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Comment author: Lumifer 23 June 2017 02:33:54PM *  1 point [-]

what makes you sure that a society that tied status more closely to such skills wouldn't have promoted someone better than Mao to the top?

There have been enough revolutions and (temporarily successful) peasant revolts to demonstrate how that usually turns out. Lenin famously said that "Any cook should be able to run the country" and I don't think it worked well.

Comment author: gjm 24 June 2017 12:43:02PM 0 points [-]

If only someone had thought to send Lenin to cookery school.

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: bogus 24 June 2017 09:49:47AM 0 points [-]

those branches of the Christian tradition that embrace belief in eternal hell for the unsaved almost always also insist that we should not expect that hell to be empty.

There's actually quite a bit of ambiguity about this - enough for a tradition of 'universal reconciliation' to exist, which expressly says that hell will eventually empty out. It seems rather clear that the position that we must take the possibility of eternal hell seriously and 'make every effort to enter through the narrow door' but that universal salvation is something that can meaningfully be hoped for, can in fact be held with some consistency.

In response to comment by bogus on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: gjm 24 June 2017 12:40:54PM 0 points [-]

I agree that there is some ambiguity, but I am not convinced that that position can be held so consistently as you suggest.

Let me first of all say that of course a Christian may make every effort to enter through the narrow door for reasons other than their personal welfare. I take it the question is whether they can be moved by the prospect of their own damnation while also thinking an empty hell likely.

Now, there are two different ways in which you could think an empty hell likely but not certain. (1) You could be uncertain between (a) lots of people in hell, with no realistic prospect of escape, and (b) some process that usually or always makes hell end up empty; or (2) you could be confident that the latter is the case, but think that in some cases the process might fail.

I don't think branch 1 is actually relevant to this discussion -- because if you think (1a) is a thing you think it's plausible that God might do or allow, you're right back in that "morally monstrous" box. So let's consider branch 2.

What that means is that the danger of any given individual getting stuck in hell eternally is small enough that it's likely that everyone gets out. Let's suppose the total number of people ever to live is 100 billion = 10^11; then, crudely, that means that any individual's risk of not getting out is no worse than about 1 chance in 10^-11.

And if the individual wondering about this is a Christian, making at least a typical-Christian effort to live a life pleasing to God, and thinks that the system in question was set up by that same God with the intention of incentivising God-pleasing behaviour ... well, then surely they have to reckon their own chances considerably better than average.

So then the question is: how much actual incentive does, say, a 10^-12 probability of eternal damnation produce? Surely very little, not least because it's kinda lost in the noise compared with other improbable ways of ending up eternally damned (some other nastier religion could be right, we could all end up in eternal-torture simulations by hostile AIs, etc.).

I think a Christian who seriously embraced the idea that an eternal hell exists but is likely to end up empty should not, and in most cases would not, be materially motivated by fear of ending up in hell.

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: lmn 24 June 2017 03:18:34AM 0 points [-]

Because it seems incredibly unlikely to maximize utility,

Avoiding for the moment the question whether utilitarianism is the right approach to these kinds of problems. There is in fact a decision theory argument in favor of this. Eliezer stumbled up on a version of it and didn't react well, specifically banning all detailed discussion of it from LW in an extremely ham-handed manner.

neither does it accord with what seems to me a general principle that punishment should be at most proportionate to the crime being punished.

Where does this principal come from? Can you provide any utilitarian justification for it? It's a useful mildly useful Schelling point in certain rather specific circumstances but that's about it.

In response to comment by lmn on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: gjm 24 June 2017 12:25:56PM 0 points [-]

There is in fact a decision theory argument in favor of this. Eliezer stumbled upon a version of it [...]

I haven't given a lot of thought to that particular argument, but it doesn't look to me as if it can plausibly work here. In order for it to produce useful effects without unacceptable collateral damage, it seems to me that you want the threat known to a small number of people and to persuade them to work towards a highly specific goal that those people are particularly well-suited to achieving. Exactly how small, how specific, what goal, and how well-suited may vary together in kinda-obvious ways. These conditions don't seem to me to be anywhere near to being met in the case of the Christian idea of hell.

Can you provide any utilitarian justification for it?

I'm not sure. If I'm thinking in utilitarian terms (which I generally am) I am mostly concerned with actions rather than principles (unless the question at issue is "would this be a good principle to have?", which it isn't here). I brought the deontological viewpoint in at all only because I know some people reject consequentialism and may be (or profess to be) wholly unmoved by the mere fact that something causes vast amounts of unnecessary suffering.

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: bogus 23 June 2017 10:49:26PM *  1 point [-]

Because it seems incredibly unlikely to maximize utility

It does maximize utility if it ends up being out-of-equilibrium for every agent. This is known as a grim trigger strategy. Making the "punishment proportionate to the crime" is definjtely worthwhile in imperfect information settings where you can't ensure that the bad outcome will be fully out-of-equilibrium, but an agent with perfect information needs not concern hirself with this case!

