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Exclusisvist is universal, since anyone can convert to the faith and be saved. Universalism is 'it doesn't matter what you believe, everyone is saved' and soon leads to 'it doesn't matter if you don't believe, everyone is saved (as long as you try to be a good person)'. And then if it doesn't matter what you believe, plainly it doesn't matter if you believe in Thor or Apollo or Marduk, what matters is being a good person. And then Thor or Apollo or Marduk don't exist, the real truth is being a good person by (these values our current society thinks acceptable).

And 'what current society thinks acceptable' changes over time, so the standards of being a good person also change. In one time period, you could be a slave owner and be a good person, in another time period this is impossible.

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Well, yes and no, depending on your moral theory. By analogy, consider the shape of the Earth. In one time period, it might be reasonable to believe that it is flat; in another, that it is bowl-shaped, or even round. However, if you get the answer right (or at least closer to the true shape of the Earth than the other guys), you will be able to develop radically transformative technologies, such as maritime navigation or even space travel. Thus, the shape of the Earth is not just an arbitrary matter of opinion, it is a demonstrable fact, which (philosophical presuppositions aside) can be known in the absence of any kind of faith or direct divine revelation.

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I think you light on good pragmatic reasons for exclusive monotheism, but I also think this argument is somewhat of a slippery slope.

For one, "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you try to be a good person" seems to me to differ from "it doesn't matter what you believe simpliciter. Namely, it seems to differ insofar as the former requires a true and practical understanding of goodness (which perhaps includes belief in God, faith, etc), whereas the latter does not.

I'm reminded of this quote from the Vedas: "God is one, but the wise call Him by many names." This notion admits moral reality, even monotheism, but perhaps even excludes some gods as unreal. Maybe Thor is out but Apollo is in, for instance. But it also seems to reject the dogmatic protestants-warring-with-catholics dynamic that many people find repulsive about organized religion (a priori anyway).

More to the point, the above comment seems to skirt the question of whether any one particular brand of monotheism is, you know, true. Just because anyone can become a Mormon or a Muslim doesn't mean salvation is found there.

What do you think?

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

Really? I'm pretty sure that most religious people think that they have some compelling evidence, if not easily shareable.

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C S Lewis makes a good case for Christianity in several of his books. Aldous Huxley makes a good a case for pantheism in ‘The Perennial Philosophy’.

Edit.

Of course Huxley’s argument isn’t exclusivist.

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I wasn't impressed by C.S.Lewis. That is, actually I was pretty impressed with how far he managed to get, as well as with his eloquence. But the trajectory of his arguments, as I understood them, appears to be: "Looking at the issue logically as well as empirically, it would fully appear that belief in God is absurd and the Church is corrupt. But such is the beauty of faith that it can overcome such obstacles. You must have faith, true honest faith, because the alternative is nothing but sadness".

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But in what way is his faith more beautiful than Muslim faith, for example? I haven't read much of his, but the most famous example, the trilemma, at least makes an attempt at argument for Christianity in particular.

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Hey, don't ask me, I think the entire concept of faith is rather silly. But, when I was reading Lewis (which was a while ago, so I could be misremembering), I saw him as a sort of tragic figure. He's obviously an intelligent and compassionate man, who cares very deeply about the well-being of humanity in general and individual humans in particular -- but he's forced by his faith to squeeze himself into weird mental contortions at every turn, just to reconcile his humanism (or, if you prefer, inherent goodness) with his religion.

Admittedly, though, I'm an atheist so my perception is somewhat biased.

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Apr 5, 2022·edited Apr 5, 2022

This matches my views on Lewis too. He clearly had a great deal of positive moral, philosophical, and psychological insights to offer the world. But looking at his work and reading between the lines, there seem to be a lot of places where his personal intuitions clash with his conservative religious beliefs, and while he tries to reconcile them in various ways, the seams are quite noticeable.

He seemed to hold quite a lot of disdain for the proto-New-Age Christians of his time - the types who rejected more dogmatic and traditionalist interpretations of Christianity, claimed there were many paths to God, and pulled ideas from Gnosticism, paganism, occult beliefs, and Eastern spirituality. From what I remember, his work seemed to mock or vilify those sorts of non-traditional Christians far more than it did overt atheists. Yet in many ways, I suspect he had quite a lot in common with them, probably far more than he would've cared to admit. An actual hardline traditionalist would find Lewis' assertion that "some people must first be made pagans in order to be made Christians" to be blasphemous, and quite a lot of conservative Christians were offended by his claim (made explicitly in his finale to the Narnia series, and implicitly in The Great Divorce) that being a Christian is not *necessary* to go to Heaven, as long as someone is a good person and has faith in *some* form of higher power.

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"An actual hardline traditionalist would find Lewis' assertion that "some people must first be made pagans in order to be made Christians" to be blasphemous"

As someone who considers himself pretty darn traditional, this puzzles me. What do you believe a traditionalist would object to in such a statement?

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Can you cite me an example of Lewis doing this? I'm a huge Lewis fan, and I'm not making any connections here. Lewis is pretty big on "I believe Christianity because it is logically true, not because I happen to like it." You know, "most dejected and reluctant convert in all England", that sort of thing. I don't even know where I would look to find what you describe...he certainly has some hard things to say about nihilism, that could fit your "alternative is nothing but sadness" comment, but I can't even imagine him writing "Looking at the issue logically as well as empirically, it would fully appear that belief in God is absurd and the Church is corrupt." So an you give me a cite on this?

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As I said, it's been a while ago, so I can't give an exact cite -- but that gives me a good excuse to [re]read more Lewis. That said, I do recall him dunking on rank-and-file Christians (as well as the Church) quite a bit in *Screwtape Letters*. Also IIRC, in *Mere Christianity*, he keeps returning to the point that, without God, life would be bleak and hopeless and thus we've got no choice but to believe. He also acknowledges that God is undetectable by scientific instruments (or any kind of instruments) a priori, and hence faith is required to believe in Him.

On a sidenote, I've loved *Leaf by Niggle* ever since I've first read it. I think it showcases Lewis's worldview in a really impactful way that his non-fiction books cannot. Also, it is quite heretical, of course :-)

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Two chapters in Mere Christianity were about faith. I think it's valuable to take a look at the first one, as it is not long, and shows why I feel you have misunderstood Lewis when you say he believes that faith is required to believe in him.

"I must talk in this chapter about what the Christians call Faith. Roughly speaking, the word Faith seems to be used by Christians in two senses or on two levels, and I will take them in turn. In the first sense it means simply Belief—accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity.

"That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people—at least it used to puzzle me—is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue, I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue—what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid.

"Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then— and a good many people do not see still—was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so.

"For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.

"When you think of it you will see lots of instances of this. A man knows, on perfectly good evidence, that a pretty girl of his acquaintance is a liar and cannot keep a secret and ought not to be trusted; but when he finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge and he starts thinking, 'Perhaps she'll be different this time,' and once more makes a fool of himself and tells her something he ought not to have told her. His senses and emotions have destroyed his faith in what he really knows to be true. Or take a boy learning to swim. His reason knows perfectly well that an unsupported human body will not necessarily sink in water: he has seen dozens of people float and swim. But the whole question is whether he will be able to go on believing this when the instructor takes away his hand and leaves him unsupported in the water—or whether he will suddenly cease to believe it and get in a fright and go down.

Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man's reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks.

"There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

"This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods "where they get off," you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith"

On other words, when Lewis uses the term faith he means continuing to believe in something your reason has already convinced you of, through proof, even when your emotions make you feel otherwise. He certainly doesn't mean believing in something without evidence.

Earlier in the book he does mention empirical science, writing:

"Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, "I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 A.M. on January 15th and saw so-and-so," or, "I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so." Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is. And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science—and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes—something of a different kind—this is not a scientific question. If there is "Something Behind," then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.

"The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them. After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, "Why is there a universe?" "Why does it go on as it does?" "Has it any meaning?" would remain just as they were?"

"Now the position would be quite hopeless but for this. There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men."

He then goes on to make an argument about how our observations of our inner lives among other things point us towards God. He never sits down and says "We can't measure God in a test tube, therefore blind faith is required to believe in him." He does not believe that God is a fact that can be proven or disproven through empirical science, but he also doesn't believe that being proven or disproven by empirical science is a prerequisite to a fact existing or being knowable through reason. After all, we know that the sum of the angles of any triangle is equal to two right angles through reason, not empirical science. There's lots of things that cannot be measured that can be known.

As a minor nitpick: "Leaf by Niggle" was written by Tolkien, not Lewis. Lewis did write some heretical epic poetry while he was an atheist though, I heard its alright.

Also, Mere Christianity is definitely aimed at an uneducated audience: if you want somewhat meatier Lewis I would recommend reading his book Miracles. Some kindly pirate has posted the entire thing online here, though the formatting's a bit wonky.

http://www.basicincome.com/bp/files/Miracles-C_S_Lewis.pdf

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Gah, good point, I totally confused the two Inklings with each other. Mea culpa.

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I don't know whether it matters for your point, but Leaf by Niggle is by Tolkien.

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Gah, good point, I totally confused the two Inklings with each other. Mea culpa.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

Do you consider Latter-day Saint theology exclusivist?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that Jesus Christ is the only source of salvation and that accessing that salvation requires the use of priesthood authority that is currently only held by the Church (but has been around for most of human history by e.g. Moses or Peter). However the Church also teaches that every person will get an opportunity to accept or reject salvation, even if that chance has to happen for many of them after this life. This is where the doctrine of preaching in the spirit world and the practice of baptism for the dead comes from.

ETA:

The Church also teaches that "God will yet reveal many great and marvelous things to the children of men," which is to say, that while the Church claims to have the best understanding of God currently, that understanding has changed over time as God reveals new truth (and as knowledge is lost when people ignore or reject it), and it will likely continue to change. If you believe in a God that is actively involved in the world then changing changing teachings about him is not a sign of inconsistency.

Beyond that, one problem you are going to have in engaging with "exclusivist" religions is that you are trying to make arguments based on general trends you notice in history and religion. But that kind of argument doesn't concern exclusivists almost by definition. If you point out to a Catholic that most iron age religions practiced human sacrifice he responds "yeah, duh, that's how we know those ones were wrong."

And this isn't necessarily a failure mode. We don't expect physicists to spend much time worrying about how wrong the phlogiston model was. It was wrong, scientists figured out that it was wrong, and science moved on, and so too did popular understanding of heat and energy and now all my 9th grade students know that heat is a form of energy and is related to the motion of atoms even though they don't fully grasp what that means.

