Why I Don’t Care about Atheism vs. Theism Arguments Anymore

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 20, 2011 in General Atheism

This used to be a blog about the arguments for and against theism and atheism.

You may have noticed I don’t talk about those subjects anymore.

Instead I write about math and the cognitive science of belief-formation and decision-making.

Why?

The reason I’m an atheist isn’t because of the argument from evil or from unbelief or from inconsistent revelations or anything. No, the reason I’m an atheist is because theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction.

If I want to pull somebody away from magical thinking, I don’t need to mention atheism. Instead, I teach them Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating. I show them the many ways our minds trick us. I show them the detailed neuroscience of human decision-making. I show them that we can see (in the brain) a behavior being selected up to 10 seconds before a person is consciously aware of ‘making’ that decision. I explain timelessness.

And if they have time to consume enough math and science, then The God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.

I don’t have any specialized arguments against fairies like ‘the argument from fairy-unbelief.’ But it’s obvious that the fairy explanation for anything badly fails Solomonoff induction. When you know enough math and cognitive science and physics, The Fairy Question just doesn’t even come up.

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{ 218 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew August 20, 2011 at 5:25 am

But everything that begins to exist must have a cause! The Gospel accounts record accurate, eyewitness history! Where would you get your morality from if there’s no absolute lawgiver?? And did you know that the universe is finely tuned to permit human life?? And also, I once had this weird dream and I prayed about it and Jesus appeared to me and YOU CAN’T DISPROVE THAT DAMMIT.

(That covers the landscape of Christian arguments, right?)

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Scott August 20, 2011 at 6:10 am

Interesting, and I think your way of doing it is far better than the usual back-and-forth over the topic. How are you supposed to reach out with this to the general masses, who would have no clue what you’re talking about?

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poban August 20, 2011 at 6:39 am

I duly respect your will power and your self control. Many readers of this webite know that argument for or against theism would not do any shit about the reality but still we are addicted to that notion of a particular flavour of theism is right . I think people have affinity for rhetoric. Thats why Richard Dawkin’s books sell in millions.

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PDH August 20, 2011 at 7:25 am

Most debates between sceptics and believers of any kind are really about epistemology. It’s about when it’s rational to believe in something and when it isn’t. That’s what we’re really debating. This is true whether you’re talking about homoeopathy, astrology, ghosts, theism, fairies or whatever. You have to start with the basics of why we believe anything in the first place because this is the central point of contention.

So, I think you’re right to shift your focus towards those things.

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Rufus August 20, 2011 at 7:39 am

Luke,

Do you have a post specifically addressing how theism fails Solomonoff induction? I’d love to see this worked out in detail.

Best,

Rufus

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TDC August 20, 2011 at 7:48 am

Interesting.

In that case, Luke, would your reading list for people who want to investigate the whole theism/atheism debate change?

That is, instead of things like “The Christian Delusion” and Graham Oppy, would your list of introductory books be about cognitive science and Bayes Theorem?

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James August 20, 2011 at 8:20 am

Thanks for putting into more elegant words what I also realized about the theism non-debates.

On a side note, I take great amusement that your post timing coincided with the start of my new game project that features imaginary fairies as real characters. :)

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Leo August 20, 2011 at 10:14 am

Are you planning to do some explanation of the Kolmogorov complexity like the Intuitive Explanation you did with Bayes? That would be awesome.

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Larkus August 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

@Andrew

You missed the ontological argument!

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Thomas August 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm

“If I want to pull somebody away from magical thinking, I don’t need to mention atheism. Instead, I teach them Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating.”

And thus you have just ignored philosophers like Swinburne who argue at lenght that Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating make theism more probable than not (I don´t need to mention that Swinburne is a bit more competent than Muehlhauser in Bayesian reasoning) and classical theists like Aristotle, Aquinas and Leibniz who think that the existence of God can be metaphysically demonstrated. So this is just a classic piece of begging the question spiced up with a bit of standard new atheist rhetoric (“magical thinking”). (Isn´t it sad how Luke used to – before drinking the kool-aid of naturalized epistemology and scientism – be very critical of new atheists and their shallow thinking and now he is a one himself?)

I show them the detailed neuroscience of human decision-making. I show them that we can see (in the brain) a behavior being selected up to 10 seconds before a person is consciously aware of ‘making’ that decision.

This is hard proof that Luke has become a dogmatic hard naturalist. He confidently just ignores the fact that scientific studies suggesting free will to be an illusion are very controversial and dubious. This is cognitive bias par excellence.

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CharlesR August 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

TDC,

Here are two books referenced in Yudkowsky’s writings. I can’t say what sort of background would be needed. I haven’t read them.

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JSA August 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Funny, those are the same things I try to teach people in the hopes that they can escape atheism.

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Rufus August 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm

This post strikes me as the mirror image of the supposed encounter between Euler and Diderot. Euler quipped, “Sir, (a+b^n)/n = x, hence God exists — reply!” Diderot had no response and was humiliated by the laughter of all those present for the meeting. You can’t just point to some fancy theory of mathematics and then say, “. . . hence theism.” Nor can you conclude, “hence atheism.”

I find it suspicious that Luke does not endorse any specific inductive argument for atheism, like POE. Specific arguments have specific premises and specific premises must be defended. It shuts down the conversation to vaguely point to broad theories as reasons that the God question should fade away. It sounds like you can’t defend the truth of the premises of specific arguments, so you’ve given up on trying to provide any arguments at all. Let’s just do some handwaving instead.

Hi Luke, I’m waving right back.

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Tarrobread August 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Luke,

Thanks for all of these awesome pdf links. I would also second Rufus’ request to write a post/defend an argument specifically on how theism fails Solomonoff induction. If providing this kind of knock-down argument for theism is as easy as you suggest, it shouldn’t be too much trouble and would be much appreciated. It could even be your last word on the subject.

Note: The first “arguments” link doesn’t seem to be working. (I’m using safari)

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Reidish August 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I’ll add a request to see an argument that demonstrates the God hypothesis fails Solomonoff induction. It is, after all, an incomputable inductive inference method.

And if they have time to consume enough math and science, then The God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.

I know you’re probably not trying to be very rigorous here, yet this still comes off as groundless arrogance. Godel, Einstein, Ramanujan, Gauss, and a host of other great thinkers would be amused by your scolding that they’ve not consumed enough math and science.

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Khafra August 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I’d like to thank Thomas for the textbook example of apophasis. Outstanding adherence to the classical form.

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Rufus August 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I know you’re probably not trying to be very rigorous here, yet this still comes off as groundless arrogance. Godel, Einstein, Ramanujan, Gauss, and a host of other great thinkers would be amused by your scolding that they’ve not consumed enough math and science.

Could we add that silly Presbyterian minister, Rev. Thomas Bayes, to the list of superstitious fools who don’t know enough about math and science? I agree that Luke wasn’t being rigorous here. But the point of the post was that he doesn’t think rigorous argumentation is necessary anymore. That is why it sounds groundless and arrogant. Luke is basically saying that he has moved beyond arguments. So I doubt he will want to spend time working out a specific argument based on Solomonov induction. He seems to think that if we study all the things he’s studied, then the light bulb will go off. After that, we will no longer ask those silly existential questions about where the universe came from, where life came from, and so on. . . The “why” questions are, after all, silly questions!

Still I hope that Luke will answer the requests from both atheist and theist readers of this blog who would like to know what he means when he says that theism fails Solomonov induction.

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Caleb O August 20, 2011 at 8:09 pm

And thus you have just ignored philosophers like Swinburne who argue at lenght that Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating make theism more probable than not(I don´t need to mention that Swinburne is a bit more competent than Muehlhauser in Bayesian reasoning) and classical theists like Aristotle, Aquinas and Leibniz who think that the existence of God can be metaphysically demonstrated. So this is just a classic piece of begging the question spiced up with a bit of standard new atheist rhetoric (“magical thinking”). (Isn´t it sad how Luke used to – before drinking the kool-aid of naturalized epistemology and scientism –be very critical of new atheists and their shallow thinking and now he is a one himself?)

I show them the detailed neuroscience of human decision-making. I show them that we can see (in the brain) a behavior being selected up to 10 seconds before a person is consciously aware of ‘making’ that decision.

This is hard proof that Luke has become a dogmatic hard naturalist. He confidently just ignores the fact that scientific studies suggesting free will to be an illusion are very controversial and dubious. This is cognitive bias par excellence.

Swinburne, as I recall, doesn’t deal in detail with kolmogorov complexity. Does he? Further as far as I can tell most neurologists don’t consider questions about their studies on free-will as dubious as you suggest. Most of the scientific research, like the link Luke gave us rules out libertarian free will, as an explanation, quite soundly.

I do, however, agree with all the calls for expansion in arguments about induction and whatnot. As of now they stand as quite plausible assertions, and no more then that.

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cl August 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Uh…

No, the reason I’m an atheist is because theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction.

Oh please. Quit pretending. You declared the existence of God a “settled issue” before those words ever even appeared on this blog. You might be able to get over on your newfound AI buddies, but you can’t fool the OGs.

If I want to pull somebody away from magical thinking, I don’t need to mention atheism. Instead, I teach them Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating. I show them the many ways our minds trick us. I show them the detailed neuroscience of human decision-making.

In my three years of experience, all your proselytizing efforts have one thing in common: you simply latch on to your “freethinking” atheist du jour, parrot their arguments, neglect to fully engage the objections, and once the infatuation wears off, you move on to the next, all the while leaving said objections unresolved. At one time it was the Loftus, then it was Alonzo Fyfe, now it’s the Yud… I mean, I like that you’re able to disagree with them on this point or that, I think that’s a sign of independence and a smidgeon of maturity, but if you think it’s noble rationalism to proffer unfalsifiable metaphysic under the guise of scientifically demonstrated ontology, you’re badly mistaken, possibly even deluded.

I show them that we can see (in the brain) a behavior being selected up to 10 seconds before a person is consciously aware of ‘making’ that decision.

Sheesh. You’re still buying into this canard, despite being told not to by one of the very researchers in question. You throw genuine scientific caution to the wind, bastardizing perfunctory empirical research to the bolster the superiority of your own unfalsifiable metaphysical preference, then you have the audacity to preach said preference under the guise of rationally supported reasoning. And hardly anybody seems to catch on to it.

And if they have time to consume enough math and science, then The God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.

I guess all those poor irrational saps like Newton, Kelvin, Babbage, et al. just didn’t consume enough math and science then, eh? LOL! Get back to us when you land on Earth. This is ridiculous. You’ve gone from sloppy but earnest and ambitious to reckless and dangerous.

Rufus,

But it’s so much more fun to project an aura of rationalist empiricism and intellectual superiority! Don’t'cha know? Overconfident guys get way more chicks!

Thomas,

I know you’re probably not trying to be very rigorous here, yet this still comes off as groundless arrogance.

I think that might be because it is groundless arrogance. When did Luke take the New Atheist pill?

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CharlesR August 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Tarrobread,

I think the argument you are asking for goes something like this.

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MarkD August 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm

“Theism drastically fails Solomonoff Induction” could mean several different things when translated into details but I would guess that it is simply a restatement of Ockham with the additional rigor that we obtain from Solomonoff, Rissanen, Kolmogorov, Chaitin–even Elliot Sober (see Simplicity)–that any hypothesis that includes unsupportable entities/sequences/algorithms is insufficiently compact for minimizing future error. We can see this in everything from the predictive limitations of Freudianism, to the lack of evidence for miracles, to the failures of prophecy by X religious group.

Note that the general question of whether a given hypothesis expressed as a symbol sequence is the minimal one is uncomputable, but there are both approximate methods and particular cases where optimality can be shown (if only by innumeration).

There are several interesting next-steps in this line of reasoning, of course: (1) Regardless of truth and/or predictive error rates of theistic claims, do the feedback loops and social regulatory functions of theistic groups provide thriving and even personal added-value that nullifies the impact of the errors? (2) If (1) is true, how is it that non-theism and secular societies thrive as well? (3) Is there much evidence of error-minimization and compact coding as part of human learning? (4) Are the known human decision-making bias complexes related to (3)? (5) Are the biases in (4) essential to human learning?

Having never been a theist for even a moment, I find (1) particularly interesting, but have a vested professional interest in (3).

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cl August 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm

MarkD,

…I would guess that it is simply a restatement of Ockham with the additional rigor that we obtain from Solomonoff, Rissanen, Kolmogorov, Chaitin–even Elliot Sober (see Simplicity)–that any hypothesis that includes unsupportable entities/sequences/algorithms is insufficiently compact for minimizing future error.

Discussion of whether theism fails Solomonoff Induction aside, let’s take Luke’s recent discussion with a “long-time physicalist who liked reading about physics and neuroscience for fun, but didn’t read Less Wrong and thought she had contra-causal (libertarian) free will.” In that discussion, Luke advances the hypothesis that we can never do anything other than what we do. Aside from it’s flagrant offense against Popperian falsifiability and lack of amenability to science, how does Luke’s hypothesis pass Solomonoff Induction? Hell, how can it even generate a single useful prediction?

How is this not just Sagan’s dragon in a labcoat?

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MarkD August 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm

@cl

I’m not interested in picking on Luke. Indeed, it seems boorish. Your points concerning consistency and whatever the particular incident you cite likely have some small measure of validity, but anyone with an interest in ideas will be on Whitman’s side of “Do I contradict myself?…I am large. I contain multitudes.”

While I learn something from the detailed conversations in the theism/atheism debates, I side with Luke that the topic is sufficiently solved among the cognoscenti (divided though they may be into their respective corners), that exploring other areas of interest is both warranted and ultimately more intellectually rewarding.

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cl August 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm

MarkD,

Well.

I’m not interested in picking on Luke.

I didn’t ask you to pick on Luke. Because I am generally impressed with your contributions here, and I admire your articulation, I asked for your thoughts on classical materialist determinism and Solomonoff Induction. It’s unfortunate that you mistook this as bait for a bashing session, as I am actually interested in the ideas, much along the lines of the Whitman reference you allude to. Believe me, I don’t need your help to pick on Luke.

But, so be it. If you don’t want to talk, don’t talk. Makes no difference to me.

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soupsayer August 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The proposition that Luke puts forth as the subject of this blog post is:

“(Why) I Don’t Care about Atheism vs. Theism Arguments Anymore”

Never-mind that just a handful of words later, he makes an argument for atheism… It’s still possible that he doesn’t care about it. In fact, granting everything else that Luke states in the remainder of the post, Luke’s lack of caring could be seen in his brain up to 10 seconds before even he realized that he didn’t care.

There are probably at least some propositions for which lack of caring is not morally condemnable, and this might be one of them. I’d guess that a lot of theists don’t care about Atheism vs. Theism Arguments either. Probably a lot of everyone else too.

Nonetheless, there are potential connotations of normativity and value here. I’m not sure if Luke merely seeks to convey his individual lack of caring, of if he also means that we all, or at least all rationalists, should also not care – and for the same or similar reasons.

If it were just Luke and Yud on an island, all would be rosy. We do, however, live in a community of billions of people. Perhaps bayesianism could predict the likelihood of rigorous and voluminous study of math, science, and physics in persuading any significant number of theists to change their beliefs, or somehow making them fade away? Does Luke have even a sample of one theist to which he (or anyone else) has taught (Kolmogorov complexity, Bayesian updating, etc, etc) which has produced the claimed result?

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cl August 21, 2011 at 12:23 am

Does Luke have even a sample of one theist to which he (or anyone else) has taught (Kolmogorov complexity, Bayesian updating, etc, etc) which has produced the claimed result?

More importantly, if he does not, how does his “teach ‘em Bayes and they’ll convert to atheism” hypothesis fare on the Solomonoff Induction test?

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Jacopo August 21, 2011 at 2:10 am

It seems to me that Luke has insulated his beliefs from criticism pretty well:

If you don’t agree with him, read half a million words of sequences on Less Wrong (or equivalent) at the very least.

If you don’t want to do that (and he can’t fail to know that most people won’t), you haven’t read enough maths and science to contradict him in a way he will listen to.

And in any case, he won’t say anything specific. Saying that Solomonoff induction is your refutation of theism and then linking to a general article on it, is about as convincing as somebody saying that Bayes theorem confirms Christianity and then linking to a textbook on it on Amazon.

I’m fairly sure that the point of this post is to say ‘here is where I am now on my journey, if you’re interested’. But it’s difficult to escape the implication that now Luke feels himself rational in making huge, philosophy-changing statements without outlining them or expounding them here, or still more relevantly, in peer-reviewed literature.

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 2:16 am

Am I the only one who thinks Bayes solves nothing in this case?
It seems to depend on your assumed probabilities (your ability to believe in the supernatural). So a theist like W.L.Craig will happily use it, as will atheist counterparts. It’s pretty difficult to devise a test to empirically measure those probabilities.

Anybody gives me the “that’s an ontologocial problem, not an epistemological one” (or the other way round) and I’ll shot you.

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Awais Aftab August 21, 2011 at 3:35 am

I would like to see how “theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction” as well. It’s such a broad generalized statement; I doubt it’ll retain its potency when it comes to specific arguments.

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Martin Freedman August 21, 2011 at 3:57 am

The last comment of the previous comment linked article on Occam’s Razor answers the question as to how Solomonoff Induction applies to theism.

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PDH August 21, 2011 at 7:15 am

See also, Luke’s interview with Paul Almond on CPBD.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

Jacopo,

It seems to me that Luke has insulated his beliefs from criticism pretty well:

As I’ve said before, trading one’s cross for a Scarlet A does not a rationalist make. I notice he still makes many of the same fundie theist blunders, only now, said blunders take place under a thin veneer of rationalism. I mean, what… two or three years ago he was still a “believer in magic.” While we can’t expect him to shed all those troubles so quickly, I think we can and should expect more than the dogmatic “rationalism” we get.

If you don’t agree with him, read half a million words of sequences on Less Wrong (or equivalent) at the very least.

Or just wait for episode one million and one of the podcast, etc.

If you don’t want to do that (and he can’t fail to know that most people won’t), you haven’t read enough maths and science to contradict him in a way he will listen to.

Of course, that is just the atheist’s version of the Courtier’s Reply.

And in any case, he won’t say anything specific.

Well, not necessarily. He’ll say he doesn’t have the time to properly rebut counterarguments, or he’ll point to some other philosopher and note that said philosopher doesn’t answer every single question ever asked of her. Or, he might label you a troll outright. Those things are each pretty specific, even if they’re used as total cop-outs.

But it’s difficult to escape the implication that now Luke feels himself rational in making huge, philosophy-changing statements without outlining them or expounding them here, or still more relevantly, in peer-reviewed literature.

Just like his mentors. Ah, wait… they don’t need to; they’re autodidacts who desire to avoid the “ivory tower” establishment that is the peer review process.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 9:09 am

The last comment of the previous comment linked article on Occam’s Razor answers the question as to how Solomonoff Induction applies to theism.

Hey “faithlessgod,” can you be a little more specific, you racist accuser you? There are 36 comments in that thread, and if you’re referring literally to the “last comment” in that thread, well… thanks for agreeing with me that Luke’s preferred metaphysic badly fails Solomonoff Induction [i.e., it permits everything].

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Reidish August 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

The last comment of the previous comment linked article on Occam’s Razor answers the question as to how Solomonoff Induction applies to theism.

It’s true that many understand Occam’s Razor (OR) to be an incorrect, approximate, practical substitute to Solomonoff Induction. Side note: OR is of course attributed to a theist, no less. The irony is absolutely “canyon-esque” on this thread. Perhaps he didn’t consume enough math and science, either?

So the real plea, then, is that the God Hypothesis fails OR. Is there an argument somewhere to be made for this?

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Rufus August 21, 2011 at 10:21 am

So if Luke’s objection to theism really just boils down to the law of parsimony, then why does he prefer the Many-worlds interpretation of QM?

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Reidish August 21, 2011 at 10:35 am

Note: it’s more correct to say that the domain for any Solomonoff Induction inference ought to be established by something like Occam’s Razor. Nevertheless, the conclusion is basically the same.

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soupsayer August 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

As I’ve said before, trading one’s cross for a Scarlet A does not a rationalist make. I notice he still makes many of the same fundie theist blunders, only now, said blunders take place under a thin veneer of rationalism. I mean, what… two or three years ago he was still a “believer in magic.” While we can’t expect him to shed all those troubles so quickly, I think we can and should expect more than the dogmatic “rationalism” we get.

I’m sympathetic to the tendency to trade one for the other. There is an apparent need that human beings have for the sacred, whether religious or not. Categoricity is a very appealing notion, it’s only sad that it often leads to fanaticism. But if the alternative is not hardly trying to understand, perhaps it is worth the risk. It may be a necessary path in order to finally accept our inability to ever understand, or at least to realize that some mystery will have to be accepted.

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PDH August 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

Rufus wrote,

So if Luke’s objection to theism really just boils down to the law of parsimony, then why does he prefer the Many-worlds interpretation of QM?

Because, when you use modern, mathematically rigorous accounts of parsimony as opposed to thirteenth century accounts, MWI is extremely simple. Much simpler than Copenhagen, for example.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/q3/decoherence_is_simple/

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cl August 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

But if the alternative is not hardly trying to understand, perhaps it is worth the risk.

Well, that’s one alternative. There are also the alternatives of humility, caution, intellectual honesty, etc. It’s not as if the only options are “dogmatic nonsensical preaching” and “thinking like a rock.”

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atb August 21, 2011 at 11:08 am

These sorts of statements are, unfortunately, generally the refuge of the intellectually lazy and dishonest: “If you just knew this stuff [usually related to math and science, though other things among certain continentally inclined segments of the population] you’d see that your religious beliefs were false! I don’t have to explain *why* this is the case, it just is.” I don’t think you’re intellectually lazy or dishonest, so I’m hoping this is a temporary lapse of judgment. In any case you know, as well as I do, that there are quite a lot of people who are familiar with the subjects you cite who do take religious hypotheses quite seriously. This statement, then, is simply and definitively disproved by widely available empirical evidence: “And if they have time to consume enough math and science, then The God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.”

For what its worth I have the exact opposite inclination. The more I learn about subjects not directly related to the theism vs. atheism debate (specifically those subjects, and related subjects, you cite here), the more plausible it seems to me that theism is true. Unfortunately atheists with your inclinations tend to respond to statements like the one I’ve just made with snarkiness and incredulity. This is unfortunate, and indicates the low intellectual standards to which this debate has succumbed among the general population.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

atb,

These sorts of statements are, unfortunately, generally the refuge of the intellectually lazy and dishonest: “If you just knew this stuff [usually related to math and science, though other things among certain continentally inclined segments of the population] you’d see that your religious beliefs were false! I don’t have to explain *why* this is the case, it just is.”

[...]

Unfortunately atheists with your inclinations tend to respond to statements like the one I’ve just made with snarkiness and incredulity. This is unfortunate, and indicates the low intellectual standards to which this debate has succumbed among the general population.

Well said. My only hope is that you’ll actually get through to these people, but I’m not optimistic. I mean, with all his overconfidence, Luke has built a house around himself that would entail significant cognitive dissonance were the walls to come crashing down. “Hey guys, I was wrong, maybe these things aren’t settled issues after all… maybe God does exist… maybe believers actually *DON’T* suffer from the character defects and cognitive incompetence I allege.” Despite all the pretense towards “updating on the evidence,” I suspect he’d do anything before eating his words. But who knows? Maybe I’m wrong.

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Eric August 21, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Okay I’m confused. Does Luke have to turn this post into a massive article explaining single thing he’s posted on Solomonoff induction, Kolmogorov complexity, and Bayesian updating (he does provide plenty of links)? He is NOT giving a formal argument for atheism. He is merely pointing out why he no longer cares about atheism/theism arguments. So with that in mind, stop attacking a useless straw-man!
I don’t think he expects anyone to come away from this article thinking “Oh thiesm FAILS because according to Luke, it fails all these various tests of rationality!” He expects for people to possibly read the MANY links where he has written about these subjects IN GREAT DETAIL.
Looking through a few of his posts on Yudkowsky, I have not seen anyone commenting here tackle his reasoning behind this article. Of course it’s much easier to to attack a page saying he has given up on atheism/theism arguments than it is to actually read a few of the reasons why he does so. Most of those posts have fewer than 10 comments. In 2 days, this page has 40+!
It sounds like most of the commentators on this page have ignored these posts so far only to come back and smugly complain about his conclusion. When you read a book, do you skip all the way to the end, read the conclusion, and complain about it without actually reading the rest of the book itself?! That’s what it sounds like is going on here. It is INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS!

Note: I have not read these articles for myself either. As a result I am properly suspending judgement on whether or not I think he is justified in ignoring atheism/theism arguments. I think all the rest of the commentators on this page should do the same, or admit you are just not interested.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Eric,

Congratulations on a total miss.

He is NOT giving a formal argument for atheism.

Yes, that’s one of the problems. He rarely gives formal arguments for his positions — oh wait, my bad, he can’t, because atheism isn’t a position, it’s a ^lack^ of a position — and when he does, he eschews valid criticisms over and over again, then reasserts his positions despite the existence of valid criticisms.

He is merely pointing out why he no longer cares about atheism/theism arguments. So with that in mind, stop attacking a useless straw-man!

Learn what the term means. Nobody here has attacked a straw man.

He expects for people to possibly read the MANY links where he has written about these subjects IN GREAT DETAIL.

Provide even one link where Luke has “IN GREAT DETAIL” evaluated theism in light of Solomonoff induction. If you can, I will read it with earnestness. If you cannot, admit your error.

Most of those posts have fewer than 10 comments. In 2 days, this page has 40+!

Those pages don’t have half the problems this one does, so I suspect that’s why there are more responses here.

It sounds like most of the commentators on this page have ignored these posts so far only to come back and smugly complain about his conclusion.

So, criticizing intellectual dishonestly entails lack of exposure to source material? That’s some shoddy logic there, buddy. Then again, it’s the same sort of self-righteous pseudo-intellectual schtick Luke pulls here and elsewhere, and you seem pretty fond of him, so… not surprising.

That’s what it sounds like is going on here. It is INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS!

Yes, you’re right, only you’ve got perpetrators crossed. It *IS* intellectually lazy to draw a line in the sand, declare these things a “settled issue,” then pretend that those who disagree lack exposure to the pertinent academic disciplines. In fact, that’s worse than intellectual laziness; it’s an arrogant affront to healthy critical thinking and reasonable skepticism.

I have not read these articles for myself either.

LOL! Then what the hell are you complaining about?

As a result I am properly suspending judgement on whether or not I think he is justified in ignoring atheism/theism arguments.

No you’re not; you’re prematurely judging all of us on the assumption that we ignored the “MANY LINKS” where Luke defends his positions “IN GREAT DETAIL.” Get real.

I think all the rest of the commentators on this page should do the same, or admit you are just not interested.

And what would you say to those of us who have read over 85% of the [1000+ ?] posts here over the last three years? How much more do I need to read before my opinion can carry some weight, oh Superior Rationalist?

It seems to me you’ve just got your panties in a wad because people are rightly criticizing someone you admire.

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Zeb August 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Let’s grant for the sake of argument that “theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction.” So what? What does that mean? That any hypothesis that includes God and successfully makes measurable empirical predictions will not be less successful if you cut God out of it? So, positing God does not allow one to make better measurable empirical predictions. I don’t know if that is true, but I think it probably is and yet I remain a theist. Successful predictions certainly are useful, but they aren’t the only value one can find in a belief.

Obviously ultimate truth is another value a person may wish his beliefs to provide. Suppose that there really are fairies that make airplanes fly, but they do it in a way that is indistinguishable from contemporary aerodynamics, at least to the eyes of humans with our limited ability to measure and analyze. In that case, aerodynamics is more useful than fairy theory, because it not only predicts the behavior of airplanes pretty much perfectly, it is also easier to teach and program than fairy theory would be. But if fairy theory is actually true, some people who love truth for its own sake would want to know that even if it is not useful. Likewise with God. Since I don’t see any reason to use only induction and discount deductive arguments like the argument from contingency, I believe in God as an ultimate truth even if God belief makes no empirical prediction (other than the untestable prediction that a universe may exist if God does, but nothing will ever exist or happen if God does not exist).

Another value one might find in belief is a wider kind of explanation than just predictive modeling. I find God belief necessary to provide meaningful context within which ‘it all happens’. For example, personally the second most powerful conscious influence on my God belief is my experience of encountering what I take to be God. I agree that a purely mechanical materialist model might be able to predict all the measurable aspects of those encounters, including duration, sensation, and post-experience description. But such models would not provide a meaningful context in which to adequately understand the personal and relational nature of those experiences. One might say, “So what? So what if a predictive model does not provide meaning? Maybe no meaning should be provided.” That’s a fair point, and my only answer is that I prefer explanations that do a good job of providing meaningful context. Maybe it is just a personal choice, but it seems to me Luke is making the same kind of personal choice when he decides that he only wants explanations that provide successful predictions with minimum complexity. And yet he seems to believe there is some kind of universal imperative behind his choice. I’d like to know why.

It interests me to note that the philosophical direction Luke has gone is toward the system that promises the most power in the world. That is, LW style rationalism tells you how to most successfully manipulate the world and your course in it so as to fulfill your own desires. This is the opposite of what the major religions promise, including non-theistic ones like Buddhism. The major religions teach us how to relinquish the illusion of personal power and escape the bondage of personal desire. You might say that those are unworthy goals, or that religions are incapable of helping a person achieve those goals. Nevertheless, I think it is a true dichotomy between what’s promised, and I think it is interesting that Luke appears to have made a 180 degree switch in his orientation toward the promise of personal power between when he was a part of Mark van Steenwyk’s group and now that he is a part of Yudkowsky’s group. While we all might try honestly to make our beliefs align with reality, I suspect that we all make prior choices about what counts as reality or how to determine alignment, and those choices may be more aesthetic than rational. If so, then Luke might be right that all the theism arguments are a waste of time, but he would not be right that learning a lot of math and science will naturally lead everyone to the same belief set and mode of thinking. I’m very interested in thinking and hearing more about the interrogation of prior motives and assumptions that lead a person to reject theism because it badly fails Solomonoff induction, or accept it because it satisfies the argument from contingency. I don’t think pat dismissals about which people really want truth and which really just love comforting delusions add much to that conversation, but that’s about as far I as usually see them go.

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AlexS August 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Surely you mean that “theism fails Solomonoff induction” is not the reason for your atheism, but rather your current justification-template for your atheism? Your actual historical reasons for becoming an atheist (as you seem to be reasonably self-aware about) seemed to have been emotional, intuitive, and based on philosophy as well as Traditional Rationality norms. It’s OK to bring your justification-templates up-to-date in light of newly adopted epistemic norms, but don’t pretend to be rewriting your history.

