A part of a thread from Hacker News:

ian0 There are lots of strategies which are rational, non-stupid, in a specific context but irrational & stupid if context is expanded. Eg. Paying it forward by advising a sociopath, working on something interesting despite it being damaging, not being religious because its illogical even if being religious makes you feel/act better.

not being religious because its illogical even if being religious makes you feel/act better.

red75prime It's not exactly a choice. I for the life of me just can't start believing one or another unfounded story, because there's no basis to choose which story to believe. Even taking into account prevalent beliefs of the society as a basis, I can't imagine what kind of mental stunt I need to perform to promote probability of the hypothesis to one. Deep brain stimulation could probably work, but it's too risky.

ian0 I guess it doesn't make you feel better then :) Its subjective, but some can take comfort in rituals and beliefs that rely on a certain amount of doublethink.

PS I don't think you need to compare and contrast, just go with say an interesting one like Jedi (lots in England according to the census) and see how it goes!


I would have thought that it is impossible to convince oneself of a big lie and still live happily. According to this person, with “a certain amount of doublethink” it can be done.

Perhaps this fits Daniel Dennett’s thesis that a lot of people “believe in belief”? I’m not sure to what extend this person believes.... I also tried to imagine joining a local church, lying to them about feeling Jesus in my heart or something... I couldn’t do it. It seems to me that in order to believe in belief, one also needs be able to lie in people’s faces.

I read this interview: “Morgan Freeman about his journey to becoming a ‘believer’ in God”. Quotes and comments.

McCreary: ... We spoke to a man at the Pontifical Academy of Science who said something that will stick with me for the rest of my life: The Big Bang is the scientific explanation of creation, and the Bible is the theological explanation of creation. That, to me, helped really reconcile those two sides.

While you could argue that both scientists and theologians are looking for the truth, how does that reconcile the two approaches? The stories in the bible are at best allegorical, but if you’re not satisfied with that and press for facts, the bible is provably wrong. Scientists on the other hand don’t claim to have all the answers, but at least the best scientific theories correspond to observable facts and even allow for predictions. In other words, the bible does not map onto reality, while scientific theories do. How do you reconcile that?

Freeman: ....somewhere down the line, early on, I got to this place where I became a believer. It’s just that the nature of belief has shifted as I’ve moved through life. That’s all.

He became a believer... How? Why? And in what?

So, for you, it’s about the journey.
Freeman: Absolutely.

What does that mean? First I believed in Jesus but now I think reincarnation is more attractive? Let’s pick the supernatural story that best serves my present mood?

McCreary: I suppose it’s along the lines of what I was saying: That, even though we might answer the questions differently in terms of what happens when we die, ultimately we’re all coming around to the same answer: That we want to be one with God.

Speak for yourself. First, I wouldn’t even know how to choose from all the gods available for worship. Second, what does that mean, “being one with god”? I’m pretty sure that’s not an Abrahamic god. Or Shiva. Buddha maybe. Or do you mean “cosmos” when you say “god”? In that case you better say: “I want to feel one with the cosmos” - that is much clearer. If that’s what you want, ask Sam Harris for a pill (shortest route) or learn to meditate (longer route). (Neither method guaranties success though.)

McCreary: ... Where did we come from? We came from nothing, and we all became who we are. Whether that “nothing” was the clouds or the Big Bang or God grabbing everything and throwing it into the universe, they’re all very similar and they don’t necessarily negate each other as answers.

Those are similar only if you want to express something like: “Gee, the universe is really mysterious, and it is almost incomprehensible that I am alive!” If you want more comprehensive, truthful information relevant to this topic, you might want to learn about evolutionary science. Or compare your genes with those of your parents. As for the universe, ultimate answers are probably not within our reach, but cosmology is certainly very interesting. More awe: we are made of stardust! Not that you would know that if you read the bible, or any religious scripture.

