"Gods are ontologically distinct from creatures, or they're not worth the paper they're written on." -- Damien Broderick

If you believe in a Matrix or in the Simulation Hypothesis, you believe in powerful aliens, not deities. Next!

There's also no hint of worship which everyone else on the planet thinks is a key part of the definition of a religion; if you believe that Cthulhu exists but not Jehovah, and you hate and fear Cthulhu and don't engage in any Elder Rituals, you may be superstitious but you're not yet religious.

This is mere distortion of... (read more)

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If you believe in a Matrix or in the Simulation Hypothesis, you believe in powerful aliens, not deities. Next! ... This is mere distortion of both the common informal use and advanced formal definitions of the word "atheism", which is not only unhelpful but such a common religious tactic that you should not be surprised to be downvoted.

It bothers me when an easily researched, factually incorrect statement is upvoted so many times. There are many different definitions of atheism, but one good one might be:

An atheist is one who denies the exi

... (read more)
4Will_Newsome9yWhat I think of as the informal definition of atheism is something like "the state of not believing in God or gods". I believe in gods and God, and I take this into account in my human approximation of a decision theory. I'm not yet sure what their intentions are, and I'm not inclined to worship them yet, but by my standards I'm definitely not an atheist. What is your definition of atheism such that it is meaningfully different from 'not religious'? Why are we throwing a good word like 'theism' into the heap of wrong ideas? It's like throwing out 'singularity' because most people pattern match it to Kurzweil, despite the smartest people having perfectly legitimate beliefs about it. It doesn't really matter, I just think that it's sad that so many rationalists consider themselves atheists when by reasonable definition it seems they definitely are not, even if atheism has more correct connotations than the alternatives (though I call myself a Buddhist, which makes the problem way easier). Perhaps I am not seeing the better definition?
8steven04619y"Powerful aliens" has connotations that may be even more inaccurate; it makes me think of Klingon warlords or something.

Theists are wrong; is theism?

by Will_Newsome 1 min read20th Jan 2011539 comments


Many folk here on LW take the simulation argument (in its more general forms) seriously. Many others take Singularitarianism1 seriously. Still others take Tegmark cosmology (and related big universe hypotheses) seriously. But then I see them proceed to self-describe as atheist (instead of omnitheist, theist, deist, having a predictive distribution over states of religious belief, et cetera), and many tend to be overtly dismissive of theism. Is this signalling cultural affiliation, an attempt to communicate a point estimate, or what?

I am especially confused that the theism/atheism debate is considered a closed question on Less Wrong. Eliezer's reformulations of the Problem of Evil in terms of Fun Theory provided a fresh look at theodicy, but I do not find those arguments conclusive. A look at Luke Muehlhauser's blog surprised me; the arguments against theism are just not nearly as convincing as I'd been brought up to believe2, nor nearly convincing enough to cause what I saw as massive overconfidence on the part of most atheists, aspiring rationalists or no.

It may be that theism is in the class of hypotheses that we have yet to develop a strong enough practice of rationality to handle, even if the hypothesis has non-negligible probability given our best understanding of the evidence. We are becoming adept at wielding Occam's razor, but it may be that we are still too foolhardy to wield Solomonoff's lightsaber Tegmark's Black Blade of Disaster without chopping off our own arm. The literature on cognitive biases gives us every reason to believe we are poorly equipped to reason about infinite cosmology, decision theory, the motives of superintelligences, or our place in the universe.

Due to these considerations, it is unclear if we should go ahead doing the equivalent of philosoraptorizing amidst these poorly asked questions so far outside the realm of science. This is not the sort of domain where one should tread if one is feeling insecure in one's sanity, and it is possible that no one should tread here. Human philosophers are probably not as good at philosophy as hypothetical Friendly AI philosophers (though we've seen in the cases of decision theory and utility functions that not everything can be left for the AI to solve). I don't want to stress your epistemology too much, since it's not like your immortal soul3 matters very much. Does it?

Added: By theism I do not mean the hypothesis that Jehovah created the universe. (Well, mostly.) I am talking about the possibility of agenty processes in general creating this universe, as opposed to impersonal math-like processes like cosmological natural selection.

Added: The answer to the question raised by the post is "Yes, theism is wrong, and we don't have good words for the thing that looks a lot like theism but has less unfortunate connotations, but we do know that calling it theism would be stupid." As to whether this universe gets most of its reality fluid from agenty creators... perhaps we will come back to that argument on a day with less distracting terminology on the table.



1 Of either the 'AI-go-FOOM' or 'someday we'll be able to do lots of brain emulations' variety.

2 I was never a theist, and only recently began to question some old assumptions about the likelihood of various Creators. This perhaps either lends credibility to my interest, or lends credibility to the idea that I'm insane.

Or the set of things that would have been translated to Archimedes by the Chronophone as the equivalent of an immortal soul (id est, whatever concept ends up being actually significant).