[ExI] extropy-chat Digest, Vol 199, Issue 86

Jason Resch jasonresch at gmail.com
Sun Apr 26 07:42:18 UTC 2020

I just wanted to clarify some things in the digest below (if I don't
respond to a particular point below, assume I accept the point / agree):

On Sat, Apr 25, 2020 at 5:16 AM Ben Zaiboc via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

> Ben: "The problem is, the very nature of religion is about control, not
> figuring things out."
> Jason: "I would say that depends on the religion. What about Bahai Faith,
> Unitarian Universalism, the Universal Life Church, and countless others?"
> Almost all religions forbid (sometimes with severe penalties), or at least
> strongly discourage, homosexuality.
> Even Sikhism, which is one of the least offensive religions I know of,
> prohibits a bunch of silly things like getting your hair cut, having sex
> with the wrong person, drinking, etc. And of course there's no need to even
> mention the Judaeo-Christian religions, we all know what they're like. The
> Bahai faith forbids homosexuality and gambling. Hinduism has various food
> rules, taboos concerning women and feet, and of course the 'sex with the
> wrong person' thing that just about every religion has (question: do you
> know of *any* contemporary religion that doesn't have this? Why do
> religions arrogate to themselves the right to tell you who you can and
> can't have sex with? Why do they even think it's any of their business?)

That's a good question, I don't necessarily endorse or advocate any of
those proscriptions. Perhaps something worth investigating is that
religious systems, like businesses, and life forms, are probably subject to
something like Darwinian forces. They have to out-compete others to survive
in the long term, and that probably requires that they offer some benefit
for their host societies, either in terms of greater stability, prosperity,
cooperation, or whatever effects serve to increase the fitness of the
society that hosts them. This is perhaps not unlike Dawkin's "meme
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme>" concept.

> Notice I'm not talking about things like a ban on murder, theft or
> extortion (in fact, some of those things are even encouraged in some
> religions, under some circumstances), but things that are either literally
> harmless or a matter of opinion. This is symptomatic of systems that have
> control as one of their goals. "No, you can't do that". "Why not, it's not
> hurting anyone?". "Because I (or this book, or that imaginary man in the
> sky) say so, that's why not. Just do as you're told". Or some pathetic
> attempt to disguise 'because I said so' such as "Because it makes baby
> jesus cry".
> Some of the major prohibitions:
> Sikhism
> Haircuts: Cutting or removing hair from any body part is strictly forbidden
> Intoxication: Consumption of drugs, Alcohol and tobacco, and other
> intoxicants is not allowed for Amritdhari Sikhs and Keshdhari Sikhs. Drugs
> and tobacco are forbidden for all.
> Strict prohibition on eating meat killed in a ritualistic manner (such as
> halal or kosher)
> Having extramarital sexual relations
> Bahai
> Homosexuality
> Gambling
> Islam
> Just about everything, including leaving Islam
> Christianity
> Homosexuality, a ton of other things
> Jason: "In my view, both religion and science are about believing"
> Science is manifestly not about believing. It's about observing,
> theorising, testing and revising. Belief is about holding something to be
> true, no matter what. Belief is static. You can believe something that is
> true, but you can just as easily believe something that is false. There is
> no difference between the two in a belief. A difference in the real-world
> consequences, yes, but not in the belief itself. Science is fluid,
> responsive, and is always getting closer to the truth, while never quite
> getting there. Belief already has 'The Truth' (in the minds of believers,
> at least), so there's no need to investigate further. In fact, it's usually
> discouraged.

I think the above excerpt removes critical context and distorts my original
meaning. I said they are both about believing because they both concern
beliefs. Religion is one's set of beliefs, and science is a tool by which
we can improve our beliefs.

The above seems to equate belief with blind faith (a belief based on no
evidence). I disagree with that equivalence. We all have beliefs, and we
all have some reason we can point to for why we hold that belief. Some
justifications are more rational than others, and probably most of the
beliefs we hold are wrong.

