human moral inclinations, therefore evil is caused by a talking snake." To answer the question directly, you convert any person the same way you change someone's football team, by surrounding them with members of the tribe you want them to be.

Actually, it was more often my atheist friends who made these comments. They told me that you couldn't think about morality as objective or in terms of telos and be an atheist. And then we'd have a fight. (But Jay's right, above, that this was in the context of a philosophical debating group, so being blunt about picking fights was only polite). The Christians tended to hang back more, it was the atheists who were most frustrated by the inconsistencies. Which left me only more determined to reconcile them (if possible) and prove them wrong.

7Xachariah9yThat is interesting and goes against my model. I notice that I am confused. Actually, looking further in your stuff, I'm very confused about a lot of your beliefs. Eg, objective morality as an atheist confuses me too.
9Viliam_Bur9yHow big part of the confusion about "objective morality" is the confusion about specific meaning of those words? That is, do you have a clear definition of "objective" and "morality", and the problem is putting those two definitions together and evaluate the evidence for/against the result... or is it more like there are dozen possible meanings of "morality", combined with a few possible meanings of "objective", and the problem starts by having to choose which of these meanings is right according to some unspecified criteria? In other words, if you wrote here your best argument for/against "objective morality", would you expect counter-arguments in form "you have ignored or misinterpreted this" or in form "no, objective morality does not mean what you said, it means this"?

Maybe just asking for explanations is the best bet?

"I don't understand the mechanism by which God could make something right or wrong."

"Even if I accept that God must exist, I don't understand where Jesus enters into things"

"If the Catholics have it right, why don't they do any better than the rest of us ethically?"

"The only evidence you have for God is a feeling that morality must have certain properties. What would constitute evidence for or against your views on morality? And if there is no evidence, why believe one way or the other?"

When I first read my friend's post, I had a major "I notice that I am confused" moment, because it just seemed so implausible that someone who understood actual atheist arguments (as opposed to dead little sister Hollywood Atheism) could convert to religion, and Catholicism of all things.

Catholicism is actually one of the intellectually more formidable religions. If you accept a few key axioms of Christianity (and even most atheist Westerners do) and think about their implications for a lot of time it seems remarkable how vulnerable you are to converting to it.

In Christianspace, for the intelectual who likes playing around with very abstract dry concepts Catholicism seems to be a strong attractor. While protestants have played around with reversing its stupidity traditional Western civilization is fundamentally Catholic civilization. It gets the halo effect from a whole lot of art and great thinkers and pretty Churches. Then there is also the sheer majoritarian argument in its favour since it is by far the largest denomination and has institutional continuity going back more than 1500 years. When people around the world think Christianity, they think Catholic.

Also as... (read more)

Adjacent to your point but:

John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason.

Late Rawls abandons these pretensions. His theory of justice is more like an rational extrapolation of moral instincts in Western cultures.

(Edit: Just realized my description of Rawls could be taken to suggest it in some way resembles "coherant extrapolated volition". I mean no such comparison.)

9[anonymous]9yAnd/or their ‘pure reasons’ were different from each other.
-1GLaDOS9yYes but Moldbug obviously dosen't think they are that different and I can kind of see his point [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/8w8/link_belief_in_religion_considered_harmful/] .
1Jay_Schweikert9yI guess what I mostly meant is that she jumped straight to Catholicism, rather than something more general, like deism. And while I respect that Catholicism makes more of an attempted to provide a coherent, logical framework for divine revelation, it also ends up saying awfully specific and awfully silly things about various subjects. If you start off very firmly believing that same-sex romantic relationships can be normal and healthy, and you're then trying to decide "what religious tradition should I join that makes the most sense given what I presently believe?", then Catholicism would appear to be an unlikely candidate. There's at least that one major red flag which suggests a pretty important error somewhere in the reasoning.
1Eugine_Nier9yFallacy of consequence.
3Jay_Schweikert9yI'm not sure I understand what you mean. If I already had strong reason to think that the whole of Catholicism was true, then I couldn't just say "well, but I don't want same-sex romance prohibited, so I'll decide not to believe in Catholicism." That would be fallacious reasoning. But if I start off fairly certain that there's nothing wrong with same-sex romance but am also looking for some sort of theistic tradition that makes sense given what I already know, then Catholicism's views on sexuality would seem to count against it. Perhaps you could compare this issue to the "it all adds up to normality" sentiment. Even if I decide I have to abandon my old theory of gravity, my new theory better be one that has pencils falling down and not up when I drop them. Likewise, even if I have to abandon my general thoughts on theism, I had better not pick a religious tradition that conflicts with strongly held moral sentiments of which I am still reasonably confident. What's the fallacy there?
4Eugine_Nier9yDepends on how strong my evidence is for this position. If it's nothing stronger than "I can't think of any reason why same-sex romance is bad", then it doesn't take much evidence for Catholicism to overcome it.
0Jack9yAssumes meta-ethical realism in order to be a valid inference (but then, I suppose, so does Catholicism).
1stcredzero9yMost Catholics I've met are pretty immune to this sort of red flagging. That is, they just red-flag the parts they don't like, and continue to believe in the rest.

I can understand why people raised as Catholics would be so immune. But if you're making a decision to convert to Catholicism, presumably you like the whole integrated, no-exceptions theology. Isn't the whole appeal of Catholicism that you're not supposed to partition, and isn't that the element that's supposed to make it "intellectually formidable" as religions go?

4stcredzero9yAs with most, if not all, religions, one would be surrounded by people giving off signals to the effect that this or that contradiction is no big deal. Combined with a relief from whatever discomfort remains from childhood indoctrination, plus the halo of being "intellectually formidable," it seems a rather seductive package.
0Kaj_Sotala8yPeople like the idea of science and the scientific method due to the whole integrated, no-exceptions approach. They express their support to it even if the scientific consensus sometimes says things they think are nonsense.

Pick a bunch of passages about ethics from several sources - the Bible, the Koran, Buddhist writings, secular writings, etc.

Have her read them, but don't tell her which ones are which. Have her write down her thoughts and feelings about each one, whether she thinks they stand up to logical scrutiny. Then after, tell her the sources of them and ask her whether she might reconsider.

Of course, you'd have to select them carefully so that there are no obvious giveaways (e.g. mentioning God), and also you should be careful not to cherrypick sources that make secularism look good and religion look bad.

0magfrump9yThere must be a way to write a script to do this automatically, and there must be someone who has the skills and text files already at their disposal to do this.
0Nornagest9yI think that'd be difficult, unless you manage to find a source that's already mined a lot of religious texts for ethical instruction and put them down in a common format; it's not like there are any obvious textual markers of ethics that you could plug into, say, a Gutenberg search. I suppose you could grep for stuff along the lines of "good" or "moral" or "the superior man", but that'd miss a lot of stuff and include a lot of other stuff with obvious markers of religion in it.
0magfrump9yI was just thinking you'd search random passages and remove ones with "god" or whatever in them. I guess my conception of what goes on in holy texts is probably not quite on spot.

I remembered how I thought she had a confused conception of meta-ethics and that she often seemed skeptical of reductionism, which in retrospect should have been a major red flag for purported atheists.

From my view, reductionism is the basic question. If someone is right on evolution but wrong on reductionism, that really doesn't buy them much- and I would wonder how deeply they grasp evolution.

As to how to navigate this: suppose that she has a psychological need to profess a belief in some sort of deity, such that she could not fully thrive without professing that belief. Would you want her to be an atheist then? How can you tell if she has that need or not?