If you think of your religion as an exercise in truth-finding in the same way that physicists think of physics then many of the problems you mention mostly go away. It doesn't salvage certain fundamentalist strains of thought that try to freeze a certain dogma from a certain time period, but I suggest that those are fewer than you may think in practice.

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> However the Church also teaches that every person will get an opportunity to accept or reject salvation, even if that chance has to happen for many of them after this life.

Somehow, I did not know that ! So, if I was an atheist in life, and then I die and discover first-hand that the afterlife is real (and maybe get a chance to meet some supernatural beings in person), then I can still avoid Hell ? Doesn't this somewhat diminish the utility of faith ?

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

ex-mormon perspective:

If I recall correctly, the LDS church doesn't really believe that the general population of humanity is eligible for hell. Rather, depending on how well you've purified and strengthened your soul, and which church rituals you've engaged in, you qualify for various tiers of heaven. The various tiers are, basically, how close you are to God, and it's less of a "you're not allowed into the club", and more of a "self-select based on how much God you can stand being around".

Even the lowest tier is expected to still be better than Earth.

The utility of faith in life without certain knowledge is, in a vague hand-wavey way, that the actual act of becoming a better person is much more practical in life rather than afterlife. Or something like that.

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So, even though everyone has a chance to accept Jesus in the afterlife, one still needs to undergo the proper rituals in real life in order to get into the higher tiers of Heaven ? Or can one complete a Heaven-qualification course (so to speak) posthumously, as well ?

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You can complete a Heaven-qualification course posthumously. But then, someone currently alive has to do the rituals (called 'ordinances') for you vicariously.

These vicarious ordinances (e.g. baptism for the dead) are done in temples. Since we don't know who will / has accepted the Gospel, we try to do the ordinances for everyone. They are only effective if the person accepts it.

This drives massive research into genealogy. Everyone wants to make sure that their ancestors receive the ordinances and are sealed to their eternal family. There's a promise that people who have been completely forgotten (on Earth) will receive their vicarious ordinances when Christ comes again.

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That makes sense -- I knew about the post-mortem baptisms, but not about the specifics. But my question is, why must the ordinances be performed by the living ? Can't devout Mormons in the afterlife perform them as well -- and do so much more efficiently ? After all, the souls in Heaven can presumably work around the clock, and perhaps they could even get access to some kind of a spiritual genealogical database...

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

The relevant teachings are all almost found in section 76* of the Doctrine and Covenants.

AnonymousCoward correctly recalls that the vast, vast majority of humanity will attain a "degree of glory" all better than life here, but differing in the amount of glory and power and joy available in them. The standard doctrine is that there are three degrees, though there are definitely things that suggest that it is more of a spectrum.

The middle tier includes those "who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness." That suggests that the strategy of "deliberately live as an atheist now and then change your mind if there's an afterlife" disqualifies you for the biggest possible reward.

As for the utility of faith, I'm personally still not sure why it seems so important to God, but it's clear that it is. Joseph Smith taught at times that faith is even the power by which God himself operates. In the Latter-day Saint cosmology God wants us to eventually have all the power and knowledge and glory that He has, and the ability to act in faith must somehow play an important role in that. Why exactly I can't say yet though.

* https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/76?lang=eng

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

Possibly based on John 20:24-29

"24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas does not believe the testimony of the others and remains unconvinced until he sees Jesus for himself. That was a rejection of the truth. The problem becomes more acute for those who will come afterwards and who cannot see Jesus in the flesh for themselves. They may think they are being sensible, but in reality they are rejecting what is true and delaying their union with God.

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> They may think they are being sensible, but in reality they are rejecting what is true and delaying their union with God.

Yeah, that's the part that always made me think that Christian minds work in a way that is completely alien to my own. I personally can't force myself to believe something that I think is false. It's not that I'm making a pragmatic choice between two (or more) beliefs; the decision is completely out of my hands. If I think that the sky is blue, then I can still proclaim that it is green; I can live as though it were green; I can lie to everyone around me and maintain that it is green... but I can't lie to myself. In my head, I'll always know it's blue.

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As a Christian I largely agree with you here and the importance of "faith as belief" has never resonated with me, and Latter-day Saints put much less emphasis on it than other denominations.

Rather, I think the faith God is looking for is best characterized in Alma 32 from the Book of Mormon: it is 1) the willingness to experiment with spiritual things and 2) after seeing results from those experiments, acting consistently with those results, even in the face of remaining uncertainty. Alma 32 presents an extended analogy comparing faith to a seed: you don't know from looking at it whether it is a good, living seed or a bad, dead one. The first step of faith is to plant it and see if it grows. If it does grow, you have learned something, but you aren't done. From there, the next step of faith is to continue to water it and care for it. You know it's a good enough seed to sprout, but you still don't know whether it will reach maturity, or whether it will bear good fruit. Faith is the willingness to continue to engage in this process of caring and learning in the face of continued uncertainty.

Put another way, God doesn't want you to lie to yourself. But he is very interested whether you will seek out and respond to evidence, and how faithful you will be to whatever you learned from that evidence. This view strongly agrees with The Chaostician's last sentence.

The final chapter of The Book of Mormon pointedly ends with a proposed experiment for its readers "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost."

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I know of no Christian creed or teaching that asks people to believe something they believe is false. Believe without compelling evidence, perhaps. As Lewis wrote, "...if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid."

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Thomas is saved and is an heir of the celestial glory. He's an example for those who come to know the Truth without having faith first. Saul / Paul is another example: he rejected Jesus and even supported the killing of Stephen, until he got clear evidence on the road to Damascus.

What is important in both of these stories is that Thomas and Saul were willing to accept the evidence once they saw it and completely commit their lives to serving Jesus.

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I do think that the exclusivity argument is a major problem for a lot of religions. I usually state it as: Is someone who has never heard of Jesus (or Mohammad or ...) because no one in their society had ever heard of them automatically damned?

The Latter-day Saint answer solves this problem. Everyone will get an answer to hear and accept or reject the Gospel between death and resurrection.

It is an open question how many people will accept between death and resurrection. There's one trend in the Church that says that it's harder to change the longer you wait, so you should "not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end". This suggests that only a few people will use this option. But everyone also thinks that all of their ancestors who died without receiving the Gospel will accept it. This suggests that most people will use this option.

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>I usually state it as: Is someone who has never heard of Jesus (or Mohammad or ...) because no one in their society had ever heard of them automatically damned?

Leaving aside whether this is just, is there some reason to think it *false*?

This would match, for instance, an entity with a policy to rescue everyone who sends that entity a distress call (the Federation of Star Trek is an obvious fictional case). You don't know that that entity is there, or don't know how to send a distress call it'll receive? That's your problem; it's not obligated to seek you out.

Doctrinal issues only really arise when you claim "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" and *also* that everyone has a real choice to be saved or not as part of omnibenevolence.

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AFAIK, the two most popular arguments appear to be:

1). Personal divine revelation: "Our god came to me personally and revealed, beyound any possibility of denial, that our religion is the One True Faith."

2). Specificity of scripture: "All those other religions claim to be the One True Faith, but all of them conspicuously lack X. Our faith has X, and since X is by definition a requirement for truth, our religion is the only one that could be true."

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Apr 5, 2022·edited Apr 5, 2022

1) This seems to me to fall prey to a similar objection as the main objection. What justifies one personal divine revelation as the One True Faith, while all the others are the damnable tricks of Ye Olde Deluder Satan? OP raises this problem with regard to exclusivist religions and the revelations of their prophets, here it seems to be raised on one's own revelations. The issue at hand seems to be "how do we trust revelation, especially when it claims to be exclusive." Do you disagree?

2) This seems to me to be an appeal to a truth higher than faith (i.e. the Euthyphro Dilemma). Did G-d write the scripture (and definition of goodness) because it is true and holy, or is the scripture true and holy simply because G-d wrote it? Appealing to the objective, intelligible nature of goodness seems to render exclusive faith somewhat obsolete.

Perhaps I am mistaken on these though; I'd like to hear what you think.

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Something to consider is that when almost anybody asks this question, there is usually an unspoken amendum that, when left out, makes the question seem a little more devastating than it actually is.

So say there's bob, and he's explicitely asking:

"Given that there's a lot of religions, and they all seem to have equal levels of certainty that their belief systems are right, how could it possibly be reasonable that anyone could have confidence..." and so on.

But usually when I've pursued those arguments, there's an unspoken "given" that is heard and understood by every heathen in attendance that goes something like:

"And, of course, any explanation will have to play by atheist rules - that is, we will assume their beliefs are wrong from the outset, and treat anything consistent with their view of the universe but inconsistent with ours as out-of-bounds in their explanation."

A conversation *without* that assumption can often get at what the question superficially wants to know, i.e. the shape of a particular person's belief and why they hold it. By not saying "Explain to me how you can justify your watch design - and please, none of that bullshit about gears and springs; all right-thinking people know that shit is passe", you might understand the person's preference.

When the assumption is in play, there's no chance of that. Now, there's some places where inclusion of the assumption is more justified than others. We can first imagine a scenario like this:

I show up at your door and tell you I am possessor of the one real truth, and that you must accept it. In this situation, I am the aggressor. Since I am demanding your beliefs change to mirror mine, there's a strong argument that you are justified (i.e. not being a dick, in the common parliance) in asking me to convince you using techniques within the confines of the rule-set you accept - i.e by describing physical realities and making arguments that stem from the physically observed, and no others.

When you reject me for not being able to do this, it's understandable - I was the aggressor, the prosecutor making his case. The burden of proof was, so to speak, on me. And the reasonable social judgment I deserve the varies a bit depending on how I carried myself; if I was calmly and with your permission sketching out my beliefs, desisted once you made your rejection of my explanation clear, etc. (i.e. behaved in a way that seemed to be coming from a place of love) I likely deserve less approbation.

On the flip, I probably deserve a lot of judgment from you and others if I make it clear that I'm using my religion as a tool to "put myself above you", i.e. to cement in my mind a rationale that says you are lesser than me and I greater than you. These things and more matter in the case where I am the aggressor, because I brought the fight to you.

