Theists are wrong; is theism?

Many folk here on LW take the simu­la­tion ar­gu­ment (in its more gen­eral forms) se­ri­ously. Many oth­ers take Sin­gu­lar­i­tar­i­anism1 se­ri­ously. Still oth­ers take Teg­mark cos­mol­ogy (and re­lated big uni­verse hy­pothe­ses) se­ri­ously. But then I see them pro­ceed to self-de­scribe as athe­ist (in­stead of om­nithe­ist, the­ist, deist, hav­ing a pre­dic­tive dis­tri­bu­tion over states of re­li­gious be­lief, et cetera), and many tend to be overtly dis­mis­sive of the­ism. Is this sig­nal­ling cul­tural af­fili­a­tion, an at­tempt to com­mu­ni­cate a point es­ti­mate, or what?

I am es­pe­cially con­fused that the the­ism/​athe­ism de­bate is con­sid­ered a closed ques­tion on Less Wrong. Eliezer’s re­for­mu­la­tions of the Prob­lem of Evil in terms of Fun The­ory pro­vided a fresh look at theod­icy, but I do not find those ar­gu­ments con­clu­sive. A look at Luke Muehlhauser’s blog sur­prised me; the ar­gu­ments against the­ism are just not nearly as con­vinc­ing as I’d been brought up to be­lieve2, nor nearly con­vinc­ing enough to cause what I saw as mas­sive over­con­fi­dence on the part of most athe­ists, as­piring ra­tio­nal­ists or no.

It may be that the­ism is in the class of hy­pothe­ses that we have yet to de­velop a strong enough prac­tice of ra­tio­nal­ity to han­dle, even if the hy­poth­e­sis has non-neg­ligible prob­a­bil­ity given our best un­der­stand­ing of the ev­i­dence. We are be­com­ing adept at wield­ing Oc­cam’s ra­zor, but it may be that we are still too foolhardy to wield Solomonoff’s lightsaber Teg­mark’s Black Blade of Disaster with­out chop­ping off our own arm. The liter­a­ture on cog­ni­tive bi­ases gives us ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve we are poorly equipped to rea­son about in­finite cos­mol­ogy, de­ci­sion the­ory, the mo­tives of su­per­in­tel­li­gences, or our place in the uni­verse.

Due to these con­sid­er­a­tions, it is un­clear if we should go ahead do­ing the equiv­a­lent of philoso­rap­tor­iz­ing amidst these poorly asked ques­tions so far out­side the realm of sci­ence. This is not the sort of do­main where one should tread if one is feel­ing in­se­cure in one’s san­ity, and it is pos­si­ble that no one should tread here. Hu­man philoso­phers are prob­a­bly not as good at philos­o­phy as hy­po­thet­i­cal Friendly AI philoso­phers (though we’ve seen in the cases of de­ci­sion the­ory and util­ity func­tions that not ev­ery­thing can be left for the AI to solve). I don’t want to stress your episte­mol­ogy too much, since it’s not like your im­mor­tal soul3 mat­ters very much. Does it?

Added: By the­ism I do not mean the hy­poth­e­sis that Je­ho­vah cre­ated the uni­verse. (Well, mostly.) I am talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of agenty pro­cesses in gen­eral cre­at­ing this uni­verse, as op­posed to im­per­sonal math-like pro­cesses like cos­molog­i­cal nat­u­ral se­lec­tion.

Added: The an­swer to the ques­tion raised by the post is “Yes, the­ism is wrong, and we don’t have good words for the thing that looks a lot like the­ism but has less un­for­tu­nate con­no­ta­tions, but we do know that call­ing it the­ism would be stupid.” As to whether this uni­verse gets most of its re­al­ity fluid from agenty cre­ators… per­haps we will come back to that ar­gu­ment on a day with less dis­tract­ing ter­minol­ogy on the table.


1 Of ei­ther the ‘AI-go-FOOM’ or ‘some­day we’ll be able to do lots of brain em­u­la­tions’ va­ri­ety.

2 I was never a the­ist, and only re­cently be­gan to ques­tion some old as­sump­tions about the like­li­hood of var­i­ous Creators. This per­haps ei­ther lends cred­i­bil­ity to my in­ter­est, or lends cred­i­bil­ity to the idea that I’m in­sane.

3 Or the set of things that would have been trans­lated to Archimedes by the Chrono­phone as the equiv­a­lent of an im­mor­tal soul (id est, what­ever con­cept ends up be­ing ac­tu­ally sig­nifi­cant).