1faul_sname9yThe main reason I've seen for people professing belief (and actually believing) is that there is a community of like-minded individuals that think the same way. This changes when you're talking about people with very little social cognition, but that's not the majority.
1Manfred9y"How can you tell if she has that need?" is a little silly - you do what humans do all the time and make your best guess, mostly based on what humans are like on average. Being careful, of course, not to privilege the hypothesis just because it's in the rhetorical question.

Do people here, in general, think it is productive and worthwhile to spend time and energy on deconverting friends and family (provided the religious beliefs in question are mainstream and not threatening to their physical or financial health)?

That's a genuine question (not rhetoric) in case it wasn't clear.

Do people here, in general, think it is productive and worthwhile to spend time and energy on deconverting friends and family (provided the religious beliefs in question are mainstream and not threatening to their physical or financial health)?

Setting out to change other people is almost always going to end poorly. Helping people who have set out to change themselves has a chance of ending well.

5Crux9yI don't think so. Usually their beliefs are rather benign, and don't come up in conversation very often, because of their irrelevance to reality. And when they actually do have a bearing on their action or their models of reality, it's almost always far better to talk about the issue directly, and discuss their religious beliefs only within that context, so as to keep the discussion grounded, and avoid floating into ridiculous abstractions and word-based meandering. If anyone ever brings up religion to me outside of a context like that, I just engage in the simplest, most charitable-sounding word-reductionism possible, by asking them what exactly they mean by some word, and whether we're talking about a physical object, or a bodily sensation, or what, or what the utility of their beliefs are, or whatever. It takes a decent amount of practice to do well, but when done correctly it diffuses the situation really quickly and doesn't destroy relationships. It must also be emphasized that not all professed beliefs are actual "beliefs" in the literal, epistemic meaning of that word. They're not always models of reality that are supposed to predict certain things or whatever. Often they're just techniques for signaling group affiliation, or for avoiding destructive negative emotions (due to some oddity in human brain design), or whatever. Even the word reductionism I explained above may be nothing more than annoying pedantry, and literally off topic, if you're dealing not with an epistemic belief, but with something else (which is perhaps usually the case). To be clear, I use that technique not because I think it's on topic, but because I've found it to be a good firewall technique to avoid epistemic hazards to my own belief structure.
1David_Gerard9yI know a lot of theists, but generally stick to expecting joined-up thinking of them, particularly when the topic strays to religion. (Though they will see me broadcasting a lot of atheist advocacy.)

When I first read my friend's post, I had a major "I notice that I am confused" moment, because it just seemed so implausible that someone who understood actual atheist arguments (as opposed to dead little sister Hollywood Atheism) could convert to religion, and Catholicism of all things.

I'll rejoin Jack and GLaDOS to say that Catholicism isn't the worst of religions. If I was to convert to a religion it would probably be Catholicism, and I've sometimes semi-seriously played with the idea of checking out the local church - and yes, I understand actual atheist arguments, and no, none of my family is pushing me towards religion.

(A significant part of the attraction of Catholicism is being a contrarian for the sake of it, which is not a very good reason. But there's also a good deal of curiosity, and a feeling that they're pretty good at community. On the minus side, they are responsible for a good deal of anti-epistemology, and of course, God doesn't exist.)

7jefftk9yChurches can be nice for the community, even if you're atheist. Julia and I regularly [1] attend the local Quaker meeting, and occasionally go to churches with organs and singing. Neither of us believe, but that doesn't mean we can't go enjoy it. [1] Actually, not recently. Hmm. But regularly up to a few months ago.
-7shminux9y

But second, and more immediately, I wonder if anybody has advice on how to handle this, or if they've had similar experiences with their friends. I do care about this person, and I was devastated to hear this news, so if there's something I can do to help her, I want to.

Why are you so convinced this is bad for her? Most people are somewhat religious, and every study I've seen suggests they are just as happy, well-adjusted, and moral as non-religious people. I certainly think it is generally better to believe what is true, but is something like this really worth being devastated about? Can't you just be open-minded about her lifestyle choice?

3gwern9yReminds me of Hanson: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/05/what-use-far-truth.html [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/05/what-use-far-truth.html] and http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/05/far-truth-is-for-extremes.html [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/05/far-truth-is-for-extremes.html]

That is very scary. Leah is a pretty well known atheist blogger. It gives me that "there but for the grace of God go I" feeling.

Does she understand the difference between belief and belief in belief? I helped someone escape an unfortunate re-conversion to religion by ensuring they were clear on this distinction, and challenging them on whether they really believed.

That is very scary. Leah is a pretty well known atheist blogger. It gives me that "there but for the grace of God go I" feeling.

Does she understand the difference between belief and belief in belief?

I sometimes got a desperate vibe from the weekend street-corner preachers when I lived in South Carolina. It's like they were trying so hard, because they wanted so much to believe.

Could there also be a wishful belief in disbelief?

I am observing, for more than a three decades now, how a friend of mine, becomes more and more religious. Catholic. When we met, he was a militant leftist atheists. What was quite a norm under communism we had back then here. If not a norm, then something you can easily expect from a young ambitious teenager. Did I say, he was quite a radical anti theist? I was not very comfortable with his rantings against "fools".

Then it started. He insisted on a work free Christmas day, which we had not under the communists. Then he was outraged by my view, t... (read more)

0prase9yWhat country is your friend living in?
0Thomas9yNear you, prase. In the same one as I do - Slovenia. You know the difference with Slovakia, don't you? Your socialism had even more bitter taste but you are too young to remember much, I guess. Cheers!
-1prase9yMy guess was Poland where Catholicism has become very popular after the fall of communism. From your description it seems that your friend gives a lot attention to the current ideological climate - under communism, let's be an atheist leftist; communism is defeated, let's adopt some new, more fashionable worldview. Thus my question: my hypothesis needed Catholicism to be the predominant religion of the country you live in; if your friend was, say, Bulgarian, opting for Catholicism couldn't be solely explained by (perhaps subconscious) desire for conformity, since that would lead him towards Orthodoxy instead. Slovenia is fine for my hypothesis, but I may be mistaken even then, of course. Do former Yugoslavians often confuse Slovenia with Slovakia, by the way?
3Thomas9yNo. Former Yugoslavians sure not. But almost all the others. George Bush was one of the first, who made this mistake in the public arena, even before he was President. But then he visited two times. (Can come anytime again, if I was asked,) Okay, what matters here is this drifting of an atheist toward a religion. God finding of a rational atheist. The breaking down of a sane view into illogical one. The scary part is this. If I was under the same process, would I notice at all? The even scarier is this. There are bigger rational handicaps than a religion.

Whenever I used to hear someone make an argument or profess a belief I considered incorrect, I had the tendency to always try to destroy it right when it came up, because most people will be at least somewhat willing to talk about anything that comes up randomly, but will act like you're being annoying or like you care too much if you try to attack one of their beliefs unprovoked. For example, I would think to myself, "This is my chance. Their religious beliefs may never come up again. I must make use of this opportunity."

But then I realized some... (read more)

From the bit about feeling like morality 'loved' her, she seems to find the prospect that a deity exists to be a good thing -- whether or not it's true, she seems to find the belief more attractive than I think it should be given the evidence.

It might be worth explaining that it would be really cruel for an extremely powerful being to just stand around and watch evolution happen. Or, say, either of the World Wars. So, if somehow we did find out that a deity existed, we would have very strong evidence that it was unfriendly, not to mention unFriendly.

If the... (read more)

6coffeespoons9yI expect that, as an atheist blogger, she will have encountered these arguments before.

