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How confident is your atheism?

10 Post author: r_claypool 14 June 2012 08:18PM

A friend recently asked how strongly I believe that my deconversion from Christianity was not a mistake. Here's my response, and for those of you who are not Christians, I'm just wondering what numbers you would give:


"There is a part of me that wants to say the chance is far less than 1 percent. But when I consider what 1% must mean about my ability to follow complex arguments and base my judgement on the right premises, it seems absurd to say that.

Trying to honestly estimate the chance that I'm wrong about the Bible being generally reliable is a fascinating exercise... I know the number is low, but I'm not sure how low.  

Today I would give myself a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. If I were to consider the arguments of 20 other groups similar to Christian theologians, I would probably misunderstand them at least 1 time in 20. After talking with 20 groups that have a very different worldview, I might think they are all are mistaken, but once in a while, maybe 5% of the time, it would actually be me.

Wow, 5%!?! If I convert that into "There is a 5% probability that the God of the Bible exists and will send me to hell", I feel scared. But I know how to cheer myself up: I just say, "No way, the chance I'll end up in hell MUST be less than 5%. After all, the God of the Bible is CLEARLY just a big, mean alpha-monkey and... [rehearse all the atheistic arguments here]".

This back-and-forth from certainty to uncertainty makes me feel like I'm doing something seriously wrong.

So what about you? What chance do you place on some variant of Christianity turning up to be true, and what chance do you think a god of some sort exists?"

Numbers please.

 

Comments (145)

Comment author: gjm 14 June 2012 11:11:50PM 33 points [-]

Today I would give myself a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. [...] I would probably misunderstand them at least 1 time in 20.

So far so good.

If I convert that into "There is a 5% probability that the God of the Bible exists and will send me to hell"

Don't. That's a mistake. There's a 5% chance (say) that you've seriously misunderstood some of the things that Christian theologians think and why they think them. That's not the same thing -- it's not anything like the same thing -- as a 5% chance that they are right about Christianity and you're going to burn in hell for getting it wrong. It's perfectly possible that both they and you are wrong, and unless your reasons for being an atheist are much worse than I expect that's the most likely state of affairs conditional on your being wrong.

I bet there are a lot more than 20 groups of people with mutually inconsistent beliefs, whose beliefs you have at least a 5% chance of having seriously misunderstood or otherwise failed to refute perfectly.

Comment author: Grognor 14 June 2012 10:50:00PM 10 points [-]

(I upvoted this post because I saw that its score was at -1. I normally avoid doing this, but here I make an exception because, while this is not a quality article, I think this sort of thing should be encouraged here on Less Wrong, the sort of "I have a doubt and I want to know about to do about it" posts that this is an example of.

Saying,

This back-and-forth from certainty to uncertainty makes me feel like I'm doing something seriously wrong.

took at least some courage. Let us not punish that. On the other hand I do feel like this is more appropriate for the open threads, but nobody checks them the week before a new one anyway.)

Comment author: see 14 June 2012 09:22:28PM 9 points [-]

Do you really think there's a 40% chance that one out of the Bahá'í, Christians, Jews, Mandaeans, Muslims, Sikhs, theistic Hindus, or Zoroastrians are right?

Or do you think maybe there's a 5% chance that some form of religion is right, and that there might be a sub-chance of that that theism is right, and then there's a sub-sub-chance of any of the particular living theisms I just listed is right?

Comment author: Manfred 14 June 2012 11:49:57PM *  5 points [-]

Neither, I'd guess. The 5% is a number that sounds disbelieving but open-minded.

Comment author: r_claypool 15 June 2012 03:34:27AM 2 points [-]

That's about right. Five percent was basically a buffer for, "I don't have full confidence in my epistemology, maybe I'm confused and Christian faith actually is a virtue."

But I get what everyone has said about privileging the hypothesis. If by faith I'm supposed to choose a religion, after choosing I'd have no answer for, "Why did you trust in those unverifiable claims as opposed to some other unverifiable claims?" This would be true of all religions and supernatural claims, or at least the ones I'm aware of.

Comment author: Alicorn 14 June 2012 08:28:38PM *  37 points [-]

If I were to consider the arguments of 20 other groups similar to Christian theologians, I would probably misunderstand them at least 1 time in 20.

Not all arguments which you misunderstand-and-disbelieve are actually sound.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 14 June 2012 09:27:56PM 19 points [-]

So, first off, I would agree that you're doing something seriously wrong, and what you're doing wrong is you're privileging the hypothesis.

Consider P1: "The God of the Bible exists and will send me to Hell."
Now consider P2: "There is a God, but the Bible is systematically wrong about God's plan. Everything the Bible says God wants, God actually wants the opposite of, and if I follow the Bible God will send me to Hell."

Regardless of how small or large a value I assign to p(P1), what really matters for my decision-making is p(P1)/p(p2). If that ratio is close to 1, then I ought not treat the Bible as my guide to how to act, regardless of either value. P1 could have a 50% chance of being true, and it still wouldn't matter.

That having been said, OK.
First off, like Emile, I have trouble unambiguously interpreting "Christianity is true."

Call C1 the set of all statements asserted by any Christian-identified theologian.

My confidence that the conjunction of C1 is false is roughly equal to my confidence that (a) I can in fact recognize logical contradictions and (b) two propositions that contradict one another are not both true. I don't know how to attach a number to these sorts of claims. I literally cannot imagine a scenario that would cause me to update my belief in that conjunction by a noticable amount. If the stars in the sky arranged themselves in a pattern that spelled out "C1 is all true, Dave!" I would still consider it vanishingly unlikely that C1 was all true. If I woke up tomorrow morning convinced that C1 was all true, I would still consider it vanishingly unlikely that C1 was all true. If I have to put a number on this, the number I put on it is zero. (Yes, I've read that article, and I'm saying this advisedly.)

At the other extreme, my confidence that the disjunction of C1 is true is, in the same way, one.

Call C2 the set of assertions about the actions of God described in the Old Testament as it has come down to us, starting with "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" and going on from there, including all the "and the Lord said to Moses" verses, etc. My confidence that there exists an entity of whom the conjunction of C2 is true is not quite as brainbreaking as the C1 equivalent; I can imagine events that would cause me to update that confidence by some noticeable degree. I still don't know how to calibrate it, though.

Call C3 the set of assertions about the actions of Jesus described in the New Testament. My confidence that there existed an entity of whom the conjunction of C3 is true is a lot higher than the other two conjunctions... but I still don't know how to calibrate it. Basically, we're still in the realm of "too small for me to conceive of".

My problems with "a god of some sort exists" are of a different sort... I can't quite figure out what that proposition even means. How is it different from "something exists", for example? (My confidence in that statement is very high.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2012 05:30:52AM 22 points [-]

I am thiiiiiiiiis confident!

(Holds arms wide, then accepts any well-specified bet as if the actual probability of Christianity were zero, i.e., with betting prices corresponding to the probability of the specified evidence being observed, given the fixed assumption that Christianity is false.)

Comment author: RichardHughes 19 June 2012 09:54:48PM 3 points [-]

I was literally just about to post a thread asking about the fixation on putting numerical values on our confidences all the time, then I saw this. So, thanks for that. Wrapped that little dilemma right up.

Comment author: Logos01 18 June 2012 01:30:47PM *  2 points [-]

I am thiiiiiiiiis confident!

I'm surprised to see this dialogue make so little mention of the material evidence* at hand with regards to the specific claims of Christianity. I mean; a god which was omnipotent and omnibenevolent would surely create a world with less suffering for humanity than what we conjecture an FAI would orchestrate, yes? Color me old-fashioned but I assign the logically** impossible a zero probability (barring of course my being mistaken about logical impossibilities).

* s/s//
** s/v/c/

Comment author: gwern 18 June 2012 03:54:07PM *  3 points [-]

See Plantinga's free will defense for human and the variant for natural evils; it defuses the logical argument from evil. (Of course it does this by postulating 'free will', whatever that is, but I don't think free will is nearly as clear cut a p=~0 as the existence of evils...)

