Category Archives: religion

Romulus In The News

This is proof that Romulus really did ascend to heaven!

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Posted by on February 19, 2020 in religion


Conjunction Fallacies Abound

I’ve ranted about the conjunction fallacy before. Help me out, Wikipedia!

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

The majority of those asked chose option 2. However, the probability of two events occurring together (in “conjunction”) is always less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone—formally, for two events A and B this inequality could be written as Pr(A & B) < Pr(A) and Pr(A & B) < Pr(B).

For example, even choosing a very low probability of Linda being a bank teller, say Pr(Linda is a bank teller) = 0.05 and a high probability that she would be a feminist, say Pr(Linda is a feminist) = 0.95, then, assuming independence, Pr(Linda is a bank teller and Linda is a feminist) = 0.05 × 0.95 or 0.0475, lower than Pr(Linda is a bank teller).

Tversky and Kahneman argue that most people get this problem wrong because they use a heuristic (an easily calculated) procedure called representativeness to make this kind of judgment: Option 2 seems more “representative” of Linda based on the description of her, even though it is clearly mathematically less likely.

In other words, the representativeness bias (System 1) is making people answer when people should be using math (System 2).

There are a bunch of other instances of this:

Which is more probable?

1. God exists

2. God exists and cares about you

Which is more probable?

1. Jesus was crucified

2. Jesus was crucified and had twelve disciples

Which is more probable?

1. Organ A is responsible for the disease

2. Protein G in Organ A is responsible for the disease

Which is more probable?

1. Men assault/kill most people because men are violent

2. Men assault/kill women specifically due to misogyny

Remember what causes bias: We are biased because we use our moral intuitions to decide on something before using our more analytical brain, and we only use our analytical brain to defend our moral intuitions.

Chances are high that if some answer that should be a basic math problem upsets you, then you are defending your biases.

Take the last conjunction fallacy, that men assault women specifically due to misogyny. Already we are asserting a moral issue (misogyny) as the causal agent. Bias is already being prompted. But if men assault more people period due to men being more violent than women, there’s no need to introduce an additional factor when men assault women. Of course if men assault more people than women, the subset of people includes women. Hence the conjunction.

Now if it turned out that men assaulted/killed women more than men, an additional explanatory factor might be needed. This is not the case though.

Anytime you see an issue where the subset is being presented as more probable than its superset, you’re probably dealing with a conjunction fallacy. Indeed, if you want to nip this bias in the bud, always think about the possible supersets and their likelihoods.

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Posted by on January 5, 2020 in cognitive science, religion


Truth vs Morality II

A few years ago I made a post titled “Truth vs. Morality; Rationality vs Intuition“. In that post I put forward the idea that there are certain things — empirical claims — that people dismiss because of the unfavorable moral implications.

I encountered this so many times in debates with religious people that I assumed that it was a particular failing of the religious. All of us former religious people have encountered the following logic:

If god doesn’t exist, what’s stopping an atheist from murdering bystanders and raping children?

Religious people don’t realize that this is quite the self-own: They are so depraved and morally bankrupt that the only thing that’s stopping them from raping children is belief in god. Eliezer Yudkowsky refutes this pretty soundly in my opinion by substituting “murder” with something more mundane like “going to the bathroom after midnight”: If god doesn’t exist, what’s stopping atheist from going to the bathroom after midnight? Checkmate, atheists!

The substitution demonstrates that an extra, hidden premise is smuggled in to give the original formulation its weight.

Unfortunately, religion isn’t some aberration of human behavior. The physical-to-moral sleights of hand that religious people perform aren’t limited to them, many other non-religious people do them as well. Religion is just a subset of moral intuitions. As such, there are many other empirical claims that are dismissed on secular morality grounds, and lead to the same sorts of self-owns.

Can you think of any? I brought some up in that previous post.

