Re: Eliezer on Science versus Religion

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Mar 08 2001 - 23:52:57 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> I should probably stress that I was *not* especially concerned with
> *religious* claims or experiences, although that was the context in which
> Eliezer's own claims arose. I was worried that a scientistic framework
> seemed to be advocated by Eliezer (and others), that is, a metaphysical
> framework which appeared to claim that truth is identifiable with
> falsifiable (a.k.a. publicly testable) knowledge. In its extreme form, this
> doctrine is logical positivism, a view in eclipse for some half a century
> after being beaten to a bloody pulp. Eliezer stated in response that he was
> *not* proposing such an equation, but then went on as if he were.

Frankly, I don't see what my point has to do with philosophy at all.
Whether or not science or religion or faith or testability, et cetera, is
the ultimate fountain of epistemological validity, et cetera, has nothing
whatsoever to do with what is happening on this planet. The scientists
have one psychology, and it is necessarily explicable in terms of basic
human emotions. Sophisticated modern theologians have another psychology,
and the great mass of religious folk, a third. There is, necessarily,
nothing mysterious about any of it. Forget the verbal arguments. See
with your heart. Look at the way the people act.

The scientists live in a put-up-or-shut-up culture where people bet their
beliefs on every experiment, and they dislike "faith" because it seems
like an excuse to welsh on the bets. There is also, nontrivially, a
culture that has grown up around the Tao of science, and it is opposed to
the culture that has grown up around religion, not least because religion
attacked first and humans instinctively polarize themselves into groups -
none of which, of course, has anything to do with actual science or
religion; it's just tribes of humans beating up on each other. The
scientiic community may not have started that vicious game, but now that
they're winning a few of them are adopting the offensive, even if it's not
socially acceptable.

The theologians are running scared, on the defensive in every way, but
they can't possibly admit that to themselves, since it's not consistent
with their pride or their belief systems. So they turn their weaknesses
into allegations of mystery. From their repeated losses in tests of
truth, they construct allegations that their truths are untestable. These
allegations are inconsistent with the innate human picture of religion and
recorded religious accounts (whether historical or fictional is
*irrelevant* to this point). Thus, they cannot have arisen from any Tao
of *true* supernaturalism. Whether theurgy is real or simply imaginative
fiction, theology today is not theurgy; it is an edifice built on
generalizing from excuses for past failures.

What this world needs is the Alliance for Confident Religion, a collection
of atheists and fundamentalists who are at least willing to concede that
religion is either blatantly true or blatantly false, but who both agree
that calling it untestable is in blatant, cowardly, blasphemous
contradiction of every religious scripture. Two things this world does
*not* need are atheists masquerading as theologians and superstitious
pseudo-piety masquerading as atheism.

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

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