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Thwarting a Catholic conversion?

10 Post author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 04:26PM

I recently learned that a friend of mine, and a long-time atheist (and atheist blogger), is planning to convert to Catholicism. It seems the impetus for her conversion was increasing frustration that she had no good naturalistic account for objective morality in the form of virtue ethics; that upon reflection, she decided she felt like morality "loved" her; that this feeling implied God; and that she had sufficient "if God, then Catholicism" priors to point toward Catholicism, even though she's bisexual (!) and purports to still feel uncertain about the Church's views on sexuality. (Side note: all of this information is material she's blogged about herself, so it's not as if I'm sharing personal details she would prefer to be kept private.)

First, I want to state the rationality lesson I learned from this episode: atheists who spend a great deal of their time analyzing and even critiquing the views of a particular religion are at-risk atheists. Eliezer's spoken about this sort of issue before ("Someone who spends all day thinking about whether the Trinity does or does not exist, rather than Allah or Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is more than halfway to Christianity."), but I guess it took a personal experience to really drive the point home. When I first read my friend's post, I had a major "I notice that I am confused" moment, because it just seemed so implausible that someone who understood actual atheist arguments (as opposed to dead little sister Hollywood Atheism) could convert to religion, and Catholicism of all things. I seriously considered (and investigated) the possibility that her post was some kind of prank or experiment or otherwise not sincere, or that her account had been hijacked by a very good impersonator (both of these seem quite unlikely at this point).

But then I remembered how I had been frustrated in the past by her tolerance for what seemed like rank religious bigotry and how often I thought she was taking seriously theological positions that seemed about as likely as the 9/11 attacks being genuinely inspired and ordained by Allah. I remembered how I thought she had a confused conception of meta-ethics and that she often seemed skeptical of reductionism, which in retrospect should have been a major red flag for purported atheists. So yeah, spending all your time arguing about Catholic doctrine really is a warning sign, no matter how strongly you seem to champion the "atheist" side of the debate. Seriously.

But second, and more immediately, I wonder if anybody has advice on how to handle this, or if they've had similar experiences with their friends. I do care about this person, and I was devastated to hear this news, so if there's something I can do to help her, I want to. Of course, I would prefer most that she stop worrying about religion entirely and just grok the math that makes religious hypotheses so unlikely as to not be worth your time. But in the short term I'd settle for her not becoming a Catholic, and not immersing herself further in Dark Side Epistemology or surrounding herself with people trying to convince her that she needs to "repent" of her sexuality.

I think I have a pretty good understanding of the theoretical concepts at stake here, but I'm not sure where to start or what style of argument is likely to have the best effect at this point. My tentative plan is to express my concern, try to get more information about what she's thinking, and get a dialogue going (I expect she'll be open to this), but I wanted to see if you all had more specific suggestions, especially if you've been through similar experiences yourself. Thanks!

Comments (201)

Comment author: Jack 18 June 2012 05:23:05PM *  8 points [-]

Do people here, in general, think it is productive and worthwhile to spend time and energy on deconverting friends and family (provided the religious beliefs in question are mainstream and not threatening to their physical or financial health)?

That's a genuine question (not rhetoric) in case it wasn't clear.

Comment author: Crux 18 June 2012 06:12:39PM *  4 points [-]

I don't think so. Usually their beliefs are rather benign, and don't come up in conversation very often, because of their irrelevance to reality. And when they actually do have a bearing on their action or their models of reality, it's almost always far better to talk about the issue directly, and discuss their religious beliefs only within that context, so as to keep the discussion grounded, and avoid floating into ridiculous abstractions and word-based meandering.

If anyone ever brings up religion to me outside of a context like that, I just engage in the simplest, most charitable-sounding word-reductionism possible, by asking them what exactly they mean by some word, and whether we're talking about a physical object, or a bodily sensation, or what, or what the utility of their beliefs are, or whatever. It takes a decent amount of practice to do well, but when done correctly it diffuses the situation really quickly and doesn't destroy relationships.

It must also be emphasized that not all professed beliefs are actual "beliefs" in the literal, epistemic meaning of that word. They're not always models of reality that are supposed to predict certain things or whatever. Often they're just techniques for signaling group affiliation, or for avoiding destructive negative emotions (due to some oddity in human brain design), or whatever. Even the word reductionism I explained above may be nothing more than annoying pedantry, and literally off topic, if you're dealing not with an epistemic belief, but with something else (which is perhaps usually the case). To be clear, I use that technique not because I think it's on topic, but because I've found it to be a good firewall technique to avoid epistemic hazards to my own belief structure.

Comment author: Vaniver 18 June 2012 06:03:35PM 7 points [-]

Do people here, in general, think it is productive and worthwhile to spend time and energy on deconverting friends and family (provided the religious beliefs in question are mainstream and not threatening to their physical or financial health)?

Setting out to change other people is almost always going to end poorly. Helping people who have set out to change themselves has a chance of ending well.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 June 2012 09:24:54PM 0 points [-]

I know a lot of theists, but generally stick to expecting joined-up thinking of them, particularly when the topic strays to religion. (Though they will see me broadcasting a lot of atheist advocacy.)

Comment author: wedrifid 18 June 2012 05:15:16PM 16 points [-]

I wonder if anybody has advice on how to handle this

I personally would refrain from publicly criticising her thinking, life choices and core identity on the internet. For example:

But then I remembered how I had been frustrated in the past by her tolerance for what seemed like rank religious bigotry and how often I thought she was taking seriously theological positions that seemed about as likely as the 9/11 attacks being genuinely inspired and ordained by Allah. I remembered how I thought she had a confused conception of meta-ethics and that she often seemed skeptical of reductionism, which in retrospect should have been a major red flag for purported atheists. So yeah, spending all your time arguing about Catholic doctrine really is a warning sign, no matter how strongly you seem to champion the "atheist" side of the debate. Seriously.

... this is insightful and valuable as a warning to others and for your own future reference. But it is more something to do once the victim has already been written off and attempts at influence abandoned.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 05:32:25PM 3 points [-]

This is a fair point, and I'm presently debating whether to go back and remove or at least soften this language. For most people, I think you would be right. But I think the situation may be different here because my friend has a long-running atheist blog where she deals with exactly these sorts of criticisms all the time (indeed, I myself have often posted to the effect of "I really think you're taking this too seriously, being too tolerant, etc."). She was also part of the same college debating society that I was in, and I know that she enjoys intellectual sparring even on subjects this personal -- indeed, she's welcoming it right now on the very post I linked to above.

So I think it's unlikely she'd be seriously offended by any of what I'm saying now. Your general point is still a good one, though, so I appreciate the advice. The Internet is a smaller place than we think.

Comment author: palladias 19 June 2012 04:27:13AM 8 points [-]

Too late, Jay! I found the thread :)

But you guessed right, I don't mind the comments above at all, but they'd be more conducive to a productive fight if things like "taking seriously theological positions that seemed about as likely as the 9/11 attacks being genuinely inspired and ordained by Allah" were hyperlinks.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 19 June 2012 04:49:41AM 2 points [-]

Ah, well that certainly saves me from having to decide what to do here. I initially wanted to avoid linking to your blog too much in my original post, just because I didn't want to send people off discussing particular religious issues that weren't really relevant to what I was talking about. But the specific episode I had in mind when I wrote this was the debate you hosted with Matt -- in particular, his assertions that we need to put homosexuals back in the closet to protect same-sex friendships. Likewise, perhaps, with the literal-but-not-physical understanding of transubstantiation.

Relatedly, my apologies for not realizing you were at least a quasi-regular member here. I knew you were familiar with a lot of the core Sequences material, but I didn't know you read or posted on day-to-day stuff with any regularity. I stand by the substance of what I said, of course, but I probably would have structured it differently if I'd expected you to be interacting in this forum. I certainly didn't intend to create anything like a "she's turning, get her!" dynamic.

Comment author: palladias 19 June 2012 05:04:19AM 7 points [-]

I read the curated blog, not the discussion forum so much. You got rumbled by google analytics, which showed me a lot of traffic coming from here. I'm actually going to the July rationality minicamp, so if any people in this thread are going to, they can distill the best of this thread for what I assume are forthcoming fights.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 19 June 2012 03:09:47PM 6 points [-]

I'm actually going to the July rationality minicamp,

Please, please, please blog this. I would love reading it.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 June 2012 12:46:35PM 4 points [-]

I would like to ask this:

Do you expect any experience (before death, of course) that you would not predict using an atheist point of view?

Comment author: ciphergoth 19 June 2012 11:44:32AM 4 points [-]

No fights, just opportunities for us to use each other's brains to update for greater accuracy!

Comment author: Will_Newsome 07 July 2012 03:56:36AM 2 points [-]

Perhaps we should fight over whether one should actually convert? Of all actual institutions and traditions I lean most towards Catholicism but have not converted due to e.g. moral uncertainty about what counts as consent to delusion and what counts as unjustified endorsement of suboptimality. Catholicism has more and subtler truths in it than you can find anywhere else, but...

"Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”

— Charles Spurgeon

Comment author: Dentin 18 June 2012 09:11:35PM 1 point [-]

My gut instinct is to find ways to get her to think about other religions instead. If she's basing her belief on an emotional feeling and needs an anchor, you might be able to point out that there are other religions which have more general anchors, instead of extremely specific ones. I could see the discussion going along the lines of "which is more likely, a major earthquake happening in california, or a major earthquake happening in california that strikes los angeles?", eg "which is more likely, the existence of a god, or the existence of a god that also happens to be made in the image of man?"

Regardless, the more general her anchors are, the easier it will be for her to give them up, or convert them into something more correct. I've seen people go from "some arbitrary god is out there" to "god is the universe" to "there is no god" pretty easily, but to shed the shackles of "I believe in our lord and saviour jesus christ who died for our sins" is much harder, if only because it's so much more specific and detailed.

Comment author: bramflakes 18 June 2012 04:48:08PM *  13 points [-]

Pick a bunch of passages about ethics from several sources - the Bible, the Koran, Buddhist writings, secular writings, etc.

Have her read them, but don't tell her which ones are which. Have her write down her thoughts and feelings about each one, whether she thinks they stand up to logical scrutiny. Then after, tell her the sources of them and ask her whether she might reconsider.

Of course, you'd have to select them carefully so that there are no obvious giveaways (e.g. mentioning God), and also you should be careful not to cherrypick sources that make secularism look good and religion look bad.

Comment author: magfrump 20 June 2012 01:35:30AM 0 points [-]

There must be a way to write a script to do this automatically, and there must be someone who has the skills and text files already at their disposal to do this.

Comment author: Nornagest 20 June 2012 01:57:04AM 1 point [-]

I think that'd be difficult, unless you manage to find a source that's already mined a lot of religious texts for ethical instruction and put them down in a common format; it's not like there are any obvious textual markers of ethics that you could plug into, say, a Gutenberg search.

I suppose you could grep for stuff along the lines of "good" or "moral" or "the superior man", but that'd miss a lot of stuff and include a lot of other stuff with obvious markers of religion in it.

Comment author: magfrump 20 June 2012 03:31:19AM 0 points [-]

I was just thinking you'd search random passages and remove ones with "god" or whatever in them.

I guess my conception of what goes on in holy texts is probably not quite on spot.

Comment author: novalis 18 June 2012 06:07:02PM 12 points [-]

Maybe just asking for explanations is the best bet?

"I don't understand the mechanism by which God could make something right or wrong."

"Even if I accept that God must exist, I don't understand where Jesus enters into things"

"If the Catholics have it right, why don't they do any better than the rest of us ethically?"

"The only evidence you have for God is a feeling that morality must have certain properties. What would constitute evidence for or against your views on morality? And if there is no evidence, why believe one way or the other?"

Comment author: Vaniver 18 June 2012 05:13:50PM 12 points [-]

I remembered how I thought she had a confused conception of meta-ethics and that she often seemed skeptical of reductionism, which in retrospect should have been a major red flag for purported atheists.

From my view, reductionism is the basic question. If someone is right on evolution but wrong on reductionism, that really doesn't buy them much- and I would wonder how deeply they grasp evolution.

As to how to navigate this: suppose that she has a psychological need to profess a belief in some sort of deity, such that she could not fully thrive without professing that belief. Would you want her to be an atheist then? How can you tell if she has that need or not?

Comment author: faul_sname 19 June 2012 04:38:23AM 1 point [-]

The main reason I've seen for people professing belief (and actually believing) is that there is a community of like-minded individuals that think the same way. This changes when you're talking about people with very little social cognition, but that's not the majority.

Comment author: Manfred 18 June 2012 11:52:34PM 1 point [-]

As to how to navigate this: suppose that she has a psychological need to profess a belief in some sort of deity, such that she could not fully thrive without professing that belief. Would you want her to be an atheist then? How can you tell if she has that need or not?

"How can you tell if she has that need?" is a little silly - you do what humans do all the time and make your best guess, mostly based on what humans are like on average. Being careful, of course, not to privilege the hypothesis just because it's in the rhetorical question.

Comment author: JQuinton 18 June 2012 08:49:52PM 15 points [-]

Maybe it's just me, but the premise of this post rubs me the wrong way. "Thwarting" a conversion? It seems kinda... I don't know. And I'm probably one of the most anti-theistic people that I know or have interacted with on the Internet. It's not like you're trying to prevent her from slipping into alcoholism. As long as she stays fundamentally the same person, I don't see what the big deal is. People should be respected for how they treat others, not what they believe.

That said, I've read a few "convert back to Christianity" stories and a lot of them have similar hidden/leading indicators. There's always some sort of family/significant other factor; it was usually a huge sticking point during their deconversion from religion. I don't really know a lot of this blogger's backstory, but are her family and/or significant other Catholics? That would explain the jump straight from atheism to Catholicism without some sort of intermediary stage (e.g. deism, generic Christianity, etc.) based on my own personal prior probability about how these things happen.

