All of Benedict's Comments + Replies

A Suite of Pragmatic Considerations in Favor of Niceness

I imagine they'd be visually distracting and take up page space, but if it's considered that the civility benefits of having available faces attached to names are significant, there's ways to mitigate that- have a user's avatar or profile picture appear when rolling over a user's name, for example, instead of being displayed on every comment whether you want to see it or not. Or some similar solution for making them immediately available but unobtrusive.

Rationality Quotes February 2013

Doc Scratch isn't exactly the best source for rationality quotes- a guy who already knows the truth has little need to overcome flawed cognitive processes for arriving at it. Which isn't to say the guy doesn't say some relevant stuff:

Lies of omission do not exist. The concept is a very human one. It is the product of your story writing again. You have written a story about the truth, making emotional demands of it, and in particular, of those in possession of it. Your demands are based on a feeling of entitlement to the facts, which is very childish.

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2Desrtopa9yOne can do these two things, but not to the exclusion of alternatives. One can make statements which are confused or nonsensical, that are not even false [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong]. In any case, a statement doesn't have inherent truth value outside the way it's interpreted by the people who hear it. The statement that "If a tree falls in the forest, it does not make a sound" is true or false depending on the meanings understood by the audience and the person uttering it. It's entirely possible to convey false understandings by making statements which omit relevant information. To refuse to call a statement which is deliberately tailored to make its audience believe falsehoods a lie is using a distinction in an unhelpful way.
0fubarobfusco9yOf course, he was lying (arguably by omission); Doc Scratch was not merely reticent or uncooperative, but intentionally deceptive. (Must resist urge to watch Cascade again ...)
Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012)

Hey, I'm -name withheld-, going by Benedict, 18 years old in North Carolina. I was introduced to Less Wrong through HPMoR (which is fantastic) and have recently been reading through the Sequences (still wading through the hard science of the Quantum Physics sequence).

I'm here because I have a real problem- dealing with the consequences of coming out as atheist to a Christian family. For about a year leading up to recent events, I had been trying to reconcile Christian belief with the principles of rationalism, with little success. At one point I settled i... (read more)