One more suggestion: Good and Real proposes a Godless meta-ethics which isn't virtue ethics, but which has parts that might appeal to a virtue ethics fan. So that might be an interesting recommendation.

You asked a question with a real answer, but I think you've asked the wrong question. Setting out with the goal of changing someone is an especially good way to ruin a relationship. It's vastly more essential to learn to value the good in the midst of the bad, because that kind of mixed imperfection is all you will ever find anywhere.

As Catholics are quite specific about, conversion isn't a one-time event. She's in the process of converting, but I've known several people in RCIA who dropped out for one reason or another. And it's sadly true that parish... (read more)

6Nornagest9yI've met a number of converts to Asatru [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asatru#.C3.81satr.C3.BA], as well as several relatively serious followers of semi-parody religions like Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius. Don't think I've ever met a serious Pastafarian, but I'm not going to rule out the possibility of their existence. Unsubstantiated personal gnosis can point people in some pretty strange directions.
2NancyLebovitz9yA Pastafarian in boot camp [http://rockbeyondbelief.com/2011/07/22/my-atheist-flying-spaghetti-monster-military-dog-tags/]
0selylindi9yOK. Do you happen to know what they converted from?
0Nornagest9yCatholicism in one case, a secular upbringing in another. I don't know or remember the rest.
0selylindi8yInteresting that the two came from opposite origins. I genuinely didn't know there were serious followers of those religions. It seems I incorrectly generalized from the people I've encountered, who merely use those religions for jest and argument. So I'll retract my claim and instead agree with the author's risk evaluation. If you're going to analyze and critique a belief system, be wary of developing an unconscious Us Vs Them dichotomy in your mental model. If the argument is conceived of as strictly a two-player game, then weaknesses in your theory are strengths in your opponent's. But where the range of alternative theories is practically infinite, a reduction in the probability of your belief is balanced by only an infinitesimal increase in the probability of a specific other belief.

From a "logical argument" point of view, Vaniver has the right point of view. Reductionism is the key.

From a Dark Arts point of view, reading Leah's post suggests the reason she fell toward Catholicism when she got confused on morality was that she had a bunch of Catholic friends around. Thus being a conspicuously moral (and high-status) atheist will give her an example to fall back to. This isn't too Dark Arts-ish, since you presumably try to be high-status and moral anyway.

2MBlume8yNo. Having a defensible, coherent framework from which to ground morality and being a moral person are...hopefully not totally unrelated, but still not the same thing. This is a far too common rhetorical mistake, same as when we atheists act offended because religious people must think us all horribly immoral people.

It seems, at least, that she understands where the separation of views really occurs:

Based on my in-person arguments to date, it seems like most of my atheist friends disagree two or three steps back from my deciding Morality is actually God. They usually diverge back around the bit where I assert morality, like math, is objective and independent of humans.

As far as Catholicism specifically, she might benefit from reading Elaine Pagels, who discusses at length the historical evidence of the founding of the Catholic Church. Notably, the selection of go... (read more)

1ChrisHallquist9yTo the best of my knowledge, this is a misleading account of how the books of the Bible were selected. My understanding is that it was as much of a popularity contest as anything. And while you can identify a "proto-orthodox" faction among the various Christian groups fighting as early as the 2nd century, it was very different than today's Catholic church, or even the Catholic church of Aquinas' day.
0Dreaded_Anomaly9yThe gospels which were included support the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection of Christ, witnessed only by a select few. These few would, by virtue of witnessing the resurrection, have the authority to continue and shape the church. The gospels which were excluded portrayed the resurrection as a non-physical reappearance witnessed by many, which would have essentially turned an oligarchical structure into an egalitarian one. It's not that I think either of these versions is especially justified as a belief, but the presence of such contradictions so early in the church's history makes its lack of credibility more obvious. I don't see the relevance of this. The Catholic Church derives its claim to truth from its Biblical foundations. If the foundation is rotten, then it's rotten for all incarnations of the church. Further, the later rules and ideas that have been added into the church's beliefs largely come from supposedly infallible papal decree, the infallibility coming from the authority of the successors of Peter (as the first to witness the resurrection). The edifice is very elaborate, and therefore it falls apart very easily.
2beatty079yIs this based on personal familiarity with all the texts involved? There aren't many and they aren't hard to find. Just knowing the texts makes this interpretation of history seem pretty unlikely, or at least simplified to the point of distortion. That being said, it is certainly among the plausible explanations for what occurred. The doctrine of the Pope's personal infallibility has not played a major role in the development of Catholic doctrine. According to Catholic doctrine, it almost never applies. I don't want to sidetrack a really interesting discussion... but this seems like a pretty clear factual mistake that might as well be pointed out.
1Dreaded_Anomaly9yThis is based on Elaine Pagels' research, as I said in my first comment. Now that you point it out, I realize I was conflating all instances of papal authority with papal infallibility, which is not accurate.

But then I remembered how I had been frustrated in the past by her tolerance for what seemed like rank religious bigotry

Could you expend on what you mean by "bigotry", I've seen that word thrown around to shut down debates way too much.

For example, from the above post some might conclude that you are an anti-Catholic bigot, depending on the definition of "bigotry" being used they might well be right.

5Jay_Schweikert9yWell, the particular example I'm thinking of is when she invited a Catholic friend as a guest blogger to discuss what he considered to be the strongest arguments against same-sex marriage. He ended up arguing [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/02/debating-gay-marriage-index-post.html] that not only same-sex marriage, but the normalization and even existence of same-sex attraction itself needs to be combated so as to prevent the possibility that romantic attraction would complicate same-sex friendships. Homosexuals shouldn't publicly express their desires, as this results in "sexualizing" public spaces. Strong suggestions that the state should participate in the enforcement of such non-expression. If you want to say this "isn't bigotry," or that I'm being too loose with the concept, that's fine. I have no strong attachment to some particular understanding of the term. My substantive point was that these views struck me as so outlandish that to host a whole debate about them and repeatedly defend the author as honest and well-intentioned seemed surprising.

I think a little more context is in order, Jay. A quite conservative Catholic speaker was coming to our alma mater and people were protesting and staging a kiss-in + walk-out at his talk. But no one was spending much time rebutting his argument, and I feel pretty strongly if you're going to disrupt a talk, you owe the people who are coming a cogent explanation of why.

So I invited a friend to summarize and pitch the speaker's ideas on my blog and then I rebutted, so that there'd be a discussion and reference to go with the protest. And Gerken (my interlocutor) is intelligent and was writing with the best of intentions. I disagreed with a lot of his points (even within a Catholic framework) but that's not a refutation of his sincerity.

5Eugine_Nier9yMore outlandish than monkeys changing into humans [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2d/talking_snakes_a_cautionary_tale/]? Being honest and well-intentioned is a property of the arguments the author uses, not whether you like the conclusion.
4Jayson_Virissimo9yI disagree. I think "being honest and well-intentioned" is a property of the person advancing the argument (and reducible, in principle, to brain states), not a property of the argument itself (that is to say, a particular set of propositions). People can produce deeply flawed (invalid or inductively weak) arguments while actually trying to produce the opposite (or at least, it feels like I can). You are right, what is or is not "outlandish" depends heavily on large amounts of assumed background information. For instance, depending on the time period, it would be extremely "outlandish" to claim that disease is caused by "invisible animals" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease], but moderns seem to be quite comfortable with the idea.
4Eugine_Nier9yGood point.
0Zeej9yI also noticed her persistent engagement with arguments against homosexuality itself, for a duration that seemed far out of proportion to the strength of these arguments and the attention they should merit. Given that the most she now says about Catholic teachings on homosexuality is that she's "confused" by them, I almost have to wonder if her extended search for any plausible arguments against homosexuality was actually just a way to make the open leap to Catholicism feel more palatable from her perspective.