Comment author: Will_Newsome 19 June 2012 01:36:28AM 7 points [-]

There are other arguments too, that I haven't seen made in the theology literature. Like, God instantiated all possible universes with net positive utility, because that's more utility than just instantiating the universe with the most utility. This is an extremely basic idea, I really don't know why I haven't seen it before.

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 19 June 2012 05:01:21PM *  5 points [-]

I've seen this argument but didn't manage to find the paper. It goes further: imagine that the space of possible universes looks like a sphere in R^n centered at the origin and one axis represents a utility function that encodes God's preferences about whether a universe should exist(1) or not and the 0 on the axis is just where God's preferences switch from "would rather exist than not" to "would rather not exist"(2). Then the vast majority of universes that God instantiates are just barely worth existing, and you should expect to find yourself in a universe where the problem of evil is not resolved by "actually things are pretty great, good job God!" or by "we live in a hell dimension, God is the worst".

(1) Assume "should exist" makes sense. I realize none of us knows what this means.
(2) Luckily? For an underlying reason? Anyway it's one plausible shape, more likely than any specific squiggly blob, and the argument works for lots of other shapes like a cone with its point in the +util direction.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2012 01:44:48AM 2 points [-]

I've seen that before; somewhere in Luke's collection of papers dealing with the FWD.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 19 June 2012 01:54:10AM 2 points [-]

Okay, that's good to know.

It's only somewhat related, but do you know of any good rebuttals to Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism? I find his argument really quite clever. I couldn't immediately think up a refutation, but I haven't looked at the literature.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2012 02:01:30AM 3 points [-]

It's been a while since I was reading about it, but my reaction was bullet-biting: "Sure. Does anyone actually think our faculties are perfectly reliable? I sure don't, and I'd nominate religion itself as a perfect example of how evolution-molded psychologies can go horribly epistemologically wrong."

Comment author: Logos01 19 June 2012 12:14:53PM 0 points [-]

An omnipotent omnibenevolent being would have no need for such "shorthand" tricks to create infinite worlds without suffering. Yes you could always raise another aleph level for greater infinities; but only by introducing suffering at all.

Which violates omnibenevolence.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 June 2012 09:07:13AM *  0 points [-]

What exactly is the "net positive utility"? Where exactly is the zero? For example if we assume that existing is always better than not existing, then all existing universes automatically have net positive utility.

If we assume a Christian model where people will get most of their utility in afterlife, this model would put a limit on Heaven : Hell population ratio. The exact numbers would depend on how many people in Heaven plus how many people in Hell give a total zero utility. For example assuming that positive utility of one person in Heaven is greater in absolute value than negative utility of all people in Hell, this model would say that all worlds where at least one person gets to Heaven will be instantiated. Assuming this, the exceptionality of Jesus in our universe is an evidence for all other people going to Hell.

(Just joking. With proper definitions and priors you can prove anything.)

Comment author: Logos01 19 June 2012 12:12:32PM 2 points [-]

I don't buy it. A superhuman intelligence with unlimited power and infinite planning time and resources could create a world without suffering even without violating free will. And yet we have cancer and people raping children.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2012 01:33:30PM 3 points [-]

A superhuman intelligence with unlimited power and infinite planning time and resources could create a world without suffering even without violating free will.

Oh, it did try. Unfortunately, Adam exercised his free will in the wrong way. Better luck next universe.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 June 2012 08:10:31AM 2 points [-]

Perhaps betting huge amounts of other people's suffering on Adam's ability to resist eating an apple was a really stupid idea.

Comment author: Logos01 20 June 2012 07:22:41PM -1 points [-]

"If it weren't for my horse, I never would've graduated college." >_<

Comment author: CarlShulman 21 June 2012 05:16:51AM 1 point [-]

Of course it does this by postulating 'free will', whatever that is,

Plus the dubious moral view that the seemingly incoherent variety of free will is of immense axiological importance.

Comment author: private_messaging 18 June 2012 03:35:10PM *  0 points [-]

wow awesome way to put it. I feel same way about a lot of stuff like that.

Comment author: Rain 22 June 2012 04:55:53PM *  4 points [-]

I watched the Ten Commandments the other day to revisit some classic cinema, and in the scene where god appears as a burning bush, I couldn't help but think, "Wow, that's all he could muster?" And then picture some outer-universe aliens tinkering with gigantic equipment with immense power inputs to try and interfere in some other world, only able to project tiny amounts of fire into a bush and a disembodied voice, the best efforts of all their minds at cross-dimensional communication resulting in nothing much at all, and the translator broken at that.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 June 2012 04:14:42AM 1 point [-]

I watched the Ten Commandments the other day to revisit some classic cinema, and in the scene where god appears as a burning bush, I couldn't help but think, "Wow, that's all he could muster?"

One time! One time I did that!

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 June 2012 04:02:49AM 0 points [-]

I watched the Ten Commandments the other day to revisit some classic cinema, and in the scene where god appears as a burning bush, I couldn't help but think, "Wow, that's all he could muster?"

Not necessarily, depends on what His goal was.

Comment author: JQuinton 16 June 2012 03:00:02PM 4 points [-]

I'm thinking there is a false dichotomy here. If Christianity is false it doesn't mean that atheism is true. Both Christianity and atheism could be false. Christianity being true only depends on the resurrection of Jesus, and that depends on how regularly dead bodies come back from the dead, how many stories we have about dead bodies coming back from the dead, and how many times we have had verified stories of dead bodies coming back from the dead.

There are certainly Jews who think that the events in the NT generally happened (e.g. Toledot Yeshu), Muslims who think that the events in the NT generally happened, but still think that Christianity is false. I mean, Christianity could be false and yet you might still end up in hell because Islam was the "true religion".

Comment author: r_claypool 17 June 2012 03:23:42AM 3 points [-]

Yeah, it was a false dichotomy. I see that now.

Comment author: RobertLumley 14 June 2012 09:13:05PM *  10 points [-]

While ordinarily, I might upvote something that is asking for help calibrating a belief, I think this has far too much potential to turn into an "I'm more atheist than you" fest. Especially when the title is "How confident is your atheism?" After reading a couple of the comments, I had that urge until I realized what was happening.

So I will be explicitly ignoring your request for numbers. But if you're really dead set on coming up with a number for yourself (I don't think the discussion is productive enough beyond estimation to, say, three or four orders of magnitude accuracy, but your call) I would suggest trying to think of other beliefs that you find as plausible as Christianity, ie., all of the other religions. You've got to necessarily have room for them in your estimation. Also, you should take into account reasons that creatures evolving in the ancestral environment would become religious.

Comment author: 2196B4F8 14 June 2012 08:32:33PM 10 points [-]

How is this one chance out of twenty specific of Christianity? This doesn't seem to have any good predictive power. You can misunderstand the arguments of one out of twenty groups for any topic. Why not worry about all these other topics as well?

Comment author: Quinn 14 June 2012 09:48:40PM 18 points [-]

From Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow (p 325):

The probability of a rare event is most likely to be overestimated when the alternative is not fully specified... [Researcher Craig Fox] asked [participants] to estimate the probability that each of the eight participating teams would win the playoff; the victory of each team in turn was the focal event.

... The result: the probability judgments generated sucessively for the eight teams added up to 240%!

Do you (r_claypool) have reason to suspect that Christianity is much more likely to be true than other, (almost-) mutually exclusive supernatural worldviews like, say, Old Norse Paganism? If not, then 5% for Christianity is absurdly high.

Comment author: r_claypool 15 June 2012 04:52:06AM 0 points [-]

Do you (r_claypool) have reason to suspect that Christianity is much more likely to be true than other, (almost-) mutually exclusive supernatural worldviews like, say, Old Norse Paganism?

No, I've read way more Christian apologetics than I care to admit, and the basic tenants of the Bible like -- "God could find no better way to forgive humans than to have one tortured on a cross" -- are no more substantiated by apologists than whatever is part of Old Norse Paganism.

If not, then 5% for Christianity is absurdly high.

But it still doesn't feel absurdly high.

Comment author: shminux 15 June 2012 05:13:09PM *  2 points [-]

Have you tried tracing your reasoning that leads to this feeling, step-by-step, and see which step bumps the odds to 5%? For a programmer, the analogy would be "the output of this code is 5%, which is suspiciously high, let's trace the program with a debugger and see which instruction is responsible". More often than not, you find that there is a path through your code that you haven't thought of before, or a step that seemed innocuous enough has a different effect from what you expected. Another standard technique is to work backwards from the final answer and see where it comes from.

