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paper-machine 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: [deleted] 28 July 2011 06:56:14PM *  3 points [-]

In each of these cases, the amount of retroactive evidence is far outweighed by the number of evidences against the religion's teachings.

Really? I can't think of any evidence contradicting the belief that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Yet the evidence in favor is much of the same kind of evidence presented here, namely, "How could the young Dalai Lama have known which of many objects were the personal possessions of the previous Dalai Lama, were he not the reincarnation thereof?" In the same vein, "How could Joseph Smith have known X?", asked rhetorically, doesn't provide evidence in itself.

In any case, this was never meant to be an argument about me converting to Mormonism. I wanted to know why you thought a non-Mormon shouldn't be skeptical of these evidences. I'll leave others to judge whether or not you've satisfied the condition of the precommitment in a parallel discussion thread.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 07:14:48PM *  1 point [-]

If you look at the votes for our posts, I think you'll find that they've already been judging. :3 Yes, I'm sorry if you felt I was jumping onto the "Hey, I've convinced you, now you should convert!" bandwagon; that was far from my intent. But I have offered my arguments about why a non-Mormon shouldn't be skeptical - rather, ought to be skeptical, but should be swayed anyway by the weight of evidence - but if it is not enough to convince you, then so be it. It is said that two Bayesians, working from the same set of priors, cannot agree to disagree... but I think we have different priors, which disturbs me to an extent. I will go meditate on this; I hope you will, too.

EDIT: As to the Dalai Lama example, whose word do we have that these objects did in fact belong to the previous Dalai Lama? If the honesty of the ceremony is well-documented, then I would be interested to learn more.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2011 07:22:15PM 5 points [-]

Beh, half of LW downvotes everything remotely theist on sight. It wasn't a judgment of the evidence.

I do worry that I have been insufficiently diligent in evaluating the many religions. Hopefully any extant gods will turn out to be understanding.

Comment author: Arandur 28 July 2011 07:28:42PM 0 points [-]

I reckoned that was the case, but I wanted to verify my unease. :3

And don't worry! If we Mormons turn out to be right, then the salvation/damnation schema isn't binary. ^_~ We believe that if you're a good person who didn't complete all the mystical rituals you need in order to be "saved", then you'll go to the next-lower degree of heaven, which is still a fair sight better than this place.

Also that you'll probably get ample evidence to peruse during the millennium, so you'll be able to make an informed decision. (My own understanding; may be disproven upon further perusal of Church doctrine, but I think I've got it pretty right.)

Comment author: shminux 28 July 2011 08:35:49PM 1 point [-]

" Rationality can't be used to argue for a fixed side, its only possible use is deciding which side to argue." People arguing for their own religion automatically fail this rather basic premise of rationality, so what's the point getting into a discussion with them on finer points of religious doctrine, given that they have no clue about rationality to begin with, regardless of what they say?

My question would instead be "Is it important to you for your religion to be right? If so, how does this mesh with rationality, if not, what are the odds that all the available evidence you evaluated pointed you in this convenient direction without any bias involved?".

Comment author: JGWeissman 28 July 2011 09:01:15PM 5 points [-]

If a religion were correct, what would you expect debates with followers of that religion to look like?

Comment author: shminux 28 July 2011 09:18:02PM 0 points [-]

First, it would be interesting to know how one can convince a neutral and mildly rational observer what it means for a given religion to be correct and explain how this correctness can be tested experimentally. I don't have Yudkowsky's imagination, so it's not something I can easily conceive.

Comment author: lessdazed 28 July 2011 10:21:17PM 3 points [-]

If I interpret JGW's comment correctly, the rhetorical question wouldn't suffer much were it phrased "If X were true, what would you expect debates with people who believed X was true to look like?"

The answer is that as humans speaking colloquially, they would first say "X is true" and then rattle off reasons, in the same format apologists use. This pattern of speaking does not strongly imply that the pattern of speaking was the pattern of thinking, it's just how people speak.

Some people do think in this pattern, including many theists, so one can lose sight of the fact that the mode of speaking and mode of thinking are not perfectly correlated.

explain how this correctness can be tested experimentally

As hard as they try, I don't think religions can avoid making testable claims. The untestable claim X is implicitly paired with the testable claim that one should believe X.

Even probabilistic beliefs are held because belief systems lead people to expect things. when confronted with inputs.

If a Unitarian Universalist says "(One ought to believe that) there is a 99.9% chance Jesus existed," and the scientific consensus is "(One ought to believe that) there is a 99.5% chance Jesus existed," and we fire up the ol' AIXI and it outputs the latter, the UU is wrong even if Jesus existed as one historical character.

The UU might as well claim that the Noah's ark tale literally happened, if he isn't his belief system is in one way worse than the fundamentalist's, as his contains the proposition "To hell with reality when it contradicts my religion, if I can defy it without doing so in a flagrant enough way that people notice, including myself", whereas the latter's contains the proposition "To hell with reality when it contradicts my religion." Much simpler.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 July 2011 10:20:57PM 3 points [-]

Depends on what you mean by "correct".

For example, if $religion's teachings correctly constrain expectations in verifiable ways, I expect such debates to look something like this: Skeptic: "Why do you follow the teachings of $religion?" Believer: "Because its teachings correctly constrain expectations. Here, I'll show you: here's a real-world situation. What do you expect to happen next?" Skeptic: "I expect $A." Believer: "Well, applying $religion's teachings I conclude that $B is more likely." Skeptic: "Excellent! Let's see what happens." (lather, rinse, repeat) Eventually one of them says to the other: "Huh. Yeah, it seems you were right!"

Comment author: shminux 29 July 2011 03:35:26AM *  1 point [-]

"$religion's teachings correctly constrain expectations in verifiable ways" -- that's where it fails every time. That the universe was created 6000 years ago "should not be taken literally" now, though it was back when it was not testable. There is some nice stuff about it in HPMoR, Ch 22, Belief in Belief. There is no rational argument you can make that would change someone's belief if they are determined to keep it. Our Mormon friend here is a typical example. An honestly religious person would say that "this is what I choose to believe, leave logic out of it."

Comment author: TheOtherDave 29 July 2011 10:12:34PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure if you think I disagree with you, or if you're just echoing me for emphasis.

Just to be clear, I was answering JGWeissman's question: if a religion were correct, for at least that understanding of "correct" (which I endorse), that's what I would expect debates with its followers to look like.

I've never encountered a religious tradition for which debates with its followers actually looked like that, which I take as evidence that no religious tradition I'm familiar with correctly constrains expectations in verifiable ways.

Comment author: shminux 29 July 2011 10:26:59PM 0 points [-]

My point was that the reason you never encountered it is because it would imply rationality, which is incompatible with faith. Not to say that a religious person cannot be rational about other things, just not about their own beliefs. Thus "if a religion were correct" is not a meaningful statement.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 29 July 2011 10:45:34PM 1 point [-]

Ah. Thanks for clarifying.

I think your proposed explanation for the observed event is underdetermined by the evidence we're discussing, but it could certainly be true.

Nevertheless, I'm still inclined to attend more to how well a practice is observed to constrain anticipated experience than to how rational its practitioners can be inferred to be on general principles... though I'll grant you that inferrable level of rationality correlates pretty well to how much energy I'll devote to making the observations in the first place.