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Adam Atlas' TakeOnIt

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52 up votes minus down votes on comments.
11 questions, experts, and expert opinions added.
6 expert opinion suggestions made.


Adam Atlas' Opinions

Does life have a meaning?      Neutral      27 Apr 2010      1 Point
I'm not sure if "Does life have a meaning?" has a meaning. As with many deep-sounding philosophical questions, this one quickly dissolves when you notice that "meaning" is just not something that the universe does. Imagine the universe before any life formed, anywhere. Who is there to give meaning to anything? What's the meaning of a star or a galaxy or a black hole? I wouldn't even say there's no meaning; I'd say it's a wrong question. (Of course, I'm working under the assumption that there is no God, and this is not the place to debate that if you disagree.) Does this mean that life is meaningless? No. It means that looking for meaning at that level is a category error. Meaning is something that minds do, and if you look at it from that perspective, then you will be able to find a meaning for your life (provided that you keep in mind that you're creating it, not seeking it). If you look for some outside force to impose a meaning on your life, you'll find religion or become a nihilist. Neither of those allows your mind to live up to its potential.

So "Does life have a meaning?" is not a useful question to ask. A better question is "Can life have a meaning?", and the answer to that is definitely yes.

Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?      Agree      26 Apr 2010      1 Point
It is desirable if we can indefinitely extend happy, healthy life. If I don't want to die right now (I don't), then why would I want to die 100 or 2,000 or 5,000,000 years from now if I'm feeling just as good? Maybe my circumstances will change — maybe the world will get really really terrible or be destroyed, or maybe we really will run out of fun — but why would I precommit to wanting to die at some point?

I haven't talked to anyone who's given a clear answer as to what the cutoff point would be — at what age it stops being a good thing to preserve and improve life. One person with whom I was arguing about this acknowledged that eliminating disease would be a good thing, but insisted that physical and mental aging should be preserved (even if we could develop the technology to stop it). The motivation for this, as far as I can tell, is that it's easier to find it morally acceptable to allow the death of a decrepit 80-year-old with Alzheimer's than a 80-year-old with the brain and body of a 30-year-old (especially since people need to die of something)...
The solution is that we shouldn't stop aging, so we don't feel bad about not stopping death?
As ethical reasoning, that seems completely backwards to me.

Is capitalism good?      Mostly Agree      26 Apr 2010      3 Points
It has been much more successful at creating wealth, promoting innovation, and raising the world's standard of living than any of its predecessors and the non-market-based alternatives that have been tried. However, as I don't believe in natural rights or hold any deontological values that inherently require unrestrained free markets, my preferences regarding economic policy are based on outcomes (measured by utility to humans; metrics like GDP might correlate somewhat to that, but they are not the same measure, and the end goal (very roughly speaking) is maximizing how happy people are with their lives and with the world); therefore, I support commercial regulation and social programs exactly insofar as they result in greater happiness than a pure market economy would.

Not that I would make a blanket statement that "x amount of regulation and wealth redistribution is good", even if I don't claim to know the value of x; it's not a matter of finding some specific "balance", but of trying individual programs and seeing what helps. In general, mixed economies seem to be viable and effective, e.g. in European social democracies.

Is hope good?      Neutral      26 Apr 2010      1 Point
Sometimes. I love what Eliezer wrote about it: "Thou shalt not pursue hope as an emotion, only actual positive outcomes." Don't pursue hope for its own sake, disconnected from good reasoning about your actual expectations. Then you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. Good hope is hope that will likely be fulfilled, and lest you cloud your judgment with wishful thinking, you should figure out the likelihood of an outcome before allowing yourself to feel good about anticipating it.

Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself?      Mostly Agree      25 Apr 2010      0 Points
I think it's likely given the current direction we're going in, but not in a fatalistic way; there's still action we can take that will reduce our chances of self-destruction.

Does homosexuality threaten the stability of society?      Disagree      25 Apr 2010      0 Points
Societies that have gotten more accepting of homosexuality over the past few decades don't seem to be collapsing. I think we can reject this empirically.

