Religion: Flow and command

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Wed Mar 01 2000 - 15:01:11 MST wrote:
> The Christian on the other hand... only cares to preserve the meme of God's
> "mysterious ways", in other words, non-interference by man. They fear being
> caused to question their ideas, and would easily discount even the most
> logical argument for technology, if it threatened the meme itself.

Something to remember about religion: Outside of this particular
mailing list, the fundamental logical, ethical, and moral abstracts a
person claims to espouse has surprisingly little impact on their
behavior or personality. Kind and generous people who espouse Christian
beliefs remain kind and generous people who may happen to rationalize
their kindness and generosity using Christian frameworks; mean and nasty
people who espouse Christian beliefs will rationalize their meanness and
nastiness using Christian frameworks. The same, broadly speaking,
probably goes for agnostics who were raised in agnostic families, albeit
to a lesser degree.

Yes, the abstracts make a difference, but *how much* of a difference
they make is a variable, not a constant; it depends on the individual.
My rule of thumb is that I can reason effectively about a domain when
reasoning that has told me something I didn't know, or contradicted
something I would have preferred to be true. Since my abstracts have
that kind of power, they hold a great deal of influence over my behavior.

One path to agnosticism is for your reasoning skills to force you to
acknowledge uncomfortable facts about your belief system. Therefore,
knowing that someone is an agnostic can be Bayesian evidence that they,
or at least their parents, could be commanded by abstracts. Most of the
time, however, whether abstracts command or simply flow with the
preconceptions is a time-dependent, context-dependent, and
individual-dependent variable, whose population-average value for
complex, non-concrete belief systems is currently weighted more towards
"flow" than "command".

This population average reflects, not the moral weakness of the average
human, but the laws governing memetic ecology. Given the human tendency
to pay attention to assertions that resonate with, or justify, what we
want to believe, and the human ability to just not think about
assertions that produce dissonance, meme-systems tend to evolve to
contain an abstract but emotionally resonant potpourri that an average
human with average rationalizing ability can use to justify almost
anything. Since these meme-systems are presently dominant, most humans
grow up with such a meme-system, and the population average is weighted
more towards "flow" than "command".

Thus good people who happen to be Christians remain good people, and bad
people who happen to be Christians remain bad people. The same often
holds true of technically agnostic or atheistic belief systems that have
evolved to contain more than a certain amount of belief-content.

--      Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

                 Member, Extropy Institute
           Senior Associate, Foresight Institute

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