Comment author: duckduckMOO 17 June 2012 04:58:16AM *  0 points [-]

it might not feel absurdly high because absuridty is often a heuristic about what should be laughed at rather than what is unlikely. When people say something is absurd they mean it should be laughed at along with its claimer.

5% is a "respectable" estimate except perhaps in some very untheist countries. (I don't know and am too lazy to look it up is why I am saying perhaps, not because I know and want to make the fact seem small.)

The other difference I see between old norse paganism and religion is that there are all sorts of people who don't otherwise appear to be crazy who say christianity is true and you can't properly internalise the idea that they are all wrong/lying.

Oh and this just occured to me. It could be you are sort of/on some level afraid of hell. You may have had the idea of someone being wrong, in contravention to" popular wisdom raised to your attention and be unconciously avoiding conclusions that leave you in that scenario especially when the punishment for being wrong is hell.

The question that stopped me thinking christianity, while unlikely, was unlikelier than the other religions was was: If you were raised by old norse pagan/aztec/muslim/hindu parents in an old norse pagan/etc place do you think you would have a higher instinctive estimate of its probability?

Another thing to consider is that the people telling you that Jesus is a resurrected God say all kinds of other stupid stuff which is probably untrue (so p(christianity in general) is low for that reason and the probability that Jesus is a resurrected God goes way down if christianity is not true otherwise. Also, christians are in fact, on further inspection, generally visibly crazy, for a relevantly/appropriately strict definition of sane and present as their evidence a book that it has somehow become doctrine is God's word despite being tampered with by humans all the time.

Comment author: Emile 14 June 2012 08:30:19PM 9 points [-]

Depends on what you mean by "Christianity being true". If you mean "The miracles described in the Bible actually happened in the real world, and there is a supernatural God that cares about our actions and occasionally interferes in the world", then the chances are vanishingly small, less than one in a million.

On the other hand, if you mean "Following religious practice and giving priests a respectable position in society is good for individual well-being, as well as maintaining a harmonious and prosperous society; religious teachings are moral fables that help foster group coordination", then yeah, I'd put a much higher probability to that, though the exact value would depend of the religion being considered, etc.

Comment author: r_claypool 14 June 2012 08:39:35PM 8 points [-]

I probably should have clarified to say, "the chance that Jesus of Nazareth is a resurrected God." I think all modern Christianities have this belief in common, and my estimations are based on this lowest common denominator.

Comment author: Emile 15 June 2012 08:15:56PM 1 point [-]

They may all profess that belief, but is it the real reason they're Christians and not atheists? What if metaphysical claims are just identity markers, that Christians hold because they are completely abstract and divorced from reality?

The "religion is good for social and individual well-being" argument is a bit of a steel man; it's easy to make fun of stupid arguments by Christians, but maybe Christianity is actually beneficial for complicated reasons, and many Christians see the benefits but mistakenly believe in simpler reasons (and those that can articulate complex reasons are ignored, because complex explanations are boring and look like tortuous rationalizations).

The important question shouldn't be "is such-and-such point of Christian doctrine factually true?", but rather, "is it better for me and society that I identify as an atheist rather than as a Christian?" . Reducing the second question to the first is a cheap way out. Sure, there are good arguments for why secularism is better than religion, but those are waaay less overwhelming than the arguments of physics and biology (and frickin' common sense) over theology.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 15 June 2012 09:10:14PM 1 point [-]

Which is a special case of "What falsehoods should I prefer to believe to their corresponding truths?", which is a far broader question.

Comment author: Emile 16 June 2012 07:48:06AM -2 points [-]

Identifying as a Christian isn't believing a falsehood, but it does give an incentive to believe certain falshehoods. See here for talk of unbelieving pastors:

What that inquiry found was that "one in six clergy of the Protestant Church were either not sure about or did not believe in the existence of God", and that the longer you've been a member of the clergy, the more likely you were to be atheist.

(I want to make it clear that the argument I'm describing isn't "believe in pleasant lies if it makes you good and happy")

Comment author: TheOtherDave 16 June 2012 03:08:21PM 0 points [-]

Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification, I had indeed misunderstood.

The important question might instead be "what is it best for me to identify as?" ...where "best for me" and "best for society" and "best for me and society" are three different interpretations of that question, and which one I pick depends on how important I think I am relative to society, and where "identify as atheist" and "identify as Christian" are two of a near-infinite number of choices.

Comment author: kilobug 15 June 2012 08:17:19AM 3 points [-]

That some variant of Christianity turns up to be true ? Very, very, very low. Considering the size of the hypothesis space that includes Christianity (it includes about all other religions that ever existed, and most of the fictional ones, and many more you could think about), and the very low amount of evidence, it has to be counted in power of ten. If you consider the core of Christianity to be about 100 bits of information (and that's a very low estimate), and that you have, what, 10 bits of evidence you're left with a probability of 2^-90 of Christianity being true. Those numbers are very imprecise, but if anything, they give a probability higher of what it really is.

That some variant of "theism" is true, including the fact that the universe may be a simulation and the programmers/administrators of the simulation have "godlike" powers in it ? That I would give a much more reasonable chance of being true, but still no real evidence for it, so maybe a 10-20% probability.

That said, I find it really hard to give numbers for my those kind of believes which means... I need to become stronger !

Comment author: shokwave 15 June 2012 06:59:10AM 3 points [-]

5%

The feelings you get about this number are feelings that most any belief system would produce - you'd say the same thing with the same 5% if we replaced Christianity with Catholicism, for example.

So I take all beliefs systems as the reference class for that feeling. Smear that 5% over all belief systems - not just the ones that exist, but the possible ones that are as coherent and likely to arise as Christianity - and you should stop worrying somewhat.

After talking with 20 groups that have a very different worldview, I might think they are all are mistaken, but once in a while, maybe 5% of the time, it would actually be me.

As others have pointed out, probably 5% of the time you are mistaken, but that says nothing about the chance they are mistaken; unless you and them are mutually exclusive truth-tracking belief systems with all the evidence. Better assume you're perfectly spherical and updating takes place in a vacuum...

My numbers? The measure of worlds where a belief system like Christianity meaningfully alters my behaviour (how I choose to act in lots of situations, not just situations involving Christians) is something like one in ten thousand. As you make more specific claims (e.g. Bible says I'm going to Hell, I should act in accordance with {subset of Bible} ) I penalise by one in ten thousand, times one in the complexity of the statement you made.

Comment author: thomblake 19 June 2012 08:43:09PM 0 points [-]

To provide a more concrete mechanism for what you suggest:

5% is clearly a non-normalized probability. You can add up all those 5%'s, as well as whatever probability you'd apply to atheism, and then divide 5% by that sum. You now have a normalized probability that fits into a proper distribution.

Comment author: shokwave 19 June 2012 09:45:17PM 1 point [-]

Yes, this is a much clearer and more applicable technique.

Comment author: orthonormal 16 June 2012 04:01:02PM 6 points [-]

How has nobody yet mentioned Confidence Levels Inside and Outside an Argument? Anyway, I take gjm's line on this: I should assign at least 5% probability that my reasoning for rejecting Christianity is invalid in some way that I'm unaware of, but that's different from a 5% probability that Christianity is true.

For one thing, my reasoning that Christianity is very likely false is essentially the same as my reasoning that other theisms are false, so at the very least a whole bunch of other religions get lumped into that same 5%. (That is, if Zeus exists, then my reasoning was just as wrong as if Yahweh exists.) Furthermore, there are other possibilities—such as that I'm mentally unbalanced and hallucinating my high intelligence, or that I'm a brain in a vat whose reasoning is being systematically tweaked for a mad scientific experiment—which don't seem all that correlated with whether Christianity is true or not.

