Hi there. I’m a longtime LW-er posting under a pseudonym, in the hopes of being able to make my ignorance visible without unnecessary drama. Please don’t out me; it seems to me that the ability to expose one’s ignorance pseudonymously is a pro-epistemic norm that we’ll be better off having.

Now that I’ve gotten that over with:

I want to understand LW’s aversion to religion. I’m hoping some of you guys can help me model it. I’m also hoping to explain what is attractive to me about religion as an aid to forming accurate maps (including, attractive to me vis a vis my goal of making LW stronger/more successfully truth-seeking), and to see if some of you are willing and able to understand my perspective about this (“to pass my ITT,” is I think how you lot would say this?). I want to know whether, after you “pass my ITT,” you have anything to say back that makes me think my attraction to religion is something truth can destroy.

What is LW’s objection to religion?

Here’s my starting attempt at describing LW’s aversion to religion:

1) Many religions claim things that are straightforwardly false (e.g., “Jesus physically rose from the dead.”) It’s harmful to believe false things.

2) Human beings have an observable tendency to really persistently believe (or claim to believe) some obviously false things religions claim, compared to random obviously false things. This suggests to LW that religion is near a “fault line” in the human psyche, and if we go near that fault line our minds might start believing a lot of different false things, or might otherwise become less trustworthy. We don’t have a precise, high-confidence model of what exactly this “fault line” is, so it is safest to stay far away from religion, so as to reduce the odds of accidentally stumbling over the unknown “religion fault line” and having our minds go screwy.

If you’re a LW-er who is averse to religion, and you have a couple minutes to make me smarter, I’d really appreciate a comment below from you (or a PM) about whether this (1 and 2 above) summarizes most of what drives your aversion to religion, or whether it’s missing something core to your reaction.

How the above “objection to religion” sits with me

Objection 1 seems valid and correct to me. I agree many religions claim many false things. Jesus did not physically rise from the dead; there was no message to Noah about a flood; etc. I also agree that false beliefs are often harmful, and that, as Eliezer argues, the resistance many religious people have to cryonics is a strong example of the false beliefs of religion causing important harm. I suspect my beliefs here are roughly that of many near the center of LW, although I may be missing something.

Objection 2 is more confusing to me. Objection 2, in my current understanding, is a special case of “don’t expose yourself to a potentially compelling set of perspectives, because if you do you might become convinced by them, and then you’ll believe something false.” I am afraid of heuristics following this template. I agree, of course, that it’s bad to end up believing something false. But exposing myself to all the perspectives, and allowing myself to think everything through after exposure to all arguments and perspectives, is usually a better heuristic than “avoid thinking about X” for figuring out what’s true. (Think creationists saying “don’t listen to biologists, they’ll trick you.”)

One place where I would be grateful for help: what exactly is the fault line near religion, if there is in fact a fault line there? The conjunction fallacy is in some sense a fault line in the human psyche, but it’s one we can name, can point to precisely, and can thereby become relatively immune to in the sense that one needn’t fear reading conjunctive futurism; one can simply read it, remember the conjunction fallacy, and try not to fall for the false parts. Is religion like this? Or is it a broader and more unknown set of fault lines that requires more caution? I would feel far better about the whole thing if we could make “watch out for religion” more similar to “watch out for the conjunction fallacy”: specific, verifiably a bias (or a set of biases), and sufficiently well characterized that, after training in recognizing the relevant biases, practicing religion (e.g. praying) would no longer much threaten a person's sanity.

Why, and in what sense, I find religion attractive

To be clear, I do not find “belief in a literal Jehovah who literally raised Jesus from the dead” attractive. That religion would include false beliefs, and false beliefs are harmful and not attractive.

To describe what I do find attractive:

Religion seems to me to be better (though still not great) at giving folks accurate, usable models of where to trust our maps vs where to have humility, and at giving folks accurate maps of what the heck it is to be a human being, related to other human beings, in the middle of this here universe.

For example, when I contrast practitioners of most traditional religions (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, various forms of traditional polytheistic religion, etc.) with most of those professing belief in what I’ll call “naive scientistic materialism,” it seems to me that the religious practitioners often do better in the following ways.

Situating human life within temporal rhythms (daily/weekly, yearly, and across the lifetime). Honoring these rhythms communally.

Most religions situate human life within a set of rhythms, including daily and weekly rhythms (e.g. “don’t work on the Sabbath”); yearly rhythms (e.g. “here is when we celebrate the harvest; here is when we atone, fast, and make an empty space for seeing past our egos”); and lifetime rhythms (e.g. “here is when we recognize a young person as having come of age; here is a ritual for marriage; here is a ritual for death.”)

