The only fact necessary to rationally be an atheist is that there is no evidence for a god. We don't need any arguments -- evolutionary or historical or logical -- against a hypothesis with no evidence.

The reason I don't spend a cent of my time on it is because of this, and because all arguments for a god are dishonest, that is, they are motivated by something other than truth. It's only slightly more interesting than the hypothesis that there's a teapot around venus. And there are plenty of other things to spend time on.

As a side note, I have spent time on learning about the issue, because it's one of the most damaging beliefs people have, and any decrease in it is valuable.

Evidence allows one to dissociate theories and rule out those incompatible with observational history.

The best current fit theory to our current observational history is the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to now according to physics.

If you take that theory it also rather clearly shows a geometric acceleration of local complexity and predicts (vaguely) Singularity-type events as the normal endpoints of technological civilizations.

Thus the theory also necessarily predicts not one universe, but an entire set of universes embedded in a hierarchy s... (read more)

4Jack9yThe existence of the universe is actually very strong evidence in favor of theism. It just isn't nearly strong enough to overcome the insanely low prior that is appropriate.
8Will_Newsome9yI contend that there is evidence for a god. Observation: Things tend to have causes. Observation: Agenty things are better at causing interesting things than non-agenty things. Observation: We find ourselves in a very interesting universe. Those considerations are Bayesian evidence. The fact that many, many smart people have been theistic is Bayesian evidence. So now you have to start listing the evidence for the alternate hypothesis, no? Do you mean all arguments on Christian internet fora, or what? There's a vast amount of theology written by people dedicated to finding truth. They might not be good at finding truth, but it is nonetheless what is motivating them. I should really write a post on the principle of charity... I realize this is rhetoric, but still... seriously? The question of whether the universe came into being via an agenty optimization process is only slightly more interesting than teapots orbiting planets? I agree that theism tends to be a very damaging belief in many contexts, and I think it is good that you are fighting against its more insipid/irrational forms.

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).