The larger point in both this post and the previous, is that human worth should be orthogonal to most — if not all — empirical claims. If god doesn’t exist this should have no bearing on the value of human life. But to even get to this step, people have to understand that the existence of god is an empirical claim and not a moral one. That is a hard ask.

And to my non-religious readers, you don’t get away either! You suffer from the same inability to divorce the physical from the moral that the religious do. And as such, you will inadvertently self-own in the same way religious people do. How depraved and morally destitute are you by your own admission?

Or to put it in a phrasing you might be familiar with (and leads to the moral self-own), does not believing in [XYZ] empirical or physical claim make you racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? Are you saying that the only thing that holds you back from being a putrid mire of racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia is believing in [XYZ] claim?

Now, I actually don’t think religious people suffer from an abject poverty of moral purchase due to the implications of this particular anti-atheist argument. When a religious person hears “I don’t believe in god” it gets translated by their subconscious as “I don’t think morality exists”. The primacy of social or moral rules over the physical is a bias we all have. Meaning that the same translation happens for other physical claims besides the existence of god in non-religious domains: When presented with a question/claim that can have a moral/social answer/interpretation XOR a physical answer/interpretation, we tend to answer with the moral/social answer/interpretation.

But when you interpret a physical claim as a moral/social claim, you logically paint yourself into a moral corner. You imply that you would kill innocent people/rape children/be racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic, and the only thing holding you back is the existence of god/[XYZ] claim.

To drive this point home, I’ll end this post with the most egregious example of the human tendency to supplant the social/moral over the physical — besides the existence of god — in the current zeitgeist:

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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in cognitive science, economics/sociology, morality, religion


Promiscuous Condemnation: People Assume Ambiguous Actions are Immoral


Do people generally view others as good or evil? Although people generally cooperate with others and view others’ “true selves” as intrinsically good, we suggest that they are likely to assume that the actions of others are evil-at least when they are ambiguous. Nine experiments provide support for promiscuous condemnation: the general tendency to assume that ambiguous actions are immoral. Both cognitive and functional arguments support the idea of promiscuous condemnation. Cognitively, dyadic completion suggests that when the mind perceives some elements of immorality (or harm), it cannot help but perceive other elements of immorality. Functionally, assuming that ambiguous actions are immoral helps people quickly identify potential harm and provide aid to others. In the first seven experiments, participants often judged neutral nonsense actions (e.g., “John pelled”) as immoral, especially when the context surrounding these nonsense actions included elements of immorality (e.g., intentionality and suffering). In the last two experiments, participants showed greater promiscuous condemnation under time pressure, suggesting an automatic tendency to assume immorality that people must effortfully control.

Promiscuous Condemnation: People Assume Ambiguous Actions are Immoral

I dub this the Edgelord Effect.

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Posted by on October 24, 2019 in cognitive science, religion


Love Your Enemies… If You Want To Change Their Mind

If you actually want to persuade somebody else, attacking that other person will drive that person farther in the other direction and it will alienate the people who are listening to your interchange,” Brooks says. ” … To condemn the person is suboptimal because you will never persuade somebody else that what you’re doing is anything more than a character assassination.

NPR: Love Your Enemies And Maaaybe You’ll Get Them To Agree With You

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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in cognitive science, religion


New research indicates political conservatism, disgust sensitivity and orderliness are psychologically interrelated

Individuals who experience more disgust also tend to show a higher dispositional preference for order, according to a new study published in Cognition and Emotion, which could partly explain why there is a positive relationship between disgust sensitivity and political conservatism.

Previous research has found that the way a person’s brain responds to a single disgusting image is enough to reliably predict whether he or she identifies politically as liberal or conservative.

Read more at PsyPost.

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Posted by on October 10, 2019 in cognitive science, religion


About two-thirds of U.S. teenagers (ages 13-17) say they rarely or never discuss religion with friends

Girls are more likely than boys to talk to their friends about religion:

For a Lot of American Teens, Religion Is a Regular Part of the Public School Day

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Posted by on October 4, 2019 in religion

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