Or perhaps in Robert Anton Wilson's words, every belief may be "true in
some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false
in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in
some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense. And if you
repeat this 666 times, you will achieve supreme enlightenment — IN SOME

> Ben: "In science, evidence is king. In religion, evidence is the enemy"
> Jason: 'Again, this is highly dependent on the particular religion. Take
> these words, from the son of the founder of the Bahai Faith:
>     "If religion were contrary to logical reason then it would cease to be
> a religion and be merely a tradition. Religion and science are the two
> wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights, with which
> the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone!
> Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly
> fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the
> wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the
> despairing slough of materialism."'
> Religion, in general is contrary to logical reason. That's one of the
> things that usuallly characterise it. Otherwise, we'd call it 'logical
> reason'.
"the despairing slough of materialism" is a revealing phrase. Why call it
> that? I'm a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool hard-core materialist. Odd,
> then, that I'm not wallowing in a slough of despair, is it not? In fact, my
> attitude to life is very far from despair. About as far as you can get
> (although I sometimes despair of *people*. Usually religious people). So
> just what does that phrase reveal? Personally, I think it reveals fear.
> Fear that magic might not be true. Existential angst. Fear that Kierkegaard
> might have been right. Perhaps even fear of the personal responsibility
> that's implied by relinquishing supernatural fantasies and embracing
> materialism. After all, if you can't rely on a god to guide and look after
> you, you're on your own, and that can be scary. I remember being scared
> like that, as a kid, and not wanting to grow up and have to look after
> myself. Then I grew up, and started to look after myself.

Why are you a transhumanist (forgive me if this assumption is incorrect, I
am assuming you are as you are active on this list)?

Does transhumanism not for some of us provide hope of a brighter future?
Perhaps in the past this role was served by such promises found in
religious texts--especially if you consider living in an era where people
saw little to no technological or cultural progress in their lifetime.

If you were both atheist and a pessimist (a pessimist regarding the future,
technology or progress), then I think that would be quite a despairing
world view. If, however, you are a transhumanist, optimist, singulartarian,
etc. then there are plenty of reasons to not despair.

> In my opinion, religion and science are not like two wings, but two
> propellers, one pointing forwards, and one pointing backwards.
Perhaps you can only see religion as it is and not for what it can be.
Here is the main question I would like you to answer: is it possible to
apply science to ideas normally considered the exclusive domain of
religion? Can, in some hypothetical future, science investigate things
like: God, gods, afterlives, ressurection, reincarnation, reality creation
and intervention? I say yes.

> Ben: "You can say that the word 'god' can mean a lot of different things.
> Fine. Sell that to the religious folks, see how far you get"
> Jason: "I don't need to. All of those examples of different concepts of
> God I provided are core elements of existing religions"
> Yes, you can cherry-pick whatever you like, to be compatible with whatever
> argument you like. For example, I've heard people use Einstein's remark
> about god not playing dice with the universe to be proof that he believed
> in god. We can play that game all day, it doesn't resolve anything.

Did I cherry pick? I cited religions whose adherents represent a majority
of the Earth's population.

> Give that Hilda Phoebe Hudson to your average christian, what do you think
> they'll make of it?

Are we discussing religious ideas or religious people?

> Also, of course every religion claims 'truth' for itself. The problem is,
> they're very often conflicting 'truths'.
> For most believers, their god is not some abstract concept like Truth or
> Consciousness, but an all-powerful nosy and vindictive being that watches
> your every move, and punishes you for disobeying your priest. If you're
> very lucky (and obedient), you might get rewarded with some ill-defined
> paradise. After you're dead.

I think you're describing only one sect of one religion. Perhaps this is
the one you were raised in?

There are as many Hindus as Catholics. The supreme God in Hinduism is
Brahman <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman>, who is the ground of all
being. In Hinduism one of the most common and sacred of phrases is "Brahman
is Atman
Atman <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80tman_(Hinduism)> is the world
for Soul or Consciousness. Thus you have as many people on Earth as in all
of Catholicism who take it as a core tenet that the ground of all being is

So it's perhaps a little myopic to say most believers believe in a God that
is all-powerful, nosy, vindictive, and punishes you for disobeying your
priest. I think only a small minority of people would agree that the former
sentence describes the God they believe in.

> Core elements of religions tend to be things like the baffling holy
> trinity, the obnoxious concept of original sin, the insecurity of the god
> in question, it's interest in our sex lives, punishments and rewards for
> obeying or not, the imperative to convert non-believers, a ton of rules
> about things you can't do, or must do, great detail about the horrors that
> await the naughty, much vaguer ideas about the rewards that await the
> compliant, and lots and lots of stories, most of which are irrelevant to
> modern life, baffling to most people, and hence in need of interpretation
> by the priests.
> "There are sets of beliefs compatible with science"
> Only if you redefine the word 'beliefs'. Science requires evidence. Belief
> does not.

I agree with the last sentence, but I would add:

Science takes in evidence as input, and as output refines our confidence in
different beliefs. We can't separate science from its goal/output, which is
to produce a better set of beliefs.

