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Comment author: army1987 08 November 2014 05:30:43PM 2 points [-]

driving the risks ... to the general background risk level

IAWYC, but in general the right thing to do is to reduce the risk until the marginal cost of reducing it more exceeds the disutility of what one is risking: for example, if I can spend one cent to reduce the probability I'll die tomorrow by 1e-7 (e.g. by not being as much of a jackass while driving) I should do so, even though the general background risk level (according to actuarial tables for my gender, age and province) is more than an order of magnitude larger.

Comment author: Desrtopa 12 November 2014 04:44:37AM 1 point [-]

IAWYC, but in general the right thing to do is to reduce the risk until the marginal cost of reducing it more exceeds the disutility of what one is risking:

Not necessarily. The reduction may have positive value in absolute terms, but carry the opportunity cost of preventing you from devoting those resources to more valuable risk reductions.

Comment author: Desrtopa 12 November 2014 02:26:19AM 17 points [-]

Completed. I'm concerned that the "mixed" options for religious background are concealing meaningful demographic information. For instance, my parents are of Christian and Jewish parentage, so I chose the "mixed" option because I do not consider my cultural heritage to be predominantly Jewish or Christian. A person with Hindu and Muslim parents would have the same answer, but a very different cultural background. Perhaps in future it might be better to use a "check all that apply" format?

Comment author: DanielLC 18 October 2014 01:06:33AM 4 points [-]

Race is correlated with poverty, so that's expected. Is there a strong correlation beyond that?

Comment author: Desrtopa 20 October 2014 02:50:31PM 0 points [-]

There seems to be, although the studies that I've found with a quick search discuss this in terms of poverty having strong predictive value even after controlling for race (which is probably a less politically charged claim.) However, there are a lot of confounders that are not easy to adjust out of such an analysis.

Comment author: Unknowns 16 October 2014 04:32:12AM *  0 points [-]

Jesus is said to have said, "Will the Son of Man find faith left on the earth when he returns?" In context this looks like a rhetorical question, with the answer being "no", at least more or less, even if he did not mean that no one at all would believe. So I don't see how your second thing is right, since someone seems to have predicted that scenario. It's true that that is likely to happen if Christianity is false; but apparently it is also likely to happen if it is true.

Regarding the first, Mark 6:4-6 says, "Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household." And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief. " So it seems that just as faith works miracles, unbelief impedes them, even when there are a few believers around. So even if the population is greater, miracles will not necessarily increase, because of the greater population of unbelievers.

As for better documentation, Thomas Aquinas at least asserts that the reason faith should work miracles is that a person who has faith "merits" in a certain way to prove that faith to himself and others. This means that equal faith should earn equal proofs. But an equal miracle will be more capable of proving things, not equally capable, when you have better documentation; so as documentation improves, the faith you need to work the same miracle will increase, and so the frequency of miracles of a given type will decrease. This also explains why most miracles are not directly visible in a moment; because a miracle like this has too much of a capacity to prove something, in comparison to people's level of faith.

As I said, such explanations may be unappealing, especially since apparently the consequences are exactly the same whether Christianity is true or false. However, I did not invent those explanations, but they were already presented long ago by the Bible and by Christians (such as Thomas Aquinas).

Comment author: Desrtopa 16 October 2014 08:25:48PM 1 point [-]

Jesus is said to have said, "Will the Son of Man find faith left on the earth when he returns?" In context this looks like a rhetorical question, with the answer being "no", at least more or less, even if he did not mean that no one at all would believe. So I don't see how your second thing is right, since someone seems to have predicted that scenario. It's true that that is likely to happen if Christianity is false; but apparently it is also likely to happen if it is true.

First, I don't think it's at all clear from the context that the answer is intended to be "no." Second, Jesus also indicated that some people who knew him in person would still be alive as of the time he returned to earth, so this might be better interpreted as skepticism that his followers can maintain their standards of devotion rather than doubt in the persistence of a long term tradition.