Jay, I can certainly empathize with your concern for your friend. However, as a practicing Catholic I can assure you that your friend will not be surrounded by people trying to convince her that she needs to "repent" of her sexuality. There's less that I can say about dark side epistemology (since you would probably consider me to be an adherent of it!) but I can assure you that Leah is not going to have piles of nonsensical doctrine shoved down her throat. She will be introduced to many ideas, but ultimately she herself will decide what to accep... (read more)

I must confess that, as an outsider to (but occasional reader of) Less Wrong, I find certain statements and arguments on this site to be just as totalizing and dogmatic as the most dangerous religious fundamentalism.

That seems like a surprising claim! I'd like to explore it further.

The most dangerous religious fundamentalisms lead people to do things such as blowing up buildings, committing mass murders, jailing and torturing people for apostasy, and throwing acid in the faces of schoolchildren. This occurs both when dangerous religious fundamentalists occupy positions of formal political power (governments), and when they do not (terrorist groups, militias, abortion-clinic bombers).

(Note, I'm not asserting that religions or fundamentalisms in general promote those sorts of things. You specifically said "the most dangerous religious fundamentalism", and I'm taking that limitation in good faith.)

Somehow, nobody around here seems to be doing those sort of things. Indeed, that sort of behavior seems to be pretty rare in the Traditional Rationality community too — the skeptics movement; the New Atheists; etc.

Is that just because we are totalizing and dogmatic about making people happy instead of about hating and killing them? (I am reminded of a Barry Goldwater quote about extremism and moderation.)

Or do you think there is some other reason?

9Eugine_Nier9yWell, LW has only been around for a couple years, give it time. I've definitely seen ideas here that, if taken to their logical conclusion, would imply that under the right circumstances one has a moral imperative to do comparable things. There is also a norm against flinching from taking things to their logical conclusions. Notice how you need to add the qualifier "New" to "Atheist movement" there in order to exclude all the [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treatment_of_Christians_in_the_Eastern_Bloc] atrocities [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge_rule_of_Cambodia] committed by the old atheists.
5Nornagest9yAlthough linking the atrocities of 20th-century Communism to atheism seems to be a favorite trope of contemporary reaction, I'm confused as to why you chose to bring it up in the context of traditional rationality. Marxism might claim an empirical basis, but it's quite hostile to skepticism, and neither its atheism nor its claimed empiricism seem foundational to its social aims. Likewise, Dawkins et al. don't inherit from any of the major philosophers in the socialist family tree that I know of; they're both products of the Enlightenment, but they took quite different paths on their way here. Moreover, the broader socialist movement isn't at all incompatible with religion: consider liberation theology.
4Multiheaded9yI've read Marxist stuff (the old man himself, Gramsci, Adorno, Zizek, my boyfriend's incomprehensible paper on Lacan...) and the LAST thing I'd describe (non-USSR-sponsored) Marxist thought as is "hostile to skepticism". It looks hyper-skeptical to me! At least when describing everything outside of a communist utopia that might or might not be envisioned in their writing. When observing contemporary social phenomena - from family life to academia - they've historically been rather cynical and tried to look for base motives of power, dominiance and greed affecting them. Did you know that Gramsci, a Marxist through and through (although a liberal and idealist one), developed the highly LW-relevant concept of cultural hegemony [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony]? [1] (I disagree with those dudes on quite a few issues, it's just that strawmanning them as blindly orthodox fanatics is unfair.) [1] “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” - Philip K. Dick

It looks hyper-skeptical to me! At least when describing everything outside of a communist utopia

I guess the Pope is also skeptical about Buddhist reincarnation.

When observing contemporary social phenomena - from family life to academia - they've historically been rather cynical and tried to look for base motives of power, dominiance and greed affecting them.

If one believes that "everything is a class fight" (I know this is oversimplification), then finding elements of class fight in everything is not an evidence for their skepticism.

Shortly, skepticism does not mean "a belief that your opponents are wrong".