Freeman: I didn’t know of God until I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I didn’t grow up in the church as a little boy; I think I went to church once when I was, like, six and a half years old. That was it. Not until around 10 did I start wondering, What is it? Why is it? Where is it? I started seriously reading at around age 8, and I think when you start reading, these questions just sort of appear because, in much of literature, God exists. So, the question then becomes, Okay, who is that? and How does that -- meaning God -- related to me?

Finally something interesting. For a lot of people this development is completely the reverse. They are told that god exists as a child. They start reading and wondering: how does that make sense? End up as unbelievers, because not only does a god not make sense, but depending on how you define god, either as an entity it is completely irrelevant (outside of time and space, the idea of a first mover, etc.) or it is provably untrue (prayer does not work, scriptures are wrong, souls are in conflict with established science, as a theory for the universe it leads to predictions that are all wrong, etc.).

Apparently Freeman happened to read very different books than I did. Another possibility is that as a child he was unconsciously seeking out god in the things he wanted to read (confirmation bias is a bitch!). But why would he do that? It turns out, some people are psychologically inclined to embrace supernatural beliefs. Scientists even have a test for it. Dawkins failed the test. This means of course that it’s a completely subjective reality which Freeman inhabits. Perhaps something like synaesthesia. Play a note on the piano and cannot but see the color blue.

Freeman: ... As you grow up, you learn gradually how God relates to you. God is the benevolent provider, God is the wrathful father of humanity, God is the glue that holds all things together.

How do you know that?
It does remind me of Harari’s “stories” - we need to believe in a story to trancend our little ingroup and work together. In the past those stories were religious. Maybe that’s what Freeman is getting at?

In the final episode, airing on Sunday, May 8, you say, “To believe in miracles is to believe that there’s more to life than meets the eye” and that, “We should believe in miracles because they give us hope.” Can you elaborate on how you came that conclusion?

Freeman: After hearing from the people that we talked to about miracles, anyone would come to that same conclusion, if you’re as thoughtful and deep as I am. [Laughs]

Ouch, I’m not “thoughtful and deep” enough. That hurts!

In the final analysis, it’s ultimately about hope. We believe in miracles because without them, there is no hope. There’s not enough hope without them. We say [in everyday life], “I’m hoping for a miracle.” As in, for example, “I’m hoping that Stephen Curry can make this three-point jumper.” [Laughs]

Reality is too harsh. I can’t live with it. Let’s hope that I have an eternal soul and that it somehow gets me into heaven. Belief as a psychological defense mechanism. Or is it the power of positive thinking?

Contact me on Twitter.

We want a candidate that is not evil. Sunday 19 February 2017

Reading at this article:

Reminds me how easy it would be to account for some the shortcomings of our political systems (if the people who are really in charge would allow us).

A huge number of people during the election voted either for Trump or for Clinton for the same reason: they voted for what they saw as the lesser evil. What we need is a way to veto both candidates. Because we want a candidate that is not evil.

Glenn Kessler @GlennKesslerWP

Reporters covering the White House who fail to ask the president about the most pressing news of the day should be ashamed of themselves.


It's interesting to read the comments. It turns out that Glenn Kessler can't say this, because he is a democrat, and during the reign of Obama similar problems occurred with the main stream media. Therefore it's alright to spare the current republican President difficult questions. Or to put it this way: because the media did a poor job during Obama, it's not shameful at all to do a poor job during Trump also.

The wish for unpredictable autocrats. Sunday 20 November 2016

The election of Trump. Emotional reaction: Americans want to experience for themselves how it is to put an unpredictable autocrat in charge. But then, lots of Europeans seem to want a repeat experience. Crazy world.

Today I heard for the second time the statement by Mehdi Hasan that he truly believes in flying winged horses and similar incredible stuff because it is written in the Koran. I am not alone in doubting that Hasan is honest with regard to this point, it may very well be that he that he wants to keep up appearances as a devout Muslim. However, what else can we do than take his word for it? Then it follows that he must believe in much more horrible stuff that is in written in the Koran as well, which is a terrifying thought.