The next part is the harsh part, but I'll try to keep it as clean and nice as possible. In the actual scenario we find ourself in, you found yourself alone and with free time and completely voluntarily brought the fight to the "them". Within the early parts of your question, you show a certain awareness that your question is at least not *entirely* about understanding, and that to the extent your question ends up diverging from pure curiosity it will weaken your position:

"[content notice: I've tried to watch myself, but my tone is probably rather dismissive toward religions in general in this comment]"

And yet something around half your comment is jabs at outgroup, to the detriment of both the clarity and concision of your question and in ways that reduce the likelihood that you will get the clean, calm answers that would help you to gain the understanding you claim to want.

To put it another way: A person of high confidence and self-worth with the same doubts of the truth of religion very likely finds him or herself with the same free time and curiousity you have and does virtually anything but ask the question in the way you did. Yours is the question of a person who very much needs to put people in a position lower than themselves so they can feel elevated, rather than being able to feel elevated and satisfied by what they themselves are absent comparisons.

While I'm confident that getting outside confirmation of preferred in-group status really does bring with it certain satisfactions and a kind of limited value, I would suggest that the necessity of it - that no better options presented themselves to you - is not a fantastic, optimimal situation. I suspect both a higher, more satisfactory value that persists over a longer term could be found if you instead found ways to feel better about yourself that don't rely on favorable comparison to others.

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FWIW, I agree with you that most of the prominent apologists are outright charlatans; in fact, they are prominent *because* they engage in endless self-promotion aimed at selling their DVDs or whatever. However, as I said above, I wouldn't be so hasty as to tar all apologists with the same brush. There are plenty of academic theists -- and a vast number of rank-and-file believers -- who espouse some of the views you've listed, honestly and without malice aforethought. Dismissing them all as charlatans would necessitate dismissing the vast majority of humanity, which seems... unwise.

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So let's poke into this in two parts, because it's important. First, the claims you say are indefensible, and clearly so, in all ways to the point where it should be clear to other people *just by reading them* that the people promoting them are shitty.

—Atheists reject God because they want to sin and commit crimes.

This one is just... true? You even know it's true. It's not true of *all* atheists, but it's certainly true of some - I have a brother like this. The thing where you see someone who was formerly devout slide into some banned behavior and then-and-only-then "quit" Christianity is absurdly common.

Are you actually seeing the claim "All atheists, entirely, are atheist purely because they want to do crimes, or purely because they want to sin?" somewhere? Where?

—Atheists know God exists, they're just lying about it.

This is actually part of the religious dogma of Christianity, although I can't speak for other denominations. "Lying" is a weird term here, because it covers different ground for different people - I have long since complained that the average rationalist has a definition of lying so narrow it doesn't actually encompass any action that actually exists, for instance.

This is one of the things that's hard because it involves spiritual claims - the actual text of the Bible claims some level of instinctual/spiritual knowledge of the truth each person possesses, printed on their soul to an extent. There's arguments as to how explicit this instinctual knowledge is, so YMMV even among the reasonable.

—Atheists hate God because something bad happened in their life.

Clearly true for many people, and you know it is -- the person who abandons a particular faith "because they just couldn't believe in a god that could do that" is an incredibly common trope.

—Atheists are only atheists because they have a comfortable life, they'll come running for God at the first sign of hardship.

Clearly very probable. The patterns of religious belief country-to-country and state-to-state back this up pretty well. Poverty is well-correlated with religious believe even in particular geographies, etc. This is pretty uncontroversial.

The counterargument is that this is related education/intelligence rather than privation itself (i.e. "of course it's the dumb poor idiots who believe this stuff). That's possible! But the "clear wrongness" you want to get out of this one isn't nearly as clear as you are representing it to be.

—Atheists are only atheists for the positive attention and the money.

I don't have to defend this one - you just accused Christians of the same thing in your original post. It's either fine to do - in which case it's not a real complaint - or it's not fine, and the closest example we have of someone being unreasonable in this way is YOU.

—Atheists are only vocal about being atheists in order to undermine the faith.

I'd have to see what source you are drawing this from to get some nuance on what's actually being said here. There are some ways this is consistent with what everyone observed during the period of new atheism popularity - that tons of people got really, really militantly into atheism and this seemed to be the main draw for them. There are some ways it might not be, but again, source.

—Atheists are religiously illiterate, no one who's truly read/studied the Bible/Quran would ever call themself an atheist.

This one seems clearly wrong, although as with all of these I'd like to see a source. Just the existence of world religion classes and the PhDs that stem from them makes this one pretty impossible; there are people who have studied both books closely (more than I have, for instance) that don't believe.

So of that list, basically one thing is a legitimate clear complaint, several are just right on their face at least as phrased, and one has to do with an actual belief in a spiritual thing that we likely aren't going to agree on.

And that makes it pretty hard to have this conversation without actually asking you where you observed the things you are complaining about - as you've represented them, there's much less problem than you are trying to convince people there is. When some of the items you present as clearly false are just true on their face and others are arguable, it should (but won't) shake your confidence in what your motivations are here.

Where this gets even harder for me is that I think it's pretty clear you are bad-faith on this (others might disagree). So I want to address things like the last point, but I'm also pretty internally confident based on your first post and this onethat you are taking minimally-charitable takes to reinforce your pre-existing viewpoint, etc.

I really don't want to mince words here - I'm very strongly suspicious you are approaching this whole question from a bad-faith positioning, and I'm damn near sure my general guess that this is mostly driven by you just feeling good when you have a lesser group to compare yourself to is true.

With that said, if you do pull individual sources of where you've heard a particular thing, I'd be glad to tell you how common it is, what the orthodox belief actually is within my particular subset of Christianity and so on. But I'm probably not going to reply unless I have specific links to talk about - I don't have a lot of confidence in your ability to present things neutrally/fairly.

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Some of them are just factually true or plausible, which is part of why you didn't address them directly. People OFTEN stop believing in god due to particular negative events. It's not everyone, but it's something people say about themselves - I even gave you the usual phrasing.

People OFTEN leave the faith due to a crisis between something they'd like to do that the faith doesn't approve of - see homosexuality for an example that covers hundreds of thousands of Americans, and is an extremely common story.

Hardship and religiosity are associated on a number of levels - national, state, income levels within specific geographical areas, etc. That's not even controversial.

So, again, I'm left to guess at the TONE of how those things were said, which could still make them bad, or particular wordings that might make them bad. And you aren't a trustworthy source - if the chip on your shoulder was any more animated and noticable its mom would be Angela Lansbury. That's why I asked for the specific places you are hearing about these things - they might be genuinely bad, but you aren't a reliable way to find out if they are or aren't.

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>That's not even controversial.

It absolutely is controversial. Consider that there are also memes among believers saying that people become religious because of hardship, rather than become atheist because of hardship. (For instance, I'm sure you've heard the one about no atheists in foxholes.) You've got two sets of competing memes saying exactly opposite things about the relation between hardship and religion.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

"Atheists are atheists because *they don't believe in the stuff*. It's not a choice."

So you're a philosophical determinist? You're born atheist or Christian or Buddhist, and even if you don't outwardly believe that to start with and convert later, nothing actually changed internally- the fixed innate state simply had a chance to express itself? If someone vacillates between religions, or between faith and unbelief, there's still no actual internal changes occurring, they're ACTUALLY still (underlying_belief) the entire time? I'm trying to understand what you mean by this, because I feel like this preposition is probably contributing significantly to the tension between you and RC.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

I mean, yeah, @Machine Interface definitely has a chip on his shoulder (as I'd pointed out to him, as well), but I can empathize with his position. I myself have been told these things personally hundreds of times by my friends and acquaintances, and I'm not even any kind of a professional debater. After the 100th time you're told something like "you just hate God because of something bad that happened to you", it's really tempting to stop replying for the 101st time, "actually I've never believed in any kind of deity, as far back as I can remember", and switch to saying "how about you shut your pie-hole". Irrational, admittedly, but very tempting.

This problem is exacerbated by professional apologists, because they never seem to change their tunes. You could go through their DVDs and lectures and debate transcripts 20 years into the past, and you find the same exact arguments. You can find transcript after transcript of people explaining to them in great detail how e.g. evolution does not imply that their great-grandparents were monkeys; and the next day they once again turn around and say, "look at how silly those evolutionists are, they think all of their great-grandparents were monkeys". For this reason, I am inclined to believe that professional apologists are, indeed, charlatans -- but that does not necessarily apply to rank-and-file theists.

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"Atheists know God exists, they're just lying about it.

This is actually part of the religious dogma of Christianity, although I can't speak for other denominations."

If your religion's dogma says that all unbelievers are also damned liars, and your religion's dogma doesn't *also* say to be really really tactful when you discuss this with unbelievers, then your religion and all its members will be regarded as arrogant contemptible scoundrels by everyone on the outside. Because either the unbelievers really are damn liars, in which case they they don't want you calling them on it, or they *aren't* lying and so they *know* you are falsely accusing them, or they are damn liars and . And really, I'm only including the first possibility in the strictest sense of charity.

Fortunately, most Christians are at least somewhat tactful about this, so we don't have to write the whole faith off as one of arrogant contemptible scoundrels. The sort of "apologists" Machine Interface has apparently been dealing with, have a lot to apologize for.

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Recall that I'm responding to a guy who is out for blood and his versions of what was said. If I say:

"The text of my religion talks about concepts similar to the moral law of god being printed on people's hearts - stuff like how every culture tends to not think too highly of murder (although it still happens) ends up being attributed to design rather than evolution, or whatever.

Similarly, there's supposed to be some inkling in the heart of people that what they are encountering is the truth".

You might still find that insulting, but probably less so than the "ALL ATHEISTS ARE DAMNED LIARS AND GOING TO HELL!" version.

Where I'm in a pickle is, he presented a ton of those examples and about half of what he presented as plain lies were common sense true; i.e. that people leave the faith because of bad events sometimes.

So I have to try to parse every single thing he's saying both by what he's saying and what the person he's representing might have actually said. I *have* to do this, because even knowing it would hurt his argument and saying so, he couldn't resist being uncharitable throughout his initial post.

I have no idea if the original source (I've asked him twice to identify some of the sources, no luck yet) said anything close to what he's saying and I have every indication he's an unfriendly party, especially after dealing with claims of the "saying people leave religions so they can avoid their strictures is a clear lie" sort.

So when I'm dealing with the "atheists know god exists, they're just lying about it" space, I have to deal with not only what he's saying he heard, but the entire conceptual space of what he might have actually heard, since I have no indication he's going to give unbiased accounts about what he observed from unidentified members of an outgroup he dislikes.

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Did it ever occur to you that his"bias" is a *result* of mistreatment by the outgroup, so using his bias to distrust what he says about his outgroup might be circular reasoning?