Is masturbation morally acceptable?      Agree      25 Apr 2010      1 Point
This is one of those things that I'm surprised people still argue about in 2010.

It's also one of the few things where I find the non-religious attempts at moral arguments against it (e.g. Kant's) to be even dumber than the explicitly religious ones.

Do Gödellian arguments refute a computational model of the mind?      Disagree      25 Apr 2010      1 Point
As far as I can tell, the Huge Mistake in this reasoning is the implicit but crucial jump from "a human's knowledge of some fact cannot be isomorphic to a formal proof" to "the human brain cannot be isomorphic to a formal system". The former is clearly true, at no detriment to the possibility of AI, and at only minor detriment to our ability to have useful knowledge. Our knowledge of anything, absolute mathematical certainties included, is imprecise and probabilistic. An AI with a similar (or preferably better) epistemology would very likely also be able, based on intelligent reasoning about formal deduction (not reasoning that looks like formal deduction from the inside), to come to very high or very low probability estimates for certain formally-undecidable statements, as this would not need to be isomorphic to any impossible proofs in the formal system it's ultimately implemented on.

Is quantum mechanics needed to explain consciousness?      Mostly Disagree      25 Apr 2010      1 Point
I'm saying only "mostly disagree" because I haven't read Penrose's and Hameroff's arguments in much detail, so I'm not sure exactly what evidence they present. My tentative understanding is that neurobiology has not established that there's anything unusual going on within or between neurons, and Tegmark's response seems strong.

In any case, from what I've heard, the Penrose/Hameroff idea is not much of an explanation. It's not an instance of observing some specific aspect of consciousness has a higher likelihood in the context of some already-understood quantum effects than in the context of normal biology. It sounds more like they're trying to preserve and legitimize its perceived mysteriousness by fitting it into a framework (quantum physics) that people think is supposed to be mysterious.

Correct me if I'm misrepresenting them; as I said, I haven't looked into their arguments very thoroughly, so maybe there's more to it than curiosity-stopping.

(At the Singularity Summit in 2009, Ray Kurzweil had an amusing remark in response to someone asking him about this — something like "Penrose seems to think that because consciousness is mysterious, and because quantum physics is mysterious, they must have something to do with each other.")

Do all religions ultimately express the same God?      Disagree      25 Apr 2010      0 Points
Rev. Jensen happens to be exactly right about this, but judging by his title, I'm guessing he didn't take the obvious next step.

Do miracles happen?      Disagree      25 Apr 2010      1 Point
I recently learned that a committee of mentally unwell jesters has determined that rainbows, fuckin' magnets, giraffes, and pelicans trying to eat your cell phone shall be classified as miracles, in which case yes, miracles definitely happen.

However, under a more conventional definition — events that violate normal physical causality — no, miracles do not happen. Things might happen that we can't currently explain based on our knowledge of physics, but we must not confuse our ignorance with inherent miraculousness.

Could a computer ever be conscious?      Agree      24 Apr 2010      1 Point
If evolution can build a conscious machine, we surely can. (At the very least, it is not metaphysically out-of-bounds to us, even if it turns out to be intractably difficult.) Evolution isn't magic, and even if, by some insanely implausible set of mutations, our brains actually evolved to take advantage of some exotic physical laws that can't be simulated by a Turing machine, and this is absolutely required for consciousness, we could still build new computers that use the same phenomena. If proteins can put together this kind of amazing machinery, human manufacturing methods (even already-existing ones, quite likely) should be more than enough to do so.

(I'm amused by Searle's statement: "Just having zeros and ones by themselves is insufficient to guarantee mental content, conscious or unconscious." Well, of course "zeros and ones by themselves" are insufficient. Nobody's saying my iPod is conscious.)

(And I'm baffled by Caplan's statement: "That makes about as much sense as…inferring that a computer program that simulated a brain could, like a real brain, be poured over a fire to extinguish it." Do people do that with real brains?)

Is free will an illusion?      Mostly Disagree      24 Apr 2010      2 Points
The issue of "free will" is so horribly muddled as to be hardly worth talking about. I will now talk about it.