In contrast, many who profess what I’m calling “naive scientistic materialism” seem to me to eat, work, and sleep at all hours of the day and week in patterns that seem fairly unhealthy and unproductive to me. Many scientistic materialists seem to me to marry several times or not at all in patterns that I believe are less promoting of life, happiness, healthy children, and stable community than many traditional patterns; and to generally attempt to model themselves as rhythmless machines (“I just need to give my body 8 hours of sleep and 2,000 calories and then it ought to give me back the ability to do functional work”) in ways that seem to me to have inadequate respect for what I would call the sacred forces at work in the body, mind, and soul, and inadequate humility about our maps of the same.[1]

Respect for folk ethics

Many religions claim that such things as courage, honesty, and hard work are virtues. (The specifics vary, but many religions claim something like that for some set of ‘traditional virtues.') In contrast, many scientistic materialists speak as though they have arbitrary personal preferences for e.g. courage or honesty as part of their arbitrary, purely individual, utility functions. (Eliezer admittedly does better here.)

I think it’s, roughly speaking, more accurate to say “courage is a virtue” than to say “I personally value courage.” I personally enjoy the flavor of caramel. “Courage is a virtue” is not similar to my relationship to caramel; it’s a prediction that practicing courage will generally help a person to create good things broadly, and to have a right alignment of their soul. “Courage is a virtue” is a sentence, not about my map, but about the world.

Folk ethics seems to me to be of real use for building viable organizations and relationships, and for keeping your soul in good working order. I think scientistic young people are often more confused than their religious counterparts here, due to being given less accurate maps. (This matters more for teens and twenties than for older folks, since young people are forced for lack of experience to rely more on outside maps.)

Encouragement to bear and raise children, and to attend to the next generation. Offering shared communal patterns that make this easier.

I suspect that religion (especially, communally practiced religion) makes it easier for people to create stable marriages and to raise children by providing shared maps of how to do this together. I suspect it also encourages more people to want these things by providing a more accurate map of their value, and a more accurate map of what kind of thing we humans are, such that we value children. (Again, providing accurate maps matters most for young people.)

Many scientistic materialists seem in my experience to have difficulty finding anything to care about, partly because they are trying to follow an inaccurate map that tells them that they have a “utility function” that is mostly about themselves and their experience. Or they have inaccurate maps that tell them that their “values” are a thing they get to just make up according to what they think will get them social status or something, and these maps are also stupid and leave them adrift. Or they realize these maps have errors because they read the Sequences but are still similarly adrift.

I suspect religion offers a more accurate map of the sense in which we are and are not isolated individuals, and of what matters to us deep down, and of at least some parts of how to live and orient given that.[2]

The above list of places where religion seems to me to offer a more accurate map is not exhaustive; I am forcing myself to be brief. However, I believe it is representative.

In conclusion

I love the way LW seeks true beliefs and eschews false ones (including e.g. “Jesus physically rose from the dead.”) I wish to protect this and to not mess with this.

In keeping with what I understand of LW's culture, I wish to investigate together the question of whether religion offers systematically more accurate maps of some important aspects of humankind's relationship to the universe, and to investigate whether this can be separated from religion’s admitted tendency to get stuck in specific false beliefs.

I wish also to investigate the question of whether there is some terrible epistemic booby trap near religion, such that I or others should fear religious practice.

I will be grateful for any assistance making more accurate maps of any of the above.

Thank you.
 

  1. ^

    To translate my use of the word “sacred,” here, into local parlance: our maps of the body are not the body. Our maps of the mind are not the mind. Our maps of the soul are not the soul (root word “breath” — I’m using “soul” to mean whatever it is that goes out of a person at the moment of death). Also: each of the body, mind, and soul come from living processes that are smart, that non-randomly try to bring about good things, and that deserve our “respect” in the sense of not expecting a reliable lack of backfire from micromanaging them. Furthermore, these processes grew up in the context of our historical relationship to e.g. nature, to foraging within a natural context that included daily and yearly rhythms, and to being in certain kinds of relationships to particular kinds of human communities, and I know no good reason to expect them to be robust to the total disruption of these relationships. When I regard these processes as “sacred,” I remind myself to look at them in a manner appropriate to looking at old, wise things that use patterns not in my map to produce value I am dependent on.

  2. ^

    I realize that Eliezer got a lot of this right, but I know nobody else who found his writing on morality compelling (nor did it work on me), and I think this was because he did not situate it within a larger accurate map in the way religion does. (Though he tried.) My guess is that Eliezer got values as right as he did partly because he grew up around religious people, and that his Sequence on morality did not manage to reproduce the component mental moves he used to get there. I am interested in whether seeking accurate maps near religion can help us do better.

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Disclaimer: I may not be the right person to be joining this discussion, as a never-religious atheist, but I think your point 1 is understating the problem. Religion (and I’m mostly thinking of Christianity here, but I think the same applies to Islam and Judaism) doesn’t just make ”straightforwardly false” claims. The claim “ivermectin is a wonder drug that cures 100% of Covid” is straightforwardly false and potentially harmful but doesn’t generate the same reaction. Religion demands thought patterns which systematically undermine your ability to tell true from false. 

