Isn't this - I'm sorry if that sounds harsh - arguing by a forceful say-so? Sure, if you constrain theism rhetorically to "Jehovah-worship", that practice doesn't sound very similar to the Bostromian arguments. But "Bostromian arguments/Tegmarkian speculations" and "the claim that a god created the universe" sound pretty much memetically related to me.

See Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable for discussion of what religion is and how it arose. By "memetically related" I do not mean "memetically similar"... (read more)

The implication of the post, as I perceived it (have a look at its first paragraph) was "you guys shouldn't be so confident in your dismissal-of-religion ('atheism'); after all, you (perhaps rightly) are willing to entertain the ideas of Tegmark!

The OP does not make mention of the term 'religion'. Part of the confusion seems to stem from the conflation of theism and religion.

Theism is a philosophical belief about the nature of reality. The truthfulness of this belief as a map of reality is not somehow dependent or connected in belief space to magic rituals, prayers, voodo dolls or the memes of organized religion, even if they historically co-occur.

6Anatoly_Vorobey9yI think you're wrong on similarity [1] and irrelevant on ancestry/inheritance. Only some among currently active religions are clearly "related" in the sense you employ (e.g. Judaism and Christianity); there's no strong evidence that most or all are so related. Since you presumably have no problem lumping them together under "religion", the claim that BTanism (grouped and named so purely for convenience) has no common ancestry with these religions is irrelevant to whether it should be judged a religion. Also, I don't read the post as claiming "you guys are so dismissive of religion, but you're big on BTanism which is just as much a religion, so there!". Instead, I read the post as claiming "you guys are unreasonable in your overt dismissal of theism and your forceful insistence on it being a closed question, considering many of you are big on BTanism which has similar epistemological status to some varieties of theism". So it doesn't matter much whether BTanism is a religion or not; if that bothers you too much, just employ Taboo and talk about something like "a sentient being responsible for the creation of the observable universe" instead. I don't fully agree with this idea (the post's argument as I read it), but I find myself somewhat sympathetic to it. It is indeed true in my opinion that the overt and insistent dismissal of theism on LW is a community-cohesiveness driven phenomenon. There's illuminating prior discussion at The uniquely awful example of theism []. No, I have no doubt that you believe what you're writing. Rather, I think that the strongly dismissive claims in your first comment in the thread, unbacked by any convincing argument or evidence, cause me to think that a strong cognitive bias is at work. [1] Really, the similarity is so strong that I see no need for a detailed argument; but if one is desired, I think Lem's story, to which I linked earlier, serves admirably as one.

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).