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Xaway comments on How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3 - Less Wrong

53 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 September 2007 11:00PM

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Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 02:31:31AM *  0 points [-]

OK, I'm a Christian. Bit of history: -raised christian -As a teen became agnostic/deist, atheist at 17 -Converted to Christianity at 18

Based on rational thinking I drift towards deism/agnosticism. I'm skeptical of microbes-to-man evolution and abiogenesis. But if abiogenesis could be demonstrated, or if evolutionary processes could be demonstrated to be capable of producing the kind of complexity we see in biology (e.g. evolutionary algorithms run on supercomputer clusters producing real AI) then I'd probably drift towards atheism.

Anyway, at 18 I became a Christian because of direct revelation by God himself, and I was not high.

A similar or better revelation could convince me of a different religion, though Islam would require a much bigger revelation. (Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I consider the claim that Islam is true much less likely than the claim that Judaism, Christianity or Buddhism is true, which in turn I consider less likely than the claim that Deism is true.)

Edit: Thanks all for the lovely discussion, I think I've presented my theory of Life, the Universe and Everything in enough detail to get a fair understanding of it.

I hope you like the data point and a lotta luck synthesizing your own theory of L,U and E.

Comment author: simplicio 17 December 2010 02:43:27AM *  6 points [-]

Many other people have such experiences, high or no. Some Hindu, some Muslim, some Pagan, some even atheists. To be blunt, do you doubt their sincerity, or their sanity? Why are you epistemically privileged?

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 03:06:07AM 3 points [-]

To the extent that their experiences do not contradict mine, I see no reason to doubt. There is nothing in Christianity that prevents non-Christians from having religious experiences.

But when the experiences of others do contradict mine, such as the revelations Joseph Smith or Mohammed received, I have to doubt their sincerity or their sanity (I don't know which) for the same reason you doubt mine: Because I can't see in their mind and I wasn't in their body when it happened. And if I have to choose between my own experiences and another persons experiences, I choose my own.

But I should mention that of all the people I trust and who have told me their religious experiences (mostly hindu family members) to date none of them has proven a challenge to my Christianity.

Comment author: Jack 17 December 2010 03:20:39AM *  2 points [-]

And if I have to choose between my own experiences and another persons experiences, I choose my own.

Luckily, we need not be limited to those hypotheses. Neither you nor many of the others with similar experiences need be lying or insane. And the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omni-beneficent deity need not enter into it either. You just have to have brains.

Welcome, by the way.

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 03:36:50AM 0 points [-]

I've considered those kind of explanations, but the nature of the particular experiences which caused me to convert does not lend itself to that kind of explanation.

My policy is to never discuss the details with someone I do not personally know and trust, but I will say this much: the evidence was external and observed and confirmed by trusted others.

In fact if you are familiar with Zero Knowledge Proofs (I'm a crypto geek) the evidence was a type of ZKP that allows me to know with certainty (to the extent that I can trust my own rationality and senses) without enabling me to duplicate the proof.

Comment author: simplicio 17 December 2010 05:51:28AM *  3 points [-]

You're being a very good sport about this; and seconding Jack, welcome!

I have to doubt their sincerity or their sanity (I don't know which) for the same reason you doubt mine: Because I can't see in their mind and I wasn't in their body when it happened. And if I have to choose between my own experiences and another persons experiences, I choose my own.

It is important to understand that if no religious experiences were mutually exclusive with Christianity (nobody ever saw Ganesh or Mohammed), then they would count a lot more strongly as evidence for Christianity. But many are mutually exclusive, and doubting the sincerity of every Sufi mystic who saw God is a move that requires strong evidence.

As to another person's experiences vs your own: I sympathize, I really do. But you need to have some epistemic humility here, and realize that "you" are encoded in about half a kilo of mushy grey stuff that is often very untrustworthy. I for one do not doubt your sincerity (or the Sufis') but I do doubt that you correctly interpreted your experience.

Comment author: Costanza 17 December 2010 03:05:30AM 6 points [-]

Hello! As you're no doubt aware, the general tenor of Less Wrong tends toward non-belief in religion. However, in contrast to many religious believers, you have expressed a willingness to alter your views in the face of evidence. Watch out! Even your tentative suggestion that you might "drift towards atheism" might cause you to be regarded as a heretic or at least untrustworthy in some churches. But if you're willing to commit yourself to pursuing the truth wheresoever it may lead, then congratulations!