In response to comment by bogus on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: gjm 24 June 2017 01:20:05AM 0 points [-]

I agree that that's possible in principle but (1) it seems extremely unlikely to work out that way in practice, especially as (2) it is clear that the existence and terms of such punishment are very far from universal knowledge; and (3) those branches of the Christian tradition that embrace belief in eternal hell for the unsaved almost always also insist that we should not expect that hell to be empty.

(I should reiterate at this point that Christianity as such does not require belief in eternal torture for the unsaved; in particular, a pretty good argument can be made that its texts fit as well or better with mere annihilation for them, and if -- as the more sophisticated Christians almost always are these days -- you are willing to accept that much in those texts can be outright wrong, then all bets are off.)

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: lmn 23 June 2017 01:45:24AM 0 points [-]

I am not much interested in turning this into a lengthy argument about whether the available evidence actually does or doesn't support Christianity.

I'm not necessarily ether. I'm not even a Christian. That's what makes the number of laughably bad arguments people use to deconvert themselves so frustrating.

Punishing bad people may or may not be morally monstrous. Punishing finite badness with eternal torture is morally monstrous.

Why? I actually disagree with this point.

The scientific doctrine of light and matter does not really say that light and matter are "both particle and wave"; that is a simplification for popular presentation. What it actually does say is difficult for human brains, but even the appearance of contradiction between "particle" and "wave" goes away completely once it is understood.

One could make the same argument about the trinity. BTW, do you actually understand quantum physics well enough for that to happen?

In response to comment by lmn on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: gjm 23 June 2017 10:21:15PM 0 points [-]

Why [is punishing finite badness with eternal torture morally monstrous]?

Because it seems incredibly unlikely to maximize utility, neither does it accord with what seems to me a general principle that punishment should be at most proportionate to the crime being punished. Why isn't it morally monstrous?

One could make the same argument about the trinity.

I really don't think one could. What Christian theologians themselves (at least, the ones I've read) say about the Trinity is generally not anything like "this is counterintuitive but we understand it clearly now". I don't think they would claim that the appearance of contradiction goes away once the thing is understood; in fact I think they are more inclined to say that the more deeply you understand it the more (gloriously) mysterious it gets.

BTW, do you actually understand quantum mechanics well enough for that to happen?

I think so. There are many levels of understanding quantum mechanics and I by no means claim to have achieved them all, but the apparent contradiction goes away rather early in the process and from what I do understand of the deeper levels it does not look to me as if it ever comes back. (Other mysteries do appear, but that's a different matter.)

Comment author: komponisto 23 June 2017 08:12:16AM *  1 point [-]

I would describe this more generally as real-world achievement, which is a lot clearer than a label like "physical cognition"

There you go again, compulsively trying to round concepts off to something else!

"Real-world achievement" is considerably less clear as a way of pointing to what I am trying to point to than "physical cognition". It evokes all kinds of distracting side-issues about what constitutes the "real world". (Is pure mathematics "real-world achievement"? et cetera, et cetera).

I can't tell what the point of your second paragraph is. Is it just an attempt to provide reassurance (to whom?) about the value of humanities academia, in the face of what you took to be a "boo humanities academia!" from me (in my comment on Otium)? Or are you seeking to dispute my contention that physical cognition is underpracticed and undervalued there (in which case it would tend to look like your proposal to substitute "real-world achievement" for "physical cognition" was an attempt to muddy the waters in preparation for an equivocation)?

All this notwithstanding, I'm grateful for the pointer to the Eric Raymond essay, as it is relevant to what I was talking about with respect to Maslow and so forth. (In particular, it serves as anecdotal information about, and confirmation of, the distinction between Levels 4 and 5.)

Comment author: gjm 23 June 2017 10:13:44PM 0 points [-]

"Real-world achievement" is considerably less clear as a way of pointing to what I am trying to point to than "physical cognition". It evokes all kinds of distracting side-issues about what constitutes the "real world". (Is pure mathematics "real-world achievement"? et cetera, et cetera).

For me, I don't see how "physical cognition" is better, because just what "physical" means here is as unclear to me as what "real-world" means in bogus's comment, and in rather similar ways. Is doing pure mathematics "physical cognition"? What about physics?

With no more context than your earlier comment where (so far as I know) you first used the term, I'd have taken "physical cognition" to mean something like "applying one's brain directly to the real world in ways involving planning and subtlety and the like", with playing a musical instrument being an example. But I now have the impression that you intend it more broadly than that, perhaps including e.g. musical composition (even if done in one's head). But exactly what you mean remains unclear to me, as does why (if I'm understanding you right) you consider "physical cognition" a more fruitful category of things to lump together than "real-world achievement".

(Note for the avoidance of doubt: I am not claiming that "physical cognition" is not a more fruitful category, nor that bogus's thinking in this area is better than yours, nor anything of that kind. I am just saying that it seems unreasonable to complain of someone "rounding off concepts" when you have made no apparent effort to clarify what you do mean, and that your specific objection to "real-world achievement" seems to apply equally to "physical cognition".)

Comment author: Lumifer 23 June 2017 04:54:14PM 0 points [-]

A lot of armchair theorizing, zero empirical evidence.