Examples:

   You must have faith. Faith is praiseworthy, doubting is wrong / sinful. Requiring evidence for your beliefs is therefore wrong.

   Questioning what you are taught by (religious) authority figures is sinful.

   If the (holy) text doesn’t make sense or is outright self-contradictory, you should rationalise the problems and teach yourself to ignore any evidence that the text is not perfect.

Training yourself to apply these degraded thought-patterns undermines your entire epistemics and is consequently very difficult to self-correct. That is far more harmful than embracing any individual object-level false belief.

This is the right answer, but I think it's under-generalized. Any false belief systematically undermines your ability to tell true from false, if it's sufficiently integrated into your world model and not just free-floating. Believing "ivermectin is a wonder drug" starts out harmless, presuming you don't actually take it or get COVID. But if you got the wrong answer about ivermectin and you're committed to stick with that answer, then every time your beliefs about ivermectin interact with your beliefs about something else, the accuracy of those other beliefs takes damage. Eg if you go and read a bunch of studies about ivermectin, and try to figure out how to distinguish good studies from bad ones, then you'll draw wrong conclusions about that.

Religion has this property more than most things, because the things it gets wrong are relatively big, central things which tend to interact with a lot of other beliefs, and because it's had a long time to get entrenched and put damaged neighboring-beliefs, many of which are not obviously religion-related, into the culture. But the problem is a general one.

The problem isn't per falseness per se but epistemic stubborness. After all there can be attitudes that "all models are wrong, some are useful". There is one strategy to try to be ragefully and pedantically correct about everything but one canbe quite short of that and still get a "adjusts quickly in the face of big frictions" type of systems that don't get strongly guided by the priors.

Yes agreed. I think we’re both getting at the same point: religion demands that you believe false things and then undermines your entire epistemics to make you keep upholding those false beliefs. You can do yourself comparable damage by picking some other belief like a political ideology and warping all your other beliefs to fit in. Mike Evron below wrote that he isn’t opposed to religion, he’s opposed to dogma. I think that’s a good way of summarising the point: any false belief is dangerous if it becomes a dogma that resists correction, and religion is unusually good at forming dogma, compared to other types of belief. 

This seems correct to me. (Nor do I think it's unique to Abrahamic religions, or Western religions.)

It seems like the kind of religion you support is one where you're not required to believe untrue things but do have rituals and community. I was under the impression that that is popular here. The talk about Solstices and Petrov Day is the most obvious parts (along with meetups). I feel like there are discussions about religious people and people with kids being happier either here or in LessWrong-adjacent places. At one point there was a lot of discussion of spirituality (although I haven't seen it for a while, but I don't think it was downvoted).

Maybe you could be more specific aboot what aspects of religion you're getting pushback about.

I was under the impression that that is popular here.

This seems like a good example:

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/p7hW7E3fHF3PDzErk/sabbath-hard-and-go-home

Everyone can have a different reason. For me, the main objection is that religion plays a form of epistemic "pigeon chess" -- that it joyfully throws out of the window all sanity, and instead promotes an epistemic norm: "if you don't believe this memeplex, you will be horribly tortured -- and this is supremely good thing (and if you disagree that this is a supremely good thing, you will be horribly tortured, too, mwahahaha!)".

From my perspective, anyone who threatens other people with torture, should be kicked in the balls, repeatedly. Like, the moment you seriously started threatening me with torture, this stopped being a civil discussion, and I refuse to pretend otherwise.

Your imaginary god who enjoys torturing people is a sick psycho. If it was someone else's god, torturing people for not joining someone else's religion, I assume it would be quite obvious to you, too.

(EDIT: here, "you" refers to a general hypothetical religious audience, not OP specifically)

After epistemology, the next thing the religion throws in the toilet is morality. Because, in order to avoid being horribly tortured yourself, you better start believing that torturing people who follow the normal rules of evidence is a good thing. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, one of the greatest joys of people in heaven will be eating popcorn while watching sinners (e.g. people who masturbated at some moment of their lives) tortured in hell. Do you realize that in the unlikely case you get in heaven, most of your friends and relatives will be in hell? Are you seriously looking forward to watching them suffer, forever, while singing praise to your mad god? You better sing loud and sincerely, because he can read your thoughts, and he certainly does not like criticism.

...now of course, most religious people would object strongly against this description. But that's kinda my point: if you believe stupid and evil shit, why look for excuses, when you could simply stop believing it instead? Ah, because in the infinitesimal chance that you were wrong and the religion was somehow right after all, you will get horribly tortured for your lack of faith. No shit Pascal, shut up and multiply.

So, to address your questions: (1) yes, religion is false, and (2) yes, it makes people say stupid things. But the actually horrible thing is the mechanism it uses to make people say and believe stupid things (the threat of torture for those who want to consider the evidence instead of blindly believing). Saying "religion is false" is just the tip of the iceberg. Many things are false, without being promoted under threat of torture, with sick morality saying that threatening people (including small kids) by torture to make them believe absurdities is a good thing.

