News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 29, 2011 in News

By the way, progress on the naturalism project continues. It’s just kinda slow because we’re a team of volunteers who need to work on other things to pay the rent.

A discussion post I wrote for Less Wrong: Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence.

A regular post I wrote for Less Wrong: David Chalmers’ “The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis”.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin January 29, 2011 at 8:20 am

This is handy: Extraordinary-Claims.com.

I like to test these types of websites, because while they do a good job examining and picking apart the evidence for Bigfoot, UFOS, etc, they often do such a piss-poor job at examining the God question that I can’t believe it’s the same folk. Reason goes out the window as soon as they do. So I clicked on “God”, and what did I see?

…most are flawed, such as the argument of a first cause (explaining the existence of the universe by assuming the presence and action of an omnipotent being).

Interesting. Which cosmological argument “assumes the presence and action of an omnipotent being”? Leibniz? No, his is just about the contingency of the universe and the need for a necessary terminator of some type. Kalam? Nope. Just argues for a cause. A follow up argument in Kalam argues for an intelligent cause, but it doesn’t assume it. Aquinas? Nada. Similar to Leibniz.

The argument from fine-tuning of the universe …is just a variant of the argument from design…which in turn is just a variant of the argument from ignorance.

Argument from ignorance is:

1. There is no evidence for not-x
2. Therefore, x is true

Fine tuning is a disjunctive syllogism, which is a valid deductive syllogism:

1. Either x, y, or z
2. Not x or y
3. Therefore z

You be the judge.

The evidence and arguments against the claim of the existence of God are many, varied and convincing.

Ooo! Let’s see what they have!

The claim is often made in the absence of any clear definition of “God”.

While individuals and some outlier religions might add layers of confusion, the term “theism” often means the existence of an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, non-physical, necessary creator of the universe. It’s pretty well defined: http://www.iep.utm.edu/god-west/

Devout Christians, Jews, and Muslims view their own beliefs about God to be absolutely accurate and correct, but that the others are (at best) severely misguided. These three belief systems cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong.

???

1. x, y, and z all make conflicting claims about q
2. Therefore, q is false

What rule of logic is this following? You could easily refute quantum mechanics this way, as there are no less than 12 different interpretations, all conflicting, and all with adherents who are certain they are right and all the others are wrong.

The god-hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

The God hypothesis offers several arguments in support of it. If the premises of the arguments can be proven false (i.e., the universe began to exist) then the arguments can be refuted. Falsifiable.

All major forms of god-belief originated as mythologies invented centuries ago by scientifically illiterate societies.

Wow! So genetic fallacy and chronological snobbery all squeezed into one sentence, eh?

It is a claim based not on observation but on the idea of something.

The existence of the universe, or the fine tuning, or objective morality are not observations?

The occurrence of what the religious call “evil” is incompatible with the hypothesis of an infinitely good, omnipotent, and omniscient god.

Thank you! Finally an argument. Of course, the problem of evil has just as many problems as first cause arguments do, so I certainly would not call it “convincing.”

So of the six arguments presented, five are fallacious and only one is good. Where are these “many, varied, and convincing” arguments against the existence of God?

I agree with the first commenter, way at the bottom:

Phew. For a minute there, I thought I was going to be challenged by rational arguments. As always, it’s refreshing to see that you’ve got nothing.

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Justfinethanks January 29, 2011 at 8:59 am

For a writer, Greta sounds like she holds an awfully unusual aesthetic.

Like check out this bit:

No Strings Attached is fake, implausible, and entirely disconnected from human reality. It’s not even interested in being authentic, plausible, or connected to human reality.

What exactly is wrong with all that? Are all narratives actually bad unless they are a well polished mirror up to nature? In fact, you could swap out “No Strings Attached” in this sentence with “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and it would both accurate and a good summary about what’s awesome and funny about that movie.

She also chides the movie for being “predictable” and “tedious” which are certainly poor attributes for a movie to have, but then she keeps coming back to this odd “not realistic” complaint.

Hijinks ensue, not because it would be natural for the characters to hijink in that manner, but because said hijinking is what the screenwriters think will be funny.

But that’s an accurate description of every comedy ever written, whether it is a farce like “Blazing Saddles” or a more “realistic” exploration of the pains of love like “Annie Hall.” All good comedy writers have at the forefront of their mind how they can make their hijinks funny. The idea that Characters must behave “naturally” is a dusty relic from 19th century realism. It doesn’t seem sensical to hold that standard to a 21st century romantic comedy.