2John_Maxwell9yHey, I agree with what wedrifid said. I fell in to the same trap of trying to beat religious nonsense out of people as a kid. It's a very sexy thing to think about but it doesn't really get you anywhere, in my experience. My only additional advice is that you consider trying to make your "recapitulation" to Christianity convincing. For example, don't give in right away, and make up a story for where you went wrong and why you're a Christian again, e.g. "I thought that x, but now I see that y and z, so x is wrong. I guess maybe God exists after all." Something to keep in mind when arguing with your dad (internally only): your dad is presenting you with evidence and arguments in favor of God's existence, but these amount to a biased sample. If you really want to know the truth, you should spend an equal amount of time hearing arguments from both Christians and atheists, or something like that. Also, you can check internally if any of his arguments hold up to this test: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854 [http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854]
0Zaine9yWhile wading through all these responses for the very specific response you are looking for (which some charitable LW'er will probably provide if this thread is commented upon frequently enough), you might want to read "How to Win Every Argument - An Introduction to Critical thinking" [http://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Every-Argument-Introduction/dp/1567313302] by Nicholas Capaldi. It offers a brief overview of logic and rational argumentation, and touches upon fallacies and what this site calls the 'Dark Arts' [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Dark_arts], which should help in arming you against common attacks. If you are mathematically minded, but don't want to go into too much depth, you might want to check out "Sherlock's Logic" [http://www.amazon.com/Sherlocks-Logic-William-Neblett/dp/0880297239/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343034701&sr=1-1&keywords=Sherlock%27s+logic] . Mind, the former text is more of a survey course, whereas the latter is more of an introductory course. I have read that Luke Muehlhauser [http://lukeprog.com/index.html] has worked through a dilemma similar to yours, and his blog [http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11033] you may find valuable.
3OnTheOtherHandle9yI'm not sure how much specific atheist reading you've done, but I found this [http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/09/the-ten-main-reasons-i-dont-believe-in-god.html] list to be very helpful at articulating and formalizing all those doubts, arguments and wordless convictions that "this makes no sense." This [http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/theistguide.html] is also a handy look at what would be truly convincing evidence of the truth of a particular religion's claims. The rest of that author's website is also wonderful.
2Bundle_Gerbe9yIt does not sound to me like you need more training in specific Christian arguments to stay sane. You have already figured things out despite being brought up in a situation that massively tilted the scales in favor of christianity. I doubt there is any chance they could now convince you if they had to fight on a level field. After all, it's not like they've been holding back their best arguments this whole time. But you are going to be in a situation where they apply intense social pressure and reinforcement towards converting you. On top of that, I'm guessing maintaining your unbelief is very practically inconvenient right now, especially for your relationship with your dad. These conditions are hazardous to rationality, more than any argument they can give. You have to do what MixedNuts says. Just remember you will consider anything they say later, when you have room to think. I do not think they will convert you. I doubt they will be able to brainwash you in a week when you are determined to resist. Even if they could, you managed to think your way out of christian indoctrination once already, you can do it again. If you want to learn more about rationality specific to the question of Christianity, given that you've already read a good amount of material here about rationality in general, you might gain the most from reading atheist sites, which tend to spend a lot of effort specifically on refuting Christianity. Learn more about the Bible from skeptical sources, if you haven't before you'll be pretty amazed how much of what you've been told is blatantly false and how much about the bible you don't know (for instance, Genesis 1&2 have different creation stories that are quite contradictory, and the gospels' versions of the resurrection are impossible to reconcile. Also, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are largely copied from Mark, and the entire resurrection story is missing from the earliest versions of Mark.) I unfortunately don't know a source that gives
0Desrtopa9yI'm sure some people will offer other counsel than preparing yourself and giving the most persuasive arguments you can, which may be worth taking seriously, but if you make such a discussion thread I'm confident that you will receive responses to your queries, and think it is highly probable that the post will receive positive karma.
-1beoShaffer9yYou might want to wipe this site from your search and browsing history. Also, is it possible for you to feign/induce illness?
0shminux9yThe value of this particular sequence is a topic of open debate on LW, so don't get stuck on it, skip it on the first reading, you can revisit it later, after you cover more relevant stuff. While this would be one way to confront him, by pointing out that he is committing mortal sins of wrath and pride, your odds of success are not good. He is a trained professional heavy-weight who has control over you and is not interested in playing by the rules, except for his own. If you play by his rules, you lose. Think about how you can redefine the game, Kirk-like, to your advantage. As for the meetups, there is one in NC [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Less_Wrong_meetup_groups#Research_Triangle.2C_NC_.28Raleigh.2FDurham.2FChapel_Hill.29] , not sure if this is close enough to you.
2Grognor9yHello, friend, and welcome to Less Wrong. I do think you should start a discussion post, as this seems clearly important to you. My advice to you at the moment is to brush up on Less Wrong's own atheism sequence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Atheism]. If you find that insufficient, then I suggest reading some of Paul Almond's (and I quote [http://lesswrong.com/lw/zc/taking_occam_seriously/]): If you find that insufficient, then it is time for the big guy, Richard Dawkins: * The Blind Watchmaker [http://dl.dropbox.com/u/33627365/Scholarship/Dawkins__The_blind_watchmaker__2006.pdf] * The God Delusion [http://dl.dropbox.com/u/33627365/Scholarship/Dawkins__The_God_Delusion__2006.chm] If you are somehow still unsatisfied after all this, lukeprog's new website [http://worldviewnaturalism.com/] should direct you to some other resources, of which the internet has plenty, I assure you. Edit: It seems I interpreted "defend myself" differently from all the other responders. I was thinking you would just say nothing and inwardly remember the well-reasoned arguments for atheism, but that's what I would do, not what a normal person would do. I hope this comment wasn't useless anyway.
-4Ezekiel9yI agree (in general) with Xenophon's advice: Calm down, do whatever you're comfortable with spiritually, and in the worst case scenario call it "God" to keep the peace with whoever you want to keep the peace with. With that said, if you still want advice, I deconverted myself a year ago and have since successfully corrupted others, and I've been wanting to codify the fallacies I saw anyway. Before I start: bear in mind that you might be wrong. I find it very unlikely that any form of Abrahamic theism is true, but if you care about the truth you have to keep an open mind. Here are some common fallacious arguments and argumentative techniques I've seen used by religion (and other ideologies, of course). They include exercises which I think you'd benefit from practising; if you get stuck on any of 'em, send me a PM and I'll be glad to help out. 1. Abuse and Neglect of Definitions Whenever anyone tries to convince you of the truth or falsehood of some claim, make sure to ask them exactly what that means - and repeat the question until it's totally clear. You'd be amazed how many of the central theological tenets of Abrahamism are literally meaningless, since almost no-one can define them, and among those who can no two will give the same definition. For example: God created the Universe. Pretty important part of the theology, right? So what does it mean, exactly? A smart theist will say: God caused the Universe to exist. Okay, great. What does "cause" mean? Seriously? You know what "cause" means; it's a word you use all the time. (This is a classic part of this fallacy. In our own minds we have definitions that work in everyday life, but not for talking about something as abstract as God. In this specific case, the distinction is as follows:) When I say "X caused Y" (where X and Y are events) I mean: within the laws of nature as I know them Y wouldn't have happened if X hadn't. But God created the Universe outside (or "before") any laws of nature, so what doe

my dad is unconvinced that the source of my frustrations is a conflicting belief system so much as a struggle with juvenile doubts.