It's like saying that you won't believe in police brutality if you're told about it by someone who claims to be beaten up by the police.

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"The text of my religion talks about concepts similar to the moral law of god being printed on people's hearts - stuff like how every culture tends to not think too highly of murder (although it still happens) ends up being attributed to design rather than evolution, or whatever.

Similarly, there's supposed to be some inkling in the heart of people that what they are encountering is the truth".

That's somewhat more tactful than your last phrasing. But, I've looked into my heart far more closely than you have or ever will look into my heart, and I *know* you and your doctrine are wrong about this. I'm guessing OP does too.

So, A: I know that you are arguing from false premises and B: if you continue that argument once I've explained why, I know that you are arrogant enough to assert that you know the content of my heart better than I do, and why am I paying any attention at all to you?

How many people have to tell you that their hearts do not contain this secret thing that you believe all human hearts hold, before you accept that you might be mistaken?

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It's not really about "aggression", but rather, pragmatism. Whenever someone makes any positive claim, be it "my God is the One True God" or "I have $20 in my pocket", it is up to him to justify the claim before we can accept it. Otherwise, we'd be compelled to believe in anything that anyone says unless we can provide evidence to the contrary; and, given that there's a nearly infinite number of possible claims out there, we'd be forced to spend our days frantically collecting evidence against Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy, Voldemort, that pocket-$20, etc. It's just not practical.

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To put it another way: Machine Learning almost *can't* be an asshole in the situation where I ring his doorbell and demand he believe something. I'm bringing the fight to him and demanding he believe something in just the way you describe. Ditto if I had made a post saying "Christianity is the one real truth, everything else is false; I demand everyone believes this immediately", especially if the content of the post strongly implies I feel superior to all you filthy unwashed sinners.

In that situation, I'm the guy picking the fight. Nobody should feel pity for me when people don't treat me with kid gloves or make fun of my beliefs - I strapped on gloves, stepped into the ring and dared people to hit me. I can't whine when I get knocked out. This becomes more true the more Machine Learning has been forced to have a particular conversation; I can't demand gentleness or politeness in a fight I picked.

What's happening here is a little bit different. In this case Machine Learning has shown up all on his own; this is an argument and conversation he's chosen for himself. You are demanding I give him the same near-immunity from "being the asshole" I'd give him if I was forcing him into this argument, but that's not what happened - he could have sat around tonight and ate chips in a funny hat, but he chose this instead.

The question he asked is fine - that's what this kind of forum is for. But I'd suggest that you'd take exception if I said something like:

"I have a good faith question about how one can believe abortion is right from a utilitarian perspective, given that it extinguishes an entire human life for the benefit of portion of another human life. I'd ask someone who was pro-choice, but I've found they are a lot of overweight bluehair feminist sociopath murders, haha, right?"

You would very likely read that and think I was being uncharitable to outgroup - that my good-faith question was really just a veiled opportunity to count coup and get validation from my in-group to make myself feel nice. Now say you pointed this out, and another person came in and said:

"Listen, you are the one who is pro-choice; it's not bad to ask about that. Why would you have a problem with someone asking questions? He's asking reasonable, pragmatic questions and asking you to justify your belief"

You'd probably suspect that other person was letting their biases get the better of them and ignoring a bunch of uncharitable and unnecessary insults levied at my outgroup because they identified with the original post and/or mostly agreed that prochoice people were bluehairs and deserved what they got.

Note that this is pretty par for the course for Christian-in-place-where-people-go-to-feel-intellectual, and it's not that shocking to me; it's not hurting my feelings. I'm a big boy who puts on gloves and a mouthpiece and picks fights in front of big groups of people ever week; there's a lot of contexts in which I can't complain about getting hit.

But I meant what I said in the last post. If you believe someone is wrong, that's absolutely fine. If you ask good-faith questions to try to get them to steelman their beliefs and find the most reasonable forms of those, that's fine too. But needing to compare yourself to some lesser group to feel good about yourself isn't a healthy state of being.

I'd much rather Machine Learning dug deep and figured out why he isn't enough for himself - why he needs a lesser outgroup to poke at so he can feel good about himself by comparison instead of feeling good about himself in the isolated abstract.

I *think* you and I are for the most part cool - i.e. at least I like you and I think of you pretty positively. But I do think you should take a look at ML saying this:

"Instead, religious apologists seem to be mostly narcissistic sociopaths who have absolutely no idea about the beliefs of the people they try to convince, who deal in logical fallacies and scientific illiteracy, and in general do an abysmally bad job of convincing anyone to join their faith, mostly spending their life preaching to the choir (and asking the choir for monthly donations, of course)."

And then consider that your reactoin to me pointing out that he's saying this as the agressor in the conversation (i.e. in a conversation he not only could have avoided, but started) is to completely ignore that dynamic, as if he didn't show up unbidden and unharrassed to make a post in which he made as many clever, cheap swipes at his outgroup as he thought he could get away with.

I don't think you'd accept your own hand-wavey dismissal of that level of foul play from most other people in most other contexts.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

My only point is that tone arguments have no bearing on evidence or epistemology. I could say, "Guess what, I have $20 in my pocket, isn't that awesome ?", or I could say, "You asshole, I have $20 in my pocket, so suck it !"; but functionally these two statements are totally the same as far as the existence of that $20 is concerned. @Machine Interface is poisoning the well (in his statement that you quoted), but that doesn't automatically mean that what he's saying is false (it doesn't mean that it's true, either).

To put it another way, the topic is, "what are some valid arguments for religious exclusivity ?", and it's a valid topic (IMO) regardless of whether the person who proposed it is being a dick or not.

That said though, while I strive not to paint all people with the same brush, at least some of the prominent religious apologists are definitely stone-cold conmen. They've made apologetics their business; they sell DVDs and build theme parks; and whenever they attend debates, it's pretty obvious that they don't care about the truth, they just care about advertisement. On the other hand, there are plenty of apologists who are sincere in their beliefs, as well; and plenty of those who are just confused.

Unlike @Machine Interface, I personally find the honest religious mindset fascinating; it's the closest I can get to experiencing contact with a truly alien species.

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I think it's a valid topic as well, especially since it's relevant to me and my beliefs. I don't actually have a problem with the question being asked by a good-faith person who isn't just trying to claim some scalps, but I think it's pretty clear (YMMV caveat) that's not what Machine Learning is after.

I've had both kinds of conversations, and the problem with the "taking scalps" version is that they aren't actually usually there to understand the belief of the people who have it.

To put it another way, I think you know you could come to me and say "What do Christians think about obvious demon alien Joel Osteen?" and we could have a fun, productive conversation. And I would! We've gone back and forth on shit before without ripping each others throats out (I think).

But when someone comes up and says "given that all your prominent theologians are all dumb, sociopathic thieves, aren't you stupid?" I'm pretty reluctant to even have the conversation - I'm much more likely, as here, to point out that it doesn't seem like they actually want to know and that they also seem to be a very particular kind of dick.

I'm actually glad that you are here because it gives some level of contrast to how I respond to each, FWIW.

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Thanks, I appreciate the compliment. I'm not entirely sure who Joel Osteen is, but I hope he's got some tentacles, or at least horns. That said though, I think that @Machine Interface is upset with apologists specifically, not with theologians in general (and in fact, many apologists aren't even theologians). I do think that's a viable distinction, though obviously I don't take it to the extreme that @Machine Interface does.

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"Once a society reaches the iron age, ritual human sacrifice either disappears completely or becomes marginal."

This is false. The Iron Age had started by 1000 BC at least in the civilizations of Eurasia. Carthage was still practicing child sacrifice until it was destroyed by Rome in about 150 BC. In India, sati was only ended by British colonialism. It's not even clear if sati was an ancient practice or if it was a form of human sacrifice that began in medieval India. In China, human sacrifice was widely practiced until about 400 BC (until Duke Xian of Qin), then again in the 13&1400s (Yuan & early Ming), then again in the 1600s (early Qing).

It's easy to reach for technological determination of moral progress, but that often doesn't hold up to historical scrutiny. Moral progress is won through difficult, historically contingent struggles by individuals and civilizations.

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Lewis wrote in "Mere Christianity" that "If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.

"When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others."

Essentially, any truth claim means that you will disagree with everyone who disagrees with you: this tells us nothing about whether any particular truth claim is true. If there is no God, then the vast majority of the human race is in the wrong, and the fact that they are a majority doesn't make a difference. Similarly, if there is a God then that God (or gods) will have a specific nature, and according to that nature some believers in God will be right, and others will be wrong. That tells us nothing about whether God exists. Any claim of truth is exclusivist in nature.

Also, I would argue that not all religions are parochial in nature. Christianity, for instance, began as a heretic sect of Judiasm practiced by a few dozen people in a backwater Roman province: today one third of the world is Christian across every culture and continent. How can something that is accepted by Chinese, Nigerians, Argentinians, American Indians, Celts, Slavs, Greeks, Indians, Mongolians, and everyone in between be characterized as "reflecting the desires and prejudices of very specific individuals and communities at very specific points in space and time"?

I also take issue with the argument "And as human ability for science and rigorous observation advances, miracles retreat from the world." This does not seem to be accurate. Dr. Craig Keener wrote a two volume, 1,200+ page academic work detailing exhaustively that accounts of miracles occurring are as prevalent today as they were historically. People experience and report miracles all the time, and the rate of experiences does not seem to have gone down significantly. You can, of course, argue that miracles do not happen. But if you want to argue that *experiences* of miracles no longer happen as much as they used to then you'll need to content with Keener's work.

http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/miracles/335370

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Lewis in this quote seems to think "religion" means "Christianity, and maybe Judaism if we stretch it". There are religions that either don't believe in God, or for which there is some belief in God but it's not very central. And Lewis' standards for "some hint of the truth" are odd and seem contrived to give the answer he wants. If you think there's no God, and some religion claims "there is a God but he doesn't actively interfere much", I'd call that "wrong, but near being right" even if Lewis won't.

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I mean, I don't know the exact context, but if you take "the main point" to be "acting righteously will be rewarded", then you probably do get "most of the human race would have to have been wrong about this for all of history" in order to adopt an existential or nihilist worldview. There are important doctrinal differences regarding whether those rewards are to occur in this life or a later one, but that basic tenet is essentially invariant among all religions.

(Not saying that this isn't explainable, but it certainly is something needing an explanation.)