Many religions claim that such things as courage, honesty, and hard work are virtues.

Also: killing strangers, killing skeptics, killing witches. Arguably, those are folk values, too.

I suspect that religion (especially, communally practiced religion) makes it easier for people to create stable marriages and to raise children by providing shared maps of how to do this together. I suspect it also encourages more people to want these things by providing a more accurate map of their value, and a more accurate map of what kind of thing we humans are, such that we value children. (Again, providing accurate maps matters most for young people.)

Whoa, that was an interesting jump from "shared maps", through maps more accurate in one specific thing (a broken clock is also right twice a day), to generally "accurate maps". The religion is right about the fact that some people want to have kids -- awesome! But what about the remaining 99% of the holy books?

Many scientistic materialists seem in my experience to have difficulty finding anything to care about

I am not very confident here, but it seems to me that this is mostly a function of having an active social life. (That is, if you controlled for social activity, would the materialists differ from the religious meaningfully? I suspect no; but I am not sure.) Yes, religion forces you to participate in certain social activities, which are on average good for you. An atheist totalitarian regime can do the same. In theory, you could also organize voluntary social activities for people... but this somehow doesn't seem to work well in practice... perhaps because the people who are most likely to get depressed when they stay alone are also the ones most likely to opt out of voluntary activities? Or maybe it's some kind of paradox of choice, that if you have many activities to choose from, none of them seems clearly best, so you choose none? Also, the more choices, the less likely you are to choose the same thing as your neighbors.

But this is unrelated to accuracy. Reading horoscopes together can be a fun social activity, too.

How do people find out about the voluntary activities?

(How many of them have 'people know about it because their parents did it' going for them?)

Or maybe it's some kind of paradox of choice, that if you have many activities to choose from, none of them seems clearly best, so you choose none?

It seems harder for separate organizations to propagate such a variety of messages. Though 5 people would like to play soccer, 3 basketball, (some more other things), and then (stag-hunt style) there's not enough people for soccer or basketball so that's not what happens.


Maybe it's a bigger issue than it looks, and can't be fixed by sending an entire city a message like 'At dawn, we meet in the park for soccer, this Saturday*'.

*For the particular city, the particular activity might be better chosen to be something else. Also, yes, what if too many people show up.

How do people find out about the voluntary activities?

Great question! Let me think...

  • afternoon activities at school;
  • competitions for kids that school tells you about;
  • generally, all kinds of clubs for children are advertised at schools;
  • parents sign you up for a club;
  • teambuilding at work;
  • announced in various papers, including ones that are given to everyone for free;
  • google;
  • advertised on facebook;
  • told by a neighbor;
  • given a flyer;
  • you organize it yourself.

So, in theory, there are many ways. Though some of them require agency on your side, so if you are not the type of person who does these things, and if no one even told you that this is an option, it effectively does not exist for you.

In some villages, they still have a local village radio that among other things announces all local activities, so if you want to organize soccer, people will know. In towns, there is sometimes a municipal neswpaper which could be used to announce such activities, but now you need to plan a few weeks in advance (and then your plans can be ruined by weather). Some communities have a local facebook group, you could share the information there. At some places there are bulleting boards, I wonder if anyone still reads them. You could print little flyers and throw them in neighbors' mail. Activities for kids you could try to promote at local schools: either by a flyer or by telling the relevant teacher (e.g. contact the gym teacher about sport activities).

Yet most of these things require some agency, which I suspect is the greatest obstacle. The most convenient ones seem to be: village radio, and local facebook group (assuming one already exists).

For me it's Objection1, but just as importantly it's that religions (in particular Abrahamic ones) tend to entrench and enforce morally abhorrent precepts. (E.g. from Christianity we have things like: sinners should suffer infinite torture, subjugation of women, original sin, blasphemy, "all desires are inherently bad/sinful", "being a good person has nothing to do with what you do" etc...). I have a prior that people who are attracted to religion tend to be either willfully blind to or supportive of such evils, which perhaps looks like Objection 2 from the outside. That said, I do think many of the things you bring up are in fact good things about religion. I'm pessimistic but not opposed to attempts to distill these good aspects into something fully good.

I have a prior that people who are attracted to religion tend to be either willfully blind to or supportive of such evils, which perhaps looks like Objection 2 from the outside. 

Thank you. I need to think more about what causes this. (Hypotheses appreciated, if anyone has some to share.)

The two objections in the post basically miss what I'd consider the "core problem" with religion. It's not that religion explicitly promotes false things, so much as that religion centers around symbols which are basically-decoupled from semantic truth.