As has been mentioned already in this thread, Judaism and Christianity historically do not claim to be non-disprovable. Elijah bet his God against Baal and (in the Biblical narrative) won. Do you think this experiment can be replicated? Alternatively, is there something equivalent to a "similar or better revelation" that could convince you that no organized religion is correct at all?

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 03:26:42AM 1 point [-]

My parents don't consider me a real Christian, somehow I cope. ;-)

Not only do I believe the Elijah experiment can be replicated, I believe it is being replicated today along with many other miracles. Just hidden for most people, because in Christianity, God reveals the truth to those who he chooses (poor/humble/righteous people) and keeps other people (rich/wicked/prideful) blind. So God might raise someone from the dead but in a way that could not be publicly verified, lest the rich proud people who think they're so smart find out the truth.

I fail to see how a supernatural revelation could prove no (organized) religion is correct, short of God saying "no religion is correct", which would then cause me to create my own organized religion...

But Christianity could surely be disproved in many different ways. For one, aliens or real sentient AI would disprove Christianity AFA I'm concerned. I'm not yet 30, so maybe I'll discover it in my lifetime.

If Christianity were disproved, that would leave Buddhism and Deism as the only viable religions left IMH(current)O. And Deism is only necessary in so far as I find the evidence for abiogenesis and humans-created-by-evolution lacking.

So except miracles and creation, I could be an atheist.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 December 2010 03:32:30AM 3 points [-]

and keeps other people (rich/wicked/prideful) blind

Now I'm wondering which of those categories I fit in to. They all sound a tad appealing. :)

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 03:39:59AM *  0 points [-]

If you are familiar with Christianity, all humans fall into the wicked and prideful categories.

The fact that you are on the internet suggests you additionally fall into the rich one too.

Now whether God sovereignly chooses his people (calvinism), or humans can also choose e.g. by humbling themselves (arianism) is an open question.

Edit to add: Just because God hasn't revealed the truth to someone today, doesn't mean he won't do it tomorrow or even (though this is heresy) after death.

So I certainly don't consider all non-Christians to be hopeless, after all I was a non-Christian too, once. And I also don't consider all who call themselves Chrstian to be chosen.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 December 2010 03:51:10AM 1 point [-]

If you are familiar with Christianity,

I was sincere Christian right up until I realised the religion could be better explained by tribal signalling than magic.

all humans fall into the wicked and prideful categories.

You just finished saying:

God reveals the truth to those who he chooses (poor/humble/righteous people) and keeps other people (rich/wicked/prideful) blind.

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 04:04:34AM *  0 points [-]

A basic doctrine of Christianity is that poor, humble and righteous people are wicked and prideful too.

Only Jesus is perfect.

Some strains believe God choses for reasons we can't grasp and then those people become more humble and less prideful, etc.

Others believe that if you do your best to be humble and righteous eventually God will reveal himself (though no guarantee that it will happen before your last minute on earth).

I don't know which of the two it is, or perhaps it is something else entirely.

Comment author: ata 17 December 2010 03:40:19AM *  6 points [-]

Just hidden for most people, because in Christianity, God reveals the truth to those who he chooses (poor/humble/righteous people) and keeps other people (rich/wicked/prideful) blind. So God might raise someone from the dead but in a way that could not be publicly verified, lest the rich proud people who think they're so smart find out the truth.

You can see how non-Christians might find that to be a suspiciously convenient excuse, right?

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 03:49:01AM 0 points [-]

So because it makes sense it's suspiciously convenient?

Obviously if there was a God (e.g. the Christian one) and he wanted the whole world to be nominal Christians he would do another Elijah like demonstration of his power, recorded on camera.

This is obviously not the case. So either the Christian god does not exist (suspiciously convenient for the non-Christian?) or he does not actually want all those non-Christians to self-identify as Christians (suspiciously convenient for the Christian god?)

Comment author: ata 17 December 2010 04:01:56AM *  5 points [-]

So because it makes sense it's suspiciously convenient?

It's suspiciously convenient because your claim implies that that evidence of Christianity's truth is only available to people who already believe in it (or who are already much closer to believing it than their epistemic state actually warrants).