So if that's the case, "thwarting" again seems sort of insensitive. At least to me it would be insensitive language in this context.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 09:07:41PM *  2 points [-]

Okay, "thwarting" may have been a bit strong. I probably got a little carried away with the title and picked that word more for style than precision.

But as to the "I don't see what the big deal is" point (which a number of people have raised), I do have some concern, because I know how seriously my friend takes integrated belief systems. Some have suggested that this may be a "belief in belief" issue, but that's definitely not the case. She's very much committed to there being a truth of the matter here, and my guess is that if she really did commit to Catholicism, she would be more like a "full-strength Catholic," not a "pick and choose what feels nice and go on my way" Catholic. My model of her was obviously mistaken before today, but I find it hard to believe that someone could go from atheist advocate to committed, full-strength Catholic and yet stay fundamentally the same person.

As to the family/SO factor, I don't think that's in play. She previously had a Catholic boyfriend, but they ended up separating a while back (again, this is info she herself has blogged about). I'm not aware that he in particular was involved in this process, nor that family pressure played a significant role.

Comment author: Alejandro1 18 June 2012 10:03:49PM 8 points [-]

My model of her was obviously mistaken before today, but I find it hard to believe that someone could go from atheist advocate to committed, full-strength Catholic and yet stay fundamentally the same person.

On the contrary, I'd say that if your friend was always committed to philosophical truth in matters of religion, then her conversion to a fully committed Catholic is more "staying fundamentally the same person" than becoming a cultural, belief-in-belief style of Catholic would be. She has just reevaluated her assessment of some very abstract philosophical arguments about metaethics, metaphysics, reliability of testimony of miracles, etc, and followed her new assessment to what she saw as its logical conclusion. This need not imply any direct change in her basic personality, whereas changing from a committed truth-seeker to a "pick and choose what feels nice and go on my way" would imply more of one, I think.

Comment author: JQuinton 19 June 2012 03:25:33AM *  -2 points [-]

But as to the "I don't see what the big deal is" point (which a number of people have raised), I do have some concern, because I know how seriously my friend takes integrated belief systems. Some have suggested that this may be a "belief in belief" issue, but that's definitely not the case. She's very much committed to there being a truth of the matter here, and my guess is that if she really did commit to Catholicism, she would be more like a "full-strength Catholic," not a "pick and choose what feels nice and go on my way" Catholic.

This seems like a more substantial objection to her conversion. If she becomes a full-strength Catholic, do you see her arguing against abortion, homosexuality / same-sex marriage, responsible birth control, using condoms in Africa, etc. because she'll see those acts as being against her ethics, since now her ethics are going to be that of the Catholic church? Those are actually harmful beliefs (and actually cause people to die in the case of anti-abortion legislation and condom use in Africa), and should be thwarted as strongly as possible. But then again, you might be able to just argue against those points and not so much her Catholicism.

Comment author: Jack 18 June 2012 05:30:02PM *  24 points [-]

Catholicism of all things

Of the branches of Christianity, and perhaps of all religions, Catholicism has the most developed theology, the most rigorous set of justifications for belief, the longest intellectual tradition and tries the hardest to be convivial with reason. Other branches and other religions would be a lot more surprising (unless you're counting Quakers and Unitarians, for which religion has very little to do with "belief" as we understand it here.) Especially for a self-described virtue ethicist.

Comment author: novalis 19 June 2012 05:05:01AM 9 points [-]

I think you're forgetting about Orthodox Jews, who have the Catholics beat on pretty much all counts (age, complexity, and at least arguably "reason"). Of course, it's all mere rationalization -- the bottom line has already been written. And the Orthodox tend to reason within their framework rather than trying to justify their framework to outsiders, presumably because they're not seeking converts.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 June 2012 05:00:22AM 9 points [-]

Catholicism has probably spent a heck of a lot more money on complex proselytizing than Orthodox Judaism. Also Catholics were competing with the Protestants - rabbis have no real competition, since their only audience is Orthodox Jews. But mostly, my point is just that there's this huge, worldwide organized Church that has spent who knows how many equivalent billions of dollars on theology. It's amazing how little they've accomplished, really, given how much they've spent and how many geniuses it wasted (theology was the string theory of its day), but they still did end up with something. Probably an equivalent amount of raw genius, if not money, was wasted on Orthodox Judaic halacha, but in a much less competitive, outside-world-facing way.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 June 2012 07:55:08PM 3 points [-]

The remarkable thing about halacha is that an effective legal system grew out of it. When Jews in Europe didn't have access to the mainstream legal system, rabbinical courts worked well enough.

Comment author: shminux 26 June 2012 02:46:24PM 1 point [-]

The remarkable thing about halacha...

Even a broken clock...

Comment author: David_Gerard 29 June 2012 04:52:29PM 4 points [-]

theology was the string theory of its day

+1

Comment author: Furcas 20 June 2012 03:12:35AM 2 points [-]

Of the branches of Christianity, and perhaps of all religions, Catholicism has the most developed theology, the most rigorous set of justifications for belief, the longest intellectual tradition and tries the hardest to be convivial with reason.

I don't think inventing incredibly convoluted ways to rationalize a bottom line is trying to be "convivial with reason". In fact, it's the exact opposite.

Comment author: Jack 20 June 2012 06:44:37AM 6 points [-]

I didn't say it wasn't a religion.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 23 June 2012 07:40:48PM 1 point [-]

I don't think inventing incredibly convoluted ways to rationalize a bottom line is trying to be "convivial with reason". In fact, it's the exact opposite.

"Convivial with" doesn't mean "conforms to the prescriptions of". One way to be convivial with reason is to invent convoluted rationalizations so that reason hums along happily without realizing that it's being thwarted.

Comment author: OphilaDros 20 June 2012 10:19:56AM 0 points [-]

Is your background Catholic? Asking because although I haven't delved in depth into 'justifications for belief' of various religions recently (I stopped shopping around for a religion 16-17 years ago), I don't remember Catholic justifications as being particularly stronger than that of the others I was reading up about (Islam/Buddhism/Hinduism).

Comment author: insufferablejake 17 January 2013 06:40:06AM 1 point [-]

There is a base level scaffolding here called A. A is based on shaky assumptions and essentially a choice to 'believe' in something, and nothing else. People standing on A refuse to look below it, or question why/how it came about, but instead they build these fabulous castles and really intricate structures, the supports and beams for which they easily carve out of A -- since nobody is going to think about how A came to be, or what supports it, we can just have it give us more pillars and beams for the next floor of the castle. Let's build as many floors, as we want.

I do not see this as rigour, or worthy of any merit.

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 07:19:42PM 0 points [-]

unless you're counting Quakers and Unitarians, for which religion has very little to do with "belief" as we understand it here.

What you're talking about has more to do with the typical person's relationship to their religion than belief. (Or "belief")

Comment author: Emile 18 June 2012 09:30:45PM 11 points [-]

When I first read my friend's post, I had a major "I notice that I am confused" moment, because it just seemed so implausible that someone who understood actual atheist arguments (as opposed to dead little sister Hollywood Atheism) could convert to religion, and Catholicism of all things.

I'll rejoin Jack and GLaDOS to say that Catholicism isn't the worst of religions. If I was to convert to a religion it would probably be Catholicism, and I've sometimes semi-seriously played with the idea of checking out the local church - and yes, I understand actual atheist arguments, and no, none of my family is pushing me towards religion.

(A significant part of the attraction of Catholicism is being a contrarian for the sake of it, which is not a very good reason. But there's also a good deal of curiosity, and a feeling that they're pretty good at community. On the minus side, they are responsible for a good deal of anti-epistemology, and of course, God doesn't exist.)

Comment author: jkaufman 21 June 2012 10:52:10AM 5 points [-]

I've sometimes semi-seriously played with the idea of checking out the local church

Churches can be nice for the community, even if you're atheist. Julia and I regularly [1] attend the local Quaker meeting, and occasionally go to churches with organs and singing. Neither of us believe, but that doesn't mean we can't go enjoy it.

[1] Actually, not recently. Hmm. But regularly up to a few months ago.

Comment author: shminux 19 June 2012 03:44:07PM *  -3 points [-]

God doesn't exist.

So... were you presented with a convincing argument that this statement is unprovable, you would consider Catholicism (or a version suitably sanitized from "anti-epistemology") seriously?

Comment author: Emile 19 June 2012 10:05:03PM 2 points [-]

I already don't think that statement is provable - it's informal, something more specific would be "the supernatural divine interventions described in religious traditions did not happen", and even that may be described as "unprovable"; proof is for maths.

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 04:43:20PM *  21 points [-]

My formerly agnostic girlfriend of over 5 years just joined a local Catholic congregation.

The best thing you can do for your friend, is to be a friend. Listen to her and support her as a fellow human being. If you have an agenda for what you want her to be, she will most likely be able to sense this.

Just be her friend and accept her for who she is. If she finds that the Catholic community doesn't accept her wholeheartedly, be there for her. If she finds acceptance there, then accept that too.

Hating people for being wrong is a seductive and tricky thing and can lead to unproductive situations. Limited but generous forgiveness and acceptance are optimal strategies in an imperfect world with imperfect communications channels and fallible actors. (Refer to: Axelrod's Prisoner's Dilemma tournament, and a Tit-For-Two-Tats.)

There's always the possibility she will change her mind again. Ask yourself, would you want to be permanently shunned because you didn't come to the correct conclusion fast enough? What would you think of a community with members that acted in that fashion?

Comment author: coffeespoons 18 June 2012 05:13:10PM *  9 points [-]

It's difficult. I decided to end a friendship recently, due to the friend's wholehearted embrace of catholic doctrine. I just didn't want to be around someone with her views on homosexuality, abortion and contraception. Not sure if this was the right decision, but I no longer found her company enjoyable, and I thought I was unlikely to change her mind.

I find it much easier to be friends with more liberal christians. They are wrong, but in a way that I find easier to deal with.

ETA: could someone explain why this has been downvoted twice? I'm quite new to this site, and would like to know how to avoid this.

ETA2: No longer downvoted, so ignore previous question!

Comment author: Dentin 18 June 2012 09:29:41PM 7 points [-]

I'm getting to be quite old, and I have very little tolerance for people with strong political beliefs. For people I meet in passing, I generally ignore stupid beliefs and simply transition the conversation elsewhere - it's not worth the time and effort.

However, for anyone I'm going to spend more than passing time with, I usually ridicule and/or contradict what I consider unproductive beliefs if they are expressed strongly. This puts the target on notice that I don't approve and that they had best not talk about it in my presence; occasionally, it gets rid of the target completely, a fact for which I have been grateful many times.

My reasons for so blatantly violating social norms centers largely around the fact that no matter what action I take, I will have at best minimal impact on this person. If I support their view, it is reinforced. If I do nothing, they assume I don't have a problem with it, and it is likewise reinforced. If I directly contradict their view, it also reinforces it, as discussed repeatedly in the articles on this site.

Quite frankly, I have limited time remaining, and better things to do with that time than try to fix an occasional broken belief system in a low- or normal-functioning person. If you're not going to lead and you're not going to follow, then get out of the way.

Comment author: GLaDOS 18 June 2012 06:18:44PM *  8 points [-]

Picking your friends by their politics seems like a bad way to maximize personal well being, unless they insist on talking about it all the time. Indeed people who ostracise others because of ideology are often the ones who can't stop talking about it:

A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject. --Winston Churchill

Most people compartmentalize quite well and most humans are hypocrites. In the real world people with weird or "evil" ideologies can still make great friends and can be good people. And people with wonderful sounding belief systems can be horrible human begins. Don't underestimate the utility she may bring you and how much utility you can bring her by continuing the relationship.

Note that if she is into virtue ethics she may view severing your friendship over religion a breach of loyalty, not something she would do, which means you are sort of defecting. (;_;)

Comment author: coffeespoons 18 June 2012 06:22:16PM *  4 points [-]

As I say below, she did insist on talking about it too muuch :-).

It would be interesting to discuss the utility of choosing your friends based on politics, but I fear we'd be going too far off topic!

Comment author: GLaDOS 18 June 2012 06:26:19PM 2 points [-]

Ah ok, sorry.

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 05:28:06PM 3 points [-]

I just didn't want to be around someone with her views on homosexuality, abortion and contraception; Not sure if this was the right decision, but I didn't find her company enjoyable, and I thought I was unlikely to change her mind.

What was disagreeable about her company? Was she trying to convert you, or constantly telling you you are wrong? Would she be amenable to simply avoiding those topics, and would you be able to deal with that? Why do you need to change her mind?

Comment author: coffeespoons 18 June 2012 05:49:12PM *  0 points [-]

She did want to discuss moral issues quite a lot, and yes she did want to convert me back to catholicism. I couldn't see what could be gained by continuing the friendship.

And I wanted to change her mind, because it's better not to be a catholic!

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 07:03:31PM 0 points [-]

And I wanted to change her mind, because it's better not to be a catholic!

Just because you know it's better doesn't mean you have to harbor a burning desire to change her mind. If you want to change her mind for her benefit, ask yourself, is it better for her to continue to be her friend, or to stop? Of course, this can only work if she can take the same stance with you.

You are also free to choose to otherwise, of course. It's enough for me to have posed the interesting questions.

Comment author: Crux 18 June 2012 05:57:41PM *  0 points [-]

Why were you friends with her in the first place? I understand not wanting to be around someone with terrible mental hygiene habits (because of the epistemic danger), but that sort of thing becomes rather obvious long before they start telling you all about their new religious conversion.