Since in my case as well as yours, Christianity plays a unique role vis-a-vis other theisms, there is some justification for promoting it a bit within the space of "things that might actually be the case if my reasoning is bad" (in the same sense that a lottery winner might well consider it more likely than average that they're in a simulation). But my estimate still comes out more like 0.1% than like 5%.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 17 June 2012 03:53:11PM 2 points [-]

I didn't write it explicitly, but my 99% answer was based on reasoning like: there is a 1% chance that my way of reasoning is invalid because of something I am not aware of. That means, instead of 1% chance meeting Zeus, I estimate a 1% chance of some argument that could change my reasoning about the subject. In other words, it's not 1% chance that I am wrong about this, but rather 1% chance I am irrational about this.

Comment author: private_messaging 18 June 2012 03:26:07PM *  -1 points [-]

Typically arguments on that kind of topic contain huge number of potentially sloppy inference steps with each step having rather low probability of being valid, leading up to a very very low probability of correctness of the argument (we're speaking in the range of 10^-20 easily). It's incredibly easy to make evidence so weak it is not worth the paper it is written on. Furthermore even dramatically raising probability of validity of each step doesn't make the result worthwhile, but leads to massive overestimation of the probability of correctness of the argument because people fail at exponents. Actually I think the biggest failure of the LWism is the ideology of expecting updates on arguments with probabilities in the range well below 10^-10 , people just fail imagining just how low the probability of a conjunction can get and/or don't multiply because of residual belief of some common mode correctness as if it was oracle speaking.

Comment author: shminux 14 June 2012 11:20:48PM *  7 points [-]

What chance do you place on some variant of Christianity turning up to be true, and what chance do you think a god of some sort exists?

Not-quite-numbers: specifically Christianity: at a noise level (i.e. same as pastafarianism). Some kind of omniscience/omnipotence, including being in a matrix-like simulation: somewhat above the noise level, but not high enough to change anything I do or worry about.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 June 2012 02:14:06AM 3 points [-]

specifically Christianity: at a noise level (i.e. same as pastafarianism).

Christianity has a much more coherent theology than pastafarianism.

Comment author: shminux 15 June 2012 05:43:15AM 10 points [-]

Christianity has a much more coherent theology than pastafarianism.

Christianity loses me at "God sacrificed his only begotten son to save the world". Omnipotent God had to sacrifice? Omnipotent God had to impregnate a mortal woman to produce a god-child? What is he, Zeus? Save his own world from whom? Why such a circuitous route? I'm sure all these questions have a perfectly reasonable answer to a Christian, but it is silly to argue that the whole thing is coherent in any objective sense.

Comment author: Nornagest 15 June 2012 06:03:23AM *  5 points [-]

Just to play advocatus dei for a moment, most of the above makes a lot more sense to me in the context of a God trying to reconcile his perspective with that of a set of mortals with whom he shares a preexisting special relationship and set of behavioral rules but whose psychology he doesn't fully understand. Seen in this light, the whole New Testament story starts to look like self-modification on God's part in service to a package of, essentially, legal reforms designed to relax the fairly brutal and self-limiting Old Testament rules. I'm not a theist, though, and from a Christian perspective a lot of this is rank heresy: it's compatible with functional omnipotence but requires only limited omniscience, for example, and it's flatly inconsistent with a lot of trinitarian perspectives. Still, that's about as best I can make sense of the mythology without falling back on "mysterious ways".

Similarly, a theistic friend of mine likes to describe God in terms of a frustrated roleplaying GM who's fed up with trying to keep his players from going off the rails; Jesus in this metaphor could be thought of as a GM-run character joining the campaign for a session or two in order to capture the experience from a player perspective and maybe point the story in a less disastrous direction. Not necessarily a great idea, but it beats "rocks fall, everybody dies".

Comment author: shminux 15 June 2012 03:50:35PM 2 points [-]

Jesus in this metaphor could be thought of as a GM-run character joining the campaign for a session or two in order to capture the experience from a player perspective and maybe point the story in a less disastrous direction.

...And then giving up after the plot backfires?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 17 June 2012 06:07:46PM *  2 points [-]

It's more of a Jewish thing, but I find apologetics becomes a lot easier when I recall that God has a (trollish) sense of humor. Imagine Christians taking Christianity super seriously, and atheists getting all sneering and masturbatory about how the plot seems to be totally incoherent, and everything gets all heated, and in the background God's just going "trolololololol". By hypothesis He trolls you because He loves you—recall that Socrates and the Buddha also tended towards trollishness, mostly as a didactic method. Also relevant is that saints and members of Christian monasteries often tended to flout societal norms, and that an emphasis on the "foolishness" of Christian doctrine has been around since at least Paul: "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." This book about psi and "the trickster" is relevant. Muflax recently wrote a blog post on gods and trolling.

Comment author: Fill_Cluesome 19 June 2012 01:14:57AM -3 points [-]

It all makes sense now!

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 16 June 2012 07:02:28AM 0 points [-]

I don't think any modern christianity would agree that god could seriously misunderstand human psychology as you say.

Comment author: hairyfigment 19 June 2012 01:05:56AM 0 points [-]

What do you mean? Google tells me the school of open theism, which includes "one of the twenty most influential Christian scholars alive today," would likely allow for this possibility. Given that some self-described Christian denominations don't seem to require belief in God, it would surprise me greatly if none of them allowed God to learn on this scale.

Though as I said before, I think I could make the source material of Pastafarianism as consistent with itself and observations as any school of theology has made the Christian Bible.

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 June 2012 02:25:29AM 3 points [-]

Which of the many exclusive theologies do you mean? And what will you give me if I can make pastafarianism at least equally coherent? ^_^

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 June 2012 02:50:31AM 3 points [-]

Which of the many exclusive theologies do you mean?

How about Thomism?

And what will you give me if I can make pastafarianism at least equally coherent?

Let's just say I'd be really surprised if you can do this.

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 June 2012 04:54:21AM -1 points [-]

Are we both talking about logical consistency of the theory with itself and observations? (You know about self-hating number theory, how it shows that truth doesn't enter into this?) Or do you mean to include some aesthetically consistent style that you perceive in Thomism but not Pastafarianism? (In that case, your aesthetic preference is wrong.)

If one of those is right, are you willing to put $500 against $50? I'd need you to tell me all the questions and problems you think Pastafarianism should address. I'd also want up to one month per issue.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 16 June 2012 01:33:48AM 1 point [-]

Are we both talking about logical consistency of the theory with itself and observations? (You know about self-hating number theory, how it shows that truth doesn't enter into this?) Or do you mean to include some aesthetically consistent style that you perceive in Thomism but not Pastafarianism?

I'm talking about logical consistency with itself and observation as well as with itself on a meta-level.

(In that case, your aesthetic preference is wrong.)

So you admit that it's possible for aesthetic preferences to be wrong.

If one of those is right, are you willing to put $500 against $50?

I can't make bets involving money as that would break my pseudonymity. Also, who would judge?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 19 June 2012 01:39:42AM 7 points [-]

Dude says he can construct a Pastafarian theology better than Thomism in one month, gets upvoted, dude who expresses doubt of this gets downvoted. LW is completely batshit insane sometimes. (From a strictly epistemic standpoint anyway. Politically speaking I'm sure blindly shouting "boo God yay science" is a reasonable strategy.)

Comment author: hairyfigment 17 June 2012 07:23:36PM 1 point [-]

Ah, well.

logical consistency with itself and observation as well as with itself on a meta-level.

Just for the sake of clarity, do you think it contradicts facts about the 'natural' meaning of "natural law" -- about the rules that every smart human (or suitably extrapolated human) who cares about "being provident for itself and for others," would agree with? Certainly if we assumed no such rules exist, that would contradict the 'natural' reading.

Thomism does feel self-consistent to me if I assume that every law comes from a medieval ruler or similar source. Now assume instead that pirates are divine beings. I'm thinking here of John "I Wanna Be a Pirate" Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Mary "Totally a Man" Read. See also "Kenpachi".

So you admit that it's possible for aesthetic preferences to be wrong.

That was also a joke? I do think you'd change your positive opinion of Thomism (v Pastafarianism) if you looked at all aspects of the situation.

Comment author: DanielLC 14 June 2012 10:31:27PM 5 points [-]

After all, the God of the Bible is CLEARLY just a big, mean alpha-monkey and...

Is a mean God that much less likely than a benevolent God?

