Finalizing Turing Test Questions

I know. I’m excited, too

I want to get these settled so people can sign up to participate in the Ideological Turing Test and start doing their homework.  I want to have three to four questions total, and, based on previous comment thread discussions, these two have already made the cut:

  1. When (if ever) have you deferred to your philosophical or theological system over your intuitions?
  2. Are there people whose opinions on morality you trust more than your own? How do you recognize them? How is trusting them different than trusting someone’s opinion on physics?

These are written to be applicable to believers or non-believers.  The questions-to-be-added could be similarly universal, or they could be designed specifically for atheists or believers.  Here a couple of proposed questions and topics you guys have mentioned that I found promising:

  • (Atheists only) Albert Einstein once wrote, “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility … The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.” Do you agree that the comprehensibility of the universe is something that ought to be explained in some way (if so, please do so), or should it simply be taken as a brute fact? Keep in mind here that Einstein was a physicist, rather than a biologist, so it’s probably more reasonable to assume he is talking about the laws of nature rather than evolution.
  • (Atheists only) How important is atheism to your personal identity? In what ways is it connected to your other beliefs? How much does it end up influencing your actions and personal priorities?
  • (Atheists only) What legitimate needs do you see faith filling for believers, and how do you meet those needs in your own life?
  • (Topic only, question needed) Something about how people recognize and respond to the sublime
  • What would you say is wrong with the world, and what seems to you to be the way to resolve this problem?
  • How do you define ‘faith’?  Where, if anywhere, is this concept applicable outside religion?

Interestingly, almost no one contributed Christian-specific question.  Also interesting, most people of the people contributing Atheism-specific questions were Christian, so now’s the time for people on either side to take a good look at your philosophy’s real weak points (It’s good for you!).

I’m hoping to wrap up question selection this weekend, so participants know what they’re getting into, so comment early and often.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    I have a question on procedure here- are the Atheists trying to win the “Most Atheist Atheist” and the “Most Christian Atheist” awards, or just the “Most Christian Atheist” award? That is, are they supposed to be providing an answer that’s accurate to their own beliefs for their side, or an answer that is the most convincing Atheist-sounding answer they can give?

    • leahlibresco

      When you answer for your own side, you’re not trying to win Most Atheist Atheist, you’re just answering honestly.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

        Good ruling.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    I’m biased: I most like my question about what is wrong with the world. But after that one I like, for atheists, asking what legitimate needs faith fills. Maybe there’s a way to rig a mirror question: what legitimate needs does atheism fill for atheists? I suppose the problem with that is that “atheism” can be pretty insubstantial for some people, so it’s hard to say; further, this question may be less central to Christians than the inverse is to atheists (I say based mainly on what I see in atheist blogs). Perhaps something like, Why are there other religions (or non-religious worldviews) than your own and do they fill needs that Christianity does not?, might be better, because this broader question might be more central to more Christians’ thinking, and so might be of more use to this project.

  • Ray

    Ok. Here’s an attempt at questions for Christians:

    1) (At least for those who claim that science cannot be used to argue against religious claims because they are metaphysical and not physical claims.) How exactly is the presence or absence of a body in a tomb (past or present) not a physical claim? (this of course referring to the supposed empty tomb of Jesus.)

    2) Of the non-judeo-christian alleged miracle workers who are or have at one time been considered historical: (e.g. Appolonius of Tyana, Romulus, Muhammad, Krishna, Sathya Sai Baba, Elvis) which do you think has the most convincing miracle claims. What reasons do you have for rejecting these claims while accepting those of Jesus?

  • Aaron

    Regarding your comment on the sublime, I think this question may address what you’re getting and be appropriate for both believers and non-believers:
    Do you ever feel a connection to a power greater than yourself through exercise, communing with nature, study, etc., excluding religious experience, if applicable? If so, what is that a connection to?
    If you’d prefer, you could replace “a connection to a power greater than yourself” with “ecstacy” or “a feeling of the sublime” or whatever and change the second question accordingly.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    Off topic, related to the link to Less Wrong… does Yudkowsky explore the weaknesses of his own system somewhere? Every time I read something of his I wish he would turn his own advice against itself, but maybe he has and I just haven’t seen it.

    Oh wait, I can make this on topic, here’s a question: “What do you think is your philosophy or theology’s greatest weakness?” Honesty can be most revealing, perhaps especially when evaded.

    • Ray

      This comment rather reminds me of a quote from Krugman’s blog:

      “Actually, I had a wonderful, in a way, piece of correspondence today; the correspondent had read End this Depression Now!, and was having trouble finding any instances where I presented facts deceptively to support my ideological agenda. Could I please help him locate the places in the book where I do that?”