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I disagree that his claim only applies to Christianity and Judaism. A Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Wiccan, Animist, and ancient Greek pagan all agree on many things: the existence of a supernatural order apart from the material order and the existence of a soul that survives past death, at the most basic level. Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree on something like 90% of reality, differing primarily on the exact nature of Yahweh and the role of Christ. Christians and Hindus agree that the supernatural exists, that the world was created by supernatural beings, that the soul survives death, that there is a supernatural moral order by which people are judged, that there are supernatural beings at large in the world that can affect us, and that the higher supernatural beings (God for Christians, gods for Hindus) are worthy of worship.

I don't know why you think Lewis would say a deist religion isn't "wrong but near being right." I think he would agree with you that they are very close to the truth. "As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others."

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Tolkien was disappointed that Lewis became an Anglican instead of Catholic. I’d love see a transcript of some of their conversations. Must have been pretty heady stuff.

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"*existing* religions are extremely parochial, reflecting the desires and prejudices of very specific individuals and communities at very specific points in space and time."

But enough about Social Justice.

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SJ also believes in supernatural entities and original sin.

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What does that mean this week?

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Perhaps the insistence on parochial faith-based monotheism is pragmatically more than theoretically true. Like perhaps it's the case that polytheism (and the societies built around it) simply disintegrates after a while, whereas monotheism does not (cf. the Jews). And if it's true in practice, then it's true in theory.

Not sure how this works out when e.g. Christians and Muslims and Jews all meet each other, so I perhaps the above argument works for parochial faith-based monotheism in general, but not for any particular parochial faith-based monotheism.

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Sure thing - read more TLP, focus more on what others need.

https://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2009/01/can_narcissism_be_cured.html

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Thanks, I'm really enjoying his posts on narcissism!

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I’m not an authority here, but I’d think if you are worried about having narcissistic personality disorder, you probably don’t have it.

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I mean...I tick off almost all boxes on the WebMD page.

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I only have a layman’s understanding of NPD. I can’t, for example, imagine someone like, say, a certain former POTUS fretting about having this sort of problem.

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Sure, he definitely has it worse. Also, the anonymity that the internet provides me gives me more courage to expose my deficiencies

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Self-diagnosing based on a WebMD page is only marginally better than using a horoscope to determine your psychiatric condition.

If you think you have NPD, please see a psychologist and request a formal assessment. If you don't believe in psychology, I'd suggest you should also not believe in NPD.

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Thank you for this response to the OP!!

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I’m also a layman, but I immediately remembered a battery of news stories indicating that he might. Here’s a link to one: https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-how-to-identify-a-narcissist-with-one-simple-question-20140805-story.html

One important difference between that reporting and this situation though is that the claim is that narcissists admit to being narcissistic because they don’t see anything wrong with it. Therefore, the “worried” part is adding a lot of uncertainty.

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In my mind, this is just a medical condition that I need to cure. I'm not forming a judgement on myself as a result of having this condition. I don't know if this is narcissistic.

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Apr 5, 2022·edited Apr 5, 2022

Personality disorders are terminal short of certain miracles. This is why they're PERSONALITY disorders. It indicates that something is fundamentally dysfunctional about your entire psyche that isn't rooted in brain chemistry imbalance.

If you insist you have a personality disorder and insist on treating it like a disease, I'm obligated to inform you the closest thing to a cure is large amounts of psychedelics, judging by the sheer number of "acid saved my life" stories I'm personally familiar with. Even then, that's a scattershot cure with a non-zero chance of causing a psychotic break. The psychotic break may even be NECESSARY for the cure.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

If you spend significant amounts of time thinking about yourself to the point that you self diagnose your mental state and taking internet tests to classify it into various disorders, wouldn't that be an indication of having narcissistic personality disorder?

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I was reading something completely unrelated, found this word, looked it up, and found that it resonated with me. Although I do believe I have NPD. This is not proof of it.

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You beat me to it. :)

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Just a notion about utilitarianism-- as the population goes up, larger numbers of people die or get otherwise hurt in disasters. Does this make for an incentive to not go for the highest population so as to have more slack in case of problems?

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deletedApr 4, 2022·edited May 10, 2023
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I think good behavior is an intractably difficult calculation, and trying to get it from a simple comprehensible rule just doesn't work.

What people seem to go with is probably an intuitive combination of utilitarianism, consequentialism, and virtue ethics, and there's no simple rule for balancing them.

It's not that there's no way to think about ethics, just that there are no rules which cover all the edge cases.

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I mean utilitarianism is the idea that you should have a utility function and maximize it. Some people say this makes it contentless because it can be applied to any utility function, so it can't tell you what to care about on it's own. But I think that this is actually more useful content than most moral philosophies which make prescriptions but don't coherently tell you how to implement them.

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Interesting question. Is it better to consider it in terms of how many people die in disasters, or how many people are left after the disaster? I don't know what the ideal population floor is, but I feel like there is one. "Maximize the floor" is definitely one approach. But it does lead to numerically more deaths.

That was an approach to child-bearing in the past, I think. Have enough so that even if something really bad happens, one or two will survive.

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Graphs so far all point in the direction of less death in natural disasters. Slack is a good thing and I think it should be pursued for its own sake, but I don't see an obvious inverse relationship with population, and I don't see it appearing any time soon.

I got a bit triggered by your question though because there's a train of thought that goes to limit good things to prevent bad ones, and I... well, partly dislike it, but I'm mostly terrified of it. The decision we make in our world may well be the decision somebody makes for the human race as a whole with a completely different set of standards for suffering.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

There's no inverse relationship *as long as modern civilization is stable*, yes. What were crop yields in the 19th century, again? Do we not rely on modern supply chains to achieve modern crop yeilds?

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No, because constantly rising population ensures greater total utility, so long as the average human is perceived to have positive utility. But I'm pretty anti-utilitarian, so.

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Yes, I read this as a fairly convincing anti-utilitarian argument.

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"No, because constantly rising population ensures greater total utility, so long as the average human is perceived to have positive utility. But I'm pretty anti-utilitarian, so."

This is a little misleading and I think it's misleading in a way that might contribute to some people's distress re: Parfit's repugnant conclusion. Constantly rising population ensures greater utility so long as the average additional human has positive utility AND the utility of the already existing humans doesn't fall by an amount greater than the positive utility of the new humans.

E.g. suppose we have utilities:

{-1, 3, 3} at time one. If at time two we add an additional human with utility 1, that could be a negative outcome if the existence of this human reduces the utility of already existing humans by a >1 total- e.g. if the situation becomes {-1, 2, 2, 1}.

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Right. And a utilitarian seriously interested the consequences of any action should try to run the expected utility projections for different scenarios far into future. (Population increases past the carrying capacity and crashes, was the total experienced utility worth it?)

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

Utilitarians are consequentialists. As such, it is not enough for a scenario to be "worth it". It would have to be "more worth it" than a safer approach that *doesn't* risk global catastrophe. And that's not very likely. (Edit: that said, I think EAs haven't given enough attention to the risk of hitting Earth's carrying capacity IMO - this is not an error with the ethical system per se, it's a mistake, and people of any moral system make mistakes, sometimes with bad consequences. But being concerned on a moral level with such consequences, before they happen, is a distinctively consequentialist kind of thinking. So I hate it when people point to potential bad consequences as evidence against consequentialism, when it's really more like evidence that the critic of consequentialism likes consequentialism and doesn't know it yet!)

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As I understand it most projections have the world population leveling off and declining over the next few decades.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

Two things happening simultaneously, thing 1 is modern agriculture's increasing the load capacity of the planet and thing 2 is people getting richer and more secure decreasing the species' total desire for children.

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Why are you only considering humans?

Why are you only considering currently existing humans?

I feel we are already well above the long-term carrying capacity of the planet, and species are being driven extinct at an appalling rate.

That said, if you are only to consider the humans alive at any one time, do you feel that ten people suffering (not-quite life threatening) starvation is better than one person who is happy? Why?

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founding

So far we're firmly into positive network effects. An extra human born now contributes more than his own share of utilitons+hedons, he's also part of a network that makes his contribution proportional to the size of the network.

There are plenty of bad endings where we have too many people, too little slack, and Moloch rules all. But the current reality is (still) far from that.

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I agree: lets wait until every new human is inching much, much closer to the net negative boundary before we start worrying about this. So far more people=more utility is working great, if some far dystopian future finds different they'll most likely have the resources to deal with it.

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Not all self-identified utilitarians endorse repugnant conclusion.

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This is the answer of traditional utilitarianism. There is negative utilitarianism, too.

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What do you mean by "slack"? How would having less people make recovery easier?

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Depending on how you think about, you could either kill everybody as life is inherently suffering, or have as high a population as possible as life is inherently joyous. It's a philosophical question

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Apr 3, 2022·edited Apr 3, 2022

'Population Ethics' is an unsolved problem. Actual ways of aggregating utility have an embarrassing habit of either suggesting we should produce as many people as possible, no people at all, or twenty people living in absolute splendor.

People have proposed various solutions like counting people who might exist differently than people who do exist in various ways, but they haven't really won wide approval.

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What are "actual ways of aggregating utility"? All I hear is things like "sum utility" or "average utility", which aren't actual ways of doing anything. Utils aren't real and utilty cannot be quantified.

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If you start from the assumptions that utility is real, and can be aggregated, you still don't know how.

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This is a weird take to me. Do you not think that there is pleasure/pain? That people prefer some things to other things? The fact that we can't rigorously quantify something doesn't mean it isn't real. Light didn't become real only upon the invention of the first light meter/method of counting photons.

I agree that currently we are unable to quantify utils in anything other than the very coarsest way (much like we knew it was darker at night and lighter in the day long before we could assign lux values), but I can't think of any compelling argument that should convince one that it is fundamentally impossible.

Maybe it is! But I don't know why one would feel certain in that position right now.

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I don't know about Melvin's objection to utils, but here's my take on it.

We get a utility function for a rational decision maker from the VNM utility theorem. Already we have to assume some definition of "rational" that humans don't satisfy, but let's handwave that away.

We cannot say "the" utility function, because we can scale and shift a utility function arbitrarily - this does not affect comparisons between expected utilities. To assign some utility function to a rational decision maker, you have to make some arbitrary decisions.

Having done so, it is meaningless to compare the values of two people's utility functions. Utils aren't real: choosing a unit and a baseline for Alice's utility doesn't say anything about Bob's utility. So adding or averaging utilities is meaningless.