As for better documentation, Thomas Aquinas at least asserts that the reason faith should work miracles is that a person who has faith "merits" in a certain way to prove that faith to himself and others. This means that equal faith should earn equal proofs. But an equal miracle will be more capable of proving things, not equally capable, when you have better documentation; so as documentation improves, the faith you need to work the same miracle will increase, and so the frequency of miracles of a given type will decrease. This also explains why most miracles are not directly visible in a moment; because a miracle like this has too much of a capacity to prove something, in comparison to people's level of faith.

On the other hand, Jesus himself seems to suggest a simpler model in Luke 11, according to which God answers prayers simply to satisfy those who ask, because he is good.

If unbelief inhibits miracles, then one should be able to create miracles by separating out enclaves of the faithful (and indeed, more religious communities certainly tend to segregate themselves from less religious ones.) But if you go too far down the road of expecting no miracles to occur, then this also means that you can't update your confidence upwards based on reports of miracles either.

In response to comment by Aiyen on Questions on Theism
Comment author: Unknowns 16 October 2014 05:32:24PM 1 point [-]

Mormons tend to be more committed, so that could explain the higher rate of answers, assuming it is real.

Comment author: Desrtopa 16 October 2014 08:05:49PM 1 point [-]

I don't think this requires an assumption that it's real at all; a higher level of commitment could very easily lead people to be more lax in their standards for whether a prayer has been "answered," if we're looking at it in psychological rather than supernatural terms.

Comment author: Unknowns 15 October 2014 08:03:02PM 0 points [-]

Of course you can speculate on reasons why people would have been likely to make up stories like that, but Christians could also speculate that since the Bible says miracles are worked by faith ("your faith has healed you" etc), one would expect that in places where there is more faith, there will be more miracles. But those times had more faith, so one would expect that they would have more miracles. So theoretically that could be an alternate explanation for why those times had more dramatic miracle claims, however unappealing that explanation might be to you.

Comment author: Desrtopa 16 October 2014 01:38:33AM 0 points [-]

This is certainly an argument one could take. However, while the average levels of faith then were certainly much higher, the population now is also much higher, so even if our per-capita rate of dramatic miracles is lower, we have a much larger pool to draw on, and much better documentation.

Also, if we're comparing hypothetical worlds where Christianity is true or false, I think a scenario where the populace becomes dramatically less faithful over time, to the point that the absolute population with sufficient faith to perform miracles goes down while the total population more than dectuples, is significantly less likely to occur in the world where Christianity is true.

Comment author: Unknowns 15 October 2014 05:54:25PM 0 points [-]

I have already read the Mormonism essay and mostly agreed with it.

However, I disagree that you would be using the same standard of evidence in this case. For example, all of the witnesses for Mormonism had readily understandable motives such as not breaking up the group or offending their leader. Something similar may be true about the boy and his parents, but it isn't true e.g. of the doctors who testified to amputating the boy's leg. They were from a different town, were not there when the supposed restoration happened, and had nothing to gain by agreeing with a made up story. Calanda could become famous by such a story, but the doctors would get nothing out of it.

That is only one out of a number of substantial differences.

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 October 2014 07:39:58PM 1 point [-]

In my experience, people who are not involved in alleged miraculous events will often throw support behind their veracity, because any dramatic miracle is like a point scored for the cultural group they identify with. While arguably this might have been less the case hundreds of years ago when the cultural hegemony of Christianity meant that there was less value in dramatic evidence for it, I think that the far greater prevalence of dramatic miracle claims from that period suggests that this is not the case. Plus, in those times, the site of any dramatic alleged miracle would often gain a reputation as a holy place, greatly increasing the standing of the location and increasing business through pilgrimage.

