Re: Eliezer on Science versus Religion

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Thu Mar 08 2001 - 15:48:14 MST

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> Damien Broderick wrote:
> >
> > There might be
> > certain kinds of truths, even the most important, which are inaccessible to
> > scientific approaches, let alone to falsification tests.
> 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. Now this may be because Elijah is a historical
> character with superpowers who thus didn't lack for self-confidence, or it
> may be because he's a fictional character who was invented before the
> defeatism that permeates modern religion. Either way, the concept of
> untestability and scientific inaccessibility is clearly a modern
> innovation created by a bunch of theologians who, not to put too fine a
> point on it, insisted that the Earth was flat and six thousand years old
> and got their butts kicked (by Truth, not Science) and have been running
> scared ever since.

Frankly, you have little business claiming that you know what is and is
not a part of the truth so vigorously that you disown all spirituality
in one fell swoop. One of the inaccessible truths is the creation of a
working vision that unites the hopes and dreams of a people. Religions,
for good an ill are much more advanced in that work than science is.
And it strikes me, headed into Singularity, that we deeply need a vision
of where we wish to go and what kinds of beings we wish to become and
create. You take that task very much to heart in the creation of your
Sysop. Yet your model and goal of Friendliness and the Sysop itself
cannot be subjected to falsification tests either. Are
goal/vision/ethical systems rigorously testatable and falsifiable? Do
we absolutely require them in any case?

The six thousand years thing doesn't really hold water and weakens your
point. That was a calculation by one religious person in one
denomination of one religion. Granted you can find wacky wrong headed
things in many/most/all religions. Granted you need the power of
science to sort out what can be sorted out. But I would hesitate to
make the leap from there to the notion that all that science cannot sort
out (yet) is therefore false, meaningless (not even false) and of no
worth at all.

Religion is running scared? Really? Then why are the numbers of
religious holding steady and even growing? Perhaps it is because of a
bit more than just human stupidity and perversity. Perhaps the
religions, even with all the blatantly wrong-headed and bad aspects,
offer something that human beings strongly need/desire in their lives.

> So now we have theologians who not only make excuses for past failures,
> but make up further excuses in advance. Present them with any scenario in
> which their beliefs are tested, and they'll immediately start making up
> excuses in advance for why they'll fail. The thought that they might
> succeed doesn't even occur to them - defeatism, pure and simple. I'm sure
> the excuses they're making up in advance conform exactly to the ideals of
> religious faith, but whatever part of their brain is deciding which
> results they'll probably need to make excuses *for* is so perfectly
> atheistic that not even Daniel Dannett could disapprove.

I agree with much of this. In my opinion an honest modern theology has
to say that we don't know if God (or Powers) already exist or that they
will exist (and much we do here is about their creation). It should be
about what is our possibility and what that means to us and how we be.
That is more than enough in light of the approaching Singularity to
hinge all of meaningful spirituality with all of its best vision, hope,
committment and joy.

We stand on the brink of being able to produce all the miracles and
acheive all of the goals that most religions talk about. We approach
the gate leading to the Transcendence of all that we are. This is not a
place for passive waiting but for walking forward with a song in our
hearts and a growing vision and confidence in what it is that we wish to

Your Sysop is a Power (at least the beginnings of one), as powerful as
many notions of God. It is created to protect us from our own
destructiveness and to end all suffering of humanity. It has very
strongly similar tones to much religion/spirituality. Not all
spirituality or all religions are the simple-minded excesses and
mistakes habitually brought up on this list to be jeered at.

> Modern theology has suffered a total failure of confidence. The Books
> demonstrate very clearly that religions are supposed to be testable.
> Humans innately expect people with religious power to predict the future
> and heal the sick. Modern theologians can't heal diddly, which was fine
> back when nobody else could either, but now that technology has come along
> they're scared sick that somebody's going to notice the difference between
> making big claims and delivering on them. But that is simply not
> science's problem. It gets solved either when another prophet comes along
> who can actually heal the sick, or when religion finally folds in and
> admits it was a lie all along. Either way, theology's failure to live up
> to its own expectations has nothing to do with science.

Religion is not a lie so much as the hope for that which is not yet
seen. Now we are in the process of creating and thus seeing it. This
is not the end of religion but the fruition of all the deep human dreams
and yearning embedded in it. The theologians, if they had their wits
about them, would not be trembling in fear but rushing to embrace the
magnificent and utterly awesome bounty opening to humanity.
> Damien Broderick wrote:
> >
> > There might be
> > certain kinds of truths, even the most important, which are inaccessible to
> > scientific approaches, let alone to falsification tests.
> I am not playing this game. Every time I say "Well, if we have immortal
> souls, then they'll show up in a nondestructive brain scan", the other
> person, whose actual Outcome Predictors were coded by rabid atheists, says
> "But what if it *looks* like everything is totally understandable, and the
> upload doesn't notice any difference, and nobody else can tell the
> difference, but the soul is still missing?" and wants to know what I'll do
> about it.

Well, Eliezer, if we don't have "immortal souls" we will quite soon have
full backups of our complete mental/personality patterns redundantly
stored in your beloved Sysop and elsewhere. That will do quite nicely
in their place. If your Sysop or science yet invented can do this and
can furthermore transfer this "essence" from body to body to computer
and so on, then why exactly are you so hot to put down the idea of souls
per se? Whether it is a notion from a "golden age" where what we now
see as possible was real, or a "mere" wish for what is not, or a vision
of what will/could be, the idea of an essence free from this particular
flesh is not ridiculous at all. It is closer to being an everyday
reality now than it has ever been.

If your Sysop and other Powers can exist then exactly how the heck do
you know for an absolute fact that such beings and ones beyond even your
vision and imagining don't already exist? How do you know that you are
not already backed up or in a VR or training program or are simply part
of the timeline of the becoming of a Power that will/has loop[ed] back
on its own timeline? Because you see no evidence? If such a reality
was the truth then you would not see any such evidence by necessity
and/or design.

If God is not then God will be. If God will be then God is. Time is an
illusion, especially in the presence of God.
> Draw a line in the sand, theologians! Pick a place where you stop
> retreating! Put up or shut up! Say that the upload will die on the
> spot. Say that he'll turn into a remorseless killer. Say that he'll lose
> all his artistic creativity. Say that we'll find the neurons are doing
> something incomprehensible. Say that no amount of experimentation will
> ever explain it enough to correctly predict a single neuron. I can plan
> for the possibility of a religious universe if you'll tell me how it looks
> different from a totally materialist universe, but as long as you go on
> using rabidly atheistic Outcome Predictors, then I'm sorry, but there's
> nothing I can do for you.

Having fun ranting? :-) This neo-thelogian does not have to put up or
shut up. You are in the process of creating the reality that all the
fingers pointing at the moon point to. I am content that you get on
with it.

A materialist universe looks exactly like a religious universe once you
have continuously self-augmenting Powers running about. Especially if
they are able to manipulate space-time directly. It is not the simple
minded relgious universe that the religions have largely de-generated
into. But it is not simple materialism either.

- samantha

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