Hasan wrote a piece to defend his position. Amazingly, he writes in the usual apologetic way, using arguments that are have been shredded by people like Matt Dillahunty and Sean Carroll and others many times. Perhaps Hasan doesn’t care, perhaps he takes the position (also common among apologists) that it’s not his task to use valid arguments, but his duty to use arguments that appear convincing to people that still believe and need to hear that it’s OK to continue to do so.

  • The video.
  • The article.
  • For the insincere way he frames his arguments in the article, listen to anything by Matt Dillahunty.
  • For the science bits in the article, listen to talks and discussions with Sean Carroll.
Proof for god/s. Thursday 24 December 2015

Some apologists for religion try to turn the arguments that non-believers use against belief around. (It’s a bit ironic, since they seem to legitimize that kind of arguments by doing that.) One of those is turning around the request for proof. A lot of unbelievers feel that the claim that god or gods exists needs to be backed up by proof. Turning around that is: I know god/s exists, you proof that it/he/she/they do not! Unbelievers can get a bit annoyed by that trick, and respond with things like: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence etc., which is all right I guess, but with regard to basically unprovable claims I myself am normally not very inclined to go there. For me it’s sufficient that certain religious claims are simply very improbable. For example: you will go to hell! Well, I can’t proof that I won’t, but it’s so very improbable that I literally don’t lose a second of sleep over it. Another category of religious claims is not only unprovable (either way) but also irrelevant. For example, a deity that is outside time and space and doesn’t interfere with the real world. So what? Irrelevant. Or viewing the universe as a whole as god. Also irrelevant.

To sum up, improbable claims that I can’t disprove (Russel’s teapot) won’t make me any less an atheist and supernatural beings that in practice are irrelevant don’t do anything to want me to believe either.

However, there is one point at which the ‘proof’ argument can get to me too. That is when believers claim special rights because they are religious. ‘I am religious, therefore you are not allowed to work on [Friday, Saturday, Sunday]’ - or things like that. If you want special rights because you believe in an otherwise undetectable entity, you better come up with some damn good proof!

Are you part of the problem? Sunday 20 December 2015

I seems to me that a lot of really serious problems (like Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, certainly Syria, politics in my own country, etc.) would be much easier to solve if we could make the EXTREMISTS of both (or all) sides of the problem just SHUT UP and BACK OFF. ‘‘Extremist’’ is of course a very relative term, but that’s all right. Whenever a ‘‘compromise’’ is out of the question (or where it’s even taboo word, as it seems to be in the US for example), extremist positions dominate.

There might be cases in which the extreme position of one side might be more just or right seen from a great distance by a really disinterested observer, but that kind of abstract justice is often unattainable, at least in the short term. It seems to me that in many instances the kind of justice that is still controversial can only be reached when, through a slow process, the ideas that it contains have been become more mainstream. In the mean while, who else can move things forward at least somewhat, except MODERATES? Can it be true that, in the short term, only moderates can work toward the solution of a difficult problem?

If you are an extremist, you are likely to be part of the problem. You’ll make things worse, not better. It’s easy to test if you take an extreme position. If you think that your objective can only be achieved through violence, or by unethical or unlawful means, or if you somehow think that ‘‘the ends justify the means’’, or if you think you need to deceive and seed disinformation to get your ideas accepted, then you are taking an extremist position.

A true moderate position can be characterized by notions like that the goal is to give everybody concerned a real chance at a peaceful life, with opportunities like, freedom of movement, opportunities to finding a job, being able to live in a house or apartment, sending their children to a good school, access to proper medical care, etc. Keywords are: peace for all, basic opportunities for all. The moment you start thinking that you can exclude people from also enjoying these things, you’re no longer a moderate. Simply writing people off, is already extreme.