Comment author: Crux 19 June 2012 01:43:29AM *  0 points [-]

This post has fluctuated a bit. I should clarify that I wasn't suggesting that he or she shouldn't have been friends with her in the first place. I was simply posing the question in order to elicit clarification. (I understand how it may have sounded like I was suggesting that though, which is why I'm writing this.)

Comment author: coffeespoons 19 June 2012 11:39:17AM *  -1 points [-]

I didn't care too much that she's never been much of a rationalist. If I decided that I only wanted to be friends with rationalists I would have to end friendships with a lot of people! I found that her views made her annoying to be around! Perhaps if she'd talked less about her views things would have been different.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 June 2012 09:26:55PM 2 points [-]

There's always the possibility she will change her mind again.

Is she someone likely to be prone to spiritual binge-and-purge? Does she tend to be intense about beliefs or the lack thereof in general?

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 10:01:48PM 3 points [-]

She tends to feel everything more intensely, resulting in a great deal of anxiety, but hides this behind a poker face. Many people, including her relatives, thought she'd become a nun before she started going out with me.

Comment author: army1987 18 June 2012 10:52:32PM 1 point [-]

spiritual binge-and-purge

Gotta love that phrase.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 June 2012 11:49:28PM *  4 points [-]

Some people seem to need something to believe, and they are often quite driven people. It may not be religion - we've seen a few around LessWrong, who give up religion and pursue the Singularity with the same intensity, or go the other way.

Comment author: Xachariah 19 June 2012 12:48:58AM *  13 points [-]

To be honest, I doubt that her true rejection matches her stated objections.

For several years, a lot of my friends have been telling me I had an inconsistent and unsustainable philosophy.

Emphasis mine. Her friends are Christian (probably Catholic). They heckle her when she writes atheist material for debates. Her good friend she talks about theology with is a Christian. That's all there is to it.

Humans are still tribal monkeys who follow the customs of their tribe. You put any person around a bunch of Christians (or Buddhists, or Muslims, or Jews), and they'll probably convert. It takes an extremely unusual person to not adopt the religion of their peers, even with all evidence against it.

Nobody says "hmm, according to my understanding of evolutionary theory, group selection wouldn't be a strong enough force to mediate selfish pressures in evolving human moral inclinations, therefore evil is caused by a talking snake." To answer the question directly, you convert any person the same way you change someone's football team, by surrounding them with members of the tribe you want them to be.

Comment author: palladias 19 June 2012 04:25:32AM 12 points [-]

Actually, it was more often my atheist friends who made these comments. They told me that you couldn't think about morality as objective or in terms of telos and be an atheist. And then we'd have a fight. (But Jay's right, above, that this was in the context of a philosophical debating group, so being blunt about picking fights was only polite). The Christians tended to hang back more, it was the atheists who were most frustrated by the inconsistencies. Which left me only more determined to reconcile them (if possible) and prove them wrong.

Comment author: Xachariah 19 June 2012 06:30:28AM *  5 points [-]

That is interesting and goes against my model. I notice that I am confused. Actually, looking further in your stuff, I'm very confused about a lot of your beliefs. Eg, objective morality as an atheist confuses me too.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 June 2012 12:15:12PM *  5 points [-]

How big part of the confusion about "objective morality" is the confusion about specific meaning of those words?

That is, do you have a clear definition of "objective" and "morality", and the problem is putting those two definitions together and evaluate the evidence for/against the result... or is it more like there are dozen possible meanings of "morality", combined with a few possible meanings of "objective", and the problem starts by having to choose which of these meanings is right according to some unspecified criteria?

In other words, if you wrote here your best argument for/against "objective morality", would you expect counter-arguments in form "you have ignored or misinterpreted this" or in form "no, objective morality does not mean what you said, it means this"?

Comment author: knb 19 June 2012 09:33:08PM 8 points [-]

But second, and more immediately, I wonder if anybody has advice on how to handle this, or if they've had similar experiences with their friends. I do care about this person, and I was devastated to hear this news, so if there's something I can do to help her, I want to.

Why are you so convinced this is bad for her? Most people are somewhat religious, and every study I've seen suggests they are just as happy, well-adjusted, and moral as non-religious people. I certainly think it is generally better to believe what is true, but is something like this really worth being devastated about? Can't you just be open-minded about her lifestyle choice?

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2012 09:48:18PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: GLaDOS 18 June 2012 05:58:18PM *  15 points [-]

When I first read my friend's post, I had a major "I notice that I am confused" moment, because it just seemed so implausible that someone who understood actual atheist arguments (as opposed to dead little sister Hollywood Atheism) could convert to religion, and Catholicism of all things.

Catholicism is actually one of the intellectually more formidable religions. If you accept a few key axioms of Christianity (and even most atheist Westerners do) and think about their implications for a lot of time it seems remarkable how vulnerable you are to converting to it.

In Christianspace, for the intelectual who likes playing around with very abstract dry concepts Catholicism seems to be a strong attractor. While protestants have played around with reversing its stupidity traditional Western civilization is fundamentally Catholic civilization. It gets the halo effect from a whole lot of art and great thinkers and pretty Churches. Then there is also the sheer majoritarian argument in its favour since it is by far the largest denomination and has institutional continuity going back more than 1500 years. When people around the world think Christianity, they think Catholic.

Also as Moldbug says:

Thomas Aquinas derived Catholicism from pure reason. John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason. At least one of them must have made a mistake. Maybe they both did. Have you checked their work? One bad variable will bust your whole proof.

Comment author: Jack 18 June 2012 06:38:55PM *  7 points [-]

Adjacent to your point but:

John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason.

Late Rawls abandons these pretensions. His theory of justice is more like an rational extrapolation of moral instincts in Western cultures.

(Edit: Just realized my description of Rawls could be taken to suggest it in some way resembles "coherant extrapolated volition". I mean no such comparison.)

Comment author: army1987 18 June 2012 10:44:54PM 5 points [-]

Thomas Aquinas derived Catholicism from pure reason. John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason. At least one of them must have made a mistake.

And/or their ‘pure reasons’ were different from each other.

Comment author: GLaDOS 19 June 2012 05:51:05AM -1 points [-]

Yes but Moldbug obviously dosen't think they are that different and I can kind of see his point.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 06:41:52PM 0 points [-]

I guess what I mostly meant is that she jumped straight to Catholicism, rather than something more general, like deism. And while I respect that Catholicism makes more of an attempted to provide a coherent, logical framework for divine revelation, it also ends up saying awfully specific and awfully silly things about various subjects. If you start off very firmly believing that same-sex romantic relationships can be normal and healthy, and you're then trying to decide "what religious tradition should I join that makes the most sense given what I presently believe?", then Catholicism would appear to be an unlikely candidate. There's at least that one major red flag which suggests a pretty important error somewhere in the reasoning.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 18 June 2012 11:20:38PM 2 points [-]

If you start off very firmly believing that same-sex romantic relationships can be normal and healthy, and you're then trying to decide "what religious tradition should I join that makes the most sense given what I presently believe?"

Fallacy of consequence.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 11:33:06PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. If I already had strong reason to think that the whole of Catholicism was true, then I couldn't just say "well, but I don't want same-sex romance prohibited, so I'll decide not to believe in Catholicism." That would be fallacious reasoning. But if I start off fairly certain that there's nothing wrong with same-sex romance but am also looking for some sort of theistic tradition that makes sense given what I already know, then Catholicism's views on sexuality would seem to count against it.

Perhaps you could compare this issue to the "it all adds up to normality" sentiment. Even if I decide I have to abandon my old theory of gravity, my new theory better be one that has pencils falling down and not up when I drop them. Likewise, even if I have to abandon my general thoughts on theism, I had better not pick a religious tradition that conflicts with strongly held moral sentiments of which I am still reasonably confident. What's the fallacy there?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 June 2012 12:03:33AM 4 points [-]

But if I start off fairly certain that there's nothing wrong with same-sex romance but am also looking for some sort of theistic tradition that makes sense given what I already know, then Catholicism's views on sexuality would seem to count against it.

Depends on how strong my evidence is for this position. If it's nothing stronger than "I can't think of any reason why same-sex romance is bad", then it doesn't take much evidence for Catholicism to overcome it.

Comment author: Jack 18 June 2012 11:55:07PM 0 points [-]

But if I start off fairly certain that there's nothing wrong with same-sex romance

Assumes meta-ethical realism in order to be a valid inference (but then, I suppose, so does Catholicism).

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 07:15:58PM 0 points [-]

If you start off very firmly believing that same-sex romantic relationships can be normal and healthy, and you're then trying to decide "what religious tradition should I join that makes the most sense given what I presently believe?", then Catholicism would appear to be an unlikely candidate. There's at least that one major red flag which suggests a pretty important error somewhere in the reasoning.

Most Catholics I've met are pretty immune to this sort of red flagging. That is, they just red-flag the parts they don't like, and continue to believe in the rest.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 07:31:24PM 7 points [-]

I can understand why people raised as Catholics would be so immune. But if you're making a decision to convert to Catholicism, presumably you like the whole integrated, no-exceptions theology. Isn't the whole appeal of Catholicism that you're not supposed to partition, and isn't that the element that's supposed to make it "intellectually formidable" as religions go?

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 07:42:23PM 2 points [-]

I can understand why people raised as Catholics would be so immune. But if you're making a decision to convert to Catholicism, presumably you like the whole integrated, no-exceptions theology.

As with most, if not all, religions, one would be surrounded by people giving off signals to the effect that this or that contradiction is no big deal. Combined with a relief from whatever discomfort remains from childhood indoctrination, plus the halo of being "intellectually formidable," it seems a rather seductive package.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 30 July 2012 01:33:35PM 0 points [-]

People like the idea of science and the scientific method due to the whole integrated, no-exceptions approach. They express their support to it even if the scientific consensus sometimes says things they think are nonsense.

Comment author: Thomas 18 June 2012 10:10:46PM 4 points [-]

I am observing, for more than a three decades now, how a friend of mine, becomes more and more religious. Catholic. When we met, he was a militant leftist atheists. What was quite a norm under communism we had back then here. If not a norm, then something you can easily expect from a young ambitious teenager. Did I say, he was quite a radical anti theist? I was not very comfortable with his rantings against "fools".

Then it started. He insisted on a work free Christmas day, which we had not under the communists. Then he was outraged by my view, that the Socrates was a better man than Christ, what I have only copycat-ed from Russell. Then he started to insist, there is a devil, in his "jokes". Then he rejected Dawkins' Darwinism. Many small steps, toward the God. He is half baked now, I think.

My point is, that the small signs may indeed indicate some "tectonic" shifting inside one's mind. Just as the OP stated.

Comment author: prase 19 June 2012 04:42:05PM 0 points [-]

What country is your friend living in?

Comment author: Thomas 19 June 2012 07:17:26PM 0 points [-]

Near you, prase. In the same one as I do - Slovenia. You know the difference with Slovakia, don't you?

Your socialism had even more bitter taste but you are too young to remember much, I guess.

Cheers!

Comment author: prase 22 June 2012 11:43:52PM *  0 points [-]

My guess was Poland where Catholicism has become very popular after the fall of communism. From your description it seems that your friend gives a lot attention to the current ideological climate - under communism, let's be an atheist leftist; communism is defeated, let's adopt some new, more fashionable worldview. Thus my question: my hypothesis needed Catholicism to be the predominant religion of the country you live in; if your friend was, say, Bulgarian, opting for Catholicism couldn't be solely explained by (perhaps subconscious) desire for conformity, since that would lead him towards Orthodoxy instead. Slovenia is fine for my hypothesis, but I may be mistaken even then, of course.

Do former Yugoslavians often confuse Slovenia with Slovakia, by the way?

Comment author: Thomas 23 June 2012 06:25:28AM 3 points [-]

No. Former Yugoslavians sure not. But almost all the others. George Bush was one of the first, who made this mistake in the public arena, even before he was President. But then he visited two times. (Can come anytime again, if I was asked,)

Okay, what matters here is this drifting of an atheist toward a religion. God finding of a rational atheist. The breaking down of a sane view into illogical one.

The scary part is this. If I was under the same process, would I notice at all? The even scarier is this. There are bigger rational handicaps than a religion.

Comment author: ciphergoth 18 June 2012 04:43:41PM 5 points [-]

That is very scary. Leah is a pretty well known atheist blogger. It gives me that "there but for the grace of God go I" feeling.

Does she understand the difference between belief and belief in belief? I helped someone escape an unfortunate re-conversion to religion by ensuring they were clear on this distinction, and challenging them on whether they really believed.

Comment author: stcredzero 18 June 2012 04:54:24PM 11 points [-]

That is very scary. Leah is a pretty well known atheist blogger. It gives me that "there but for the grace of God go I" feeling.

Does she understand the difference between belief and belief in belief?

I sometimes got a desperate vibe from the weekend street-corner preachers when I lived in South Carolina. It's like they were trying so hard, because they wanted so much to believe.

Could there also be a wishful belief in disbelief?

Comment author: mwengler 18 June 2012 07:15:09PM *  3 points [-]

NOTE ON USAGE: I mean by "theist" only a believer in some sort of god, as opposed to an "atheist."

As far as jumping to Catholicism, even if you ding her on the implausible authoritarianism of infallibility and her apparent disagreement over sexual ethics, all you are arguing for is to move her from Roman Catholic to Anglican.

I personally do not attempt to convert people away from Catholicism or pretty much anything else unless they ask me to or they initiate a discussion with me. I have numerous discussions with my Catholic father, but frankly wonder if I would not be doing a man well into his last 10 years of life a disservice by spending them with his son ridiculing his beliefs.