I think at this point, we may be mainly arguing over definitions, and not
really discussing ideas of substance that we hold actual disagreements on.

> I suppose you could claim that the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow
> is compatible with the scientific observations that lead to the same
> conclusion. But they are different things. One does not need evidence, the
> other does. One doesn't have to be explained, the other does. Maybe not
> such a problem with things like the sunrise, but a big, big problem when it
> comes to things like whether or not you should eat peanut butter on the
> second thursday of the month. Or the existence of a soul. Or the age of the
> earth.

We all hold fundamental beliefs concerning reality. Some of those beliefs
are informed by listening to priests, some are informed by reading ancient
books, others by reading recent articles, a rarer few from actually
performing experiments themselves. In the definition I am operating under,
all of those fundamental beliefs concerning reality are religious beliefs,
regardless of how they were informed.

If an atheist comes to reason that a God that is both omnipotent and
benevolent is incompatible with the reality he sees around himself, that is
still a religious belief, even though it is informed by logical reasoning.
It is a religious belief inasmuch as a theist who believes there must be
some greatest thing that exists through some ontological reasoning.

Again we are only talking definitions here, you probably disagree with my
use of "religious" to refer to any fundamental belief concerning reality,
gods, souls, existence, the afterlife, etc. If I were to attempt describe
your definition of a religious belief, it is one that must be based on no
evidence, static, and support some theistic concept for which there is no

But the problem with such a definition is that it changes the definition of
religious based on the present state and progress of science. What if we do
find evidence for or against any of those fundamental concepts which today
you call religious? Then, given that we now have evidence, such beliefs
(under your definition) would no longer be religious beliefs. Take the
simulation argument, for example, which makes a scientific argument for the
high probability that this universe we find ourselves in was created by a
vastly superior intelligence. Is someone who believes in such a God (the
creator of the simulation) a religious belief or not? Under your
definition, it is not clear if belief in God is now a religious idea or a
scientific one. Under mine, I would say it is still a religious belief
because it is remains a fundamental belief concerning the nature of reality.

> So if you confine your 'beliefs' to things that can be demonstrated to be
> true using the scientific method, yes, there are beliefs that are
> compatible with science. But can you really call them 'beliefs'? We need to
> distinguish between things that are held to be true because we can show
> evidence or a good logical argument, and things that are held to be true
> just because. Which usually means some emotional investment in an idea.
> "I agree with you that a static belief system is not as good as one that
> can adapt in response to new evidence and understanding. I am not arguing
> for a static belief system, only pointing out that there are frameworks of
> belief (what you might call religious systems) that transcend the
> definition of religion that you provide"
> What I'm saying is that a 'belief system that can adapt in response to new
> evidence' is not a belief system at all, it's science. If you are not
> arguing for a static belief system, you're arguing for science.
> And if you say Science is a religion, again we have a problem with words.
> If you say that whales are fish, you've lost the ability to distinguish the
> real differences between them. You have to start using qualifiers such as
> 'milk-producing fish', which just leads back to needing different words for
> the two different things.
> If you want a word that encompasses both, then I'd suggest 'world-view'.
> This seems to fit, as a scientific world-view and a religious one are both
> ways of trying to understand the world, taking different approaches.
> If you say "Ah, but this religion takes the same approach as science",
> then it's no longer a religion, it's science.
> Jason: "Interesting thought: Is Sagan's definition of science itself a
> static belief? How could it ever change?"
> No, his definition is not a static belief. Because it's not based on
> dogma. It's based on observation. "Science works" is not an unsupported
> belief, it's an observation. To say that Sagan had a belief in science is
> not correct. Everything in your quote is subject to falsification and if
> necessary, revision. You can't say that about any 'holy gospels' which are
> held to be eternally true, inviolable, infallible. Which of course is utter
> nonsense.

In what category would mathematical beliefs, such as the belief that "1 + 1
= 2" fall into? Are true mathematical beliefs falsifiable, subject to
revision, eternally true?

> How could it ever change? Through observation of conflicting evidence. If,
> for example, we observed that how we wish things to be, consistently and
> reliably changed reality, then the statement "We must understand the Cosmos
> as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be" would be
> falsified. I can't speak for Sagan, and neither can anyone else now that
> he's dead, but I would certainly change my own opinions if the example
> above came to pass. And anyone who wouldn't, couldn't say that they have a
> scientific world-view.
Given the evidence and examples I provided regarding the scientific theory
of the mechanistic description of the mind, have you changed your own
opinion regarding the physical possibility of reincarnation, resurrection,
and the continuance of a mind beyond the death of one of its bodies?

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