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

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Mar 23 2001 - 10:46:39 MST

Why can't everyone on SL4 be this precise?

Mark Walker wrote:
> a) There is no convergence. There is only coincidence here.

If there are no causes in common, this is the default assumption. Someone
arguing that R and T are somehow intermixed needs to demonstrate a common
cause. Not postulate - demonstrate. Show me the money, because you've
just made a very serious and very negative accusation.

> b) R causes T. Some philosophers and historians, for example, argued that
> religion has influenced philosophy which in turn created modern science
> (back in the early Enlightenment) which in turn created modern technology.
> Religious aspirations to become more than human have piggybacked along the
> way.

It's not enough for a bunch of theologians to try and take credit for
science; there has to be transmission of false or undesirable information
from religion to science. Don't postulate; demonstrate; point out a
specific example.

> C) T causes R. I think this is the view that started the thread. One
> idea--familiar from science fiction--is that there is backwards causation
> where the secular godlike creatures play an invisible role in the historical
> formulations of the great world religions.

Now *this* is what I would label as a religious meme. This is the result
of someone who no longer fully believes in religion, but still
half-believes in it - the kind of person who's cast off the religion of
his childhood, but still thinks "Moses made the whole thing up at Mount
Sinai" rather than "Various parts of the Old Testament were written by
different authors over a period of time after the tribes had already
settled in Israel".

There is nothing about the religions that needs explaining by reference to
anything other than people telling stories.

> Another possibility is that the
> singularity has already occurred in world without religion and we are now
> living out a simulation. This simulation that we are in is investigatining
> what might have happened to human development if humans had believed in
> religion. etc.

Here, again, there is no reason to single out religion as the factor being
explored. The existence of religion is fully explained by known, mundane
causes. Aside from that this reduces to the usual "What if this world is
a simulation?" thread.

> d) There is a common cause for both T and R. Perhaps, for example, evolution
> provided us with an innate bias towards singularity. (How implausible is
> this? Presumably one would have to think of it as the most grand pleiotropic
> event).

Actually, it's impossible, at least as I read this statement - evolution
cannot plan ahead like that, since the future presence or absence of
Singularity plays no role in the reproductive success of individual
organisms. Evolution has no lookahead for an individual, much less a

It's possible that, e.g., the Wright Brothers' airplane and the legends of
levitating yogis both derived from a common human desire to fly, which
desire in turn is enjoyable because of the way our motor skills or
parietal lobe evolved to process 3D flight as greater freedom. It doesn't
mean that a 747 is a religious icon.

> e) Who gives a shit. Either it is a or at least one of b c or d. If a then
> nothing more need be said. If it is one of the others then this knowledge
> would still be useless--we still need to role up our sleeves and get on with
> the task of creating a singularity.

Precisely. Intermixing religion is just a very distracting, totally
worthless side issue, which is Why I Don't Want To Hear About It.

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

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