Priya Varma: You know a scientist once asked the Dalai Lama, „What would you do if something scientific disproved your religious beliefs?“ And he said, after much thought, „I would look at all the papers. I’d take a look at all the research and really try to understand things. And in the end, if it was clear that the scientific evidence disproved my spiritual beliefs, I would change my beliefs.“
Ian: That’s a good answer.
Priya Varma: Ian… what would you do if something spiritual disproved your scientific beliefs?
What would I do? If something „spiritual“ disproved my scientific beliefs, the „spiritual beliefs“ are simply updated scientific beliefs, because if you arrive there by disproving older beliefs, they are scientific beliefs, too.
Could something make me believe in God? I think a good quote, to start with this question is this quote from „How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3“ by Eliezer Yudkowsky in „Rationality: From AI to Zombies“.
>In What is Evidence? I wrote:
This is why rationalists put such a heavy premium on the paradoxical-seeming claim that a belief is only really worthwhile if you could, in principle, be persuaded to believe otherwise. If your retina ended up in the same state regardless of what light entered it, you would be blind . . . Hence the phrase, “blind faith.” If what you believe doesn’t depend on what you see, you’ve been blinded as effectively as by poking out your eyeballs.
Cihan Baran replied:
I can not conceive of a situation that would make 2 + 2 = 4 false. Perhaps for that reason, my belief in 2 + 2 = 4 is unconditional.
I admit, I cannot conceive of a “situation” that would make 2 + 2 = 4 false. (There are redefinitions, but those are not “situations,” and then you’re no longer talking about 2, 4, =, or +.) But that doesn’t make my belief unconditional. I find it quite easy to imagine a situation which would convince me that 2 + 2 = 3.
Suppose I got up one morning, and took out two earplugs, and set them down next to two other earplugs on my nighttable, and noticed that there were now three earplugs, without any earplugs having appeared or disappeared—in contrast to my stored memory that 2 + 2 was supposed to equal 4. Moreover, when I visualized the process in my own mind, it seemed that making XXand XX come out to XXXX required an extra X to appear from nowhere, and was, moreover, inconsistent with other arithmetic I visualized, since subtracting XX fromXXX left XX, but subtracting XX from XXXX left XXX. This would conflict with my stored memory that 3 – 2 = 1, but memory would be absurd in the face of physical and mental confirmation that XXX – XX = XX.
I would also check a pocket calculator, Google, and perhaps my copy of 1984 where Winston writes that “Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals three.” All of these would naturally show that the rest of the world agreed with my current visualization, and disagreed with my memory, that 2 + 2 = 3.
How could I possibly have ever been so deluded as to believe that 2 + 2 = 4? Two explanations would come to mind: First, a neurological fault (possibly caused by a sneeze) had made all the additive sums in my stored memory go up by one. Second, someone was messing with me, by hypnosis or by my being a computer simulation. In the second case, I would think it more likely that they had messed with my arithmetic recall than that 2 + 2 actually equalled 4. Neither of these plausible-sounding explanations would prevent me from noticing that I was very, very, very confused.
What would convince me that 2 + 2 = 3, in other words, is exactly the same kind of evidence that currently convinces me that 2 + 2 = 4: The evidential crossfire of physical observation, mental visualization, and social agreement.
There was a time when I had no idea that 2 + 2 = 4. I did not arrive at this new belief by random processes—then there would have been no particular reason for my brain to end up storing “2 + 2 = 4” instead of “2 + 2 = 7.” The fact that my brain stores an answer surprisingly similar to what happens when I lay down two earplugs alongside two earplugs, calls forth an explanation of what entanglement produces this strange mirroring of mind and reality.<
So in theory it would still be possible to convince me, that God exists.
The other way round you could ask a religious person if they would change their belief or if they are absolutely certain about it.
Another quote by Yudkowsky (like the following, too)
>Would you be willing to change your mind about the things you call ‘certain’ if you saw enough evidence? I mean, suppose that God himself descended from the clouds and told you that your whole religion was true except for the Virgin Birth. If that would change your mind, you can’t say you’re absolutely certain of the Virgin Birth. For technical reasons of probability theory, if it’s theoretically possible for you to change your mind about something, it can’t have a probability exactly equal to one. The uncertainty might be smaller than a dust speck, but it has to be there. And if you wouldn’t change your mind even if God told you otherwise, then you have a problem with refusing to admit you’re wrong that transcends anything a mortal like me can say to you, I guess.<
So, should I be a little bit more „humble“?
>Consider the creationist who says: “But who can really know whether evolution is correct? It is just a theory. You should be more humble and open-minded.” Is this humility? The creationist practices a very selective underconfidence, refusing to integrate massive weights of evidence in favor of a conclusion they find uncomfortable. I would say that whether you call this “humility” or not, it is the wrong step in the dance. What about the engineer who humbly designs fail-safe mechanisms into machinery, even though they’re damn sure the machinery won’t fail? This seems like a good kind of humility to me. Historically, it’s not unheard-of for an engineer to be damn sure a new machine won’t fail, and then it fails anyway.
[…] The vast majority of appeals that I witness to “rationalist’s humility” are excuses to shrug. The one who buys a lottery ticket, saying, “But you can’t know that I’ll lose.” The one who disbelieves in evolution, saying, “But you can’t prove to me that it’s true.” The one who refuses to confront a difficult-looking problem, saying, “It’s probably too hard to solve.” The problem ismotivated skepticism a.k.a. disconfirmation bias—more heavily scrutinizing assertions that we don’t want to believe. Humility, in its most commonly misunderstood form, is a fully general excuse not to believe something; since, after all, you can’t be sure. Beware of fully general excuses!<
But…there is still a chance, right?
>Years ago, I was speaking to someone when he casually remarked that he didn’t believe in evolution. And I said, “This is not the nineteenth century. When Darwin first proposed evolution, it might have been reasonable to doubt it. But this is the twenty-first century. We can read the genes. Humans and chimpanzees have 98% shared DNA. We know humans and chimps are related. It’sover.”
He said, “Maybe the DNA is just similar by coincidence.”
I said, “The odds of that are something like two to the power of seven hundred and fifty million to one.”
He said, “But there’s still a chance, right?”
Now, there’s a number of reasons my past self cannot claim a strict moral victory in this conversation. One reason is that I have no memory of whence I pulled that 2750,000,000 figure, though it’s probably the right meta-order of magnitude. The other reason is that my past self didn’t apply the concept of a calibrated confidence. Of all the times over the history of humanity that a human being has calculated odds of 2750,000,000:1 against something, they have undoubtedly been wrong more often than once in 2750,000,000 times. E.g. the shared genes estimate was revised to 95%, not 98%—and that may even apply only to the 30,000 known genes and not the entire genome, in which case it’s the wrong meta-order of magnitude.
But I think the other guy’s reply is still pretty funny.
I don’t recall what I said in further response—probably something like “No”—but I remember this occasion because it brought me several insights into the laws of thought as seen by the unenlightened ones.
It first occurred to me that human intuitions were making a qualitative distinction between “No chance” and “A very tiny chance, but worth keeping track of.” You can see this in the Overcoming Bias lottery debate, where someone said, “There’s a big difference between zero chance of winning and epsilon chance of winning,” and I replied, “No, there’s an order-of-epsilon difference; if you doubt this, let epsilon equal one over googolplex.”<
Also, if something „spiritual“ convinces me by disproving my other beliefs – then this „spiritual thing“ is a scientific belief, too.