Comment author: JenniferRM 15 June 2012 02:11:39AM *  3 points [-]

This is a good point in some sense, but you get into the "tricksy" side of the ontological argument with it. Suppose you are comparing the belief that a particular supernatural entity exists to whom various miracles and plans and worldly outcomes are being attributed, call this entity X. Now compare that to a hypothetically defined entity who is perfect in every conceivable way, maxing out all notional "awesome traits" as much as is logically possible, and call whatever this definition captures Y. One of the traits of Y is that "it exists" because it would be a paltry perfect being who was simply imaginary :-P

If it is obvious from trivial inspection that X != Y, and Y would have the power and inclination to forbid the existence of X or curtail its plans such that the various world outcomes couldn't have been caused by something like X, then X, as stipulated based on certain worldy facts, must not exist. Someone interested in particular worldly outcomes, like the banning of condoms or the forbidding of women from eating bananas (to take two random examples), might claim that the hypothetical X connected to these worldly issues is Y to dodge this conclusion and buttress their worldly interests.

To me, this technique seems like a potential insult to Y and thus, in some abstract sense (logically conditional on Y's actually existing in some form or another, and objecting to people being dumb about it, and the worldly issues ascribed to Y actually being dumb) it might even be a form of blasphemy. A lot depends on how you hug the question when unpacking pre-existing poetically expressed claims into expectations for practical consideration, discussion, and nominal truth evaluation.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 15 June 2012 08:03:36AM *  4 points [-]

(AFAIK discerning the relationship or lack thereof between possible Xes and Y is called discernment, e.g. discernment of spirits, or sometimes paracletics. That said, I haven't been very impressed with the stuff I've found. I'm really intrigued by Plantinga's idea of a defeater-defeater, but I have no freakin' idea how something like that would work in practice. Or at least, I don't see how you could get the certainty that Plantinga seems to think is possible. I personally have never had an experience that I felt could not possibly have come from anywhere except God. ...Phenomenology is hard, let's go shopping.)

Comment author: DanielLC 15 June 2012 03:41:15AM 0 points [-]

So, you're saying that it shows that that particular proof of God is flawed?

Comment author: EphemeralNight 15 June 2012 05:21:49PM 2 points [-]

I suppose that the existence of something resembling a god is possible if we are actually living in a simulation. Even the christian god would be somewhere in that space of possibilities, though given the space of possibilities, that one specific possibility would still have to have extraordinarily low probability.

But let's say the christian god shows up on our world one day and says "hey all, yup, I'm totally real, now get on your knees and praise me or suffer eternal torment!"

I don't know about anybody else, but my atheism wouldn't so much as wobble. Why? Because I don't see atheism as disbelief in any specific entities. To me, it is the dismissal of the concept of divinity--that you can't have a fundamental authority or something fundamentally moral any more than you can have something that is fundamentally complicated--it is disbelief in the obligation to worship.

Comment author: asparisi 14 June 2012 11:58:40PM 2 points [-]

Christianity isn't a single proposition though. There is a lot of content there. A lot of unverified content.

The probability that you should believe Christianity because of some fear of hell (act on your worry) is something less than the probability that there is a God times the probability that God had a son given that there is a God times the probability that Jesus was the one and only son of God given that God had a son times the probability that there are souls given all of the above times the probability that God sends these souls somewhere GAOTA times the probability that God sends people who don't believe in him to Hell GAOTA.

Some of those things are pretty likely given the prior statement, but several of them are non-obvious.

And if you are going to act on a belief in a general diety... well, what policy do you take? He may only punish believers. He may only punish people who wear shoes. He may only grant souls to pillows and only send red pillows to heaven, blue pillows to hell, and all others (including mixes) to purgatory. Diety-space is HUGE and complex propositions without strong evidence are almost always wrong.

I am not even sure "Lots of humans believe it" counts as evidence. Is it more likely that something is true, given that lots of people believe it? I think the inverse is true: if something is true it is more likely that lots of people will believe it. But P(B|A)!=P(A|B)

Comment author: thomblake 19 June 2012 08:37:56PM 1 point [-]

I know you were speaking loosely, but you can't just multiply probabilities when they're not made independent.

Comment author: asparisi 19 June 2012 09:30:36PM -1 points [-]

That's false.

Let's say that we have 3 sets of propositions, A, B, and C. A is 40% likely. B is 90% likely if A is the case and 1% likely if A is not the case. C is 10% likely if B is not the case, 50% likely if A and B are both true, and 5% likely if B is true but A isn't.

B and C are clearly dependent variables. Nevertheless, simple math tells us that C is 8.17% likely, all other things being equal. Since Christianity is only true if all of the relevent propositions are true (as opposed to the scenario above) you can just multiply the probabilities together. (Unlike our A, B, C scenario, which also required some amount of addition.) You just multiply the probability within the conditional: that if God has a son that his one and only son is Jesus, rather than simply the probability that Jesus existed or that Jesus was the son of God. If Christianity could be true without Jesus being the one son of God, then addition would be required along with the multiplication, but this is not the case as the belief "Christianity" implies a zero-probability for these scenarios.

Comment author: thomblake 20 June 2012 01:38:37PM 1 point [-]

I somehow didn't notice the "given all of the above" shorthand.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 16 June 2012 04:44:29PM *  4 points [-]

You seem to be reasoning as if Christianity has a prior high enough to make it worth considering, then basing your atheism on having heard and invalidated the Christians' arguments. Instead, consider that Christianity is a huge, complex hypothesis with a very low prior, and then update down based on seeing the arguments for it and finding them bad. You can do that because if Christianity were true you'd be more likely to see good arguments, and if it's false you're more likely to see bad arguments.

Each individual religion starts off with a prior low enough not to be worth investigating--that's why you don't see me finding and engaging Zoroastrians in theological debate. As an upper bound on that probability, there are at least 200 or so religions, at most one of which can be true: 0.5% probability right there, not counting "atheism is true" and "some religion not yet invented is true". When you investigate a religion and find its arguments bad, the probability goes down from there.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 14 June 2012 11:59:01PM 3 points [-]

Given what we know about the ways that religions start and spread, we know that they are not generally truth-tracking. The fact that we observe a particular religious belief in the populace (or that we happen to have been born to a family that teaches it) is not a good indicator of that belief being true. Religious beliefs — unlike practical (how-to) knowledge or scientific theories — are not selected for their accuracy.

Further, the various religions contradict one another on pretty much everything (except baseline tribal morality): if Christian theology is true, then Vaishnava theology is false; if Muslim theology is true, then Mormon theology is false; and so on. And there are a lot of them; and many of them mutually forbid acting on the recommendations of the others, so you can't generally hedge your Pascal's Wager between them.

Comment author: stcredzero 14 June 2012 10:09:14PM 3 points [-]

For me, there are the odds that "God" exists and there are the odds that I can ever fully shake the conditioning and indoctrination of my childhood, such that a charismatic, confident, person could ever get me to hesitate or win some sort of personal "victory" in a fact to face confrontation.

The former is zero, the latter is somewhat higher.

Comment author: DanielLC 14 June 2012 10:36:02PM 0 points [-]

The former is zero

Exactly zero, or just epsilon?

Comment author: stcredzero 15 June 2012 03:19:41PM 0 points [-]

Exactly zero, or just epsilon?

I can answer your question with a certainty higher than either of those.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 16 June 2012 03:29:41AM 2 points [-]

"There is a part of me that wants to say the chance is far less than 1 percent. But when I consider what 1% must mean about my ability to follow complex arguments and base my judgement on the right premises, it seems absurd to say that.

This argument is clearly fallacious, given that we all have things we assign a chace of <<<1% to, regardless of our ability to evaluate arguments. See: story of Joseph Smith and the golden plates, fairies, Xenu, Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.

And if you go on the omni- definiton of God, my confidence in atheism is higher than my confidence in no-fairies because of the problem of evil.

Comment author: beriukay 16 June 2012 11:32:24AM 1 point [-]

I agree that stronger statements about gods require tighter probability constraints. Eventually, that runs afoul of logical contradiction, and at that point nothing meaningful can be said about the god in question. But I think you're stomping a bit hard when you say that it is an argument (and hence that it is fallacious).