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 04:11:51AM 0 points [-]

Obviously, if the evidence of Christianity's truth was available to all then all would be Christians. Assuming the Christian god does not want all to be Christians the evidence should not be available to all.

Anyway, when I received my experience I certainly did not want to believe in it. And even now many years later, I would prefer to abandon Christianity and its morality but find myself unable because of my experiences.

I also know of a few other stories similar to mine, enough to convince myself I'm not delusional.

Comment author: nshepperd 17 December 2010 05:54:59AM 2 points [-]

I also know of a few other stories similar to mine, enough to convince myself I'm not delusional.

I assume you mean stories of religious experiences similar to your own. This should not be evidence that you are not delusional, since many people throughout history have claimed to have had such experiences, with reference to different, mutually exclusive religions. On average, therefore, most (if not all) people having such experiences must have been delusional. You should have a probability that you are mistaken at least as high as this proportion.

Comment author: simplicio 17 December 2010 06:18:15AM *  3 points [-]

Minor quibble, but "delusional" would seem overly inflammatory as it implies the delusionality is a persistent property of Xaway's person, rather than the one-off occurrence it more likely was.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 December 2010 02:53:44PM 4 points [-]

As some people have pointed out, it's not a binary choice between you being crazy or delusional, and Christianity being right. Human brains complete patterns, in predictable ways. I don't know what your experience was (since you're keeping that private) but there are probably multiple possible worlds that are consistent with your experience: not just "Xaway is nuts" or "Jesus is the Savior." Think about what might have actually happened and what it might actually mean, and resist pattern-matching for a while.

Just a word of info on this site: this is not a place where people generally debate religion. You sound like you have your doubts; I recommend you read the best atheist arguments (Bertrand Russell comes to mind), and read about the history of the Bible and early Church from a secular academic writer. Let it marinate for a while. Read widely and see what happens to your views. Sometimes debating on the internet isn't the best way to learn; it crystallizes whatever ideas you started off with and makes it hard to change your mind.

If you would "prefer to abandon Christianity" but your experiences won't let you, you should really take some time to think about whether your experiences have religious implications. There are naturalistic explanations for religious visions, and no, they don't all mean you're crazy. (Check out Oliver Sacks on Hildegard of Bingen, and Robert Sapolsky on St. Paul.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 17 December 2010 03:07:02PM 0 points [-]

There are naturalistic explanations for religious visions, and no, they don't all mean you're crazy. (Check out Oliver Sacks on Hildegard of Bingen, and Robert Sapolsky on St. Paul.)

I'd also recommend Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief by Gene D'Aquili and Vince Rauss.

Comment author: Costanza 17 December 2010 03:50:01AM 2 points [-]

There were some things I thought of saying, but I think I'll hold my tongue for now. In short, I think your assertions have some logical errors. This is not a put-down or a personal comment -- I'm certainly no more than an aspiring rationalist, at best, myself. I hope you stick around this forum. In the spirit of Tarski I would ask you to join me in saying:

If Christianity is true I desire to believe that Christianity is true. If Christianity is not true, I desire to believe that Christianity is not true.

I would say this, and do!

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 03:59:26AM 0 points [-]

If you spot a logical error, bring it on.

Obviously I don't want to believe untrue things.

But if there is two things I am sure about, it's (1) that humans are not rational, especially not me and (2) there are things that are true which can not be proven to be true (the real world analogue to Godels theorems).

I frequent this site, but I generally do not participate in internet discussions. I only registered this account and gave my two cents because Eliezer asked for a Christian who speaks Bayes to chime in.

I'm afraid that once I log off, I will probably forget the password to this account.

Comment author: Costanza 17 December 2010 04:23:49AM *  2 points [-]

Again, I hope you stick around. No need to burn yourself out as the lone voice of Christianity -- pacing yourself is fine.

Also, this truly is a rationalist site. If you can present well-thought out arguments, people here will listen to you. If you can make a rational argument demonstrating the truth of Christianity, then (according to some denominations) you could save some souls. (I understand the Calvinists would not necessarily agree.) But according to some traditions, good works (not just fide sola) have merit, and evangelizing is one of the greatest of all good works. Is it not?

My ulterior motive in making that argument is that I also think this forum could benefit from the perspective of a Christian who speaks Bayes.

