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An Alien God (Eliezer Yudkowsky, about Evolution) (lesswrong.com)
54 points by MikeCapone on Oct 9, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments

Technically you don't need multiple Gods, you need a God that's an economist. If rabbits can't run, the foxes will kill themselves off because there's a near infinite demand but extremely limited supply.

I suppose if the 'one true god' was an economist, all religion got it wrong and our ancestors have been worshipping pure evil for the past few millennia.

I'm pretty sure your comment is just a string of meaningless words, and yet I feel compelled to upvote it in case future generations decide that this was some sort of watershed moment in human thinking.

I want what you're having...

Once, to a long, rambling post that looked like a the product of overexposure to AI and OO combined with schizophrenia, I replied: "I want that algorithm. Not the one described in the post, the one that wrote it!"

Well, an economist and a sadist.

That's being redundant.

"Foxes seem well-designed to catch rabbits. Rabbits seem well-designed to evade foxes. Was the Creator having trouble making up Its mind?"

I suppose the author thinks God must be either pro-rabbit or pro-fox? That seems odd to me. Calvin and Hobbes argue a lot--just think of how self-defeating that is. How short-sighted of Bill Watterson to have overlooked that he could have assigned them milder temperments. Why all the villians and heroes in novels? Why all the weapons and defenses in the video games? Why all the contrasting elements in the painting?

The engineer sees nonsense in creating one thing to foil another, but it is no mystery to the artist. Sometimes the conflict is what makes each part what it is, what makes it great. The desired rabbit-fox population equilibrium could be achieved with lower effort, but that presumes the wrong goal. The artist creates for the joy of the thing itself. One can delight in the rabbit because he is fast, and the fox because he is cunning.

It is not the cruelty and conflict of nature that are alien to Christianity; famine and war and lion and sword and boil and rot and death are never far from the heart of that story. What Christianity would find so alien is the idea that life is about personally surviving and avoiding pain and embracing pleasure. That God is some sort of fool or underachiever for creating a jungle instead of a zoo.

Did you stop reading after a couple of paragraphs? The author is an atheist, and uses the supernatural as metaphor to introduce his subject. He states quite clearly that he believes that evolution by natural selection is quite sufficient (even necessary) to explain what we can observe and that no god or gods are necessary.

I'm an atheist too, but Dove's point is a fair one. The fact that nature is filled with chaos and conflict doesn't conflict with the idea that it was created by a human-like mind, since humans have an aesthetic preference for stories and art that involve conflict. Presumably, God also saw it artistically pleasing that some children should live their entire lives in intolerable pain and then die before reaching their third birthday, but that's not even especially extreme by the standards of human literature.

Presumably, God also saw it artistically pleasing that some children should live their entire lives in intolerable pain and then die before reaching their third birthday, but that's not even especially extreme by the standards of human literature.

Yes, but while it's acceptable to write about horrible things in a literary context, it would be considered extreme to enact them. So presuming that I actually exist, and that those children actually exist, God shouldn't get the literary dispensation. (While on the other hand, Frédéric Mitterrand certainly should.)


Indeed. If you were to write a novel about an Ichneumon wasp, you might be considered a little bit twisted, but so long as the novel was good that would be accepted as part of your literary licence.

If you were to create a world containing Ichneumon wasps, though, when you have the power to not do so, you're just a sadist.

In literature as in life, it depends entirely on why you did it. Sadism implies enjoying pain for its own sake. Literature that does that is no less sadist than worlds that do. But literature that includes pain is not generally evidence of sadism, and neither are worlds. What you can say about the creator's character is entirely driven by what you can say about his purpose.

A simple motivating example: I spent a while undergoing some martial arts training, and at times it was painful. Injuries weren't intended, but could the class have possibly been conducted with a little more deference to my sore feet, with perhaps one less bruise here or there?

In a philosophical sense, of course it could have. But this is not evidence of sadism on the part of the instructor (or the fellow students who gave me such a beating). In a practical sense, spending too much effort avoiding pain would have undermined one of the purposes of the class: teaching me to fight through it. Teaching me that some things are worth enduring pain to learn.

Not at all. I only sketched an answer to what I took to be the article's broad point--that the cruelty and conflict in nature don't look like the work of the Christian God. Mostly, I was making a smaller point: atheists often see ironclad, unresolvable contradictions where Christians see merely interesting questions--or trivial questions, or even no puzzle at all.

It is a simple case of confirmation bias, I think. An atheist does not expect Christianity to make sense, so when he runs across something counterintuitive, he is very quick to conclude it is a simple mistake. This is unfortunate; a bit of dialogue with Christian intellectuals would likely enrich him with ideas he would otherwise find alien.

As a conoisseur of ideas, I have been tremendously enriched by serious dialogues with those of opposing views. The prejudices and biases are different. Even if we disagree on foundations, this leads them to say things I would not think of, to ask questions I would never have raised, to point out flaws in reasoning I think straightforward.

I love this: "Evolution has no foresight, it is simply the frozen history of which organisms did in fact reproduce."