While to some it may sound easy to take this moderate position, many societies have become so horribly polarized, that the MODERATE position (peace for all, basic opportunities for all) may actually be seen as extremist in itself. In a very real sense, one or both or all sides don’t even care if the other side perishes and dies, and taking a moderate position will get you expelled or even killed.

Let’s take an example that may not be very obvious. Even in a relatively democratic and civil country like the US, lots of people don’t realize that they are taking an extremist position by denying that other people INSIDE THE COUNTRY be allowed to live in peace and have basic opportunities. For example, homelessness and the impossibility for many to find proper living space is not considered a problem by many. However, as I indicated above, not caring about the other side to the extend that those people perish is an extreme position. Or consider the priority that governments in the US give to taking care that there are real opportunities for finding a job or getting an proper education. Sure, the president of the US talks about it, and may boast that unemployment is one or two percent down, but that’s very different from having an economy where everybody can find a job. How likely is it that a resourceful country like the US is really unable to build a society with opportunities for all its citizens? The US went to the moon and currently wages wars over the entire world, but it really can’t create more opportunities at home? Choices are being made, and consequently millions of people inside the US are simply discarded. That simply is extreme. And why is a ‘‘living wage’’ even a discussion? Saying that some people don’t need a living wage, amounts to saying that you don’t care if they perish, which is again the extremist position.

Or take the ‘‘war on drugs’’. That it is called a ‘‘war’’ is a telltale sign. It is considered a problem that can only be solved by warlike violence, which is already extreme. And certainly it often looks like a war, with the police becoming more like a regular army every day. Also, the people caught up in this war (say, people that don’t sell drugs but just use them) end up being targets of the war, leading to the mass incarceration that the US is now famous for. What kind of life do people have inside jail, or do their children have outside of it?

The policy of mass incarceration is only possible because many people in the US don’t care for the people that end up in jail, because they think that those people voluntarily chose to smoke that joint or take that cocaine, thereby disobeying the law. Let’s leave aside the question of how voluntary the habit of taking drugs is. Just ask yourself: whose law is it? Who forbids who to smoke a joint exactly? It is ONE SIDE, forcing the OTHER SIDE to do its bidding. If the other side has no say, than there is no compromise, and no moderate position. Do you really need to wage a war inside the country to prevent people from smoking a joint? That is an extreme position to take.

The US is a large, populous and powerful country, and what it does (or more accurately, what some of it’s people choose to do) has a global effect. It is an amazing public secret that the civil war in Mexico is really being caused by the people in the US. The US is a huge illegal market for drugs, creating huge incentives both inside and outside the country for people to make money delivering those drugs. Because a lot of the drugs are produced more easily outside of the US, Mexico has become the front-line of the ‘‘war on drugs’’. Tens of thousands of Mexicans are being killed in this war, but most people in the US don’t really care. In other words, they take the extremist position.

I could go on and give more examples relating to the US, but hopefully you get the point. Policies in the US are being dominated by extreme positions, that cause a lot of harm to people, but in the extreme viewpoint those people simply don’t deserve a proper life. A moderate position would take the fate of those other people into account.

I got this idea from thinking about the Israel-Palestine problem. I live very far from Israel, but still a lot of stories about the conflict reach me. It is hard to say if I am biased toward one side or the other, but still, to me almost all the stories that reach me seem to be dominated by EXTREME positions that people take on ALL sides. There seems to be no living space for moderates at all. Often moderates are expelled or even killed. This is the reason I got the notion that EXTREMISTS of both (or all) sides of the problem should just SHUT UP and BACK OFF. Or learn how to accept, tolerate or even take moderate positions, that involve this very basic rule that people of the other side should be able to live in peace and have a decent life with basic opportunities, like being free to move, find a job, live in a house, get education and medical care. As long as you think that you need to use violence, that the end justifies the means, that you need to ‘‘force’’ the other side to your viewpoint, that you don’t care if the people of the other side live or die, then you can’t be a part of the solution and need to make room for the moderates that can make a compromise. That doesn’t mean that complete and true justice will be achieved, it only means that all involved will be able to live in peace and make a life for themselves. Some problems may remain for a later peaceful resolution, some problems may never be solved. But if you don’t value life for itself, than you can’t be part of the solution.