      Also, the “strengths and weaknesses” rhetoric of the creationists.

      Point being, if you can’t find a specific objection on your own (and not just the sort of objection that can be used against any worldview: e.g. http://lesswrong.com/lw/rn/no_universally_compelling_arguments/), maybe the man is correct. In any event, if there was something fatally wrong with his worldview and he knew enough to write an article about it, wouldn’t he just change his mind?

      That said, Eliezer is sometimes critical of his past views: http://lesswrong.com/lw/iy/my_wild_and_reckless_youth/ and of science in general: http://lesswrong.com/lw/qd/science_isnt_strict_enough/

      In fact, his example of a system of thought which is at risk for creating a happy death spiral is science:
      http://lesswrong.com/lw/ln/resist_the_happy_death_spiral/

      These may not be the sort of self criticism you think is fruitful, but bear in mind that Eliezer has a somewhat idiosyncratic view of what counts as fruitful self criticism: http://lesswrong.com/lw/gq/the_proper_use_of_humility/

      • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

        Thanks for the links Ray, they are helpful.

        I would just add that just because a worldview is not fatally wrong does not mean it does not have weaknesses, or that one could necessarily escape them. After all the name of the blog is “Less Wrong.” He ought know where he is “still (partly) wrong.” I would like to see him display that clearly. Also just because something is partly wrong (and known to be so) does not mean that a better alternative is available, so that one could escape the wrongness (as the blog title implies). One might be stuck in the wrongness no matter how hard one tries, and one should admit that, and the specifics surrounding it. I don’t see Yudkowsky actually doing this, but I fully admit that he might somewhere and I just haven’t seen it.

    • Emily

      Ooh, I like that one.

    • Jay

      Another point that Eliezer often discusses is that, at the margins, learning about biases and rationality can actually hurt you. For instance, if the first thing you learn about is the problem of calibration/overconfidence, you might just start dismissing all expert testimony you disagree with, because after all, experts are prone to this sort of bias. The general project of overcoming bias will almost certainly benefit you in the long run, but not every incremental step is a positive one. More specific to this blog, Eliezer also acknowledges that religious belief might give people a certain kind of happiness, and that discarding religious beliefs doesn’t always make people happier in one fell swoop. Indeed, there’s no guarantee that rationality will ultimately make people better off, though he thinks that it will eventually for almost everyone.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

        Indeed, there’s no guarantee that rationality will ultimately make people better off, though he thinks that it will eventually for almost everyone.

        He believes this despite no guarantee? This I identify as a doctrine of faith, at least as has been used against theists.

        • Jay

          I’m sort of confused by what you mean here. Are you saying that any belief with a likelihood short of perfect certainty constitutes a “doctrine of faith”? At a trivial level, that’s obviously wrong, as no true Bayesian would ever say any outcome is absolutely certain (because if you can imagine evidence that would shift your beliefs, you can’t be absolutely certain). And even if it’s the distinction between “effective certainty” (P = ~1) and “likelihood short of guaranty,” it hardly seems correct to say the latter always constitute doctrines of faith. Surely it’s not a doctrine of faith to believe that the expected value of purchasing a stock is positive, even where you have genuine doubt.

          As I understand it, whether or not a belief is a “doctrine of faith” has to do with how the belief is acquired, not how likely it is to be true. There are many, many different conceptions of what “faith” is, and I’m sure no matter what I say here will inspire responses of people who think it means something else. But it will suffice to say that the epistemological procedures which produced official Catholic doctrines are different than those which produce modern scientific theories, and I’ll I’m meaning to say is that the expected value of rationality is akin to the latter.

          Now, perhaps you’re questioning the value of relying on rationality, Bayesian methodology, Occam’s Razor, etc. in the first place. That is, you may be invoking “but scientific reasoning depends upon unjustified assumptions too, so it’s no different than religion!” or something of that sort. I admit this sort of issue has given me trouble before, as I’ve intuitively craved some rock bottom of absolute certainty on which everything else can be built. But I refer you to Eliezer’s excellent essay “Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom,” as I think this is pretty much the definitive treatment of the matter.

          Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood you entirely, in which case feel free to correct me.

  • Emily

    I still find the first “atheist only” question unclear. The explanation the commenter offered after I questioned it in the previous post helped, but I’m not sure that specific wording expresses what the question is getting at very well. Rewrite, maybe?

  • deiseach

    Okay, a try at a Christian-specific question:

    Assuming you do not hold the position of a literal-six-day’s creation and the absolute inerrancy of every detail in Genesis, do you really believe what you say you believe? Aren’t you just sprinkling a coating of “God did it” on top of an acceptance of the scientific explanation of how the universe came into existence and the manner in which life arose and became differentiated into complex organisms? In other words, you may say and even think you hold the Bible and/or Sacred Tradition as the ultimate authority, but in fact your views owe a lot more to having been raised in a secular society where you were exposed to a scientific education, and if pushed, you will rely on – for example – modern medicine and a visit to the hospital rather than trying to pray away sickness.

