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byrnema comments on Belief in Belief - Less Wrong

66 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 July 2007 05:49PM

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Comment author: byrnema 07 February 2010 11:36:40PM *  1 point [-]

You've brought up many different points in this comment. Am I wrong to feel phalanxed?

I don't see anything here that has to do with the original point I was making, except possibly an admission that you refuse to consider the group of theists I was talking about.

I guess the problem is that we're all talking about different belief sets -- me, you, MrHen -- and without pinpointing which belief culture we're talking about or knowledge of their relative incidence, this is fruitless.

Comment author: Morendil 08 February 2010 12:21:43AM 1 point [-]

without pinpointing which beliefs we're talking about [...], this is fruitless

Agree entirely (I said as much in response to MrHen's "outing" post); so I wanted this to be about things I'd heard first-hand.

"Phalanxed" is a word I wasn't familiar with, but I hear your connotation of "mustering many arguments", as in military muster. I'll cop to having felt angry as I was writing the above; that isn't directed at you.

I went back to your original comment, the nub of which I take to be this: you tolerate as self-consistent the belief of some groups of theists, on the grounds that their beliefs have no empirical consequences, and that is precisely what marks these beliefs as "faith".

The nub of what I wanted to say is: you're reading the exchange I quoted generously. The way I heard it, it had a different meaning. My understanding is that these women weren't using "God" as a synonym for "luck/uncertainty". They were referring to the personal God who takes an active interest in people's lives, which is what they've been taught in their churches. (This is just something I overheard while passing them in the street, so I don't know which church. But I picked this example to illustrate how common it is, even for an atheist, to hear this kind of thing.)

I have looked up Calvinists, if that's who you mean by "the group of theists" in question. Their doctrines, such as "unconditional election", refer (as best I can understand those things) to a personal God too, which is expected as a subgroup of Christians. They take the Bible to provide privileged access to God's plan.

A personal God who takes an active interest in events in this world, as outlined in the Bible, does not meet your criteria for tolerance. It is a belief which has empirical consequences, such as the condemnation of homosexuality. It doesn't matter how "benign" or "moderate" these inferences are; they show up "separate magisteria" as a pretence.

Comment author: byrnema 08 February 2010 01:09:26AM *  2 points [-]

I went back to your original comment, the nub of which I take to be this: you tolerate as self-consistent the belief of some groups of theists, on the grounds that their beliefs have no empirical consequences, and that is precisely what marks these beliefs as "faith".

I was responding to the idea that theists are involved in blatant double-think where they anticipate ways that their beliefs can be empirically refuted and find preemptive defenses. The idea of "separate magisteria" may have been one such defense, but it is the last: once they identify God as non-empirical they don't have to worry about CO2 detectors or flour or X-ray machines -- ever. I think that the continued insistence on thinking of God as a creature hidden in the garage that should leave some kind of empirical trace reveals the inferential distance between a world view which requires that beliefs meet empirical standards and one that does not.

You suggest that the "separate magisteria" is a pretense. This appears to be along the lines of what Eliezer is arguing as well; that it is a convenient 'get out of jail free' card. I think this is an interesting hypothesis -- I don't object to it, since it makes some sense.

We base our views about religion on our personal experiences with it. I feel like I encounter people with views much more reasonable than the ones described here fairly often. I thought that 'separate magesteria' described their thinking pretty well, since religion doesn't effect their pragmatic, day-to-day decisions. (Moral/ethical behavior is a big exception of course.) I've encountered people who insist that prayers have the power to change events, but I don't think this is a reasonable view.

I thought people mostly prayed to focus intentions and unload anxiety. Some data on what people actually believe would be extremely useful.

Comment author: Alicorn 08 February 2010 01:35:18AM *  3 points [-]

I polled some theist friends who happened to be online, asking "What do you think the useful effects of prayer are, on you, the subject on which you pray, or anything else?" and followup questions to get clarification/elaboration.

Episcopalian: "The most concrete effect of prayer is to help me calm down about stressful situations. The subject is generally not directly affected. It is my outlook that is most often changed. Psychologically, it helps me to let go of the cause of stress. It's like a spiritual form of delegation."

Irish Catholic With Jesuit Tendencies: "The Ignation spirituality system has a lot to do with using prayer to focus and distance yourself from the emotions and petty concerns surrounding the problem. Through detatched analysis, one can gain better perspective on the correct choice. ... Well, ostensibly, it's akin to meditation, and other forms of calming reflection possible in other religions. For me, though, I tend to pray, a) in times of crisis, b) in Mass, and c) for other people who I think can use whatever karmic juju my clicking of proverbial chicken lips can muster." (On being asked whether the "karmic juju" affects the people prayed for:) "It's one of those things. "I think I can, I think I can."" (I said: "So it helps you help them?") "I guess. Often, there's little else you can do for folks."

Mormon: "Well, I think it depends on the need of the person involved and the ability of that person to take care of him/herself. I have heard stories from people I trust where miraculous things have occured as the result of prayer. But I find that, for me personally, prayer gives me comfort, courage, and sometimes, through prayer, my thoughts are oriented in ways that allow me to see a problem from an angle I couldn't before and therefore solve it. Is it beneficial? Yes. Is it divine intervention? Hard to say. Even if it's just someone feeling more positive as a result of a prayer, I think it's a benefit-- particularly for the sick. Positive attitudes seem to help a lot there."

So it looks like byrnema is right!

(All quotes taken with permission)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 08 February 2010 01:51:42AM *  2 points [-]

Even better, a study. (Upshot: Praying for someone has a significant effect on the praying individual's inclination to be selfless and forgiving toward that person.)

Comment author: wedrifid 08 February 2010 01:53:30AM 1 point [-]

So it looks like byrnema is right!

This was a sample of friends of an atheistic philosopher who were answering a question by that same philosopher. The sample, unfortunately, tells me almost nothing about the general population.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 February 2010 01:50:44AM 0 points [-]

I've encountered people who insist that prayers have the power to change events, but I don't think this is a reasonable view.

Believing in a specific God (who, for example, promises to answer prayers) is an unreasonable view. Believing in the same God but also believing that prayers are unable to change events is even more unreasonable. It's just more practical.

Comment author: byrnema 08 February 2010 03:00:03AM 0 points [-]

I'd like to clarify that I've not stuck my neck out that any beliefs are reasonable. I said I often encounter beliefs that seem much more reasonable.

Believing in the same God but also believing that prayers are unable to change events is even more unreasonable.

Even more? Why?

Comment author: wedrifid 08 February 2010 03:34:02AM *  3 points [-]

Even more? Why?

Roughly speaking:

p(A) = 0.0001

p(A && !A) = 0