I would personally skip the Catholicism and Atheism thing. its just more likely to generate bad feeling than any great insights if you approach it as something you have to change about her. Actually, approaching any friend about anything as something you have to change about them is probably more a recipe for pain than for enlightenment, but I suppose reasonable minds might disagree over this.

Also, once you get all nuanced about religion and god and atheism, there isn't that much REAL difference between them, the difference is mostly labeling and signalling. Nuanced atheists believe they can be/are moral, just like theists. Nuanced theists understand that believing there is a deity and knowing details about her and what she wants and what she really thinks and how she really works (and even her gender, if any, for that matter) leaves them hardly better off than an atheist would be anyway at drawing a lot of actionable conclusions from this knowledge. Be gentle and interested in what she believes, and discuss things you genuinely want to discuss with her form that point of view. How she feels about joining such a hierarchical dogmatic religion, but not buying all the dogma. (Really not much harder than being proud to be an American while being against war, pro gay marriage, against slavery and against states' rights.) What is likely the case with intelligent alien races, do they get their own Jesus? Does god likely have different plans for different races? Would there be different moralities for different intelligences or would there be certain common things we can somehow derive from general features of intelligence? A lot of the same questions that were interesting to each of you before her conversion will continue to be interesting afterwards.

Indeed, I would love to talk to a SIAI-cognizant catholic about about simpler issues like cryonics, FAI and UFAI, and whether Jesus/God has visited other alien intelligences and will visit AIs once they establish a culture, or whether God would consider the AI to be such a natural "evolution" of humanity that he would count Jesus' visit as sufficing for both us and our successor species. What is god talking about when she talks about a soul? Can we build a soul, or rather can we build a machine (the brain is still a machine no matter what your religion) that has or gets a soul, or is there some secret miraculous sauce that god has to put in? And even if there is a secret sauce, would you not expect god not to touch any machine that we built that had the capability to support a good soul?

Believing in god doesn't relieve a person from contemplating the deepest mysteries of life and the world. It does not give a person an excuse to fall back to stupidity. The Catholic church includes the Jesuits and many other forces for knowledge and science and rationality in it. Which makes converts to Catholicism every bit as potentially interesting as converts to Atheism or Jews who spend hours a week studying the Talmud. Rather the opposite, it is probably hard to find a Jesuit who would love to go capo a capo against the best we have to offer.

Don't assume you know all that much more than she does. At least not without being willing to check.

Comment author: Nic_Smith 18 June 2012 10:05:25PM 0 points [-]

Do you mean theists rather than deists about halfway through?

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 18 June 2012 06:15:20PM 3 points [-]

From a "logical argument" point of view, Vaniver has the right point of view. Reductionism is the key.

From a Dark Arts point of view, reading Leah's post suggests the reason she fell toward Catholicism when she got confused on morality was that she had a bunch of Catholic friends around. Thus being a conspicuously moral (and high-status) atheist will give her an example to fall back to. This isn't too Dark Arts-ish, since you presumably try to be high-status and moral anyway.

Comment author: MBlume 27 July 2012 07:25:32PM *  1 point [-]

Thus being a conspicuously moral [...] atheist will give her an example to fall back to.

No. Having a defensible, coherent framework from which to ground morality and being a moral person are...hopefully not totally unrelated, but still not the same thing. This is a far too common rhetorical mistake, same as when we atheists act offended because religious people must think us all horribly immoral people.

Comment author: Crux 18 June 2012 05:52:55PM *  3 points [-]

Whenever I used to hear someone make an argument or profess a belief I considered incorrect, I had the tendency to always try to destroy it right when it came up, because most people will be at least somewhat willing to talk about anything that comes up randomly, but will act like you're being annoying or like you care too much if you try to attack one of their beliefs unprovoked. For example, I would think to myself, "This is my chance. Their religious beliefs may never come up again. I must make use of this opportunity."

But then I realized something. If someone has a belief that really may never come up in conversation again, then it clearly doesn't predict much, or have much of an effect on their practical life, or really anything at all. So for this discussion, the point of this story is that you don't have to attack her religious beliefs directly. If they have any bearing on reality, or on her actual practical life, or anything at all, they'll constantly come up by themselves, and you'll have opportunity after opportunity to destroy them, and not seem like one of those annoying people who always make it their agenda to ram their beliefs down one's throat.

And if they have no bearing on anything, then they're irrelevant anyway, and need not be considered. I've always wondered, what the hell does it mean to "convert" to Catholicism or Christianity or something? Does something about one's person change as a result? Is it like getting a tattoo? Or is it like joining a club? What actually happens as a result? What changes about one's behavior, or one's models of reality, or predictions about what will happen in which situation, or anything like that? It seems rather opaque to me, though of course the answer lies in complex signaling games, or extremely complicated things like why humans have the tendency to think there must be something like "objective morality", rather than just make the ridiculously simple observation that agents have utility functions (or whatever complication you wish to make thereof, to add rigor, such as to take akrasia into account), and that some are different than others.

I guess I'm just saying that it doesn't really matter whether she's "religious" (whatever that means), unless it has a corrosive effect on her behavior in other areas, such as by messing up her practical epistemology and causing her to make worse decisions in her everyday life, or by causing her to think her bisexuality is "wrong" or something. But in any of those cases, it would be best to deal with them directly, and let religion come up only within that context, so as to avoid all the abstract nonsense, and deal with nothing but concrete reality.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 June 2012 12:09:17AM 4 points [-]

But then I remembered how I had been frustrated in the past by her tolerance for what seemed like rank religious bigotry

Could you expend on what you mean by "bigotry", I've seen that word thrown around to shut down debates way too much.

For example, from the above post some might conclude that you are an anti-Catholic bigot, depending on the definition of "bigotry" being used they might well be right.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 19 June 2012 01:27:20AM 2 points [-]

Well, the particular example I'm thinking of is when she invited a Catholic friend as a guest blogger to discuss what he considered to be the strongest arguments against same-sex marriage. He ended up arguing that not only same-sex marriage, but the normalization and even existence of same-sex attraction itself needs to be combated so as to prevent the possibility that romantic attraction would complicate same-sex friendships. Homosexuals shouldn't publicly express their desires, as this results in "sexualizing" public spaces. Strong suggestions that the state should participate in the enforcement of such non-expression.

If you want to say this "isn't bigotry," or that I'm being too loose with the concept, that's fine. I have no strong attachment to some particular understanding of the term. My substantive point was that these views struck me as so outlandish that to host a whole debate about them and repeatedly defend the author as honest and well-intentioned seemed surprising.

Comment author: palladias 19 June 2012 04:33:43AM 12 points [-]

I think a little more context is in order, Jay. A quite conservative Catholic speaker was coming to our alma mater and people were protesting and staging a kiss-in + walk-out at his talk. But no one was spending much time rebutting his argument, and I feel pretty strongly if you're going to disrupt a talk, you owe the people who are coming a cogent explanation of why.

So I invited a friend to summarize and pitch the speaker's ideas on my blog and then I rebutted, so that there'd be a discussion and reference to go with the protest. And Gerken (my interlocutor) is intelligent and was writing with the best of intentions. I disagreed with a lot of his points (even within a Catholic framework) but that's not a refutation of his sincerity.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 June 2012 02:34:27AM *  4 points [-]

My substantive point was that these views struck me as so outlandish

More outlandish than monkeys changing into humans?

that to host a whole debate about them and repeatedly defend the author as honest and well-intentioned seemed surprising.

Being honest and well-intentioned is a property of the arguments the author uses, not whether you like the conclusion.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 20 June 2012 03:46:10AM *  4 points [-]

Being honest and well-intentioned is a property of the arguments the author uses, not whether you like the conclusion.

I disagree. I think "being honest and well-intentioned" is a property of the person advancing the argument (and reducible, in principle, to brain states), not a property of the argument itself (that is to say, a particular set of propositions). People can produce deeply flawed (invalid or inductively weak) arguments while actually trying to produce the opposite (or at least, it feels like I can).

More outlandish than monkeys changing into humans?

You are right, what is or is not "outlandish" depends heavily on large amounts of assumed background information. For instance, depending on the time period, it would be extremely "outlandish" to claim that disease is caused by "invisible animals", but moderns seem to be quite comfortable with the idea.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 June 2012 03:08:51AM 3 points [-]

I disagree. I think "being honest and well-intentioned" is a property of the person advancing the argument (and reducible, in principle, to brain states), not a property of the argument itself (that is to say, a particular set of propositions). People can produce deeply flawed (invalid or inductively weak) arguments while actually trying to produce the opposite (or at least, it feels like I can).

Good point.

Comment author: Zeej 19 June 2012 06:09:01AM -1 points [-]

I also noticed her persistent engagement with arguments against homosexuality itself, for a duration that seemed far out of proportion to the strength of these arguments and the attention they should merit. Given that the most she now says about Catholic teachings on homosexuality is that she's "confused" by them, I almost have to wonder if her extended search for any plausible arguments against homosexuality was actually just a way to make the open leap to Catholicism feel more palatable from her perspective.

Comment author: selylindi 18 June 2012 09:27:34PM 3 points [-]

You asked a question with a real answer, but I think you've asked the wrong question. Setting out with the goal of changing someone is an especially good way to ruin a relationship. It's vastly more essential to learn to value the good in the midst of the bad, because that kind of mixed imperfection is all you will ever find anywhere.

As Catholics are quite specific about, conversion isn't a one-time event. She's in the process of converting, but I've known several people in RCIA who dropped out for one reason or another. And it's sadly true that parish life will give her an unfortunate sense of how bitterly homophobic the hierarchy can be. My sense as a gay convert is that the hierarchy has been using LGBTs as scapegoats for institutional problems in the Church. It is probably the most effective wedge out there to push LGBT people out of the church. That's really your only pressure point that you could push, but you should not stoop to that cruelty.

It's good that you noticed the moment of your confusion! However, the paragraphs you wrote to address that confusion do not provide a correct analysis.

You wrote, "atheists who spend a great deal of their time analyzing and even critiquing the views of a particular religion are at-risk atheists." Taken literally, this is necessarily true because only those who think about a belief can convert to it. But religion-in-general has no content to analyze or critique. It's not possible to convert to religion-in-general, as only particular religions exist. Nobody converts to Thor-worship or pastafarianism; they do convert to major traditions. So the formulation of the problem seems to be designed to obscure the facts rather than express a useful truth. On the more meaningful level, then, the lesson is false -- atheists who spend a great deal of their time analyzing and even critiquing Norse paganism are not at-risk atheists. The appeal to ancient personifications like Zeus/Thor/Osiris/etc or modern mockeries like the FSM is a weak move, substituting a straw man argument when the major traditions of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism do have iron man arguments out there for those who can engage them.

What you should realize instead from your confusion is exactly what Leah wrote: that, given certain priors, other arguments gain considerable force. So most likely you failed to recognize that force due to having different priors. Don't set out to convert her; set out to reach mutual understanding with her of what her priors were and why.

Comment author: Nornagest 19 June 2012 02:09:29AM 5 points [-]

Nobody converts to Thor-worship or pastafarianism; they do convert to major traditions

I've met a number of converts to Asatru, as well as several relatively serious followers of semi-parody religions like Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius. Don't think I've ever met a serious Pastafarian, but I'm not going to rule out the possibility of their existence. Unsubstantiated personal gnosis can point people in some pretty strange directions.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 June 2012 08:50:00AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: selylindi 19 June 2012 08:32:54PM 0 points [-]

OK. Do you happen to know what they converted from?

Comment author: Nornagest 19 June 2012 09:44:46PM 0 points [-]

Catholicism in one case, a secular upbringing in another. I don't know or remember the rest.

Comment author: selylindi 06 August 2012 01:56:19PM 0 points [-]

Interesting that the two came from opposite origins. I genuinely didn't know there were serious followers of those religions. It seems I incorrectly generalized from the people I've encountered, who merely use those religions for jest and argument.

So I'll retract my claim and instead agree with the author's risk evaluation. If you're going to analyze and critique a belief system, be wary of developing an unconscious Us Vs Them dichotomy in your mental model. If the argument is conceived of as strictly a two-player game, then weaknesses in your theory are strengths in your opponent's. But where the range of alternative theories is practically infinite, a reduction in the probability of your belief is balanced by only an infinitesimal increase in the probability of a specific other belief.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 19 June 2012 11:11:12AM 3 points [-]

It seems, at least, that she understands where the separation of views really occurs:

Based on my in-person arguments to date, it seems like most of my atheist friends disagree two or three steps back from my deciding Morality is actually God. They usually diverge back around the bit where I assert morality, like math, is objective and independent of humans.

As far as Catholicism specifically, she might benefit from reading Elaine Pagels, who discusses at length the historical evidence of the founding of the Catholic Church. Notably, the selection of gospels to include in the New Testament was made specifically to support and cement the authority of the church, not for any well-founded empirical or philosophical reasons.

Catholicism is an organization as well as a belief system, and the organization is terribly, systemically corrupt. An official conversion implies endorsement of the organization as well as the belief system. For a prominent (former) atheist blogger, this seems like a morally questionable act.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 22 June 2012 02:05:46AM 0 points [-]

To the best of my knowledge, this is a misleading account of how the books of the Bible were selected. My understanding is that it was as much of a popularity contest as anything.

And while you can identify a "proto-orthodox" faction among the various Christian groups fighting as early as the 2nd century, it was very different than today's Catholic church, or even the Catholic church of Aquinas' day.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 22 June 2012 12:14:27PM 0 points [-]

To the best of my knowledge, this is a misleading account of how the books of the Bible were selected. My understanding is that it was as much of a popularity contest as anything.