4private_messaging9ySpeaking of which, communists were also extreme utilitarians. The problem with utilitarians, really, is that self described utilitarians are not the people who calculate utilities so much better than everyone else. It is the people who think they calculate utilities so much better than anyone else. Throw Dunning-Kruger into the mix, and people who actually have troubles evaluating utility are utilitarians, whereas those who can evaluate utility also process uncertainty and tend to act in more deontological manner due to incorporating empirical knowledge on outcome of strategies, or due to concern for societal values like trust etc. I blogged some about that [http://dmytry.com/blog/?p=237]
1Viliam_Bur9yExactly. For a sociopath it is very useful to (pretend to?) be utilitarian -- one good rationalization [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Corrupted_hardware], and anything becomes morally OK. First, let's kill all our enemies, or more precisely anyone who refuses to obey us. Then, we will build a paradise with infinite utility, because there will be no one to stop us. Net result: huge positive utility. From utilitarian viewpoint, we are the good guys, which means that anyone who opposes us deserves to be killed. Add some technical details, and you have communism; add different details and you have something else. Focus the attention of people to those technical details to avoid the outside view comparison.
2private_messaging9yWell I think it is fairly complicated. It may be that the lack of understanding of what it takes to think straight leads to sociopathy in some instances (I see sociopathy as a symptom of a multitude of abnormalities). I wrote another blog post on that: http://dmytry.com/blog/?p=268 [http://dmytry.com/blog/?p=268] . What I think happens, is that people with strongly deficient utility evaluation - people who do not even see what it takes to evaluate utility, people who will evaluate utility on any partial outcome that popped up in their mind, or was even suggested from outside (without even any explicit assertion that it is complete!) - tend to end up self describing as utilitarian, and in some sense, actually believing that they are, and that they are highly moral (and everyone else is flawed). Other issue, is that historically it is not in the slightest bit positive when someone pushing a bad idea is not simply being selfish. In practice, to do the most evil, selfishness does not suffice. It takes certain degree of selflessness in the name of a bad idea and sloppy thought. It takes narcissist love with intellectual self. A particular form of incompetence is far superior to malice when it comes to actually doing large scale evil.
8Viliam_Bur9yLong ago (I don't remember the source) I read an interesting thought: that people who speak about great ideas or strong emotions are probably intelectually and emotionally pretty weak, and when they get any result in such area, they are overwhelmed by the contrast. (It's like Dunning-Kruger on steroids.) For example a smart person will have dozen smart ideas every day, so "having a smart idea" is no big deal for them, it's life as usual. Even if they find something extraordinarily interesting, they have a large reference class, so instead of greatness of the idea, they will speak about specific details that make this idea interesting. On the other hand, when a rather dumb person hears a non-trivial idea and understands it, it is a shocking experience, a unique uncomparable thing. So the person will treat it as the greatest idea ever, the dividing line between stupid and smart, and will be obsessed about it. Analogically, if a person with supressed emotions or mostly negative emotions suddenly falls in love, they will perceive their emotion as overwhelming, unique in the whole universe, unrepeatable. A person with a larger emotional scale would see the same emotion as a point in a continuum, so there is e.g. smaller chance they would do something stupid if their love is not reciprocated. The former person would (by a mind projection fallacy) think that the latter person's feelings are much smaller, because the reactions are less dramatic. So maybe the same effect is at play here -- people who never thought too much about morality suddenly understand some moral rule, and (their interpretation of) it immediately becomes the moral rule, the dividing line between immoral and moral. (And if the rule is not based on emotions or traditions, it is convenient to label it as "utilitarian".)
2private_messaging9yThat's an interesting thought. On the ideas, the other issue is that e.g. with certain fairly advanced mathematics, fuzzy and inaccurate understanding may easily be more amazing than any coherent understanding can ever be; the condition that is normally quite short lived if one has sufficiently thorough understanding of base level concepts and can study the idea formally, but this condition can be perpetual otherwise. Same can happen with morality.
2Multiheaded9yU mindkilled, bro. Yes, that was what the people who called themselves "communists" did in the 20th century. But name any other system, no matter which one, that wouldn't kill everyone who refuses to obey it in certain matters. E.g. fleeing from a battlefield; every nation that grok'd total war gave its court-martials the powers of swift summary execution in the 20th century. It's what the "communists" were trying to regulate, and from what perspective, and how much, and what processes this led to - that's what you have a problem with, not with the fact of enforcement itself. Everyone has to resort to murder sooner or later, it's the actual internal details of the system (like the type and amount of murder, and what incentives the "undesirables" have to surrender and avoid it, if any) that make the difference.
0Viliam_Bur9yYou have a good point. But there is a difference between people who see killing others as a regrettable last choice (e.g. in self-defence), and those who see killing others as "no big deal" (sociopaths, and their happy-death-spiralled followers). Although there probably is a continuum. EDIT: The difference is that a non-sociopathic utilitarian considers a possibility of running on a corrupted hardware, if they are a rationalist, or simply deflect the thought by an "ugh field" if they aren't.
3Oligopsony9yIf you mean that Marxists are all furiously agreeing with each other, I can assure you that they're not. If you mean that they all agree on whatever one makes the minimal criteria for calling someone Marxist, well, trivially yes. If you mean that they're really confident in their conclusions, that seems to be temperamental.
0Jayson_Virissimo9yThis [http://lesswrong.com/lw/26y/rationality_quotes_may_2010/1y9j] is why I avoid the term when I can (unless I'm referring specifically to the ancient school of philosophy [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-ancient/]).
0Nornagest9yThis is getting a little too politically charged for my liking, but cynicism does not imply skepticism, at least in the sense I intended. Now, Marxism is built on a set of social theories expressed largely in terms of self-interest or group self-interest, and Marxist scholars have gotten fairly inventive within that framework. The ideology wouldn't be anywhere near as successful as it has been if it wasn't credible as social criticism, or if it didn't speak to people skeptical of the status quo. So it does speak the language to some degree, and I probably should have been more accommodating of that in the grandparent. But for me to call it open to skepticism, I'd have to see evidence that Marxist thinkers engaged in good-faith questioning of the theory's own social and economic assumptions or at least engaged with skeptics on even ground, and of that I've seen very little. In fact, most strains of Marxism seem to actively discourage these lines of thinking -- a tendency predictably most pronounced in Marxist political regimes, but which goes all the way back to Marx and Engels' writings on ideology. False consciousness [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consciousness] and related concepts offer a fully general alternative.
-2Multiheaded9yThis is all true, but we're comparing the rationality record between various creeds and not imagining how well one such creed would do in a vacuum. E.g. something a bit like that description of "false consciousness" clearly does happen, not as to provide a convenient reason why capitalism must be the unseen Ultimate Evil, just as a matter of human nature - something psychosocial and fairly disturbing, else we why would see e.g. realistic/cynical poor workers voting against progressive tax. (I'm not arguing its virtues here, just pointing out that it's obviously a big mid-term gain for lower class people who realistically expect little relative social mobility for their family.) = And yet ideologies saying e.g. that people in "nice" countries act in "enlightened self-interest", and are generally special snowflakes that shouldn't be stirred in their beautiful arrangements, are respected and highly popular. Clearly a dose of Marxist cynicism could serve as a good counterweight to such happy individualist fantasies. People - most of all people who want to be "normal" - are fucking delusional as to their immediate or long-term personal interest, that's what Marxism is saying. Hell, that was what George Carlin often said too. (I don't agree that a Marxist dictatorship should decide everyone's best interest, I'm not a strawman commie.)
0Nornagest9yFrankly, I'd rather not compare the rationality record between various unspecified creeds, at least here; that sort of thing has a way of taking over threads, and in its general form seems almost completely orthogonal to Catholic deconversion or anything related to it. This business about skepticism came up in the context of Marx's proximity to traditional rationality of the Dawkins/Randi school, particularly in terms of approach to atheism, and that's where I'd like to keep it. Dawkins et al. seem to be skeptical in methodology: presented with a set of supernaturalist beliefs, their normal procedure is to look at the claimed evidence for them, look for replications or attempt to perform a replication if it's convenient, and proceed to deprecate the beliefs in question when they predictably fail. They do tend to be fairly apolitical (Penn and Teller notwithstanding), and I'm not even sure what a proper extrapolation of this methodology to the social realm would look like, but I am pretty sure it wouldn't start with a future history (sketchy though Marx's is) or a complete theory of class interaction. And I'm also pretty sure most Marxists wouldn't appreciate a Randi-style analysis of their own foundational beliefs.
2Eugine_Nier9yWell, Hitchens always considered himself a socialist. I could say the same about transhumanism.
0Nornagest9yI wouldn't say you're wrong, but as I haven't seen anyone in this thread encouraging the lady in the OP to reject her conversion on transhumanist grounds, I'm again not sure why you're bringing it up.
-1Multiheaded9y(BTW, many socialists would deny him the honor. Me, I think his reputation was certainly quite spotty from any ideological view - not that I hate him or anything.)
5Jayson_Virissimo9yArguably, these kinds of acts follow a normal distribution (where acts of extreme altruism are on the opposite tail), so if Less Wrong had much larger numbers we should expect to observe these kind of things. Do you really think if Less Wrong had over 1 billion members (like Catholic Church) we wouldn't have members that commit violent acts (such as assassinating AI researchers not using FAI safeguards)? If anything, I would expect there to be greater variance of good and bad acts among Less Wrongers since they are explicitly trained not to compartmentalize.
6gwern9yDo very many Catholics assassinate government-funded mass murdering genocidaires? I refer of course to abortion clinics.