Two more things:

a) do you assign zero credence to hypercomputation being physically possible? Solomonoff induction seems to require this.

b) I think a lot of your former CSA readers would enjoy (and maybe benefit from) a series in which you look at your former views and your former justifications for them through the Bayescraft perspective. I’m personally particularly interested to see whether Bayescraft has in any way changed your views on the success-conditions of deductive arguments (I seem to recall that you used to only accept them if all their premises were certain, at least in the particular case of the Kalam argument) and on the fine-tuning argument (your iPad objection is dedidedly un-Bayesian by my lights, so I’m curious to hear your current views).

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Eric August 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm

cl –
Once again I am having to defend Luke when it seems you would rather just attack him than deal with what he posts.


Yes, that’s one of the problems. He rarely gives formal arguments for his positions — oh wait, my bad, he can’t, because atheism isn’t a position, it’s a ^lack^ of a position — and when he does, he eschews valid criticisms over and over again, then reasserts his positions despite the existence of valid criticisms.

Where? Reading your comments on his posts in the past, it sounds like you rarely understand what he says. In fact, it seems you have an aversion to understanding what he says. Please cite some evidence, because this sounds like a baseless assertion to me.


Learn what the term means. Nobody here has attacked a straw man.

REALLY? ARE YOU SERIOUS? A straw man argument is where you attack an argument that has not been made. I think I made it painfully clear where many commentators have done this. I know I have had to break these things down Barney Style for you in the past. Do I need to treat you as a child unable to think for himself? Or will you actually respond to my justification for saying it was a straw man instead of coming up with some ignorant one-liner?


Provide even one link where Luke has “IN GREAT DETAIL” evaluated theism in light of Solomonoff induction. If you can, I will read it with earnestness. If you cannot, admit your error.


I am not going to do your work for you. I sounds like you haven’t read any one of these posts, seeing as how I have yet to see your name in any of the comments. I don’t personally know if he directly addresses theism in light of Solomonoff Induction, but many of these articles deal with various components of Solomonoff Induction, since Solomonoff Induction is basically a mesh of Bayes Theorem and information theory, you just merely need to find where he addresses the problems of Theism from any of those perspectives. Here are a few:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9751
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10150
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=12147
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=12827
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=13050
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=12821
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=14702


Those pages don’t have half the problems this one does, so I suspect that’s why there are more responses here.


Or that so few of the people here have actually read any of them. The comments point out problems with these pages. Of course the “problems” with this page all seem to be misinterpretations of what Luke is saying from people like you who just seem to want to discredit him.

cl –
So, criticizing intellectual dishonestly entails lack of exposure to source material? That’s some shoddy logic there, buddy. Then again, it’s the same sort of self-righteous pseudo-intellectual schtick Luke pulls here and elsewhere, and you seem pretty fond of him, so… not surprising.

When did I ever say this? Where did you get this idea? Who would make such an argument? I certainly did not. I just said in this case, you guys obviously did not read the source material. I also said WHY I believed this. What made you think I merely did this BECAUSE you were criticizing what you called “intellectual dishonesty.” How can we have a conversation when you construct such blatant straw-men? No wonder so many people give up on debating you. You just make up ridiculously obvious straw men instead of actually dealing with their arguments.


Yes, you’re right, only you’ve got perpetrators crossed. It *IS* intellectually lazy to draw a line in the sand, declare these things a “settled issue,” then pretend that those who disagree lack exposure to the pertinent academic disciplines. In fact, that’s worse than intellectual laziness; it’s an arrogant affront to healthy critical thinking and reasonable skepticism.

I am not sure that Luke has declared the God Question a settled issue. It is settled for him but it sounds like you are taking a particularly weak interpretation of this article. He thinks people will no longer think the God issue makes sense after diving into studying human rationality. But that is far from saying it is a settled issue.


LOL! Then what the hell are you complaining about?

REALLY? Have you been ignoring my whole post?


No you’re not; you’re prematurely judging all of us on the assumption that we ignored the “MANY LINKS” where Luke defends his positions “IN GREAT DETAIL.” Get real.

Please point to where I judged “on whether or not I think he is justified in ignoring atheism/theism arguments.” I was criticizing the people here because they don’t seem to have read any of his posts, where one could easily expect SOME comments to exist on said posts. If I did judge prematurely, please let me know. Seeing as you asked about links to where Luke defends the positions he states here, its pretty obvious you have not read any of those posts. Where are your comments disagreeing with him on Bayes Theorem or Kolmogorov Complexity? I’d expect you would have interacted with his posts at least a bit if you had indeed read them.


And what would you say to those of us who have read over 85% of the [1000+ ?] posts here over the last three years? How much more do I need to read before my opinion can carry some weight, oh Superior Rationalist?

If any of you have read that many posts, it seems pretty obvious none of the posts you read had anything to do with the justifications he gives here. I don’t care how many posts you read on Christian Apologetics outside these specific issues. He has only been posting on these issues over the last year or so, and there are only about 100 realated to this article (less than 15% of his 1000+ posts). So if the 85% of posts you read came mostly before these posts, then you have missed the entire point of both this post and my complaint.


It seems to me you’ve just got your panties in a wad because people are rightly criticizing someone you admire.

Sounds like the commentators here are still not justified. How many times do we have to go back and forth and just be honest with me. You haven’t read the posts he speaks of. You don’t know why he comes to his conclusions in this post. Yet you criticize them. You have read the conclusion without reading the book. Read the book before you judge the conclusion. Honestly, why is this concept so hard to grasp?

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Tarrobread August 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

CharlesR, thanks for the link.

So it seems that this claim of failing Solomonoff induction is very similar to the “God is a bad explanation for anything” approach that Luke endorsed a while back along with the book Theism and Explanation, just using more rigorous methods. Although this method does wonderfully to address all theistic arguments for the best explanation, it fails to rebut deductive arguments. But, Luke’s problems with the traditional arguments (KCA, fine-tuning, etc.) have been already presented elsewhere on this blog. As a side note, however, what justifies Solomonoff induction (the claim that complexity=shortest computer program description) as the “correct” interpretation of complexity? (this isn’t meant as an attack I’m just ignorant) I agree it sort of seems like an intuitive definition, but does it have any more backing than that? I whole-heartedly agree that the usual religious conception of a theistic God that performs miracles, blesses weddings, listens to prayers, inspries holy books, etc. etc. is enormously complex. What about more abstract, non-interventionist notions of a God described by perfect being theology? Certainly this would (epically) fail Solomonoff induction, but the theology’s adherents would insist that “pure perfection” is simple.

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MarkD August 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm

@Tarrobread

what justifies Solomonoff induction (the claim that complexity=shortest computer program description) as the “correct” interpretation of complexity? (this isn’t meant as an attack I’m just ignorant) I agree it sort of seems like an intuitive definition, but does it have any more backing than that?

That’s a great question. There have been many efforts to describe complexity through recent history, much less moving further back to Ockham. The recent methods have largely depended on information theoretic grounds and have all asked the same essential question though often in different ways: to define a logical procedure for inductive inference one needs a general purpose computing device to perform the induction and the structure of the procedure should be, among all possible procedures, the one that minimizes predictive errors. Cybernetic theory derived some classes of analog and statistical error minimization procedures, but algorithmic information theory via the cast of characters previously mentioned is provably general and provably optimal.

So, is it “correct”? It has several properties that make it highly successful like provable properties, intuitive clarity, and nice extensions into PAC learning theory, etc. There are many subtleties in the current theory like MML vs. MDL, however, and there are other very difficult implementation issues (long-range statistical dependencies in the problem space) that have yet to be solved.

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Garren August 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Doesn’t the conclusion that we can discard Theism by way of Solomonoff induction assume there isn’t significant evidence for Theism? So it would make a good answer to Pascal or God and Other Minds-era Plantinga, but not to the more common Theist contention that there is good evidence for Theism.

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Furcas August 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm

This site has some of the worst commenters I’ve ever seen. Luke, I think you should just start over on a new site with a new name that has nothing to do with God or atheism. Hopefully the morons here won’t follow you.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I’ve got a minute, I suppose we can do this tit-for-tat…

Eric,

Once again I am having to defend Luke when it seems you would rather just attack him than deal with what he posts.

You don’t have to defend anybody, and I have not attacked Luke. Rather, I attack the blatant inconsistencies and fallacies in reasoning that the rest of Team Atheism appears wholly unconcerned with.

Please cite some evidence, because this sounds like a baseless assertion to me.

It’s littered all across this blog and mine. Two examples that come quickly to mind are, In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, and Can God Based Morality Be Objective? [on my own blog]. On my blog, I have an index of all my arguments here, so don’t pretend what I say is baseless [actually I do need to update it for 2011... but you get the point]. There you will find the evidence that Luke occasionally eschews valid criticism, attacks dissenters as “trolls,” and presses on despite valid objections on the table.

A straw man argument is where you attack an argument that has not been made.

Correct. Nobody here is attacking an argument that has not been made. Many people here are complaining about what they perceive as a lack of intellectual rigor [among other things]. In fact, if anyone’s attacking straw, it’s you. Nobody here seems to have been under the impression that Luke intended this post to be a formal argument for atheism, so when you protest thus, it’s against straw.

I think I made it painfully clear where many commentators have done this. I know I have had to break these things down Barney Style for you in the past. Do I need to treat you as a child unable to think for himself?

Shut your mouth. You aren’t making anything clear other than your endorsement of arrogant smarm.

Or will you actually respond to my justification for saying it was a straw man instead of coming up with some ignorant one-liner?

You had none. All you said was [and I'm paraphrasing], “Gee you guys are so stupid because Luke isn’t offering this as a formal argument for atheism,” yet, like I said, nobody appears to have been laboring under the assumption that he was.

I don’t personally know if he directly addresses theism in light of Solomonoff Induction,

Then don’t go around spouting this crap about how he’s covered this IN GREAT DETAIL.

Of course the “problems” with this page all seem to be misinterpretations of what Luke is saying from people like you who just seem to want to discredit him.

Misrepresentation? Please. Why don’t you actually try to demonstrate a misrepresentation? I’ve not misrepresented one thing here. In fact, if you want to talk about misrepresentation, why don’t you talk to Luke about misrepresenting the Libet data to bolster his own metaphysical position, among other things? Would that be too un-partisan for you?

When did I ever say this? Where did you get this idea? Who would make such an argument? I certainly did not. I just said in this case, you guys obviously did not read the source material.

Exactly. That’s exactly the mistake I was alluding to. Now, work the rest out: why did you say we hadn’t read the source material? Would you have said that if I had replied, “Yes, Luke, OMG you are *SO* correct, theism, like, TOTALLY fails Solomonoff Induction?” No, you wouldn’t have.

I also said WHY I believed this. What made you think I merely did this BECAUSE you were criticizing what you called “intellectual dishonesty.”

Because I didn’t do anything that would entail the conclusion that I lack exposure to the source material. You were wrong in your assumption, plain and simple.

How can we have a conversation when you construct such blatant straw-men?

Quit trying to sound all smart by using a word you apparently don’t understand at all. This is just baseless silliness on your behalf. Show me where I’ve attacked an argument that hasn’t been made. If you can, I’ll admit my error. If you can’t, admit your error.

No wonder so many people give up on debating you.

Ah, yes… now let’s walk with open arms to the ad hominem fallacy. Good job!

You just make up ridiculously obvious straw men instead of actually dealing with their arguments.

Oh please. What’s the matter? Can’t make your case without a fistful of mud? Can you either put your money where your mouth is, or quit throwing false accusations around? That’s the second time you’ve accused me of attacking a straw man in this thread, yet you utterly fail to demonstrate the argument I’ve attacked that’s not been made.

I am not sure that Luke has declared the God Question a settled issue.

I’m not going to do your homework for you, but I am now sure that *YOU* lack exposure to the pertinent source material. What a joke.

It is settled for him but it sounds like you are taking a particularly weak interpretation of this article. He thinks people will no longer think the God issue makes sense after diving into studying human rationality. But that is far from saying it is a settled issue.

LOL! No wonder you think I’m attacking a strawman. You’re not even on the same damn page. You think I’m talking about this post! C’mon man! Look before you leap! I’m in META mode. No worries, we all screw up at times.

I was criticizing the people here because they don’t seem to have read any of his posts, where one could easily expect SOME comments to exist on said posts.

Correct. IOW, you’re prematurely judging all of us on the assumption that we ignored the “MANY LINKS” where Luke defends his positions “IN GREAT DETAIL,” — which is exactly what I said. That you don’t see comments from me or anyone else in thread X doesn’t entail that we haven’t read thread X. That’s illogic on your part.

If I did judge prematurely, please let me know.

I just did, but I suspect you’ll just handwave and bluster some more about strawmen.

Seeing as you asked about links to where Luke defends the positions he states here, its pretty obvious you have not read any of those posts.

So, asking for a link means I haven’t read those posts? Sheesh. What lame logic. That I ask you to back up an assertion does not entail that I am unfamiliar with the source material. Ha! The stupid! It burns! [and not you, but what you said, so don't get all huffy and accuse me of a personal attack. What you said is stupid; you appear quite intelligent].

So if the 85% of posts you read came mostly before these posts, then you have missed the entire point of both this post and my complaint.

Your “complaint” was based on incorrect assumption. If you would care to offer a complaint with some substance, feel free. Maybe we can get somewhere. If not, well… keep playing bat-boy to Luke Muehlhauser, and I’ll keep mocking you both.

You haven’t read the posts he speaks of. You don’t know why he comes to his conclusions in this post. Yet you criticize them. You have read the conclusion without reading the book. Read the book before you judge the conclusion.

Oh, okay, I must have been dreaming all those times I read Luke’s thoughts on Bayes, not to mention all those times I followed his links to Less Wrong. My bad. Thank you for clearing up my delusion! I feel so enlightened! So invigorated with the truths of atheism!

Look, you’re being a total hypocrite here. You’re accusing me of criticizing Luke without knowing why he says what he says, yet, you apparently have no idea why I’m criticizing him, or even of what I’m even talking about. The only thing supporting your accusations is, well… your own unsupported assumption that I haven’t read Luke sufficiently, and that’s not rationalism. It’s knee-jerk reaction based on illogic at best, emotion at worst.

So, where do you want to go from here? More polemic? Earnest question? An objection with substance?

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cl August 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

AlexS,

Your actual historical reasons for becoming an atheist (as you seem to be reasonably self-aware about) seemed to have been emotional, intuitive, and based on philosophy as well as Traditional Rationality norms. It’s OK to bring your justification-templates up-to-date in light of newly adopted epistemic norms, but don’t pretend to be rewriting your history.

Bravo. I’m glad that others are also calling this.

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 6:51 pm

@Zeb

Hey there,
I read your comments this morning and had a good think over my coffee.
I think that successful predictions are very useful as they provide us protection against false ideas.

Take the fairodynamics idea. In the real life situation most theists say something along the lines of:

“You can make flying safer by appeasing the fairies, you must follow these commandments, and by the way, I’m in charge”

Or:

“Actually, it isn’t fairies, it’s Hobgoblins, who smite those who believe in fairies, also can I have 10% of your income, the Hobgoblins need it, otherwise they will smite your planes.”

Alright, we’ve got some pantheists, who equate God with the laws of nature, I can understand that viewpoint very easily (pleasantly even), but I don’t find myself left with the God of the Bible.

So falsification protects us from charlatanism.

Your comments on manipulating the world, well doesn’t trying to “understand God” have the same problems? You’re trying to figure out God’s values so as, presumably, to have the best possible relationship with God, or maybe to be Good, though I’ll accept they may be one and the same.

“Manipulating the world” seems a morally neutral action to me. I can use Science to invent a medicine that delays death, or lowers suffering, or invent something using the principles I’ve learnt to do the opposite.

If you ask why human life is valuable to me, as a non-theist (still working out how else to classify myself), I’d ask back, why is human life valuable to God?

I think that’s one of the prime drives to control our world, to reduce our own suffering (not that we don’t get hoisted by our own petards all the damn time).

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 7:03 pm

@CL
Hey CL,
Don’t much like all the tit-for-tat stuff (not blaming you alone) but I do see your point.

As far as I can tell two key issues come into play, as to whether “God” (lets say the monotheistic christian God) passes, the Solomonoff induction or not.

1) Is God properly basic (as in our perception of our own consciousness)
2) Is God itself simple

I think most non-believers would argue no and no.
I think believers would mostly favour yes for number 1, I am unsure of point 2.

As I’ve said before I’m quite ignorant of philosophy, so if I’ve erred let me know, I’d be glad of correction.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Eric,

I even took some time to review the links you provided. There was only one I hadn’t read. So yeah, your claims that I’m just “attacking strawmen” and that I “haven’t read the MANY LINKS” are totally baseless, false claims. You owe me an apology, sir.

Of the posts you mention, Luke offers nothing that would support the conclusions in this post in Reading Yudkowsky, part 62. Same goes for Reading Yudkowsky, part 10, Reading Yudkowsky, part 34, and Reading Yudkowsky, part 12. As far as CPD083 is concerned, Luke hardly says anything at all except “Yeah, Yup, Yeah, Yup” to everything Richard Carrier says. One will not find any justification for the claim, “Theism badly fails Solomonoff induction” therein. Now, in all honesty, I haven’t listened to CPBD 088, but I highly doubt that Luke would give a formal explanation of his thoughts on Bayes and theism while interviewing Yudkowsky. Or, what of Bayes-related posts you didn’t mention? In An Intuitive Explanation of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Intuitive Explanation of Bayes’ Theorem, perhaps the behemoth of them all, Luke offers nothing that would support the conclusions in this post.

So, since you seem to think Luke’s defended this claim with “MANY LINKS” and “IN GREAT DETAIL,” perhaps you can show us? I’m not the only one who seems to have missed this, as you can surely see… so c’mon, enlighten us.

joseph,

Hiya joseph.

Don’t much like all the tit-for-tat stuff (not blaming you alone) but I do see your point.

Well, it’s not my first choice of how to dialog, but I’m not one to shy away from willful ignorance and false accusations. Eric obviously got all riled up about something, to the point it obscured cold, calculated reasoning. I mean c’mon… he’s really going to claim that all us dissenters simply haven’t read Luke sufficiently? How is that not a lame-ass atheist version of the Courtier’s Reply? Anyways. Water under the bridge.

As I’ve said before I’m quite ignorant of philosophy, so if I’ve erred let me know, I’d be glad of correction.

I’m unsure of what you’re asking…

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Oh! Yep I didn’t phrase it outright as a question.
So, I’d imagine God would pass Solomonoff Induction if belief in God was properly Basic, and God could be described as simple (as Keith Ward seems to argue).
Do you agree?

If you agree do you present an argument (here or on your own blog)?

If you disagree and think that God outright passes Solomonoff induction do you have an argument (here or on your own blog)?

I’m not simply trying to switch the burden of proof, actually I’d like to here Luke’s argument just as much. I’d imagine both sides of the debate could produce a good argument.

There’s nothing wrong in being forthright, but I think whoever stops the tit-for-tat style of combative debate first gets to retake the moral high ground. If you both enjoy fighting I’ll go get my metaphorical popcorn (unsalted – to be healthier for my metaphorical heart)….

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soupsayer August 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Furcas wroteThis site has some of the worst commenters I’ve ever seen. Luke, I think you should just start over on a new site with a new name that has nothing to do with God or atheism. Hopefully the morons here won’t follow you.

With very little sifting, I’ve found this comment sequence to be quite valuable. It has provided fodder for further study and reflection. However, if by “some”, you mean at least one, then I agree. I’ll give you one guess as to which one comment is the worst…

I agree about the new site idea though. The “commonsensebayesianism” domain is totally available.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm

joseph,

So, I’d imagine God would pass Solomonoff Induction if belief in God was properly Basic, and God could be described as simple (as Keith Ward seems to argue).
Do you agree?

I can’t agree or disagree, because I have no idea what you mean when you say “pass Solomonoff Induction.” If you could explain precisely what you mean by that, such that I can reliably identify when X passes vs. fails Solomonoff induction, we might be able to have a discussion…

There’s nothing wrong in being forthright, but I think whoever stops the tit-for-tat style of combative debate first gets to retake the moral high ground. If you both enjoy fighting I’ll go get my metaphorical popcorn (unsalted – to be healthier for my metaphorical heart)….

LOL! It can be mildly entertaining at times but I’m already over it. Eric will either abandond the false accusations and bluster then add something substantial, or he won’t. Makes no difference to me, I’ve said my piece.

soupsayer,

Regardless of who you’re alluding to, and especially if it’s me, I’d much rather hear a direct criticism involving an explanation of *why* a particular comment is the worst. Personally, I think Eric’s first comment was the worst so far, with “worst” meaning something roughly like, “containing the largest amount of unsupported assumptions, invalid conclusions, and avoidance of the criticisms being offered.” Also, the opening comment didn’t have much to offer IMHO. I suspect you won’t share my opinion…

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm

The best definition I could find was (wiki – I know):

Solomonoff is a mathematically formalized Ockham’s Razor.

In Joe brain this got translated as:

Someone wants to appear extra clever, by tagging some equations to Ockham’s Razor and using an unfamilar phrase, with an exotic name.

Then the nice bit of Joe brain went:

You’re much too cynical, there’s probably a good reason why it needs to be mathematically formalized and Mr.Solomonoff probably deserves some credit.

So, rightly or wrongly, I take the nature of the question I am now posing to be:

“Is a conscious, personal, omnimax God a simpler explanation to the universe than a non-conscious, non-personal, quantum tunneling mathematicsl equation (or whatever Hawking has given us). Which is the simplest, and offers the best predictions, according to the shallow cesspit of current human wisdom.”

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cl August 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Okay, thanks… at least now we’re getting to the point where we can get somewhere. What, precisely, do you mean when you say “simpler,” and what, precisely, do you mean when you say “best?”

I’m not trying to be contrarian, I’m trying to get a clear picture of the territory here, because everybody seems to have their own map if you catch my drift… I assure you that if you can explain precisely what you mean by those two terms in your next comment, I can answer your question to the best of my ability in my next comment.

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I don’t mind CL,
I am not sure if I can give you a satisfactory answer though, sorry. You are making me think, which is welcome.
By best I mean, most accurate and most repeatable, to different cultures and people, in different times and places.
Sorry, being trained scientifically this is a natural position for me, I don’t question it enough perhaps. I can’t get my head around post modernism.
So for example if you predicted that Ba’al would kill those who didn’t believe in him with Lightning, and we found people who didn’t believe in Ba’al died of all sorts of causes, some natural, at the end of long lives I’d consider this a bad prediction, inaccurate and unrepeatable. No statistically significant relationship between lack of Ba’al belief and death by lightning strike.

Simple. Much harder to explain, but I think something that could be explained with fewest possible terms, so for example the crystalline structure of a diamond would be simpler than the structure of crude oil…the terms themselves should ideally not be derivatives. Yep that’s as close as I can get without researching much further.

Which is kind of why I’d be interested in both a theist and atheist take of Solomoff Induction, so I could get a feel for the nature of the argument. Perhaps it’s lazy, but I’m here to learn and question, not to teach (i dabble in opining and sometimes scold).

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Instead of the structure of crude oil i really wanted to say a quasicrystal, but I couldn’t remember the name.

Look at them, they’re amazing.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasicrystal

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cl August 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Well, as unsatisfied with your definition of “best” as I am, I said I would try, so here goes… while I can admit that it needs some redress, most notably in the comments about Ockham’s, this is all taken from my post Aristotle’s Argument From Kinesis, 2, and I still endorse the meat of it:

[...] Time and time again, atheists assert that positing a conscious or “complex” God as creator of the universe violates Occam’s razor. Friends, as I’ve already asserted, that is bare naked assertion. In fact, the complete opposite is true. Occam’s razor shaves away the materialist’s last ground here, and I intend to support my case instead of just assert it.

Remember, thus far, we have three and only three viable options to explain existence: infinite regress, existence ex nihilo, or an unmoved mover. Which of these is the simplest? By simplest, I mean “requires the least amount of additional explanation.” As far as causality is concerned, doesn’t an infinite regress of transitions from potency to act logically require an infinite number of explanations?

[...]

What about creation ex nihilo? Then we’re just saying that the universe popped into existence from absolute nothingness. Yet, absolute nothingness would be just that – absolute nothingness – which means not even a single iota of potency from which existence might transition into act.

[...]

What about an unmoved mover, as explained in the Introduction? If an unmoved mover has always existed, we have a single, simple explanation that requires no additional explanations.

[...]

The logical conclusion of Aristotle’s argument is not only that an unmoved mover necessarily exists, but that it also necessarily possesses a certain set of qualities: it must be active, eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable. I can see how atheists and skeptics may be tempted to see these as arbitrary proclamations or just-so statements, but remember that Aristotle wasn’t just some apologist trying to paint a bulls-eye around his target. In other words, we can’t claim the Old Testament writers hijacked Aristotle’s argument to construct the Biblical God because Aristotle post-dates the Hebrew scriptures, and we can’t claim Aristotle was favorable to Judaism or Christianity because he stands amongst the world’s most authoritative Pagan philosophers.

These characteristics are each logical derivations of Aristotle’s argument, and if we remove any one of them, we literally define his unmoved mover out of existence. For examples, if the first unmoved mover were not active, it would not move. If it were not eternal, it would demand a causal explanation. If it demanded a causal explanation, its cause would become more necessary than it. If something is more necessary than it, it cannot be said to be essential. That which is not essential is not pure. If it is not immaterial, then it becomes subject to the laws of matter, and cannot be imperishable. Etc.

Of course, most of that only addresses the “simple” part of this discussion. You had asked [bold mine],

“Is a conscious, personal, omnimax God a simpler explanation to the universe than a non-conscious, non-personal, quantum tunneling mathematicsl equation (or whatever Hawking has given us). Which is the simplest, and offers the best predictions, according to the shallow cesspit of current human wisdom.”

Obviously, I think God is the simplest explanation, and I just gave a partial explanation of why. As far as “offers the best predictions,” you say that “best prediction” means “accurate and most repeatable, to different cultures and people, in different times and places.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that. A simpler question might be, “what should we expect if the God of the Bible is true?” Or conversely, “what might we expect if the God of the Bible were false?” Well, if the God of the Bible were true, we might expect a number of things. For example, we might expect to see the Jews return to their homeland to restore national sovereignty after thousands of years of dispersement. We might expect to see the culmination of conflict in the Middle East that leads to the fulfillment of various Biblical prophecies. We might expect to experience and hear of experiences involving revelation, prophecy, and miracle. However, these strike me as weak approaches, as we might expect at least some of those things to happen anyways. Since we’re not dealing with scientific claims — i.e. since we’re not evaluating the probability of a dice roll where all the variables are known — it gets much more difficult to cast reliable predictions. One might suggest this is an insurmountable weakness for the claim in question. I disagree.

So there you go. There’s my perfunctory reply, even though I’m not the one with the burden of proof, I stepped to it anyway. Not too bad for somebody who ignores the actual arguments in favor of strawmen, eh?

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Eric August 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

cl –

I have not attacked Luke.

Your first comment on this post is littered with attacks. All you do is attack his character.
In fact, even MarkD seems to see that all you want to do is “pick on Luke”
I will admit most of what you said has almost nothing to do with the actual post in question. You just continue to bash Luke at every turn.


It’s littered all across this blog and mine. Two examples that come quickly to mind are, In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, and Can God Based Morality Be Objective? [on my own blog]. On my blog, I have an index of all my arguments here, so don’t pretend what I say is baseless [actually I do need to update it for 2011... but you get the point]. There you will find the evidence that Luke occasionally eschews valid criticism, attacks dissenters as “trolls,” and presses on despite valid objections on the table.

Looking at In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, I have to wonder what the hell you are talking about. He deals with the criticisms by pointing out that they rely on intuitions, which does not persuade him (me neither). This doesn’t sound like he “he eschews valid criticisms over and over again, then reasserts his positions despite the existence of valid criticisms.” Unless you expect him to write a book, this is no example. I have no desire to read your random whining that you call your blog. I have already seen how invalid your criticisms are.


Correct. Nobody here is attacking an argument that has not been made.

Cl :” You declared the existence of God a “settled issue” before those words ever even appeared on this blog.
Soupsayer: “Never-mind that just a handful of words later, he makes an argument for atheism…”
Jacopo : ” If you don’t agree with him, read half a million words of sequences on Less Wrong (or equivalent) at the very least. If you don’t want to do that (and he can’t fail to know that most people won’t), you haven’t read enough maths and science to contradict him in a way he will listen to. And in any case, he won’t say anything specific. Saying that Solomonoff induction is your refutation of theism and then linking to a general article on it, is about as convincing as somebody saying that Bayes theorem confirms Christianity and then linking to a textbook on it on Amazon.” – You generally agreed with him on all this.
Atb: ““If you just knew this stuff [usually related to math and science, though other things among certain continentally inclined segments of the population] you’d see that your religious beliefs were false! I don’t have to explain *why* this is the case, it just is.”” – You agreed with this one too


Nobody here seems to have been under the impression that Luke intended this post to be a formal argument for atheism, so when you protest thus, it’s against straw.

See above…


Shut your mouth.

:P


You aren’t making anything clear other than your endorsement of arrogant smarm… All you said was [and I'm paraphrasing], “Gee you guys are so stupid because Luke isn’t offering this as a formal argument for atheism,” yet, like I said, nobody appears to have been laboring under the assumption that he was… Misrepresentation? Please. Why don’t you actually try to demonstrate a misrepresentation? I’ve not misrepresented one thing here.

Actually I pointed out a few straw men posted in the comments on this blog. You agreed with many of them. But you can still persist with your vague accusations.


Then don’t go around spouting this crap about how he’s covered this IN GREAT DETAIL.

See what I said right below what you just wrote:
“many of these articles deal with various components of Solomonoff Induction, since Solomonoff Induction is basically a mesh of Bayes Theorem and information theory, you just merely need to find where he addresses the problems of Theism from any of those perspectives “
But that’s okay. Just cherry pick what I’m saying. I don’t know why I would ever expect more from you…


In fact, if you want to talk about misrepresentation, why don’t you talk to Luke about misrepresenting the Libet data to bolster his own metaphysical position, among other things? Would that be too un-partisan for you?

Wow. What a random red herring. Are you serious? Do you have ADD?


Exactly. That’s exactly the mistake I was alluding to. Now, work the rest out: why did you say we hadn’t read the source material? Would you have said that if I had replied, “Yes, Luke, OMG you are *SO* correct, theism, like, TOTALLY fails Solomonoff Induction?” No, you wouldn’t have.

This is a logical fallacy. You have made a nice little non-sequitur here (if A then B, B, therefore A)… I already explained why I didn’t think you had read the source material. Do I need to repeat myself? You can continue to make up straw men though. In cl’s little world, this is all about me wanting you to agree with luke (despite the fact that I personally haven’t). Keep avoiding this issue. It’s an excellent waste of space.


Because I didn’t do anything that would entail the conclusion that I lack exposure to the source material. You were wrong in your assumption, plain and simple.

Seeing as how you were agreeing with the conclusions of people that seemed to disagree with the source material, I would’ve expected some kind of criticism on the source material’s comments from you. But then you would have to deal with the specifics of each argument. I get the idea cl does not like that.