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 14 June 2012 08:34:24PM 2 points [-]

99%

If I were to consider the arguments of 20 other groups similar to Christian theologians, I would probably misunderstand them at least 1 time in 20.

Just because you misunderstand them, it does not mean they are right. If someone tried to convince me that 2+2=5, and I would have trouble following their complex explanations (but I also wouldn't be able to find an obvious error), I would not accept it as an evidence that 2+2=5. (More precisely, it would be just an epsilon evidence.)

Comment author: Thomas 14 June 2012 08:26:24PM *  0 points [-]

My atheism toward Christian God (or any other) is very like my skepticism toward the Little Red Riding Hood adventure.

The same thing.

10^-50.

Comment author: Bakkot 14 June 2012 09:36:08PM 6 points [-]

"Lots of people believe it" is evidence for it being true, just weak evidence.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 June 2012 09:39:43PM 3 points [-]

"Lots of people believe it" is evidence for it being true, just weak evidence.

Or, it is really rather strong evidence but there are all sorts of other evidence (including other people's beliefs) that overwhelm it.

Comment author: gjm 14 June 2012 11:15:12PM 0 points [-]

Or, "lots of people believe X" is (when that's all you've got) strong evidence, but it can be broken down into sub-possibilities depending on how they come to believe X, and when you look at that in the case of (say) Christianity it turns out not to be very good evidence after all. (For instance, because most people who believe it turn out to believe it mostly because other people induced them to believe it when they were too young to think it through properly.)

(I think the contrary evidence would be plenty strong enough even if "lots of people believe it" were good evidence in this case, but it happens not to be.)

Comment author: pragmatist 15 June 2012 02:38:36AM *  1 point [-]

This is compatible with what Thomas said, as long as his prior for the Christian hypothesis is sufficiently lower than that for the Red Riding Hood hypothesis, and that doesn't seem unreasonable given certain construals of the "Christian hypothesis".

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 June 2012 01:44:23AM 0 points [-]

"Some people believe it" counts as evidence. But if you think the spread of Christianity seems likely to happen without any deities (see this possible explanation) then the vast majority of the people who've professed belief in it do not constitute any additional evidence. Some of those living after their countries dispensed with heresy/blasphemy laws seem like exceptions.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 15 June 2012 02:33:04AM 3 points [-]

What's the probability that you're in a simulation? What's the probability that one of the religions in the simulation is a message from the simulator? And is the product of those probabilities really as small as 10^-50?

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 June 2012 02:47:30AM 2 points [-]

What does God want with a simulation? We could technically reconcile a sim with "Christian God" as normally understood, who does not get his power from clever engineering. But that just brings us back to the point that our world does not look designed, much less designed by a specifically Christian deity.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 June 2012 05:39:33AM -2 points [-]

Maybe Yaweh is a drunk or a crackhead who just happened to get a hold of some hightech simulation equipment, or perhaps such equipment is common place in his universe?

If Many Worlds is true, it HAS to be true just by the fact that every nonzero thing HAS to happen, so why the fuck I was down voted makes no sense.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 15 June 2012 09:06:22AM 3 points [-]

If Many Worlds is true, it HAS to be true just by the fact that every nonzero thing HAS to happen

No. The many worlds interpretation is still restricted by the laws of physics and the available quantum states of interacting wavefunctions. In many worlds, every possible thing happens given the above constraints (with the appropriate measure), but not every "nonzero" thing. There are plenty of "nonzero" things we can imagine that aren't actually possible. See Gell-Mann's principle: "Everything not forbidden is compulsory." (emphasis added)

Further, "true" in a simulation does not actually qualify as true for most religions, given their own stated claims. The conflation of the simulation argument with theism has been previously discussed at length on LW. See, e.g., this comment from the very large thread:

If our universe is a simulation developed by a computer science undergrad (from another reality) for a homework assignment, then that doesn't make them our God.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 15 June 2012 09:09:15AM 2 points [-]

In many worlds, every possible thing happens given the above constraints (with the appropriate measure)

Do you have any opinion on whether continuum-many things are possible, or whether there's just a finite or countable number of possibilities?

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 15 June 2012 10:20:41AM 0 points [-]

I suspect the nature of quantum mechanics limits the possibilities to the countable regime. Max Tegmark discusses this topic here, in the section "How many parallel universes are there?".

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 15 June 2012 12:02:00PM 2 points [-]

You know, perhaps I should apologize for my question, just a little bit; or for the intent behind it. One of my objections to MWI is that it's ill-defined to a degree that laypeople would not guess, from the way that its advocates talk. I noticed on Rolf's thread that you are a physicist, and I thought, OK, I'll see how much this guy has really thought about it... Then it dawned on it me that you were just explicating rather than advocating MWI - that is, explaining a few details of an idea that you know something about because of your profession, but not necessarily an idea that you would champion as The Answer.

Nowadays I try to limit my arguing about MWI to discussions with physicists who really believe it. They need to be physicists so that it can be a technical discussion, and they need to be believers so that I can demand answers to specific questions. Most physicists have rigorous justifications for their physical opinions only for those parts of physics that they need professionally, and that usually doesn't extend to "quantum foundations".

Most physicists are intrigued or even enthusiastic about that topic, and they'll certainly have opinions and thoughts about it, but when pressed they'll admit to agnosticism, shrug their shoulders, take resort in diffident positivism, etc. When it comes to MWI, you can't have a critical discussion if for the other person it's just a fuzzy opinion, rather than an idea as clear as relativity or a specific equation of motion.

I could undoubtedly have a serious debate with someone like Tegmark, because he's very serious about the multiverse concept, and he's written technical works of quantum cosmology which provide a framework for questions like, countable or uncountable, what's the ontological meaning of the measure, how do you avoid a preferred frame, and so on. But the framework is subtly or even radically different for each serious MWI advocate, which is why it's just about impossible to set down a general-purpose critique of MWI.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 15 June 2012 12:38:59PM 2 points [-]

Then it dawned on it me that you were just explicating rather than advocating MWI - that is, explaining a few details of an idea that you know something about because of your profession, but not necessarily an idea that you would champion as The Answer.

Yes, this is what I was doing.

My personal view is that the many worlds interpretation is probably closer to being correct than other popular (e.g. collapse-based) interpretations. What I mean by this is that it wouldn't surprise me if the "correct" interpretation has not been fully realized by anyone yet, but once it is developed, we will be able to look back and say that many worlds was not as far off.

I lean toward the wave function having real physical significance rather than being just a mathematical tool; people said the same thing about quarks, once upon a time. (Many people still think quarks are just a mathematical tool, despite the 17-year-old discovery of the top quark which is too heavy to hadronize before it decays.)

As Rolf mentioned in his thread, high energy experiment doesn't really deal directly with interpreting quantum mechanics and wave functions. While I'm probably better versed in QM than many physicists whose focus is on classical scales, I would not claim to have a conception of many worlds which is as clear as relativity.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 June 2012 09:17:40AM *  0 points [-]

I never said it violated any laws of physics, but within a computer simulation you could easily have a simulated God with the power to change the simulation or people walking on water etc. That's exactly why I said "in simulation". Obviously even if MWI is true that does not makes universes with different laws real.

In a simulation you could also make it so that after a person "die" he ends up in a "heaven" or "hell". This is 100% inevitable in Many Worlds

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 15 June 2012 09:41:26AM 0 points [-]

I never said it violated any laws of physics, but within a computer simulation you could easily have a simulated God with the power to change the simulation or people walking on water etc.

You supported your claim with the statement "every nonzero thing has to happen," which, on its face, ignores the constraint of the laws of physics. You haven't shown that your claim is compatible with the laws of physics as we understand them, and for a claim of "100% inevitability" that burden of proof is on you. The physical possibility of that level of simulation is far from a settled question.

And again, even if this claim is true, it doesn't imply or equate to the actual truth of any religion.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 June 2012 09:52:00AM -1 points [-]

The statement that "every non-zero thing has to happen" in this context obviously refers to the wavefunction of QM. I am not arguing FOR the simulation hypothesis, but I thought it was generally accepted that simulation is possible... And IF it is, then due to the non-zero of MWI (if MWI IS TRUE) automatically means that these absurd simulations HAS to exist.