This does not necessarily imply an "aversion" to religion, but it does mean that one needs to go into basically-every religious context with the assumption that the literal semantic content of any words/symbols are basically decoupled from truth. There may be useful things to find, true things to find, but they won't just be the literal semantic content. (To be clear, this does not mean the literal semantic content is always false - that would be just as useful as content which is always true! It means that the truth-value of the literal semantic content is random noise.) The core question to ask is basically-never "is this religious claim true?", but rather "what does it tell us about the world, that this religion promotes this claim?".

(Note that all of the examples in the OP are basically compatible with this - none of them are about the truth of the literal semantic content of an explicit religious claim.)

(Also note that the same problem applies to a lot of nominally-scientific research and basically-all politics; it's not exclusive to religion.)

(One specific frame which makes this explicit, mainly applicable to Western religion: Western religion is almost-exclusively a simulacrum level 3-or-4 phenomenon.)

I thought scientific content is supposed to be very correct on a technical level. Is there some field were correctness on an "essential" or "metaphorical" level makes it okay to have technical errors? What you are probably meaning that nominally-scientific research is no research at all but opinion pieces.

Speaking from my own personal history with religion, the thing I objected to was not actually religion in general, but Protestant Christianity and specifically its attempt to control beliefs and thoughts.

It took a while though to figure out this was not a general religion thing and that most religions actually don't care that much if you disagree with their myths, stories, explanations, etc. and instead focus on what you do. As best I can tell, in most religions the expectation is that the thing that comes first and that most people will do is carry out certain behaviors, whether they be rituals or observed practices. Personally, I don't chafe against this much, since it's not too much different from the non-religious expectations of behavior as part of my culture. I know some people dislike this a lot and it's a different reason to reject religion than the one I'm pointing at.

So, back to Protestant Christianity. There's this big focus on faith and belief. There's an insistence that you must think the right thoughts to be in God's good graces and thus for good stuff to happen to you. If you grow up in an environment that treats this collection of beliefs about God having power in the world to affect things, and especially if you're scrupulous, then this can be quite painful when you notice that some of the things you're being asked to believe don't match what you observe. Some people lean into the conflict as a test of faith; I leaned into the conflict as a test of my skill as a proto-rationalist.

Given that LW's audience is largely seeded with culturally Anglo people, and culture that is predominantly Protestant Christian, I then propose that a decent about of the aversion to religion comes from a similar story to my own: people grew up with religion (which, again, meant Protestant Christianity) trying to control their thoughts and convince them to believe things that didn't match their observations, they rejected that, and because there was social pressure to conform found themselves not just opting out of but forced to stand in opposition to religion in order to navigate their local social circumstances. Eventually this gets internalized as an aversion.

Speaking from my own personal history with religion, the thing I objected to was not actually religion in general, but Protestant Christianity and specifically its attempt to control beliefs and thoughts.

Thank you. This makes sense and I had not thought of it. 

I, too, find social pressure around what to believe abhorrent, while social pressure around how to act seems basically fine.

Do you (or anyone else who wants to answer this) think religion is basically un-alarming when it avoids social pressure around what to believe?

How do you feel about social pressures (in mainstream, non-religious society) to e.g. appear to like and to feel peaceful toward the people around you, appear to trust school to be about education and healthcare to be about health, etc.? Are these similar to or far from your experiences in Protestant Christianity?

A further comment about the religious history of people involved with Less Wrong, it also was heavily seeded by the 2000s decade internet atheist movement, which was itself largely a reaction to evangelical Christianity attempting to gain power politically in the US, and the reaction of young Christians of rationalist dispositions to realizing that we were confidently being ordered to believe stupid things, while at the same time also being told that noticing it was stupid was failing your religious duty.

I'd also emphasize what another comment said, that there has been a lot of interest in the community in creating secular rituals that replace the community rituals of religion without committing anyone to believing false facts (or really any facts at all).

It definitely is the case that there has been discussion of ways that parts of religion can be good for people, despite the underlying truth claims being false.

I am curious what the control elements consist of. I have plenty of protestant christianity exposure but I don't concieve of it having those structural properties. 

One explanation why you would not find religion discussed much on Lesswrong: The sequences are definitely anti-religion in a lot of places, so this might filter out people who are good at epistemology all else being equal, but feel insulted by Eliziers writing. Someone wanting to discuss religion on LessWrong is therefore probably a strong signal for someone clueless who "doesn't get it". So discussing religion here is low status.

This component makes sense, but I'm trying to find out whether there is also some other objection that I should take more warning from. I expect some conformity / accidental status dynamics on LW like everywhere else (though less here than most places). But I think there is more than this in LW's responses to religion. The observations I'm trying to make sense of include not just the absence of much religious discussion, but also e.g.:

  • This comment of Vladimir_Nesov's
  • The heatedness of the discussion in Valentine’s old post about Kensho
  • My post here having received multiple downvotes, despite downvotes being fairly rare in general. (I am not at all complaining! You are giving me the discussion I was seeking in the comments, and I am grateful. I don’t think people downvote much just for low status topics, though; I think there’s some other dynamic.)