Quit trying to sound all smart by using a word you apparently don’t understand at all.

Wait didn’t you earlier agree with my definition of a straw man? Or do you just have short term memory?


This is just baseless silliness on your behalf. Show me where I’ve attacked an argument that hasn’t been made. If you can, I’ll admit my error. If you can’t, admit your error.

See above where I pointed out straw men you agreed with. Of course, you never did admit your error in my previous discussion with you. So why would I expect it now?

Ah, yes… now let’s walk with open arms to the ad hominem fallacy. Good job!

I think you crossed that bridge quite a long time ago. I’m just venting my frustration that I’m stupid enough to get into an argument with you again after you have made it plainly clear you don’t care about having an honest discussion. You just want to sit on your self-righteous high horse and dish out baseless accusations (similar to ones you have made about Alonzo Fyfe).


I’m not going to do your homework for you, but I am now sure that *YOU* lack exposure to the pertinent source material. What a joke. LOL! No wonder you think I’m attacking a strawman. You’re not even on the same damn page. You think I’m talking about this post!”

Seeing as how I responding to you saying : “It *IS* intellectually lazy to draw a line in the sand, declare these things a “settled issue,” then pretend that those who disagree lack exposure to the pertinent academic disciplines.” Sounds exactly like the argument atb made about THIS post, with which you agreed. If you suddenly were talking about some other post(s) then please do us a favor and make it known. And if you ARE talking about other posts in that quote, please point out which one, or at least a few examples.


That you don’t see comments from me or anyone else in thread X doesn’t entail that we haven’t read thread X. That’s illogic on your part.

Actually that was not my argument; notice the caveat where I said “where one could easily expect SOME comments to exist on said posts.” Later, I also asked :” “Where are your comments disagreeing with him on Bayes Theorem or Kolmogorov Complexity? I’d expect you would have interacted with his posts at least a bit if you had indeed read them.” But it’s okay. Straw-men are always easier to attack.


So, asking for a link means I haven’t read those posts? Sheesh. What lame logic.

When I can reasonably expect you to know of such examples, if you had already read such posts, then yes, I can safely assume you didn’t read the posts.


That I ask you to back up an assertion does not entail that I am unfamiliar with the source material.

If you had read the posts, it should have been painfully clear what I was talking about. If I were to say “Darth Vader is Luke Sywalker’s father” and you asked me for a source, I can assume you have never seen Star Wars (of if you did, you don’t remember one of the most obvious parts of it). So yes, that you ask me to back up an assertion CAN entail that you are unfamiliar with the source material.


Ha! The stupid! It burns!

Maybe you should take some Pepcid for that.


Your “complaint” was based on incorrect assumption.

You said “And what would you say to those of us who have read over 85% of the [1000+ ?] posts here over the last three years? How much more do I need to read before my opinion can carry some weight, oh Superior Rationalist?” This was obviously beside the point, indicating you missed the point of my complaint.


Oh, okay, I must have been dreaming all those times I read Luke’s thoughts on Bayes, not to mention all those times I followed his links to Less Wrong. My bad. Thank you for clearing up my delusion! I feel so enlightened! So invigorated with the truths of atheism!

You may have been. You often miss very important bits and pieces of what people say. I have already pointed one out in this very comment.


Look, you’re being a total hypocrite here. You’re accusing me of criticizing Luke without knowing why he says what he says, yet, you apparently have no idea why I’m criticizing him, or even of what I’m even talking about.

What the hell are you talking about? I criticized you and other commentators on this post for attacking a straw man. What is there not to get?


The only thing supporting your accusations is, well… your own unsupported assumption that I haven’t read Luke sufficiently, and that’s not rationalism

Actually I did support it. I have justified why I didn’t think you had read those posts. Of course you may be right. I forgot that you are completely capable of reading something and not understanding the first thing about what you read. I have seen you do this in the past, and have corrected your mistakes. I should’ve known. My bad. I’m sorry. You aren’t lazy, just incompetent.


Of the posts you mention, Luke offers nothing that would support the conclusions in this post in Reading Yudkowsky, part 62. Same goes for Reading Yudkowsky, part 10, Reading Yudkowsky, part 34, and Reading Yudkowsky, part 12.

Reading Yudkowsky part 62 deals with a common argument for Christianity. Part 10 deals with the falsifiability of Religion, Part 34 deals with asking yourself questions you hadn’t asked before (dealing with God), Part 12 talks about “switching literary genres” and relates it to arguments for God’s existence using bayes’ theorem.

As far as CPD083 is concerned, Luke hardly says anything at all except “Yeah, Yup, Yeah, Yup” to everything Richard Carrier says. One will not find any justification for the claim, “Theism badly fails Solomonoff induction” therein.

Do you expect for luke to just repeat what carrier says? Besides, why do you expect him to mention “Solomonoff induction” in this? He mentions Bayes and how it relates to supernatural claims (at least Carrier does, and Luke does agree with him on this).


Now, in all honesty, I haven’t listened to CPBD 088, but I highly doubt that Luke would give a formal explanation of his thoughts on Bayes and theism while interviewing Yudkowsky.

That’s not what it is about. He mostly relates God to reductionism, which has to do with why Kolmogrov complexity makes him doubt God as an explanation, as explained in CPBD 61.


So, since you seem to think Luke’s defended this claim with “MANY LINKS” and “IN GREAT DETAIL,” perhaps you can show us?

You can’t seem to figure out how the links I posted relate to what Luke said. How many do I need to post?

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AlexS August 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Being praised by CL caused me to be concerned about how I came across, so I went back to look at my wording. To clarify, I’m not suggesting that Luke has come to be radically self-deceived about his historical reasons for abandoning theism, as CL seems to think. I noted potential for confusion in the wording of Luke’s post, which was about “reasons”, which is ambiguous. Reasons can be historical, actual reasons (i.e. what actually caused Luke’s atheism), or the set of considerations/arguments one would offer when asked to defend one’s position (what I called one’s “current justification-template”). Obviously my concern was relevant, as CL seems to have fully bought into the former interpretation. If that were really what Luke meant, I would greatly increase my subjective probability that MIRI has harmful cultlike characteristics to a problematic extent.

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joseph August 21, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Thanks CL,
It’s great that your are willing to stake your claim. As the post was basically Luke saying he won’t I expect he won’t (agree that he should though). Like you said the burden of proof really isn’t yours, in this case. I will start reading your blog.as way of thanks.

I’ll shut up after this, as I’m blabbing, and wait for other commentators, but a few questions:

1) Why is God given an eternal regress when this is not given to the universe?
2) Did God create ex nihilo, or from some part of itself?

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cl August 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Eric,

Your first comment on this post is littered with attacks.

I see you don’t know what an attack is, then. My first comment 1) called BS on Luke’s claim that he is an atheist because “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction,” and even other commenters have voiced their agreement; 2) called into question Luke’s manner of defending his own positions; 3) called BS on Luke’s misrepresentation of the Libet data; and 4) called BS on Luke’s claim that can be paraphrased as, “if one knows enough math, they’ll become an atheist.” Those are not attacks on Luke. They are attacks on things Luke as said and done. See the difference?

Looking at In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, I have to wonder what the hell you are talking about. He deals with the criticisms by pointing out that they rely on intuitions, which does not persuade him (me neither). This doesn’t sound like he “he eschews valid criticisms over and over again, then reasserts his positions despite the existence of valid criticisms.”

Then apparently you missed our final exchanges, and those instances where Luke continues to assert value monism despite the lack of an answer to them.

I have no desire to read your random whining that you call your blog. I have already seen how invalid your criticisms are.

You claim I offer an invalid criticism, and you link to a post by Alonzo Fyfe. ???

Actually I pointed out a few straw men posted in the comments on this blog. You agreed with many of them.

False. Neither myself, Jacopo, soupsayer, or atb responded to arguments that were not being made. It is true that Luke declared this a “settled issue” long before the pontification on Solomonoff. Jacopo labored under no illusion that Luke offered this as a formal argument. You are correct that I agreed with these people. You are incorrect that these people thought Luke was offering this as a formal argument. May they correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect the contrary is true: these people were criticizing Luke because this is clearly NOT offered as a formal argument.

See what I said right below what you just wrote:
“many of these articles deal with various components of Solomonoff Induction, since Solomonoff Induction is basically a mesh of Bayes Theorem and information theory, you just merely need to find where he addresses the problems of Theism from any of those perspectives “
But that’s okay. Just cherry pick what I’m saying. I don’t know why I would ever expect more from you…

I didn’t cherrypick what you were saying. I had read — and reread — those articles, and I can’t find a single thing that would justify the claim that theism fails Solomonoff induction.

In cl’s little world, this is all about me wanting you to agree with luke (despite the fact that I personally haven’t).

Wrong. This is all about you making unfounded claims based on faulty assumptions, then getting all hotty-totty about it.

See above where I pointed out straw men you agreed with.

You didn’t point out strawmen I agreed with. None of those people responded to arguments Luke didn’t make. Contrary, they each responded to arguments and claims Luke DID make. That’s why I agreed with them.

I’m just venting my frustration that I’m stupid enough to get into an argument with you again after you have made it plainly clear you don’t care about having an honest discussion.

Keep attacking my character all you want. I am patient, and forgiving, and I’ll keep pointing you towards the truth. You see, I can tell that you’re frustrated, and that’s why I’m somewhat sympathetic here. We all depart from cogency in frustration in moments of frustration. It’s human.

You just want to sit on your self-righteous high horse and dish out baseless accusations (similar to ones you have made about Alonzo Fyfe).

Can you show me a baseless accusation I’ve made? Or, might this be another baseless accusation of your own?

Actually that was not my argument; notice the caveat where I said “where one could easily expect SOME comments to exist on said posts.” Later, I also asked :” “Where are your comments disagreeing with him on Bayes Theorem or Kolmogorov Complexity? I’d expect you would have interacted with his posts at least a bit if you had indeed read them.” But it’s okay. Straw-men are always easier to attack.

Again, no straw. You used the lack of comments as the justification for your claim that I hadn’t read those posts. Don’t get so offended by it; it’s just a misstep in logic.

When I can reasonably expect you to know of such examples, if you had already read such posts, then yes, I can safely assume you didn’t read the posts.

No, you can’t. At least, not if you have any semblance of respect for valid conclusion. Again: that someone doesn’t comment on post X is no justification for the assumption that they haven’t read post X. That’s a misstep in logic.

If you had read the posts, it should have been painfully clear what I was talking about.

And yet, I’ve read the posts — and reread the posts — and I still see nothing that would justify the claim, “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction.” So, where is the exposition that would justify “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction?” Will you hide it from us forever?

So yes, that you ask me to back up an assertion CAN entail that you are unfamiliar with the source material.

Sure, if you’re fond of conclusions that don’t necessarily flow from the premises.

You often miss very important bits and pieces of what people say. I have already pointed one out in this very comment.

I hate to break it to you, but you haven’t. Feel free to try again. Nobody here has attacked an argument or claim that hasn’t been made, plain and simple. In each of the examples you gave, the interlocutors were responding directly to arguments and claims Luke made.

I criticized you and other commentators on this post for attacking a straw man. What is there not to get?

And, I have responded by pointing out that each of the commenters in question responded to actual arguments and claims Luke has made. On what grounds do you deny this? Let me enumerate them one more time. Did Luke claim that the existence of God was a “settled issue” long before the words “Solomonoff induction” appeared on this blog as the reason for Luke’s atheism? Yes. Did Luke make an argument for atheism after ironically declaring that he doesn’t care about arguments for atheism? Yes. Did Luke imply that those who cling to “magical thinking” simply haven’t had the time to read enough math and science? Yes, and this isn’t the first time he’s given us such drivel. So, we can see that neither Jacopo, atb, soupsayer or myself responded to strawmen. Contrary, we responded to claims and arguments Luke *actually made.*

In order to prove us wrong, you need to show that Luke did not make the claims we attribute to him. Can you? Will you? Or will you satisfy yourself with more negative insinuations about my character?

I have justified why I didn’t think you had read those posts.

Sure, if “justified” means “you probably didn’t read the posts because I didn’t see any comments in those threads.” Personally, I don’t think that’s a useful definition of the word justified.

I forgot that you are completely capable of reading something and not understanding the first thing about what you read. I have seen you do this in the past, and have corrected your mistakes. I should’ve known. My bad. I’m sorry. You aren’t lazy, just incompetent.

And yet, no links or evidence are provided for these accusations.

Reading Yudkowsky part 62 deals with a common argument for Christianity. Part 10 deals with the falsifiability of Religion, Part 34 deals with asking yourself questions you hadn’t asked before (dealing with God), Part 12 talks about “switching literary genres” and relates it to arguments for God’s existence using bayes’ theorem.

And, as I said, nothing in Luke’s reviews of Yudkowsky justify Luke’s claim that “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction.” But I digress, because you’ve already decided the problem MUST be with me. I’m open to being shown wrong, but you have to do it with intelligence and actual facts, not just false accusations. If you want to show me wrong in your next comment, then lay off the accusations, and just simply, gently point me to ANYTHING that would justify the claim, “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction.”

He mentions Bayes and how it relates to supernatural claims (at least Carrier does, and Luke does agree with him on this).

Oh, I see… Luke nods in agreement to everything Carrier says in that post, therefore Luke’s claim that theism badly fails Solomonoff induction is justified? Is that what you’re saying? If so, surely you can see why I’m not persuaded.

You can’t seem to figure out how the links I posted relate to what Luke said.

Incorrect. I can see the peripheral relationship between all of them and what Luke said. However, I can’t see that which you proclaim to be self-evident: justification for the claim that “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction.” That’s all I’m looking for. If you don’t want to help me out, fine. Maybe I’ll learn from someone else. But if you refuse to show me the money in your next comment, I probably won’t bother responding. We all already know what you think of me.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm

AlexS,

I understood what you said, and I appreciated the distinction you drew [current justification template vs. historical reasons]. Further, I understand and respect your apparent desire to distance yourself from me. I’d be concerned if someone I perceived as a kook suddenly lavished praise on one of my comments, too. If I’ve misread you, my apologies.

joseph,

Why is God given an eternal regress when this is not given to the universe?

On the traditional Aristotleian view which I have come to accept, God is not given an eternal regress, because God is pure act [as opposed to a transition from potency to act, which requires one or more types of cause, hence regress]. Moreover, the reason I don’t allow eternal regress for the universe is — among other things — because the universe appears headed for an entropic demise from which it cannot sustainably bounce back without reneging on causal closure.

Did God create ex nihilo, or from some part of itself?

On my view, the state of affairs we call “ex nihilo” is logically impossible. I’m not sure whether traditional Aristotleians or Thomists would agree.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm

A final word from me, then off to a little reading before bed: it would be one thing if I was the lone dissenter always showing up to repeat the same old same old, but you all know — or at least those of you who’ve spent more than passing time here know — that this is not the case. Many, many commenters agree with me regarding various objections made against Alonzo Fyfe and Luke Muehlhauser. Of course, that doesn’t make us right, but it does tend to diffuse the insinuations of lunacy latent in many of my interlocutors indictments. So, to those of you who would write me off as a crank because I don’t hesitate to use a little good-natured mockery myself, hey… go ahead. That’s one less comment I’ll have to respond to. Just don’t be deluded, because there have been literally dozens of people making the same points. So, if you want to be an intellectually satisfied atheist like your pal Dicky Dawk, you’re going to need to grapple with these arguments at some point.

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Eric August 21, 2011 at 11:26 pm

@cl
Before I respond to your post, I would like you to go read the “link to a post by Alonzo Fyfe.” Read the comments and the exchange we had about that particular post, as well as other posts, in which you falsely accused Alonzo and Luke of bigotry. If that jogs your memory, you will understand why I have started off with these personal attacks and why my patience is already limited with you. And it will also answer a few of your questions from your most recent comment.

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cl August 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I love your respect for precision…! “Hey cl, just go find what I’m thinking in my head… I assure it’s somewhere in those 92 comments, I just didn’t link to the actual comments in question for whatever reason…”

Okay, fine, I’ll do extra work because you don’t care enough to link to the actual exchange… hang tight…

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RedShift August 21, 2011 at 11:40 pm

The reason I’m an atheist isn’t because of the argument from evil or from unbelief or from inconsistent revelations or anything. No, the reason I’m an atheist is because theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction.

You are a terrible liar. Maybe Solomonoff induction made you a stronger atheist (I don’t know what it is and I don’t care for now, I don’t want to waste my time learning complicated math just to strenghten my unbelief, there has to be another reason), but the arguments you listed above (plus few more facts about the world) are more than enough and you know it. They’ve worked for you before, and they still do.

Now redeem yourself by telling us why in the world should we spend our time to learn that particular math you mentioned?

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cl August 22, 2011 at 12:02 am

Couldn’t resist.

Eric,

My first comment appears January 6, 2011 at 11:56 am, and I actually endorse Fyfe’s sentiments as expressed in the OP. I then go on to cite Alonzo’s definition of the “Bigot’s Fallacy” as,

…a fallacy in which the argument begins with claims about the objectionable behavior of this or that specific religious teaching or the wrongful acts of a specific religious person, then suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions about “religion” or “theists” in general. They use these arguments in the hopes that their audience is blind to the fact that the conclusions are entirely unjustified given the premises, so that they can sell their own prejudices to that audience.

…and then I proceed to show instances of Alonzo and Luke committing this very fallacy. Of course, both Alonzo and Luke fail to address these claims. I know, I know… I’m such an irrational frothing-at-the-mouth demon that why should they waste the time, right?

Moving along… your first comment appears January 6, 2011 at 9:57 pm, where you whine about the lack of response to the “litany” of claims I make. I reply to you January 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm, stating that both Alonzo and Luke have no interest in responding to my claims, and I actually wish you a happy 2011 in earnestness. I ask you to show me where I’ve erred, then, overlooking the fact that I’d accepted Alonzo’s definition of bigotry, for some reason, you reply with a definition of bigotry I do not endorse. January 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm, I point out that racism is an essential characteristic all KKK members, and that perversion is an essential characteristic of all child rapists. The implication, of course, is that the willful blinding of oneself to evidence is NOT an essential characteristic of being a YEC. In fact, it is possible to hold YEC rationally, as others pointed out in that thread. January 7, 2011 at 10:51 pm, you make the valid point that laziness is not bigotry. January 8, 2011 at 10:26 am, I demonstrate how Luke began by making a claim about the [alleged] wrongful act of a specific creationist: Ray Comfort. Then, Luke suddenly and unjustifiably leaped to a conclusion about creationists in general: that they must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck.

Honestly, I think you have a woefully insufficient concept of what justification means. That Luke or Alonzo say, “here is why I believe creationists are evil” does not entail justification of the claim. Explanation is not justification. As I said January 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm, you appear to be arguing that mere attempt at justification is sufficient to exonerate one from charges of bigotry. On my view, it is not. And, you pull the same schtick there: baseless accusations of strawmanning.

So, here’s what all this boils down to: I call BS on Luke and Alonzo, and do my best to explain why I think they hypocritically commit the very Bigot’s fallacy they ostensibly decry. You think they’ve justified their bigotry. I don’t. We disagree. That doesn’t entail any sort of character defect on my behalf, or your behalf. We disagree. Big deal.

So, what’s your point, and how does it relate here? Oh yeah, my bad, this is supposed to be your “evidence” that I’m a contemptible douchebag who can’t respond to actual arguments, but only prefers strawmen, and is dishonest and all sorts of other unsavory things…

If that jogs your memory, you will understand why I have started off with these personal attacks and why my patience is already limited with you. And it will also answer a few of your questions from your most recent comment.

Genetic fallacy. Even if you were right in that exchange — and I submit that you were not — being right in some exchange from last year doesn’t justify personal attacks this year. Notice how I don’t use past disagreements to imply current character defects. That, of course, is a fallacious strategy. I’ve treated you with a clean slate on every exchange we’ve had. I’m sorry you cling so tenaciously to the past.

Look, please don’t waste any more of OUR time. You said,

…I have not seen anyone commenting here tackle his reasoning behind this article.

…and again I ask, specifically, what reasoning? Licking Yudkowsky’s / Carrier’s balls isn’t reasoning. Just point me to the argument[s] that would, in your opinion, justify Luke’s claim that “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction.” That’s all I’m asking for. It shouldn’t be hard, unless of course no such reasoning exists — and that’s what I’m starting to suspect seeing as how you refrain from anything specific.

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soupsayer August 22, 2011 at 12:31 am

cl, no I definitely wasn’t referring to any of your comments. I’ve appreciated much of your input here. Really, I mean this literally (in case you suspect sarcasm).

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Eric August 22, 2011 at 1:44 am

@cl
Actually, the definition of bigotry you supposedly did not endorse was one you had actually SAID YOU ENDORSED on January 6, 2011 at 11:56 am. Are you lying now? I pointed out your previous definition of bigotry because it was useful in defining Alonzo and Luke as bigots.


You think they’ve justified their bigotry. I don’t. We disagree

And I demonstrated how you were wrong, time and time again, using quantitative logic. I had been ‘wining’ about your selective quote-mining, a dishonest tactic at best (and one you have used on me in this thread already many times). Yet you continued to create straw men, ignored most of what I said, engaged in red herrings, continued to use arguments I already refuted, etc… You were careless, unspecific, and downright dishonest. Seeing as how you seem to not even recognize the painfully obvious examples of these, after I already broke them down for you Barney-Style in that thread, I see no reason to continue with this debate. I’m not going to waste my time debating a stubborn child. Continue with your unjustified condescending remarks if that makes you happy in your pants. If you have not seen what a total buffoon you were in that previous conversation, then you are indeed still a buffoon. And yes that IS a personal attack because I see no point in explaining this to you logically as I have in the past. It is a waste of time to explain logic to someone who does not care to think critically. It goes right through one ear and right out the other.

I’ll go ahead and let you troll on with whatever gibberish you think is a valid response. No doubt it will contain all sorts of personal attacks of your own.
One final note, your words:
“these people were criticizing Luke because this is clearly NOT offered as a formal argument.”
This is the straw man! Luke was never intending to make a formal argument! You attacked an intention that simply did not exist, one you made up to give you reason to criticize. I honestly don’t know how much more blatantly obvious I can make this.

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 2:00 am

Sadly and as usual this thread has got derailed due to trolls.

In the interest of getting it back on track, the key question being aksed was how does Solomonoff Induction apply to god explanations? I gave the answer and expected it, at least, to be debated rather than ignored. This indicates that no-one here really wanted an answer (debatable or not) and it was only asked rhetorically.

Anyway to make it black and white the original link, from another commenter, was to an article on Occam’s Razor and then I gave a link to the (still currently) last comment that answered the question here – being over the gods and not witches.

Lets see if anyone wants to discuss this rather than continue engaging in off-topic grudge matches. I ain’t holding my breath.

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Eric August 22, 2011 at 2:37 am

Sorry Martin. After spending days of rigorously showing someone why he’s wrong, only to be ignored and quote mined, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. It sounded like this thread was turning into it once again and it was hogging up room where there should be honest discussion over the topics of this post.
I have unsubscribed to this thread. I’m too busy and don’t have the time and patience to try and convince someone 2+2=4. Plus this bout between me and cl is pointless.

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Eric August 22, 2011 at 2:44 am

One more thing before I go, I’d suggest listing to CPBD #61. It also shows how at Theism fails when compared to natural reductionist explanations when complexity is measured as “Kolmogorov Complexity.” One thing this link misses is explaining the futility of measuring complexity through word games and heuristics, which is often what I often see from theists. But your link does that quite nicely.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 3:02 am

@CL
Is pure act the same as pure actual (vs. potential)?

Would that make God changeless?

Would that make God an actual infinite?

If so how would God create ex deo?

Does that mean the immaterial and material can be exchanged?

If God created ex deo does that mean the devil is part of God?

If God created ex materia why can that material exist eternally but not the universe?

How well is the entropic heat death of the universe settled?

If you’ve discussed all this in your blog let me know, no need to repeat yourself.

@Martin Freedman

Want some of my popcorn?
I genuinely thought most theists would argue God is simple, indivisible and perfect….or the belief in God can be defined as properly basic. I’m glad CL didn’t, because I don’t get any of that line of thought.
One thing that interests me, that I think Stenger wrote, is the idea that intelligent life may be the product of physical rules, so the idea that every intelligent agent requires a very long code to describe may not be completely true. It may be emergent from some more basic laws governing self replicating systems. Though I doubt all theists would be comfortable with certain implications…

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 3:42 am

Joseph

Thanks for the popcorn.

“I genuinely thought most theists would argue God is simple, indivisible and perfect….or the belief in God can be defined as properly basic. ”
When one adumbrates what this means this becomes either more complex or incoherent. Taking the charitable option one needs to substitute for “God is simple” with an explanation of what that means or how that works, indeed one needs to substitute for both “God” and “simple” and express this is an algorithm which would be of a message length such that conjoining this either with an existing explanation (e.g. God created natural selection) or the absence of an explanation (“I don’t know” and “God did it”) makes the program longer.

In the former this is now a longer and (according to the universal probabilities over all programs) less likely explanation, hence inferior. In the latter since it adds zero predictive power the more compact answer (“I don’t know”) is still superior.

When one further notes, with is similar analysis to the above, that previous prior God explanations that have been tested have all failed and been replaced by superior, since successful, non-God explanations the provisional but now very robust and strong conclusion is overwhelming that it would be perverse to hold the God is an explanation for anything.

Pure deductive arguments do not enter into this and are irrelevant to the degree that the soundness of their premises are open to analysis by inductive inference (Solomonoff induction). To the degree these premises are not open to such analysis such deductions create an infinity of possible Gods and so the rational conclusion is at worst that none of these exists or at best that deism is most likely true. Further it is equivocation to call the deist’s god “God” as is on one that is practically believed by any believer.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 4:31 am

@martin freedman

The first half I whole heartedly understand. Though until I checked the definition of “adumbrate” I used a stand in definition of “make less dumb”, inaccurate but it worked.
But then it hardly seems fair for me as a non-theist to just high five you and say “Yay! We both affirmed each others conclusions”!

The second bit, about deductive arguments, I don’t know, couldn’t you set up a network of self replicating programs and test if a consciousness, or rather “bitstrings that
specify Turing machines” arose? Maybe they’d even be necessary beings. I agree, it would probably end up providing little evidence for the judeo-christo-islamic God, but wouldn’t it let you test if consciousness can be an emergent property or not?

I honestly don’t know. But I’ve often thought if God could be proven to be a necessary being I’d believe again.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 4:42 am

I also suppose many a theist would say that unless God was a logical impossibility they’d see no reason to lose belief, so being less probable would be of no consequence.

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 5:05 am

Joseph

I do not see the relevance of emergent (or not) consciousnesses wrt to deductive arguments. Either their premises are open to scrutiny for soundness or they are not. If the former, then the prior arguments apply. If the latter, then they fail to point to any specific “One True God” of any and all sects of any and all religions that make such a claim. They (and others, not yet imagined) are all logically possible and the odds of any one being true are vanishingly small. This makes it not only quite irrational to believe, even if they do but also removes any possible grounds for them to use this as a justification to interfere in the affairs of others, which is and has always been my central concern in this area.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 6:00 am

Ok. I now understand ahhh…that would be because I hopelessly misunderstood the meaning of deductive argument, failed to realise it and wandered off happily into imagination land.

As I’m (badly) trying to take the place of a theist again might a theist not argue that as long as the existence of one God could be shown, maybe that God would be the God of all protestants, or all christians, or all monotheists. I don’t know about you but I don’t actually know of many Christians who will say every branch of Christianity other than their own is doomed, and know more than a few universalists…

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 6:27 am

Hi Joseph

Fair enough taking the role… ahem .. of the devil’s advocate, or, in this case, god’s advocate.

First it is not enough for certain members of different sects to assert they are all referring to the same god. They have to deal with, to them, idiosyncratic differences between those differing sect’s version of god. And again there are no independent grounds available to them to do so. Lets us grant, for the purposes of argument, that they can succeed. It is still the case that there are now, in addition, to distinct sect-based gods, now also multiple universalist gods. One that is universal to Xianity, one to Islam, one to Judaism, plus those that are more universal across religions – in differing combinations not just sects – giving a total of 7 possible universalist gods stradling just the Abrahamic religions. Still there are plenty who would reject any such universalistic conception as the “One True God”. Further there are doctrinal boundaries that seem impossible to overcome, as a univeralistic god across Xianity and Judaism would have to reject the Triune God. What you have now done is multiplied, or, at the very least increased and not reduced the number of possible “One True God”s and, as far as I can see, this means that the probability that any one of these is correct becomes even more vanishingly small!

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 8:18 am

Yep God’s advocate, and we’ve just established there are a whole bunch of them. So watch out or I’ll set them on you!

Slightly more seriously couldn’t it be the case that the Universalist God just isn’t that fussy over doctrine? The independant grounds would be God itself.
God could say to the jew’s well…he really was my son but you were meant to kill him anyway, to ransom mankind, so I could forgive you to myself. So good news is I do!
And to Christians, well mostly right, Paul went a bit overboard and as for the early church fathers…ha ha ha….but I forgive you.
And to everyone else (arbitary) your wrong now, but given I’m in a talking mode we can straighten things out, your all my kids, apart from Justin Bieber.

So we could get down to one God, and most religions not being right (vanishing correct) but right enough.

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 8:39 am

Joseph

The problem is there is zero evidence for all that. My point was there could be many Universalist Gods, to give one other example,
“that the Universalist God just isn’t that fussy over doctrine? The independant grounds would be God itself. God could say to the Xians well…the Jews and Muslims were right he really was not my son but you were meant to believe in him anyway, to ransom mankind, so I could forgive you to myself. So good news is I do!
And to everyone else (arbitary) your wrong now, but given I’m in a talking mode we can straighten things out, your all my kids, apart from Justin Bieber”
There are no independent grounds based on God, that is incoherent. If some such god were to provide some grounds, such grounds would be evidence would pass Solomonoff Induction but, to date, it is the opposite and there is zero evidence that this is likely to change.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 9:00 am

Ha…What you’re reminding me of is what a terrible God’s advocate I make. Probably why I gave up. I guess some believers argue zero evidence is the definition of faith, and if you can’t prove God illogical a small probability of being right is enough.

Ummm….I’ll have one more shot until an actual theist shows up, and thinks I’m trying to make a mockery of them.

Stealing CL’s argument, couldn’t you attempt to argue that no cause for the universe is illogical, so impossible to program, and that an infinite regress is also impossible to program? So both of those fail Solomonoff Induction too.

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 9:13 am

Joseph

One has to start with some brute facts, given the choice between the universe exists versus some type of god exists, the former is simpler and there is already evidence for it.

As for an infinite regress a very simple program could create that, with no halting condition, so it is not impossible at all. Indeed it is the bane of all programmers when they start out out to avoid creating infinite loops and programs that do not terminate. Clearly whoever came up with that comment knows nothing about programming.

