I'm not sure what you mean by this.

Being mistaken about something is different from not knowing everything there is to know about it.

If I'm wrong about a subject, then I don't know everything there is to know about it (assuming I'm reasoning correctly on what I know.)

But if I don't know everything there is to know about a subject, then I'm not necessarily wrong about that subject.

The former entails the latter, but the latter does not entail the former. One doesn't need a degree in biology to correct, or be corrected, about the frog thing - anymore than one needs a degree in sky wizardy to correct or be corrected about god.

Given that you can't know everything about even relatively narrow subject areas these days, (with ~7 billion humans on Earth we turn out a ridiculous amount of stuff,) what we're really dealing with here is an issue of trust: When someone says that you need to know more to make a decision, on what grounds do you decide whether or not they're just messing you around?

There's a major dis-analogy between how the Frog-based anti-evolutionist (AE) and the atheist (AT) 's questions are going to be addressed in that regard.

When the AE challenges evolution there are obvious touching stones, ideally he's told that the frog thing never happened and given a bunch of stuff he can go look up if he's interested. When the AT challenges theology he's told that he doesn't know enough, i.e. he hasn't exhausted the search space, but he's not actually pointed at anything that addresses his concern. It's more a sort of “Keep looking until you find something. Bwahahahaaa, sucker.” response.

That happens because of what evidence does and how we get it. Say, you're trying to decide whether the Earth is flat: To discover that it's vaguely spherical doesn't take a lot of evidence. I could drive to a couple of different locations and prove it to a reasonable degree of accuracy with sticks - it would not be difficult. (Or I could ask one of my friends in another city to take a measurement for me, but regardless the underlying methodology remains more or less the same.) That's an Eratosthenes level of understanding (~200BC). To discover the shape that the Earth actually is closer to an oblate spheroid, however, you need to have at least a Newton level of understanding (~1700 AD.) to predict that it being spun ought to make it bulge around the equator.

Evidence is something like, 'that which alters the conditional probability of something being observed.' But not all evidence alters the probability to the same degree. If you're off by a lot, a little bit of evidence should let you know. The more accurate you want to get the more evidence you need. Consequently, knowledge of search spaces tends to be ordered by weightiness of evidence unless the other person is playing as a hostile agent.

Even to ask the trickier questions that need that evidence requires a deep understanding that you have tuned in from a more general understanding. The odds that you'll ask a relevant question without that understanding, just by randomly mooshing concepts together, are slim.

Now the AT probably doesn't know a lot about religion. Assuming that the atheist is not a moron just randomly mooshing concepts together, her beliefs would off by a lot; she seems likely to disagree with the theist about something fairly fundamental about how evidence is meant to inform beliefs.

So, here the AT is sitting with her really weight super-massive black hole of a reason to disbelieve - and the response from the Christian is that he doesn't know everything about god. That response is missing the references that someone who actually had a reason they could point to would have. More importantly that response claims that you need deep knowledge to answer a question that was asked with shallow knowledge.

The response doesn't even look the same as the response to the frog problem. Everyone who knows even a little bit about evolution can correct the frog fella. Whereas, to my knowledge, no Christian has yet corrected a rational atheist on his or her point of disbelief. (And if they have why aren't they singing it from the rooftops - if they have as one might call it, a knock-down argument why aren't the door to door religion salesmen opening with that?)

Strictly speaking neither of them knows everything about their subjects, or likely even very much of the available knowledge. But one clearly knows more than the other and there are things that such knowledge lets him do that the other can't; point us towards proof, answer low level questions with fairly hefty answers; and is accorded an appropriately higher trust in areas that we've not yet tested ourselves.

Of course I acknowledge the possibility that a Christian, or whoever, might be able to pull off the same stunt. But since I've never seen it, and never heard of anyone who's seen it, and I'd expect to see it all over the place if there actually was an answer lurking out there.... And since I've talked two Christians out of their beliefs in the past who'd told me that I just needed to learn more about religion and know that someone who watched that debate lost their own faith as a consequence of being unable to justify their beliefs. (Admittedly I can't verify this to you so it's just a personal proof.) It seems improbable to me that they've actually got an answer.

Of course if they have such an answer all they have to do is show it to me. In the same manner as the frog-person.

(I can actually think of one reason that someone who could prove god might choose not to: If you don't know about god, under some theologies, you can't go to hell. You can't win a really nice version of heaven either but you get a reasonable existence. They had to pull that move because they didn't want to tell people that god sent their babies went to hell.