The gospels which were included support the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection of Christ, witnessed only by a select few. These few would, by virtue of witnessing the resurrection, have the authority to continue and shape the church. The gospels which were excluded portrayed the resurrection as a non-physical reappearance witnessed by many, which would have essentially turned an oligarchical structure into an egalitarian one.

It's not that I think either of these versions is especially justified as a belief, but the presence of such contradictions so early in the church's history makes its lack of credibility more obvious.

And while you can identify a "proto-orthodox" faction among the various Christian groups fighting as early as the 2nd century, it was very different than today's Catholic church, or even the Catholic church of Aquinas' day.

I don't see the relevance of this. The Catholic Church derives its claim to truth from its Biblical foundations. If the foundation is rotten, then it's rotten for all incarnations of the church. Further, the later rules and ideas that have been added into the church's beliefs largely come from supposedly infallible papal decree, the infallibility coming from the authority of the successors of Peter (as the first to witness the resurrection). The edifice is very elaborate, and therefore it falls apart very easily.

Comment author: beatty07 22 June 2012 05:02:33PM 3 points [-]

The gospels which were included support the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection of Christ, witnessed only by a select few. These few would, by virtue of witnessing the resurrection, have the authority to continue and shape the church. The gospels which were excluded portrayed the resurrection as a non-physical reappearance witnessed by many, which would have essentially turned an oligarchical structure into an egalitarian one.

Is this based on personal familiarity with all the texts involved? There aren't many and they aren't hard to find. Just knowing the texts makes this interpretation of history seem pretty unlikely, or at least simplified to the point of distortion. That being said, it is certainly among the plausible explanations for what occurred.

Further, the later rules and ideas that have been added into the church's beliefs largely come from supposedly infallible papal decree, the infallibility coming from the authority of the successors of Peter (as the first to witness the resurrection).

The doctrine of the Pope's personal infallibility has not played a major role in the development of Catholic doctrine. According to Catholic doctrine, it almost never applies. I don't want to sidetrack a really interesting discussion... but this seems like a pretty clear factual mistake that might as well be pointed out.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 22 June 2012 06:34:24PM 1 point [-]

Is this based on personal familiarity with all the texts involved? There aren't many and they aren't hard to find. Just knowing the texts makes this interpretation of history seem pretty unlikely, or at least simplified to the point of distortion. That being said, it is certainly among the plausible explanations for what occurred.

This is based on Elaine Pagels' research, as I said in my first comment.

The doctrine of the Pope's personal infallibility has not played a major role in the development of Catholic doctrine. According to Catholic doctrine, it almost never applies. I don't want to sidetrack a really interesting discussion... but this seems like a pretty clear factual mistake that might as well be pointed out.

Now that you point it out, I realize I was conflating all instances of papal authority with papal infallibility, which is not accurate.

Comment author: dymphna 18 June 2012 07:50:07PM 3 points [-]

Jay, I can certainly empathize with your concern for your friend. However, as a practicing Catholic I can assure you that your friend will not be surrounded by people trying to convince her that she needs to "repent" of her sexuality. There's less that I can say about dark side epistemology (since you would probably consider me to be an adherent of it!) but I can assure you that Leah is not going to have piles of nonsensical doctrine shoved down her throat. She will be introduced to many ideas, but ultimately she herself will decide what to accept and what to reject (and I highly doubt that she will accept absolutely everything that the Church teaches - many Catholics don't).

I must confess that, as an outsider to (but occasional reader of) Less Wrong, I find certain statements and arguments on this site to be just as totalizing and dogmatic as the most dangerous religious fundamentalism. There's also a fair amount that I find personally offensive to my value system. However, whenever I find myself going into a nasty tirade against LW, my atheist rationalist friend (who introduced me to this site in the first place) urges me to remember that not all Less Wrongers are the same. Opinions about things like the Singularity vary greatly, as do values. And, there are even some theists on this site.

I can tell you that the same is true about Catholicism. It's a very large organization with many people who interpret their religion in many different ways. Yes, there are many things wrong with the Church as an institution, but people know this and some are trying to reform these flaws (indeed, if Leah does convert, she will be a great one to do this). As for the epistemological side...I don't think that Leah is going to reject scientific truths, if that is what worries you. She might just come to view them in a somewhat different way.

Having read Leah's blog for a while, I know that she will respond very well to any challenge/debate you put forward. However, I would advise against trying to thwart her conversion. Ultimately, she has to make her own decisions. As others have said, listen to her and try your to understand the reasons for her conversion. Also, if you haven't already, get to know a few Catholics. We could be wrong, but that doesn't make us bad people.

Comment author: Konkvistador 19 June 2012 01:06:25PM *  7 points [-]

Yes, there are many things wrong with the Church as an institution, but people know this and some are trying to reform these flaws (indeed, if Leah does convert, she will be a great one to do this).

I'm probably an outlier that I find some redeeming qualities in Catholicism precisely in the Church as an institution and not very much worthwhile in the beliefs of regular modern Western Christians.

Comment author: Benquo 20 June 2012 01:54:28AM 3 points [-]

I find some redeeming qualities in Catholicism precisely in the Church as an institution

Can you point to somewhere you've explained this already - or failing that, would you be so kind as to unpack it a little?

Comment author: dymphna 24 June 2012 06:49:01PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I'd also really like to hear your thoughts.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 18 June 2012 08:49:30PM 11 points [-]

I must confess that, as an outsider to (but occasional reader of) Less Wrong, I find certain statements and arguments on this site to be just as totalizing and dogmatic as the most dangerous religious fundamentalism.

That seems like a surprising claim! I'd like to explore it further.

The most dangerous religious fundamentalisms lead people to do things such as blowing up buildings, committing mass murders, jailing and torturing people for apostasy, and throwing acid in the faces of schoolchildren. This occurs both when dangerous religious fundamentalists occupy positions of formal political power (governments), and when they do not (terrorist groups, militias, abortion-clinic bombers).

(Note, I'm not asserting that religions or fundamentalisms in general promote those sorts of things. You specifically said "the most dangerous religious fundamentalism", and I'm taking that limitation in good faith.)

Somehow, nobody around here seems to be doing those sort of things. Indeed, that sort of behavior seems to be pretty rare in the Traditional Rationality community too — the skeptics movement; the New Atheists; etc.

Is that just because we are totalizing and dogmatic about making people happy instead of about hating and killing them? (I am reminded of a Barry Goldwater quote about extremism and moderation.)

Or do you think there is some other reason?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 19 June 2012 03:33:50AM *  6 points [-]

The most dangerous religious fundamentalisms lead people to do things such as blowing up buildings, committing mass murders, jailing and torturing people for apostasy, and throwing acid in the faces of schoolchildren. This occurs both when dangerous religious fundamentalists occupy positions of formal political power (governments), and when they do not (terrorist groups, militias, abortion-clinic bombers).

Arguably, these kinds of acts follow a normal distribution (where acts of extreme altruism are on the opposite tail), so if Less Wrong had much larger numbers we should expect to observe these kind of things. Do you really think if Less Wrong had over 1 billion members (like Catholic Church) we wouldn't have members that commit violent acts (such as assassinating AI researchers not using FAI safeguards)? If anything, I would expect there to be greater variance of good and bad acts among Less Wrongers since they are explicitly trained not to compartmentalize.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2012 03:37:20AM 5 points [-]

Do very many Catholics assassinate government-funded mass murdering genocidaires? I refer of course to abortion clinics.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 19 June 2012 04:13:42AM *  7 points [-]

Do very many Catholics assassinate government-funded mass murdering genocidaires? I refer of course to abortion clinics.

No, not really. According to Le Wik, only 8 people (less than 1 every 2 years) in the US have been killed as the result of "anti-abortion violence" since 1993. Two of the actual killings were attributed to Catholics (although another did try to ram an abortion clinic with his vehicle which resulted in no injuries but did cause some property damage).

In any case, it seems clear that "anti-abortion violence" occurs with much greater frequency in fiction than in reality. But then again, this shouldn't surprise us given the predominance of the Hollywood Atheist and Straw-Vulcan archetypes.

EDIT: I made a factual correction and added context.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 June 2012 08:47:53AM 0 points [-]

All the murderers were Protestants?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 19 June 2012 09:09:01AM *  3 points [-]

All the murderers were Protestants?

No; I made a mistake. Eric Robert Rudolph and James Charles Kopp (who, interestingly, had a masters degree in embryology, so was something of a "domain expert") were self-identified Roman Catholics. Also, it is tricky determining who is or is not of a particular denomination. For instance, Paul Jennings Hill was excommunicated before commiting murder. Should that count in favor of or against the church that excommunicated him (in this case, Presbyterianism)? I'm not sure.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 June 2012 01:44:16PM *  2 points [-]

Should that count in favor of or against the church that excommunicated him (in this case, Presbyterianism)?

Of course in favor.

Assuming conservation of evidence, if there exists an action that would count against them (such as declaring him a saint), there must also exist an action that would count in favor of them. So what exactly were they supposed to do -- burn him at a stake?

EDIT: Oops, now I see that the question can refer to the whole "former membership + excommunication" package, not just the "excommunication" part. Still, unless other churches had excommunicated such people (before the murder, or at least after), the fact that this one did is an evidence in favor or hypothesis that they disagree with such acts.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 June 2012 03:57:10AM 0 points [-]

It sounds like it would follow from this account that the most dangerous religious fundamentalisms are also the most popular ones.

Have I understood you properly?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 20 June 2012 04:03:56AM 2 points [-]

It sounds like it would follow from this account that the most dangerous religious fundamentalisms are also the most popular ones.

On an absolute level, yes, but per capita, no.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 18 June 2012 11:51:59PM 7 points [-]

The most dangerous religious fundamentalisms lead people to do things such as blowing up buildings, committing mass murders, jailing and torturing people for apostasy, and throwing acid in the faces of schoolchildren. This occurs both when dangerous religious fundamentalists occupy positions of formal political power (governments), and when they do not (terrorist groups, militias, abortion-clinic bombers).

Well, LW has only been around for a couple years, give it time. I've definitely seen ideas here that, if taken to their logical conclusion, would imply that under the right circumstances one has a moral imperative to do comparable things. There is also a norm against flinching from taking things to their logical conclusions.

Indeed, that sort of behavior seems to be pretty rare in the Traditional Rationality community too — the skeptics movement; the New Atheists; etc.

Notice how you need to add the qualifier "New" to "Atheist movement" there in order to exclude all the atrocities committed by the old atheists.

Comment author: Nornagest 19 June 2012 12:44:00AM 3 points [-]

Notice how you need to add the qualifier "New" to "Atheist movement" there in order to exclude all the atrocities committed by the old atheists.

Although linking the atrocities of 20th-century Communism to atheism seems to be a favorite trope of contemporary reaction, I'm confused as to why you chose to bring it up in the context of traditional rationality. Marxism might claim an empirical basis, but it's quite hostile to skepticism, and neither its atheism nor its claimed empiricism seem foundational to its social aims. Likewise, Dawkins et al. don't inherit from any of the major philosophers in the socialist family tree that I know of; they're both products of the Enlightenment, but they took quite different paths on their way here.

Moreover, the broader socialist movement isn't at all incompatible with religion: consider liberation theology.

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 June 2012 11:46:56AM *  4 points [-]

Marxism might claim an empirical basis, but it's quite hostile to skepticism

I've read Marxist stuff (the old man himself, Gramsci, Adorno, Zizek, my boyfriend's incomprehensible paper on Lacan...) and the LAST thing I'd describe (non-USSR-sponsored) Marxist thought as is "hostile to skepticism". It looks hyper-skeptical to me! At least when describing everything outside of a communist utopia that might or might not be envisioned in their writing. When observing contemporary social phenomena - from family life to academia - they've historically been rather cynical and tried to look for base motives of power, dominiance and greed affecting them.

Did you know that Gramsci, a Marxist through and through (although a liberal and idealist one), developed the highly LW-relevant concept of cultural hegemony? [1]

(I disagree with those dudes on quite a few issues, it's just that strawmanning them as blindly orthodox fanatics is unfair.)

[1] “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” - Philip K. Dick

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 June 2012 03:22:26PM *  6 points [-]

It looks hyper-skeptical to me! At least when describing everything outside of a communist utopia

I guess the Pope is also skeptical about Buddhist reincarnation.

When observing contemporary social phenomena - from family life to academia - they've historically been rather cynical and tried to look for base motives of power, dominiance and greed affecting them.

If one believes that "everything is a class fight" (I know this is oversimplification), then finding elements of class fight in everything is not an evidence for their skepticism.

Shortly, skepticism does not mean "a belief that your opponents are wrong".

Comment author: private_messaging 24 June 2012 09:43:22AM *  3 points [-]

Speaking of which, communists were also extreme utilitarians. The problem with utilitarians, really, is that self described utilitarians are not the people who calculate utilities so much better than everyone else. It is the people who think they calculate utilities so much better than anyone else. Throw Dunning-Kruger into the mix, and people who actually have troubles evaluating utility are utilitarians, whereas those who can evaluate utility also process uncertainty and tend to act in more deontological manner due to incorporating empirical knowledge on outcome of strategies, or due to concern for societal values like trust etc. I blogged some about that

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 June 2012 10:45:41AM 2 points [-]

Exactly. For a sociopath it is very useful to (pretend to?) be utilitarian -- one good rationalization, and anything becomes morally OK.

First, let's kill all our enemies, or more precisely anyone who refuses to obey us. Then, we will build a paradise with infinite utility, because there will be no one to stop us. Net result: huge positive utility. From utilitarian viewpoint, we are the good guys, which means that anyone who opposes us deserves to be killed.

Add some technical details, and you have communism; add different details and you have something else. Focus the attention of people to those technical details to avoid the outside view comparison.