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Thomas August 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

A quick comment…

“One has to start with some brute facts, given the choice between the universe exists versus some type of god exists, the former is simpler and there is already evidence for it. “

Not so. Most classical versions of theism do not portray God as “a brute fact”, if by brute fact we mean a brute contingent fact.

The universe exists and we have evidence that it exists contingently. Now if we accept some form of the PSR, then it follows that there exists a supranatural necessary being.

If this is true, then it is irrelevant if naturalism is “simpler” than theism, since naturalism do not have enough explanatory power (it can´t explain why there exists contingent beings at all, and we must explain this if the PSR is true). Naturalism is “simpler” than theism only in the way that theories of physics which do not involve subatomic particles are “simpler” than those which do. Surely they are simpler in the way that they posit fewer entities, but that is irrelevant since these theories do not explain the data.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 10:14 am

Yep combination of not knowing anything about programming, guessing a possible theist defence and not believing in the outcome…i’ll stop now a real theist is here.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 10:28 am

Eric,

Actually, the definition of bigotry you supposedly did not endorse was one you had actually SAID YOU ENDORSED on January 6, 2011 at 11:56 am. Are you lying now?

No, you’re just committed to disagreeing with and denigrating me no matter what the cost, and as a result, you’ve — again — misunderstood what I said.

And I demonstrated how you were wrong, time and time again, using quantitative logic.

No, you didn’t. You sat there and repeated yourself, over and over: “But the key word is UNJUSTIFIED, cl, and Luke and Alonzo justified their derogartory overgeneralizations about all creationists.” Flatly false. Willingness to blind oneself to the evidence is not an essential trait of all YEC, in the same way the racism is an essential trait of being a KKK member. QED.

I had been ‘wining’ about your selective quote-mining, a dishonest tactic at best (and one you have used on me in this thread already many times).

Nonsense. A quote-mine occurs when you intentionally take your interlocutor’s words and present them in a way that implies your interlocutor endorses a position they actually do not. At worst, I may have misunderstood something you said, but I can’t really say, because once again, you simply hurl accusations with no evidence [much like Martin Freedman / faithlessgod, but I'll get to him later].

Yet you continued to create straw men, ignored most of what I said, engaged in red herrings, continued to use arguments I already refuted, etc… You were careless, unspecific, and downright dishonest. Seeing as how you seem to not even recognize the painfully obvious examples of these, after I already broke them down for you Barney-Style in that thread, I see no reason to continue with this debate.

Give me a break. Are you sane? I showed, calmly and collectively, how you failed to demonstrate strawmen. I replied to each accusation of strawmanning — from myself, Jacopo, atb, and soupsayer — and I explained how each was a response to an actual argument or claim Luke made. I then passed the burden to you, asking you to show an instance of a response to an argument that has NOT been made, and instead of rising to the challenge, you come back with more vitriol. Retreat with your tail between your legs if you want, but I’m confident that any objective third party can easily see the truth here: we responded to arguments and claims Luke actually endorses, so your claim of “strawmanning” is just a joke. Again, prove us wrong. If you think the problem is with me, why don’t you ask atb, Jacopo, or soupsayer what they think? Why are you focused exclusively on me to the neglect of all other Muehlhauser critics in this thread? I mean, I’m a bit flattered, but why be so myopic?

I’m not going to waste my time debating a stubborn child. Continue with your unjustified condescending remarks if that makes you happy in your pants.

LOL! Read yourself!

If you have not seen what a total buffoon you were in that previous conversation, then you are indeed still a buffoon.

Ah, yes… more ad hominem remarks, straight out of the New Atheist playbook. Yeah, I’m a buffoon because you fail to persuade me.

And yes that IS a personal attack because I see no point in explaining this to you logically as I have in the past. It is a waste of time to explain logic to someone who does not care to think critically. It goes right through one ear and right out the other.

Tell me about it. You’re so heated, and so given to personal attacks, that you’re not even responding with a level head. Whatever. Insult me personally, all you want. Water off a duck’s back. I don’t care. I just want to be sure nobody’s actually strawmanned Luke here, and given your abject failure to demonstrate so, I’m pretty confident. I suspect that if you were correct, you would address the arguments instead of the person. By all means, prove us wrong. Show where even one single person responded to an argument or claim Luke didn’t make.

I’ll go ahead and let you troll on with whatever gibberish you think is a valid response.

Ah, yes… now you pull one straight from the Muehlhauser / faithlessgod playbook. Can’t demonstrate the superiority of your own position via clear articulation and logic? No matter! Simply attack your interlocutor as a troll, or better yet, a racist. After all, everybody really hates racists! Pathetic.

Luke was never intending to make a formal argument!

If your panties weren’t in such a wad, you might be able to realize that I am not alleging these people MISTAKENLY THOUGHT Luke was offering this as a formal argument. Say that two or three times aloud. IOW, nobody here was laboring under the false assumption that Luke was presenting this short post as a formal argument. Get it yet? Slow down, cool off for a few days, and think about it.

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 10:30 am

Thomas

1. The PSR is a controversial premise and faisl the Solomonoff Induction test (e.g. due to quantum indeterrminancy) and also it is self-defeating see http://people.vanderbilt.edu/~john.f.post/psr.htm

2. We do not have evidence that all the universe exists contingently, hence if there is any necessary something, it could be that part of the universe.

3. So it does not follow that there exists a supernatural necessary being. But even if we grant that then are still an infinite possibilities whether any god-claim matches that purported being and so we are no further along knowing if any such god exists.

4. You misunderstand “simpler” I am using it in the sense using in inductive inference, minimum message length and I already explained this issue in a previous comment. If you disagree then address the argument I presented above.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

If anyone wants to make the Solomonoff Induction case, they need to bring the numbers. Period. All else is mental masturbation. The burden is on Luke here, but as usual, he’s too busy. So, now we’ve got Martin Freedman batting clean-up, only problem is, he’s just juggling words without numbers.

Martin Freedman / faithlessgod,

Sadly and as usual this thread has got derailed due to trolls.

Funny remark, coming from the racist accuser. You’ve got no business trying to paint me as a troll for simply sticking to my guns, when you know that you pull moves like labeling others “racists” because you can’t persuade them of that paltry morality you espouse. Don’t try to deny this, either, because Thomas is right here among us. Racist accuser!

In the interest of getting it back on track, the key question being aksed was how does Solomonoff Induction apply to god explanations? I gave the answer and expected it, at least, to be debated rather than ignored.

You didn’t “give the answer,” you gave an ambiguous link to a Yudkowsky comment thread, and instead of answering my request for elaboration, you came back and pulled the troll card.

This indicates that no-one here really wanted an answer (debatable or not) and it was only asked rhetorically.

That indicates you can’t follow a conversation. Again, I asked you for clarity, August 21, 2011 at 9:09 am, and you did not return until August 22, 2011 at 2:00 am. So don’t sit there are try to pretend that I’m not interested in the Solomonoff question, because I’m the *ONLY* one who asked you to clarify. Further, I’ve taken the bull by the horns and been preliminarily discussing the issue with joseph [i.e., no numbers], so you are either inept at reading comprehension, or lying. I don’t know which.

Anyway to make it black and white the original link, from another commenter, was to an article on Occam’s Razor and then I gave a link to the (still currently) last comment that answered the question here – being over the gods and not witches.

And I replied to this: if the God of the Bible is true, this does not permit everything. Rather, it permits a specific range of predictions. Not saying we can know or falsify them all, but they are there. The point is that “God of the Bible true” != “all is permitted.”

What you have now done is multiplied, or, at the very least increased and not reduced the number of possible “One True God”s and, as far as I can see, this means that the probability that any one of these is correct becomes even more vanishingly small!

See Yudkowsky on why decoherence is simple. I suspect you’re making the mistake he alludes to, i.e., “Many-Worlds is not a zillion worlds worth of complicated, any more than the atomic hypothesis is a zillion atoms worth of complicated. For anyone with a quantitative grasp of Occam’s Razor that is simply not what the term “complicated” means.” In short, you are committing the “that’s too many stars” error. It’s a misunderstanding of Occam’s Razor.

The problem is there is zero evidence for all that.

This, too, is error. There is ample evidence for God. If you disagree, define evidence.

As for an infinite regress a very simple program could create that,

LOL x 4857587568474675! How’s that for MML? Any created regress is not infinite: it would have a beginning point, at the moment of program creation.

Clearly whoever came up with that comment knows nothing about programming.

Oh, the irony!

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cl August 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

joseph,

Did you read my two posts on Aristotle’s argument from kinesis? At least some of those questions are addressed therein.

I genuinely thought most theists would argue God is simple, indivisible and perfect….or the belief in God can be defined as properly basic. I’m glad CL didn’t, because I don’t get any of that line of thought.

Wait, what? I endorse a God that is simple, indivisible, and perfect. I have no idea where you got that. Comments like these make me wonder…

So we could get down to one God, and most religions not being right (vanishing correct) but right enough.

I endorse that, although, with heaps of caution.

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Thomas August 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

Martin Freedman

1. Yes, PSR is controversial but that doesn´t mean it´s not true. It´s not self-defeating if you formulate it correctly (e.g. necessarily, every true contingent proposition has an explanation). Alex Pruss has made an outstanding defense of the PSR in his Cambridge University Press book The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassesment. And even if you rejected PSR, you could still made an inference to the best explanation -type cosmological argument.

2. True, this could be true, but there are arguments that the necessary being must be supranatural (I won´t go to them here). Also, if the whole physical cosmos had a beginning (as some big bang models imply), then this proves that the whole physical reality is contingent.

3. Again, there are good abductive arguments that the best explanation for the role of the necessary being is a theistic God (and again, this is not the place to go for these arguments). But even if those arguments failed, the existence of some supranatural necessary being would still falsify ontological naturalism – a pretty significant conclusion for the cosmological arguer

4. Ok, fair enough. Still, if there is something to the cosmological argument, this shows that the explanatory power of naturalism isn´t enough.

Good objections, though. Especially 2. is for me the most promising way for the naturalist to tackle the argument.

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Reginald Selkirk August 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

If I want to pull somebody away from magical thinking, I don’t need to mention atheism. Instead, I teach them Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating.

The problem with this is that you just end up with theists, comfortable in their sophistry, misusing such tools to support their pre-drawn conclusions. Information theory has been misused by Intelligent Design Creationists who understand it barely, if at all. Bayesian updating is misused by theologians to make crank arguments for theism.

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Reginald Selkirk August 22, 2011 at 11:52 am

joseph: Am I the only one who thinks Bayes solves nothing in this case?
It seems to depend on your assumed probabilities (your ability to believe in the supernatural). So a theist like W.L.Craig will happily use it, as will atheist counterparts.

I am reminded of the RATE project carried out by the Institute for Creation Research to disprove the efficacy of isotope dating methods. Using a technique badly does not prove that it is wrong or useless.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 11:59 am

I just want to take a moment and highlight the blatant equivocation, strawmanning, and subsequently unjustified snark in Martin Freedman / faithlessgod’s comment. I know, I know, everybody’s sick of accusations, but unlike my accusers, I will justify what I’m saying, and it will be undeniable. Here’s the exchange:

Stealing CL’s argument, couldn’t you attempt to argue that no cause for the universe is illogical, so impossible to program, and that an infinite regress is also impossible to program? So both of those fail Solomonoff Induction too. [joseph]

As for an infinite regress a very simple program could create that, with no halting condition, so it is not impossible at all. Indeed it is the bane of all programmers when they start out out [sic] to avoid creating infinite loops and programs that do not terminate. [Martin Freedman / faithlessgod]

Everybody, I want you to look and see how Martin Freedman / faithlessgod blatantly and unabashedly EQUIVOCATED and ATTACKED STRAW in his reply to joseph. He equivocated, because “infinite [causal] regress” and “infinite [programming] loop” do not denote the same state of affairs, yet he uses them interchangeably. He even used the two distinct terms in the same clause! When Martin Freedman / faithlessgod points out that a programmer can easily induce an infinite loop, he attacks a strawman: nobody has argued that a programmer cannot create an infinite loop. No programmer could create an infinite regress in the sense relevant to this discussion! Then, with that smug pride ever so typical of an atheist who thinks he knows a thing or two,

Clearly whoever came up with that comment knows nothing about programming.

LOL! Yet we’ve just seen that Martin Freedman / faithlessgod conflated an infinite programming loop with an infinite causal regress! So, should we assume Martin Freedman / faithlessgod clearly knows nothing about programming? Should we assume Martin Freedman / faithlessgod clearly knows nothing about philosophy? Should we assume Martin Freedman / faithlessgod is dishonest? Should we assume Martin Freedman / faithlessgod is just honestly negligent, and can’t argue worth a piss? Should we assume some other option I’ve missed?

Now, I make no assumption, but whichever way you cut it, the results seem all bad for Martin Freedman / faithlessgod. Pay attention, people, and think critically, because people like Martin Freedman / faithlessgod would have you believe that they are spouting cogency when they are really spouting fallacy.

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Sally Daniels August 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

cl is owning this blog.

Keep up the good work, cl. The burden of proof is on Luke and his defenders – and they aren’t looking too good right now! Maybe they have a case, but it is hard to say due to the illogical and/or bald assertions coming from them.

Looks like the burden of proof is on the atheist groupies this time. ;)

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Thomas

As you could guess I would go for your option 2. Still I do not see that the cosmological argument – of any form – has much merit. And even if it does work it does not follow that whatever it is that is necessary is supranatural (this might be an elaboration of point 2). And the point I already raised over the problem of the infinity of possible gods it generates such that the likelihood of anyone’s claimed “One True God” are vanishingly small and that is all I need, unless anyone can show otherwise but then they are back to the problem of inductive inference. Surely there is no way out of the dilemma via pure deductive argument but only through the horn of inductive inference. Now unless new evidence is provided and there is no sign of that occurring the God Hypothesis remains a big fail.

The debate triggered by the OP is nothing to do with ontological naturalism, just as to whether theism is a useful explanation for anything and worth considering as a candidate hypothesis at all. That is the only point I wished to clarify here and I think I have done enough for now.

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Larkus August 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm

You’ve got no business trying to paint me as a troll for simply sticking to my guns [...]

cl, I doubt, that you are being called a troll because you ‘stick to your guns’. It may be rather due to your debating style:
From The Art of Controversy:

Stratagem 8: Make your opponent angry
This trick consists in making your opponent angry; for when he is angry he is incapable of judging aright, and perceiving where his advantage lies. You can make him angry by doing him repeated injustice, or practising some kind of chicanery, and being generally insolent.

What Schopenhauer describes there is nowadays generally known as trolling (if it happens on the internet, at least).

For example, you did begin your first post in this thread with: “Oh please. Quit pretending.” More examples of that type can be found in this thread and in previous threads.

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Briefly as it’s witching hours here:

@CL
Nope, just part 2, yep some of the answers were there, promise I’ll read the rest before commenting further.

Yes, you do endorse a simple God, but the thrust of your argument wasn’t:

God is simple, therefore minimal programming space, therefore solomonoff passed! It was, respectfully, better.

I endorse that, although, with heaps of caution.

@Reginald Selkirk
Absolutely, that’s why anybody, theist, atheist, pastafarian, who uses mathematical arguments must show their working! No Calculators! Transparency.

@Sally
Well really we have a horrific trade of “I know you are but what am I”. Personally I think it’s unproductive. Not going to blame either party, I had a little go at fixing things.
As for burden of proof, lets share it, we’ll both benefit from the right answer, and we both care about the right answer, unlike many people.

Sometimes comments like these make me wonder ;-)

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Martin Freedman August 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm

DNFTT

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joseph August 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Oh the:

Sometimes comments like these make me wonder ;-)

Bit was meant to follow:

I endorse that, although, with heaps of caution.

Phone hates me.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Larkus,

Stratagem 8: Make your opponent angry
This trick consists in making your opponent angry; for when he is angry he is incapable of judging aright, and perceiving where his advantage lies. You can make him angry by doing him repeated injustice, or practising some kind of chicanery, and being generally insolent.

Oh for crying out loud. Read Eric’s first comment. As one might suspect from all the bold and CAPS which typically denote strong emotion and YELLING in internet conversation, that Eric was off his emotional kilter long before I said a word to him. Moreover, I can’t “make” anybody angry, nor do I try to [which follows from the fact I can't]. For whatever reason, Eric *CHOSE* to get angry. Then again, if you buy classic determinism, I can see why you would think I made Eric angry, because classic determinism removes the responsibility from where it rightly belongs.

For example, you did begin your first post in this thread with: “Oh please. Quit pretending.” More examples of that type can be found in this thread and in previous threads.

I hate to break it to ya, but calling BS where BS needs to be called is not trolling. Besides, Luke endorses the use of mockery, and that is why I give it to him. You’ll note I didn’t give it to you in any of our exchanges on the so-called “Problem of Heaven,” and you’ll note that there are many, many people who I’ve never given it to.

At any rate, maybe you need a little mockery, so… do you have anything to add that, ya know… actually relates to theism and Solomonoff induction? Or, did you simply show up to take sides with the atheist haters? Remember now, *YOU* control your emotions, not me, so don’t blame me if you get angry.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Sally Daniels,

cl is owning this blog.

Keep up the good work, cl. The burden of proof is on Luke and his defenders – and they aren’t looking too good right now! Maybe they have a case, but it is hard to say due to the illogical and/or bald assertions coming from them.

Looks like the burden of proof is on the atheist groupies this time. ;)

Thanks, I do appreciate the support. Although, the utter lack of accountability that typifies these types of discussions frustrates me. Hardly anybody ever says, “Oh, you’re right, I was wrong about that.” I mean, look at the latest kerfuffle with Martin Freedman / faithlessgod. Now, he writes:

The debate triggered by the OP is nothing to do with ontological naturalism, just as to whether theism is a useful explanation for anything and worth considering as a candidate hypothesis at all. That is the only point I wished to clarify here and I think I have done enough for now.

How is that a clarification? We’ve known all along that this was about theism’s validity with regard to Solomonoff induction. I asked, oh, I don’t know, about seventeen times for an argument that would justify Luke’s claim, “Theism badly fails Solomonoff induction.” So why would Martin Freedman / faithlessgod feel the need to clarify an issue that was already the central point of our discourse? Why is Martin Freedman / faithlessgod blathering on about Solomonoff induction without running any sort of, y’know… numbers? I mean, he doesn’t even give a hypothetical calculation.

Worse, why won’t Martin Freedman / faithlessgod accept my correction regarding his conflation of programming / philosophical terminology? It is just a coincidence that he concluded he’s “done enough for now” just after being cornered? Do you see what’s happening? Instead of taking accountability for his errors, Martin Freedman / faithlessgod simply sits back and pulls the troll card: DNFTT (Do Not Feed The Trolls). Well, I can respond with a cute little acronym, too: DNLFAMACAR (Do Not Let Fallacious Arguments Masquerade As Cogency And Reason).

Lastly, why won’t more atheists step up and say, “Unfortunately, Martin Freedman / faithlessgod, cl is correct. You did conflate those terms, and you do need to run some calculations if you wish demonstrate the inferiority of theism with regard to Solomonoff induction?”

Maybe there’s some truth in your “atheist groupies” remark.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

joseph,

Well really we have a horrific trade of “I know you are but what am I”. Personally I think it’s unproductive. Not going to blame either party, I had a little go at fixing things.

I don’t really see it that way. Yeah, we had a tit-for-tat, but here’s the thing: Eric made a bunch of false allegations, I did not. Eric laid heavy on the personal attacks, and, for the most part, I did not [except for a little good-natured teasing, i.e., the "bat-boy" and "panties in a wad" remarks]. I didn’t attack his character and blather on about how dishonest he is. Rather, I attempted to show, calmly and collectively, why his allegations were false. I realize most people don’t like these sorts of conflicts, and I can understand that, but honestly, I think more people need to get involved. All this “riding the fence” stuff seems to be an impediment to progress in my opinion.

Same thing with Martin Freedman / faithlessgod: here I just demonstrated, conclusively, how he’s conflating terms to craft bogus responses to you, and hardly anybody seems concerned. Where are the desirists? Where are those who really believe we ought to condemn desires that tend to thwart other desires, e.g., the desire to let fallacious arguments masquerade as cogency and reason?

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Larkus August 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm

cl,
you did misunderstand me. I wasn’t refering specifically to Eric. Just a general observation based on previous threads.

Exactly this systematic insolence and not your persistence may be the reason why people regard your comments as trolling, even if it is only directed at some people.

Anyway, I don’t feel mocked.
Cheers

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MarkD August 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Drilling down a bit on both the definitions of “failed,” the request for mathematics, and the request for a definition of “correctness,” it should be pointed out that given any binary symbol sequence A of length n that we are trying to explain, there are many models of length less than n that can generate A. The Solomonoff/Kolmogorov/Chaitin/MML/MDL methods stack rank the possible models based on a trade-off between length and likelihood that for a continuation of A using the same underlying generator function. That is, a larger model is only a “failure” in that it is less likely to be successful in the future based on the known evidence. There is no guarantee of that, however.

A good friend coined “compression is truth” to express this simple fact, but note that that is “truth” with the lowercase t. I don’t see how we can get further than lowercase ts in any inductive argument. Still, it’s both fascinating enough as an intellectual achievement and adequate to support a weakened claim of “failure,” perhaps rewritten with all kinds of hedging language. Of course, it wouldn’t be sufficiently provocative for a blog then and really needs a book-length treatment (see Elliott Sober’s Simplicity as a start from the philosophical side) to bracket the meaning of “failure” for a deeper dive.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Larkus,

I wasn’t refering specifically to Eric.

I did not misunderstand you. That I brought up Eric — the only visibly angry one here — as an example, does not entail that I thought you were referring specifically to Eric. Besides, the whole rest of your comment is still wrong: I don’t try to make people angry. I call it like I see it, and some people get angry. That is *THEIR* problem, not mine, and quite frankly, I think it suggests an underlying issue they might need to take a look at.

Exactly this systematic insolence and not your persistence may be the reason why people regard your comments as trolling, even if it is only directed at some people.

Surely you see that your use of “people” is loaded, referring in reality to a handful of commenters — each of which, unsurprisingly, have clashed with me at some point. Take Martin Freedman / faithlessgod as an example. He couldn’t convince me of his case for desirism, and so he lashed out and tried to label me with the negative connotation of being a racist. That, right there, is far more “trollish” than me saying “quit pretending,” or teasing somebody about being a “bat-boy” for Luke Muehlhauser. Therefore, I mock Martin Freedman / faithlessgod, and continually call attention to the fact that he’ll resort to false allegations and personal attacks over reasoned arguments, all the while systematically dismantling his fallacious arguments [and not all of them are fallacious, either]. For every person who calls me a “troll,” you’ll find two or three with something positive to say. Hell, that pattern repeats even in this thread.

So, in short: if you’re commenting to affirm the opinions of the troll-callers, well… whatever. I’m a troll in your book. OTOH, if you’re just commenting to say, “Hey cl, I think this might be why some people come away with that impression,” well… I’ve been aware of that for a long time. Again: mockery, even persistent mockery, is not trolling. Both Luke and Fyfe endorse the use of mockery on this blog, and so I am well within the “manners” here.

Cheers to you, too.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm

MarkD,

While I’m near-certain that you wish I’d talk less, I really wish you’d talk more. Conversations like this need input from folks like you. In your opinion, how would one even begin to evaluate theism in light of Solomonoff induction? You seem like the one with the most expertise in the pertinent subject matter here, I’d wager to say you could really put this discussion back on track.

Sincerely.

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MarkD August 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm

@cl

Sorry, time limitations. I almost always learn something here, though’ which is why I come back…

I think the Bayes args combined with historical methods can be seen as a proxy for formal ideas like Solomonoff. I don’t think that any historical method can be adequately converted into something where the sequence of observations is sufficiently formalized to be able to directly apply an information-theoretic approach, though there may be small areas of application like the recent machine learning analyses that support Documentary Hypothesis arguments. So, I largely think that the introduction of Solomonoff et al does little to support direct theism/atheism arguments. Instead, it serves to justify the introduction of Occam-style leitmotifs and improve all of our understanding of modern inductive formalisms.

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Michael August 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Luke, this post was a mistake.

The religion grift isn’t going away anytime soon, there are too many conmen making a living off the gullible and stupid for that to happen. Your engagement of the miserable gibberish that passes for arguments among them is important. While I understand part of the risk is that they gain credibility just because they appear to be in a discussion, no one that matters will see it that way: the more that theists write, the more obvious the delusion becomes.

Your final argument that there is no need for afairyists illustrates the problem. There aren’t 6 billion believers in fairies in the world, there aren’t powerful institutions built on bilking those victims, and there aren’t many conmen working the fairy grift. The religion grift is effective, dangerous, and protects its own. That’s why its not enough simply to advance rationality, critical thinking, and scientific literacy: those are sufficient for fairies, but not for God.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm

MarkD,

Sorry, time limitations. I almost always learn something here, though’ which is why I come back…

Hey, no worries. There’s more in that one paragraph than in my exchanges with the others, combined. I appreciate what I learn here, too.

I don’t think that any historical method can be adequately converted into something where the sequence of observations is sufficiently formalized to be able to directly apply an information-theoretic approach, though there may be small areas of application like the recent machine learning analyses that support Documentary Hypothesis arguments.

Okay, I tend to agree, but this frames the question myopically, and in solely historical terms related to an isolated issue. Who really wrote the Penteteuch seems, to me, a highly specific question. When Luke says, “Theism badly fails Solomonoff induction,” I’ve approached this with META considerations of philosophical / scientific explanations [and notions of causality] in mind, how they could be quantified with binary code, and what conclusion they would support. So, I’m looking for a formality leading to, “Theism badly fails Solomonoff induction,” not necessarily “the DH is likely,” or “the afterlife is unlikely.” How would you approach a more comprehensive evaluation of theism — say Biblical theism — in light of Solomonoff induction?

So, I largely think that the introduction of Solomonoff et al does little to support direct theism/atheism arguments. Instead, it serves to justify the introduction of Occam-style leitmotifs and improve all of our understanding of modern inductive formalisms.

I agree, and I endorse increased understanding of modern inductive formalisms. However, Luke is claiming that Solomonoff induction *DOES MUCH* to support the atheist argument, and not providing any evidence. It reminds me of Luke and Fyfe’s defense of desirism, in the sense of an ostensibly empirical claim unsupported by numbers [as both "Theism fails Solomonoff" and variants of "Desire X tends to thwart other desires" are amenable to mathematical evaluation, at least in theory].

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Luke Muehlhauser August 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Furcas,

LessWrong has much better commenters. That’s a major reason why I post most of my stuff there instead of here, now.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm

That’s it? That’s all you have to say after all this flurry? Don’t you think the commenters here are entitled to at least something? Sheesh.

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soupsayer August 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Luke Muehlhauser wrote:
LessWrong has much better commenters. That’s a major reason why I post most of my stuff there instead of here, now.

Luke, you may be right. Arguably, there may be more sophisticated comments at LW.

Of course, even though there may be some occasional dissent at LW, you’re still preaching to the choir. You’re interacting exclusively with “your sort of people”, people who have mostly accepted the same range of presuppositions, people who have accepted the LW commandments, people who classify certain groups of human beings as rationalists and others as non-rationalists.*

I’d hope you agree that there is some value in getting feedback about your ideas from other audiences. You may have to sift through a lot of weeds to find a flower, but at least it’s not mostly ‘yes men’ kissing your feet.

*(Yes, I’m aware how the LW leader has co-opted the term ‘rationalist’ to have a meaning that’s different than in common parlance, and if anyone questions this definitional move, they’re chastised for attempting to argue about definitions. Nonetheless, the use of the ‘non-rationalist’ label at LW is exclusionary and pejorative.)

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cl August 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm

soupsayer,

The first draft of my latest comment read, “I bet it’s an added bonus that LW features a much louder echo chamber, too.”

:p

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cl August 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I’m glad I don’t spend hardly any time at theist blogs. I prioritize feedback from the people least likely to agree with me. Anyone can get a high-five.

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Daniel August 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I am still looking forward to a detailed account of how theism fails Solomonoff Induction. In the meantime, I’d like to counter Luke’s inductive claim with my own deductive argument (remember that inductive arguments are only probable, but if deductive arguments are sound, then the conclusion is certain). Sorry to stir the pot again.

1. Entity x can be evaluated such that x passes or x fails Solomonoff Induction if and only if x is logically possible.
2. If entity x is a necessary being and x is logically possible, then x actually exists.
3. God is defined as a necessary being.
4. God fails Solomonoff Induction (Luke’s Premise).
5. Therefore, God actually exists.

I think premise 1 is true, since nothing logically impossible is deemed to be impossible via inductive inference, but through a priori considerations. Further, if a given entity can be evaluated in terms of plausibility through observations, such an entity must be at least logically possible or else there are no observations by which the inference can occur. In other words, if an entity cannot possibly by inferred to exist, then the impossibility of the entity is inferred deductively, not inductively so it cannot be said that the entity fails Solomonoff induction, but is not even a candidate for such evaluations at all. Since Luke assures us that his inference is inductive in nature, he must either know, believe, or assume that God is at least logically possible. Premise 2 is merely a formulation of the s5 axiom. Premise 3 is a non-controversial attribute of God in classical theism. Premise 4 is assumed by those who believe God fails Solomonoff induction. The conclusion follows, as far as I can tell.

Best,

Daniel

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Patrick who is not Patrick August 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Premise 3 isn’t non controversial. I mean, its non controversial amongst theists, but who cares what they think, right? Its not like they used actual reasoning or evidence to reach that conclusion. They were just following the standard Game of Theism: you get bonus points for the more praise you heap on the God Concept, even if that praise doesn’t make any sense. Someone came up with the concept of modal necessity, so they slathered it onto their God on general principle. Kind of like the way they came up with the omni attributes once they learned what “infinite” meant, even though the idea of an infinite of a non numerical trait is incoherent. Any subset of God’s mercy can be mapped onto a subset of God’s mercy? Wut?

For non theists and those with actual reasoning skills, its not at all clear that “necessary being” is a coherent concept.

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MarkD August 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm

@cl

How would you approach a more comprehensive evaluation of theism — say Biblical theism — in light of Solomonoff induction?

Many commentators have pointed to historical and probabilistic arguments that both stand on their own and with methods that can be justified either proximally (say, Arg. from Best Explanation) or with a greater degree of theoretical support (Solomonoff induction to gird Occam). If one wanted to write that volume, one might trace the justification for ABE through to Solomonoff, for instance, and might also go after some of the theological/apologist arguments using similar approaches.