Comment author: gjm 23 June 2017 10:00:12PM 1 point [-]

You could say the same about most publications in theoretical physics. The point of this sort of thing is (1) to make predictions that can be evaluated on the basis of empirical evidence and/or (2) to help make sense of the empirical evidence; it is no fault that it doesn't itself contain or describe that evidence.

(I have no more than glanced at this particular paper, and make no claim that it's any good. But this is not a reasonable criticism.)

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: g_pepper 23 June 2017 04:10:58PM 0 points [-]

I'm pretty sure that until, say, 250 years ago at least 90% of the world's Christians, and a sizeable majority even of the world's best-informed Christians, believed that the origin of life is very recent.

I don't know if that is true or not, but it sounds plausible. However, 250 years ago no one had a justified, accurate estimate of how long ago life originated - the science behind that had not been done yet. So, I do not see how the fact (if fact it be) that most Christians had an inaccurate idea about how old life is has any relevance to whether or not Christianity is true.

Comment author: gjm 23 June 2017 09:57:38PM 0 points [-]

As I said, the relationship of this to the truth or untruth of Christianity's claims is complicated. But one reason why it might be relevant is that there is a difference between not knowing something and confidently believing something that is false, or still worse holding that that false thing is a revelation from God. If for many centuries the Christian tradition confidently proclaimed a belief that was actually wrong, then that doesn't make the Christians involved particularly bad or stupid (since, as you say, no one else knew the answer either) but it does mean that the Christian tradition was capable of prolonged serious error. Which in turn means e.g. that arguments of the form "X is more likely to be true, because look at this lengthy tradition of people who believed it" -- which is actually an argument with some strength; people believe true things more often than otherwise similar false things -- are weaker than they would be without such mistakes in the history of that tradition.

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: g_pepper 22 June 2017 05:06:38AM 0 points [-]

factually incorrect (recent origin of life)

The claim of a recent origin of life is not very central to Christianity. In fact, I believe this is a minority position among Christians world-wide. Did you intend it as a factually incorrect claim of Christianity, or as a factually incorrect claim of a particular flavor of Christianity (e.g. fundamentalist)?

Comment author: gjm 22 June 2017 11:20:05AM 1 point [-]

I intended it as a factually incorrect of some versions of Christianity. It is true that most present-day Christians, especially those in wealthy industrialized well-educated nations, no longer make such a claim. (And also that the possibility of taking the Biblical account as something other than straightforward factual narrative has eminent representatives a long way back into the Christian tradition. But I'm pretty sure that until, say, 250 years ago at least 90% of the world's Christians, and a sizeable majority even of the world's best-informed Christians, believed that the origin of life is very recent. How much that matters when trying to decide whether Christianity is right is an interesting question I don't propose to go into here.)

In response to comment by gjm on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: lmn 22 June 2017 03:45:45AM 0 points [-]

Christian doctrines as morally monstrous (hell)

Why is punishing bad people morally monstrous?

probably internally incoherent (Trinity, dual nature of Christ)

Do you also find the scientific doctrine of light, and mater, being both particle and wave internally incoherent.

In response to comment by lmn on Any Christians Here?
Comment author: gjm 22 June 2017 11:16:34AM 1 point [-]

Meta-note 1: I am not much interested in turning this into a lengthy argument about whether the available evidence actually does or doesn't support Christianity. When I did that for myself my notes ended up being about 80k words long, and that was fairly terse and didn't waste space on mutual misunderstandings etc. as any discussion between different people is liable to do. I don't think LW is a good venue for tens of thousands of words of religious argument. I was addressing your statement about ex-Christians having "the stupidest reasons"; if you want to argue, not that my reasons were stupid, but that after lengthy consideration they will turn out to be wrong, then that's a change of subject.

Meta-note 2: I realise that in the grandparent of this comment I didn't give a complete answer to your question (though it's possible that the smaller question I answered was the one you actually intended) because I didn't say anything about the arguments for Christianity that, in my opinion, were weaker than the best arguments against. I forget what arguments for Christianity (or, more weakly, for theism) I thought most convincing at the time, but here are some of the ones I looked into: arguments "from design" based on some variety of alleged excellence in the universe; inferences from particular apparent miracles or religious experiences to a divine agent behind them; arguments for Christianity in particular on the basis that the available historical evidence overwhelmingly favours belief in the resurrection of Jesus; allegedly-impressively-fulfilled prophecies in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures; "cosmological fine-tuning"; the alleged dependence of morality on God.

Punishing bad people may or may not be morally monstrous. Punishing finite badness with eternal torture is morally monstrous.

The scientific doctrine of light and matter does not really say that light and matter are "both particle and wave"; that is a simplification for popular presentation. What it actually does say is difficult for human brains, but even the appearance of contradiction between "particle" and "wave" goes away completely once it is understood.

[An earlier draft of this comment went into more detail and compared-and-contrasted with Christian thinking about the Trinity, but in keeping with my remark above that I am not interested in turning this into a lengthy argument about whether Christianity is right or wrong I've removed all that. My apologies if you'd have found it interesting.]

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