• Conscious beings do not have access to some mysterious decision-making force capable of overriding physics.

• Even if we did, even if our decisions came from some force outside the investigable laws of physics, there would still be an underlying right answer to the question "How does that force work?", even if we can never know the answer; to project our ignorance onto our conception of its nature and to deem it "free" on that basis is a serious map-territory confusion. Whatever it is that results in our decisions can be systematic, random, or some combination of the two, but I don't see any coherent alternatives. If you taboo "free", "choice", "will", "decide", etc., and unpack all of your thoughts about them, you ultimately end up with something deterministic. And there's nothing wrong with that.

"You" have a will (a set of desires and goals) and an ability to act upon it (within some external and psychological constraints — not completely freely) at the level of abstraction where there's a "you" to talk about. The fact that this can still be reduced to perfectly normal physics does not mean it's not worth talking about (just because something is made out of other things does not mean you can't think of it as real). Similarly, reducing morality to a phenomenon of minds does not make it useless or incoherent. "You" are morally responsible for your actions at the level where there's a "you" and "morality" to talk about.

• Seemingly random quantum events do not have anything to do with free will. Even if it did have some significant influence on our behaviour (and it most likely doesn't unless you're making decisions based on one of those websites that generates random numbers from radioactive decay), you know you're confused when you find being controlled by random laws to be more "free" than existing as part of a deterministic framework.

Can you put a price on life?      Agree      20 Apr 2010      1 Point
Let's be clear about what this means: if you claim that life is infinitely valuable, then you claim that you would spend an infinite amount of money to save even one life. You also claim that a million lives are no more valuable than one (it's all the same infinity) and therefore that if it does come down to spending money to save lives, and you have the choice between saving a million lives or saving one for the same amount of money, then there is no basis for preferring one over the other (as Peter Singer points out).

Suppose an insane and insanely wealthy scientist kidnaps you and presents you with a conundrum. A hostage is tied to a chair, duct tape over their mouth, suspended over a tank of sharks. The scientist's hunchbacked assistant wheels out several large crates. He open one to reveal bricks of gold. "I've placed one billion dollars' worth of gold in these crates," the scientist says. "You have two choices. You can take this gold and never hear from me again, in which case my hostage will be killed. Or you can request that the hostage be released unharmed, in which case I will keep the gold. What is your choice?"

What is your choice?

I'm sure some people would rather let the hostage live, but many who are fond of saying "You can't put a price on human life" (pundits, politicians, preachers, and people who believe them) would change their tune if it actually came down to a stark choice like this. I'd also bet that many people who would claim (and even believe) that they'd turn down the money would not be quite as good at resisting if those crates were actually right there in front of them (even less so if the hostage were in a different room, unseen).

Yes, I'd take it. Even if I were forced to watch the hostage being killed — even if I were forced to personally kill the hostage — I hope that I would have the moral strength to do it. I would let one person die, take the billion dollars, and use it to save as many people as I possibly could.

Is democracy the best form of government?      Neutral      17 Apr 2010      1 Point
It's the best we have for now. It's not necessarily the best that can exist. I'm not sure about things like futarchy (it would be interesting to try it on a relatively small scale and see how well it works), but there's a vast unexplored space of possibilities.

I'm in favour of whatever political system is most likely to keep the world from being destroyed until politics doesn't matter anymore. If the Singularity happens, and it goes well, conventional politics and economics will immediately become obsolete. (Political theory itself is somewhat analogous to the problem of Friendliness on a much slower, smaller, stupider scale, and it won't be necessary once we have the real thing. If Friendly AI works, it will be the best form of government, because it will be the only thing that can figure out what everyone collectively means by "best".) They'll also be obsolete if the Singularity happens and it doesn't go well, because we'll all have been converted into paperclips or smiling mannequins.

Should atheists directly challenge religious beliefs?      Agree      17 Apr 2010      1 Point
We should do whatever we can to peacefully and consensually abolish it. If directly challenging religious beliefs is found to be effective, then we should do so. However, I'm inclined to think that, on this particular issue, Karl Marx happened to get it exactly right (though his proposed solution didn't turn out too well):

"The struggle against religion is . . . indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."