This is getting repetitious, however, because I believe this is covered in many of the earlier cross-fertilized posts. Instead, however, if we were to go directly after a given theological argument or claim using some variant on AIC, it might be possible to construct a theoretical universe that contains binary patterns that can be explained by algorithmic generators or semi-algorithmic generators (like willful human intervention sometimes on top of an algorithmic generator). Insofar as the human intervention was not identical to the large-scale structure of the algorithmic generator, the required inference machine would be larger than for the algorithmic data stream alone. That is, unless the human intervention were such as to eliminate the algorithmic patterns altogether. Corner cases would be that human intervention flattened the pattern to uniform (all 0s or 1s) or algorithmically random (not compressible).

It might be possible to calculate the additional costs of an external intelligence and build an argument from analogy from that. It seems a long and trivial exercise, but might be interesting to someone with a mathematical bent. A nice detour along the way would be to look at Dembski’s stuff (Martin Freedman alluded to it, I think) and his illuminating errors concerning entropy and slightly obscure topics like the No Free Lunch Theorem. Jeffrey Shallit is the best resource on the latter.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Patrick who is not Patrick,

Who cares what you think? It’s not like you offered any evidence or argument for your hasty dismissal of, oh, I don’t know… one of the most well-supported philosophical claims in existence. I mean, get real! In one broad stroke you simply dismiss — actually, not dismiss, but deny the very existence of — every argument from Aristotle to Aquinas to the present. You can say, without looking like a fool, “I’m not persuaded by the arguments from Aristotle, Aquinas, et al.” That’s fine, maybe even respectable. However, you cannot say, at least, not without looking like a fool, that the “necessary being” conclusion was not reached via reasoning and evidence. Why, even for a second, should anyone with a brain and a modicum of knowledge of philosophical history take that seriously?

Like most of your atheist brethren here, it’s as if you don’t even care enough to try dealing with the argument. Then again, that’s all atheism is, anyways: denial. So I guess that’s par for the course.

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cl August 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm

MarkD,

So, based on everything you just said, don’t you think it’s a bit premature to declare that “theism badly fails Solomonoff induction” without doing even a smidgeon of the work you just alluded to?

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Daniel August 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Patrick who is not Patrick,

The premise is non-controversial because it is merely definitional. I am not even asserting the logical possibility of a necessary being in premise 3. It’s just the definition of God I happen to be putting on the table when Luke says theism fails Solomonoff induction. If he wants to say that the God he is assessing is not a necessary being, then he has not refuted the God that I am putting on the table.

-Daniel who is Daniel, but sometimes Rufus

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MarkD August 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm

@cl

Sure, but I do believe Socratic Luke achieved his actual goal as we hit 127 comments. For me, I liked the paper on PSR. That was new to me.

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Daniel August 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Patrick who is not Patrick,

If you say that it is not clear that a necessary being is a coherent concept, then you cannot also say that it fails Solomonoff induction. You would need coherent concepts to do the evaluation. So that argument I am putting forward here is not that God, or necessary being, is coherent or logically possible, or actually exists. The argument demonstrates that you cannot use inductive reasoning to disprove theism.

-Daniel

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Tarrobread August 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Daniel,

I hence define the flying spaghetti monster as a necessary being.

1. Entity x can be evaluated such that x passes or x fails Solomonoff Induction if and only if x is logically possible.
2. If entity x is a necessary being and x is logically possible, then x actually exists.
3. The flying spaghetti monster is defined as a necessary being.
4. The flying spaghetti monster fails Solomonoff Induction.
5. Therefore, the flying spaghetti monster actually exists.

All of your same defenses are applied here except premise 4. But, premise 4 is pretty obvious since an intelligent flying spaghetti monster seems to me to (epically) fails Solomonoff induction.
This is why I think non-theists worry when theists just declare things to be necessary beings. I agree with Patrick who is not Patrick. The list of people who criticize the concept of a necessary being has a pretty fine pedigree. (Hume, Kant, Russell, etc.)

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cl August 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Tarrobread,

You realize you helped Daniel argue against Luke, right?

This is why I think non-theists worry when theists just declare things to be necessary beings.

Surely you jest! How can you say that “theists just declare things to be necessary beings?” On my view, to “just declare” something means to assert it with no evidence or valid argumentation. You know, exactly like how Luke “just declared” that theism fails SI. Can we honestly say the same of Aristotle? Aquinas?

What world do you live in?

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Tarrobread August 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

cl,

Thanks for your pleasant tone as always. Do you have anything productive to say to the argument rather than attacking one line based on a misconstrued definition of “worry”? I had always thought that God was just defined to be a necessary being, and definitions aren’t backed with evidence or valid argumentation. So I don’t see your point…
I’m not defending Luke in anyway for asserting that theism fails SI. I actually was one of the people who asked him to go in more detail, so I don’t see that as a criticism. I was just trying to offer an attempt at a parody argument, not start World War III. Honestly cl, you can express disagreement without resorting to adhominems like “What world do you live in?” Maybe this is one of the reasons Luke doesn’t like his commentators that much…

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Daniel August 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Tarrobread,

cl is correct. You have helped me. I really could care less if you sub-in FSM, Allah, the Tao, the Force, Krishna, etc. Those are just names and the argument only establishes on attribute, being necessary. We have not established if the being in question is morally perfect, or noodley. Also, you are correct, there are many philosophers who think that a necessary being is not logically possible. My point is that you CANNOT argue that 1. God as defined as a necessary being is 2. logically impossible and 3. fails Solomonoff induction. If you say God is not a necessary being, and then disprove some contingent God like Thor or Zeus, most theists won’t blink. If you say that you are disproving the God of theism, a necessary God, then you must choose between the two methods of disproof. Luke as chosen to use induction, but I argue that such a method fails because God either necessarily exists or is impossible. So you have to argue that a necessary being is incoherent or illogical. That is a separate debate for another day. I only seek to put this “theism fails Solomonoff Induction” debate to rest. It is Luke who has supplied premise 4 in the original argument. In fact, I deny premise 4. So I think the argument is unsound. It is those who assert premise 4 that are in the uncomfortable position of saying that Solomonoff Induction can be used to evaluate meaningless and incoherent “terms”. Again, premise three is merely definitional, I am not even saying that premise three is logically possible, it is those who assert premise 4 who do the job for me.

-Daniel

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Tarrobread August 22, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Daniel,

Thanks for your input. You say, “Those are just names and the argument only establishes on attribute, being necessary.” Am I confused or is this incorrect? The argument grants necessity as a premise (#3). What it establishes is that the necessary being is actual. If you do actually endorse your given argument (with premise 4 as an assumption), then that same argument that you endorse (with the assumption) proves the flying spaghetti monster as I defined him, a necessary intellegent ball of spaghetti. But clearly you wouldn’t want to do that so it seems you shouldn’t endorse your argument with premise 4 as an assumption. Maybe I’m confused?

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cl August 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Tarrobread,

Thanks for your pleasant tone as always.

Oh please. Toughen up a little… it’s nothing personal. I’ve got no ill will towards you.

Do you have anything productive to say to the argument rather than attacking one line based on a misconstrued definition of “worry”?

What makes you think I misconstrued “worry?” It’s a pretty simple term. To answer your question, I did have something productive to say to your argument. I said it helps Daniel. It works the same way it would have worked if Daniel had misspelled “God” as “Gad.” Think about it.

I had always thought that God was just defined to be a necessary being, and definitions aren’t backed with evidence or valid argumentation. So I don’t see your point…

You’ve never taken a look at necessary being arguments from Aristotle? Aquinas? I find that hard to believe, but I suppose it’s possible. At any rate, my point is that the “necessary being” conclusion is backed up by valid argumentation based on solid evidence. Sure, people deny it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. To say that it’s “just declared” is undeniably false. OTOH, to say Luke “just declared” that theism fails SI in this post is undeniably true.

I’m not defending Luke in anyway for asserting that theism fails SI. I actually was one of the people who asked him to go in more detail, so I don’t see that as a criticism.

I wasn’t criticizing you. I used Luke as an example of what “just declaring” really is, because you and Patrick were saying — falsely — that theists “just declare” a necessary being.

I was just trying to offer an attempt at a parody argument, not start World War III.

Aw man… this ain’t WWIII! This isn’t even a mild skirmish! I didn’t attack you, I just responded forcefully to a lame parody argument, because that’s what lame parody arguments deserve. Juvenile talk about a “flying spaghetti monster” deserves no respect in legitimate discourse. “What world do you live in?” was a rhetorical question, not an ad hominem. No hard feelings.

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Daniel August 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Tarrobread,

Yes. You can use the FSM for the argument if by FSM you mean a necessary being. No other attributes are established. So as far as I am concerned FSM is just the word you use to articulate a concept where I use the utterance “G-O-D”. If you want to add attributes, we have to discuss the logical coherency of that concept. For instance, if you were to add that FSM is both necessary and made of pasta and meatballs, I might say that those two attributes are inconsistent with one another. But until you make such a move, I am content to assume that FSM is just your parlance for what the Spanish call Dios, the French call Dieu, the Germans call Gott, and the Italians call Dio.

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Daniel August 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Well this has been fun for me–a kind of last hurrah on CSA (I assume that once the EY posts terminate we will only get occasional updates from Luke. Since he sees critical commentators such as myself as sub-par versus is LW crowd, I will do him the favor of removing him from my blogroll (I’m sensitive and was kinda insulted by his one comment in this thread). I hope some atheists can poke holes in the argument I have supplied tonight, but it seems that all is now quiet here. So please show me where I am going wrong, I’ll respond to this thread. If not, I hope to see you guys around on other blogs. This is Rufus signing out of CSA. I want Luke to know that I’m praying for him and that I am happy that he is doing what he wants to do. I hope someday that your search will bring you back to Christ.

Best,
Daniel

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soupsayer August 22, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Daniel wrote:
Well this has been fun for me–a kind of last hurrah on CSA (I assume that once the EY posts terminate we will only get occasional updates from Luke. Since he sees critical commentators such as myself as sub-par versus is LW crowd

Same here. I too see this thread as the swan song of CSA. I’m actually quite sad about it, although it’s quite clear that Luke won’t miss the likes of me.

I initially learned about Luke and this blog by sampling CPBD on iTunes. Luke’s demeanor in the early episodes of the podcast came across as polished, fairly open-minded, and hungry for honest and genuine intellectual inquiry and understanding.

While I’ve missed CPBD during the past several months, I realize now that it’s gone. It was touted as a philosophy podcast, but could it ever return as such? While the goal of philosophy might be to kill itself, I think that the New Luke has pulled the plug already.

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Alex August 22, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Luke – you are SO smart! Its just amazing!!!

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cl August 23, 2011 at 12:56 am

To clarify, I’m not suggesting that Luke has come to be radically self-deceived about his historical reasons for abandoning theism, as CL seems to think. -AlexS

Well, according to his own admission, hasn’t Luke already been “radically self-deceived” before? I recall:

I am going to avoid solid atheist arguments, because they are too compelling and cause for despair. -Luke Muehlhauser, a few short years ago

Am I the only one who finds that troubling? That was just a few short years ago. Are we really to believe that a brief foray through the moral landscape along with a heavy dose of Yudkowsky produced enough rationalism to cure the desire to willingly blind oneself? Will anybody deny that the pattern persists? Look at this thread. Luke is still avoiding the solid arguments, only this time, from the other side.

Now, make no mistake: I don’t say any of this to “attack” or “offend” Luke, and I am not bereft of empathy for those who’ve lost faith. I know that losing faith is a serious emotional issue that brings many an adult to the brink of despair. I point this out only because I think the readers need to be aware of these things, as they constitute sufficient reason to be very, very skeptical of Luke’s claims about God. I come across more than a few people who remark that Luke’s blog influenced their atheism, and I think that’s unfortunate. Granted, it’s better than deconverting in response to The God Delusion, but I want people to know the full reality of this influence, because they might not be able to see the other side.

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 3:55 am

@CL,
Ok going to have to break this down a bit as my smart phone is decidedly not smart enough, maybe it took it’s lead from me, here goes.

I’ve read the article, and Q & A, and am still not clear on the answers to the following:

Would that make God an actual infinite & do you think actual infinites are possible, logically?

If so how would God create ex deo?

Does that mean the immaterial and material can be exchanged?

If God created ex deo does that mean the devil is part of God?

If God created ex materia why can that material exist eternally but not the universe?

How well is the entropic heat death of the universe settled?

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 4:03 am

Part 2

It struck me that many atheists would follow your argument/rearticulation until the conclusion.

That is instead of a pure actual, conscious, immaterial … etc etc … God they would submit a pure potency, unconscious.

I feel the premise that it could be conscious depends on the possibility of an immaterial consciousness. This will be difficult for you to demonstrate, really, really easy for a God to demonstrate, and really hard for me to disprove or rule out.

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 4:14 am

Part 3
I don’t think either of you really want me getting involved in your dispute. Your both obviously capable of holding your corner, and I don’t recall finding this website by search for “atheist vs. theist fight to the death”! I found it by running away from Dawkins net, slightly scared.

Also yes, I think your point about infinitely recursive loops not being the same as an infinite regress to be a fair on. I am embarrassed because I let it slide, I am being a little cautious about wading back in as I failed previously.

@Luke
Yes, but we are your horrible little commentators, don’t abandon us Daddy please! No joking, if you feel you’re done fair does, just be careful not to surround yourself with people with the same viewpoint…maybe that’s one of the things I miss least about religion. Though of course, the same advice stands for me and I never care enough to create my own blog, good on all of you (thiest, athiest, panda) who did.

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 4:17 am

@Daniel

Can’t we reduce your entire argument to:

God is defined as a necessary being.

I’m not trying to be clever, smarmy etc, it’s an honest question.

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 4:21 am

So many apologies for the spelling….it’s awful.

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mojo.rhythm August 23, 2011 at 4:31 am

Cl said…

You [Luke] declared the existence of God a “settled issue” before those words ever even appeared on this blog. You might be able to get over on your newfound AI buddies, but you can’t fool the Ogs.

Cl—calm down. You can accept some belief or proposition, and change your reasons for accepting it over time. Case in point: I am a fanatical lover of pale ale. My reason for enjoying it as a teenager was mainly how blotto it got me. But as I progressed in age, I instead started to appreciate it for its remarkable assault on my taste buds. Same opinion, different reasons.

Cl said…

In my three years of experience, all your proselytizing efforts have one thing in common: you simply latch on to your “freethinking” atheist du jour, parrot their arguments, neglect to fully engage the objections, and once the infatuation wears off, you move on to the next, all the while leaving said objections unresolved.

In other words (i.e. what you actually stated, without the loquacious verbal pea-cocking): he is presented with convincing arguments, accepts them, and over time discovers more powerful variants of the same argument, or different arguments entirely, accepting them in place of the original arguments. He may fail to respond to all the objections or counterpoints to arguments that he accepts and defends at any given time.

What the heck is wrong with that?

Cl said…

At one time it was the Loftus, then it was Alonzo Fyfe, now it’s the Yud… I mean, I like that you’re able to disagree with them on this point or that, I think that’s a sign of independence and a smidgeon of maturity, but if you think it’s noble rationalism to proffer unfalsifiable metaphysic [sic] under the guise of scientifically demonstrated ontology, you’re badly mistaken, possibly even deluded.

So unless Luke’s beliefs reflect the eclecticism and variety of the smorgasbord buffet at a Scandinavian Christmas party, he’s by and large just an unconscious meme spreader for other intellectuals? Condescension Itself stands in awe of you Cl.

Luke said….

I show them that we can see (in the brain) a behavior being selected up to 10 seconds before a person is consciously aware of ‘making’ that decision.

Cl replied….

Sheesh. You’re still buying into this canard [the free will experiment], despite being told not to by one of the very researchers in question. You throw genuine scientific caution to the wind, bastardizing perfunctory empirical research to the bolster the superiority of your own unfalsifiable metaphysical preference, then you have the audacity to preach said preference under the guise of rationally supported reasoning. And hardly anybody seems to catch on to it.

Luke said….

And if they have time to consume enough math and science, then The God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.

Cl replied….

I guess all those poor irrational saps like Newton, Kelvin, Babbage, et al. just didn’t consume enough math and science then, eh?

I’ll give it to you Cl; you have an uncanny knack for feigning mock outrage and self-insult. I don’t know how you do it—it takes an almost unfathomable well-spring of motivation to maintain such a constant veneer of explosive, flagrant exasperation. A while has passed since I have read one of your soliloquies. I’m impressed. The fulminating, frothing-at-the-mouth faux indignation has not changed in character. Not even slightly.

I think that Luke was expecting his readers to read between the lines (I did at least). “Math and science” in this context probably means: cognitive science, Bayesian probability, neuropsychology, psychophysics, game theory, social choice theory, and so on. Those are the disciplines that tend to consistently produce academics and experts with a naturalistic bent. These fields of study, incidentally, are what Luke has immersed himself in. Draw the connection Cl, it is not that hard. Trust me.

Cl said…

Get back to us when you land on Earth. This is ridiculous. You’ve gone from sloppy but earnest and ambitious to reckless and dangerous.

If you accept this kind of hysterical hyperbole as concrete fact, then it is not Luke who warrants our concern. I consider Dominionist reactionaries who want to execute abortion doctors to be ‘reckless and dangerous‘. I consider far-right Christian theocrats on the brink of martyrdom, and deluded morons who actively disseminate anti-climate science propaganda to be ‘reckless and dangerous‘. I do not consider a blogger who makes a couple of hasty generalizations in a benign post about belief in God to be ‘reckless and dangerous‘. In your hell-bent quest to hyperbolize anything and everything, you jettison the very meaning and purpose of the words that you abuse. It’s prototypical behaviour from politicians, and vulgar rabble rousers such as Ann Coulter and Christopher Hitchens. Is it okay if you are a human being who, at the very least, pays lip service to the importance of reasoned logic and evidence? Not in my opinion. You may feel differently.

There is a difference between (1) trying your best to think critically and skeptically, but coming up short sometimes, and (2) openly disregarding principles of rationalism in favor of unflinching obedience to ideology. If you regard (2) as the more accurate description of Luke’s attitude, then you have terminal Exaggeradiation Sickness.

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drj August 23, 2011 at 6:13 am

Daniel,

I think your argument has the same problem as the FSM reformulation – all kinds of extra controversial properties are just taken for granted, when they are actually the points which cause the hypothesis to fail by induction. The FSM’s noodley appendages and perfect pasta essence are to your divine logos and omni-benevolence, etc.

If we subtract some properties from the definition of God, like sentience, we are left with a simpler necessary entity X that does not fit your criteria for the definition of God, which seems more inductively probable than entity X which possesses sentience.

Nobody knows what properties a necessary entity at the ground of existence must have – so we have competing theories, and the one’s which unnecessarily multiply properties (eg, FSM, God), fail by induction.

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Zeb August 23, 2011 at 6:26 am

I think there is no doubt that the commenting system at LW is better than here, and that leads to a higher quality of comments. The problem at LW is that it also leads to an absence of anyone who does not accept the first assumptions of Yudkowskyism, while CSA has maintained a really wide diversity of views. I know nothing about blog creation and maintenance, but I’ve always wished there were some sort of upvoting system here to keep the nonsense at the bottom of the screen.

@Martin Freedman and others, I intended my first comment to be an indirect response to your first one. So what if theism fails Solomonoff induction? I take that to mean either that “God exists” is not programmable, or that “God exists” adds nothing to the predictive power of any model but does add complexity. In either case, my question is so what? Of course, it’s good to know if one’s goal is to maximize her predictive ability, but that is a separate issue from whether it is true or should be believed. If there is an argument for the belief that truth=predictive ability, or that one should only believe that which is predictively optimal, or that one should only believe that which can be programmed into a computer, I’d like to read it. Otherwise those all just seem like personal commitments based on personal preference. To be fair, I think you may have somewhat addressed this in one of your earlier comments, and while I have read all the comments I have not been able to thoroughly ponder them all, nor will I be able to respond in a timely way to further comments. So I just wanted to let you know that I did try to engage your original point.

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 6:47 am

Vote up Zeb
:-D

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Michael August 23, 2011 at 6:57 am

The silliness happens here:

“2. If entity x is a necessary being and x is logically possible, then x actually exists.
3. God is defined as a necessary being.”

1) The conjunction of the predicates “is a necessary being” and “is logically possible” reveals “not having thought things through.” (If x is necessary then x is not only logically possible, but x actually is and more than that, x necessarily is. So the conjunction just shows that you haven’t thought things through.)

2) Your #2, modified to get rid of the redundant bit, is: “If x is a necessary being, then x actually exists.” That statement is uncontroversial: anything necessary at least is because not on only does it exist, but it must exist.

The problem isn’t the statement, but how you misunderstand it. Just because one says of x that it is a necessary being does not make it a necessary being. Otherwise I would make myself necessary and extremely wealthy and having a million-year lifespan. In somewhat more sophisticated terms, just because you give your model of x a property doesn’t mean x gets that property.

So, while it is obviously so that “If x is a necessary being, then x actually exists.” just defining x (or saying or giving your model of x the property) as necessary does not make x necessary.

3) drj’s point is exactly right. let x = Billy, the necessary unicorn or let x=Superman Prime, the necessary Superman or let x = Yahweh Plus, the necessary Yahweh. Each entity works in your argument at least as well as “God”. Unfortunately, none of them actually existent, much less necessarily so.

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PDH August 23, 2011 at 7:18 am

How did one post generate so much vitriolic inanity?

Oh. Hello cl.

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Daniel August 23, 2011 at 7:33 am

joseph,

An argument usually needs to contain at least two premises. Otherwise, it’s just a proposition and you can only evaluate whether it is true or false. So I don’t think my argument can be reduced to “God is a necessary being”.

Sorry if my responses are not timely. I have my hands full today, but I will respond to the other critiques in due time.

-Daniel

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Daniel August 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

drj,

I think your argument has the same problem as the FSM reformulation – all kinds of extra controversial properties are just taken for granted, when they are actually the points which cause the hypothesis to fail by induction. The FSM’s noodley appendages and perfect pasta essence are to your divine logos and omni-benevolence, etc.

A few of points here. 1. The “extra” properties are not taken for granted. They just have not been established. 2. I go along with Avicenna, Anselm, and Descartes in saying that God does not have many attributes, but that we can speak of God’s one attribute in many ways. In other words, I think God’s nature is simple and we can reason to many of the so-called omni-attributes from God’s necessity (Avicenna), greatness (Anselm), or perfection (Descartes). 3. If it turns out that the attributes we derive are incompatible with one another, then this is not a failure of Solomonoff Induction, but of a priori concerns.

If we subtract some properties from the definition of God, like sentience, we are left with a simpler necessary entity X that does not fit your criteria for the definition of God, which seems more inductively probable than entity X which possesses sentience.

Again, I affirm divine simplicity. I do not think God has many attributes. The problem with FSM is that either it is simple and so has the same intensional meaning as the word “God” and it’s “pasta essence” means something other than literal pasta, or it is complex and really is made of semolina flour, water, eggs, pork, etc. If it is the latter, then it’s nature is contingent and it is not the same thing as a necessary being.

Nobody knows what properties a necessary entity at the ground of existence must have – so we have competing theories, and the one’s which unnecessarily multiply properties (eg, FSM, God), fail by induction.

If no one knows what properties a thing has, then it cannot be disprove by induction. If it is without content, then it is without any real intensional meaning, then the proposition “A necessary being exists” does not even rise to the level of having a truth-value. This is, once again ana priori rather than a posteriori concern, i.e. inductive reasoning simply won’t do.

Thanks for the questions. If you have any other concerns, please let me know. Again, I may be delayed due to other work, but I’ll try to respond soon.

-Daniel

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

@Daniel
It’s all good.
That’s kind of my point, you’ve got everything, God, it’s logical nature, it’s existence, it’s necessity all packed into that one little, innocent premise.

It’s a theist bomb people, get down, it’ll explode!

I think you can answer me with others, who’ve madr similar queries.

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Scott August 23, 2011 at 7:53 am

cl,

Just to provide one counterexample, I’m an atheist and I agree by and large with your comments here.

Luke,

Interests change. I used to care about politics a great deal more than I do now. It’s ok to simply admit to one’s interests changing–you needn’t manufacture such a lame rationalization for it.

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Daniel August 23, 2011 at 8:05 am

Michael,

1) The conjunction of the predicates “is a necessary being” and “is logically possible” reveals “not having thought things through.” (If x is necessary then x is not only logically possible, but x actually is and more than that, x necessarily is. So the conjunction just shows that you haven’t thought things through.)

Perhaps I was not clear that the premise “God is a necessary being” is meant only as a definitional proposition. We might modify the premise to “Some entity y is God if and only if y is a necessary being.” I do not take my premise to establish the logical possibility of God, or necessary being. I take the premise “God fails Solomonoff Induction” to establish God’s logical possibility.

2) Your #2, modified to get rid of the redundant bit, is: “If x is a necessary being, then x actually exists.” That statement is uncontroversial: anything necessary at least is because not on only does it exist, but it must exist.

I think you now understand that I do not affirm the logical possibility of a necessary being. I am arguing that those who use SI to disprove God’s existence affirm the logical possibility of God.

You then go on to affirm drj’s criticisms, to whcih I have responded above.

Thanks,

Daniel

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 8:25 am

What is this PSR, people?

Via Wiki I get:
Predicative State Representation
Phrase Structure Rule
Principle of Sufficient Reason

And an outsider, but most relevant to my work:

Posthumous Sperm Retrieval

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Reginald Selkirk August 23, 2011 at 8:47 am

Lastly, why won’t more atheists step up and say, “Unfortunately, Martin Freedman / faithlessgod, cl is correct…

Maybe a good number of them had their fill of you quite a while ago, and ignore everything you write.

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Daniel August 23, 2011 at 9:32 am

PSR=principle of sufficient reason.

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 9:41 am

@daniel
Thankyou kindly

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Martin Freedman August 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Hi Zeb

You asked some good questions

” So what if theism fails Solomonoff induction?…Of course, it’s good to know if one’s goal is to maximize her predictive ability, but that is a separate issue from whether it is true or should be believed. ”
SI provides the formal framework and explains the effectiveness of Occam’s Razor, Inference to the Best Explanation, abductive reasoning and provides objective prior probabilities to Bayesian reasoning. Hence God failing SI (repeatedly and more than any other hypothesis that I know of) is a very evidence that it is a worthless hypothesis and there is no reason to believe it (I have also addressed purely deductive arguments but you have not asked about those)

“I take that to mean either that “God exists” is not programmable,”
No
” or that “God exists” adds nothing to the predictive power of any model but does add complexity.”
Yes but not just complexity a completely irrelevant and inert – hence pointless complexity.

“If there is an argument for the belief that truth=predictive ability, or that one should only believe that which is predictively optimal, or that one should only believe that which can be programmed into a computer, I’d like to read it.”
I partly answered this in my first response above but add that God has never been shown to be an explanation of anything and SI makes it clear what this means.

“Otherwise those all just seem like personal commitments based on personal preference.”
The commitment is only that a “wise man proportions his belief to the evidence” :-)

“So I just wanted to let you know that I did try to engage your original point.”
Thanks and cheers. Also note that I am no longer following the rss feed for comments or posts here and will only occasionally drop in in the future. Sad that trolls have been allowed to run amock and ruin many potentially interesting dicussions. Oh well.

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Daniel August 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Martin Freedman,

SI provides the formal framework and explains the effectiveness of Occam’s Razor, Inference to the Best Explanation, abductive reasoning and provides objective prior probabilities to Bayesian reasoning. Hence God failing SI (repeatedly and more than any other hypothesis that I know of) is a very evidence that it is a worthless hypothesis and there is no reason to believe it (I have also addressed purely deductive arguments but you have not asked about those)

Again, if it can be known that God fails SI, then one must have a clear and logically coherent concept of God with which to assess objective prior probabilities. If the claim is that God, as classical theists understand the term, fails SI, then one is saying that a necessary being fails SI. But in order to know that this is so, one must affirm that the concept of a necessary being is clear and logically possible. If you deny that the concept is clear and logically possible, then you cannot assess the objective prior probabilities as they pertain to God. If you deny that God is a necessary being, then your assessment that God fails SI has nothing to do with God as most theists conceive of God. If you affirm both that God is logically coherent, and possible, and that the God under scrutiny is a necessary being, then you must also admit that God actually exists, since if a necessary being is possible, it must actually exist. So if you know God fails SI, you also know God exists. SI simply does not work as a disproof for God’s existence. Others in this thread have misunderstood me. I am not saying that the concept of God is logically possible. I am saying that only logically possible entities can be assessed by SI. If a concept is logically incoherent, it does not even rise to the level of being assessed. It is rejected for a priori reasons.

If an atheist claims that God does not exist on the basis of SI, it should be now obvious that such an argument won’t do. There are then two options: 1) continue to affirm the logical coherence and logical possibility of the concept of God as a necessary being and believe that God actually exists or 2) realize that in order to continue to deny the existence of God you must now suddenly claim that God cannot be assessed by SI because the concept of God is logically incoherent and/or unclear. But if you choose the second option rather than the first, you reveal that you are not willing to follow the argument based on premises that you thought were true. You’d be working backwards from the conclusion that God does not exist to the premise that God is an incoherent concept so as to escape theism. I think that reveals a bias in one’s reasoning. Am I wrong?

Best,

Daniel

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Michael August 23, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Daniel,

You don’t understand. Once more…

“2. If entity x is a necessary being and x is logically possible, then x actually exists.
3. God is defined as a necessary being.”

That pair of claims is nonsensical because you mistake a model/definition of a thing for that thing. Just because I define “Sam” as the 10 foot long pen I am looking at does not entail that Sam exists or that the pen I am looking at is 10 feet long. Just because I do a logically trickier definition of “Sam” like “the 10 foot long pen I am looking at that must be” doesn’t mean Sam exists or that the pen I am looking at is either 10 feet long or necessarily existent. And nothing is gained by noting that Sam isn’t logically impossible.

That’s why I pointed out that “x is logically possible” is redundant and thus the conjunction “entity x is a necessary being” AND “x is logically possible” shows you haven’t thought things through. Anything necessary is of course logically possible: if it wasn’t logically possible, it could not be, much less necessarily be. The only way the conjunction makes sense is if you conflate x with your definition/model/description of x.

You can model/describe/define/depict x as necessary, but that doesn’t make x necessary, or even accidentally existent or even possible in reality. If you can model “x” as necessary then x is “logically possible”, that is, x can be described in a given language or medium, but that doesn’t mean x exists in the world, much less probably exists, and certainly does not entail that x MUST exist.

Let me ask a question that points to what I think you are missing. Why do you think the following is a contradiction: “Although I can conceive of a unicorn that necessarily exists, one does not actually exist.”

See? That’s why FSMNecessry, Superman Prime, and Yahweh Plus function as examples of how your argument fails.

We can describe/picture/model/define all of those things, but attaching the predicate “must exist” to the description of a thing doesn’t make that thing exist, must less make it be of necessity. Attaching that predicate doesn’t make the description logically incoherent or the thing “logically impossible” either.

All of those things are nonetheless still able to be evaluated, even with Solomonoff Induction. So too God.

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Martin Freedman August 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Daniel

An interestng ripose but it misses my point. Michael gave an answer with which I broadly agree so I will only add my own different one.