8Jayson_Virissimo9yNo, not really. According to Le Wik [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-abortion_violence], only 8 people (less than 1 every 2 years) in the US have been killed as the result of "anti-abortion violence" since 1993. Two of the actual killings were attributed to Catholics (although another did try to ram an abortion clinic with his vehicle which resulted in no injuries but did cause some property damage). In any case, it seems clear that "anti-abortion violence" occurs with much greater frequency in fiction than in reality. But then again, this shouldn't surprise us given the predominance of the Hollywood Atheist [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodAtheist] and Straw-Vulcan [http://lesswrong.com/lw/90n/summary_of_the_straw_vulcan/] archetypes. EDIT: I made a factual correction and added context.
0NancyLebovitz9yAll the murderers were Protestants?
5Jayson_Virissimo9yNo; I made a mistake. Eric Robert Rudolph [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Robert_Rudolph] and James Charles Kopp [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Charles_Kopp] (who, interestingly, had a masters degree in embryology, so was something of a "domain expert") were self-identified Roman Catholics. Also, it is tricky determining who is or is not of a particular denomination. For instance, Paul Jennings Hill [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Jennings_Hill] was excommunicated before commiting murder. Should that count in favor of or against the church that excommunicated him (in this case, Presbyterianism [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterianism])? I'm not sure.
4Viliam_Bur9yOf course in favor. Assuming conservation of evidence, if there exists an action that would count against them (such as declaring him a saint), there must also exist an action that would count in favor of them. So what exactly were they supposed to do -- burn him at a stake? EDIT: Oops, now I see that the question can refer to the whole "former membership + excommunication" package, not just the "excommunication" part. Still, unless other churches had excommunicated such people (before the murder, or at least after), the fact that this one did is an evidence in favor or hypothesis that they disagree with such acts.
2TheOtherDave9yIt sounds like it would follow from this account that the most dangerous religious fundamentalisms are also the most popular ones. Have I understood you properly?
1Jayson_Virissimo9yOn an absolute level, yes, but per capita, no.
1Manfred9yI think a good explanation for saying things like "just as totalizing and dogmatic" is that the question is getting substituted [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attribute_substitution], in the regular sort [http://lesswrong.com/lw/bk/the_trouble_with_good/] of way [http://lesswrong.com/lw/lj/the_halo_effect/]. That is, when we talk about how of course we should discourage people from being catholics, this sort of assumption that part of dymphna's identity is bad makes them feel attacked, and feel bad about the attack on their group. And because dymphna is a smart person, they use ideas like "just as totalizing and dogmatic" to communicate the badness they perceive. And yes, I'm not being charitable at all. TO HATERS [http://jamiesharpe.info/image/comics/haters/haters_gonna_hate3.jpg]: Oh? You think you'd do better than dymphna in a similar situation? Heck, I know I don't a lot of the time.
1RomeoStevens9yHypothesis: religions not predicated on "specialness" will not generate dangerous fundamentalism. If I believe I am average or not special in any way, then I want to work towards futures in which people who are average get goodies.
8Eugine_Nier9yLet's start by killing the people who are special and taking their goodies. ;)
-1RomeoStevens9ybetter dead than red.
-4Multiheaded9yThey're dead, we're red! (Until someone makes us prove that we're not special ourselves, that is...)
-3dymphna9y"The most dangerous religious fundamentalisms lead people to do things such as blowing up buildings, committing mass murders, jailing and torturing people for apostasy, and throwing acid in the faces of schoolchildren. This occurs both when dangerous religious fundamentalists occupy positions of formal political power (governments), and when they do not (terrorist groups, militias, abortion-clinic bombers)." Point taken. The phrase "most dangerous" iis hyperbolic. No, so far I don't see any Less Wrongers blowing up buildings or committing mass murders. But, what is it that drives people to do such things? Is it as simple as, "God told me to do this?" I don't think it's usually that simple. I'm not sure what drives it, but I think that part of it is a basic human tendency to divide people up into groups of "we" and "they." Most of us construct this kind of division to some degree, whether we realize it or not, but fundamentalists take it to the extreme. On LW I encounter this division quite often (sometimes in the tone of posts more than the content). I probably notice it so strongly because, as Manfred comments, I feel myself to be among the "them," (and my natural reaction is to make the same sort of division in my own mind. While this division is nowhere near the extreme in the rationalist communities, I can definitely imagine it becoming so, particularly if technology advances in the ways that many Less Wrongers predict it will. Some Less Wrongers appear to express the viewpoint that the world would be a better and happier place if all of us were to become rationalists, and I think that this is the attitude that I had in mind when I let the phrase "most dangerous fundamentalists" slip out. Medieval Catholics (and some contemporary ones) wanted to make the whole world Catholic. Stalinists wanted to make the whole world Stalinist. In either case, I think the world would have turned out a much worse place had either one succeeded. To you, rationalism, empiricism a
6TheOtherDave9yI suspect the quote in question is "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."
6fubarobfusco9y"... and moderation in the defense of liberty is no virtue."
5fubarobfusco9y(A meta remark: The usual way to quote another person's post here is to prefix lines with the > character, not to use quotation marks.) Of which I am very glad. Tribalism is powerful and problematic indeed. But I'm not convinced that tribalism alone is sufficient to create eliminationism — here borrowing Daniel Goldhagen's term for the belief that it is morally right and necessary to exterminate the Other. There are lots of places in the world where distinct tribes coexist, maintaining us/them distinctions, without massacring each other constantly. So there must be something else involved. It isn't really clear to me that all the things that we might label "fundamentalism" are really the same social phenomena. Sociologically, there may be different things going on in Fundamentalist Protestantism (the trope namer); in theocratic regimes such as Iranian Shia or Saudi Wahhabism; in medieval Catholicism in its persecution of the Cathars, Albigensians, and conversos — and for that matter in the Stalinist purges or other "secular" "fundamentalisms". Tribalism may be part of it; but doctrinal intolerance — the notion that people who believe differently should get bullet [http://lesswrong.com/lw/lo/uncritical_supercriticality/] — seems to be another; and authoritarian loyalty seems to be another still. We could talk about intolerance in general, rather than "fundamentalism"; but even this raises the difficulty that some people take peaceful disagreement with their beliefs to be a form of "intolerance". There's not a word for this idea that isn't fraught with political conflict. This is actually an area where I suspect the LW-cluster is much more universalist than most religionists expect secularists to be. The whole concept of "the coherent extrapolated volition of mankind" explicitly takes in all human experience as significant — thus including religious experience. Religious claims don't have to be true in order for religious experience to be significant as an ele
0dymphna9yThank you for re-clarifying this (yes, I was aware that this was the LW position). But, do most LW'ers think that it should be everyone's position? Heh, now there's a question! I personally don't believe in utopias, but I do believe in making the world better. The difficulty is that "better" means different things to different people, and this is something we can't ever forget. To answer your question, I think that a society based on moderation and mutual respect/ tolerance for different beliefs is the best one. Canada's multiculturalism policy comes to mind. There are many flaws with multiculturalism, as it certainly doesn't guarantee that all social groups are treated fairly by those in power. However, having lived in Canada for some years, I find that this attempt at creating a multicultural society (where people are encouraged to maintain their cultural heritage and language) leads to a more diverse and interesting society than does the assimilationist attitude of the US (my home country) where there is greater pressure to give up old identities/values in order to fit in.
1TheOtherDave9yI won't presume to speak for most LWers. Speaking for myself, I think we would all be better off if more people's beliefs were more contingent on mutually observable events. So, yeah. I could be wrong, but I'd love to see the experiment done.
0dymphna9yI don't really think it would be possible to do an experiment here because the very definition of "better" is a question of values, and different people have different values.
1TheOtherDave9yAnd yet, there are many situations in which an observer does in fact look at two groups of people and claim that group A is better off than group B. On your view, are all such observers unjustified in all such claims, or are some of them sometimes justified? (And, if the latter, is there any reason we can't affect the world so as to create such a situation, wherein we are justified in claiming that people are better off after our intervention than they were before?)
0fubarobfusco9yWell, there's the anthropological concept of the psychic unity of humankind — we may have different values, but our ways of thinking (including our values) are not wholly alien from one another, but have a lot in common. And there are also things we can say about human values that descend from cultural evolution: we would not expect, for instance, that any culture would exist that did not value its own replication into the next generation. So we would expect that people would want to teach their ideas to their children (or converts), merely because societies that don't do that would tend to die out and we wouldn't get to observe them.
0fubarobfusco9yGood question. I haven't conducted a poll. But more problematically, what does that "should" mean? It could mean: * "Would everyone be better off if they were more rationalist?" — I think yes, they would, because they would be better equipped to change the world in directions positive for themselves, and for humanity in general. And I think that this notion is pretty strong in the LW-community. Aside from problems such as becoming a clever arguer [http://lesswrong.com/lw/he/knowing_about_biases_can_hurt_people/], we expect that greater rationality should generally help people. * "Is it worthwhile for me to try to get everyone to be more rationalist?" — It isn't clear to me how much influence over other people's rationality I can directly have; although I haven't really tried outside of the LW-community and my (already rather rationalist-friendly) workplace yet. I intend to support CFAR's educational program, though. * "Would I benefit from treating people as more virtuous, trustworthy, or righteous if they agree with my position regarding rationality than if they don't?" — No, I don't really think so. Doing that sort of thing seems more likely to lead to Blue/Green political nonsense than to any beneficial result. (Although it sure is nice to hang out with / be friends with / date people who share some metaphysics and reference points ....) If none of these, what did you mean by "should" there? Sure; however, some of those different things are compatible and others aren't. Politics shows up when we have to deal with the incompatible ones. I'm predisposed to like multiculturalism in a lot of ways; it's pretty, interesting, and yields a wide range of social forms — and cultural products such as food, music, and philosophy. It does pose some serious problems, though, when different cultures have incompatible views of things such as human rights, human dignity, or dispute resolution; or when it's used as an excuse to
[-][anonymous]9y 11