Comment author: Aiyen 15 October 2014 06:55:45PM 1 point [-]

As C.S. Lewis would say-are they lying, are they mad, or are they telling the truth? People do lie sometimes, and perhaps my difficulty in letting go of Christianity despite a mountain of evidence against it is that my prior on people making up stories is too low. It would take an awful lot of psychosis to make someone believe that a leg had regrown, but again, people do go insane. But is there a way to get a sense of how likely/unlikely this is? With Pascal's Wager on the table, it's not enough to say there's ~40% chance Christianity is true, that's less than half, it's probably wrong. Rejecting it without constant fear would take near certainty that accounts like this one are fraudulant or deceived.

In response to comment by Aiyen on Questions on Theism
Comment author: Desrtopa 15 October 2014 07:33:38PM 3 points [-]

C.S. Lewis, I think, failed to adequately account for the likelihood of stories propagating by exaggeration. Jesus need not have been a liar, a lunatic, or the lord, he could have been an honest, sane person to whom people ascribed claims of being divine after the fact (although as a religious leader setting up a splinter movement that strongly deviated from existing doctrine, I think the odds favor the historical Jesus having been at least somewhat crazy.)

I would say that the body of evidence posed by other religions suggests that, in the absence of a true religion, people will still make up stories of a religious nature (also, the degree of theological uniformity that exists among most existing strains of Christianity comes, not from the fact that early sects were at all unified, but that modern sects are almost all descended from the strain that killed the other ones off.) But my position is probably shaped to a significant extent by personal experiences with other people elaborating on outlandish lies that I came up with when I was young, with practically nothing to gain from it.

In response to comment by Aiyen on Questions on Theism
Comment author: Unknowns 14 October 2014 06:27:45PM 0 points [-]

Aiyen, see this post: http://atheistsareidiots.blogspot.sk/2013/05/myths-about-miracle-of-calanda-debunked.html

(Don't blame me for the name of the blog...)

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 October 2014 03:51:13PM 0 points [-]

My response to this one is that if we're going to grant this miracle, by the same standard of evidence we'd probably also have to grant Mormonism.

Rather than focusing on how any particular alleged event can best be explained, I think it's more productive to look at what accepting that standard of evidence would also lead us to grant.

In response to comment by Aiyen on Questions on Theism
Comment author: Toggle 08 October 2014 11:17:30PM *  3 points [-]

I looked around a bit, and there are a few things challenging this measurement. Buddhism and Hinduism explicitly conflate miracles with supernatural human powers, and seem to take a dim view of both (they're also not theistic in the relevant sense anyway). Islam reports many miracles (starting with the Holy Quran itself, of course), but since Al-Ghazali seems to reject material causality entirely in favor of everything being miraculous- the challenge here will be reporting events that a Christian would also interpret as miraculous or supernatural, which the religion tends to see as superstition. Judaism is probably insufficiently distinct from Christianity for your purposes. Wiccans certainly report many spirit communications and magical experiences, more often than most Christians- the invocation of these events is core to the faith, although again you might not consider these miraculous as such due to the lack of monotheism (an equivalent might be transubstantiation during the Catholic communion ceremony). Same with many new age spiritualists.

In other words, most world religions don't even really have false claims of contemporary miracles in the theistic sense you mean, for the same reason that Christians rarely report remembering their past lives. Islam and Wicca come closest, but these are both religions that were influenced by Christianity at the time of their founding. So even the 'Christianity is false' universe would predict a preponderance of miracle reports to exist within Christianity.

In response to comment by Toggle on Questions on Theism
Comment author: Desrtopa 15 October 2014 03:44:44PM 2 points [-]

I looked around a bit, and there are a few things challenging this measurement. Buddhism and Hinduism explicitly conflate miracles with supernatural human powers, and seem to take a dim view of both (they're also not theistic in the relevant sense anyway).

In what way is Hinduism not theistic in the relevant sense? It is, in one sense, monotheistic, and on that scale it posits an effectively non-interventionist deity, but on the level on which it's polytheistic, the deities tend to be highly interventionist.

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