Religion: Why I don't want to hear about it.

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Mar 22 2001 - 21:01:59 MST

(Telocity has been resubscribed, FYI, but I asked him to please check with
me before posting to make sure the format is OK. I now respond to his

All As are Bs. Some Bs are Cs. Does it necessarily follow that some Cs
are As?

All apples are fruits. Some fruits are oranges. Does it necessarily
follow that some oranges are apples?

All religions have apocalyptic elements(*). The Singularity theorizes
that we'll shortly see some apocalyptic elements in our world. Question:
Is the Singularity a religion?

I understand the temptation to apply the Bayesian Probability Theorem -
which held totally true up until the dawn of Vernor Vinge - and state
that, if a theory talks about apocalyptic events, that theory must have
its origin in religion, religious memes, or religious emotions, and that
the possibility that the theory is grounded in mere fact can therefore be
discarded. And I would not argue that this theory works almost all of the

However, theories of religious origin can be distinguished from the
quietly factual in other ways, as well. Such theories are generally
accompanied - especially in highly apocalyptic Western theologies - with
statements such as "Repent or burn!", moral obligations to believe (assign
truth values) a particular way, moral obligations not to doubt, unlimited
suffering heaped upon the heads of the unbelievers, a climactic scene in
which the true believers are confirmed and get to heap unlimited scorn on
the nonbelievers, and so on. For that matter, religious apocalypses can
be distinguished from nuclear/nanotech/biotech apocalypse, or the
Singularity, from the tendency of religious people to talk about God!

There was a time when you could safely dismiss every theory or prediction
that invoked nonhuman actors. That time is over. You must now
distinguish religious from nonreligious memes by checking for actual
reference to supernatural causes, or actual distortions of logic, rather
than simply reasoning from surface similarities.

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

(*) IIRC, even Buddhism talks about a time when all souls have achieved
enlightenment and the universe folds up shop, but I could be remembering

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