Yes, there are many things wrong with the Church as an institution, but people know this and some are trying to reform these flaws (indeed, if Leah does convert, she will be a great one to do this).

I'm probably an outlier that I find some redeeming qualities in Catholicism precisely in the Church as an institution and not very much worthwhile in the beliefs of regular modern Western Christians.

4Benquo9yCan you point to somewhere you've explained this already - or failing that, would you be so kind as to unpack it a little?
1dymphna9yYes, I'd also really like to hear your thoughts.
3siodine9yI often see this in discussions or debates on religion. The only use for it is to bring disagreements onto a plane of relativism and thereby removing any possibility of conclusion. "I believe this, and you believe that, but aren't we so similar in many ways? Let's be tolerant of each other and allow for whatever beliefs we like." So, yes, you can draw parallels, some of them accurate, however you can't soundly claim to have the preponderance of impersonal evidence on your side. We haven't reason to treat your beliefs with respect. You should have reason to respect our beliefs if you respect impersonal evidence. Now, given the assumption that our beliefs are reasonably accurate, are we really totalizing and dogmatic? Is it totalizing and dogmatic to say "young earth creationists are wrong," even when they have more than enough personal evidence for such beliefs? Even when we sound like them? I think it only appears totalizing and dogmatic if you ignore context--if you draw the argument onto relativistic ground. * I'm giving away more than I should by allowing for coherency in personal evidence for the proposition of a God as described by X religion. The fact is is that even accounting for personal evidence, such as personal revelation, their beliefs are wrong in the Bayesian sense when accounting for non-personal evidence.
2dymphna9yWhat's wrong with this scenario? I thought that a big part of living in a liberal democracy involves tolerating those who are different from us. Why is a conclusion needed?
2TheOtherDave9yDepends on what we mean by "allow for" conflicting beliefs, and it depends on what's at stake. If we're trying to have lunch, and I believe hamburger tastes better than sausage, and you believe sausage tastes better than hamburger, there's no difficulty. You can order sausage, and I can order hamburger, and we're good. If we're both trying to disarm a ticking bomb, and you believe cutting the red wire will disarm it and cutting the blue wire will set it off, and I believe cutting the red wire will set it off and the blue wire will disarm it, a different strategy is called for. So one question becomes, what is disagreement about religious issues like? What does it mean to allow for different beliefs, and what's at stake?
0Dreaded_Anomaly9yI don't think this is necessarily a worthwhile goal. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/fm/a_parable_on_obsolete_ideologies/]

During the discussion, he prodded me on where I thought moral law came from in my metaphysics. I talked about morality as though it were some kind of Platonic form, remote from the plane that humans existed on. He wanted to know where the connection was.

I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.

Presumably asking her to clarify her belief that Morality = Person, and discussing other options for Morality and why they do not make sense ... (read more)

7Eugine_Nier9yAs a corollary, acting like a hateful anti-Catholic is not a good idea.
[-][anonymous]9y 3

"You don't use your mind to think about religion." - J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, Church of the SubGenius.

The question you asked is how to convince your friend not to become a Catholic. That's the question I'll answer, but it's the wrong question for you to ask.

The Episcopalian faith has much of the content and structure of the Catholic faith, but it is (I hear) more accommodating to women and to non-straight people. Perhaps this might be a better fit for your friend.

The blogger behind ravingatheist.com became a Christian. To his or her credit... (read more)

3faul_sname9yPlease don't. Becoming a Christian is not the end of the world. People are remarkably good at compartmentalizing, and a large part of the reason he's likely thinking of converting is probably that there's a large, supportive community waiting for him if he does. Demonstrate that he has a community if he doesn't convert, don't threaten to take away his current one. But emotional blackmail is not the way to go.

Do you know anything about what sort of Catholic she's becoming? There's a wide range within the religion, though I've heard that converts are apt to take the religion more literally.

If she's one of those "there's a real Catholicism, and it isn't the hierarchy" people, then she might not be under as much pressure about her sexuality as you fear.

NOTE ON USAGE: I mean by "theist" only a believer in some sort of god, as opposed to an "atheist."

As far as jumping to Catholicism, even if you ding her on the implausible authoritarianism of infallibility and her apparent disagreement over sexual ethics, all you are arguing for is to move her from Roman Catholic to Anglican.

I personally do not attempt to convert people away from Catholicism or pretty much anything else unless they ask me to or they initiate a discussion with me. I have numerous discussions with my Catholic father, b... (read more)

0Nic_Smith9yDo you mean theists rather than deists about halfway through?

"she felt like morality "loved" her."

Maybe you can explain to her that internal constructs can feel like external entities.

also from reading her blog post I got the impression rationality was a limit on her ability to choose her beliefs in this area rather than her means for doing so

"I couldn’t pick consistency over my construction project as long as I didn’t believe it was true."

Also this, "until I discovered that their study of virtue ethics has led them to take a tumble into the Tiber" makes it sound like she is a... (read more)

1keddaw8yAhh, but, you see, it's their choice to go to hell and not something the omni-benevolent creator of the universe does. But obviously it's their choice at the instant of death and not a moment afterwards when they realise that god actually exists, one can't repent or believe then... Blame The Victim #Christianity

I don't think the conversion will last.

3Paul Crowley9yI think the downvote here is a little harsh. Mitchell is sticking his neck out here by making a prediction. I almost think he should offer a bet, but I'm not convinced about the ethics of betting on ordinary people's choices where they can see...
0Mitchell_Porter9yI thought the downvote (I only saw one) might have come from someone who approved of Leah's conversion.
0wedrifid9yIt is. (Upvoted both his comments.)
2Paul Crowley7yI think over 18 months counts as lasting.
0wedrifid9yHow confident are you? How long?
0Mitchell_Porter9yConfidence is low. But I give it six months. ETA: The reason is that she's a rationalist, not a mysterian. She's been seduced by Catholic metaphysics and her private mysticism, but the intellectual baggage of Catholic doctrine is what ought to kill it for her in the end. Her day job is public health. Will she really be willing to believe that a young girl in Boston had her liver healed because Edith Stein interceded from beyond the grave?

I would like your friend not to give money to an organisation that actively shelters child rapists. Refusing to tithe and giving to religious charities is cool, though.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

From what I've heard, the (Catholic, at least) Church view on sexuality is derived mostly from Aristotle.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

The world looks pretty scary when we try and look at it as it really is. As much as we try to account for it, at some level we are a function of that which we observe and take in- from that viewpoint, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where the information you take in becomes skewed along lines that don't mach up with reality. Given enough skewed data, we all make choices that appear irrational from other eyes.