Comment author: Jack 17 December 2010 04:34:58AM 2 points [-]

I also think this forum could benefit from the perspective of a Christian who speaks Bayes.

I think I'd rather have a better calibrated Frequentist.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 December 2010 05:10:24AM 1 point [-]

I'd rather have a rock. Or a Christian who doesn't speak Bayes. At least that implies less doublethink.

Comment author: Jack 17 December 2010 05:53:52AM *  1 point [-]

Christianity here is actually a memetic hazard. It's a set of beliefs that has so many things wrong with it all of us feel compelled to address all of the bad thinking and wrong evidence all at once. It immediately draws everyone away from whatever productive comments they were making and into an attempt to deconvert the interlocutor. The interlocutor then responds to these attempts with more nonsense in different places which draws still more people in to the battle. Better to just keep the Hydra's out than try and chop off all those heads.

No one here is actually at risk but we don't get anything to justify the strain on the immune system.

Comment author: simplicio 17 December 2010 06:07:29AM 1 point [-]

I can think of some counterexamples. We "got" SarahC, for instance (according to her own words), and that was an unadulterated boon.

Also, the claims of religion are varied enough that they provide a range of topics, many trivial but some interesting. E.g., if we were in a sim and somebody changed it from outside in violation of the sim's internal physical law, that would constitute a "miracle" at this level of reality. How would we recognize such an event from inside?

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 04:36:09AM 0 points [-]

Although I appreciate some of the articles on this site, I don't think I'll participate much in the discussion.

Although I speak Bayes and know more logic than a human should know, I do not consider myself a rationalist, because I doubt my own rationality. It wouldn't make sense for an inherently irrational person to spend his time trying to talk rationally when he could be dancing or programming.

Also, I firmly believe that Christianity can not be proven by argument, only by evidence (miracles). And only God himself, not the Christian, can provide the evidence, which he does on his own terms.

Comment author: topynate 17 December 2010 04:39:01AM 10 points [-]

I do not consider myself a rationalist, because I doubt my own rationality.

This site isn't called Always Right, you know.

Comment author: ata 17 December 2010 04:46:22AM *  4 points [-]

Also, this truly is a rationalist site. If you can present well-thought out arguments, people here will listen to you. If you can make a rational argument demonstrating the truth of Christianity

The truth status of Christianity is something that Less Wrong should be able to consider a settled question. We can debate about things like the Simulation Argument, etc. and other reductionist non-supernaturalist claims that look sorta like deism if you squint, but Jehovah did not create the universe, and Jesus is not Lord, and I don't think there's any point in humouring someone who disagrees, or encouraging them to come up with smarter-sounding rationalizations. Let's not push Less Wrong in the direction of becoming the sort of place where these old debates are rehashed; there are more interesting things to think and talk about. Although it seems that Xaway in particular may not have come here with the intention of actually convincing anyone to believe in Christianity, I would propose in the general case that anyone who does want to should be referred to some place like /r/atheism instead.

Comment author: Costanza 17 December 2010 04:58:24AM *  5 points [-]

Well, I certainly don't think Jehovah created the universe. On the other hand, this thread is devoted to the consideration of the proposition that 2 + 2 = 3 -- arguably a settled question -- with the understanding that "a belief is only really worthwhile if you could, in principle, be persuaded to believe otherwise." I don't know if Xaway is going to be participating any more (hi, Xaway, if you're reading this!), but I was hoping that this might be a good exercise in practicing rational discussion. In part, I thought we could win him over to the dark side (joking about it being the dark side.)

Comment author: wedrifid 17 December 2010 05:17:19AM 7 points [-]

Also, this truly is a rationalist site. If you can present well-thought out arguments, people here will listen to you.

That is not 'truly rationalist'. Well thought out arguments for a preselected bottom line are bullshit.

Comment author: byrnema 17 December 2010 05:04:40AM *  0 points [-]

I'm afraid that once I log off, I will probably forget the password to this account.

Perhaps you could go to 'Preferences' on the right and change your password to something easier to remember.

Anyway, at 18 I became a Christian because of direct revelation by God himself, and I was not high.

Regarding your revelation and direct experience with God, I am very curious as to whether the revelation specified in any way which religion God would prefer you to participate in. (You wrote above that you think the Judeo-Christian religions seem more likely, only, so this leads me to believe the revelation wasn't that specific.)