When death and suffering are abolished, religion will abolish itself.

(Plus, by the time we have the technology to do that, we'll probably have other technology that makes us almost godlike ourselves, allowing us to achieve things that make our old gods seem petty and weak. At that point, it will be untenable to maintain any religious belief stronger than deism or vague transcendent feelings. And that's only if we don't reengineer ourselves to fix the cognitive biases and other glitches that cause religion in the first place.)

Can we handle the truth?      Mostly Disagree      16 Apr 2010      1 Point
We all say we can handle the truth, but most people, even those who don't consciously choose to avoid or deny specific uncomfortable facts, make little effort to improve their abilities to acquire new information, reject bad reasoning and false information, and synthesize new information through reason, nor would they think of reevaluating existing beliefs without any prompting or cognitive dissonance. The result is that most of us are quite vulnerable to a huge host of biases and misconceptions. Maybe most people are unaware of just how inadequate our built-in epistemology is; maybe they don't know it's possible to improve on it; maybe they don't think it's worth the effort; maybe they have some sacred beliefs that they are afraid to reconsider. None of those are characteristic of people who can handle the truth.

Can I handle the truth? I hope so. If I am wrong about something, then I want to know, so I can become right.
But maybe I'm just saying that. Maybe I too have some beliefs that I so want to be right that I couldn't handle finding out they were wrong. I don't think I've found any yet, but if I do, I hope I will be able to push through any discomfort and arrive at a more correct opinion.

Does God exist?      Disagree      10 Apr 2010      1 Point
It's important to distinguish between "God" and God.

"God" — the word, the symbol in people's minds (even the minds of non-religious people) — can be a powerful rhetorical and metaphorical device, for instance in its use by Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
But then religious people quote you out-of-context to make it sound like "Hey, look, Einstein believes in the same bearded cloud-dwelling patriarch that I do!"
I think poetic/metaphorical uses of the word "God" are best avoided.

For most definitions of the word "God" (a very broad category, certainly), the answer to "Does God exist?" is no. Still, making an unequivocal statement like that can be troublesome, because some people will say "Einstein called the laws of physics 'God', are you saying you don't believe in the laws of physics? You think you're smarter than Einstein, mister smarty man?" or "Pantheists believe that the entire universe is God, are you saying you don't believe in the universe?" and eventually the question doesn't mean anything at all. So let me say this instead: Neither life, the universe, nor the laws of physics were created by an intelligent being, nor do any supernatural beings intervene in this world. Any use of the word "God" that doesn't fall under that description is probably a rhetorical trick/mistake that only confuses things.

Is a woman a 'slut' if she has one-night stands?      Disagree      10 Apr 2010      1 Point
The main purpose of the word "slut" is to deliver negative connotations, not descriptive meaning. By most dictionary definitions, yes, "a woman [is] a 'slut' if she has one-night stands", but you can't credibly claim to be using the word just as shorthand for "sexually promiscuous woman" while ignoring the connotations and associated value judgments. Yes, women who are promiscuous (and even women who merely openly acknowledge enjoying sex) deal with enough shaming even if the word "slut" isn't brought up, but it can only make things worse.

"But that does not mean one should intrude on people's beliefs"

That's irrelevant. This question is about whether or not it's true.

Is the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics correct?      Agree      08 Apr 2010      1 Point
Indeed. I've never studied physics formally (for more than a semester), but I remember hearing about the idea of particles being in superposition, and then entire experimental apparati being in superposition, until an "observer" interferes with it, and eventually I figured out... "Wait, why can't the observer itself just be in superposition? It would look the same from the inside, and that way the universe doesn't have to have some random number generator making decisions and eliminating most of its information whenever someone learns something about a particle." Seems pretty obvious, in retrospect.

Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?      Agree      08 Apr 2010      1 Point
If someone is unconscious but breathing, they're probably sleeping or passed out or in a coma. If someone is unconscious and not breathing, and does not have a pulse, we say they're dead. Isn't this dividing line obsolete? Given all we know about the mind by now, why are we still identifying life with respiration? Maybe it was the most important and interesting thing about our distant ancestors many millions of years ago, but not anymore. The essence of one's identity is not in the lungs or the heart. It is a pattern of information in the brain, and as long as that pattern is preserved, the description of "alive" is no more inappropriate than it is for a sleeping or comatose person.

I hereby decree that the state currently known as "death" shall henceforth be known as "necrogenesis" until information-theoretic death has occurred. The latter state shall be referred to simply as "death".

Right now, allowing necrogenesis to progress to death holds an arbitrary privileged status as the normal, morally acceptable thing to do. That's not how it should be. Seeing someone in necrogenesis and not making any attempt to preserve the essence of their identity before they die should be viewed as comparable to euthanasia at best, negligent homicide at worst.

Should euthanasia be legal?      Agree      07 Apr 2010      1 Point
I think it should be legal when it is necessary to end suffering that is likely to continue indefinitely. But I also think people should have (and be made aware of) the option to enter cryonic suspension in similar situations, so that they might someday be revived when medical science can end whatever was causing their suffering. I would suspect and hope that many people would rather do that than die, if they had the choice.

Is life a deterministic consequence of physical laws?      Agree      06 Apr 2010      1 Point
If something is truly an explanation and not a stopsign — if it explains observed regularities, predicts future observations, and does not predict future non-observations — and it is incompatible with the known laws of physics, and you can manage to confirm it to greater confidence than them, then that means you get to update the laws of physics to take it into account; not that it's some intrinsically mysterious quality of the universe.

I don't even really see how you'd divide things between a "laws of physics" magisterium of explanations and an "outside the laws of physics" magisterium. If something is really true and it really does contradict our current beliefs about the laws of physics, then it must be incorporated into an updated theory regarding those laws.

Is truth relative?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
Even if it doesn't seem like it sometimes, we're all living in the same reality. Ultimately, things are either one way or another. That said, that does not mean our beliefs about it must be equally clear-cut; the opposite of relativism isn't certainty. Acknowledging the existence of an external reality doesn't mean being unduly confident of any facts about it — it just means understanding that our beliefs about it and how it actually is (the map and the territory, as we say) are different things.

(But that, of course, doesn't mean we should give ourselves permission to say "we can't know for sure, so I'm just going to believe x, and let's agree to disagree". You can either say "I don't know" with no "but", or you can state the facts that suggest x is true. Living in reality without resenting it means forming your beliefs about it using only the real, objective information that is available to you.)

Are our enemies innately evil?      Mostly Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
I think Dawkins is exactly right about this (though it still feels more like a "Mostly Disagree" than a "Neutral" to me). My position is basically this:

I feel free to judge certain people and certain actions as truly evil. I think that comes standard with having a moral system. I just won't pretend that this is an explanation for anything, an innate or causally-active quality of certain people. By "causally-active" I mean positing evil as some specific force that makes people do certain things. I see it the other way around: there are many factors that can cause people to do evil things, and past a certain threshold, it's appropriate to describe an entire person as evil. But it's still usually unhelpful.

You can judge your enemy to be evil, but that tells you nothing about how to defeat them or how to prevent future evil from arising.

Is the unconscious philosophical zombie possible?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
To me, the zombie argument has always appeared to be a crackpot position, a truly nonsensical idea, so it is befuddling to see some very smart people advocating it. (Of course, they are balanced by some even smarter people arguing against it.) The statements of Searle and Chalmers — "It is possible in principle to build a machine that behaves exactly like a human being but has no consciousness or intentionality"; "Why couldn't there have been a universe that was particle for particle identical to ours, but in which there was no consciousness … Our world is not like that, but I don’t see any contradiction in that hypothesis" — I'd characterize as insane. Searle seems to be confusing "imaginable" and "possible". And I have to wonder what makes Chalmers so sure that this isn't his zombie universe, if his description of it is meaningful. Zombie David Chalmers would also have said "Our world is not like that" for identical reasons, being particle-for-particle identical to Conscious Qualeful David Chalmers.