However, this latter type of person would seem mutually exclusive with the sort of person who would be interested in telling you to look more deeply into religion to begin with. I'd imagine someone who viewed your taking on more duties to not go to hell probably ought to be in the business of discouraging you joining or investigating religion.)

Anyway, yeah. I think you can subscribe to E's heuristic quite happily even in areas where you acknowledge that you're likely to be off by a long way.

When the AE challenges evolution there are obvious touching stones, ideally he's told that the frog thing never happened and given a bunch of stuff he can go look up if he's interested. When the AT challenges theology he's told that he doesn't know enough, i.e. he hasn't exhausted the search space, but he's not actually pointed at anything that addresses his concern. It's more a sort of “Keep looking until you find something. Bwahahahaaa, sucker.” response.

I can assure you, I have personally seen atheists make arguments that are just as misinformed as t... (read more)

Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013)

by orthonormal 5 min read1st Apr 20131761 comments


If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as a rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.

(This is the fifth incarnation of the welcome thread; once a post gets over 500 comments, it stops showing them all by default, so we make a new one. Besides, a new post is a good perennial way to encourage newcomers and lurkers to introduce themselves.)

A few notes about the site mechanics

Less Wrong comments are threaded for easy following of multiple conversations. To respond to any comment, click the "Reply" link at the bottom of that comment's box. Within the comment box, links and formatting are achieved via Markdown syntax (you can click the "Help" link below the text box to bring up a primer).

You may have noticed that all the posts and comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. This immediate easy feedback mechanism helps keep arguments from turning into flamewars and helps make the best posts more visible; it's part of what makes discussions on Less Wrong look different from those anywhere else on the Internet.

However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation. (Sometimes it's the unwritten LW etiquette; we have different norms than other forums.) Take note when you're downvoted a lot on one topic, as it often means that several members of the community think you're missing an important point or making a mistake in reasoning— not just that they disagree with you! If you have any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.

Replies to your comments across the site, plus private messages from other users, will show up in your inbox. You can reach it via the little mail icon beneath your karma score on the upper right of most pages. When you have a new reply or message, it glows red. You can also click on any user's name to view all of their comments and posts.

It's definitely worth your time commenting on old posts; veteran users look through the recent comments thread quite often (there's a separate recent comments thread for the Discussion section, for whatever reason), and a conversation begun anywhere will pick up contributors that way.  There's also a succession of open comment threads for discussion of anything remotely related to rationality.

Discussions on Less Wrong tend to end differently than in most other forums; a surprising number end when one participant changes their mind, or when multiple people clarify their views enough and reach agreement. More commonly, though, people will just stop when they've better identified their deeper disagreements, or simply "tap out" of a discussion that's stopped being productive. (Seriously, you can just write "I'm tapping out of this thread.") This is absolutely OK, and it's one good way to avoid the flamewars that plague many sites.

There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
LW DISCUSSION: This is a forum just like the top-level one, with two key differences: in the top-level forum, posts require the author to have 20 karma in order to publish, and any upvotes or downvotes on the post are multiplied by 10. Thus there's a lot more informal dialogue in the Discussion section, including some of the more fun conversations here.
SEQUENCES: A huge corpus of material mostly written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his days of blogging at Overcoming Bias, before Less Wrong was started. Much of the discussion here will casually depend on or refer to ideas brought up in those posts, so reading them can really help with present discussions. Besides which, they're pretty engrossing in my opinion.

A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.

If your welcome comment starts a huge discussion, then please move to the next step and create a LW Discussion post to continue the conversation; we can fit many more welcomes onto each thread if fewer of them sprout 400+ comments. (To do this: click "Create new article" in the upper right corner next to your username, then write the article, then at the bottom take the menu "Post to" and change it from "Drafts" to "Less Wrong Discussion". Then click "Submit". When you edit a published post, clicking "Save and continue" does correctly update the post.)

If you want to write a post about a LW-relevant topic, awesome! I highly recommend you submit your first post to Less Wrong Discussion; don't worry, you can later promote it from there to the main page if it's well-received. (It's much better to get some feedback before every vote counts for 10 karma- honestly, you don't know what you don't know about the community norms here.)

If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have  meetups  in various parts of the world. Check the wiki page for places with regular meetups, or the upcoming (irregular) meetups page. There's also a Facebook group. If you have your own blog or other online presence, please feel free to link it.

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* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site!

Note from orthonormal: MBlume and other contributors wrote the original version of this welcome post, and I've edited it a fair bit. If there's anything I should add or update on this post (especially broken links), please send me a private message—I may not notice a comment on the post. Finally, once this gets past 500 comments, anyone is welcome to copy and edit this intro to start the next welcome thread.