[ExI] Beliefs (was: ,Re: extropy-chat Digest, Vol 199, Issue 86)
ben at zaiboc.net
Sun Apr 26 10:14:26 UTC 2020
On 26/04/2020 08:42, Jason Resch wrote:
> The above seems to equate belief with blind faith (a belief based on
> no evidence). I disagree with that equivalence.
Do you not think it's important (if not essential) to be able to
distinguish between the meanings of "I believe in God" and "I believe it
will rain this afternoon"? Nobody expects that someone who's said the
latter will insist that it really is raining when no rain appears in the
afternoon, that the rain is invisible, undetectable, but nevertheless
really there, etc.
Personally, I try to avoid the word 'believe' unless it clearly means
'think' from the context (as in the rain example above), and even then I
prefer not to use it, because it's far too easy to confuse the two
meanings. The classic example is the arguments people get into about
atheism. Atheists do not believe in the existence of gods. But if you're
not careful, and use the word belief in the 'weak' sense, the statement
'Atheists think that gods don't exist' (which is generally true) can
become 'Atheists believe that gods don't exist', which is not the case,
at least for most atheists, as previously discussed on this list.
If I think something, that's just my opinion, which is subject to
revision. If I use the word 'believe', its far too easily (in many
cases), interpreted as the 'strong' version of the word, the blind faith
version. This is why I'm so insistent on challenging people when they
say 'Atheists believe there are no gods'. They may /mean/ 'Atheists
think there are no gods', but that's not what they're saying. Especially
as we're talking about gods, the word 'believe' is almost certain to be
taken the same way as religious people mean it when they say they do
believe, rather than the way someone means it when they say 'I don't
believe it will rain this aftenoon'.
I think that magic is not real. I do not /believe/ that magic is not
real. It's not that I think there's a likelihood that it is, but if
sufficient good evidence was presented that it is, I would change my mind.
You say you disagree with the equivalence of 'belief' with 'blind
faith'. Then you need to persuade religous believers to stop using the
word, and refer to their blind faith in gods, etc., instead of belief.
Otherwise, the equivalence is a fact.
When you say "we all have beliefs", you are saying "we all have blind
faiths", unless you qualify it to mean "we all think certain things are
Jason: "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
Indeed I am a transhumanist. Yes, it does provide hope of a brighter
future. Whether or not the same hope has anything to do with religion, I
don't care. If it's true, that doesn't have any bearing at all on the
validity or truth of religious texts, or any religious opinions.
The reason I am a transhumanist is because it specifies that the
improvement in the human condition is to be achieved via the rational
application of science and technology, which in my experience, works,
and not via superstitious means (magic, religion, wishful thinking,
etc.), which in my experience, doesn't work.
Jason: "Perhaps you can only see religion as it is and not for what it
I can certainly imagine religion transforming into something that it
isn't today. People can imagine all sorts of things. I don't think that
confusing what something could potentially be for what it actually is in
the present, is very helpful, though. And, to become something good and
useful, religion would have to transform so radically that to continue
to use the word 'religion' for it would be misleading to say the least.
Jason: "is it possible to apply science to ideas normally considered the
exclusive domain of religion?"
You have to be careful here. Science can only be applied to things that
are falsifiable. Many things that are the domain of religion are not.
But science has been applied to several things that are claimed by
various religions (search for 'Does prayer work?', for instance), and
found them to be false. Not that this deters any religious people, as
they usually just squirm their way to an interpretation of their claims
that can't be falsified.
Jason: "Did I cherry pick?"
You selected quotes from the large body of literature available from the
religion in question that related to the relevant idea. But your claim
was that these ideas are 'core themes'. I could claim that a core theme
of entomology is interference patterns, and quote research on the
colours of butterfly wings. I won't convince anybody, though.
I don't know much about Hinduism, and maybe hindus aren't concerned
about their gods rewards and punishments, perhaps there aren't any, in
which case, good for them. I can't help wondering, though, where all
those taboos come from. If someone eats a cow, what will (supposedly)
happen? What's so bad about feet, or menstruation?
Jason: "We all hold fundamental beliefs concerning reality"
If you replace the word 'beliefs' with 'ideas', then I agree. In fact,
things would be a lot clearer if, everywhere the word 'belief' was used,
it was replaced with 'idea', and 'believe' was replaced with 'think',
with appropriate qualifiers to distinguish between blind faith and
It seems that by 'religious belief', you mean 'world-view'. Use that
term, and I'd agree that this encompasses atheism. Again, using the term
'religious belief' instead just causes confusion and resentment (and
gives religious apologists ammunition).
Jason: "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"
You've heard of 'the god of the gaps', haven't you?
As soon as something mysterious is shown to have a rational explanation,
there's no longer a need for the 'goddiddit' explanation any more.
Nobody thinks that Thor or Zeus is the cause of lightning bolts anymore,
because we now know how they really work.
But maybe you mean something different when you say 'fundamental
concepts'. The key question is: Are they falsifiable? If so, they can be
disproved, and fall out of the realm of religion (there's no longer any
need to 'believe' them (blind-faith version), they have been
demonstrated to be true or false), but if not, science can't address
them. Which usually means they aren't real, but anyway, they remain in
the magical realm of the gods.
The simulation argument is not a religious concept. It's a
thought-experiment that, as far as we know, can't be proven. So, while
it is (probably) unfalsifiable, neither is it a subject of blind faith.
The people who think it's probably true, just assign a high probability
to it, those who think it's probably false, don't. And there are plenty
of people who think it's irrelevant anyway, so don't worry about it at
all. The difference between a simulator and a god is clear, though. One
is logically consistent with the laws of physics, the other is supernatural.
Jason: "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?"
I don't know the full answer to that, I'm not a mathematician. But
there are no such things as 'mathematical beliefs'. There are Axioms.
Things that are held to be true because other things depend on them. 1 +
1 = 2 is not a belief. You don't have to have blind faith in it, you can
prove it. There are other systems of mathematics with other axioms, I
think. I don't know anything about them, so someone who actually knows
maths might want to comment on that, but my understanding is that maths
is an (approximately) self-contained logical system. Gödel shows that
this is not quite true, of course, but I'm way out of my depth there.
I think you're just asking the wrong question, here, to be honest.
Jason: "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?"
I think you misunderstand my position. I'm a materialist, and fully
accept the 'mechanistic description of the mind'. I think that
uploading, diverging identity, mind backups and possibly even merging of
different versions of a mind are all theoretically possible, and have
done for a long time.
There's one important thing about materialism: It excludes the supernatural.
I don't use the terms 'reincarnation', 'resurrection' etc., because
these are words that come from the world of magical religious thinking
(the supernatural), and give completely the wrong impression. There's a
huge difference between saying "I believe in reincarnation" and "I think
that uploading is theoretically possible".
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