I can imagine some kludgy solutions to this. For example, just as we use the price of a basket of goods to measure inflation, we can use the utility of a "basket of outcomes" to measure utility. If you adjust Alice's and Bob's utility function so that they roughly agree on most of a set like {break an arm, fall in love, lose a bet, pet a kitten, ...} then maybe it makes sense try aggregating their utility functions (and only then can we argue about the right way to do so).

Of course, this procedure has the built-in assumption that Alice and Bob are of equal value, which is questionable if for example Alice is a human and Bob is a malaria-carrying mosquito.

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It sounds like your objection is that different people get different amounts of utility from the same thing, which doesn't really seem to be a problem to me. It certainly makes _measuring_ utils more difficult, but I'm not sure how that disproves utils as a concept.

They just sort of seem self evident to me. At their root, they are the idea that humans prefer some things to other things. That's it. Now, you can make the separate argument that the existence of utils isn't enough to justify the larger framework of utilitarianism, or something like that, but I just don's see how one can reasonably disagree with the idea that sentient beings have preferences and that they are happier when they get their preferences and unhappier when they don't.

The larger concepts of utility functions and whatnot are our groping attempts to think about and use utils in more complex,systematized ways, and fine, you can certainly think that we don't have good enough definitions/measurements that these attempts make sense, but to disagree with the more fundamental idea that people get happiness/unhappiness out of certain things (which is all a util is at it's most root) seems weird.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

No, the objection is that saying "different people get different amounts of utility from the same thing" requires there to be a common unit in which we're measuring two people's utility, and there is not inherently any such thing.

You can't claim "Alice gets 2 utils from petting a kitten, but Bob only gets 1 util, so Alice gets more utility out of petting kittens than Bob." Bob's utility function is only defined up to scaling, so I can equally well scale it by a factor of 100 from the choice you picked, and say "Alice gets 2 utils from petting a kitten, but Bob gets 100."

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When people form a group to execute a task that is more effective than each of them individually working on the task, then you would say that their aggregate utility is greater than the sum total of their individual utilities.

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Yeah. The repugnant conclusion is correct—the ethos that states “increase the total amount of happiness in the world” is not defined well enough to handle multiple populations with different sizes.

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Feels ad-hocish. Just bite the bullet or abandon utility maximization. I think the repugnant conclusion is true but it doesn't necessarily mean people have an obligation to have a bunch of kids. I have a lower standard for what's morally obligatory.

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"twenty people living in absolute splendor."

I think with the currently available technology, 20 is just too few to enable a life of absolute splendor for any of them.

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And yet premodern virtue ethics converge to a functional society and passable mental health, while utilitarian ethics get reduced ad absurdum all the time and give the practitioner crippling anxiety.

I don't think human psychology is compatible with quantifying ethics, as the second- and n-th order negative effects outscale the benefits by orders of magnitude. See also: trolleys, violinists, murderous surgeons, etc etc.

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Proposed solution "democratic multimodal utilitarianism": use a weighted average of the utility functions of different forms of utilitarianism, according to how much credence consequentialists put in each.

As long as the Hard Problem of Consciousness is unsolved, we can't declare one particular utility function the winner.

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Only if you can show that there would be more net happiness/pleasure/utility/whatever with the smaller population. It's true that disasters harm more people when the population is larger, but there are also more people who live unharmed through any disaster when the population is larger (unless there's some truly global disaster - and even something like the pandemic left many people unharmed and perhaps even better off).

If you could show an example where, say, a city of 2 million was devastated by an earthquake or hurricane, say with a million and a half people injured, but can argue convincingly that the same city with a population of only 1 million would have had fewer than half a million injured, then that would be a start to motivate this.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

It also depends on the disaster, doesn't it? If there is a hurricane or earthquake bad enough to wipe out a million people, then a city of 1 million will be totally destroyed, a city of 2 million will be impacted very harshly, a city of 6 million will be hit hard but recover. A city of 100 million mightn't even notice, but a city of 100 million would have a lot of problems already so that suffering was increased.

If we reduced the population everywhere because we wanted to reduce suffering and harm, then when hit by a really bad event, the suffering would actually increase.

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Very much worth reading Holden Karnofsky's latest 'cold take' - https://www.cold-takes.com/debating-myself-on-whether-extra-lives-lived-are-as-good-as-deaths-prevented/#challenge-2 - and even funnier in the podcast version with Holden as 'Utilitarian Holden' and his missus as 'Non-utilitarian Holden' (which in my feminist ears automatically lends credibility to that side!)

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Wow, Non-Utilitarian!Holden is pretty dumb. (This is a knock on Holden, not a knock on non-utilitarianism.) Holden either needs to get better at turing-testing competing views, or he needs an actual non-utilitarian to have these debates with.

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I am not a utilitarian and I responded to Holden's original article where he builds the foundation of his ethical belief. I think his thinking on that is flawed and so later articles on the basis of this thinking are flawed. I messaged him and linked to my article [1]. I don't think he's responded. I didn't think NUH was dumb.

[1] https://parrhesia.substack.com/p/contra-karnofsky-on-future-proof

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

Perhaps dumb was the wrong word--a better one might be "hamstrung". A real non-utilitarian would object to naked comparisons of worlds A/B/C/D/E as normatively guiding in the first place. The core of non-consequentialism is that it can also matter *how* we *get to* those worlds(edit: and/or where we get there *from*). That principle is nowhere invoked by NUH, which makes him a uniquely bad Turing-test of non-consequentialist views. I'll break that down a bit.

Holden's conversation hinges on arguments about "choosing the best world". On a consequentialist view, this is a critically important question, since the morality of an action is defined (only) by whether it brings about a better world. Therefore, "better than" must be a total order on the class of possible worlds. That's the implicit assumption that makes Parfit's mere addition paradox and repugnant conclusion so troubling.

But this isn't an assumption non-consequentialists have to share. Instead, they can agree that there are weird features (like being a non-total partial order, or even a non-transitive relation) of the "better than" relation among possible worlds, which is why it can't be the only factor in a normative theory.

In less technical language: there are arguments like the mere addition paradox, which show that there's no intuitively consistent way to define one world being "better than" another in all cases. Non-consequentialists (other than NUH) use this as a part of their claim for why ethics can't be solely based on what creates a "better world", since the notion of "better world" doesn't make complete sense. When "better world" logic breaks down, like in those Parfittian paradoxes, normative ethics has to be based on other considerations (like, for example, respecting rights, theories of desert, or any of the other many non-consequentialist theories out there).

I think the sleight of hand which hamstrings NUH happens at the very beginning, when Holden says:

"I often give an example of how one could face a choice between A and B in real life, to make it easier to imagine - but it's not feasible to give this example in enough detail and with enough defense to make it seem realistic to all readers, without a big distraction from the topic at hand."

Again, the core of non-consequentialism is that the means of reaching a world-state can matter, not *just* the end state itself, so restricting the conversation to comparison of world-states without considering how they come about forecloses on NUH's most powerful arguments. I would even go so far as to say that it makes NUH fail to be non-utilitarian *at all*. So I stand by my assertion that he needs actual non-utilitarian interlocutors.

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Disasters are generally only a small part of the suffering in the world, and I don't really see any reason to treat them differently from other forms of suffering. Of course, a disaster that wipes out humanity or significantly curtails its future potential is a different story. Non-time-sensitive total utilitarianism, which values the lives of future people equally to those of current people, considers preventing such disasters to be the highest priority.

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This is part of a more-general problem. Should we leave more slack in the budget, in our infrastructure capacity, in our military capability? History shows we're incapable of leaving slack in the budget, even though we always end up needing it--unpredictable disasters continue to arrive predictably--and incapable of not leaving it in our military.

Free market economics guarantee that we'll scale production of everything, including people, up and down in response to the environment. But they also guarantee we'll never have enough capacity to deal with black swans.

A good research question is how robustness to disaster scales with population size, or with social complexity. The fact that we always plan for the average case may result in there being some maximum complexity a civilization can achieve, beyond which things break down faster than they can be built up. A civilization is not a sandpile; it becomes more complex as it grows. But OTOH, in evolution, more-complex organisms live longer.

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Doesn't this depend on the proportions ? If we gain 100 new people, and 1 of them dies in a disaster while the remaining 99 ascend directly to some post-scarcity quasi-Heaven, then according to Utilitarianism we should hurry up and produce 100 more people...

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If you're a negative utilitarian, yes; but if you're a negative utilitarian, you're supposed to be trying to wipe out all sentient life to prevent it from suffering, so most people aren't that.

For normal utilitarians, I think it's fair to expect that the average life is net positive, if for no other reason than revealed preferences based on everyone not killing themselves; so creating more lives is expected positive utility, at least at the current margin.

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Slack is nice. It's nice to have green space in cities, toilets that flush, real meat on the table, etc.

The pain from lack of slack cuts in well before people start dying in large numbers. Take the recent epidemic. Red States didn't shut down as much because Red States don't have the same population density. The Red areas have back yards to safely go out in vs. relying on public parks. I shudder to think of what it was like to live in a cramped apartment in New York City when things shut down.

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Sure but I don't think there's a strong or necessary relationship between world population, urban density, and societal slack. I'm pretty sure you could manipulate all of those factors independently in designing a society.

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If you're a negative utilitarian (minimizing suffering) then yes. A positive utilitarian (maximizing pleasure/happiness), or a mixture of the two branches, may not be convinced.

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I think you're overlooking a big assumption there, which is that more people = more good. The phrase the most good for the most people basically translates to "(units of good) * (number of people)." I would assume that at some point the amount of good per person added with each new person would start to decrease and eventually turn negative.

Of course defining "good" is a whole other thing...

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That's why I said 'at the current margin'.

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founding

Or not :) There's a different model which involves network effects - each extra person ca do/feel/contribute/enjoy so much more when there's more people in the world.

At a first glance the trend checks out - lives used to be shorter and, at least by a few measures, a lot less fun. Then we got pieces of civilization which got life progressively less painful - less war, less death in disease and childbirth and so on; and also more fun, with printing press, radio, tv, tiktok; also with more options to contribute, like both genders and more social stratas in education and workforce.

Nancy is ok to worry about Moloch. If we all end up a Russia-style dictatorship for example where win-win relationships are less common, then yes, it could well be that less people equals better living. But overall we're fortunately not seeing this in the future.

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Any tips for getting myself to write on my thesis? I keep pushing it off, it's ridiculous. I don't seem to be able to set myself to work the way I used to do.

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founding

Time blocking instead of todo lists, and start with smallish intervals. Time blocking = do absolutely nothing else, except what you've blocked the time for, or just looking at a wall.