Some more quotes I wrote down from the posts in the sequence (http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Evolution):

We are simply the embodied history of which organisms did in fact survive and reproduce, not which organisms ought prudentially to have survived and reproduced. --Eliezer Yudkowsky, An Alien God

Mutation is random, but selection is non-random. This doesn't mean an intelligent Fairy is reaching in and selecting. It means there's a non-zero statistical correlation between the gene and how often the organism reproduces. Over a few million years, that non-zero statistical correlation adds up to something very powerful. --Eliezer Yudkowsky, An Alien God

"Don't think that, in the political battle between evolutionists and creationists, whoever praises evolution must be on the side of science. Science has a very exact idea of the capabilities of evolution. If you praise evolution one millimeter higher than this, you're not "fighting on evolution's side" against creationism. You're being scientifically inaccurate, full stop. You're falling into a creationist trap by insisting that, yes, a whirlwind does have the power to assemble a 747! Isn't that amazing! How wonderfully intelligent is evolution, how praiseworthy! Look at me, I'm pledging my allegiance to science! The more nice things I say about evolution, the more I must be on evolution's side against the creationists! But to praise evolution too highly destroys the real wonder, which is not how well evolution designs things, but that a naturally occurring process manages to design anything at all." --Eliezer Yudkowsky, The Wonder of Evolution

"One grad student can do things in an hour that evolution could not do in a billion years." (Yudkowsky: "According to biologists' best current knowledge, evolutions have invented a fully rotating wheel on a grand total of three occasions.") --biologist Cynthia Kenyon, in Evolutions Are Stupid (But Work Anyway)

"Individual organisms are best thought of as adaptation-executers rather than as fitness-maximizers." -- John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, The Psychological Foundations of Culture.

Only the first sentence is from Kenyon.

True, my mistake. Will correct it.

Good stuff. Just finished Dawkins' new book: The Greatest Show on Earth - should be introductory biology reading for high school students.

However, still prefer his The Selfish Gene for raising my consciousness the most.

I have bought The Greatest Show on Earth but haven't read it yet. Dawkins is an author that I automatically buy (won't wait for it to be available at the library...).

Selfish Gene was indeed life-changing for me.

I you want more Yudkowsky stuff on Evolution, check out the rest of this sequence of posts:


By the time I read "The Selfish Gene" I didn't really see anything that enlightening in it. "The Extended Phenotype" is the one that I found most enlightening.

I had always viewed evolution from the organism perspective. Whereas Dawkins lets you see it from the perspective of replicators. This I found an eye opener.

Took him an awful long time to say natural selection.

The "natural world" we observe is not the world God created. It is a ruined version of it.

Who ruined it? Certainly not humans, who haven't been genetically engineering anything until recently. So who created these predators / parasites / diseases designed to kill and maim?

Let me clarify my initial comment. The author critiques the notion that the God of the Bible created a "natural world" in which there are mutations and other observed travesties. One would expect, as the author points out, that a world created by God would be perfect. The creation account does in fact describe a creation that was perfect and in complete harmony, physicality and spiritually. When an imperfection (SIN) was introduced into a perfect world everything changed. One could argue if it (the natural world) was perfect how could an imperfection be introduced. This leads into the topic of free will. Could there be a perfect world where there exist no free will? As the account goes free will was part of creation so the imperfection was allowed to be introduced and the rest is history.

I am not attempting to arguing that the creation account is accurate, I am pointing out that the author is not describing the Creation account accurately.

It seems to be an effect strategy when trying to win an argument to tell a half truth about the apposing idea or position then attack that idea or position based on the half truth. By truth I mean the "true" creation account not the accuracy of the creation account.

I was away for a few days so I could not respond in a more timely manner.

On a completely different subject regarding down voting. Does it mean that one does not agree with the content, that the content has no insight, or that the content adds no value? The third is the area that I/We are trying to solve in a web application solution soon to be deployed.

Using my initial comment as an example had I not posted that comment what "value adding" content would have never been created. If my content resulted in "value adding" content is it not then "value adding" content? Is a good proxy of "value adding" content, content which produces or causes other content creation?

Who ruined it?

Why, Satan of course

You mean Sauron, and his daddy Morgoth. He took the beautiful and perfect Elves and twisted and tortured them into Orcs. Now that's pretty screwed up.

Yeah, wish people would critique good versions of their opponents rather than bad versions. Otherwise, no one learns anything. Both sides remain content in their arguments and assume the other side is a moron.

I have no idea what you two are talking about. Are you ambiguously trying to argue for creationism? If so, could you point me to those "good arguments"? I've never seen them.

No, just that if Eliezer is going to critique a position, he should critique the best version of said position.

Methinks you haven't looked.

I went to seminary briefly before deciding to go back to being a coder, and my favorite courses were apologetics and the courses having to do with creationist theory.

They didn't teach creationist theory as the absolute definitive truth, they tought it as a plausible element to many Christian worldviews (in many variants, including Deism, Intelligent Design, Young Earth, and others).

If you're looking for a variety of resources representing the different creationist worldviews, check the curriculum and resources at Summit Ministries. They were, at one time, loosely affiliated with Dobson's Focus on the Family organization (not sure of the current status of that affiliation), and lead by really deep thinkers in Protestant beliefs.


They didn't teach creationist theory as the absolute definitive truth, they tought it as a plausible element to many Christian worldviews

That's kind of the point, though. Creationism is not a plausible theory. It does not explain the evidence and is contradicted by the world around us. The only way you could allow for creator god that fits the observed evidence is if you posit that he does exactly what nature would do by itself. I.e. the only god that fits the observed evidence is nature... which is exactly the point of Eliezer's article.

> lead by really deep thinkers in Protestant beliefs.

Thanks, but when we're talking about the defining paradigm of biology, I prefer the views of biologists.

Presumably you believe these groups to be mutually exclusive?

Indeed, I doubt there's much overlap between Protestant theologians and professional biologists.

Ok, thanks for clarifying what you were saying.

In case you didn't notice, it's not the same person who replied, so there was no clarification.

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