Occam's Razor doesn't just cut away the epiphenomenal definition of consciousness, it tears it into a billion tiny shreds. For Conscious Qualeful David Chalmers's conclusion about his own consciousness to be justified, and for that of Zombie David Chalmers to be unjustified, based on each of them observing the same things and using the same reasoning, would require us to allow that the very laws of reason might be different in the zombie universe.

Is a technological singularity likely?      Agree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
I can see several paths to a Singularity (I'm working under the intelligence explosion interpretation). If we create an Artificial General Intelligence that is smarter than humans — smart enough that it has significant advantages over humans in skills like programming and engineering — then we get an intelligence explosion pretty much right away. Or if we get to the point where we have enough processing power and brain-scanning precision to perform whole-brain emulation, we could create a million copies of the world's best programmers and have them work on improving their own software, a million copies of the world's best engineers and physicists and have them work on improving their own hardware, or a million copies of the world's best cognitive scientists and computer scientists and have them work on reverse-engineering the ingredients of general intelligence and then implementing it. And so forth. (Personally, if we're going to go that route, I think a million copies of Eliezer Yudkowsky would work best.) Similar things could also happen if powerful Intelligence Amplification techniques are developed, though I think the end goal should remain Friendly AI, with IA/uploading as secondary means to that end.

Anyway, if we can keep ourselves from going extinct for long enough, a Singularity of some kind is just about inevitable, though not as a prophecy of a utopian future; indeed, its inevitability necessitates serious thought and research on how we can make sure we get it right the first time.

Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?      Agree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
I'd avoid using the words "prove" and "disprove", because, outside the domain of mathematics, they tend to promote (or indicate) a misunderstanding of how rational evidence works. That said, I do think it is perfectly appropriate to say that God is scientifically unsupported (in the manner of the Teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the dragon in your garage, etc.), and that you must not have a fully rational worldview if you can permit yourself to believe in God.

If, under any given person's definition of God, they can think of some way the world would be empirically different if there were no God, and that actually does turn out to be the case, then that is scientific evidence against God. If they can't think of any way the world would be different if their God were not real — or if they refuse to think about or say what the differences would be — or if they claim that some observation would be evidence for God, but refuse to allow that its absence would be evidence against God — then they are delusional.

Do we have an immaterial soul?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
As far as consciousness and personal identity go, I suspect that the patterns are more important than the substance, but those patterns nevertheless run on an entirely biological substrate. There are no special rules for it.

As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that celestial bodies' positions causally influence personality in any way, and most astrological readings, horoscopes, etc. are ordinary cold reading.

Is there life after death?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      0 Points
Once again, I agree with JGWeissman.

(On a side note, I'm not sure the Steve Jobs quote is applicable here. All he says is "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there", which isn't an explicit denial of an afterlife. I don't think he believes in one — I think he still considers himself a Buddhist — but we'd need a better quote to support that.)

Should religious institutions be separated from government?      Agree      05 Apr 2010      0 Points
I'd prefer religious institutions to be separated from existence, but separating them from government is a good start.

Aside from the usual interpretations, this also means religious organizations shouldn't have special privileges like tax exemption. They should be treated like any other organization.

Is God just?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
People who believe in God seem to expect infinitesimally less of him than they expect of mere human leaders. Any God who creates and rules a universe like this one cannot be just; if not actively evil, he must at best be merely amoral.

I'm running against Yahweh in the upcoming deity election of 2012. Vote for me! If elected, I will immediately eliminate death and suffering.
(Does it have to be any more complicated than that?)

Is there a Law of Karma?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
People who do good things and bad things have good things and bad things happen to them, in every combination. There is probably a moderate positive correlation between being a generally good person and having good things happen to you, but one that could be fully explained by psychological and social factors. And at the level of the fundamental laws of physics... the universe doesn't even compute "people", let alone "good people". A fundamental law of karma would have to somehow also make good things happen to good rocks, cauliflower, stars, molecules floating through space, etc.