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i have found what Radu calls "time blocking" to be the best approach for writing type work I am really resisting . I bought a literal hourglass (fun to look at, don't need the internet, etc) (but for 20 minutes, because an hour is probably too long for this technique). Open word document, turn over hourglass. You cannot do anything else until the hourglass is out. Cannot leave chair, cannot browse internet. You can stare at the wall, stare at the screen, or actually work. Once the timer runs out, take a break, repeat. (usually somewhere around 5 minutes in to a block the feeling of resistance dissipates and it gets a lot easier to keep going).

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I will definetely try that. Just for the aesthetics of the hourglass on my desk.

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If I went that far, I’d probably want to add an astrolabe and some other old time artifacts to the décor. Not sure where this would all end. :)

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I remember this old ST:TNG parody script that had Data pulling out a physical hourglass (since Windows 95 was popular at the time) whenever he had to do a complicated operation.

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Have you tried different times of day? I can produce the most volume when I’m tired. I think the over analytical part of me that slows me down and takes me on tangents dials down a bit. Then I edit next morning.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

100% agree, Pomodoro (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique) really helped me knock out pages of my dissertation

Also want to second the suggestion downthread of using beeminder, I set a goal of ~10 hours a week dissertating (Research, writing or editing) and that was another great motivator: https://bmndr.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/754b626a-59ae-4597-8285-5f307b6a55f4.png

To keep from cheating I printed out the papers I was referencing so I didn't have an excuse to waste time looking for new ones.

Doing most of my writing early in the morning, ~7am-9am, before anyone else showed up to lab, helped to

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The problem with that (for me personally) is that I have no problem at all staring at the wall for twenty minutes. :(

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Change of scenery maybe? I found it helpful to go and work out of a library for a few hours everyday. It also seemed to help me keep working later on in the day when I went home.

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Is it because you keep compulsively doing something else? Get a program that can block websites and programs at certain times. I recommend Cold Turkey for desktop and AppBlock for Android.

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Funny, I have this exact same combination. They've pretty amazing, but they can only do so much by themselves. Personally, I pin my hopes on adhd medication, though I can't get it legally in my country.

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I’ve found tools like Beeminder and Complice to be really helpful in pushing me to address tasks that I don’t want to do. Beeminder is useful for committing yourself to a goal (e.g. say maybe you want to write X words of your thesis per week, though be sure to keep the goal small and achievable). Complice is good for keeping you focused on the broad themes of your goals and helping you reflect on what roadblocks might be preventing you from making progress on them.

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What worked for me was to make it my very first task for the day, after eating breakfast. If I did literally anything else before writing, even useful tasks, I would get no writing done all day. If I did it first I could write for 30 minutes to an hour, and then usually also feel motivated for another block in the afternoon.

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Set up a food reward for it.

I get special meat treats when I do hard brain stuff, because apparently I am +-85% of the way to being a dog.

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Apr 3, 2022·edited Apr 3, 2022

The best motivator I know is to schedule a meeting with your advisor and promise to send them a draft of your next chapter before that meeting.

Other than that, I set a quota for how much time I had to put into the thesis each day. I'd make it 3 or 4 hours of writing per day, with reading/research counting for half as much as writing. (Trying to force myself to do too much in any one day would lead me to feel like it was impossible and not even try, so it worked better to keep the number smaller.) To make that work, I have to track when I am and am not working, so I have a Word document where I "clock in" and then "clock out" every time I stop to check my email or make a cup of tea or anything else that isn't work.

If I wasted the entire day, then I couldn't play video games that day, which was a bummer. That wasn't always enough to motivate me to meet the quota, but it worked a majority of the time. When I started getting tempted to break my own rule and play video games *anyways*, I signed up for Beeminder and set it to charge my credit card if I broke the rule. Ridiculous, but it worked.

Obviously it wouldn't have to be video games specifically, but the reward needs to be something that (a) you're always keen to do and (b) is immediately available the instant you meet your quota.

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+1 having to produce a draft with a concrete deadline for a person whose opinion I respect

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There’s a free coursera course called learning how to learn they has basic but practical tips on this, maybe check that out

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Try writing to somebody else about it. Some tips about that: https://dianaberlin.com/posts/journaling-in-practice

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I had a teacher have me write a paper with the screen turned off. You just type and type with no editing and maybe forgetting what you're even talking about and just get a bunch of words out. Then writing the actual paper becomes the relatively simpler task of editing.

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Had that issue. My solution was to actually rent a place (with real money), keep all my thesis-related stuff there, make sure it has no internet access, and go and write there every weekday. Three months later I had the first draft.

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founding

Cal Newport's deep work is a pretty good primer on that. You need to separate deep work from "synchronized" work, and you can do this in both time and space.

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I set a rule that I had to write at least a page every weekday. I often kept going and ended up writing several pages, but if not I was satisfied meeting my quota. I also wrote out of order starting with which ever section felt easiest to write at the time.

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I just made it my job. Nine to five, Monday to Friday, in the office, sitting at my computer, working on my thesis. I didn't find it any more difficult than doing any other job.

My PhD thesis basically consisted of five or so papers I'd already written. I turned each paper into a chapter (with a few extra tables and figures), stuck an introduction and conclusion on the ends, and called it a thesis.

I think some people get psychologically stuck on the write-up because they think that their thesis should be some kind of Magnum Opus. I freed myself of that expectation and set out to write a perfectly acceptable thesis that would satisfy the requirements. Save your best work for your publishable papers, someone might actually read this.

(Note: all this applies to physics, your field may vary)

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One thing that improved my experience was deciding on, eg, Monday, which things I was going to do on Tuesday. Then repeat every day. It sounds silly, but the simple separation between the moment when I decided which work to do and the moment I actually did it made both of them easier.

Another thing that helps me is setting very small, very trivial goals. For example, perhaps today I decide that one of my goals for tomorrow is to write one paragraph on Topic X. Then what usually ends up happening is that after I finish writing that paragraph, I'm into it and continue writing without even noticing.

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Maybe find an IRL friend who will sit with you in the room where you're working, and who would occasionally stop you from going on twitter or reddit or whatever (though hopefully the temptation to do that will drop).

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There's a new service "Focusmate" that pairs people up to co-work with webcams on, for accountability. I haven't tried it but it seems like it might help for the same reason.

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Procrastinating on a thesis is a very lonely experience that you share with something like 150,000 other people.

There's a whole culture where it's embarrassing to admit to your peers or advisor that you're having issues with procrastination or time management or inspiration. You're allowed to say you need help running some regression but you can't admit you are struggling with the meta-work stuff that is actually epidemic among almost everyone you know. You're in a very weird community.

Maybe you're getting trapped by re-editing every para over and over. For that, some people say it is useful to clearly separate "drafting" and "editing" times. Just get things on the page, no matter how ugly, during the drafting times.

Maybe your struggle is getting started. Finding a separate place dedicated only for drafting can be useful. I've had mixed success though, designating a library as my "writing place" and finding myself reading chapters on minor tangential points instead of making progress on the main points.

I wonder if you could break some academic taboos and hire out the boring parts.

If it's easy to talk through your ideas and hard to write, hire a stenographer to listen to you explain your thesis, edit later.

"Pair drafting" can be like speed-running drafting. It keeps you focused to have someone really staring at what you're doing, it makes you explain ideas clearly enough for a reader. The other member of the pair can be a non-expert and basically just a sounding board that corrects occasional typos and it still works. You might be able to hire a "writing coach" for a few hours a week to help in this way.

Advisors are supposed to be sounding boards, but they're not neutral, so it can be intimidating to tell them the full current situation. Find another zero-judgment person to talk to or check in once a week. Non-advisor faculty or a peer are ok, but that's not zero-judgment. Hiring a therapist could work, and probably should be mandatory for grad students.

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Am I missing something, or is it not possible to compress/roll up comment threads in the Substack app?

I have tried pressing in all the intuitive places and nothing happens, but maybe I’m missing something really obvious.

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founding

Hehe. Been there. It's the thin line on the left of the comment/thread. Very unintuitive, yes.

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I tried this but it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I need to download the latest version of the app?

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founding

Ah, the app. Ups. Didn't know there's an app :\

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You have just made my life so much better! Thank you!

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The line should subtly change appearance when hovered over to show it's clickable.

Pretty basic UI design failure.

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For me it changes from light gray to slightly darker gray when hovered, although I'd still never have found it without reading the above. I miss SSC's comment system.

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Oh, you're right, it does change.

I agree it's too little, but at least they tried, and I'm sure some people have discovered it this way.

If I remember, I discovered it by thinking "there just *has* to be a way", and clicking the line was the only possible way the UI could offer that function.

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Awesome! Thanks.

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Kevin said it best: You have just made my life so much better! Thank you! !!!

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Yea they reeeally need to add this to the app

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Has Scott ever written about the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of encounter groups for affecting behavior? I know types of talk therapy aren't what he usually addresses. But I think there was a moment in the 1970s where some people in psychology thought piling on/yelling at people was actually helpful in some way, and then that idea jumped disciplines (and has lived on, both online and IRL). A really coherent writeup of this could be useful in multiple ways.

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I definitely second this. My impression, which I'm realizing right now is based on basically nothing, is that public shaming seems to be one of the out and out most effective behavior modification methods there is, especially when the goal is modify the behavior *fast. There's a reason why corporal punishment is a thing in militaries. I think for certain communities in certain situations, public shaming can be a way to modify behavior of a member without reducing their capacity.

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There's something to it. I think there's a distinction to be made between situations that are "initiations" in some way, and those that are not. People get jumped into gangs, for example (and if they are able to leave voluntarily, they may get jumped out) so that group violence toward the individual becomes a gate. I think corporal punishment was a thing in the US military at some time in the past, but I'm not sure it is now, one distinction being corporal punishment versus intense exercise plus psychological punishment. And I think the military punishment is formally one person punishing one person, or one person punishing the whole unit, something like that. Situations of multiple people piling on one person may happen, but not formally. Additionally, I think having someone who willingly and quickly takes orders is the goal on the other side of the military initiation, and too much shame is actually counterproductive to that.

So once someone is on the "in" side of that gate, potentially smaller applications of shaming might serve to remind them of their membership and the behavior expectations. Sortof shame-plus-belonging. Or maybe the attitude is "shame is only necessary for those jerks who are not as cool as we are now; shame is what we do to outsiders."

Potentially the shame has to be applied regularly or the membership subsides, or lapses, or people quit, or decide it's weird. Or shame is applied outward instead.

