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Caledonian doesn't want to say he's never met a person who had not at some time held a daft belief. I'll venture further on his behalf: he most likely respects some of the people who occasionally hold these daft beliefs, if, on balance, their beliefs end up being good ones and if these people have mechanisms in place to weed out the bad beliefs.

If that's so, then his position is actually quite sensible: it rewards good beliefs, holds people to high standards, and it expresses optimism about possibility of change in those committed to and skilled at it.

There's nothing offensive about the post. I just wish it were funnier and less predictable. I'm with LemmusLemmus on this: it's too bad that the fifteen-year-old's tone of provocative discovery ends up distracting from Eliezer's obviously valid point -- that, yes, the story of the virgin birth is pretty wacky as stories go.

Eliezer, your pointer for dealing with the TypeKey bug seems to naturally belong either in that "[New readers start here]" section or in some separate tech help section. Unfortunately TypeKey didn't offer your insight when I got in touch with them so I had to figure it on my own after a few frustrating attempts at posting. Having suggestions about common bugs in some prominent section on the site would also keep comments about tech issues from clogging up the Recent Comments section.

Psy-Kosh, having that some-people-that-disagree dynamic is clearly preferable to having that-one-crazy-guy-you-don't-want-to-be-like setup, but I'd expect that many such dynamics tend to start with having just one strong dissenter, don't you think?

Also, I can imagine another difficulty for that Known Contrary Guy: his input may unfortunately be less well received by others not just because of the clash of the views but also, and I fear even more so, because of ad-hominem-type dismissals by the rest of the group.

An unrelated but creepy thought: my first reaction to type in some sort of full-fledged assent was immediately dampened by a queasy post-Patriot-Act thought (of, admittedly, a very IT-illiterate person), "If I openly write something like this, will They know and will They care and will I ever come to regret it?" Or maybe it's not such an unrelated thought -- the not always irrational fear of Big Brother did, after all, turn out to be a significant part of the more-than-ten-times-worse assessment of things to come.

Eliezer, your post appears to at least in part be animated by a frustration with people who are incapable/unwilling/don't make a serious enough effort to both pursue interesting tangents that could later be developed into other full-length conversations and stay on topic overall. Granted, this probably describes a vast majority of people. Nevertheless, presuming the straying from topic though tangent acknowledgment to be an affliction of conversation with all people unfortunately leads you imply a necessary trade-off between the values of rigorous word definitions and untangling all those "really important" topics. While I come to this from a weakness for distinction-making, I don't think that weakness really impairs my resolve to get through what you imply (and what I'm strongly inclined to agree) are the larger topics. In other words, I haven't found interests in semantic and non-semantic questions to be mutually exclusive.

While I agree that "Redefining a word won't change the facts of history one way or the other," I find the "this is exactly the wrong way to look at the problem. What you really want to know - what the argument was originally about" part of the complaint to be both unpleasantly constraining and inaccurate. That there isn't "exactly the wrong way to look at a problem" -- what it is is defining a whole other area of interest. If in fact every time such a new area of interest is defined some other earlier problem risks getting abandoned altogether, then sure, I agree, that's absolutely no good, but I just haven't found that to be the necessary case with all conversations.

With this comment I'll only express a tiny insight into the semantic part of the conversation (and I understand that addressing it doesn't actually get at what you hope to discuss at full length, but whatever.) The whole question of whether "someone who has a definite opinion about the existence of at least one God, e.g., assigning a probability lower than 10% or higher than 90% to the existence of Zeus" should be called a "religious" person can be niftily neutralized by a slight but, I think, helpful rephrasing of same: Should that person be considered to hold religious opinions? If you agree that this new question doesn't omit anything interesting from the original question (and you may not), then you may notice that the added benefit of such a rephrasing is that it blocks that whole silly digression about Stalin's religion being Communism.

If you're off-put by this kind of nitpickiness, perhaps you should reconsider: I think that getting your interlocutor to recognize that he or she is introducing an entirely new topic -- semantics -- rather than expanding on an original one may help you both remember that an answer to the semantic question doesn't even begin to address the non-semantic question. (This isn't true in all cases, but it is in this one.)

I find that kind of distinction-making valuable because it doesn't limit the the topics "worthy" of consideration and ensures that interesting questions don't get abandoned. Putting aside the opportunity cost of one discussion over the other, everyone should be happy about this, no?

I think a better way to use Kuhn's idea to interpret the process and effects of the skeptics leaving is through an ontological reflection on the group's essence: We can say that the group or discipline really started existing in a relevant sense (living out its core beliefs, "getting any real work done") only after the original skeptics were gone. Perhaps the discipline's increasingly inhospitable environment to internal dissenters is a more relevant place to draw the line of exactly when that discipline "[abandoned] the requirement of outside accessibility" than the group's own idea of when it started existing. Put another way, the skeptics, while technically belonging to what I'm considering the not-yet-self-realized group were the outsiders whose access was, in a sense, curtailed by a later change in tone of discussion, etc