(Echoing Costanza's questions) How much error do you allow for knowing about God, but following the wrong religion? Even if Christianity seems most likely to you, what probability do you assign to any current organized religion being correct? I suppose the reason why I'm asking is that something like Christianity seems unnecessarily specific if you are potentially deist or atheist. Probabilistically, God could exist in a lot of different ways, and provide true revelations, long before all the specific things are true about Christianity.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 December 2010 05:19:03AM 0 points [-]

If you spot a logical error, bring it on.

Did. Didn't work. Wrote you off. :)

Comment author: shokwave 17 December 2010 03:21:28PM 0 points [-]

(2) there are things that are true which can not be proven to be true (the real world analogue to Godels theorems).

Arguably this is the case for everything (until we solve the problem of induction). In the meantime, I don't know of anything you can't assign a probability to or collect evidence about.

As for whether this is an analogue to Godel's theorem (or, in times gone by, Russel's paradoxical catalogues - or in times yet to come, the halting problem) - no. Mathematical systems are useful ways to carve reality at its joints. So are categories, and so is computation. They can't answer questions about themselves. But reality quite clearly can answer questions about itself.

Comment author: Perplexed 17 December 2010 03:46:20PM 0 points [-]

there are things that are true which can not be proven to be true (the real world analogue to Godels theorems).

Arguably this is the case for everything (until we solve the problem of induction). In the meantime, I don't know of anything you can't assign a probability to or collect evidence about.

How about the question of whether there is anything you can't assign a probability to or collect evidence about?

Comment author: shokwave 18 December 2010 05:07:04AM 1 point [-]

You can assign a probability to that. I hadn't considered the question strongly enough to have a mathematical number for you, but I would estimate there is a 10% chance that there are things which I cannot assign a probability to or collect evidence about. (Note that I assign a much lower probability to the claim "you can't assign a probability to or collect evidence about x"; empirically those statements have been made probably millions of times in history and as far as I know not a single one has been correct)

That said, "I don't know of anything you can't assign a probability to or collect evidence about" is true with a probability of 1 - 4x10^-8 (the chance I am hallucinating, or made a gross error given that I double-checked).

Comment author: Clippy 17 December 2010 04:10:12AM 0 points [-]

Christianity isn't true.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 December 2010 04:24:17AM 5 points [-]

You're just mad they refused to canonize Samuel B. Fay.

Comment author: Jack 17 December 2010 04:33:28AM *  1 point [-]

I'm skeptical of microbes-to-man evolution and abiogenesis. But if abiogenesis could be demonstrated, or if evolutionary processes could be demonstrated to be capable of producing the kind of complexity we see in biology (e.g. evolutionary algorithms run on supercomputer clusters producing real AI) then I'd probably drift towards atheism.

A God is a very complex entity. Positing one does not, therefore, help to explain biological complexity (unless you have an explanation for God). Even though we don't know how abiogenesis happened it is still orders of magnitude more likely than God existing given the relative complexities involved. That Christianity is true is also orders of magnitude more unlikely than you and your companions hallucinating your direct revelation-- the former being an extraordinarily complex hypothesis and hallucinations and general irrationality being quite common.

Comment author: Xaway 17 December 2010 05:15:38AM *  0 points [-]

Well that is just your biases...

Because a God is supernatural any probability assigned to it existing is as arbitrary as any other.

Obviously, if the P=1/3^^^^^3 then it would be absurd to see biogenesis or biological complexity as evidence for God. But if the P =0.01 then I, for one, see it as very strong evidence.

I see no reason to prefer theism vs. atheism and I consider an extraordinarily low P to be biased towards atheism, but if that rocks your boat, have fun.

That I am irriational and delusional is highly probable, in fact I am sure of it. But I have no choice but to trust my own faulty brain.

I would certainly not consider you rational if you were to convert to Christianity solely based on reading my story on the internetz.

Comment author: Jack 17 December 2010 05:37:01AM 1 point [-]

This is really wrong, obviously, but my hopes that the inferential distance was manageable have been dashed. You might start here. I'm done though.

Comment author: jimrandomh 17 December 2010 05:53:17AM 1 point [-]

Anyway, at 18 I became a Christian because of direct revelation by God himself, and I was not high.

What was that like? In particular, how could you tell that it was really a revelation and not any kind of temporary brain malfunction?