First note that I long distinguished between inductive and deductive arguments for god, they both fail but for different reasons, the first due to inference to the best explanation/solomonoff induction and the second because of the infinite possible necessary entities (being necessary alone massively under-determines a being’s other and testable attributes and there are an infinite “One True Gods” that may match this necessary being, the odds of any one being vanishly small. I might add the the xain God is also more implausible than many other given the additional huge amount of auxiliary claims made not made by other theisms)

Second even if a concept is logically incoherent one can still show that it empirically fails, the latter not being needed, but it can still be done.

How? Well the assertion that god is necessary is not what is being tested under SI, rather it is any specific consequence of any such god and such consequences such as an explanation of a particular testable feature can be logically coherent and still be shown to fail (or indeed succeed if that is the case). In other words the necessary being claim is irrelevant to SI.

That is why your response fails to rebut my argument.

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Zeb August 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

I think it is worth noting that there is a difference between trolls and fools. Trolls antagonize others and degrade the dialogue intentionally, fools do the same accidentally. I don’t think CSA has ever had much of a troll problem.

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Daniel August 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Michael

That pair of claims is nonsensical because you mistake a model/definition of a thing for that thing. Just because I define “Sam” as the 10 foot long pen I am looking at does not entail that Sam exists or that the pen I am looking at is 10 feet long. Just because I do a logically trickier definition of “Sam” like “the 10 foot long pen I am looking at that must be” doesn’t mean Sam exists or that the pen I am looking at is either 10 feet long or necessarily existent. And nothing is gained by noting that Sam isn’t logically impossible.

You’re right. Just defining with something with a definiendum does not make the definition true. I completely agree.

That’s why I pointed out that “x is logically possible” is redundant and thus the conjunction “entity x is a necessary being” AND “x is logically possible” shows you haven’t thought things through. Anything necessary is of course logically possible: if it wasn’t logically possible, it could not be, much less necessarily be. The only way the conjunction makes sense is if you conflate x with your definition/model/description of x.

I do not see how “x is logically possible” is a redundant statement. For instance, suppose we replace x with something that cannot possibly obtain, like a round square, or an invisible pink unicorn.

You can model/describe/define/depict x as necessary, but that doesn’t make x necessary, or even accidentally existent or even possible in reality. If you can model “x” as necessary then x is “logically possible”, that is, x can be described in a given language or medium, but that doesn’t mean x exists in the world, much less probably exists, and certainly does not entail that x MUST exist.

I am free to stipulate the definition of a term. That is all I am doing here. I can’t keep repeating this point about the difference between a definitional and substantive definition, but that is what is going on in the argument I have authored. I think you can take my word for it. Stipulating x as “necessary being” does not imply x is logically possible without a further argument proving that necessary beings are possible.

Let me ask a question that points to what I think you are missing. Why do you think the following is a contradiction: “Although I can conceive of a unicorn that necessarily exists, one does not actually exist.”

I think your example once again demonstrates that you have not quite got my argument. It’s probably my fault for not being clear, so I will try to explain. A necessarily existing unicorn does not actually exist unless such a being is logically possible. If you can argue for it’s logical possibility, then you have a sound argument for the existence of necessarily existing unicorns. However, unicorns are typically conceived of as being made of flesh and requiring food. They are defined as animals and all animals are contingent in their modality and by their nature. So a necessarily existing unicorn could not be animal like, and would not have a material body that could be decomposed. But if it is not material, then I don’t think we are talking about a unicorn any more. Get it?

See? That’s why FSMNecessry, Superman Prime, and Yahweh Plus function as examples of how your argument fails.

I am not sure what these terms mean. Please define them and we can discuss whether they are coextensive with my concept of God, in which case you are just using a different word to represent the same term. If these term have divergent definitions and are logically consistent with the attribute of being a necessary being, and you can prove that necessary beings are logically possible, then I will admit that all of these entities must actually exist. Until then, I cannot really say what you mean by these examples. Sorry. Perhaps you can just tell me a bit about the FSM that necessarily exists. Is necessity it’s only attribute?

All of those things are nonetheless still able to be evaluated, even with Solomonoff Induction. So too God.

Again, I am in a state of ignorance with regard to these terms. Perhaps you are right, but you are going to have to humor me with a little bit of theology so that I can assess the claim.
Martin Freeman

First note that I long distinguished between inductive and deductive arguments for god, they both fail but for different reasons, the first due to inference to the best explanation/solomonoff induction and the second because of the infinite possible necessary entities (being necessary alone massively under-determines a being’s other and testable attributes and there are an infinite “One True Gods” that may match this necessary being, the odds of any one being vanishly small. I might add the the xain God is also more implausible than many other given the additional huge amount of auxiliary claims made not made by other theisms)

I am not making an argument for God’s existence here, so I think you may be misinterpreting the argument. My argument is a reductio of sorts. It seeks to prove that you cannot affirm both that “God” or “Necessarily existing being” is logically incoherent or impossible, and that God’s existence is improbable given something like SI. So this first point is merely an articulation of your disagreement with me rather than an argument for why I am incorrect. You are saying that both SI and deductive arguments can be used. My argument says otherwise.

Second even if a concept is logically incoherent one can still show that it empirically fails, the latter not being needed, but it can still be done.

How? Well the assertion that god is necessary is not what is being tested under SI, rather it is any specific consequence of any such god and such consequences such as an explanation of a particular testable feature can be logically coherent and still be shown to fail (or indeed succeed if that is the case). In other words the necessary being claim is irrelevant to SI.

That is why your response fails to rebut my argument.

The only way I can understand this second point is that you are taking the route of not evaluating a necessary being when you apply “God” to SI. I am not really sure what kind of God you are assessing when you say that such a God fails SI, but I might agree with your assessment. My argument has not failed here, you have merely accepted one of the alternatives I have outlined. You are stipulating a kind of God that could possibly fail SI and admitting that the kind of God that I worship is irrelevant to the assessment. I think we would both agree. Again, my argument anticipates this move, so I am not sure why you would call this a failure on my part.

I hope these explanations are clear as I remain utterly convinced that SI cannot falsify the kind of God every theist in this forum worships (and most people in the world worship). It only falsifies contingent gods. I would agree with such assessments. Few people still believe that Thor and Zeus exist.

Although I have answered these questions to my own satisfaction, I still welcome responses to the points I have made here. However, I will not discuss the FSM until it is properly defined.

Best,

Daniel

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joseph August 23, 2011 at 10:06 pm

@Daniel

Perhaps I misunderstand the phrase “necessary being”, could you come up with an “illogical necessary being” so that I can get a feel for the idea.

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Martin Freedman August 23, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Daniel

Every differing sect and religions “One True God” might be regarded by their believers as a necessary being but they are all different, you have failed to address my criticism of pure deductive arguments that support necessary beings, which defeats any claim over any purported necessary being being a particular god, if any. That is, if you insist there is no way to determine which “Necessary One True God” is correct then the data show the likelihood of any is vanishingly small, regardless of how strongly believed by anyone. which is therefore quite irrational.

OR

The only way left for any sect to show that their necessary being is correct and the others false is to provide evidence to distinguish theirs over other, e.g., for xians to provide evidence for the resurrection and evidence against competing and negating claims from other religions. For xiantity and other religions this is where they all fall down wrt to SI.

That is the dilemma, SI applies to the latter horn as I have said previously.

If you still insist that many believers of different gods will believe regardless that their specific god is a necessary being, the above has shown that that is quite irrational and no argument that any are correct and collectively an argument that they are most likely all mistaken. SI can be applied on this 2nd order level analysis to to support this!

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Martin Freedman August 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Actually SI does apply to the purely deductive horn too! I have sort of implied this already but your questions, Daniel, have made this clearer.

All sects and religions that claim their One True God is a necessary being can be described as algorithms and we can evaluate the complexity of them to determine their objective prior probability and, granted the data being that some deductive argument conclude that a necessary being actually exists, we can determine the posterior probability. So, in the program space of coherent gods, i.e., filtering out any incoherent conceptions of these (and note I think that no popular conception of a xian god passes that filter, but let us presume otherwise for the purposes of discussion), SI would show that a deist god is the inference to the best explanation and, that an xian god in particular, is one of the least likely, certainly less likely that a jewish or islamic god – which are still both dramatically inferior to a deist god. Then again a deist god – the best of god candidates for a necessary being – is more complex with zero additional predictive power – creating a longer and superfluous message length – than my point, that some part of the universe is a necessary being.

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Daniel August 24, 2011 at 2:12 am

Joseph

Sure. A necessary being that ceases to exist five minutes after coming into existence is an illogical necessary being. The description of the necessary being implies that it is not a necessary being.

Martin Freedman

Actually SI does apply to the purely deductive horn too! I have sort of implied this already but your questions, Daniel, have made this clearer.

All sects and religions that claim their One True God is a necessary being can be described as algorithms and we can evaluate the complexity of them to determine their objective prior probability and, granted the data being that some deductive argument conclude that a necessary being actually exists, we can determine the posterior probability. So, in the program space of coherent gods, i.e., filtering out any incoherent conceptions of these (and note I think that no popular conception of a xian god passes that filter, but let us presume otherwise for the purposes of discussion), SI would show that a deist god is the inference to the best explanation and, that an xian god in particular, is one of the least likely, certainly less likely that a jewish or islamic god – which are still both dramatically inferior to a deist god. Then again a deist god – the best of god candidates for a necessary being – is more complex with zero additional predictive power – creating a longer and superfluous message length – than my point, that some part of the universe is a necessary being.

Let’s not move the goal post here. I have attempted to deliver a defeater for Luke’s claim “theism badly fails Solomonoff Induction”. I believe I have done so. Now it may be possible that one can use SI on various religious doctrines and claims about God, i.e. that God is unitarian, trinitarian, etc. However, those are separate questions to the claim as to whether theism is true. Perhaps you are correct that some form of deism is the simplest form of theistic belief and should be preferred over Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. I would disagree and then we could offer our arguments as to what objective probabilities need to be considered, and so on. The point is that SI could eliminate all known revealed and natural religions and this would still not prove that theism badly fails SI. It would only prove that religions a-z badly fail. Theism, which I take to be the general belief that there is a necessary being, remains unscathed by such an evaluation.

So to be clear, you are correct that my argument does not protect Christianity or any other particular form of religion from SI evaluations. I never promised I could do that. But I still maintain that if you use SI on the theistic claim that there is a necessary being, you demonstrate that such a being actually exists. Remember, I never claimed you could do this at all. It is Luke that made this assertion. In fact, I still have my doubts about premise 4 of my argument. If you think Luke has made his case that you can use SI to evaluate theism generally, you should now accept that some necessary being exists. This new bit of information must now be included in your objective prior probabilities as deductive certain when assessing any theological claim. But now we are very far away from being commonsensical atheists like Luke. We are theists searching for a theology that best fits the data. So Martin, are you now a theist searching for the theology that best fits the data? If you are now a convicted theist and believe that there is a God of some sort, I would invite you to reconsider the evidence for Christianity in light of this. I think that given all the background information we have, Christianity does offer us a theology that best fits with what we know.

Still there is your criticism of deductive arguments. It seems that you are arguing that even if you could deduce that there is some kind of God, it is infinitely more likely that you would believe the wrong God since the attribute of necessity massively under-determines the concept and there are an infinite number of possible Gods. 1) This is obviously not a disproof of theism or the soundness of deductive arguments, but an argument that it is likely every religion has it wrong. 2) I think there are good arguments from Avicenna, Anselm, and Descartes by which we may unpack general theism a bit more so as to determine the concept of God a bit more. I believe that once the concept of a necessary being is fully unpacked, we have enough information to begin evaluating religious claims.

Best,

Daniel

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Martin Freedman August 24, 2011 at 3:20 am

Daniel

First might I say what a pleasure it is to have a civilized discussion, even as we disagree. Sadly all too rare on this forum nowadays.

First, I cannot find any argument that is a defeater for Luke’s claim over SI versus theism. The only thing I presume is what you are arguing with me.

There is a fundamental problem here and it is over necessary being. Note I only accept this as…ahem… possible, for the purposes of argument. To make an earlier point short from establishing there is a necessary being it is a non sequitur to infer that a – choose your pick, e.g., an xian – One True God exists. Or we might say
1. A necessary being exists
2. Therefore an xian One True God exists.
Whatever you insert between 1 and 2 to make 2 a proper conclusion will be victim to either the inductive SI critique or the deductive SI critique and any combination argument also fails SI/Occam’s Razor( which is misused in the only defense I have seen for the “multiple arguments points to an xian god” argument) . Nothing you have said so far refutes any of this and, indeed, you appear to agree with much of this.

The problem here and now is over “necessary being”. First, as I implied before, it is presumptuous and, so far, not argued for that it is a “being”, hence me previously calling it a “necessary something”. Second the examination of the program space of deductive gods points to deism as being inference to the best explanation but only within that space. That space is not exhaustive of all possible “necessary somethings” and in this latter larger space I could argue that deism fails but the issue you raise is more basic and it is pointless to pursue that path for now.

The main issue is that, contrary to your redefinition deism is not theism. Your redefinition was “Theism, which I take to be the general belief that there is a necessary being, remains unscathed by such an evaluation.” This is not theism. Indeed it is not necessary to theism that God is a necessary being, yes some variants of theism do assert that but not all. So this appears as form of equivocation. Myself, and I assume Luke and others, are only concerned with issues over theism, and possibly refuting theism, no-one I know of is much interested in Deism, certainly such a belief can cause no problems in this world. If all theists became deists that could be a significant contribution in making this world a better place.

Finally I might note that such deductive arguments regarded as failures anyway by most unbiased observers, so I am not interested in pursing necessary somethings much unless someone could provide a new argument that is not victim to the well known problems of traditional arguments. I do not expect that to happen here and that would well outside the scope of the OP.

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joseph August 24, 2011 at 4:02 am

@Daniel

“The description of the necessary being implies that it is not a necessary being”

So being “illogical” and being “necessary” are mutual exclusive? Or not? I feel so dumb.

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joseph August 24, 2011 at 4:05 am

….and it didn’t help that I wrote mutual instead of mutually.

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Zeb August 24, 2011 at 4:59 am

Daniel and Martin, your conversation has been very interesting to follow and it is this kind of thing that I will miss about CSA. My own progression in religious thinking is that at one point I decided that I had no reason to believe anything in particular about what the Bible says. Shortly after that I developed my own argument from contingency that, it turns out, was pretty similar to Leibnitz’s. That argument delivers not only a necessary something, but a single unitary unbounded something that is personal and generative/generous. Pretty close if not identical to the tri-omni god of classical theism. From there I think you are right Martin that any move into a particular God belief requires some kind of induction or IBE. One big change comes with the ‘knowledge’ of a tri-omni god though, and that is the possibility of revelation. There is the possibility that such a god would provide knowledge of reality, including the reality of its nature and biography, in such cases where it is good to do so, and that such revelation would be delivered in such a was as to be undeniable or undoubtable. I don’t think that is a get out of jail free card – when I look back, I question whether I really ought to believe my own experiences of ‘direct revelation’ were that, or whether they were really natural phenomenon. And as time goes on, the probability that my memory obscures the evidence one way or the other increases and gives me more reason to doubt. It is this site and commenters like you that have pushed me closer to the brink of dropping back out of the particular theism I ended up in, and just being not a deist but a general theist.

I think your argument against particular theism has a major weakness – it does not allow for provisional belief and recursive revision. Your argument could be used against science too. We might have a deductive argument for a lawful universe, but there are so many candidates for the laws of the universe that to believe in any of them is irrational. Personally my choice of religion is like my choice of scientific beliefs – I believe it is possible to have a set of true beliefs about God, and I judge Catholicism to be the closest I can get now. But I am certain that I hold many false beliefs and many very bad understandings of any true formulations of belief statements I make. So I am open and interested in revising, even to the point of changing everything based on evidence (except general theism, which I think is deductively justified).

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Patrick who is not Patrick August 24, 2011 at 5:15 am

Short version of an otherwise long speech- The traditional understanding of a “necessary” truth is that it is tautological. Its truthfulness flows from the nature of the definitions used, and the relationships between them, rather than from any fact about the universe. As such a necessary truth continues to be true in any possible universe. The only thing one could vary in order to vary the truth value of a necessary truth would be the definitions themselves, but if you varied that, you wouldn’t be rendering the truth false… you’d be changing it into some other fact statement.

So for example, 1 + 1 = 2. As long as you define 1, plus, equals, and 2 in the same way, this truth remains true no matter what else varies in the universe. If you redefine “equals” to mean “juice box,” the verbal phrase “1 + 1 = 2″ loses its truth value, but the set of concepts that were being denoted still has the same relationship, so it remains true.

It does not seem possible for a being to be “necessary” in this sense. First, “God” isn’t a statement with a truth value. Second, what truth values may or may not attach to statements about the God concept’s existence do not seem to be tautological truths, but rather factual questions, which makes them ineligible for being necessary truths.

There’s a reason we don’t have Necessary Bread or Necessary British Comic Duo Acts or Necessary Comic Operas. Necessity is not a trait you can just stick on something. Interestingly, according to some ontological arguments, if necessity DID work that way, we actually WOULD have Necessary Chickens. But as it happens a necessary chicken incoherent, because chickens are not eligible for the trait of necessity. And for similar reasons, amorphous beings have the same problem.

… And for the record I’m aware of other definitions of necessary, but also that shifting definitions now would be a massive, massive elision. Just throwing that out there to forestall one possible troll move.

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PDH August 24, 2011 at 7:45 am

The vast majority of possible entities are not logically necessary, therefore the prior probability of the hypothesis ‘There is a necessary being called God,’ is extremely small. We are talking about the probability that the hypothesis is true and so it is the complexity of the hypothesis that concerns us.

Suppose, the two of us are sat beside a quiet road and I say, ‘a car will drive past in the next thirty minutes,’ and you say, ‘a silver car will drive past in the next thirty minutes.’ It is more likely that I will be right because all silver cars are cars but not all cars are silver cars. Every time you add specificity to a hypothesis the probability that it is correct goes down or, at best, stays the same.

If you say, ‘a logically necessary silver car will drive past in the next thirty minutes,’ that is even less likely to be true because it’s very unlikely that the car will be logically necessary indeed. This is because more things have to go right in order for the hypothesis to be true. If only a contingent silver car drives past, your hypothesis is false.

It is perfectly valid for me to say that the probability that your hypothesis is true is minuscule.

This is a probabilistic argument against God as conceived of as a necessary being.

Consider, for example, the recent P != NP proof, which it later transpired was not actually a proof. Now before very clever mathematicians went through this thing it was not at all clear whether it was a proof or not. If it was true then it was true necessarily but we didn’t know that (we still can’t be 100% sure that it wasn’t as the people examining it may have been mistaken).

So prior to this, what was the probability that the proof was a proof? Not 1. This was 60 odd pages of incredibly complicated maths that only exceptionally intelligent people with highly technical knowledge would be able to properly assess.

Think how silly it would be for the people who came up with this to say to the people who told them it was not a proof that ‘Well, you can’t be talking about our beliefs, then, because we think it’s logically necessary. Now you might think that that statement is incoherent but you can’t assign any probabilities to our hypothesis because it’s not that kind of argument.’

Logically necessary beings exist, well, necessarily so anyone attempting to refute the existence of such a being pretty much has to deny that they are logically necessary. You can’t accuse them of straw-manning or claim that their arguments miss the mark because they argue that the entity probably does not exist.

From my perspective, I don’t know enough maths to be able to check out the P != NP proof for myself. I don’t reject their proof by going through it and showing them where the logical inconsistency is. When I consider whether this proof is correct I assign probabilities based on the evidence available to me, which includes observations like, ‘this is one of the hugest outstanding mathematical problems and most people would get it wrong so I should assume a low prior,’ and ‘some very smart people have looked through it and they say that it’s wrong.’ I can do this without myself understanding so much as a lemma of it. I can say ‘it’s more likely than not that they were unsuccessful.’

It is a map/territory confusion, to borrow the Less Wrongian term. Probabilities are in the map, not the territory. A logically necessary being may be true necessarily but a hypothesis that there is an additional logically necessary being (and one that does not in any way resemble any other supposed necessary beings, at that) is not. That is what we are assessing. If I came to you and said, ‘Hey, guys, you know how some things are logically necessary like numbers? Well, I believe that there is another kind of necessary thing as well, I can’t prove it but that is how I define my beliefs,’ what is the probability that I am correct? Not very high.

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Martin Freedman August 24, 2011 at 9:35 am

Hi Zeb

On the one hand, you have signaled a red flag to a bull given your claimed changing position over deism versus “general theism”. On the other hand I am not here to de-convert anyone but rather to learn and gain knowledge and I have wrt to the problems of pure deductive arguments for a god. Anyway with that thought in mind I will ask some questions but please, you are no obligation to answer them, these are just food for thought. Maybe we can all let this thread die – gracefully.

“That argument delivers not only a necessary something, but a single unitary unbounded something that is personal and generative/generous” I have not seen such an argument, certainly not one that succeeds, as any variant of Leibniz’s cosmological argument (like others) does not have the power to determine such details. Maybe you should revisit that argument and see if you can really conclude what you think you can. You need to ask yourself where you could go wrong in your reasoning.

” One big change comes with the ‘knowledge’ of a tri-omni god though, and that is the possibility of revelation.” That is a non sequitur. A tri-omni god is not required to allow the possibility of revelation. Regardless, revelation is evaluable against SI and has long failed miserably.

Not a question as such but still a rebuttle on your point ” Your argument could be used against science too. ” No so, since what we collectively call “science” is composed of both numerous explanation using numerous but similar tools, both of which have overwhelming succeeded in passing SI filters. Nothing deductive at all about that.

” I believe it is possible to have a set of true beliefs about God, and I judge Catholicism to be the closest I can get now. ” Two points here. First we can all agree on the first clause, and the most likely close to the truth answer is that there is none. Second there is again a huge gap given, granting for the purposes of discussion, going from a general theism to something as specific and with so many auxiliary hypotheses as catholicism. At the very least a general theism would reject a Jesus, a Triune God, original Sin etc. obviously it is a deal breaker to judaism and islam but also pretty much for all other religions too (maybe Ba’hai is an exception). Whatever else you have done asserting you subscribe to both a general theism AND catholicism looks like a basic contradiction.

“So I am open and interested in revising, even to the point of changing everything based on evidence (except general theism, which I think is deductively justified)” That is what we have been debating here and I, with others – whom I shall address in the next post – have presented arguments that this is an unsupportable deduction. It is not sufficient to assert otherwise you need, if you want, to present an argument as to why this is so. If you don’t and please feel free not to to help close down this thread, then we have no reason to think your assertion carries any weight whatsoever.

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cl August 24, 2011 at 9:42 am

mojo.rhythm,

Cl—calm down.

What are you mistaking for a lack of calmness?

You can accept some belief or proposition, and change your reasons for accepting it over time. Case in point: I am a fanatical lover of pale ale. My reason for enjoying it as a teenager was mainly how blotto it got me. But as I progressed in age, I instead started to appreciate it for its remarkable assault on my taste buds. Same opinion, different reasons.

That’s all good and well. So what? Like the others, I objected to the potentially misleading nature of the claim. Notice how you actually explained your transition?

In other words (i.e. what you actually stated, without the loquacious verbal pea-cocking): he is presented with convincing arguments, accepts them, and over time discovers more powerful variants of the same argument, or different arguments entirely, accepting them in place of the original arguments. He may fail to respond to all the objections or counterpoints to arguments that he accepts and defends at any given time.

What the heck is wrong with that?

Um, that he declares these things a “settled issue” while “failing to respond to all the objections or counterpoints to arguments that he accepts and defends at any given time,” like you just said. It’d be one thing if he kept that spirit of honest and humble inquiry. I could respect that. That ain’t the case, mojo. He went from one type of dogmatist to the other. I’m not the only one who perceives this.

I’ll give it to you Cl; you have an uncanny knack for feigning mock outrage and self-insult. I don’t know how you do it—it takes an almost unfathomable well-spring of motivation to maintain such a constant veneer of explosive, flagrant exasperation. A while has passed since I have read one of your soliloquies. I’m impressed. The fulminating, frothing-at-the-mouth faux indignation has not changed in character. Not even slightly.

Maybe you’re just seeing what you want to see?

I think that Luke was expecting his readers to read between the lines (I did at least). “Math and science” in this context probably means: cognitive science, Bayesian probability, neuropsychology, psychophysics, game theory, social choice theory, and so on.

It doesn’t matter what subset of specifics you substitute. To imply that exposing a believer to a subset of subjects ought to make an atheist is the pompous smarm you should be attacking.

Draw the connection Cl, it is not that hard. Trust me.

Of course it’s not hard, it’s one of the most simplistic, half-assed claims somebody could probably make. Moreover, your comment appears to imply that the absorption of said topics created the naturalism of this hitherto unspecified subset of naturalists, when in fact, many who are already naturalists tend to gravitate towards said subjects.

I do not consider a blogger who makes a couple of hasty generalizations in a benign post about belief in God to be ‘reckless and dangerous‘.

Well, that’s your opinion. At least you can admit Luke somehow managed to make multiple hasty generalizations in such a short span of sentences. That puts you light years ahead of the sycophants. I was just hitting Luke with same criteria he applies to little old ladies who never even leave their house, yet believe the Earth was actually created in six literal days. Who’s more reckless and dangerous? The blogger pumping trumped-up arguments with undeniable fallacies to the masses? Or the little old lady? That’s right: the former. So don’t act like there can’t be degrees of recklessness and dangerousness.

In your hell-bent quest to hyperbolize anything and everything, you jettison the very meaning and purpose of the words that you abuse. It’s prototypical behaviour from politicians, and vulgar rabble rousers such as Ann Coulter and Christopher Hitchens.

Get real. Read your own comment. In fact, it’s one of the more eloquent displays of hyperbole and evocative language I’ve read in some time. My personal favorite string? “Loquacious verbal pea-cocking.” Great stuff!

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cl August 24, 2011 at 9:47 am

PDH,

How did one post generate so much vitriolic inanity?

Oh. Hello cl.

LOL! Yeah, it just has to be me, right? Nah, it can’t be that all you ostensibly “rational” atheists can’t keep your wits about you for half a second. Seriously. You are responsible for your own actions. Don’t blame me for others’ inability to control themselves. I mean, if you guys are oh-so-rational, why can’t you control yourselves? If I’m just another troll not saying anything worth any substance, why are so many of you getting all off-kilter? I think there’s a bit more going on here.

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Martin Freedman August 24, 2011 at 9:51 am

PWINP and PDH

Both good arguments so not much to add except, PDH, you use the term “plausible”. Please note that SI gives grounds to make plausibility claims objective. Not that you need it much, if at all in your case, as your conclusion is one that anyone aspiring to epistemic objectivity would come to.

An apposite example, and one that I have implied previously in this thread, is Swinburne’s use of “God is Simple” to create a high probability prior. This loses plausibility (which was only due to someone not being epistemically objective in the first place) and so reduces its prior probability, once one endeavors to expand upon what that means and so increase the message length of any explanation that uses it. Ditto for “God is a necessary being” and, I did not mention before, for the sake of brevity (sic!), but PWINP did do here, they are both adversely affected by the conjunction fallacy.

Anyway back to work, sayonara!

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Daniel August 24, 2011 at 10:21 am

Zeb,
Some excellent points. I recently checked out Dr. Pruss’ books and hope to become more familiar with the Leibnizian argument and PSR. Our Catholic faith is one of the few which affirms that God’s existence can be rationally demonstrated. That is one of the reasons I am proud to be Catholic.

Patrick who is not Patrick
I guess I do not see the problem you see with regard to necessary beings. We could dance around this all day and night. I just think that necessary chickens are logically incoherent. Chickens come from eggs and can be eaten.

PDH
As always, you provide me with much to think about. Like the necessary chicken, I think the necessary silver car is not vastly improbable, but impossible. Cars are manufactured and break down (especially if they are made by GM). I will have to look into the mathematical proof you discuss. Still not convinced that MWI is the simplest interpretation of QM out there, though it may be simpler than the Copenhagen Interpretation. Thanks.

Martin Freedman
I am willing to call this one too. I don’t think anyone is going to budge here. I’ve learned a great deal from you guys and I have enjoyed our past discussions on CSA. I plan to continue to work on this argument to see if I can strengthen my premises and avoid some of the problematic language I may have introduced into the argument. Perhaps I will have a post up about it on my own blog someday soon.

Luke
Thanks for putting together an interesting blog for the past few years. I came here for the 500+ debates, but stayed for the discussions. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Best,

Daniel

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Martin Freedman August 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I just reread Luke’s post and it ends with the point that the question of God’s existence is so unlikely that it is not even worth talking about. Ironically it was me discovering Luke’s blog that got me (re)interested in such theological arguments – arguments that I had not explored nor rebutted since I was a kid, an interest rekindled if only to give theists the benefit of the doubt as my primary interest was in ethics not theology. I even once criticized Luke for claiming that Philosophy of Religion was one of the most interesting and exciting areas of philosophy. The OP indicates he has come round to my point of view (not that he needed my prompting). So I ask myself now, why am I bothering here? Oh the irony.

Well I have learnt something interesting and clarified my thinking over the problems over theological deductive arguments. Anyway I have to pursue other topics and work, all of which are worth bothering about. Its been fun and stimulating debating your guys here, on both sides, (and even fun feeding the trolls too, when I have time to waste) but it really is time to move on.

Thanks Luke for this blog whilst it lasted.

See you on other blogs or forums maybe.

Chow!

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gnome August 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm

As far as Luke is concerned,

What matters is whether his arguments are sound (or not) not whether he was a bible basher just a short while ago. Now, that being said, what drew me to this blog initially was his critical approach to both theists and atheists alike. He would call out and question arguments from both sides. That seems to be lacking now.

It’s easy to be a scientismist, if we assume it has a firm rational foundation, but even that is not a settled issue. There are key issues left unresolved in regard to epistemology and the philosophy of science that are notoriously difficult to tackle.

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Adito August 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

PDH, Daniel, and Martin

That was an awesome discussion. It clarified a lot of ideas that were bouncing around my head. Thanks guys.

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Luke Muehlhauser August 25, 2011 at 1:53 am

Daniel,

It’s not that I see critical commenters as sub-LW. I have plenty of critical commenters on LW. I’m just saying that the average comment on LW is better by far than the average comment on CSA.

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Luke Muehlhauser August 25, 2011 at 1:54 am

> How did one post generate so much vitriolic inanity?
> Oh. Hello cl.

HAHAHAHAHahaha.

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soupsayer August 25, 2011 at 11:40 am

Luke Muehlhauser wrote:
It’s not that I see critical commenters as sub-LW. I have plenty of critical commenters on LW. I’m just saying that the average comment on LW is better by far than the average comment on CSA.