My guess is that there is some active, endorsed, intelligent opposition to religion on LW, maybe because some people understand something I don't. I want to figure out whether that's so. I want this in case there's a good reason to fear religion (so I can know this important true thing), and in case there isn't (so I can bridge to LW-ers better, and can avoid being spooked by something silly).

My guess is that there is some active, endorsed, intelligent opposition to religion on LW, maybe because some people understand something I don't. I want to figure out whether that's so. I want this in case there's a good reason to fear religion (so I can know this important true thing), and in case there isn't (so I can bridge to LW-ers better, and can avoid being spooked by something silly).

I think "active, endorsed, intelligent opposition" is the wrong framing.  LW is very lightly moderated, and it's unlikely that anyone is organizing any downvote-brigades.  (note: it does happen sometimes, but I don't know your history so I can't tell if all your posts and comments simultaneously got bombed, or if you just tried a few times and got small numbers of downvotes).  

Instead, think of religion, like current politics, as "hard mode" for discussion on LW.  https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/9weLK2AJ9JEt2Tt8f/politics-is-the-mind-killer is the standard warning, and "people go funny in the head when discussing " can end in religion just as easily as politics.  In order to have a fruitful discussion about LW-relevant topics (rationality, empiricism, and even social organization), it requires a fair bit of preparation and specificity to make specific claims and points of discussion that can easily be evaluated without bringing in a large amount of vague and controversial connotations.

There is definitely reason to have some trepidation in bringing up religion among people who don't share your underlying framework.  True among family, at work, and on message boards like LW.  I suspect that trying to "bridge to LW-ers" is a doomed idea.  If you have aspects of rationality which include religion that you'd like to explore together, that's probably achievable, but not guaranteed to succeed.  And especially so if you mean "a religion" rather than "religion".  

edit: I went and looked at the posts linked in the grandparent comment.  I hadn't paid much attention to them when posted, but now I bothered to read them, and downvoted the one about god, leaving un-voted the one about LW's reaction to it.  I note the similarity to this post, and would like to point out "talking about religion's role in human behavior" is fine, talking about "god" as if that were a real thing separate from the religion who defines the god is likely to get downvoted.

I wouldn't say I have an aversion to religion.  I mean, it's mostly bullshit, but it's probably better than a lot of less-evolved-and-durable common bullshit.   I also wouldn't say that I represent LW in any way - you might need to seek out individuals on LW to ask this question, rather than treating us an an undifferentiated group.

I DO have an aversion to some common aspects of religious arguments, and I don't know if they apply to you.  Sometimes they can be anti-epistemic, and forcefully deny that some aspects of one's lived experience can be analyzed logically.  And, of course, there's no disagreeing on such things, as logic is explicitly excluded.

I don't see much reason to give any weight to what seems to be your main point

I suspect religion offers a more accurate map of the sense in which we are and are not isolated individuals, and of what matters to us deep down, and of at least some parts of how to live and orient 

This seems to me to be a category error in use of the phrase "accurate map".  I grant that for many, religion can offer a psychologically more compelling and comforting frame for the universe.  I don't grant that it's more accurate or predicts future experiences better.

Personally, it's not religion I object to per se. Rather, it's dogma, which is a much larger phenomenon and includes such things as political affiliation, uncritical beliefs in the current state of science, etc. Thing is, there is a huge overlap to the point where religion sometimes appears to be subset of dogma. It isn't really, but it takes a surprising amount of work to find religion outside this Venn diagram.

As others sort-of said, there is the religion as ideology, and religion as communal practice. The former is what the most objections are against, the latter is what many people here are actually trying to recreate, without any religious overtones (like the annual Winter Solstice thing). People are extremely vulnerable to ideological hacking, and frowning upon overtly political and overtly religious advocacy helps somewhat to guard against the two most common attack vectors. 

That said, there is definitely a cultish feeling that this site gives to the outsiders, with a cluster of beliefs that one might consider religion-like. I am not saying they are necessarily inaccurate, but that they are out there enough, that doubting them explicitly here is likely to elicit a strong and negative reaction. This is not unexpected, and there is a friendly push back against it, by those who prefer to call themselves "post-rationalists". But that's another story.

Any cluster of beliefs can be and often is considered religion-like, simply because it is a cluster of beliefs. Science, for example. Or even Buffy fandom.

One can hold any belief religiously but not all clusters of beliefs or believers are religion-like.

There is a subset of Buffy fandom that is religious and a subset that isn't and drawing that line isn't especially challenging.

Science doesn't need to be or contain scientism. Religion of science might be a real thing but that doesn't make science a religion.

I don't know any, what could one call them, scientistists? "Scientism" seems to be just a boo word for scientists who point out the vanity of religion and woo.

Science is not a collection of dogma but there are some people that really try to approach it that way.