And then she chides the movie for ending up as you would basically expect, with their arrangement collapsing into romantic feelings, but Greta’s suggested alternative plot (described as “That’s a movie we would have happily seen. “) features this point:

Emma’s actually had several friendships with benefits before this one, which mostly worked out neatly and well — and so the romantic sparks she starts to feel with Adam take her by surprise.

Well, geez, which is it? Is a movie about a sexual arrangement that just winds up turning into a romance anyway unrealistic and insulting to the countless people who successfully navigate sex-only arrangements, or are “romantic sparks” a component of your ideal “realistic” movie about friends with benefits?

And Greta recounts how in her personal experience, extremely few FWB relationships turn into romantic relationships.

But it’s a reality that the writers of No Strings Attached seem entirely uninterested in.

Well, yes, and it’s a reality I and most moviegoers are uninterested in too. And with good reason. The “realistic” account of most FWB relationships, where people fuck occasionally, and enjoy it, but it doesn’t transform into something else or more profound or deep, is far too dull and low stakes to make for an interesting film. The real reason you will never see a realistic account of FWB relationships on the big screen is because it’s boring. And “boring” is a far worse crime for a movie to commit than “unrealistic.”

I mean, it still doesn’t sound like a good movie, but 3/4 of Greta’s criticisms of it are either wildly off the mark, or so broad that it could be applied to most narratives of this type, even classic ones. Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is in part about two people who scorn romantic love and the institution of marriage outright (transgressive idea of relationships!) who eventually (through wacky misunderstandings and hijinks!) confess their love for each other and get married. But I would think it would misplaced to dismiss the value of the play entirely just because the reality is that people who scorn marriage can indeed have happy, fulfilling lives without ever getting married.

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Patrick January 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

Where are these “many, varied, and convincing” arguments against the existence of God?:  

1. Magic isn’t real.
2. QED.

It works for psychics and telepathy and big foot and ghosts…

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Bill Maher January 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

Martin,

How do you discount chance again? to me, the tiny logical possibility of chance, no matter how small, destroys the entire deductive argument.

Can you explain how the existence of the universe proves god? If you don’t know how something happened that is at the borders of scientific knowledge, it seems to not be proof of anything.

“All major forms of god-belief originated as mythologies invented centuries ago by scientifically illiterate societies.
Wow! So genetic fallacy and chronological snobbery all squeezed into one sentence, eh?”

You jumped the gun on the genetic fallacy. They are not say that a god is does not exist because the people believe X. They are saying that the mythologies came from scientifically illiterate societies, which is historically verified. Can you give a cogent argument to the contrary? I would love to see evidence that the ancient Israelites were scientifically advanced.

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Polymeron January 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm

WEll, at least computers aren’t beating us at Arimaa… Yet.

Hypothesis-forming machines doesn’t sound like that hard a challenge – it’s going straight into useful hypotheses (e.g. finding genes) that’s hard. And I think that making that shortcut is ultimately counter-productive to the effort.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I played Arimaa “back in the day.” Great game! I never played enough to figure out basic strategies as I did in chess, however.

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StevenJ January 29, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Err…yes, deep blue “defeated” Kasparov…by means of the IBM programmers interference (cheating). Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

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Martin January 30, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Bill Maher,

I’m not defending theistic arguments, here. I’m criticizing atheistic ones that are piss-poor.

They are not say that a god is does not exist because the people believe X. They are saying that the mythologies came from scientifically illiterate societies, which is historically verified.

But they prefaced it with: “The evidence and arguments against the claim of the existence of God are many, varied and convincing. For instance:”

So they are using this as an argument against the existence of God. Genetic fallacy:

1. x is believed for non-justifying reasons
2. Therefore, x is false

Chronological snobbery:

1. Belief in x originated when people also believed y
2. But now we know y to be false
3. Therefore, x is false

Why it is that atheists would want to chuck logic to the wolves is baffling to me…

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Patrick January 30, 2011 at 2:16 pm

This claim

“All major forms of god-belief originated as mythologies invented centuries ago by scientifically illiterate societies. Some beliefs have survived (Yahweh, Christ, Allah, Vishnu) while others (Baal, Aphrodite, Zeus, Thor) have not. But all these beliefs are equally unsubstantiated.”

supports this conclusion

“God is a mythological construct invented by humans.”

Honestly, you can take the genetic-like arguments even further. Every discrepancy between the character of god as worshiped by ancient peoples and the character of god as worshiped by modern peoples requires an explanation of how the ancient peoples were mistaken, and how the modern peoples relied upon more trustworthy sources of information about god. Given that the god of the old testament is a blood drenched monster who presides over genocide and (by modern standards, pedophilic) rape as a weapon of conquest, this is problematic.

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Reginald Selkirk February 4, 2011 at 7:18 am

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