Sadly, none of us rank information told us once as highly as information we "discover" for ourselves. I don't know if the convers... (read more)

4Manfred9yParagraph breaks, man. Paragraph breaks.

[Executive summary: solve the underlying causes of your problem by becoming Pope]

I think it's a mistake to focus too much on the case of one particular convert to Catholicism simply because you know her personally. To do that is to fall prey to the availability heuristic.

The root cause of your problem with your friend is that the Catholic Church exists as a powerful and influential organisation which continues to promote its weird dogma, polluting Leah's mind along with millions of others. Before investing time and effort trying to flip her back to the side of reason, you should consider whether you could destroy the Church and dam the river of poison at its source. I will now outline a metho

It probably won't lead to the bottom line she's already seemed to have drawn, but I can share a bunch of material from my ethics class (which is very much science-based, and has a lot of good videos and literature to read). I'm only 1/3 done with the class, but to the degree that it wipes everything away and starts from scratch, I feel that it could only help a person on their journey of understanding ethics.

Let me know if you're interested.

0beriukay9yDid I make some kind of silly assumption about the bottom line?

It seems the impetus for her conversion was increasing frustration that she had no good naturalistic account for objective morality in the form of virtue ethics; that upon reflection, she decided she felt like morality "loved" her; that this feeling implied God;

Throw desirism at her?

4palladias9yI read all the desirism posts I saw Luke do and read transcripts of the relevant podcasts. (Following his blog is how I ended up reading the Sequences). It's been a while since I looked at them, but, as best I can remember, I didn't think his writing ever got specific enough for me to be able to predict what desirism entails. I like that he trying to build from the ground up, but there were never enough examples for me to be able to check whether desirism matched the predictions I was already pretty confident in and thought any good theory had to explain. (Convincing me that I was wrong to see those precepts as important would also be a valid approach, but there wasn't enough fleshed out to do that, either)
5Paul Crowley9yLooking forward to discussing this with you in July, but let me start now. Is it that you find atheist positions on morality unpalatable, or incompatible with what you observe, or something else? Thanks!

The fully general argument against supernatural belief is physicalism/reductionism. The fully general argument against omnipotent/omnibenevolent beings in our local space is anti-panglossianism, ie fun theory. Pick one.

That said, when someone starts arguing that it's impossible to derive ought-from-is, and therefore we need God to ground morality, I always want to ask if it isn't a bit suspect that they just derived is-from-ought.

People in general rarely do things for rational, sensible, truth-based reasons. So generally, if I really want someone to do or think something, I manipuate them into it. Of course, this may harm your friendship (if you get caught) or damage the person (if you are not apt at such things) or it may run against your personal ethics. None of these are bad reasons to refrain, but if what you really want is her deconversion, you already want to manipulate her and might as well use effective tools (rhetoric, emotional blackmail, cognitive biases, reputation/shaming... whatever suits you) rather than less effective means such as facts, evidence, or logical reasoning.

6Jay_Schweikert9yI take strong objection to this sentiment. Even ignoring the ethical and tactical problems with manipulating people into doing what you want for non-truth-based reasons [http://lesswrong.com/lw/uz/protected_from_myself/], the excerpted statement proves too much. Just because I want somebody to do something or believe something, I necessarily want to manipulate them? But then in what circumstance would I ever want to appeal to "facts, evidence, or logical reasoning"? In writing the Sequences and trying to awake informed rationalism in potential AI researchers, was Eliezer "manipulating" his readers? Well, yes, if you mean he took action to effect a desired change in others. No, if you mean he felt free to use any sort of rhetorical tools available. Perhaps I'm responsible for some confusion here, when I said I would "settle" for her not becoming Catholic. What I meant was not that the I care primarily about her identification as "Catholic" or "not Catholic," as if the very fact of identification is itself relevant. What I care about is that she genuinely recognize why moving her beliefs, values, and behavior toward the Catholic cluster would be a Bad Idea. I care that she have an informed desire to not want to convert, not just that she ends up deciding not to identify as Catholic for whatever reason.
4asparisi9yUpvoted. While I am highly sympathetic to your desire to not want her to make her decisions for "non-truth based reasons," in and of itself your desire: to want her to want to change her beliefs (back) merely moves the problem back a step. I did not mean to imply that you want to or should want to change her mind by any particular means, but there is only so far that you can constrain a problem before it becomes impossible or impractical to solve. What you seem to want is for her to change back purely on the basis of obtaining information. If you possess information, know that you possess it, AND she is unusually receptive to this approach, you will probably be able to proceed. If, however, you suspect that she will be commonly resistant to this approach or that she has already rationalized away what new information you will provide (or do so upon hearing it) then it would seem likely that this approach will not work. I do sincerely hope this situation is of the luckier sort, even if I would bet otherwise.
2Manfred9yThe primary reason I think this is downvoted is that you neglect that Jay has lots of goals, and something like emotional blackmail may advance one but, if we assume he's a regular guy, set back many others. That is, you're being very narrow (here's what I think you should do to achieve the single goal X), rather than holistic (here's what I think you should do to advance your goals as a whole), and holistic advice is a lot more useful.

Hate to be self-promoting, but I just wrote a blog post on this that you might find useful.

Given that conversions tend to be driven by people's personal connections, probably realistically the best thing you can do to stop something like this (at least in the future) is get someone a good support network of non-believing friends.

Though that's probably not what I'd do in your situation. I'd be screaming at hear that the Catholic church is evil and if she must be religious, why can't she be a nice Episcopalian or something? Which is kinda what I do in my blo... (read more)

Orthodox Church is strictly more probable than Catholic Church regarding truthness of dogma. ETA: assuming that both probabilities are greater than zero.

2lukstafi9yhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council#Eastern_Orthodox_Church [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council#Eastern_Orthodox_Church] vs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council#Roman_Catholic_Church [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council#Roman_Catholic_Church] . Although in some writings the Catholic Church suggests that an old doctrine might change under "doctrinal development", at other times it claims that Revelation is not subject to revision, which suggests to me that it cannot drop a once-claimed dogma.
-1lukstafi9yI'm somewhat baffled by the downvotes. I have some anecdotal evidence that considering the Orthodox Church and analyzing the dogma that differs the two (and how they came about) thwarts (Roman) Catholic conversion.
2[anonymous]9yIf you judge them based on canonical doctrines, then I (largely) agree that Catholicism is a subset of Orthodoxy. (And they are interchangeable in many ways, so just going with the locally more convenient one is a reasonably safe bet, assuming you buy the shared package.) However, it's not obvious to me that Catholicism is less probable if you include their doctrine-generating mechanism. If you accept Orthodoxy, you fundamentally reject papal primacy. The Pope either is or isn't the (unique) successor of Peter. Neither option seems trivially simpler to me. (In the same sense that I couldn't a priori tell if Sunni or Shia claims of succession are more probable.) That accepting one claim leads to a smaller (and so more probable) set of doctrines is irrelevant, if the mechanism that gets you there is itself less probable.
-1lukstafi9yI agree. (I disagree with the application of the example about the Pope being in some sense the successor of Peter, but it doesn't matter.) ETA: what I agree is the meta-statement, there is still some tension in the Roman Catholic Church wanting to have the cake and eat it too... There are Reformed Churches "on offer", one could also be an unaffiliated Jesus follower, no? Never mind though.