Well, your average post on LW is better by far than your average post (lately) on CSA. Your post in this instance is only 220 some odd words of minimal substance – not much to comment on (GIGO). Barely a sneeze in comparison to your heavily researched and tweaked posts over on LW.

There are some substantive comments in this thread the raise genuine questions about problems with SI and bayesianism, especially as it pertains to the supernatural. You haven’t engaged any of these at all. Your only followup comments have been to tell us how much our comments suck, and to laugh at cl.

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Supernova August 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm

We miss your posts here, Luke. While the comments over at LessWrong may be more insightful compared to the comments here (which are “inciteful”), we’d still like to gain some of the benefits of your new-found learning here. While the Solomonoff Induction may convince you, most of us aren’t well-versed in set theory or modal logic, and if we were it still wouldn’t help us to dispel religious myths from the average believer. It’s too much to ask for Christians to do independent research or to understand reason in the same way that we see it. Maybe continuing on your “Why Christianity is False” responses would be a great place to start… some of us would love to read those.

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mojo.rhythm August 26, 2011 at 5:47 am

Mojo and Cl: Part II

What are you mistaking for a lack of calmness?

That’s kind of a loaded question, don’t you think?

That’s all good and well. So what? Like the others, I objected to the potentially misleading nature of the claim [that Luke is an atheist for different reasons then he used to be]. Notice how you actually explained your transition?

So you object to the article, because there is a chance Luke is just making shit up? I think that same argument could be made to distrust….I dunno…every single thing that you read! What do you want? A written affidavit from his psychologist? First-hand testimony from his mother? Do you really take these arguments so personally that you have to fabricate an almost comically critical stance to maintain some type of disagreement?

BTW, I’m not impressed by the fact that a few stragglers on this comment board have parroted your objections. It does not make them any less melodramatic and unconvincing.

He [Luke] declares these things [atheism, naturalism, desirism etc] a “settled issue” while “failing to respond to all the objections or counterpoints to arguments that he accepts and defends at any given time.”

Uh, yeah….just like any person that defends a particular idea or position! Time constraints, and personal lives tend to prevent busy people from maintaining a vigilant presence on the internet, acting as a permanent vanguard for their ideas, blocking and thwarting every frivolous objection, every misunderstanding, and every stupid complaint that comes their way. That’s just how things are. You have little choice, but to simply deal with it. Eat your peas. Grow up.

I’m not the only one who perceives this.

Other people share your faux concerns over this non-issue. Congratulations.

Maybe you’re just seeing what you want to see [i.e. the fact that I am shrill and melodramatic]?

Don’t take it personally. Alarmist people with an extreme penchant for theater irk me something fierce. It has nothing to do with the fact that you are a Christian. I respect your beliefs.

It doesn’t matter what [sub-fields of science and math] you substitute. To imply that exposing a believer to a subset of subjects ought to make an atheist is the pompous smarm you should be attacking.

Only if I had the motivation to feign outrage over nothing. I don’t have that luxury. Time is better spent.

Luke once rejected belief in God because of the usual arguments given by atheist philosophers. Now he rejects it because it fails Solomonoff induction. Not only that, he thinks that the topics he has been studying are a sure-fire way to cause any rational, thinking person to reject belief in God.

This is supposed to be maddening, how exactly?

Here’s what I thought of it: maybe a little over the top, and a bit of a blanket statement. It is not “reckless”, “dangerous”, and an “arrogant smarm.” Unless you are “seeing what you want to see,” maybe?

…your comment appears to imply that the absorption of said topics created the naturalism of this hitherto unspecified subset of naturalists, when in fact, many who are already naturalists tend to gravitate towards said subjects.

It’s the classic “chicken-and-egg” problem. Which came first: naturalism or the arguments for it inherent in biology and cognitive science? Luke considers the latter to be correct, because he, being a naturalist, finds the arguments so devastating. You, a theist, think that ideologically-driven naturalists gravitate towards these scientific disciplines because the scientific facts confirm their pre-existing beliefs (otherwise, why would they study these topics?).

……

Spot what is wrong with your argument.

I was just hitting Luke with same criteria he applies to little old ladies who never even leave their house, yet believe the Earth was actually created in six literal days.

That’s an absurd and ridiculous attempt to evade the accusation. Since when did two wrongs become a right? Is it okay for me to throw crap at a monkey I petted in the zoo because it did the same to me? (Note to Luke: don’t take the analogy too literally, lol :) )

I see you’re still beating a dead horse with this creationism thing. Here’s my two cents: Luke said that creationist desires lead to maiming and death. The people with the desires are not necessarily dangerous, or in need of vociferous condemnation.

If an armless, legless, blind, deaf, dumb mute had a desire to kill and torture everyone she saw, would that make her dangerous?

No.

On the other hand, if Barack Obama had that desire, we would rightly describe him as the most dangerous man alive.

The old lady may believe in irrational fantasies, but we would be amiss to have any concern. I sure as hell would not bother trying to convert her to atheism.

But if it is Michelle Bachmann, a powerful, ambitious woman with the ability to dictate government policy, who believes such tomfoolery–deranged homophobia, anti-choice and climate change denial rhetoric included–then that is something to be well and truly scared shitless by. Despite the 23 foster children that have been in her care–fleetingly or for many years–I do not mince words: she is a truly despicable human being. Not only is she dumber than a sack of hammers and crazier than Charlie Sheen after an eight-ball, she is in a position to act out her inane fantasies. In that sense: creationist beliefs, and the desires that come with it, can be quite harmful if allowed to spread, multiply, and find the “right” carriers.

Who’s more reckless and dangerous? The blogger pumping trumped-up arguments with undeniable fallacies to the masses? Or the little old lady? That’s right: the former. So don’t act like there can’t be degrees of recklessness and dangerousness.

Neither are. It depends on the content; not the prima facie fact of the fallacy. Purportedly fallacious arguments for atheism are not “dangerous.” If you think they are, you have literally no concept of what the word “dangerous” is supposed to mean. Why would you disregard the meaning of a word, and invent your own in place of it, to buttress a counterpoint? It’s foolish.

Read your own [verbose] comment. In fact, it’s one of the more eloquent displays of hyperbole and evocative language I’ve read in some time.

Evocative language? Yes. Absolutely. I had to describe it in a way that truly reflected what I was thinking. Hyperbole? Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. I think my comments are right on the money. Actually, my message might have been understated.

Besides—even if I hypothetically was exaggerating a little too much, it does not absolve you of a microcosm of blame; not even for a second. You are still guilty of engaging in absurd theatrics, exaggerating very foible and every flub, and pretending that every inconsequential gaffe you see is worthy of enough concern to tread through extended discussion.

Accusing the other side of bad behavior doesn’t get you off the hook dude.

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Scott Scheule August 26, 2011 at 10:08 am

I miss ayer. Whatever happened to that guy?

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bossmanham August 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm

That’s what happens when you simply blindly accept induction as a means of gaining truth and focus 100% on the empirical observations one makes without considering philosophical and epistemological issues therein. What happens when one takes theoretical models and relegates them to unquestionable fact.

That’s the problem with the LW community in general. They pretty much ignore the problems in philosophy and snobbishly declare their epistemic foundations on which they rarely, if ever, reflect on as the ONES

And this is why I don’t even care about what Luke has to say anymore. Through induction, I’ve come to realize that he’s not even open minded enough to consider the issues theists bring forth.

Oh, and the obsession with Yudkowski makes a lot of sense in light of this article.

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bossmanham August 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm

One other thing, the things mentioned that you now use as arguments against God are completely irrelevant to whether He exists or not. So….the Less Wrong experience has led Luke to now use red herring arguments…..way to fulfill your mantra, Less Wrong Community!!!

There are physical reactions that happen in the brain, there4 God dus not exhist!!!!11!!11!!one!!eleventyone

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cl August 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm

mojo.rhythm,

So you object to the article, because there is a chance Luke is just making shit up? I think that same argument could be made to distrust….I dunno…every single thing that you read! What do you want? A written affidavit from his psychologist? First-hand testimony from his mother?

I want exactly what Luke, Loftus, and the rest of their ilk say we should have in order to accept a claim as true: valid evidence, and/or argumentation. It’s special pleading to hold theists to that standard, yet not hold themselves to the same standard.

BTW, I’m not impressed by the fact that a few stragglers on this comment board have parroted your objections.

Well, guess what: I couldn’t care less about what impresses you. Seriously. Who cares? It’s a blog thread.

Uh, yeah….just like any person that defends a particular idea or position!

It is a false exaggeration to say that “any person that defends a particular idea or position” fails to respond to all the objections or counterpoints.

Time constraints, and personal lives tend to prevent busy people from maintaining a vigilant presence on the internet, acting as a permanent vanguard for their ideas, blocking and thwarting every frivolous objection, every misunderstanding, and every stupid complaint that comes their way. That’s just how things are.

Those are excuses.

Alarmist people with an extreme penchant for theater irk me something fierce.

Criticizing Luke with semi-harsh language is neither alarmist nor situated towards theater.

Only if I had the motivation to feign outrage over nothing. I don’t have that luxury. Time is better spent.

Yet here you are feigning outrage against me and wasting who knows how much time blathering on against me, all the while ignoring the claim that set this whole thing off. Apparently, you have that luxury.

Luke once rejected belief in God because of the usual arguments given by atheist philosophers.

You forgot the first part of that process: because Matt McCormick made fun of him on the radio. Being mocked played an integral part in his deconversion. Luke has implied as much before, and he also endorses the use of mockery — so why are you gettin’ all uppity because I give him a little mockery? Surely what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

Now he rejects it because it fails Solomonoff induction.

Does it? Or are you just parroting Luke’s baseless claim? Where are your numbers? Every atheist here has utterly failed to demonstrate Luke’s claim, and many atheists here seem to agree that Luke spoke presumptuously.

Here’s what I thought of it: maybe a little over the top, and a bit of a blanket statement. It is not “reckless”, “dangerous”, and an “arrogant smarm.”

My “reckless and dangerous” comment was not prompted exclusively by this thread. It’s in response to a general pattern of behavior that mirrors the creationists and fundamentalists Luke elsewhere derides as irrational.

You, a theist, think that ideologically-driven naturalists gravitate towards these scientific disciplines because the scientific facts confirm their pre-existing beliefs (otherwise, why would they study these topics?).

Please don’t make such sweeping generalizations and imply that I endorse them.

I was just hitting Luke with same criteria he applies to little old ladies who never even leave their house, yet believe the Earth was actually created in six literal days. [cl]

That’s an absurd and ridiculous attempt to evade the accusation.

To evade what accusation? That I’m “overreacting?” I already dealt with that. I’m not overreacting; you failed to put my words in their intended context. “Reckless and dangerous” were not derived from this specific post, but the general pattern that’s been taking place for the past year or so.

Luke said that creationist desires lead to maiming and death.

Sort of. Luke said, “Actually, is not the belief itself that is evil, but rather the set of desires that produces a belief in Creationism. For example, the desire to blind oneself to the evidence…” Yet, the problem is that the desire to blind oneself to the evidence is not essential to being a YEC. In fact, many YEC’s are people who have the desire to investigate the evidence. Luke has taken a characteristic of a subset and applied it to the whole. Hence, the Bigot’s Fallacy.

If an armless, legless, blind, deaf, dumb mute had a desire to kill and torture everyone she saw, would that make her dangerous?

No.

On the other hand, if Barack Obama had that desire, we would rightly describe him as the most dangerous man alive.

Exactly. So, to some extent, you agree with me, while apparently not realizing it.

In that sense: creationist beliefs, and the desires that come with it, can be quite harmful if allowed to spread, multiply, and find the “right” carriers.

You make the same mistake as Luke. Your laundry list of “desires” are Bachmann’s desires, and are not shared by all creationists. You are committing the Bigot’s Fallacy, just like Luke and Fyfe.

Purportedly fallacious arguments for atheism are not “dangerous.”

But fallacious arguers that aspire to a position of power and influence in the AI sector *ARE*. These people are taking the fate of OUR future into THEIR hands. Luke and Yudkowsky are much closer to Obama than the little old lady, aren’t they?

Why would you disregard the meaning of a word, and invent your own in place of it, to buttress a counterpoint? It’s foolish.

I didn’t do that. You just haven’t grasped the reality of what I’m saying, but I’m hoping the above clarifications can help you. Let me know if misunderstanding persists.

You are still guilty of engaging in absurd theatrics, exaggerating very foible and every flub, and pretending that every inconsequential gaffe you see is worthy of enough concern to tread through extended discussion.

I told Luke to “quit pretending” and criticized what I and others see as a steady departure from rationalism, and the atheists here went into an hysterical hissy-fit. Y’all are the ones with the penchant for theater; I was just voicing my opinion with the language that I thought fit the bill.

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Scott R August 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Luke,

Your position is interesting, though ultimately disappointing. The reasons for this are multiple:

1. You correctly point out that our minds can trick us, but you offer no reason to suspect that belief in God is a trick. You’ve simply assumed it without evidence.

2. Even if our beliefs turned out to be a trick, you have no way of showing that the belief which is the result of a trick is atheism rather than theism

3. Your position may itself be a “trick of the brain”, thus your position is ultimately self-refuting because it puts you into a position where you can’t trust your own view.

Beyond this, we have the fact that neuroscience itself points convincingly toward the existence of a mind that is not simply synonymous with the brain (nor is it an epiphenomenon of the brain). For this, I point to a number of evidences:

- The existence of the 1st person perspective and consciousness itself. Virtually every neuroscientist will tell you that these things are a mystery, though some like the Churchlands deny their existence (which is, again, a self-refuting position since one must be conscious to refute consciousness!)

- The existence of qualia, which cannot be found as a property of the brain nor ultimately of matter (there is no redness to the individual atoms that make up a rose petal, for instance).

- The existence of things like multiple personality disorder points to something beyond simply the brain…for example, there are documented cases of people who have more than one personality and these different personalities change the functioning not only of the body but of the brain. Something external to the brain is impacting the brain in these cases.

- The existence of such phenomena as the placebo effect…in the placebo effect, a person believes he is receiving an active substance that will have a physical impact on him (pain relief, etc.). However, the only thing that is happening is that he BELIEVES the medicine is potent. Thus, his belief is all that is being affected and yet we see documented physiological impact…certainly nothing physical is impacting the brain or the body in this case. It must be something immaterial beyond the cause/effect physical universe.

- Additionally, we have well-documented scientific studies (see ‘The Mind and the Brain’ by Schwartz & Begley) in which people with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder are able to intentionally alter the structure of their brain through conscious meditative techniques. Certainly it’s not the brain, responding to cause/effect, altering itself!

- And finally (though more could be pointed to), we have things like Near Death Experiences (NDEs). By this, I don’t mean people seeing a light or feeling themselves floating. I mean documented cases in which people who are clinically dead are able to remember out of body experiences in which they were geographically distant from their bodies, and they accurately report people, situations, objects, activities, conversations, etc. In one case, a woman who was born blind and had never seen anything was able to accurately describe her operating room because she was able to see while clinically dead! If, as you claim, there is nothing beyond the brain, then none of these experiences should be possible.

Beyond these, Luke, you have the entire problem of free will. In your system, all is cause/effect and no one can make a choice…thus your own choice that Atheism vs. Theism discussions are not productive is not something you can choose to do. In fact, writing a persuasive essay (and you’ve written some good ones, I admit) has the purpose of swaying someone’s opinion. But according to your worldview, there is no free will, thus no one can choose to either believe or disbelieve anything you’ve said.

In fact, when you take a position, you are directly refuting your own worldview since your worldview doesn’t allow you to make a decision about what’s true or not…all that exists is cause/effect and free will choices don’t enter into the picture at any level. Thus, when you say “this is true” (and presumably you believe something is true because you’ve evaluated the evidence and have drawn a conclusion, you are saying “I have chosen to believe that this is true”. But you can’t choose anything in your worldview, thus you can’t legitimately take the position you’ve taken.

The fact is, Luke, your position is not one that is all that convincing, I’m afraid. And given the nature of free will, it’s a logical impossibility for you to take a position at all.

But granting free will for a moment, your position lacks explanations for the things I’ve mentioned and it is still ultimately self-refuting (for how do you know that your own atheism, or even your belief in neuroscience, isn’t a “trick of the brain” as you put it?).

As you review what I’ve said, Luke, consider that you are making a choice about what I’m saying (you’re making a choice about whether you even want to read it!). And by making this choice, you are rejecting the naturalistic worldview whether you want to admit it or not.

I can understand your being tired of Theist vs. Atheist arguments. I get tired of them myself. But unfortunately, I think your confidence in the things you’ve listed is not nearly the “knock down” defeater for theism that you believe it to be (again…believe…can’t do that in the naturalistic worldview since it requires the ability to choose). It merely exposes itself to a new set of problems, some of which I’ve mentioned.

Sorry for the length of my reply, but I felt it better to be a bit more exhaustive in my response to try and explain my position a bit more in depth.

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cl August 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Scott,

Just to provide one counterexample, I’m an atheist and I agree by and large with your comments here.

Thanks for support.

Reginald,

Lastly, why won’t more atheists step up and say, “Unfortunately, Martin Freedman / faithlessgod, cl is correct… [cl]

Maybe a good number of them had their fill of you quite a while ago, and ignore everything you write.

Ah, I see: personal animosity takes precedence over truth. So rational!

Martin Freedman,

First might I say what a pleasure it is to have a civilized discussion, even as we disagree. Sadly all too rare on this forum nowadays.

Get real man! Are you really going to deny your contributions to the lack of civility? Sure, you play Mr. Innocent here, but you were one of those who started the trend, what with your calling people “racists” when they disagree with you on desirism and all. And that was over a year ago, so don’t sit there and try to look all innocent.

So, in the program space of coherent gods, i.e., filtering out any incoherent conceptions of these (and note I think that no popular conception of a xian god passes that filter, but let us presume otherwise for the purposes of discussion), SI would show that a deist god is the inference to the best explanation and, that an xian god in particular, is one of the least likely, certainly less likely that a jewish or islamic god – which are still both dramatically inferior to a deist god.

Naked assertion. Where’s the numbers? If that’s what SI would show, why can’t you show that with SI? Show us the money–er, numbers.

Zeb,

I think it is worth noting that there is a difference between trolls and fools. Trolls antagonize others and degrade the dialogue intentionally, fools do the same accidentally. I don’t think CSA has ever had much of a troll problem.

Are you implying I’m a fool? If so, let me know, and let’s talk about it. Your opinion actually matters to me, even if only a teensy-weensie bit.

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Scott August 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Scott R:

I’m rather sympathetic to the dualist position, but there’s a lot of your list I don’t find persuasive.

“…one must be conscious to refute consciousness!”

Why? If zombies are conceivable, which I think they are, I can easily imagine one giving a refutation of consciousness. It needn’t be conscious of doing so–it goes on “in the dark,” as they say–but it’ll be a refutation nonetheless.

” The existence of things like multiple personality disorder points to something beyond simply the brain…for example, there are documented cases of people who have more than one personality and these different personalities change the functioning not only of the body but of the brain. Something external to the brain is impacting the brain in these cases.”

I don’t see how that follows at all. Just because a personality impacts the brain doesn’t imply dualism without other considerations. The non-dualist simply believes personality is a part of the brain–that one part of the brain can affect another does nothing to prove or disprove the dualist case.

” The existence of such phenomena as the placebo effect…in the placebo effect, a person believes he is receiving an active substance that will have a physical impact on him (pain relief, etc.). However, the only thing that is happening is that he BELIEVES the medicine is potent. Thus, his belief is all that is being affected and yet we see documented physiological impact…certainly nothing physical is impacting the brain or the body in this case. It must be something immaterial beyond the cause/effect physical universe.”

Again, I don’t think this follows at all. The non-dualist believes that the “belief” is part of the brain, and–again–that part of the brain can affect another proves nothing.

And likewise with the OECD example.

“And finally (though more could be pointed to), we have things like Near Death Experiences (NDEs). By this, I don’t mean people seeing a light or feeling themselves floating. I mean documented cases in which people who are clinically dead are able to remember out of body experiences in which they were geographically distant from their bodies, and they accurately report people, situations, objects, activities, conversations, etc. In one case, a woman who was born blind and had never seen anything was able to accurately describe her operating room because she was able to see while clinically dead! If, as you claim, there is nothing beyond the brain, then none of these experiences should be possible.”

What is the source for these things? They sound fantastical, and I’m highly skeptical.

Now, some of your list does function as evidence for dualism–the existence of qualia, for example. But Chalmers in his book arguing for dualism mentions none of the examples I’ve quibbled with above–and for good reason, I believe.

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bossmanham August 26, 2011 at 10:58 pm

I want to point out something poignant that CL said:

In my three years of experience, all your proselytizing efforts have one thing in common: you simply latch on to your “freethinking” atheist du jour, parrot their arguments, neglect to fully engage the objections, and once the infatuation wears off, you move on to the next, all the while leaving said objections unresolved.

This is absolutely true. Luke has a strange propensity to latch on to a male role model type figure, to emulate them for a time, and then move on when they’ve bored him sufficiently. It happened first with Jesus, then with Loftus, then with Fyfe, and now with Yudkowski. Of course that one may last longer, given that he’s now given his life to programming a really complicated computer to think for us dumb humans.

But this is what happens when there actually is no ultimate in your life. You make ultimates to latch on to. I wonder if he’ll ever write about that in his silly less wrong diatribes.

What’s the most pathetic about this turn is his seeming inability to see the self refuting character of his new epistemology.

Oh well…

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joseph August 27, 2011 at 3:40 am

@Scott R
Given the brain’s regulation of many hormonal systems that act directly, and indirectly on things like nociception and the immune system drawing this conclusion:

Thus, his belief is all that is being affected and yet we see documented physiological impact…certainly nothing physical is impacting the brain or the body in this case. It must be something immaterial beyond the cause/effect physical universe

Seems…a bit…premature. I don’t think the brain, let alone the mind, is as disconnected from other organ systems as many think.

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Zeb August 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

Cl,

I don’t think you are a fool, but I do think 75-90% of your commenting, by word count, is foolishness. If you would just cut out the tit-for-tat, the histrionics, and the overblown rhetoric you would be the most valuable commenter on here. No one else works as hard to keep Luke honest, and most of your core objections are serious and worthy of serious answer. But as it is I usually don’t read your comments anymore or those replying to you because it is so boring and pointless. You do serve the function of a troll much of the time, although I disagree with those who label you as one because they are surely wrong about the motivation that term implies.

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Michael August 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

Ok, I take it back, Luke.

I wrote above that it was a mistake to leave the atheist/theism arguments behind because arguing against the nutcases and conmen is doing good work.

But bossmanham, cl, Scott R. and the rest have convinced me. They are irredeemably stupid and I understand your choice now. Thanks for the effort.

And to the idiot theists… LOOK! A necessary giant blue bunny that will take you to heaven and give you 73 virgins if you will only strap some dynamite to yourselves and blow yourselves up in the desert!

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Scott August 27, 2011 at 11:45 am

As Zeb says. I completely agree cl has intelligent and worthwhile observations and criticisms, but the histrionics, faux or otherwise, do nothing to increase the chances of some kind of discussion of those worthy points.

Then again, at least cl seldom rises to the risible level of insult that Michael has recently achieved.

People, I think the principal objection is this. While it is extraordinarily troubling that intelligent, rational, honest people hold to a position that we, as atheists, find so clearly false, it is still poor sportsmanship to deny the existence of such intelligent, rational, and honest people, and thus try and eke out a win by default. It will not do to simply call the other side names, nor imply ignorance of physics or Bayes. That is not how you wage a debate in good faith, much less is it how one convinces others.

It was the grappling with the other side’s arguments, and the respect that implied, that made Luke’s blog attractive, and it is the retreat from that ideal that will do the blog in, or at least alienate many a reader.

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Vivek Gounder August 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm

The point that a definite bias creeps in and depends on the prior obtained or deducted information when confronted with an opposing view point which gives a threat to destabilize our perceived and existing notions is quite apparent in this comment thread. Good for some specific research I am trying to conduct. Thank you all for participating in this discussion.

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Michael August 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Arguing in good faith? That’s a joke, right?

Arguing in good faith requires a mutual vulnerability to the best evidence. But theists despise evidence: they censor it, they bracket it out by branding science a conspiracy, they evade it with metaphysical gibberish about the problematic issues underlying the possibility of evidence itself, and they marginalize it with critique hurled like monkey feces at it, hoping the stink sticks. Stop papering-over their irrationality with your fantasy about how they actually consider your arguments and evidence as anything but a threat.

Arguing in good faith also demands a willingness to subject one’s own reasoning to revision. How does that happen for theists whose beliefs are written in the sacred texts, dictated by divine beings, the eternal truth? That core model of cognitive non-revision carries over into a preternatural thick-headedness: the color blue could walk up to these guys and say hello, but they would still think yellow.

They will each protest their enlightenment, but each one of them had to be beaten out of Young Earth Creationism, into Heliocentrism, out of Noah’s Flood, and the Big Bang still makes them twitch.

Almost every one of them believes Jesus was born of a virgin but not one of them will explain whose Y-chromosome he had: they will just waive and wave-away the world with a perfunctory “it was a miracle!”. To a twit, they will insist that Jesus really did cure epilepsy, blindness, leprosy, and muteness by casting out the demons that cause those debilities, its just how crazy they are willing to be to stay faithful to the text. Every one of them will insist that their imaginary magical buddy, and not the other guy’s, created the Universe, all there was is or ever will be, so that they might exist here and now, to crap all over reality.

And I am the unreasonable one for calling nutcases and conmen what they are? Grow some.

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Nick McConnell August 28, 2011 at 3:52 am

Luke, I dropped in again to determine why so many recent hits at my website came from yours, but I failed to find the reference. I thought you might have referenced my discussions on Bayes’ method, but couldn’t find the link in yours. So be it; it doesn’t really matter.

I then got interested in this post of yours, and comments on it — interested enough to submit this comment and the next. This first comment is addressed to you; the next is addressed to “cl”.

I’ll start with your headline: “Atheism is just the beginning; now it’s time to solve the harder questions.” I expect you’d agree that the second clause would be improved if written: “now it’s time to try to solve more important problems.”

An obvious reason for my making such a suggestion is that there are an enormous number of unsolved “hard questions” (or difficult problems), and sometimes it seems that, the more problems we solve (e.g., in science), the more that arise! So, given that we each have limited time and capabilities and that humanity has limited resources and capabilities, it’s usually considered wise to try to solve, first, the most important problems.

And of course it’s the case that the “importance” of solving a particular problem is a value judgement, but then, I expect that the vast majority of us who have a naturalistic worldview could generally agree on quite a large list of “important problems”. I won’t try to produce such a list here, let alone put the entries in priority, but surely important problems for humanity to solve include sustainable development, reduction in physical violence, protecting the environment (including other species), each of those probably requiring a reduction of the world’s human population by a factor of about ten, developing governments throughout the world that provide equal opportunities for all their citizens to reach their potentials, and so on, not to dwell on such problems as developing capabilities to eradicate “monster viruses”, deflect or destroy “killer astroids”, and so on.

An important problem especially relevant to your website is the need to get approximately 80% of all people in the world to “smarten up”, i.e., to abandon their silly ideas of gods and adopt a naturalistic worldview. And of course, the reason that problem is important to solve is because the theistic worldview is one of the major impediments to solving most of the important problems listed in the previous paragraph (e.g., physical violence, overpopulation, unbridled consumerism, dictatorial governments, etc.). Brought closer to home, think of the importance of trying to ensure that a religious fundamentalist such as Perry doesn’t become the next American president!

Turning now to your current post, I therefore hope you’ll reconsider the plan implicit in your statement: “This used to be a blog about the arguments for and against theism and atheism.” I certainly agree with you that “if [others] have time {and capabilities!} to consume enough math and science, then the God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.” But the reality is that, few people have the capabilities necessary to “consume” said “math and science”; consequently, to solve the important problem of getting a large fraction of all people to reject their silly theistic worldview, other approaches must be tried.

As for what approaches to try, in the “X-chapters” of my book (which you can get to it by clicking on my name) I’ve suggested many such approaches. Three summary statements are these: 1) the “design principle” KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid, 2) Use whatever works!, and as for point #3), I’ll quote the following assessment by ex-Mormon Richard Packham, which seems could be easily generalized to apply for all theists:

“…there is no one thing, no one fact, no single outrageous doctrine or embarrassing historical event, that will cause everyone who knows about that one fact to leave the church. It is different for each person. One person may easily be able to accept polygamy, blood atonement, secret finances, and the unfulfilled prophecies of Joseph Smith. But when the bishop calls a child molester to teach Primary, that’s the straw. Another may be able to accept all that, but cannot accept the fact that the church lies about its past. Another may be able to accept the lying as necessary, but finds polygamy too much.

“For each person, it will be something else, something different. And what is the lesson in that, for those who are trying to get a loved one out of Mormonism [or any religion]? As I see it, the prison door has a special lock for each prisoner. We are armed with an entire key ring of keys. One of those keys will fit the lock and release the prisoner. We must patiently try each key until we find a fit. The key is there, somewhere, and we must not give up, but try each one.”

To illustrate, in my next comment I’ll respond to some comments that “cl” contributed to this thread.

And with the response to “cl”, I’ll be illustrating something else that I hope you’ll consider. Thus, although it’s rare to be able to convince theists to abandon their silly worldview, yet I encourage you to continue to try — generally not for their sake (since usually they’ve developed an essentially impenetrable wall to permit them to continue to live in their delusions), but instead, confront them in an attempt to help others. That is, for such a thread as this and as a general rule-of-thumb, there’s usually about ten readers for every one writer; therefore, engage theists not for the sake of a particular writer, but for the readers, since undoubtedly some of them will not have built such a wall of stupidity around their beliefs. Consequently, by responding even to “diehard defenders of the faith”, you might be able to help others break free from clerical dogma.

By the way, maybe I should add that I consider such activities to be moral, even though they may seem to violate Kant’s “imperative” never to use people as a means to an end. I reach such a conclusion, because people such as “cl” have volunteered to be so “used”, by submitting their comments. In fact, thereby they almost certainly are proposing to use you, to accomplish their own ends! Thus, so long as such “use” (both ways) is entirely voluntary, I consider it to be morally acceptable.

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Nick McConnell August 28, 2011 at 3:55 am

cl, in my view, your August 21, 2011 post at 9:36 PM (which you reference as a post at your website) contains significant inadequacies and mistakes. For multiple reasons I won’t detail them all; instead, I’ll here focus on your claim:

“What about creation ex nihilo? Then we’re just saying that the universe popped into existence from absolute nothingness. Yet, absolute nothingness would be just that – absolute nothingness – which means not even a single iota of potency from which existence might transition into act.”

Thereby, you make a claim to knowledge about “absolute nothingness” for which I suspect you have zero justification. Instead, I suspect that, if you were prodded, you’d take refuge in semantic arguments about “absolute nothingness”, along with associated philosophical obfuscations. Others, however, can play the same games. For example, I maintain that you nothing about ‘nothing’.

