Matthew G

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Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points

I am new to Bayesian Rationality, and it seems to me to be an ideal worth pursuing. I have so far read only Yudkowsky, and am compling a "further reading list" to continue my journey to reducing my irrationality. Please bear with me as I give you some personal context to my comments. I am a religious, practicing Jew. I don't label myself "Orthodox" or "Modern Orthodox", although I attended an Orthodox Yeshiva and live in a Modern Orthodox community, because a lot of what colors the cultural manifestation of the Jewish religion is based on social influences. I refer to myself as a "Torah observant" Jew. I also attended university, majoring in biochemistry and minoring in psychology, and most of the sections on cognitive biases were not new to me, but framed in a new way that I just didn't see before. I have, in the past, questioned my faith, but since my first read-through of AI-Zombies, learned that I did not ask the right questions. Reciting the Litany of Tarski regarding God once scared me, but now I recite it regularly, because I recognize that I really only want to believe that God exists if and only if God exists. It does me no good to believe God exists if God doesn't exist.

In regards to the first story in this post, I was always taught in Yeshiva that God is responsible for everything, good AND bad, and that we are supposed to acknowledge that in bad cases as well as good. That is why, at a Jewish funeral, the mourners recite the blessing "Baruch ata... Dayan HaEmet", Blessed are You, God, the True Judge" (or "Judge of Truth", direct translation is not perfect), the understanding being that God has decided that it is the right time for that person to die, and we accept that.

I recognize the underlying conflict between the ideas of a benevolent God and certain aspects of Biblical narrative, like God killing all first born children when we can easily imagine any number of alternate ways God could have ended slavery without killing babies (and adults; it doesn't say that the first borns had to be child-aged, and the tragedy is not lessened just because they were grown up). I honestly don't have an answer.

I have tried to sit down and imagine a world without a God, what it would look like. I can't claim that I'm not fooling myself, but in the world that I constructed without a God, Judaism does not exist. I'm not an expert historian, but I've counted dozens (at least) of cultures/nations from the past 3 millenia, going back to what I can find as the first independent corroboration of records of a Jewish (or proto-Jewish, depending on the source) nation, and aside from China, they are all gone. Completely wiped out, remembered only by archeological discoveries, and in the cases of the great world powers, historical records and cultural echoes. Where Judea/Israel differs from China is that the Jews spent the past 2,000 years primarily homeless (a fraction remained in the region that Rome renamed "Syria-Palestina", but many were sold into Roman slavery), and we know from more recent records that at least the past thousand years were marked with countless occurences of genocide, where entire communities were ravaged just for being Jewish. I don't know how to calculate the probability of a nation that is not a superpower (or even a superpower) to remain a recognizable, cohesive unit for 3,000 years, but I imagine it's pretty small, since only one of each has done so. I also don't know how to calculate the probability of a nation remaining recognizable and cohesive despite hundreds of years of dominating countries attempting to eradicate them. To me, that makes less sense than a God who does things I don't understand. Is there no alternative answer that explains how Judaism has survived, or have I stopped looking too soon? I have ordered a number of books written by secular historians who talk about the origins of Judaism to see what kind of evidence they offer one way or another. At what point do I say "I still don't understand this"and put it on the shelf because I don't have the time to dedicate to researching it, and there are more important things to do with my life? Even if I stop believing in God, which is probably unlikely, but not impossible, I will likely continue to be a practicing Jew simply because I like to identify with this tribe, despite the downsides like anti-Semitism.