Comment author: private_messaging 24 June 2012 01:15:28PM *  2 points [-]

Exactly. For a sociopath it is very useful to (pretend to?) be utilitarian -- one good rationalization, and anything becomes morally OK.

Well I think it is fairly complicated. It may be that the lack of understanding of what it takes to think straight leads to sociopathy in some instances (I see sociopathy as a symptom of a multitude of abnormalities).

I wrote another blog post on that: http://dmytry.com/blog/?p=268 . What I think happens, is that people with strongly deficient utility evaluation - people who do not even see what it takes to evaluate utility, people who will evaluate utility on any partial outcome that popped up in their mind, or was even suggested from outside (without even any explicit assertion that it is complete!) - tend to end up self describing as utilitarian, and in some sense, actually believing that they are, and that they are highly moral (and everyone else is flawed).

Other issue, is that historically it is not in the slightest bit positive when someone pushing a bad idea is not simply being selfish. In practice, to do the most evil, selfishness does not suffice. It takes certain degree of selflessness in the name of a bad idea and sloppy thought. It takes narcissist love with intellectual self. A particular form of incompetence is far superior to malice when it comes to actually doing large scale evil.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 June 2012 01:55:06PM *  6 points [-]

Long ago (I don't remember the source) I read an interesting thought: that people who speak about great ideas or strong emotions are probably intelectually and emotionally pretty weak, and when they get any result in such area, they are overwhelmed by the contrast. (It's like Dunning-Kruger on steroids.)

For example a smart person will have dozen smart ideas every day, so "having a smart idea" is no big deal for them, it's life as usual. Even if they find something extraordinarily interesting, they have a large reference class, so instead of greatness of the idea, they will speak about specific details that make this idea interesting.

On the other hand, when a rather dumb person hears a non-trivial idea and understands it, it is a shocking experience, a unique uncomparable thing. So the person will treat it as the greatest idea ever, the dividing line between stupid and smart, and will be obsessed about it.

Analogically, if a person with supressed emotions or mostly negative emotions suddenly falls in love, they will perceive their emotion as overwhelming, unique in the whole universe, unrepeatable. A person with a larger emotional scale would see the same emotion as a point in a continuum, so there is e.g. smaller chance they would do something stupid if their love is not reciprocated. The former person would (by a mind projection fallacy) think that the latter person's feelings are much smaller, because the reactions are less dramatic.

So maybe the same effect is at play here -- people who never thought too much about morality suddenly understand some moral rule, and (their interpretation of) it immediately becomes the moral rule, the dividing line between immoral and moral. (And if the rule is not based on emotions or traditions, it is convenient to label it as "utilitarian".)

Comment author: Multiheaded 24 June 2012 12:36:11PM *  0 points [-]

First, let's kill all our enemies, or more precisely anyone who refuses to obey us.

...add some technical details, and you have communism

U mindkilled, bro. Yes, that was what the people who called themselves "communists" did in the 20th century. But name any other system, no matter which one, that wouldn't kill everyone who refuses to obey it in certain matters.

E.g. fleeing from a battlefield; every nation that grok'd total war gave its court-martials the powers of swift summary execution in the 20th century. It's what the "communists" were trying to regulate, and from what perspective, and how much, and what processes this led to - that's what you have a problem with, not with the fact of enforcement itself.

Everyone has to resort to murder sooner or later, it's the actual internal details of the system (like the type and amount of murder, and what incentives the "undesirables" have to surrender and avoid it, if any) that make the difference.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 June 2012 12:56:10PM *  1 point [-]

You have a good point. But there is a difference between people who see killing others as a regrettable last choice (e.g. in self-defence), and those who see killing others as "no big deal" (sociopaths, and their happy-death-spiralled followers). Although there probably is a continuum.

EDIT: The difference is that a non-sociopathic utilitarian considers a possibility of running on a corrupted hardware, if they are a rationalist, or simply deflect the thought by an "ugh field" if they aren't.

Comment author: Oligopsony 24 June 2012 01:51:06PM 1 point [-]

If you mean that Marxists are all furiously agreeing with each other, I can assure you that they're not.

If you mean that they all agree on whatever one makes the minimal criteria for calling someone Marxist, well, trivially yes.

If you mean that they're really confident in their conclusions, that seems to be temperamental.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 20 June 2012 04:26:55AM *  1 point [-]

Shortly, skepticism does not mean "a belief that your opponents are wrong".

This is why I avoid the term when I can (unless I'm referring specifically to the ancient school of philosophy).

Comment author: Nornagest 19 June 2012 07:02:05PM *  0 points [-]

When observing contemporary social phenomena - from family life to academia - they've historically been rather cynical and tried to look for base motives of power, dominiance and greed affecting them.

This is getting a little too politically charged for my liking, but cynicism does not imply skepticism, at least in the sense I intended. Now, Marxism is built on a set of social theories expressed largely in terms of self-interest or group self-interest, and Marxist scholars have gotten fairly inventive within that framework. The ideology wouldn't be anywhere near as successful as it has been if it wasn't credible as social criticism, or if it didn't speak to people skeptical of the status quo. So it does speak the language to some degree, and I probably should have been more accommodating of that in the grandparent.

But for me to call it open to skepticism, I'd have to see evidence that Marxist thinkers engaged in good-faith questioning of the theory's own social and economic assumptions or at least engaged with skeptics on even ground, and of that I've seen very little. In fact, most strains of Marxism seem to actively discourage these lines of thinking -- a tendency predictably most pronounced in Marxist political regimes, but which goes all the way back to Marx and Engels' writings on ideology. False consciousness and related concepts offer a fully general alternative.

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 June 2012 08:20:43PM *  -1 points [-]

This is all true, but we're comparing the rationality record between various creeds and not imagining how well one such creed would do in a vacuum.

E.g. something a bit like that description of "false consciousness" clearly does happen, not as to provide a convenient reason why capitalism must be the unseen Ultimate Evil, just as a matter of human nature - something psychosocial and fairly disturbing, else we why would see e.g. realistic/cynical poor workers voting against progressive tax. (I'm not arguing its virtues here, just pointing out that it's obviously a big mid-term gain for lower class people who realistically expect little relative social mobility for their family.)

In Marxist theory, false consciousness is essentially a result of ideological control which the proletariat either do not know they are under or which they disregard with a view to their own POUM (probability/possibility of upward mobility). POUM or something like it is required in economics with its presumption of rational agency; otherwise wage laborers would be the conscious supporters of social relations antithetical to their own interests, violating that presumption.

=

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” - John Steinbeck

And yet ideologies saying e.g. that people in "nice" countries act in "enlightened self-interest", and are generally special snowflakes that shouldn't be stirred in their beautiful arrangements, are respected and highly popular. Clearly a dose of Marxist cynicism could serve as a good counterweight to such happy individualist fantasies. People - most of all people who want to be "normal" - are fucking delusional as to their immediate or long-term personal interest, that's what Marxism is saying. Hell, that was what George Carlin often said too. (I don't agree that a Marxist dictatorship should decide everyone's best interest, I'm not a strawman commie.)

Comment author: Nornagest 19 June 2012 08:54:08PM *  0 points [-]

This is all true, but we're comparing the rationality record between various creeds and not imagining how well one such creed would do in a vacuum.

Frankly, I'd rather not compare the rationality record between various unspecified creeds, at least here; that sort of thing has a way of taking over threads, and in its general form seems almost completely orthogonal to Catholic deconversion or anything related to it. This business about skepticism came up in the context of Marx's proximity to traditional rationality of the Dawkins/Randi school, particularly in terms of approach to atheism, and that's where I'd like to keep it.

Dawkins et al. seem to be skeptical in methodology: presented with a set of supernaturalist beliefs, their normal procedure is to look at the claimed evidence for them, look for replications or attempt to perform a replication if it's convenient, and proceed to deprecate the beliefs in question when they predictably fail. They do tend to be fairly apolitical (Penn and Teller notwithstanding), and I'm not even sure what a proper extrapolation of this methodology to the social realm would look like, but I am pretty sure it wouldn't start with a future history (sketchy though Marx's is) or a complete theory of class interaction. And I'm also pretty sure most Marxists wouldn't appreciate a Randi-style analysis of their own foundational beliefs.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 June 2012 01:19:33AM *  3 points [-]

Likewise, Dawkins et al. don't inherit from any of the major philosophers in the socialist family tree that I know of;

Well, Hitchens always considered himself a socialist.

Moreover, the broader socialist movement isn't at all incompatible with religion: consider liberation theology.

I could say the same about transhumanism.

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 June 2012 11:52:11AM 0 points [-]

Well, Hitchens always considered himself a socialist.

(BTW, many socialists would deny him the honor. Me, I think his reputation was certainly quite spotty from any ideological view - not that I hate him or anything.)

Comment author: Nornagest 19 June 2012 02:04:32AM *  -1 points [-]

I could say the say about transhumanism.

I wouldn't say you're wrong, but as I haven't seen anyone in this thread encouraging the lady in the OP to reject her conversion on transhumanist grounds, I'm again not sure why you're bringing it up.

Comment author: dymphna 19 June 2012 02:42:52AM -1 points [-]

"The most dangerous religious fundamentalisms lead people to do things such as blowing up buildings, committing mass murders, jailing and torturing people for apostasy, and throwing acid in the faces of schoolchildren. This occurs both when dangerous religious fundamentalists occupy positions of formal political power (governments), and when they do not (terrorist groups, militias, abortion-clinic bombers)."

Point taken. The phrase "most dangerous" iis hyperbolic. No, so far I don't see any Less Wrongers blowing up buildings or committing mass murders. But, what is it that drives people to do such things? Is it as simple as, "God told me to do this?" I don't think it's usually that simple. I'm not sure what drives it, but I think that part of it is a basic human tendency to divide people up into groups of "we" and "they." Most of us construct this kind of division to some degree, whether we realize it or not, but fundamentalists take it to the extreme. On LW I encounter this division quite often (sometimes in the tone of posts more than the content). I probably notice it so strongly because, as Manfred comments, I feel myself to be among the "them," (and my natural reaction is to make the same sort of division in my own mind. While this division is nowhere near the extreme in the rationalist communities, I can definitely imagine it becoming so, particularly if technology advances in the ways that many Less Wrongers predict it will.

Some Less Wrongers appear to express the viewpoint that the world would be a better and happier place if all of us were to become rationalists, and I think that this is the attitude that I had in mind when I let the phrase "most dangerous fundamentalists" slip out. Medieval Catholics (and some contemporary ones) wanted to make the whole world Catholic. Stalinists wanted to make the whole world Stalinist. In either case, I think the world would have turned out a much worse place had either one succeeded. To you, rationalism, empiricism and positivism might seem to exist in a different category, but to me any ideology or thought system that gets universalized will probably turn into More's Utopia or Plato's Republic. And, while interesting for a while, such places hardly seem very habitable in the long term.

"Is it that just because we are totalizing and dogmatic about making people happy instead of about hating and killing them? (I am reminded of a Barry Goldwater quote about extremism and moderation.)"

I'd be interested in seeing that Goldwater quote. But, if Less Wrongers are totalizing and dogmatic about making people happy, then why on earth would you want to deconvert people from religion? Religious beliefs, practices, rituals, spiritualities, aesthetics, values, and communities bring vast amounts of happiness to people all over the world, every day. No, it's not for everyone, but why try and take it away from the people who find so much happiness in it?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 June 2012 04:00:15AM 5 points [-]

I suspect the quote in question is "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."

Comment author: fubarobfusco 19 June 2012 04:09:09AM 4 points [-]

"... and moderation in the defense of liberty is no virtue."

Comment author: fubarobfusco 19 June 2012 05:08:59AM *  3 points [-]

(A meta remark: The usual way to quote another person's post here is to prefix lines with the > character, not to use quotation marks.)

Point taken. The phrase "most dangerous" iis hyperbolic. No, so far I don't see any Less Wrongers blowing up buildings or committing mass murders.

Of which I am very glad.

But, what is it that drives people to do such things? Is it as simple as, "God told me to do this?" I don't think it's usually that simple. I'm not sure what drives it, but I think that part of it is a basic human tendency to divide people up into groups of "we" and "they."

Tribalism is powerful and problematic indeed. But I'm not convinced that tribalism alone is sufficient to create eliminationism — here borrowing Daniel Goldhagen's term for the belief that it is morally right and necessary to exterminate the Other. There are lots of places in the world where distinct tribes coexist, maintaining us/them distinctions, without massacring each other constantly.

So there must be something else involved.

Most of us construct this kind of division to some degree, whether we realize it or not, but fundamentalists take it to the extreme.

It isn't really clear to me that all the things that we might label "fundamentalism" are really the same social phenomena. Sociologically, there may be different things going on in Fundamentalist Protestantism (the trope namer); in theocratic regimes such as Iranian Shia or Saudi Wahhabism; in medieval Catholicism in its persecution of the Cathars, Albigensians, and conversos — and for that matter in the Stalinist purges or other "secular" "fundamentalisms".

Tribalism may be part of it; but doctrinal intolerance — the notion that people who believe differently should get bullet — seems to be another; and authoritarian loyalty seems to be another still.

We could talk about intolerance in general, rather than "fundamentalism"; but even this raises the difficulty that some people take peaceful disagreement with their beliefs to be a form of "intolerance". There's not a word for this idea that isn't fraught with political conflict.

While this division is nowhere near the extreme in the rationalist communities, I can definitely imagine it becoming so, particularly if technology advances in the ways that many Less Wrongers predict it will.

This is actually an area where I suspect the LW-cluster is much more universalist than most religionists expect secularists to be. The whole concept of "the coherent extrapolated volition of mankind" explicitly takes in all human experience as significant — thus including religious experience. Religious claims don't have to be true in order for religious experience to be significant as an element of human value; after all, Hamlet isn't true either ....