Is rebirth/reincarnation plausible?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      1 Point
I'd like to see an attempt at a scientifically rigorous rebirth hypothesis based on its interpretation in Buddhism — it sounds slightly less preposterous than its counterparts in Hinduism, western New Age doctrines, etc. — but I still suspect that it would either fail to make any testable predictions or be quickly falsified.

Must God exist to explain how the universe began?      Disagree      05 Apr 2010      2 Points
JGWeissman is quite right. The "first cause" argument directly contradicts itself by saying "everything must have a cause; therefore, there must be exactly one thing that doesn't have a cause". For my part, I find the mathematical universe hypothesis to be a satisfactory explanation of what exactly existence is and how it works, but in any case, I can't think of any "x" for which "the universe exists because of God; God exists because of x" makes more sense than "the universe exists because of x".

Comparisons with Experts and Influencers

The similarity between Adam Atlas and each expert and influencer is calculated by looking at how the same questions were answered. These figures are used to calculate conforming, nonconforming, and projected opinions. The accuracy of the analysis depends on Adam Atlas' coverage, which grows with the number of their opinions entered into TakeOnIt.

Eliezer Yudkowsky
Artificial Intelligence Researcher
93% agreement / 12 opinions

Ayn Rand
Philosopher, Novelist
88% agreement / 9 opinions

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary Biologist, Writer, Atheism Activist
96% agreement / 8 opinions

Daniel Dennett
Philosophy Professor
95% agreement / 6 opinions

Steven Weinberg
Nobel Laureate in Physics
95% agreement / 6 opinions

Paul Z. Myers
Biology Professor
87% agreement / 6 opinions

Mostly Agree
Robin Hanson
Economics Professor
77% agreement / 10 opinions

Albert Einstein
Physicist, Icon of the 20th Century
65% agreement / 5 opinions

Pickup Artist
62% agreement / 4 opinions

David Chalmers
Philosophy Professor
68% agreement / 4 opinions

James Randi
Magician, Illusionist, Writer, Skeptic
66% agreement / 3 opinions

Evan Fales
Philosophy Professor
75% agreement / 2 opinions

Robert Todd Carroll
Philosophy Professor
50% agreement / 6 opinions

Friedrich Nietzsche
Iconic Philosopher of 19th Century
50% agreement / 5 opinions

Steven Pinker
Psychology Professor
56% agreement / 4 opinions

Bryan Caplan
Economics Professor
50% agreement / 3 opinions

Douglas Hofstadter
Professor of Cognitive Science
58% agreement / 3 opinions

Bill Maher
Political T.V. Host, Comedian
50% agreement / 2 opinions

Mostly Disagree
George W. Bush
United States President 2001-2009
35% agreement / 5 opinions

Barack Obama
United States President
37% agreement / 4 opinions

Albert Mohler
President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
25% agreement / 2 opinions

Jeff Hawkins
Neuroscientist, Inventor of Palm Pilot
37% agreement / 2 opinions

Christian Encyclopedia
37% agreement / 2 opinions

Peter Joseph
Movie Producer
25% agreement / 1 opinions

The Catholic Church
Largest Christian Church
14% agreement / 14 opinions

Deepak Chopra
Inventor of Quantum Healing
3% agreement / 8 opinions

Osama Bin Laden
Former Leader of Al Qaeda
16% agreement / 6 opinions

Roger Penrose
Mathematics Professor
8% agreement / 3 opinions

Andrew Sullivan
Journalist, Author
0% agreement / 3 opinions

John Clayton
Christian Teacher
0% agreement / 2 opinions

Conforming Opinions

Adam Atlas' conforming opinions are opinions that align with the group of experts and influencers Adam Atlas typically agrees with.

