Re: Eliezer on Science versus Religion

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 00:08:17 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> At 02:54 AM 5/03/01 -0500, Eliezer wrote:

> >If so, then they are inaccessible to the people making the claim "There
> >are untestable truths". As someone pointed out, none of the Books show
> >prophets talking about untestability. Elijah confronting the priests of
> >Baal would have understood perfectly the put-up-or-shut-up attitude of
> >modern-day science.
> Oh. So you *were* making the equation TRUTH = PUBLICLY ADJUDICABLE AND
> FALSIFIABLE CLAIM. That's such a non-starter (or so it seems to many) that
> I'm a bit taken aback.

*No*, Damien. That's knowledge which, as a member of an immature species,
I have absolutely no way of having.

Rather, I make the equation:


This holds true for 99%+ of all known religious claims prior to, say, 1492

The idea of nonfalsifiable faith is a strictly modern invention, driven by
theology's loss of confidence. Ergo, to say that any of the major current
religions (you know, the ones whose Books were written before 1492) make
nonfalsifiable claims is to accept the academically fashionable in
defiance of theological history.

Making unfalsifiable claims is hard work, Damien. It takes a theologian
trained in the concepts of science to invent claims that science can't
test. If a normal human just makes stuff up, he'll make up falsifiable

> Can
> science tell us who killed JFK? Is it competent to tell us if Moses or
> Jesus even lived? No.

Of course it can. It just hasn't done so yet. Whether certain historical
facts can be permanently lost (i.e., the exact height in millimeters of
the True Cross) is again something that my species is too young to know
about, but big honkin' gross facts like the existence or nonexistence of a
persona that left tracks all over history? This is almost certainly
knowable. We might need to wait until Afterwards, but those who retain
interest can probably expect a definite answer with 99.99% confidence.

Likewise, just as a complete examination of all extant genomes would
probably be enough for an SI to reconstruct the branching of a
long-vanished evolutionary tree, so too it should be possible to examine
all extant accounts and determine whether reports of miracles, however
distorted and changed by the passage of time, originated in an observation
or a fictional invention.

And whether pre-1492 religions are true or false is *certainly* knowable.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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