There are some people that name drop big scientist with reverence while demonstarting misunderstandings of their theories (personality of scientist as idol)

For some "belief in science" takes the form of appeal to authority of big scientific organizations such as universities (trying to mimic the role of bible or pope). One of the semi-big points about empirical methods is that looking at the world is given big weight and who says what is of lesser importance. (There is trickyness as someone might give authority to universities because of their epistemelogical competence). In that way there is a big difference in "believing in evolution" and "understanding evolution". Evolution requires 0 faith so believing it in like you would believe in a god is improper. Likewise somebody might be "raised catholic" but you can't be "raised as scientific". A person might or might not have access to tetriary education but science is not a world view so its not a denomination. Science is about facts so it can't substitute for an opinion.

This argument proves too much, doesn't it?

That was the point I was aiming at. There are people who will call a cluster of beliefs "like a religion", "like a cult", and so on, just because it is a cluster of beliefs. What do they even mean? Nothing beyond trying to associate the thing with the name of something else that may have nothing to do with the thing.

What is a religion if not a cluster of beliefs? (The Buffy fandom doesn't sound like a cluster of beliefs.)

Every religion is a cluster of beliefs (and practices), but clusters of beliefs and practices covers far more than just religion.

It seems like a fandom would be defined by

  • valuing or appreciating a work.
  • watching/etc. the work as applicable.

These don't seem like beliefs.

I don't think aversion to religion is a good way to summarize the LessWrong discourse around religion. Rationalists generally have complex intellectual positions. 

(1) Beyond the Reach of God lays out Eliezers positions from more than a decade ago. One of the points it makes is that most conceptions of religion suggest that we don't live in a world that just gets wiped out by an x-risk for no good reason and that this would be bad.

If you look at some conceptions of Buddism it might be seen as good to wipe out all sentient life from the earth through a big asteroid because that would end the wheel of suffering. If you believe in Christianity, then a god that created the earth with a purpose wouldn't allow humanity just to be randomly wiped out.

Even if you grant that religion is compatible with living a normal life, in many forms, it's unhelpful for thinking straight about x-risk. 

(2) More recently you had a conflict around spiritual practice where some argue that a significant portion of community members who engaged in a lot of spiritual practice ended up epistemically worse. I don't think it's accurate to describe LessWrong as being united in that aspect.

While that debate is related there are a lot of different things going on and it's not a purely intellectual debate but one that's about empiric reality of what happened with people after they engaged in certain practices. 

Religious doomsday cults are a kind of standard meme and a lot of the standard theory says that start of armageddon is unpredictable. Beyond the Reach of God was more about a particular "pilloweon" belief Elizer actual had. I don't need to know X-risk by that name to be a doomsayer.

Doomsday cults believe that humanity will be extinguished because of reasons that are often about failures of humans.

That's quite different than the belief that there's nobody out there that cares whether or not humanity will survive. Doomsday cults are usually not engaging in effective x-risk mitigation.

Doomsday cults often intend to capitalise on the upheaval event or atleast try be less screwed than other people when shit hits the fan. In that sense they are trying to be effective inregards to it.

Doomsdayers and pilloweoners both are resolved whether the doom will come or not so effecting makes less sense. However I have seen opinions like "We should delegalize gay marriage in order to reduce hurricanes". While this posits an outside humanity force that cares, doom is plausible and effectable. So a god that is allowed to be wrathful doesn't neccesarily pillow humanity.

Doomsday cults often intend to capitalise on the upheaval event or atleast try be less screwed than other people when shit hits the fan. In that sense they are trying to be effective inregards to it.

That's different than taking effective action to prevent the event. Taking effective action requires approaching x-risks with a mindset that assumes a lot of uncertainty which is different than doomsday cults which by their nature don't open themselves up for uncertainty. 

One of the points it makes is that most conceptions of religion suggest that we don't live in a world that just gets wiped out by an x-risk for no good reason 

I understand this part.

and that this would be bad.

I don't understand this part.

X-risks would be far lower under most simulation hypotheses[1]. (Not non-existent, for various reasons. Just lower.) I don't see anyone claiming that that is a strike against simulation hypotheses. (...should it be?)

  1. ^

    Especially[2] simulation hypotheses that assume heavily-nested simulations. Fairly simple argument goes like this: assume each universe launches >1 simulation (not necessarily concurrently). Assume there is some variation in x-risk between simulations. Simulations with lower x-risk have a higher mean amount of sub-simulation time than simulations with higher x-risk. Recurse down the tree and you very quickly have the vast majority of total simulation time in universes with little-to-no x-risk[3].

  2. ^

    Though even under non-nested simulations I can see reasonably solid arguments that x-risks would be lower[4]. If I'm trying to do a long-term simulation of the economy, having a result that 'well, the economy (and everything else) collapsed two decades in due to a false vacuum collapse" is supremely unhelpful. (...and I'd probably try to edit and resume the simulation from the last checkpoint before the problem was noticable, for that matter.)