I never said that this would equate to actual truth of any religion. I am as atheistic as one can possibly be. Obviously these would not be actual Gods in the sense that they are supernatural, but they would be so pragmatically WITHIN this simulation.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 15 June 2012 10:16:07AM 1 point [-]

The statement that "every non-zero thing has to happen" in this context obviously refers to the wavefunction of QM.

Clearly, that was not obvious to me. There is a common misunderstanding that many worlds implies that "everything is possible," and that statement seemed to match this pattern.

I thought it was generally accepted that simulation is possible...

It is accepted by many, but it has not been demonstrated to the level where solely postulating many worlds qualifies as an acceptable argument for your point.

I never said that this would equate to actual truth of any religion.

I am not sure how else I could have been expected to interpret "then all religions has to be true (in a simulation)."

Comment author: [deleted] 15 June 2012 10:20:37AM 0 points [-]

Well, I am sorry for being so sloppy with my answer. But it seems we have cleared it up.

Now I would love to see you answer Mitchell_Porters question

Comment author: Thomas 15 June 2012 05:18:54AM 1 point [-]

The simulation implies the Bible God as strongly as it implies the Little Red Riding Hood. How probable is that the naughty wolf is our simulator?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 15 June 2012 07:57:42AM 4 points [-]

Apply this reasoning to a contemporary computer game of quest or combat. In a medieval setting, you might have good guys, bad guys, and extra background characters. Our discussion is like being a character in such a game, trying to guess what it's all about; and your proposition amounts to saying that the intentions and interventions of The Players are just as likely to be centered on the second cow from the right in scene 4, as they are to be centered on one of the obviously major factions of opinion whose struggles define our history and tear our world apart.

So no, it ought to be a few orders of magnitude more likely that one (or even all) of those big civilizational blocs on our planet is puppeted by hidden intelligences, than it is likely that a character from a minor French fable is the unique signature-within-the-sim of our creator-artist.

I think we can at least agree that our world, and manifest human nature, have the capacity to produce the world's religions, and the histories they have engendered, without any external intervention. So judged according to the absence of obviously beyond-the-world or beyond-the-sim information, in texts like the Bible, the Quran, etc, one should indeed demote the probability that these religions are cosmologically, ontologically, or nonmetaphorically true. But how much demotion of probability, that's the question.

Comment author: Thomas 15 June 2012 08:21:27AM 1 point [-]

Are you telling me, that the LRRH is 1000 times less likely the Creator's word to us, than let say the Bible?

I don't see a good justification for this. But even if it is, 10^-50 or 10^-53 is all very small. It is deep down somewhere, near the zero.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 June 2012 05:33:44AM 0 points [-]

The big bad wolf, as described in the story, doesn't have the ability to create a stimulation (or do any programing whatsoever), whereas God, as described in the bible, does.

Comment author: Thomas 15 June 2012 05:45:46AM 2 points [-]

Oh no. The story deliberately hides the Wolf's powers. THAT is not very unlikely compared to the rest, is it?

Comment author: [deleted] 15 June 2012 04:50:26AM -2 points [-]

Coincidentially I was pondering this very question a few weeks ago. If many worlds interpretation is true, then all religions has to be true (in a simulation)

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 16 June 2012 07:11:40AM 1 point [-]

Most religions make metaphysical claims which contradict mwi.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 15 June 2012 06:15:02PM *  1 point [-]

Jaynes discusses Hempel's Paradox on pages 143 to 144 of Probability Theory: the Logic of Science. I take away a broad lesson: one must always know what alternative hypotheses are available. Failing to be clear about your alternative hypotheses is my first candidate for what you are doing wrong.

My second candidate comes from rule IIIb for plausible reasoning (page 9).

... always take into account all the evidence relevant to the question ...

One conspicuous feature of the world is the presence of rival faiths, each well attested by miracles about which the faithful will admit no doubts. This occurs both between religions (Muslim, Christian, Jew) and within religions (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant).

It is tempting at this point to rush ahead down a well-worn path to atheism. "Since the rivals are mutually exclusive and the situation symmetrical they must all be wrong." I've put the argument in quotes because I'm suggesting that we hold off and pause for reflection. Since we can see what is coming, we face a choice. We can either leave out the existence of rival religions because, for many people, it settles the issue, and we feel that including them therefore prejudges the issue. Or we can include the existence of rival religions and wonder whether the situation really is symmetrical.

Rule IIIb requires us to ask whether the existence of rival religions (with well attested miracles ...) is relevant. We know that it is highly relevant. We even feel an itch to leave it out to avoid it over powering other considerations.

Rule IIIb then instructs us to take them into account. Ouch! The probability calculation has already gone badly wrong, just because it left out the rival religions and before we ever get to thinking about what the existence of rival religions implies for the issue we are considering.

Comment author: ChristianKl 16 June 2012 03:57:17PM 1 point [-]

Today I would give myself a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. If I were to consider the arguments of 20 other groups similar to Christian theologians

There actually are more than 20 religious groups out there. Do you think you are wrong about one of them being the true religion?

There are a lot of different gods. If you have 5% for any single God existing, I don't think you are an atheist.

For me P(A god punishes people for not believing in the Bible with eternal hell | A god exists) is less than 5%.

The ridiculousness of an eternal loving god who punishes nonbelievers with eternal torments for not following his edicts is just too great. It's ridiculous even when I would assume for the sake of the argument that a god exists.

Comment author: deepthoughtlife 25 June 2012 07:49:40AM *  1 point [-]

Note: It mangled my footnote symbols. Simply go in order of appearance if you wish to find them.

As a strong agnostic, I must say I find the numbers given here amusing. Simply put, there is very little evidence either way, and it is highly likely that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have decent evidence either way about an omnipotent god. I believe that there is an infinitesimal possibility that there is any significant way to tell which way you should lean.* Therefore, I find these probabilities meaningless (but not uninteresting).

Now, probabilities on whether or not Zeus exists are much more doable. Within reason, the less powerful the god, the easier it should be to get evidence. At the extreme low end, a sufficiently advanced alien could truly be Prometheus.* We could prove he exists just by finding him.** Though that level of technology advantage would mean we might need to doubt the evidence anyway.

There are certain theologies that rule themselves out, but this is hardly a convincing argument against the remainder of them. It is true you should not unduly elevate religious beliefs out of the possibility that a particular one is true, but there is actual evidence in favor of them, such that people are not necessarily crazy to come to the exact opposite conclusion than the readers of this blog favor. The weighting of scant evidence can drastically skew the results, and the weighting is probably not rational on either side.* Additionally, it is clear that Christianity as a whole is not logically contradictory, because they have direct postulates that contradict the postulates used to show they are logically contradictory, which means you cannot add those postulates in if you want a deductive proof.*

*Honestly, I believe that the idea of having any sufficient evidence of whether or not an omnipotent being exists is a logical contradiction. There is no state of the universe which an omnipotent being would be unable to implement, and thus no state of the universe is evidence that an omnipotent being does not exist. (Technically, evidence for an omnipotent being could be gathered due to an extremely unlikely configuration of things, but similar evidence could be created by any sufficiently advanced being).

**That means he gave humans the advancement that was control over fire, and got punished over it by other sufficiently advanced beings. The punishment described in the legends could simply occur in VR, or in some grizzly fashion.

*Evidence against him would be much harder, but perhaps sufficiently advanced aliens have been recording all of humanity the entire time, and have proof we discovered fire independently.

**This may be a slightly self serving way of seeing things, but you can always include me in that statement if you think agnostics incorrectly weight the evidence.

*Their postulate: P Your Postulate: ~P The contradiction therefore only means one of the postulates is wrong, not that the conclusion is wrong. One such postulate would be that an omnibenevolent being would not allow such suffering if they could help it, but theirs is that they would. There is no proof either way; suffering might sometimes be beneficial. We cannot even eliminate certain forms of suffering as possibly being beneficial overall. This is usually where the free will arguments start being brought up, but chaos theory can explain it as well.

Comment author: timtyler 16 June 2012 10:19:10AM 1 point [-]

What chance do you place on some variant of Christianity turning up to be true, and what chance do you think a god of some sort exists?"