(Mind you, I also think that most secularists are more universalist than religionists expect secularists to be.)

Some Less Wrongers appear to express the viewpoint that the world would be a better and happier place if all of us were to become rationalists, and I think that this is the attitude that I had in mind when I let the phrase "most dangerous fundamentalists" slip out.

Here I wonder if we (by which I mean the LW-cluster) have been failing to communicate what we mean by "rationalist" and "rationality". One iteration of our Litany of Tarski goes as follows:

If there is a God who loves me,
I desire to believe there is a God who loves me.
If there is not a God who loves me,
I desire to believe there is not a God who loves me.
Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

This is a position of profound submission to the universe. When we say "rationalist" here, we primarily don't mean someone who has a commitment to a particular set of beliefs. We mean someone who wants their beliefs to be caused by the facts of the universe, whatever those might turn out to be.

Medieval Catholics (and some contemporary ones) wanted to make the whole world Catholic. Stalinists wanted to make the whole world Stalinist. In either case, I think the world would have turned out a much worse place had either one succeeded. To you, rationalism, empiricism and positivism might seem to exist in a different category, but to me any ideology or thought system that gets universalized will probably turn into More's Utopia or Plato's Republic. And, while interesting for a while, such places hardly seem very habitable in the long term.

One might then ask, what sort of world is most likely to cultivate and promote the kind of diversity you're advocating here?

But, if Less Wrongers are totalizing and dogmatic about making people happy, then why on earth would you want to deconvert people from religion? Religious beliefs, practices, rituals, spiritualities, aesthetics, values, and communities bring vast amounts of happiness to people all over the world, every day. No, it's not for everyone, but why try and take it away from the people who find so much happiness in it?

I, personally, don't spend any particular effort on deconverting anyone. Not much point: anyone who can be deconverted by less than sufficient evidence can probably be reconverted by less than sufficient evidence.

I would like, however, to find ways to offer more comfort to people who have deconverted and lost their religious social support structure, e.g. been rejected by family. That sort of thing strikes me as acutely unfortunate. But then, my own Christian family didn't give me any particularly acute trouble through my migration from Christian to pagan to atheist.

Comment author: dymphna 24 June 2012 07:09:17PM *  0 points [-]

This is a position of profound submission to the universe. When we say "rationalist" here, we primarily don't mean someone who has a commitment to a particular set of beliefs. We mean someone who wants their beliefs to be caused by the facts of the universe, whatever those might turn out to be.

Thank you for re-clarifying this (yes, I was aware that this was the LW position). But, do most LW'ers think that it should be everyone's position?

Medieval Catholics (and some contemporary ones) wanted to make the whole world Catholic. Stalinists wanted to make the whole world Stalinist. In either case, I think the world would have turned out a much worse place had either one succeeded. To you, rationalism, empiricism and positivism might seem to exist in a different category, but to me any ideology or thought system that gets universalized will probably turn into More's Utopia or Plato's Republic. And, while interesting for a while, such places hardly seem very habitable in the long term.

One might then ask, what sort of world is most likely to cultivate and promote the kind of diversity you're advocating here?

Heh, now there's a question! I personally don't believe in utopias, but I do believe in making the world better. The difficulty is that "better" means different things to different people, and this is something we can't ever forget. To answer your question, I think that a society based on moderation and mutual respect/ tolerance for different beliefs is the best one. Canada's multiculturalism policy comes to mind. There are many flaws with multiculturalism, as it certainly doesn't guarantee that all social groups are treated fairly by those in power. However, having lived in Canada for some years, I find that this attempt at creating a multicultural society (where people are encouraged to maintain their cultural heritage and language) leads to a more diverse and interesting society than does the assimilationist attitude of the US (my home country) where there is greater pressure to give up old identities/values in order to fit in.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 24 June 2012 08:06:47PM 1 point [-]

But, do most LW'ers think that it should be everyone's position?

I won't presume to speak for most LWers.
Speaking for myself, I think we would all be better off if more people's beliefs were more contingent on mutually observable events. So, yeah.
I could be wrong, but I'd love to see the experiment done.

Comment author: dymphna 25 June 2012 12:36:01AM 0 points [-]

I don't really think it would be possible to do an experiment here because the very definition of "better" is a question of values, and different people have different values.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 25 June 2012 12:55:47AM 1 point [-]

And yet, there are many situations in which an observer does in fact look at two groups of people and claim that group A is better off than group B. On your view, are all such observers unjustified in all such claims, or are some of them sometimes justified? (And, if the latter, is there any reason we can't affect the world so as to create such a situation, wherein we are justified in claiming that people are better off after our intervention than they were before?)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 June 2012 03:37:24AM -1 points [-]

Well, there's the anthropological concept of the psychic unity of humankind — we may have different values, but our ways of thinking (including our values) are not wholly alien from one another, but have a lot in common.

And there are also things we can say about human values that descend from cultural evolution: we would not expect, for instance, that any culture would exist that did not value its own replication into the next generation. So we would expect that people would want to teach their ideas to their children (or converts), merely because societies that don't do that would tend to die out and we wouldn't get to observe them.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 June 2012 03:34:10AM *  -1 points [-]

But, do most LW'ers think that it should be everyone's position?

Good question. I haven't conducted a poll. But more problematically, what does that "should" mean?

It could mean:

  • "Would everyone be better off if they were more rationalist?" — I think yes, they would, because they would be better equipped to change the world in directions positive for themselves, and for humanity in general. And I think that this notion is pretty strong in the LW-community. Aside from problems such as becoming a clever arguer, we expect that greater rationality should generally help people.
  • "Is it worthwhile for me to try to get everyone to be more rationalist?" — It isn't clear to me how much influence over other people's rationality I can directly have; although I haven't really tried outside of the LW-community and my (already rather rationalist-friendly) workplace yet. I intend to support CFAR's educational program, though.
  • "Would I benefit from treating people as more virtuous, trustworthy, or righteous if they agree with my position regarding rationality than if they don't?" — No, I don't really think so. Doing that sort of thing seems more likely to lead to Blue/Green political nonsense than to any beneficial result. (Although it sure is nice to hang out with / be friends with / date people who share some metaphysics and reference points ....)

If none of these, what did you mean by "should" there?

The difficulty is that "better" means different things to different people, and this is something we can't ever forget.

Sure; however, some of those different things are compatible and others aren't. Politics shows up when we have to deal with the incompatible ones.

I'm predisposed to like multiculturalism in a lot of ways; it's pretty, interesting, and yields a wide range of social forms — and cultural products such as food, music, and philosophy. It does pose some serious problems, though, when different cultures have incompatible views of things such as human rights, human dignity, or dispute resolution; or when it's used as an excuse to restrain people from choosing to leave their local culture in favor of one of their choice; or when politically well-established cultures are valued highly above less well-connected ones.

Rationality in the LW-sense doesn't presume to tell anyone what their values should be, except insofar as they shouldn't be self-contradictory. We have a strong notion of the complexity of human value and a healthy suspicion of anyone who tries to simplify it. (A fellow came to my local LW meetup recently and tried to argue that the only value worth speaking of is personal survival. I think "wide-eyed horror" would fairly describe the general reaction that idea received.)

But there's a large gap between complexity and irreducibility.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 June 2012 12:08:06AM 1 point [-]

Hypothesis: religions not predicated on "specialness" will not generate dangerous fundamentalism.

If I believe I am average or not special in any way, then I want to work towards futures in which people who are average get goodies.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 June 2012 12:11:16AM 7 points [-]

If I believe I am average or not special in any way, then I want to work towards futures in which people who are average get goodies.

Let's start by killing the people who are special and taking their goodies. ;)

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 June 2012 12:46:14AM 0 points [-]

better dead than red.

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 June 2012 11:53:37AM *  -2 points [-]

They're dead, we're red! (Until someone makes us prove that we're not special ourselves, that is...)

Comment author: Manfred 19 June 2012 12:57:26AM *  -1 points [-]

I think a good explanation for saying things like "just as totalizing and dogmatic" is that the question is getting substituted, in the regular sort of way.

That is, when we talk about how of course we should discourage people from being catholics, this sort of assumption that part of dymphna's identity is bad makes them feel attacked, and feel bad about the attack on their group. And because dymphna is a smart person, they use ideas like "just as totalizing and dogmatic" to communicate the badness they perceive.

And yes, I'm not being charitable at all.

TO HATERS: Oh? You think you'd do better than dymphna in a similar situation? Heck, I know I don't a lot of the time.

Comment author: siodine 19 June 2012 04:00:47PM *  2 points [-]

I must confess that, as an outsider to (but occasional reader of) Less Wrong, I find certain statements and arguments on this site to be just as totalizing and dogmatic as the most dangerous religious fundamentalism. There's also a fair amount that I find personally offensive to my value system. However, whenever I find myself going into a nasty tirade against LW, my atheist rationalist friend (who introduced me to this site in the first place) urges me to remember that not all Less Wrongers are the same. Opinions about things like the Singularity vary greatly, as do values. And, there are even some theists on this site.

I often see this in discussions or debates on religion. The only use for it is to bring disagreements onto a plane of relativism and thereby removing any possibility of conclusion. "I believe this, and you believe that, but aren't we so similar in many ways? Let's be tolerant of each other and allow for whatever beliefs we like."

So, yes, you can draw parallels, some of them accurate, however you can't soundly claim to have the preponderance of impersonal evidence on your side. We haven't reason to treat your beliefs with respect. You should have reason to respect our beliefs if you respect impersonal evidence.

Now, given the assumption that our beliefs are reasonably accurate, are we really totalizing and dogmatic? Is it totalizing and dogmatic to say "young earth creationists are wrong," even when they have more than enough personal evidence for such beliefs? Even when we sound like them? I think it only appears totalizing and dogmatic if you ignore context--if you draw the argument onto relativistic ground.

* I'm giving away more than I should by allowing for coherency in personal evidence for the proposition of a God as described by X religion. The fact is is that even accounting for personal evidence, such as personal revelation, their beliefs are wrong in the Bayesian sense when accounting for non-personal evidence.

Comment author: dymphna 24 June 2012 06:35:35PM 2 points [-]

I often see this in discussions or debates on religion. The only use for it is to bring disagreements onto a plane of relativism and thereby removing any possibility of conclusion. "I believe this, and you believe that, but aren't we so similar in many ways? Let's be tolerant of each other and allow for whatever beliefs we like."

What's wrong with this scenario? I thought that a big part of living in a liberal democracy involves tolerating those who are different from us. Why is a conclusion needed?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 24 June 2012 06:58:05PM 1 point [-]

Depends on what we mean by "allow for" conflicting beliefs, and it depends on what's at stake.

If we're trying to have lunch, and I believe hamburger tastes better than sausage, and you believe sausage tastes better than hamburger, there's no difficulty. You can order sausage, and I can order hamburger, and we're good.

If we're both trying to disarm a ticking bomb, and you believe cutting the red wire will disarm it and cutting the blue wire will set it off, and I believe cutting the red wire will set it off and the blue wire will disarm it, a different strategy is called for.

So one question becomes, what is disagreement about religious issues like? What does it mean to allow for different beliefs, and what's at stake?

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 19 June 2012 10:48:43AM 0 points [-]

Yes, there are many things wrong with the Church as an institution, but people know this and some are trying to reform these flaws (indeed, if Leah does convert, she will be a great one to do this).

I don't think this is necessarily a worthwhile goal.

Comment author: shminux 18 June 2012 07:05:00PM *  2 points [-]

During the discussion, he prodded me on where I thought moral law came from in my metaphysics. I talked about morality as though it were some kind of Platonic form, remote from the plane that humans existed on. He wanted to know where the connection was.

I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.

Presumably asking her to clarify her belief that Morality = Person, and discussing other options for Morality and why they do not make sense to her as much as the Person one could be a start. Though I'm guessing that it will end up at discussing reductionism, something she is "skeptical of".

Or maybe she just craves more love than she gets, and applying logic is a wrong approach to begin with. Maybe get her to attend one of the more welcoming and less judgmental LW meetups in the area.

EDIT: having looked some more through her blog, she seems (hindsight bias notwithstanding) to have been a closet theists, so this is basically a coming out party for her. You are probably out of luck. Your best (?) bet is that she will run into some hateful zealots who will make her question her beliefs again. Though for her sake I hope that she does not and lives her life as a happy Catholic. Sometimes happiness trumps rationality.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 18 June 2012 11:24:08PM 6 points [-]

Your best (?) bet is that she will run into some hateful zealots who will make her question her beliefs again.

As a corollary, acting like a hateful anti-Catholic is not a good idea.

Comment author: Trevor_Blake 18 June 2012 05:26:23PM 2 points [-]

"You don't use your mind to think about religion." - J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, Church of the SubGenius.

The question you asked is how to convince your friend not to become a Catholic. That's the question I'll answer, but it's the wrong question for you to ask.

The Episcopalian faith has much of the content and structure of the Catholic faith, but it is (I hear) more accommodating to women and to non-straight people. Perhaps this might be a better fit for your friend.

The blogger behind ravingatheist.com became a Christian. To his or her credit, the blog remains as it was and the entire record of his or her conversion is there for all to read. This might serve as a guide to you and to your friend, not necessarily in the direction either of you want to go.

If no good can come of or be retained after your friend's conversion, then go ahead and try emotional blackmail. Say 'if you do this I'm not talking to you any more.' If that doesn't feel comfortable, you are starting to ask a better question than how to stop your friend from converting.

Comment author: faul_sname 19 June 2012 04:35:40AM *  3 points [-]

If no good can come of or be retained after your friend's conversion, then go ahead and try emotional blackmail.