A bit on how I learned to view religion. Wednesday 18 November 2015

Ever since I witnessed the reaction of my then co-workers to the fatwa on Rushdie, I’ve been trying to understand religion. While I think I’ve come to understand quite a few aspects of religion, I have still great difficulty understanding the great tenacity with which religious people cling to tenets of their religion that appear arbitrary, irrational and contrary to facts. But of course, the same goes for people that, contrary to every evidence, want to believe that there is something to astrology, homeopathy or psychic powers.

Longer version. Still working on it.

My bias regarding religion, and somewhat more specifically Islam, was created in 1988. At the time I was working in a small factory as an operator. Half of the people on the factory floor were practicing Muslims from Turkey (they prayed five times a day, one of them had a function at his mosque). There was also a boy from Morocco, he didn’t pray, didn’t talk much either.

I was in my twenties and very interested in languages and cultural differences, and had been talking a lot with my Turkish co-workers. A result of this was that I did a course in Turkish and after some time got by reasonably well on beginners level. I did some reading on the history of Turkey. With regard to religion I was almost a blank slate (I knew my parents had had a Christian upbringing but I myself was not raised religiously and I thought of myself as agnostic). Even though I was an unbeliever, I had bought a bible (I thought of it as a historical document), and some time after learning to know my Turkish co-workers somewhat better I had bought a Koran as well. I tried (in vein) to learn a bit classical Arabic.

The Salmon Rushdie affair surprised me a lot. I didn’t understand what the problem was. The reaction of my Muslim co-workers surprised me even more. Even though Ayatollah Khomeini seemed to be of a different faith, they all accepted his judgement without hesitation and assured me repeatedly that they were willing to kill Rusdie the moment he would step through the door. None of them had read his book of course, nor did they really know anything about the book, except that it was blasphemous according to Khomeini. As a result of this I tried to talk about religion with them, but that didn’t help much. I discovered that they all had beliefs that to me seemed superstitions. For example, the man I talked with most, one day asked me to get out of his dreams. It turned out they all agreed that dreaming about someone meant that that someone was actively intruding. I tried to suggest that he had dreamed about me because we had interacted a bit more lately, but he would have none of that. They told me other stuff that was even harder to take seriously (I can’t recall the details anymore, things about ghosts and things like that). The thing that worried me was that they all saw real world repercussions as a result of those beliefs.

The supervisor on the work floor was a Christian, but he confessed that he hardly ever went to church. I have read that according to Islam unbelief really is the absolute worst, but Christianity acceptable somehow. Nevertheless, my Turkish co-workers judged the Christian supervisor as much worse than the (perhaps somewhat naive) unbeliever that I was then. So, the reverse of their written dogma. They blamed the supervisor because he was hardly practicing. Not taking one’s faith seriously was in their eyes worse than having no faith (I don’t know what they thought of other religions than the Abrahamic). By the way, I learned from this same supervisor (who had been in the factory longer than me), that when he would visit one of the Turkish co-workers at his home, all the women there had to move to the kitchen (even though those women normally went out to work, do shopping, etc.) Finally, I think that at the time I knew nothing about Saudi-Arabia or Wahhabiism.

I feel this was my first real introduction to religion. I found it somewhat disturbing. Later I learned a lot more about religion. I went to university, and took classes in Anthropology, including anthropological accounts of the religions of Japan and religion more generally. Later I read books that looked at religion from psychological or evolutionary perspectives. While I gained a lot more knowledge about the topic, I can’t say that I now have coherent or balanced view on the topic. The scientific understanding of the phenomenon seems very incomplete. In the mean time, I did decide that I was not agnostic, but an atheist.