    If you can boil that down to a reasonable question that is not the stale old staple “Unless you literally believe in a six-day creation you’re not really a Christian!” that crops up much too much on both atheist and certain fundamentalist sites, I think it would be a good way to get us believers to look at do we really believe the way we say we believe or not.

  • deiseach

    Sorry to be yet another believer piling onto the atheists, but this is a genuine question I would sincerely like to see an answer to:

    Can you see anything that might be wrong or bad with atheism or a fully-atheist/secular society?

    I don’t mean this in the tit-for-tat way I’ve seen exchanges going, e.g. “Religion is bad – look at Hitler, he was a Catholic!” “No he wasn’t and anyway, Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists and they killed even more people!” “Stalin wasn’t an atheist – he learned all that stuff in seminary in Georgia!”

    What I mean is that I’ve seen some lovely notions of the kinds of utopias we will have once religion is out of the picture, and I do have to ask: do you really think human nature is such that the only reason anyone ever stole or got into a fight or killed someone was because of religion? That if we are all non-believers, then no-one will ever cheat on their spouse, or steal someone else’s girl (or boy) friend, or rob a bank, or whip up populist sentiment for a war about “We have to defend ourselves from them who want to do away with our freedoms!” or no-one will ever go “I want stuff, you have stuff, I’ll take your stuff because I’m stronger (or I have a gun, or a gang of friends to help me)”? Really? All down to religion alone and once we’re all skeptics, there will be no anger, jealousy, greed, covetousness or envy any more?

  • http://darwincatholic.blogspot.com DarwinCatholic

    For Either: How would you define “good” to what degree do your beliefs about the supernatural (or lack thereof) inform that understanding.

    For Christians: Many Christians say that they have a relationship with God or with Jesus. Do you have such a relationship, and if so, what does it mean to have a “relationship” with an infinite and immortal being who created the whole universe?

    For Christians: (drawing on the interesting guest posts you had a while back) The Bible is a document referenced by all Christians, but the ways in which Christians have related to it has varied widely through time and between sects. How does the Bible figure in your faith and how do you personally use it? Does the Bible contain all that a Christian needs to know about Christianity? About morality? About the world?

    • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

      I’d like to see how people (particularly the atheists participants) navigate your second question.

  • Ray

    I would like to modify Brian Green’s selection:
    from “What do you think is your philosophy or theology’s greatest weakness?”

    to “What do you think is the greatest weakness avoided by proponents of the opposing philosophy?”

    (I think the point of the LessWrong article is that whichever view is wrong — people can only maintain it by keeping themselves unaware of its real weak points. Therefore, if the opponents of the view know about these “real weak points,” but the proponents do not, it will show up as a difference on the ideological Turing Test. OTOH, if you’re supposed to pick out weaknesses in your own view, the imitators will know not to list the real weaknesses, but the lesser weaknesses that a real proponent of the view would be able to knock down. Or at least, so goes the theory.)

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    There is a tension here because questions can be judged by different standards. One can go for absolutely hard questions that will lead to interesting answers from the honest side or for questions disproportionately hard for fakers.

    For Christians I would say the absolutely hard questions are all variants of the problem of evil. But I would suspect that question to be near worthless for discrimination. It’s the other way around with the faith question.

    I would also prefer the atheist round to have at least one question closer to the core of atheism. It’s nice to make them write more interesting stuff, but if the questions are all of that kind it gets dubious if a Christian passing the test still says anything about them being able to pass as an atheist.

    But the discriminating questions for the atheist round need to come from atheists because they are pretty much by definition questions where (atheists think) we are missing the point unknowingly.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    General questions:
    Define faith.
    Sublime.

    Atheist questions:
    Einstein’s comprehensibility. Suggested edit of this question:

    The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility, or so said Einstein. Consider laws of the physical universe. Can we explain why they are rather than that they aren’t? Should we bother?

    Given your quote of the quote, Leah, it does not appear that Einstein believes the existence of these things ought to be explained, and in fact that they cannot be. That’s why he calls it a miracle. Unless the quote or I bowdlerize his intent, which would be most regrettable.

    In fact, we could make this question the fourth question for all involved. Specifically, we could make it:

    The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility, or so said Einstein. Consider laws of the physical universe. Without resorting to something like a God transcendent to the universe, can we explain why they are rather than that they aren’t? Without invoking God, should we bother?

    But this might make a boring Christian question. Still, a thought.

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