Reconciling Rationality and Religion, part II

If we are not holding a belief rationally, then we should not hold it. This is because a belief that is not held rationally is not likely to be true.

Eliezer Yudkowsky has done an excellent job of articulating what goes into a rational belief, and why these ingredients are necessary. He goes further and shows many ways in which it is possible to hold beliefs irrationally. He psychoanalyzes many ways in which belief, and in particular religious belief, can go astray. Rather than giving an incompetent rehash of this material, I suggest that the interested reader read the sequences Map and Territory, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, Reductionism, and How to Actually Change Your Mind.

I will give examples of how I used this material to diagnose my own irrational beliefs.

I believed that the Ra material was communicated by an extraterrestrial entity called Ra. This is one of the explanations for the existence of the Ra material. Other explanations include that it was spat out by Carla Rueckert’s subconscious, or that it was made up by L/L Research, who then lied about their method of producing it. All of these explanations have various difficulties, and it is certainly not my intent to argue that any particular one is true. There is some true explanation for how the Ra material was produced, and we do not know with certainty what that explanation is.

I believed that the Ra material was communicated by Ra. This belief was irrational because it was not based on evidence. I believed it because I wanted it to be true; because the idea that it was true made me happy. Having seen that the belief was irrational, and having identified the cognitive biases which led me to believe it in the first place, I had to abandon the belief.

I believed in reincarnation. This belief was irrational because it was not based on evidence. I believed it because I wanted it to be true; because the idea that it was true reduced my fear of death. Having seen that the belief was irrational, and having identified the cognitive biases which led me to believe it in the first place, I had to abandon the belief.

I believed that my spiritual experiences disproved materialism. This belief was irrational because it was due to a semantic confusion. I thought that my spiritual experiences were direct experiences of reality, and materialism stated that reality was made of subatomic particles, which was not what I experienced in spiritual experiences. These two seemed incompatible to me, but the real problem was a conceptual confusion over the meaning of “reality.” I concluded that I meant something different by “reality” when talking about my spiritual experiences than the materialist meant by “reality.” Roughly, by “reality” I meant my spiritual experiences, and by “reality” the materialist meant the sum total of what can be inferred by logical deduction from empirical observation. After disentangling this semantic confusion, I saw that my spiritual experiences did not disprove materialism.

I believed that “black is white.” This belief was irrational because it was not consistent with my other beliefs, I did not really believe it anyway, and it was due to a similar semantic confusion. Roughly, by “black is white” I meant the content of a particular type of spiritual experience in which this equation made intuitive sense. I did not follow out the implications of this belief; for instance, I would not use a pen with white ink instead of a pen with black ink on the premise that it made no difference. Thus, I did not really believe it anyway.

What irrational beliefs do you hold?

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