That is roughly speaking what juvenile doubts are. The "juvenile" mind tackling with conflicts in the relevant socially provided belief system prior to when it 'clicks' that the cool thing to do is to believe that you have resolved your confusion about the 'deep' issue and label it as a juvenile question that you do not have to think about any more now that you are sophisticated.

Next week, from July 30 to Augus

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4TimS9yWelcome. I'm sorry that you are in such an awkward situation with you family. In terms of dealing with this conference, I can only echo what MixedNuts said (except for the panicking part). I've always found this quote interesting: We have every reason to think that children's beliefs have no momentum - the evidence is right in front of us, they change their minds so often for such terrible reasons. By contrast, the fact that I disagree with another adult is not particular strong evidence that the other person is wrong. In other words, try to free yourself from feeling obligated to defend anything or feeling guilty for not engaging with those who wish to change your beliefs. You might consider explicitly saying "Social pressure is not evidence that you are right (or wrong)." If the people talking with you assert that they aren't using social pressure, then ask them to stop continuing the debate. Their willingness to leave is a victory for your emotional state, and their refusal is strong evidence that arriving at true beliefs is not really their goal - but the proper reaction to that stance is to leaving the conversation yourself, not try to win the "you are being rude" debate. In short, maximizing your positive emotional state doesn't rely on winning debates. Your goal should be to avoid having them at all. (If you hadn't already read the book your father found, I would have suggested declining to do so).
9MixedNuts9yGo in panic mode. This conference is not just making a case that Christianity is correct and debating about it. It's bombarding you with arguments for six days, where you won't hear an argument against Christianity or if you do it'll be awkward rude dissent from people in inferior positions, where you won't be able to leave or have time alone to think, and where you're going against your will in the first place. This is time for not losing your mind, not time for changing it. Don't keep an open mind, don't listen to and discuss arguments, don't change your mind because they're right, don't let the atmosphere influence you. If it helps you can think of it as like being undercover among huge patriots and resisting the temptation to defect (and their ideology may be better than yours), or like being in a psychiatrist hospital and watching out for abuse when you know the nurses will try to convince you your reactions are psychiatrist symptoms (and they may well be). So don't see anything at the conference as a social interaction or exchange of ideas. Your goals are to get out of there, to block everything out, to avoid attention, and to watch sharply for anything fishy. Block out the speakers, just watch the audience. If there's a debate be quiet and don't draw attention. If you're asked to speak, voice weak agreement, be vague, or pick peripheral nits. If you're asked to participate in group activities go through the motions as unremarkably as you can. At the socials be a bit distant but mostly your usual self when making small talk, but when someone starts discussing one of the conference topics pretend to listen and agree, smile and nod and say "Yes" and "Go on" and "Oh yeah, I liked that part" a lot. Lie like a rug if you must. Watch the social dynamics and the attitudes of everyone and anything that looks like manipulative behavior. You'll be bored, but don't try to think about any kind of deep topic, even unrelated (doing math and physics problems in your head a
-12Xenophon9y
6Vaniver9yHey! I've got a pastor father too, but thankfully my atheism doesn't seem to be a big deal for him. (It helps that I don't live nearby.) I think the "conflicting belief system" is, as I understand it, the right model. There's a Christian worldview, which has some basic assumptions (God exists, the Bible is a useful source for learning about God, etc.), and there's a reductionist worldview, which has some basic assumptions (everything can be reduced to smaller parts, experiments are a useful source for learning about reality, etc.), and the picture you can build out of the reductionist worldview matches the world better than the picture you can build out of the Christian worldview. (There are, of course, other possible worldviews.) I would not put much hope into being able to convince the people at this event that they should be atheists; I wouldn't even hope to convince them that you should be an atheist. And so the question becomes what your goals are. If you're concerned about recanting your atheism and meaning it, the main thing I can think of that might be helpful is the how to change your mind [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/How_To_Actually_Change_Your_Mind] sequence. You can keep that model in mind and compare the experience you're undergoing to it- it's unlikely that they'll be using rational means of persuasion, and you can point out the difference. Starting a post in discussion is an alright idea; it'll work well if you mention specific arguments that you want to have responses to.

Hi Benedict!

Bad news first: You will not be able to defend yourself. This is not because you're 18, it's not because you can't present your arguments in a spectacular fashion.

It is because noone will care about your arguments, they will wait for the first chance to bring some generic counter-argument, probably centering on how they will be there for you in your time of implied juvenile struggle, further belittling you.

And - how aggravating - this is actually done in part to protect you, to protect the relationship with your dad. With the kind of social c... (read more)