(This is meant as an entirely rewritten version of the original post. It is still long, but hopefully clearer.)


Theism is often bashed. Part of that bashing is gratuitous and undeserved. Some people therefore feel compelled to defend theism. Their defence of theism goes further than just putting the record straight though. It attempts to show how theism can be a good thing, or right. That is probably going too far.

I would argue several points. And for that I will be using the most idealistic vision of religion I can conjure, keeping in mind that real world examples may not be as utopian. My intended conclusion is that fairness and tolerance are a necessary and humane means to the end of helping people, which cannot, however, be used to justify as right something that is ultimately wrong.

Theism is indeed a good thing, on short and mid term, both for individuals and society, as it holds certain benefits.Such as helping people stick together in close knit communities, helping people life a more virtuous life by giving themselves incentives to do so, helping them feel better when life feels unbearable or meaningless.

Another point is that theism also possesses deep similarities with science, and uses optimally rational arguments and induction. Optimally, that is, insofar as the premises of theism allow; those premises, what we could call their priors are, for instance, in Christianity, to be found in the Bible.

Finally, I also wanted to draw on further similarities between religion and secular groups of people. Atheism, humanism, transhumanism, even rationalism as we know it on LW. These similarities lie in the objectives which any of those groups honestly strives to attain. Those goals are, for instance, truth, the welfare of human beings, and their betterment.

Within the world view of each of those groups, each is indeed doing its best to achieve those ends. One of catholicism's final beacon, used to guide people's life path, can be roughly said to be "what action should I take that will make me more able to love others, and myself" for instance. This, involves understanding, and following the word of God, as love and morality is understood to emanate from that source.

And so the Bible, is supposed to hold those absolute truths, not so much in a straightforward, explained way, but rather in the same way that the observable universe is supposed to hold absolute truth for secular science. And just as it is possible to misconstrue observations and build flawed theories in the scientific model, given that observational, experimental data, so is it for a christian person, to misunderstand the data presented in the Bible. Rational edifices of thought have therefore been built to derive humanly understandable, cross checked (inside that edifice), usable-on-a-daily-basis truth, from the Bible.

That is about as far as we can go for similarities, purity of purpose, intellectual honesty and adequacy with the real world.

The premise of theism itself, is flawed. Theism presupposes the supernatural. Therefore, the priors of theism, do not correspond to the real state of the universe as we observe it, and this implies two main consequences.

The first is that an intellectual edifice based upon flawed premises, no matter how carefully crafted, will still be flawed itself.

The second runs deeper and is that the premises of theism themselves are in part incompatible with rationality itself, and hence limit the potential use of rational methods. In other words, some methods of rationality, as well as some particular arguments are forbidden, or unknown to what we could tentatively call religious science.

From that, my first conclusion is that theism is wrong. Epistemically wrong, but also, doing itself a disservice, as the goals it has set itself up to, cannot be completed through its program. This program will not be able to hit its targets in optmization space, because of that epistemical flaw. Even though theism possesses short and mid term advantages, its whole edifice makes it a dead end, which will at the very least slow down humanity's progress towards nobler objectives like truth or betterment, if not even rendering that progress outright impossible past a certain point.

Yet, it seems to me that this mistaken edifice isn't totally insane, far from it, at least at its roots. Hence it should be possible to heal it. Or at least, helping the people that are part of it, healing them.

But, religion cannot be honestly called right, no matter how deep that idea is rooted in our culture and collective consciousness. On the long term, theism deprives us of our potential, it builds a virtual, unnecessary cage around us.

To conclude on that, I wanted to point out that religious belief appears to be a human universal, and probably a hard coded part of human nature. It seems fair to recognize it in us, if we have that tendency. I know I do, for instance, and fairly strongly so. Idem for belief in the supernatural.

This should be part of a more general mental discipline, of admitting to our faults and biases, rather than trying to hide and make up for them. The only way to dissect and correct them, is to first thoroughly observe those faults in our reasoning. Publicly so even. In a community of rationalists, there should be no question that even the most flawed, irrational of us, should only be treated as a friend in need of help, if he so desires, and if we have enough ressources to provide to his needs. The important thing there, is to have someone possessing a willingness to learn, and grow past his mistakes. This, can indeed be made easier, if we are supportive of each other, and tolerant, unconditionally.

