I can assure you, I have personally seen atheists make arguments that are just as misinformed as the frog thingie.

For that matter, I've seen people who don't know much about evolution but are arguing for it tell creationists that a counterpoint to their claim exists somewhere, even though they don't actually know of such a "knock-down argument". And they were right.

Well, that's why I said ideally. Lots of people believe evolution as a matter of faith rather than reason. I'd tend to say it's a far more easily justified faith - after all you can find the answers to the questions you're talking about very easily, or at least find the general direction they're in, and the more rational people seem almost universally to believe in it, and it networks into webs of trust that seem to allow you to actually do things with your beliefs, but it's true that many people engage with it only superficially. You'd be foolish to believe in evolution just because Joe Blogs heard that we evolved on TV. Joe Blogs isn't necessarily doing any more thinking, if that's all he'll give you to go on, than if he'd heard from his pastor that god did it all.

Joe Blogs may be able to give you good reasons for believing in something without giving you an answer on your exact point - but more generally you shouldn't believe it if all he's got in his favour is that he does and he's got unjustified faith that there must be an answer somewhere.

A heuristic tends towards truth, it's the way to bet. There are situations where you follow the heuristic and what you get is the wrong answer, but the best you can do with the information at hand.

Also, you seem to be modelling religious people as engaging in bad faith. Am I misreading you here?

I consider someone who, without good basis, tells you that there's an answer and doesn't even point you in its direction, to be acting in bad faith. That's not all religious people but it seems to me at the moment to be the set we'd be talking about here.

Sure, but that was what we call an example. Creationists often make far more complex and technical-seeming arguments, which may well be beyond the expertise of the man on the street.

Maybe so, but going back to our heuristics those arguments don't hook into a verifiable web of trust.

In case I wasn't clear earlier: I do believe that when many people believe in something with good basis they're often believing in the work of a community that produces truth according to certain methods - that what's being trusted is mostly people and little bits here and there that you can verify for yourself. What grounds do you have for trusting pastors, or whoever, know much about the world - that they're good and honest producers of truth?

Maybe I parsed this wrong. Are you saying no incorrect argument has ever been made for atheism?

No, I'm saying that to my knowledge no Christian has yet corrected someone who's reasonably rational on their reason for disbelieving.

Well, many do open with what they consider to be knock-down arguments, of course. But many such arguments are, y'know, long, and require considerable background knowledge.

Knockdown arguments about large differences of belief tend to be short, because they're saying that someone's really far off, and you don't need a lot of evidence to show that someone's a great distance out. Getting someone to buy into the argument may be more difficult if they don't believe that argument is a valid method, (and a great many people don't really,) but the argument itself should be quite small.

If someone's going to technicality you to death, that's a sign that their argument is less likely to be correct if they're applying it to a large difference of belief. Scientists noticeably don't differ on the large things - they might have different interpretations of precise matters but the weight of evidence when it comes to macroscopic things is fairly overwhelming.

If you have such an unanswerable argument, why aren't you "singing it from the rooftops"?

I don't think that people who believe in god are necessarily worse off than people who don't. If you could erase belief in god from the world, I doubt it would make a great deal of difference in terms of people behaving rationally. If anything I'd say that the reasons that religion is going out of favour have more to do with a changing moral character of society and the lack of an ability to provide a coherent narrative of hope than they do with a rise of more rationally based ideologies.

Consequently, it's not an efficient use of my time. While you can say 'low probability prior, no supporting evidence, no predictive power,' in five seconds, that's going to make people who don't have a lot of intellectual courage recoil from what you're suggesting - if they understand it at a gut level at all - and in any case teaching the tools to understand what that means can take hours. And teaching someone to bring their emotions in line with justified beliefs can take months or years on top of that. Especially if you're going to have to sit down with them and walk them through all the steps to come to a belief that they don't really want very much in the first place.

Okay, sure, 'that which can be destroyed by the truth should be' - but at what cost, in what order? Don't you have better things to do with your time than pick on Christians whose lives may even be made worse by your doing so if they don't subsequently become more rational and develop well actualised theories of happiness and so on? Can you really provide a better life than a belief in god does for them? Even if you assume that making someone disbelieve god is a low-effort task, it wouldn't be as simple as just having someone disbelieve if you were to do it to promote their interests.

If there are a more efficient way of doing it then I might be up for that, but I'm just more generally interested in raising the sanity waterline that I am with swating individual beliefs here and there.

Minor point, but you realize EY wasn't the first to make this argument? And while I did invent this counterargument, I'm far from the first to do so. For example, Yvain.

I do yes, I was made to read Dawkin's awful book a few years back in school. =p

Well, that's why I said ideally. Lots of people believe evolution as a matter of faith rather than reason.

Sorry, I was saying I agreed with them. You don't have to know every argument for a position to hold it, you just have to be right.

Mind you, I generally do learn the arguments, but I'm weird like that.

I consider someone who, without good basis, tells you that there's an answer and doesn't even point you in its direction, to be acting in bad faith. That's not all religious people but it seems to me at the moment to be the set we'd be talking about

... (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.

If English is not your first language, don't let that make you afraid to post or comment. You can get English help on Discussion- or Main-level posts by sending a PM to one of the following users (use the "send message" link on the upper right of their user page). Either put the text of the post in the PM, or just say that you'd like English help and you'll get a response with an email address.
* 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.