Both a bit vague - but maybe 0.1% and 5%, respectively.

Comment author: TheAtheistMissionary 15 June 2012 12:15:28PM *  1 point [-]

r_claypool retooled the question as: "the chance that Jesus of Nazareth is a resurrected God". Like most on this thread, I can't come up with a number aside from "exceedingly improbable".

Kudos to TheOtherDave for an excellent comment.

IMHO, Kierkegaard nailed it when he observed that faith in Christianity is imcompatible with reason. While the latest flavour du jour for Christian apologists in support of the truth of the resurrection is the minimalist three facts approach (i.e. death of the cross, empty tomb and reports of post-resurrection appreances), most will back peddle when asked whether they accept all of the other miraculous reports contained in the New Testament.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 June 2014 07:14:59AM 0 points [-]

‘Leap of faith – yes, but only after reflection’ -Kierkegaard

Comment author: Douglas_Reay 29 June 2012 08:17:26PM 0 points [-]

I'll try to assign probabilities to 5 propositions:

(A) I'm deluded, insane and unaware of this

0.03% of the population (that's 3 people in every 10,000) have Delusional Disorder. If I did have that (or various other disorders) I would be as certain as I am now that I was sane, so that puts an upper limit on how confident anyone can rationally be about their own sanity.

(B) I'm sane, but some form of supernatural exists (whether that's ghosts, an afterlife, supernatural karma, magic spells, or a sentient Gaia)

Given how hard science has looked for such things, for decades, this is the Black Swan problem. Were evidence of souls to become detectable to science, it would be an immense paradigm shift, easily comparable to the overthrow of the Geocentric worldview, a 1 in 1,000 year occurrence in science. None the less, it has to be possible to put a number on the chances of science itself being systematically wrong on a conceptual level. Let's say we can, at most, reduce the chance of this down to 1 in 1,000,000 because we don't have a long enough baseline to estimate the ways in which such things can be incorrect.

(C) Some form of deistic religion, whether that's Pastafarianism, Christianity or Hinduism, is correct in that an intelligent individual supernatural creator of the universe does exist (and some humans have attained at least partial knowledge of this Truth)

Rather than estimate this directly, I'd like to say that the chances of it being correct IF (B) is correct, are about 50:50, since it is one of the most common supernatural beliefs.

(D) Some form of deistic Christianity is essentially correct (an intelligent individual supernatural creator of the universe exists and picked a Jewish carpenter on just one planet in just one galaxy as his supreme messenger of Love and Truth)

Either astronomy is wrong, the Drake Equation (predicting other sentient species) is wrong, OR we're talking a 1 in 10^22 coincidence that I happens to be a member of the chosen species (and chronologically rather near to the key event: Jesus' presence on Earth). We've already factors in the changes of science being drastically wrong in (B). The sentient species on other planets is harder because of the Fermi Paradox but, even given that, based purely upon how near we are to the event compared to how long the genus Homo has been around (remember, even Neanderthals laid flowers on graves), you have to add in at least a 1 in 100,000 improbability factor for going from step (C) to step (D).

(E) The specific type of Christianity believed by a majority of Catholics (eg there is a Hell, and you will burn it in for an eternity if not 'saved', Adam&Eve, Noah, etc are real events not allegories) is essentially correct in most details

Talking animals? Unicorns? Global flood genocide by a loving God? Kill men who sleep with men? Get real. Let's throw in a further 1 in 1,000,000,000 for this step, and that's generous.

(A) is by far the most significant factor. If I'm sane, then odds of (D) or (E) being correct are astronomically low. And while from my own perspective I can only narrow down the odds of my own insanity to 3 in 10,000 someone reading this post or meeting me in the street has the benefit of an external view on that. And it is important to note that, even if I am insane, that doesn't mean that (E) is necessarily correct, just that I can no longer rely upon the accuracy of my estimates as to how unlikely it is.

Comment author: private_messaging 18 June 2012 03:18:03PM *  -2 points [-]

I think pinning a probability number on this (outside of context of being forced to gamble or otherwise forced into making a decision dependent on probability of this) is simply innumerate. Suppose you attach a number to it. Then there's a situation where it is too high (Pascal's wager) and possible situations where it is too low (we discover that incredibly simple laws, simpler than laws of physics, lead to emergence of singleton intelligence that proceeds to simulate universes with life, and then you start rejecting Occam's razor because you were too atheist)

Comment author: Eneasz 18 June 2012 05:06:23PM 0 points [-]

The bible is not internally consistent, therefore it is impossible for it to accurately describe a coherent deity. The question is nonsensical on its face. You have to instead start picking and choosing which parts of the bible to believe and which parts to ignore (or trust someone else do to that for you), which is why we have tens of thousands of varieties of christianity.

So you must return to the fundamental question of rationality: what do I think I know, and how do I think I know it? Or more specifically - what is your criteria for deciding that part X of the bible is accurate, and part Y is not? Or alternatively, what is your criteria for deciding to trust Priest A over Theologian B?

Seeing as there is no good physical evidence to make these distinctions, it is appropriate to weigh them as strongly as you'd weigh any other bedtime story. The only remaining question is "How confident am I that my senses are entangled with reality as it actually is, and not the product of hallucination/dark lords of the matrix/other reality-shattering plot twist?" Which really has nothing to do with christianity.

To answer your question: I'd be willing to bet $10 vs my immediate termination that any particular sect of christianity (as defined by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity ) you presented to me is inaccurate. I'd fully anticipate having several hundred thousand dollars afterwards and still be breathing if this was repeated to exhaustion.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 16 June 2012 03:37:01AM 0 points [-]

Today I would give myself a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. If I were to consider the arguments of 20 other groups similar to Christian theologians, I would probably misunderstand them at least 1 time in 20. After talking with 20 groups that have a very different worldview, I might think they are all are mistaken, but once in a while, maybe 5% of the time, it would actually be me.

Wow, 5%!?! If I convert that into "There is a 5% probability that the God of the Bible exists and will send me to hell", I feel scared. But I know how to cheer myself up: I just say, "No way, the chance I'll end up in hell MUST be less than 5%. After all, the God of the Bible is CLEARLY just a big, mean alpha-monkey and... [rehearse all the atheistic arguments here]

5% chance that some Christian theologians have it right is not a 5% chance you go to Hell if you disagree. As with everything else, the Bible contradicts itself on this. (Rob Bell has a great collection of conflicting things the Bible says about this in his book "Love Wins."

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 June 2012 02:12:32AM *  -1 points [-]

Other people have pointed out the problems with singling out Christianity and ignoring a lot of disjoint possibilities. As to your question, someone on another site named a level of evidence that feels like it would make me consider deities as explanations. Representatives of a deity (or the deity itself) would need to publicly create specimens of a species believed extinct. They would need skeptical observers, well-versed in stage magic, to declare themselves baffled. And then they'd have to hand the specimens over to skeptical biologists for another kind of confirmation. This level of evidence feels like it would bring my belief in some deity's existence to more than 1%. (ETA: but see the dream thread.)

Now for "the chance that Jesus of Nazareth is a resurrected God", it would take all that plus additional evidence on the level of the following: Christians moving mountains through faith alone, plus a persuasive-sounding explanation of why I haven't observed this happening before. That seems like it would bring my credence above 1%. Though now that I've written this, .01 feels possibly too high to be internally consistent.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 14 June 2012 10:31:30PM *  -1 points [-]

"Probability of Christianity" is way too vague, so I can't answer that. I'm 50% confident in my philosophical (meta-ethical, decision theoretic, cosmological) theism, 92.5% confident in my phenomenal-belief-in-decisions-relevant-transhumanly-intelligent-entities. My confidence in atheism is some weird mixture of the inverse of those two because those two variants of theism strike me as pretty disjunctive, and either would falsify atheism. These are impression-belief mixtures: not entirely Aumann-adjusted, but a little. My impressions are more confident of theism, but my betting odds are less confident.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 14 June 2012 10:56:33PM 1 point [-]

Retracted the above because I don't really like Bayes for this sort of thing. If we had better decision theory and game theory then I would have the tools to answer.