You're making good points, with which I largely agree, with some reservations (see below). I'd just point out that this wasn't the argument Komponisto was making - he was talking only about relatedness in the ancestry sense.

Your list of attributes is probably good enough to distinguish e.g. a simulation argument from "religions" and justify not calling it one. There are two difficulties, however. One is that adherence to these attributes isn't nearly as uniform among religions as it's often rhetorically assumed on LW to be. There's a tendency to:... (read more)

The Greek gods were, in fact, immortal. Other gods could wound or imprison them, but they couldn't be killed. The Norse gods, on the other hand, could indeed die, and were fated to be destroyed in the Ragnarok.

3prase9yI know, nevertheless still I wanted to stress that we don't define religion by a single criterion. Therefore I haven't listed omni-qualities, immortality and ontological distinctiveness among my criteria for religion. If you look at those criteria, the Greek religion satisfied almost all, save perhaps sacred texts and claims of unfalsifiability (seems that they have not enough time to develop the former and no reason for the latter). Religion usually surpasses the question of existence and identity of gods. (Now we can make distinction between religion and theism, with the latter being defined solely in terms of god's existence and qualities. I am not sure yet what to think about that possibility.) The line is not sharp, of course. Many people argue that Marxism is a religion, even if it explicitly denies god, and may have based that opinion on good arguments. It is also not enough clear what to think about Scientology. Religion, or simply cult? I don't think the classification is important at all. No, I haven't. Actually my approach to simulation arguments is not much different from my approach to modern vague forms of theism: I notice it, but don't take it seriously. It depends. Belief in importance, hidden message, or even literal truth of ancient texts is generally more reliable indicator of practical irrationality than having an opinion about some undecidable propositions is.

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).