I’ve met practicing Christians, and one of them even confessed in believing in angels and demons. I know of a Christian Dutchman that invested lots of money in building a real scale (?) model of the ark of Noah. I’ve learned how Japanese people can be religious, even though their religion is very different. I’ve read descriptions of religions that don’t include belief in an afterlife. I don’t think that all religions are equal, nor do I think that religious beliefs and practices necessarily deserve respect. I think that animal sacrifice and genital mutilation of children is disgusting (whether practiced by Aborigines, Jews, Muslims, Satanists or what have you). I am inclined to rank religions with regard to real world actions and harmful irrational thoughts (so, stoning to death an apostate or a presumed adulterate is much worse than believing that someone is not a match because they were born under a different astrological sign). I like to think that I equally abhor a mother that circumcises their child for religious reasons as a mother that does the same because she thinks a cut penis is aesthetically more pleasing. Nevertheless, it might be the case that sometimes I judge the irrational beliefs of religious people (as apposed to those held by secular people) more harshly than they might deserve. I suspect that this possible bias is partly caused by the words and actions of certain Muslims, firstly, my otherwise probably harmless former co-workers, and secondly, the dangerous fanatics that catch the news almost every day.

Colin Powell, 5 February 2003. Saturday 25 July 2015

I remember Colin Powell’s presentation very vividly. I guess the memory is typical for what has been labelled a flash bulb memory. I remember his face on my old TV, while I stood in the middle of my small room. I remember that hearing and seeing him talk, taking in what he said, I felt unwell. I couldn’t believe that Powell was doing Bush’s dirty work, selling a clearly untrue story to the world. Later, I was amazed that in the media, other important people said that Powell’s presentation should be taken seriously. Should be taken as an honest attempt to convey truth.[1]

My own immediate association was, because of the context of the UN, with the Mukden incident, which had a great public aftermath before the League of Nations. (The League of Nations was of course the forerunner of the UN, and as an international institution, as powerless to oppose powerful nations as the UN is today). The Mukden incident was the pretext for Japan to invade and occupy northeastern China in 1931. The Mukden incident was a staged terrorist attack on a railway, staged by members of the Imperial Japanese Army. It was exposed pretty quickly, and in March 1933 Japan withdrew from the League of Nations, simply ignoring the international community.

After having seen Powell, I was so amazed that in the media there seemed to be nobody who was allowed to explain how Powell’s presentation probably was little more than propaganda. There seemed to be nobody to point out that all through history powerful nations used pretexts to do what they wanted all along. That this looked exactly like yet another instance. Instead, my own government decided even to offer military support, exposing the degree to which my country was pawn of the US. I felt so ashamed about that.

At the time I already knew that Fukuyama had been wrong. History didn’t end. Liberal democracies didn’t win. I also knew that liberal democracies themselves weren’t perfect. However, after Powell’s presentation, I started to wonder whether liberal democracies weren’t simply imperfect, but perhaps really substantially corrupt. It all seemed like power play by the powerful, just as had always had been the case throughout history. History seemed to repeat itself in the most crude way possible. The story lines seemed to come from comic books. I remembered similar schemes from having read Tin Tin as a child. I lost hope that I could trust that my own government, let alone the United States.


1. I don’t remember exactly what kind of information I already had available at the time. For example, I remember being very disappointed that the US didn’t care if the investigators of the UN were able to finish their job, but I don’t remember if that was before or after the presentation at the UN. No matter how much information I had available, I could have been wrong. I’m inclined to think that I was able to see through the deceptions even though I had little to go on. That perhaps the deceptions were so obvious that I did’t even need more information. But I can’t be certain of that of course. Relevant for my personal development was that very soon all my suspicions turned out to be correct. If I had been wrong, my trust in the system could have been restored. Actually the opposite has happened, and is still happening. The more documents become available, the more the Iraq war turns out to be a war that those that are in control of the US government simply wanted, at any price.