Yet, at the same time, even for that purpose, we can't yield to falseness. We can and must admit for instance that religion has good points, that we may not have a licence to change people against their will, and that if people want to be helped, that they should feel relaxed in explaining all the relevant information about what they perceive to be their problem. We can't go as far as saying that such a flaw, or problem, is, in itself, alright, though.



14 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:53 PM
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Pet peeve: loose != lose.

Indeed. Corrected ; (english isn't my mother tongue).

On a side note, I've never seen any of my posts or comments so thoroughly put down in votes; neither did anyone react by saying anything. Someone to elaborate ? I'm feeling lost and dumb on that one. Is it just that my post didn't meet some level of quality, and hence was too irrelevant to even call for a reply ? No other reason I could think of seems to fit.

Worrying that I was a useless ineffectual person, and worrying about where all my time went, I put a stop watch on my participation in comp.lang.lisp. I got a terrible shock. "5 minute posts" actually took half an hour to write. Larger, technical posts that I thought took half an hour to write actually took two to three hours.

I contemplate writing a serious reply to your comment. Re-read the top level post slowly and carefully. Think about it. What is it really trying to say? Draft a critique. Think about that that. Cut out my own crap, and stitch the pieces back together. Two hours, minimum.

Participating seriously in an intellectual forum such as LessWrong is very time consuming. Calibrate your expectations around the idea that the open market price, if you were to purchase an intelligent and thoughtful reply, would be $100 to $150. Was your top level post really so excellent that it earned that?

I'll take that into consideration next time I write a post, as I almost always do write them in one, fast go.

There are a few ideas here that I disagree with, or don't understand, though.

While my top post wasn't as excellent as to be worth $ 100, neither were all my comments which were upvoted, and neither are some of the other articles or comments which I have had the occasion to read on LW.

The latter doesn't excuse poor quality for my part, or anyone else for that matter, as this place deserves our very best, but it nevertheless sets a lower perceived level of posting quality as being admitted and even encouraged here.

The former, puzzles me to no end, as the best explanation I can come up with involve myself having some blatant gap, a blind spot where my intellect and the posting quality derived, is lacking, while in most other instances it appears to be ok.

I have thought about reposting, perhaps in a comment, the main points I was trying to articulate in this article. This way I could maybe see if there's disagreement or indifference towards any of those, or if the article itself was poorly written, and the point of it, difficult to follow. I'm still afraid that since I appear to be mistaken, and don't know with certainty why, that I'm only going to worsen this case. Nevertheless, I also need to know, else how am I to do better next time ?

I'm having trouble reading your post, it's long and confusing and lacks a central argument. It doesn't seem to get anywhere. Try cutting it down to two or three paragraphs.

Is it ok to radically edit and change something that's been there for more than a day ?

No official guidelines have been put forth on that question. If you do edit in a way that could invalidate replies, you should put in a note to that effect. The main reason not to edit is that people who have already read the article are unlikely to see the edits, whereas they would be looking for new comments.

Then I shall note here that I made that edit, and rewrote the whole text.

TBH, after this long I'd make a new post.

I have to confess that I had a "tl;dr" reaction too; I wasn't hooked within the first three paragraphs or so, and I scanned for the hook after that but didn't find it.

Do you mean on the first, or on the second, edited text ? If on the second then it is probably not a good idea for me try to repost this for the moment. I should first attempt to learn how to write more compellingly.

Ooops, sorry, didn't realise you'd already done the rewrite.

The rewrite is a definite improvement. I still feel you haven't made your case, I'm afraid.

I feel my issue, beyond the poor writing style, is that I am making not one but two cases.

The case about theism in particular, and then a more general case about tolerance, which is linked to the theism problem, and contains it.

A good deal of what I wanted to say for the second case, as well as stuff I hadn't thought of, has been better said in the recent It's okay to be (at least a little) irrational post too.

I think that this post still needs another rewrite. I would recommend making it shorter again, and using bullets and other organizational tools. Also, even just a full space between paragraphs would make it more readable. This is the first post that comes up, by the way, when you search 'theism'.

[-][anonymous]13y -1