In ancient China in about 500 BCE Lao Tzu wisely circumvented such semantics and obfuscations by, in effect, calling “absolute nothingness” the Dao and writing: “The Dao that can be spoken of it not the true Dao.” More recently, Einstein mockingly stated: “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.” Here, I’ll encourage you to give some thought to Einstein’s suggestion that ‘nothing’ is ‘something’.

Now, I could try to show you, here, what physicists have learned about “nothing”, but whereas I already worked quite hard to provide a simple yet succinct description of “absolute nothingness” (and its consequences), and it required a full chapter of my (free, online) book to do so, therefore, here I’ll be brief. For your possible interest, the chapter is entitled “The Zen of Zero and the Dynamics of the Dao” and is at http://zenofzero.net/docs/Z_The_Zen_of_Zero.pdf . Two, recent, free, online books that you might also want to consult and that I found to be informative are: 1) “The Structured Vacuum: Thinking about Nothing” by Johann Rafelski and Berndt Müller and 2) “Student Friendly Quantum Field Theory” by Robert Klauber.

In particular, to save myself time (and to save Luke space!), here I’ll just quote (from the referenced chapter and for your consideration) a resulting “genesis story” that involves the formation of our universe (and presumably and similarly, other ‘verses’) out of nothing (viz., ex nihilo). Note that this “genesis story” is written for young adults, as is my entire book (which you can get to by clicking on my name): it’s written to try to stimulate youngsters to replace their indoctrination in the silly (Western / Sumerian) speculation that some god or gods were involved in creating our universe. In the version of this “genesis story” given below, I’ve tried to put in quotation marks all words and concepts that “stretch the meaning” of common terms (e.g., “total nothingness”, “time” “before” the beginning, etc.).

**********

Genesis: The Dynamics of the Dao

“Before” the “beginning” of our universe, “total nothingness existed everywhere.” This “total nothingness” (which in Daoism could be called “the Dao”) had two options: either just sit “there, everywhere, for evermore”, or start fluctuating. After a long, long “time” of doing nothing, “total nothingness” started to fluctuate, similar to the way that quantum mechanical systems are now known to behave.

That’s not to suggest that “total nothingness” (or the Dao) is governed by quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics may be just a subset of a larger set of dynamics, which for want of a more meaningful term, we could call “the zigblat mechanics of zero”. What the dynamics of the Dao actually entails is unknown, but for now, it’s assumed that it includes random fluctuations.

Returning to the Dao, it’s assumed that it engaged in such fluctuations (a huge number of them, e.g., 10^10^10^10^10…) for a long, long, “time”, and in each and every fluctuation, everything was perfectly symmetrical: a positive fluctuation in anything (be it energy, “fenergy, genergy, henergy”, or whatever) was exactly balanced by a negative fluctuation of exactly the same thing. (In Daoism, this would be described as the original Yin-Yang.) As a consequence of the perfect symmetry of these fluctuations, still and in total, “nothing existed”.

Then it happened. Of the innumerable fluctuations, one broke its symmetry. No one knows how it happened. Perhaps what we now call a positive fluctuation in energy precipitated as a string or as a particle of energy (i.e., it became a mass of solidified, positive energy) and was then unable to recombine with its negative counterpart. This symmetry-breaking, quantum-like fluctuation could be called the “original swerve”, which Epicurus (341–270 BCE) postulated and which Lucretius (c.94 – c.55 BCE) later called “the Clinamen”.

Whatever it’s called and however it happened, once the symmetry was broken and some bit of positive energy was unable to recombine with its negative-energy partner, then not only did time begin (since, now, positive energy was present and persisted) but also, “all hell broke lose”.

Details aren’t known. Perhaps all positive-energy levels below those levels of the first precipitated string or particle of positive energy, finding a void at a higher energy level (i.e., from where the first energy precipitated as a particle or string of energy), no longer could balance corresponding negative-energy levels. Apparently, all the negative-energy levels remained intact, and continue to be intact, in what we call ‘space’ or “the vacuum”. But whatever the details, the dam broke, positive energy flooded out, leading to what’s called “inflation” (or the Big Bang) and eventually to our universe and us.

************

Maybe I should add three points (which I describe in some detail in the referenced chapter as well as in the first chapter of my book).

1) The assumption that “total nothingness” or “a perfect vacuum” would engage in fluctuations (not just vacuums with fields, which are well known to fluctuate) appears to be consistent with the known result that antiparticles obey quantum mechanics. Thus, if (as Dirac proposed) antiparticles are “holes” in the negative energy background of “space”, then by looking at holes in space (i.e., at antiparticles) then we’re actually seeing “total nothingness”, which then apparently obeys quantum mechanics.

2) Not only is it easy to produce something (say S) from nothing (say N), namely via N –> S + (-S), but also, such seems to have occurred in the (natural) formation of our universe. Thus, it’s now well known that, in total in our universe, there’s nothing here; i.e., no net electrical charge, no momentum (linear or angular), and most amazingly, no energy (in that, consistent with the first law of thermodynamics, the positive energy with which we’re familiar, including mass, is exactly balanced by the negative energy of the “false vacuum” that we call “space”). I have argued that there’s also no entropy, but I expect that you wouldn’t want me to go into that topic here, in part because it relies on the Feynman/ Wheeler / Cramer idea that, in space, time goes in the opposite direction from the direction with which we’re familiar).

3) Essentially all of the above was succinctly described in the closing line of Edward Tryon’s 1973 publication in Nature (Vol. 248, p. 397):

“In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things [that] happen from time to time.”

Finally, cl, turning to your claim that “God is the simplest explanation”, I’d ask you to consider which is simpler: 1) “something” that obeys the Dirac-Schroedinger equation (including negative-energy states) but is otherwise “nothing”, or 2) a supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, omni-whatever being capable of snapping his fingers (or whatever) to create a universe — and (depending on the perversion to which you’re addicted) will torture you for eternity if you don’t believe in him or if you don’t pay his clerical con-artists sufficient to permit them to live in the lifestyle to which they’ve been accustomed and to which they consider themselves entitled? I trust that you can guess which model I’d choose (or which computer program I’d choose to write).

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joseph August 28, 2011 at 4:53 am

When you say anti-particles you mean things like positrons, anti-protons?
Or is something with negative mass, negative also required? Or did I mess up?

Net entropy zero? Really? More please. For the mathematically confused.

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Nick McConnell August 28, 2011 at 5:30 am

joseph:
1) Yes, antiparticles include positrons (=anti-electrons) and all others (e.g., anti-protons).
2) No, antiparticles don’t have negative mass (whatever that would be).
3) Oh boy, the possibility that the total entropy is zero is a nontrivial topic! Right now it’s coming up dawn where I am; so, it’s time for me to go for my daily walk in the desert (before the heat hits). I’ll respond (at least a little) to your question about entropy after I return and then have breakfast.

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joseph August 28, 2011 at 6:45 am

Thankyou very much, please don’t hurry on my account.
Last time I touched on entropy was S-level chemistry in good old blighty at the tender age of 18…some time ago. If that helps you gauge the level of your answer.

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Nick McConnell August 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

Joseph, thank you for your invitation not to rush. I now have a bit of a headache coming on; therefore, I’ll now try to sleep it off. Then, it’ll take me some time to try to put together as good a response as I can. In the meantime (as preparation, if you will!), I’d suggest that you check out the following.

1. The seminar by Roger Penrose discussing his ideas about the entropy of the universe; it’s available at http://www.newton.ac.uk/webseminars/pg+ws/2005/gmr/gmrw04/1107/penrose/ .

2. Two articles by Victor Stenger, U. of Colorado, on entropy. One is entitled “The Other Side of Time” (available at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/vic_stenger/otherside.html ) and the other is entitled “Three Arrows of Time” (at http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Timeless/04-arrows.pdf ). What I would especially call to your attention is his suggestion (which I don’t like!) of a “twin universe” to ours but with time going in the opposite direction.

3. One or more of the (ppt) presentations by John Cramer, U. of Washington, dealing with “Quantum Interpretations and Phenomena” available at http://faculty.washington.edu/jcramer/talks.html . What I would especially call to your attention is his suggestion (derived from an interpretation of electromagnetism by Feynman and Wheeler) that in space, time goes in the opposite direction from the direction with which we’re familiar. With that idea, some of the “weirdness” of quantum mechanics disappears — and, by the way, so does the “zero-point catastrophe” of the vacuum, in which theory missed data by 120 orders of magnitude!

With those “ingredients” and, of course, continuing to meet the requirement that the usual entropy (defined for positive energy and positive time) will increase with increasing time, I’ll suggest that if we carefully define entropy for the negative energy (virtual) antiparticles in the vacuum, then even for an expanding universe, the total entropy could remain zero (without introducing Strenger’s “twin universe” going backwards in time).

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joseph August 28, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Brilliant, I’m in a totally different time zone, just woken up, how’bout I trawl through those for a day of two, attempt to think of non idiotic questions and go from there?

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joseph August 31, 2011 at 11:06 am

A bit laughable is the fact that Stenger’s Twin Universe is one of the few concepts that I can intuitively grasp!

I’ll keep trying with the others.

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Nick McConnell August 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Hi, Joseph. Just a note to say that, day after day, now, I’ve been trying to produce what even I would accept as a reasonable “justification” for suggesting that the total entropy of the universe may be zero, and I haven’t yet succeeded! A word in your most-recent note struck a chord, namely, ‘intuitive’, but I’m beginning to worry that my intuition may be wrong.

Of course not the least of the problems I’m having is that I’ve yet to find any suggestions for the definition of entropy when the energy is negative (as is the gravitational energy of space). In turn, there’s the problem that gravity is not yet contained in theories of either quantum mechanics or statistical mechanics.

In the meantime, while I continue to wrestle with the beast, at least I’ll provide you with the following, which for a few days, now, has continued to be the planned introduction to my (eventual?) response!

$$$

Joseph,
Your expression “non idiotic questions” reminds me of an incident that occurred 50 years ago. It happened the summer after I got my bachelor’s degree and was on my way to start on my master’s, under a fellow who was widely regarded as the top nuclear physicist in the country. He had arranged a summer job for me at a government lab. One day he visited the lab, and together we attended a seminar on Fermi surfaces in semiconductors. At the time, I knew essentially nothing about solid-state physics, and although he was a nuclear physicist, he continuously peppered the seminar speaker with what appeared to be penetrating questions. I still clearly remember walking with him after the seminar, along the sidewalk outside the seminar building, and saying to him, close to: “I’m amazed at the questions you asked; I’m afraid I’d just ask stupid questions.” He casually responded (close to): “There’s no such thing as a stupid question!” “Well,” said I, “I guess I’d be afraid of appearing stupid.” “The way I see it,” he responded, “it’s my civic duty to ask questions: if I don’t understand what he’s saying, think of all the others who don’t understand.” He was right, of course, and since he was head of his physics department and one of the most famous physicists in the country, I overlooked what others might consider to be his arrogance. In any case, what stuck with me all these years (and what I found to be excellent advice for when I moved on to my PhD at another school) was: “There’s no such thing as a stupid question!”

But putting reminiscences aside and trying to respond to your question, what I finally decided to do, for multiple reasons, is just ramble – as I’ve already illustrated! I won’t list all the reasons for my not trying to provide a succinct response, but not the least of them is what I’ve repeatedly stated: it’s a nontrivial topic! Three other major reasons are:

1) As you can see from the references already provided and from searching on the internet, trying to understand negative energy and negative time are current and unsettled research-topics,

2) My speculations about associated negative entropy (suitably defined) are just that: speculations! Similarly, perhaps you noticed that Penrose called his speculations “New Crazy (Fantastical) Ideas”, and I’d add not only is there “no way” that I’m in his league but also, if you’ll check out the paper by David Wallace at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4744/1/gravent_archive.pdf entitled “Gravity, entropy, and cosmology: in search of clarity”, you’ll find that Wallace has shot Penrose’s ideas down in flames! And

3) Trying to convey ideas succinctly is a lot harder than just rambling!

And now, even before I begin rambling about the topic at hand, I want to list and comment on a number of Preliminaries (P).

P1. Appropriate Homage to Boltzmann
I’m of the opinion that no ordinary human should propose to consider entropy without paying due homage to Boltzmann (1844-1906). Certainly it should be relayed that on his tombstone is his expression for entropy, S = k lnW , where the constant, k, is now known as Boltzmann’s constant, and for a given system, W counts the number of the system’s “microstates” that can be populated consistent with the system’s macrostate. In addition, it should be mentioned that we don’t know if he committed suicide because of criticism of his theory or because of mental illness (bipolar disorder).

P2. The “Sacred” Second Law!
I’m painfully aware of the dangers of violating the second law (better “second principle”) of thermodynamics. To illustrate both my awareness and pain, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from one of my chapters (p.11 of http://zenofzero.net/docs/IdDiggingintotheGodIdea.pdf ).

***
After my Ph.D. thesis had been accepted and my degree was awarded, I (rather brazenly) sent a copy of a report derived from my thesis to the person I considered to be the world’s expert in the field (namely, the Belgium physicist Ilya Prigogine, who a few years later was awarded the Nobel Prize for his accomplishments). Apparently my thesis was of tangential interest to him, but he passed it to a colleague was who visiting (on a sabbatical leave) from the U.S. and who (I later learned) was, in fact, the world’s expert in the subject of my thesis. After reading my thesis, he wrote me a short note, indicating that he would like to meet with me (when he returned to the U.S.) to discuss my thesis, that he didn’t want to try to communicate by letters because it was too slow, and that he felt we should meet soon after he returned and before I submitted my work for publication, because obviously I had made a major error – for my result violated the second law (or principle) of thermodynamics.

Maybe I should insert, here, some famous words from the physicist Arthur Eddington:

“The second law of thermodynamics holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”

You bet I went into a tailspin! Talk about crash and burn! Prigogine’s friend was right – and I hadn’t even noticed that my result violated “the second law” (nor had my thesis advisor, but the subject of my thesis was rather tangential also to his interests). In the end, however, it had a happy outcome: with help from that wonderful fellow, I found where I had made an unjustified assumption, I redid the calculations, reached a new result (subsequently found to be correct by someone using an entirely different approach), and eventually I published the paper (with the kind, Jewish fellow as well as with my thesis advisor as co-authors).

***

Consequently, I fully realize that my suggesting that the total entropy of the universe may be zero (as it was before the proposed, first, symmetry-breaking quantum-like fluctuation that led to inflation and our universe) is “brazen” and there may be “nothing for it [and me] but to collapse in deepest humiliation”!

P3. Time’s Arrow
I’m also aware that increase in entropy (viz., increase in randomness, degeneration of available energy, irreversibility, decrease in information, increase in correlations …) is what physicists agree provides the direction of time in the macroscopic world (“time’s arrow”), but on the other hand, problems remain not only because many of the equations of physics (e.g., of quantum mechanics) are time reversible but also because of the suggestions that, in space (or “the vacuum”), time may go in the opposite direction (e.g., see Cramer’s papers referenced in my previous not to you).

P4. BS About Entropy
While checking out reference for this response, I encountered a sobering line (which I’ll paraphrase, to save myself searching for the exact wording): “No subject in physics has had more BS written about it than entropy”!

P5. Just a Different Interpretation
Maybe it will be found that what follows is still more BS about entropy, but in any case, I should try to make my intention clear. My intention is similar to what perhaps you saw Cramer state about his intention for his reinterpretation of quantum mechanics. Again I won’t search for the exact wording; as I remember it, the idea was close to: he wasn’t seeking to revise Schrödinger’s equation, but “only” to re-interpret what it means.

In fact, Cramer’s reinterpretation of quantum mechanics is similar to (and actually, stimulated by) the Feynman-Wheeler reinterpretation of electrodynamics. Both require, in effect, that, within space, time travels in the opposite direction to the direction with which we’re familiar. (Mathematically, it means accepting both the advanced and retarded solutions of the relevant wave equations.) And as maybe you saw, Cramer’s reinterpretation seems to resolve some of the long-standing “paradoxes” in quantum mechanics, such as entanglement.

And if it does provide understanding of quantum entanglement, then it would seem to provide a fitting way to end these preliminaries. Thus, as I recall the story, when graduate-student Feynman presented his and Wheeler’s ideas (their reinterpretation of electrodynamics) in a seminar at Princeton, Einstein was in the audience and, with his questions, basically rejected the idea. Thereby, the idea apparently, effectively died until, ~50 years later, Cramer picked it up while seeking his interpretation of Schrödinger’s equation.

Meanwhile and more famously, Einstein rejected Schrödinger’s equation, also, refusing to accept its suggestions of entanglement, since it apparently permitted information to travel from point to point instantaneously (i.e., faster than the speed of light). And yet, if Cramer’s interpretation is correct, if time does go in “the negative direction” in space, then Einstein’s objection about quantum mechanics (information traveling faster than the speed of light) is overcome, which he, too, might have seen, if he hadn’t so quickly dismissed the ideas presented by the young student Feynman.

I’ll omit stating the obvious moral of that story and mention another: if Einstein can make such a mistake, it should cheer the rest of us mere mortals!

P6. Although this final preliminary comment may not make much sense until after I show some examples, yet in case you do look at Wallace’s paper (again, it’s at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4744/1/gravent_archive.pdf ), I should alert you to source of potential confusion. In what follows I’ll be totally ignoring the entropy of gravity that arises from the curvature of space-time (or, using Wallace’s wording, I’ll be ignoring the influence of gravity on entropy as a result of “the phase-space volume associated with the microstate of the gravitational field”). That was the subject of Penrose’s referenced seminar and in his paper, Wallace shows that it’s generally negligible – except for the case of Black Holes. Instead, in what follows I’ll be suggesting new ideas about the entropy of space (just “everyday space”, not significantly “warped space”), dealing with what Wallace describes as how “[gravity] changes the energy associated to any given macrostate, and so potentially affects the range of macrostates dynamically available, and in turn the statistical-mechanical behavior.”

So now, preliminaries finished, I’ll turn to some examples. The first two examples will just review some standard ideas; in the third, I’ll provide a proposed reinterpretation of the second example. In all three cases, I’ll omit the usual math (but in places I’ll provide references where it’s available). Thus, consistent with what seems to be your indicated desire, I’ll present qualitative ideas rather than quantitative details.

$$$

[proposed to be continued!!]

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Scott August 31, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Michael,

I evaluated your penultimate post as being at a risible level of insult. While accurate, this has left me without an adjective to describe the level you reached in your most recent offering. It has all the lucidity of a YouTube comment thread.

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joseph September 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thankyou so much, yes I was taught the second law of thermodynamics was unbreakable, in the context of inorganic chemistry and physics, and have heard some of the quotations you referenced before.
It strikes me that in Stenger’s “mirrored” universe situation, time moves in the opposite direction, does this leave us with, from the point of an observer in our universe, with negative entropy? Also I have heard of gravitational energy being described asnegative before, stupid question, but does the possibility of negative energy imply the possibility of negative mass too? Does the idea of backwards time in space apply in our universe, or in other universes in a multiverse scenario? Does negative time in stage imply a decreasing entropy?
If you want me to read further replies in your blog i’d be fine with that.
On a personal note thankyou so much for taking the time to personally explain and answer what may seem very basic questions to you, I haven’t always found people so kind, but then atheist blogs tend to encourage gladatorial combat rather than consensus building.

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joseph September 2, 2011 at 10:43 am

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Nick McConnell September 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Wow, Joseph, talk about resonance!

You wrote: “If you want me to read further replies in your blog i’d be fine with that.” Meanwhile, here’s the start of what I was simultaneously in the process of writing to you:

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Well, Joseph, I think I’ve finally found a way to “justify my intuition” (or “defend my hunch” or “rationalize my bias”!) that the total entropy of the universe is always zero. The argument relies on a definition of entropy that’s sufficiently general to include the entropy of negative energy – and after that, just careful bookkeeping (including accounting for the negative energy of radiation, which means acknowledging that, within space, time travels in “the negative direction”). The result doesn’t conflict with the second “law” of thermodynamics, because the second law accounts only for thermal exchanges of positive energy.

Now, whereas I’m not yet finished constructing my argument and it already extends more than 10 pages (!), whereas I don’t think it’s appropriate to use as much of Luke’s website as would be necessary to post it here, and whereas I’m feeling uncomfortable about being so slow to respond in a comment section, therefore, my plan is to post the result (when it’s finished!) at one of my own blogs, namely at http://zenofzero.blogspot.com/ . If you’ll set your RSS (or similar) feed to that site, then my plan is that, the next post, there, will contain my response to your questions. Here, I’ll provide just the proposed, generalized definition of entropy and a few comments on its application.

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Below, I’ll post the rest of the note that I was working on, but first, I’ll try to respond to the questions /comments in your most recent two posts:

1. I’m surprised that you wrote that http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4744/1/gravent_archive.pdf “seems gremlined”. It still works for me! Notice that it’s a pdf; does your browser permit such? I remember that an older version of Firefox wouldn’t read pdfs, but the newest (6.0.1) does, as does Safari and Google’s Chrome. I don’t use Microsoft’s browser.

2. Re. your questions about Strenger’s “mirrored” universe, I won’t try to answer them! As I mentioned, I don’t like his idea. With respect to your question about negative entropy, below, I’ll outline to you what I mean; I’ll do so by quoting the rest of the note I was writing.

3. With respect to gravitational energy being negative, that’s critically important. To see what I mean, consider the following description by Hawking (from p. 129 of his book “A Brief History of Time”):

“… that… raises the question of where the energy [in the universe] came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero.

“The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero.

“Now twice zero is also zero. Thus, the universe can double the amount of positive matter energy and also double the negative gravitational energy without violation of the conservation of energy… During the inflationary phase [of the early universe], the universe increases its size by a very large amount. Thus, the total amount of energy available to make particles becomes very large. As Guth has remarked, ‘It is said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch’.”

4. Re. your question about negative mass: no, negative energy doesn’t imply negative mass (which as you can find at Wikipedia is a highly questionable concept). The possibility that negative energy was “real” (not just a convention, as the negative energy of gravity was normally considered to be) was first addressed (as far as I know) by Dirac. He extended Schrödinger’s equation (for quantum mechanics) to include the effects of special relativity (i.e., he made the equation Lorentz invariant), solved it for electrons, and found that they could possess negative energy. That was his discovery of “anti-electrons” or “positrons”, for which he was co-recipient (with Schrödinger) of the 1933 Nobel Prize in physics.

In his original paper (as I recall it), Dirac wrote that he didn’t understand what “negative energy” meant! Actually, though, that the electrons could have negative energy could have been seen from the correct version of the simplest result from Einstein’s special theory of relativity. That is, what Einstein found was not that the energy E = mc^2 but E^2 = (pc)^2 +(mc^2)^2, with m the (positive) rest mass, p its momentum, and c the speed of light. For a particle with no momentum (p = 0), that gives for the energy, not E = mc^2, but E = (+ or –) mc^2, i.e., one solution is for negative energy (but positive mass), which are now called “antiparticles”.

5. Yes, the idea being investigated and seemingly being validated is that, within the negative energy of space, time (in our universe!) goes “backwards”. For example, in quantum electrodynamics (QED), the humongous summations involved are done “pictorially” using Feynman diagrams; in them, e.g., antiparticles are represented – and an equivalent to the case of a positron, for example, is an electron traveling backwards in time, which, in reality, seems to be what it is!

I’ll write more on this, later; a little is at the end of what I had been writing as a response to you; therefore, I’ll now continue to quote it:

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Rather than continue to try to find a statistical mechanical definition for entropy that’s sufficiently general to include cases of negative energy, I’ve returned to a thermodynamic definition. One (of many!) definitions of entropy (for positive energy) is the following, which I’ve taken from the Wikipedia article on entropy:

“From a macroscopic perspective, in classical thermodynamics the entropy is interpreted as a state function of a thermodynamic system: that is, a property depending only on the current state of the system, independent of how that state came to be achieved. The state function has the important property that, when multiplied by a reference temperature, it can be understood as a measure of the amount of energy in a physical system that cannot be used to do thermodynamic work; i.e., work mediated by thermal energy.”

I now propose a more general definition of entropy (which of course is to be consistent with the above definition) to include cases of both positive energy (viz., the ability to DO or PRODUCE work) as well as negative energy (viz., the ability to UNDO or CONSUME work). In addition, I propose to remove the restriction to “work mediated by thermal energy”. Thus, the proposed definition is: positive entropy is a measure of the amount of positive energy in a physical system that’s unavailable to produce work; negative entropy is a similar measure of the negative energy unavailable to consume work.”

With this definition (and with the usual definition) entropy is therefore a measure of a system’s “inert” or “frozen” energy; consequently, all I’ve done is to expand the definition to permit consideration of any system’s “frozen” negative energy.

Going back, my original claim (that the entropy of the universe is always zero) is not that there isn’t some energy (positive or negative) that isn’t “frozen” (e.g., obviously there is a lot of energy currently “frozen” in mass, although under appropriate conditions, e.g., in stars, some of that energy can be “unfrozen”), but that the frozen positive energy (e.g., in mass) is always exactly balanced by frozen negative energy (e.g., in the gravitational energy associated with that same mass). Fundamentally the two are equal because the total energy of the universe is zero (just as it originally was).

A complicating feature is from energy associated with electromagnetic radiation. I won’t go into details here, but just state “the bottom line”: permitting time to run in “the negative direction” within space (as proposed by Feynman / Wheeler / Cramer et al.) yields that the familiar positive energy and entropy of radiation is balanced by the corresponding negative values of both.

That idea, by the way (as shown by Robert Klauber in his paper entitled “Mechanism for Vanishing Zero Point Energy”, available at http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0309679 ) also removes the “zero point energy problem” (also called “the vacuum catastrophe”; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_catastrophe ). The problem was that, if one accepts only the (usual) retarded-wave solutions of the equations (i.e., permits time to run only in the usual direction), then even at a temperature of zero (K), the electromagnetic field is predicted to have more than a hundred orders of magnitude more energy than the observed energy density!

Of course, electromagnetic radiation (light) was always strange stuff. As A.C. de la Torre writes in his paper “Understanding light quanta” (available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0410171 ):

“In a letter to his friend Besso in 1951, Einstein complained that after fifty years of conscious meditation he had not come any closer to the answer to the question: What are light quanta? The level of understanding of quantum electrodynamics reached at that time by the physics community was not sufficient for him since he added: ‘today any brute believes that he knows the answer, but he is wrong’.”

For photons, which travel at the speed of light, there is no time: only “now”. Meanwhile, when we solve Maxwell’s equations, we split the solution into waves traveling forward and backward in time – and the new idea is to no longer discard the wave traveling backward in time, i.e., admit that time goes backwards where energy and (I’m proposing) entropy are negative.

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Finally, Joseph, re. your “personal note”, no problem. Your questions are important because they are so basic! As for the “kindness”, ah well, on the one hand it’s the way the system is supposed to work, i.e., “if you’ve received a kindness (and I’ve received a huge amount during my lifetime!), then pass it on!” And on the other hand, the questions you’ve raised are one’s that I’ve been meaning to address for a long time, and you’ve provided a good stimulus to get my thoughts together.

Yet, for a while at least, I want to slow down a bit. I know when I’m pushing myself too hard when I become absent minded. Two days ago I used a lighter to try to light (the battery of) my electronic cigarette (!), and yesterday in the desert on my usual trial, I walked right past where (every day for the past few years) my German shepherd always lies down to get patted. I walked on, noticed that she wasn’t with me, looked back, and there she was, about 50 yards back, waiting to get patted. My wife gets worried that I shouldn’t be driving. It’ll therefore be a while until I post the rest of my response at my blog.

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Oops, now I see I should add something. What happened is: I hadn’t finished writing my response when your most recent comments appeared. Now, I see that I hadn’t yet provided even a single example of the use of the more general definition of entropy. So here’s one.

Of the many possibilities, consider the “Dark Ages” of the universe (about 500,000 years after the Big Bang), when the system was in equilibrium (and recall that, the usual thermodynamic entropy is defined only for systems in equilibrium). During those Dark Ages (when stars had not yet formed), the system was mostly, neutral hydrogen gas (with some helium) at a temperature in equilibrium with thermal radiation from what we now call the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), which is from the radiation of the plasma that existed while matter cooled from about ten million K down to about 100 K. Because the gas had reached equilibrium, its (usually defined) entropy was at a maximum; in fact, all the (positive) energy was unusable, because no “heat sink” was available to work a Carnot engine.

Using the proposed definition of entropy (both for positive and negative energies), however, a different picture is apparent. Thus, in reality during the Dark Ages, a huge amount of positive energy (namely, using E = mc^2, all the energy contained in the mass of the molecules) was available – if it could be “unfrozen” – but at the same time, the same amount of negative energy was also frozen (in the gravitational field). Thus, with entropy being a measure of a system’s “inert” or “frozen” energy, we can say that the total positive entropy was huge, but so was the (magnitude) of gravity’s negative entropy; in fact, the two entropies were equal and opposite; so, the total entropy was zero – which is what I originally stated I thought was always true.

To see why the total entropy would continue to be zero, at least glance at the next phase of the universe’s evolution, i.e., star formation. To see that the Dark Ages were unstable, consider what apparently happened. So long as the gas molecules (appropriately moving, given their temperature) remained perfectly uniform in space, then none of the gravitational energy could be “tapped”. But as soon as only two hydrogen molecules violated the (equilibrium) condition of perfect uniformity, then some of the gravitational energy could be tapped.

As you can see at many internet sites (but I recommend Wallace’s paper that you had trouble reaching, which again is at http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4744/1/gravent_archive.pdf ), the “gravitational collapse” of a gas cloud (where this is “self gravitation”, not the gravity from some large body) proceeds to a new equilibrium state, in which (I will summarize) some of the gravitational energy is converted to thermal energy of the molecules plus associated radiation. One can again trace the two entropies (of the positive and negative energies, including that of the radiation) to see that, again, although the final state of the gas has reached a (new) maximum value of entropy (at the new equilibrium), the negative entropy similarly attains a new value, of the same magnitude but opposite in sign, again yielding a total entropy of zero.

And so on it went! As you can see in Wallace’s paper, the new state of the system (the formation of the compacted gas cloud) is stable only temporarily, and after a few million years (!), the cloud will resume its collapse, increasing the temperature sufficiently to start thermonuclear reactions, and a “star is born”! In the process, what happened is more of the same: more of the positive energy becomes available (converting mass to energy), but simultaneously, more of the negative energy was unfrozen.

I’ll go into the details when I post at my blog. First, though, I’m gonna take a few days break, during which I’ll try to make friends, again, with my dog – and my wife!

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Luke Muehlhauser September 3, 2011 at 11:11 am

joseph,

Still works for me…

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joseph September 4, 2011 at 12:45 am

Got it working on IE, but android seems to dislike it, usually it downloads pdfs, but it igmores this ‘un.

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joseph September 4, 2011 at 12:54 am

Awesome, Google has a cached html version, problem solved!

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