Absent a context that the person actually wants/chooses/intends to be part of, I'm not sure the pile-ons work, or when the context ends, the behavior modification may end. Being piled on by an "enemy" is some form of assault and does not automatically cause behavior modification. Graeber & Wengrow mention "schismogenesis" - the situation of groups of people defining themselves in opposition to each other. Pile-ons might just make that go faster in some contexts.

For a group that people are already part of and are choosing to remain in, teasing and mocking may be more effective than pile-ons for maintaining core behaviors.

Pile-ons are a way of negotiating territory among people who have low to medium loyalty to each other (I think?) It is a way of negotiating dominance. Not actual individual change/growth.

From what I recall reading, the encounter groups tended to cause some amount of change in the individual but it didn't last. And some people did feel assaulted by it.

Rats avoid electric shocks.

It seems to be worth thinking about, because it *seems* logical (sortof) that shaming would work, but there seem to be a lot of social-verbal examples where it doesn't work at all.

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Exciting to see meetups in far-flung places that don't have existing communities! e.g. Amman, Bangkok, Ibadan, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen, and Singapore :)

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Hey Mingyuan, fyi we had a fab meet-up today in a not so far-flung existing village near Oxford - 14 people, 10 hours of workshops, food, chat and singalong 'live from OxRat'!

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10 hours? Workshops? Er,ok. I guess. 🤷

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i am going to try again to organize one in a small town , no one showed up last year, is there a forum for the meetups in particular?

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Apr 3, 2022·edited Apr 3, 2022

What's the right way to view the Chernobyl disaster?

1) The RBMK reactor was not flawed. It had weaknesses, but those weaknesses were known, and didn't cause problems so long as the humans operating the reactor remembered their training.

2) The RBMK reactor WAS flawed. Its weaknesses were so serious that it was unacceptably dangerous to expect human technicians to avoid inflaming them for the expected lifetime of such a reactor. The potential for disaster should have been recognized at the beginning, and the RBMK reactor design changed to add an extra margin of safety.

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2. We design cars so people can survive crashes, we design planes to minimize the ability of pilot error to cause catastrophic issues, we have food safety regulations so that properly heating food isn't the only thing between you and food poisoning.

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2

“ When asked what they learned from something that went wrong, junior devs will tell you about a plan to avoid making that mistake again. Senior devs will recognize the inevitability of human failure and explain how they built that assumption into their future planning.” -Tony Cox, one of my former colleagues

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Apr 3, 2022·edited Apr 3, 2022

2 is generally a good view (any system where you say "if only people would just..." needs to contend with people who won't just), but it's very definitely true for Chernobyl. Not only was the reactor flawed, but the Soviets were aware of the flaws for years, because they'd had similar near-misses in other reactors with the same design. The design wasn't changed, and while they did apparently make some regulatory changes, it was downplayed and the technicians didn't really get that the new rule was a "don't do this or the reactor will explode" sort of problem.

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1.5).

Safety factors that rely on human action to that extent are not very safe; but it took a truly cataclysmic level of dumb shit to get the reactor to melt down.

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Option 3) It was all the CIA's fault! Or at least, that was what the Russians were going to say in their own mini-series. Not sure if they ever got around to making it come to think.

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Neither. They're overly simplistic notion of failure. Consider the following extensions of the logic.

- Automobiles are not flawed; they have known weaknesses that require human operators to remember their training, which they're legally obligated to prove they've gotten in order to operate a vehicle. After all, most drivers get in zero crashes their whole life!

- Automobiles are flawed; it is unacceptably dangerous to expect human technicians to operate them safely for their whole lifetime, and we need to change the designs to add an extra margin of safety. Why, there are whole industries built around the assumption that cars get into crashes!

The overwhelming majority of major disasters are systemic, that is, you can't pick apart any one cause and say "this alone could have prevented it". While Chornobyl was the worst nuclear accident in history, it wasn't the first or the last - and the others didn't use an RBMK reactor. As a trend, Russian design - particularly in the Soviet era - has lagged on human-factors consideration. You see in every aspect of their design. But you could change the reactor technology, or the user interface, or the procedures, and potentially have avoided a meltdown. Many of the acute deaths could have been prevented with better equipment and training and more open communication, none of which the Soviets were known for.

The right way to think about it is in these two questions: "What total risk are we willing to accept?" and "How does each part contribute to the actual risk?". Because if you want to lower the risk of death for the equivalent amount of power, you'd build *more* nuclear, or at least less coal and oil and hydro and rooftop solar. Even if all we had was RBMK reactors!

Or, consider Fukushima. Even though Fukushima had an obvious external cause, it took several major failures for the tsunami to turn it into a nuclear disaster, including the insufficient sea wall, the insufficient power hardening, and the co-located backup generator. But there were no immediate deaths from radiation exposure, 1600 deaths from the chaotic evacuation, and the future deaths are projected to be anywhere from a few hundred to 1800 due to radiation exposure, of which the Japanese government has recognized 1 so far. Half to an overwhelming majority of even all the *projected* deaths were not directly caused by any design fault in the nuclear plant at all!

If you looked to blame any specific cause, you would not be prepared for the next event. Fukushima is not Chornobyl is not Three Mile Island is not Chalk River. Instead, you need to think systematically about how to achieve your goal, in this case safe operation. Blame is important if someone really messes up; you need to get that person out, but any system where lots of people can die if one person messes up is inherently flawed. More often, blame today prevents safer operations tomorrow.

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Just a minor nitpick - is it actually true that most drivers get in zero crashes their whole life? I would not be surprised if most drivers get in zero crashes where any human is injured, but I think minor crashes are really common.

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That line rang false to me too. High speed crashes are rare but scrapes when parking are very much not.

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@Thor Odinson I wouldn't consider bumper parking to be a safety issue.

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I was going to say just that. I think most of the people who regularly drive cars and whom I know well enough that I'd know it if they once had a minor car crash have had at least one.

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Yeah, of four drivers I know/knew well all four have been in a car accident of some description, although only one was injured and that a long time ago in a way modern safety systems would prevent.

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May 5, 2022·edited May 5, 2022

It may not be true generally that the overwhelming majority of people don't get in any accidents. It's true of people I know but that could be a flawed sample. In a brief search I couldn't find any credible claims either way, and the only claim I did find was a dead link (but indicated a large number of people get in crashes).

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

Re: Fukushima

...plus a zillion deaths indirectly caused by Japan, Germany, etc. freaking out and deciding to shut down nuclear power plants and having to produce (or save) energy by other means

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founding

2. In particular, the flaws of the RBMK reactor are inherent in its having been designed to serve as both a power plant and a plutonium breeder reactor for nuclear weapons production. AFIK Chernobyl was never used in the latter capacity, but the requirement that it hypothetically could be meant using a flammable graphite moderator rather than water, a positive void coefficient(*) in normal operation, and a "containment" structure with a roof that pops off if you give it a good shove. As already noted, "but our human operators will be so careful they'll never let it go out of control" is an accident waiting to happen.

Nuclear power plants that aren't also meant to be atom bomb factories can be made about as safe as any other kind of power plant, and usually are.

Plutonium breeder reactors for nuclear weapons are intrinsically more dangerous than power plants, but if you're *only* trying to make plutonium you can focus more effectively on mitigating those flaws and you won't be tempted to build the reactor quite so close to a city.

* Means, if the coolant starts to boil away, the reaction rate intrinsically increases and more heat is produced. You really want that to go another way.

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Bill Gates is trying to make breeder reactors great again.

And instead of graphite, his traveling wave reactor uses liquid sodium. Talk about Blue Screen of Death potential...

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022

I mean, sodium is arguably safer than typical current water reactor designs for a few reasons (and water is obviously safer than ye uld graphite designs.)

1) Radioactive sodium has a half life of 15 hours (and decays to stable magnesium.) If there is a spill, it won't stay hot for nearly as long as the products from a water-based cooling system (water vapor, hydrogen and oxygen).

~~2) Sodium will rapidly (hours or days) solidify if there's a containment leak. It's solid below the boiling point of water. That makes clean up a heck of a lot easier than the gaseous and liquid products from a water cooling system.~~ On second thought, the sodium will catch fire in this scenario and probably stay liquid for a long time.

3) Water containment has to be under very high pressure to keep it liquid at the high temperatures that reactors run at. If there is a containment breach, it will be explosive and spread irradiated pieces of the containment shield and droplets of irradiated cooling liquid over a wide area. (It will also be incredibly deadly to the thousand or so workers at the nuclear plant; more so than a breach of liquid sodium which will only be deadly for the minority of workers near containment.) Liquid sodium, OTOH, operates at atmospheric pressure. A containment failure won't spread sodium farther that the liquid flows before cooling.

4) Because sodium reactors run at a much higher temperature than water reactors with low required flow rates, most current designs can run their cooling in shutdown without any incoming power. (One of the critical failures in Fukushima was that the plant lost external electric power and all its backup generators to the tsunami, leaving it without power to run the cooling needed during shutdown. Its sister plant also lost power and generators, and was saved by plant personnel manually running a 10 mile long power cable through the disaster zone to a functioning substation over the first 24 hours post-tsunami.)

While sodium is obviously more toxic and reactive than water, it seems likely that a liquid sodium reactor will be less dangerous in the event of failure than a water one.

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> While sodium is obviously more toxic and reactive than water, it seems likely that a liquid sodium reactor will be less dangerous in the event of failure than a water one.

I disagree. We don't have nearly enough information to come to that conclusion. At-best, we can agree what there are different dangers involved. Given the low rate of problems with traditional water-cooled reactors (and available improvements reducing failure rates by several orders of magnitude) and the lack of engineering data for sodium-cooled reactors, it is quite possible that it's the other way around in-practice.

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There have been 20ish functional sodium nuclear reactors. We're far from zero data on them. Yes, we have more data on water ones. But that shouldn't keep us from comparing risk levels.

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I think the main reason to ponder Na instead of H2O is to avoid the possibility of H2 explosions, which plague reactors cooled (or moderated) by water when they reach high temperatures. The Zr in the fuel cladding, which is otherwise (from the point of view of its nuclear reactivity) highly desirable in that role, unfortunately reacts with steam at very high temperatures to produce H2. This was exactly the problem at Fukushima, and at least the second explosion at Chernobyl is thought to have been an H2 explosion.

Arguably H2 explosions are a significantly greater risk than a meltdown per se, since historically at least it's those that have breached containment and sent radioactive debris into the environment.

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