Please don't. Becoming a Christian is not the end of the world. People are remarkably good at compartmentalizing, and a large part of the reason he's likely thinking of converting is probably that there's a large, supportive community waiting for him if he does. Demonstrate that he has a community if he doesn't convert, don't threaten to take away his current one. But emotional blackmail is not the way to go.

Comment author: novalis 19 June 2012 05:00:12AM 2 points [-]

One more suggestion: Good and Real proposes a Godless meta-ethics which isn't virtue ethics, but which has parts that might appeal to a virtue ethics fan. So that might be an interesting recommendation.

Comment author: Dorikka 18 June 2012 05:24:04PM 2 points [-]

From the bit about feeling like morality 'loved' her, she seems to find the prospect that a deity exists to be a good thing -- whether or not it's true, she seems to find the belief more attractive than I think it should be given the evidence.

It might be worth explaining that it would be really cruel for an extremely powerful being to just stand around and watch evolution happen. Or, say, either of the World Wars. So, if somehow we did find out that a deity existed, we would have very strong evidence that it was unfriendly, not to mention unFriendly.

If the above examples don't have an emotional impact, smaller-scale ones might work, such as cruel things that one's seen on the news or some such. Or, if personal experiences are relevant, those might be effective too.

Of course, this doesn't actually address the proposition 'does-the-Catholic-god-exist', but it helps to emotionally frame it more accurately. As far as I know, the really good arguments for atheism tend to be kinda abstract and mathy, and she's likely not to be receptive to, say, wielding Occam's Razor correctly while she's still in love with the idea that a friendly god exists.

Comment author: coffeespoons 18 June 2012 06:34:56PM *  6 points [-]

I expect that, as an atheist blogger, she will have encountered these arguments before.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 20 June 2012 11:17:37AM 1 point [-]

I don't think the conversion will last.

Comment author: ciphergoth 21 June 2012 04:55:16PM 2 points [-]

I think the downvote here is a little harsh. Mitchell is sticking his neck out here by making a prediction. I almost think he should offer a bet, but I'm not convinced about the ethics of betting on ordinary people's choices where they can see...

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 21 June 2012 10:05:52PM 0 points [-]

I thought the downvote (I only saw one) might have come from someone who approved of Leah's conversion.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 June 2012 04:58:54PM 0 points [-]

It is. (Upvoted both his comments.)

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 January 2014 01:00:30PM 1 point [-]

I think over 18 months counts as lasting.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 June 2012 11:18:59AM 0 points [-]

I don't think the conversion will last.

How confident are you? How long?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 20 June 2012 11:28:19AM *  0 points [-]

Confidence is low. But I give it six months. ETA: The reason is that she's a rationalist, not a mysterian. She's been seduced by Catholic metaphysics and her private mysticism, but the intellectual baggage of Catholic doctrine is what ought to kill it for her in the end. Her day job is public health. Will she really be willing to believe that a young girl in Boston had her liver healed because Edith Stein interceded from beyond the grave?

Comment author: thescoundrel 18 June 2012 08:32:36PM *  1 point [-]

The world looks pretty scary when we try and look at it as it really is. As much as we try to account for it, at some level we are a function of that which we observe and take in- from that viewpoint, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where the information you take in becomes skewed along lines that don't mach up with reality. Given enough skewed data, we all make choices that appear irrational from other eyes.

Sadly, none of us rank information told us once as highly as information we "discover" for ourselves. I don't know if the conversion process works like the de-conversion process at all, or if my de-conversion was typical, but the process of moving from an indoctrinated evangelical christian to an out atheist was the work of years, of countless internal dialogues, and of long periods of confusion. In some ways, becoming an atheist meant embracing my confusion- in understanding that clear answers are very rarely present, and even more rarely easy to find. Faced with that, I think I can imagine a process that would sway an atheist mind.

What to do about it? I don't know. Religion provides a certainty, a comfort that atheism seemingly cannot- we cannot right now promise you will live forever, or even longer than the average person with any confidence. We cannot tell you your place in the world, or give you an easy guide to how to live life well. We have half answers, and bits and pieces, and we ask you to take all this uncertainty, and do the best you can with it. That's not an easy way to live life, and I can see how easy it would be to want an escape, into the arms of something more concrete.

Edit: paragraph breaks ahoy!

Comment author: Manfred 19 June 2012 12:59:57AM 3 points [-]

Paragraph breaks, man. Paragraph breaks.

Comment author: duckduckMOO 27 June 2012 06:27:31PM *  0 points [-]

"she felt like morality "loved" her."

Maybe you can explain to her that internal constructs can feel like external entities.

also from reading her blog post I got the impression rationality was a limit on her ability to choose her beliefs in this area rather than her means for doing so

"I couldn’t pick consistency over my construction project as long as I didn’t believe it was true."

Also this, "until I discovered that their study of virtue ethics has led them to take a tumble into the Tiber" makes it sound like she is a "pragmatist" or whatever the term is or she thinks finding the true morality has to be satisfying for some reason.

Also I can't believe this doesn't bother people. If you are happy to worship someone who sends people to hell your morality sucks. That your morality isn't currently (directly) harming anyone doesn't mean it's not dangerous.

Comment author: keddaw 27 July 2012 04:22:53PM 1 point [-]

Ahh, but, you see, it's their choice to go to hell and not something the omni-benevolent creator of the universe does. But obviously it's their choice at the instant of death and not a moment afterwards when they realise that god actually exists, one can't repent or believe then...

Blame The Victim #Christianity

Comment author: asparisi 18 June 2012 10:23:56PM -3 points [-]

People in general rarely do things for rational, sensible, truth-based reasons. So generally, if I really want someone to do or think something, I manipuate them into it. Of course, this may harm your friendship (if you get caught) or damage the person (if you are not apt at such things) or it may run against your personal ethics. None of these are bad reasons to refrain, but if what you really want is her deconversion, you already want to manipulate her and might as well use effective tools (rhetoric, emotional blackmail, cognitive biases, reputation/shaming... whatever suits you) rather than less effective means such as facts, evidence, or logical reasoning.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 18 June 2012 10:54:08PM *  5 points [-]

[B]ut if what you really want is her deconversion, you already want to manipulate her and might as well use effective tools (rhetoric, emotional blackmail, cognitive biases, reputation/shaming... whatever suits you) rather than less effective means such as facts, evidence, or logical reasoning.

I take strong objection to this sentiment. Even ignoring the ethical and tactical problems with manipulating people into doing what you want for non-truth-based reasons, the excerpted statement proves too much. Just because I want somebody to do something or believe something, I necessarily want to manipulate them? But then in what circumstance would I ever want to appeal to "facts, evidence, or logical reasoning"? In writing the Sequences and trying to awake informed rationalism in potential AI researchers, was Eliezer "manipulating" his readers? Well, yes, if you mean he took action to effect a desired change in others. No, if you mean he felt free to use any sort of rhetorical tools available.

Perhaps I'm responsible for some confusion here, when I said I would "settle" for her not becoming Catholic. What I meant was not that the I care primarily about her identification as "Catholic" or "not Catholic," as if the very fact of identification is itself relevant. What I care about is that she genuinely recognize why moving her beliefs, values, and behavior toward the Catholic cluster would be a Bad Idea. I care that she have an informed desire to not want to convert, not just that she ends up deciding not to identify as Catholic for whatever reason.

Comment author: asparisi 18 June 2012 11:34:50PM 2 points [-]

Upvoted.

While I am highly sympathetic to your desire to not want her to make her decisions for "non-truth based reasons," in and of itself your desire: to want her to want to change her beliefs (back) merely moves the problem back a step. I did not mean to imply that you want to or should want to change her mind by any particular means, but there is only so far that you can constrain a problem before it becomes impossible or impractical to solve.

What you seem to want is for her to change back purely on the basis of obtaining information. If you possess information, know that you possess it, AND she is unusually receptive to this approach, you will probably be able to proceed. If, however, you suspect that she will be commonly resistant to this approach or that she has already rationalized away what new information you will provide (or do so upon hearing it) then it would seem likely that this approach will not work.

I do sincerely hope this situation is of the luckier sort, even if I would bet otherwise.

Comment author: Manfred 19 June 2012 01:16:21AM *  0 points [-]

The primary reason I think this is downvoted is that you neglect that Jay has lots of goals, and something like emotional blackmail may advance one but, if we assume he's a regular guy, set back many others. That is, you're being very narrow (here's what I think you should do to achieve the single goal X), rather than holistic (here's what I think you should do to advance your goals as a whole), and holistic advice is a lot more useful.

Comment author: MixedNuts 19 June 2012 01:25:29PM -1 points [-]

I would like your friend not to give money to an organisation that actively shelters child rapists. Refusing to tithe and giving to religious charities is cool, though.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 June 2012 10:20:07PM 0 points [-]

Do you know anything about what sort of Catholic she's becoming? There's a wide range within the religion, though I've heard that converts are apt to take the religion more literally.

If she's one of those "there's a real Catholicism, and it isn't the hierarchy" people, then she might not be under as much pressure about her sexuality as you fear.

Comment author: lukstafi 20 June 2012 03:54:43PM *  -2 points [-]

Orthodox Church is strictly more probable than Catholic Church regarding truthness of dogma. ETA: assuming that both probabilities are greater than zero.

Comment author: lukstafi 26 June 2012 06:11:42PM 0 points [-]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council#Eastern_Orthodox_Church vs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council#Roman_Catholic_Church . Although in some writings the Catholic Church suggests that an old doctrine might change under "doctrinal development", at other times it claims that Revelation is not subject to revision, which suggests to me that it cannot drop a once-claimed dogma.

Comment author: lukstafi 29 June 2012 11:16:23AM -1 points [-]

I'm somewhat baffled by the downvotes. I have some anecdotal evidence that considering the Orthodox Church and analyzing the dogma that differs the two (and how they came about) thwarts (Roman) Catholic conversion.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 June 2012 11:49:49AM 2 points [-]

If you judge them based on canonical doctrines, then I (largely) agree that Catholicism is a subset of Orthodoxy. (And they are interchangeable in many ways, so just going with the locally more convenient one is a reasonably safe bet, assuming you buy the shared package.)

However, it's not obvious to me that Catholicism is less probable if you include their doctrine-generating mechanism. If you accept Orthodoxy, you fundamentally reject papal primacy. The Pope either is or isn't the (unique) successor of Peter. Neither option seems trivially simpler to me. (In the same sense that I couldn't a priori tell if Sunni or Shia claims of succession are more probable.)

That accepting one claim leads to a smaller (and so more probable) set of doctrines is irrelevant, if the mechanism that gets you there is itself less probable.

Comment author: lukstafi 29 June 2012 03:43:26PM *  -1 points [-]

I agree. (I disagree with the application of the example about the Pope being in some sense the successor of Peter, but it doesn't matter.) ETA: what I agree is the meta-statement, there is still some tension in the Roman Catholic Church wanting to have the cake and eat it too... There are Reformed Churches "on offer", one could also be an unaffiliated Jesus follower, no? Never mind though.

Comment author: beriukay 19 June 2012 10:14:39AM -2 points [-]

It probably won't lead to the bottom line she's already seemed to have drawn, but I can share a bunch of material from my ethics class (which is very much science-based, and has a lot of good videos and literature to read). I'm only 1/3 done with the class, but to the degree that it wipes everything away and starts from scratch, I feel that it could only help a person on their journey of understanding ethics.

Let me know if you're interested.

Comment author: beriukay 20 June 2012 10:57:56AM 0 points [-]

Did I make some kind of silly assumption about the bottom line?

Comment author: CronoDAS 19 June 2012 05:07:18AM *  -1 points [-]

It seems the impetus for her conversion was increasing frustration that she had no good naturalistic account for objective morality in the form of virtue ethics; that upon reflection, she decided she felt like morality "loved" her; that this feeling implied God;

Throw desirism at her?

Comment author: palladias 19 June 2012 05:31:38AM 4 points [-]

I read all the desirism posts I saw Luke do and read transcripts of the relevant podcasts. (Following his blog is how I ended up reading the Sequences). It's been a while since I looked at them, but, as best I can remember, I didn't think his writing ever got specific enough for me to be able to predict what desirism entails.

I like that he trying to build from the ground up, but there were never enough examples for me to be able to check whether desirism matched the predictions I was already pretty confident in and thought any good theory had to explain. (Convincing me that I was wrong to see those precepts as important would also be a valid approach, but there wasn't enough fleshed out to do that, either)

Comment author: ciphergoth 19 June 2012 11:51:42AM 3 points [-]

Looking forward to discussing this with you in July, but let me start now. Is it that you find atheist positions on morality unpalatable, or incompatible with what you observe, or something else? Thanks!

Comment author: MBlume 27 July 2012 06:38:09PM -2 points [-]

The fully general argument against supernatural belief is physicalism/reductionism. The fully general argument against omnipotent/omnibenevolent beings in our local space is anti-panglossianism, ie fun theory. Pick one.

That said, when someone starts arguing that it's impossible to derive ought-from-is, and therefore we need God to ground morality, I always want to ask if it isn't a bit suspect that they just derived is-from-ought.

Comment author: dripgrind 26 June 2012 01:14:06AM -2 points [-]

[Executive summary: solve the underlying causes of your problem by becoming Pope]

I think it's a mistake to focus too much on the case of one particular convert to Catholicism simply because you know her personally. To do that is to fall prey to the availability heuristic.

The root cause of your problem with your friend is that the Catholic Church exists as a powerful and influential organisation which continues to promote its weird dogma, polluting Leah's mind along with millions of others. Before investing time and effort trying to flip her back to the side of reason, you should consider whether you could destroy the Church and dam the river of poison at its source. I will now outline a metho