  3. ^

    This argument only 'really' applies if both a) simulations can run more total sub-simulation time than their own 'real'time, and b) the effective decrease in x-risk from a) outweighs the x-risk of the simulation itself. That being said, a) is effectively a prerequisite of heavily-nested simulations. 

  4. ^

    That being said, I can also see arguments that it would be higher, especially if you include "the simulation being unceremoniously terminated" as an x-risk. Point remains: x-risk calculations change significantly if you accept A. X-risk calculations change significantly if you accept B. Why is this taken as a strike against A and not B?

If it would be factually true that there's a god out there that protects us against x-risk it would be worth believing in such a god. You however can't defend a religion that does give the impression that such a god exists with the arguments that the OP listed that make religion attractive such as providing nice rituals and allowing people to supposedly have better marriages.

I have not really encountered the word "scientistic" a lot. To me there is a big difference between "scientific" and "scientism" and we are dealing here at a level where such kind of distinctions are crucial. Science as a antonym for religion is already kind of weird.

Religions might come with a clear tradition lines but it can be quite nebolous to map what the corresponding things are for areligious people.

I have not really encountered the word "scientistic" a lot. To me there is a big difference between "scientific" and "scientism" and we are dealing here at a level where such kind of distinctions are crucial.

Agreed. I am using “scientistic” to mean “attempting to fit into science as literary genre.”

Religions might come with a clear tradition lines but it can be quite nebolous to map what the corresponding things are for areligious people.

My model is that areligious people indeed vary, but that there is a specific “science as literary genre” thing that leads a particular subset of people to reject religion in similar ways (and to often also reject e.g. virtue ethics or having rhythms to life such as weekends at the same time), with sometimes-similar psychological sequelae.

We do have a sequence on the values of the Sabbath https://www.lesswrong.com/s/HXkpm9b8o964jbQ89 . I know a rationalist on our local dojo that did adopt a version of the sabbath for himself based on the writing. 

With the Winter Solstice and Petrov day, we also have two yearly rhythmic events in the rationality community. 

By in large, LessWrong is not a community of New Atheists who react with aversion to either of those things.

Who are you arguing against?

Several of the comments have pointed out positive attitudes on LW to the things you say are positive results of religion, negative attitudes to the things you say are negative results of religion, and negative attitudes to LW-adjacent weirdness of the same sort. You say you are a long-time LW-er, yet you seem not to have noticed any of these things go by.

Religion is a very old and powerful memeplex. It has successfully established itself as a special case in epistemology, ethics, legal and social systems. Religion uses its exceptional status to spreads literally wrong beliefs, anti-epistemical thought patterns, bad cultural norms and outdated philosophical ideas. You can threat it as a cognitive fallacy if you want: your mind is more likely to accept terrible ideas if they are part of a religion, so be extra careful when dealing with religions. In this way a sense of aversion towards everything religious can be viewed as a protective mechanism, created in order to counter-balance this fallacy.

It doesn't mean that you should restrict you from ever hearing religious perspectives as some kind of info-hazard. Personally I think, that a better mechanism is to ensure that you treat religious ideas just as any others. Consider your arguments about the advantages of religion. Let's reframe them as a general argument in favour of conservatism instead. 

People have been practising some cultural norms for a long time. They are accustomed to them and whatever disadvantages there are, they are well understood.  Is it, therefore, a good idea to keep practising them indefinetely? Obviously it depends on the merits of these norms and how our society change. Maybe some norms made sense then, but do not now. Maybe some norms have a reasonable part, which can be separated from a useless and/or harmful ones.  Maybe some norms were terrible to begin with and we can get rid of them without any disadvantages. We wouldn't find it out, unless we investigate. And while it's wise to be carefull with addopting new approaches, we still should try new things if we want to progress as a species.

Do you notice that reframing an argument in favour of religious cultural norms as generic concervative argument makes it less persuasive? No more we intuitively assume that we are dealing with something inherently meaningful and necessary for our own spiritual health. At least we are more open to the possibilities that changes can be beneficial. We are less susceptible to the halo effect of the religion.
 

I think it's a very interesting and even useful question to raise. Like some have pointed out I suspect that the issues are not just limited to religion so any models could be applied much more broadly and should be.

I don't know if I would suggest either of the two thoughts I'll offer below should be considered major elements of some model here but I think they probably fit in to such a model. Easy one first.

  1. Discussions about religion have a tendency to run similar line as those of politics. Politics is another subject area that the culture here stays away from (discourages even). 
  2. I'll steal from JSW here: 'The core question to ask is basically-never "is this religious claim true?", but rather "what does it tell us about the world, that this religion promotes this claim?".' But I think the rub here is that "the world" is actually defined differently in religious inquire than is true in the physical sciences, or even the softer sciences. I suspect there is some colorblindness/blind spot problems here that then start producing the problems 1 above seeks to avoid having aired out in the discussions here.

"Many religions claim things that are straightforwardly false (e.g., “Jesus physically rose from the dead.”)"

False with what probability?

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