Coverage Answer Question
High Disagree Does God exist?
High Agree Should atheists directly challenge religious beliefs?
High Disagree Does astrology work (is personality correlated with the positions of celestial bodies at birth)?
High Disagree Do we have an immaterial soul?
High Disagree Is there life after death?
High Mostly Disagree Is free will an illusion?
High Disagree Is truth relative?
High Mostly Disagree Can we handle the truth?
High Disagree Must God exist to explain how the universe began?
High Mostly Agree Is capitalism good?
High Disagree Is God just?
High Neutral Does life have a meaning?
High Agree Can you put a price on life?
Medium Mostly Disagree Are our enemies innately evil?
Medium Agree Should religious institutions be separated from government?
Medium Disagree Is a woman a 'slut' if she has one-night stands?
Medium Disagree Is the unconscious philosophical zombie possible?
Medium Agree Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?
Medium Agree Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?
Medium Agree Could a computer ever be conscious?
Medium Agree Is life a deterministic consequence of physical laws?
Medium Agree Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?
Medium Mostly Agree Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself?
Medium Agree Is the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics correct?
Medium Disagree Do Gödellian arguments refute a computational model of the mind?
Low Disagree Do miracles happen?
Low Disagree Do all religions ultimately express the same God?
Low Agree Should euthanasia be legal?

Nonconforming Opinions

Adam Atlas' nonconforming opinions are opinions that contradict the group of experts and influencers Adam Atlas typically agrees with.

Coverage Group Answer Contributor Answer Question
High Mostly Agree Agree Is a technological singularity likely?
Low Disagree Mostly Disagree Is quantum mechanics needed to explain consciousness?
Low Disagree Neutral Is democracy the best form of government?

Projected Opinions

Adam Atlas' projected opinions are opinions Adam Atlas is expected to have if their opinions align with the experts and influencers that they typically agree with.

Coverage Answer Question
High Mostly Disagree Is "ought" derived from "is"?
High Mostly Disagree Are the core truths of science and religion complementary?
High Agree Did complex life evolve through the process of natural selection?
High Mostly Agree Is self-deception a fault?
High Agree Is free trade generally beneficial for a country?
Medium Mostly Agree Is substantially reducing CO2 emissions worthwhile?
Medium Mostly Agree Is morality objective?
Medium Mostly Disagree Have aliens from outer space visited Earth?
Medium Disagree Has feminism gone too far?
Medium Mostly Agree Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation?
Medium Mostly Disagree Does religion encourage good behavior?
Medium Mostly Disagree Do ghosts exist?
Medium Disagree Does everything happen for a reason?
Medium Agree Can reductionist methods help explain consciousness?
Medium Agree Is global warming caused primarily by humans?
Medium Disagree Is censorship acceptable?
Medium Mostly Agree Would the world be better off without the Catholic Church?
Low Neutral Is it ethical to eat meat?
Low Agree Is cryonics worthwhile?
Low Agree Should marijuana be legal?
Low Mostly Disagree Is it important to fit in with your peer group?
Low Mostly Disagree Is intelligent extraterrestrial life common in our galaxy?
Low Agree Is abortion morally acceptable?
Low Mostly Agree Should women have the right to vote?
Low Disagree Does minimum wage help the poor?
Low Neutral Should paternity testing be mandatory?
Low Neutral Will Barack Obama win the Democratic nomination?
Low Agree Will solar be the biggest energy source of the future?
Low Neutral Should gay and straight couples have the same legal benefits?
Low Disagree Are psychic powers real?
Low Neutral Is the IPCC objective?
Low Agree Is cryonic restoration technically feasible in the future?
Low Mostly Disagree Does cryonic preservation with today's best technology cause irreversible brain damage?
Low Neutral Are recent climatic changes consistent with the AGW hypothesis?
Low Agree Do Muslims have the right to build a mosque near ground zero?
Low Neutral Will the WikiLeaks cable leaks do more harm than good?
Low Neutral Should Julian Assange be considered a criminal for Wikileaks?
Low Disagree Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?
Low Disagree Did the US Government play a part in the 9/11 attacks?
Low Agree Is the world explainable without God?
Low Mostly Disagree Is hypocrisy acceptable?
Low Agree Should abortion be legal?
Low Disagree Does evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics?
Low Disagree Does homeopathy work?
Low Neutral Should the United States invade Iraq?
Low Neutral Is not bothering to vote acceptable?
Low Disagree Does Cap and Trade beat carbon tax for reducing emissions?
Low Mostly Disagree Are America's rich taxed enough?