[ExI] Beliefs (was: ,Re: extropy-chat Digest, Vol 199, Issue 86)

Ben Zaiboc 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 
can be"

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 
rational thought.

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".

Ben Zaiboc

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