Because it might be impossible to falsify any predictions made (because we can't observe things outside the light cone, for instance), and science as a social institution is all about falsifying things.

Isn't an unfalsifiable prediction one that, by definition, contains no actionable information? Why should we care?

Isn't an unfalsifiable prediction one that, by definition, contains no actionable information? Why should we care?

Not quite. Something can be unfalsifiable by having consequences that matter, but preventing information about those consequences from flowing back to us, or to anyone who could make use of it. For example, suppose I claim to have found a one-way portal to another universe. Or maybe it just annihalates anything put into it, instead. The claim that it's a portal is unfalsifiable because no one can send information back to indicate whether or ... (read more)

1Will_Newsome9yUnfalsifiable predictions can contain actionable information, I think (though I'm not exactly sure what actionable information is). Consider: If my universe was created by an agenty process that will judge me after I die, then it is decision theoretically important to know that such a Creator exists. It might be that I can run no experiments to test for Its existence, because I am a bounded rationalist, but I can still reason from analogous cases or at worse ignorance priors about whether such a Creator is likely. I can then use that reasoning to determine whether I should be moral or immoral (whatever those mean in this scenario). Perhaps I am confused as to what 'unfalsifiability' implies. If you have nigh-unlimited computing power, nothing is unfalsifiable unless it is self-contradictory. Sometimes I hear of scientific hypotheses that falsifiable 'in principle' but not in practice. I am not sure what that means. If falsifiability-in-principle counts then simulationism and theism are falsifiable predictions and I was wrong to call them unscientific. I do not think that is what most people mean by 'falsifiable', though.

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).