Monday, July 19, 2010

How Often Are You Wrong?

Many people have said kids should learn how to program. They usually bring up how this helps them think logically. They don't point out that it also helps them fail over and over and over. The failure is unambiguous, and you can't argue with it. Your program doesn't compile. And that's clearly because you were wrong about something. No matter how sure you were that you were right, you were wrong. Day after day after day.

But the thing is, the goals are usually simple and achievable, so you get it right in the end. So it's not soul-crushing failure.

And when I fail, it's not like, "Ho-hum. I failed again. Whatever." Often, my whole world turns upside-down, at least briefly. "I KNOW I did that right! There MUST be something wrong with the compiler!" But, no, I'm wrong again, today. Just like I was yesterday. Just like I will be tomorrow, even though I will think I'm right. --grumblebee, on MetaFilter


One of the reasons I haven't been posting much lately is that I finally started to realize how futile it is to try to convince non-skeptical people they are wrong.

The above quote resonates with me because I am a computer programmer, although my skepticism predates my ability to write code. I've been skeptical as long as I can remember. Maybe it's innate or maybe I picked it up early on.

Either way, I forget that most people aren't skeptical when I'm arguing and it can be frustrating. My opponent will make an argument that's so bad the conclusion isn't even relevant to the argument. The conclusion might be right or it might be wrong, but the argument is so bad it doesn't matter. I think he must be arguing in bad faith and I get angry.

But the truth is most people don't take seriously the possibility that they are wrong, so they don't bother to examine the arguments they make. Whenever I write a post or even just a comment, I pause before submitting it to look at it from my opponent's point of view. Sometimes I see immediately that it's a weak argument that wouldn't have convinced me if I didn't already agree with the conclusion and I don't post it. Most people don't seem to do that.

It's obvious if you think about it that there is a substantial possibility we're wrong any time we disagree with anybody. Even if you're very smart, there are almost always very smart people on the other side of the debate, whatever it is. Popular subjects of debate like religion and politics usually have books and books written by people smarter than all of us arguing all sides.

And yet most people assume they're right most of the time even when there are millions of reasons they should be skeptical. For example, everybody agrees that the overwhelming majority of people born into exclusive religions must be seriously wrong about their religious beliefs, since in general only one (at the most!) of the religions can be true. And yet how many Orthodox Jews have given serious thought to the idea that if they were raised Muslim, they would believe in Islam with the same strength that they currently believe in Orthodox Judaism? That their beliefs are more likely due to an accident of birth than they are true?

They wouldn't be stupider or less educated or less honest, but they would believe something completely incompatible with what they now believe. So, knowing that, how can they have so much confidence in their beliefs? It's crazy!

If you care about being right, then it means you have to think differently than most people. So what do you do to minimize the odds of being wrong?

Many people turn to reason, because when you reason well you feel like you are moving productively towards the truth. And yet it's easy to see that reason alone is insufficient because very smart people on all sides of almost all debates are able to reason in a way that is utterly convincing to themselves and to their allies. Search the web and you'll find very long, reasoned arguments for a 6,000 year-old universe, for 9/11 being an inside job, and for every religion under the sun.

Now you'll just come back and say that those are examples of bad reasoning and that your reasoning is good. But I'll come back and ask, how do you know? Everybody thinks that their reasoning is good. Psychological denial is insidious: by definition you don't know when you're doing it.

Computer programming is one of a few disciplines that force you to test your reasoning against reality constantly. And even in that field, many, many mistakes sneak through because not every line of code can be tested against every possible configuration of variables. It's actually amazingly hard to write code that can stand up against even casual use without turning up bugs. Just imagine how many bugs must be in your reasoning that is never tested even a little bit against reality!

This is why I'll trust a scientist over a theologian any day. Both scientists and theologians make errors in their reasoning, but scientists run experiments. No experiment is perfect, just as no amount of testing can find all the bugs in a significant computer program, but the theologian is like a computer programmer who just writes his code on the blackboard and never even tries to run it. Or worse -- he's like a programmer who writes code on the blackboard that references other code written by older programmers going back generations and generations for thousands of years even though no compiler even exists for the language they're using. There's just no chance that program could be even close to accurate.

Even worse, we know for a fact that theologians in the past were wrong about the issues they touched on that turned out to be testable. Before science, theologians made all sorts of claims about the material world that turned out to be false. The rabbis of the Talmud made all sorts of ridiculous claims about spontaneous generation of maggots in meat. (The proto-scientists of the day made some of the same mistakes, of course, but compare the way today's scientists treat those proto-scientists' ideas to the way today's Orthodox rabbis treat those rabbis' ideas.) Even undisputed geniuses like Plato and Aristotle who relied on reason rather than experimentation made some whoppers about reality. If even Aristotle can be laughably wrong, how stupid for us to think we can reason in a vacuum!

Always remember that you are wrong about a lot of things. In matters like religion that lie far outside of the world of experimentation and empiricism, you're almost certainly wrong about pretty much everything. Not a little wrong, but a LOT wrong. Like Aristotle and his five elements wrong.

In more mundane matters, at least spend some time trying to prove yourself wrong. Never argue one side of an issue only. Read every argument you write before you submit it and try to think about what a smart opponent would make of it. Think of what YOU would make of it, if you happened to have been born in a different country or to a different family or religion. Be especially skeptical of beliefs that are convenient, beliefs that support your lifestyle or your people or your country or your side of anything.

For practice, find a popular argument that is irrelevant to you. For example, some land dispute in a country far away between people who don't share your ethnicity or your religion. Note how fervently each side is sure they are right and the other side is not just wrong, but OBVIOUSLY wrong. Then go back to an argument that is very much relevant to you and try to look at it from the other side, and ask yourself how you can really, really know that you're the one who's not in denial.

The truth of the matter is, unless you're very unusually skeptical and very unusually open to empirical reality, you're almost certainly one of the people in deep denial.

What differentiates you from the great mass of deluded wishful thinkers? What steps are you taking to make sure you aren't deceiving yourself?

39 comments:

jewish philosopher said...

I wasn't born Jewish, yet today I'm quite a distinguished Orthodox Jewish blogger.

Jewish Atheist said...

LOL. Yes, JP, you are in a category of your own.

ksil lo yavin said...

when it comes to preference or belief, your eitza could be dificult to implement, no?

i like vanilla ice cream, you like chocolate...we could argue for days about the qualities of each and we we hold our respective tastes, but at the end of the day...who is right?

neither.

Baruch Spinoza said...

I am wrong constantly, I am involved in mathematics, and the amount of mistakes I go through is immense. But outside of math I make constant mistakes also. When I read e-mails I send to people from a month ago I can already find a few problems in them that I disagree with.

There is nothing wrong with using reason. All of mathematics is founded on reason. It works perfectly well. No two mathematicians ever disagree about a theorem because a deductive proof is there and we just have to accept it. Calculating the way to send spaceships to the moon relied on deductive mathematical methods. The percision of which is superb. That is based on reason.

The problem is not reason but people's problem with being reasonable. You cannot look negatively at reason just because some people fail to use it properly. It is the people who are the problem, not the method. These people have long ago made up their mind what to believe and now need to "deduce" what they believe.

The same can also be said with empiricism. Orthodox Jewish people look at the chariot wheel in the red sea and jump to the conclusion that the Exodus story is true. That was empirical not rational, however, it is not empiricism which is at fault here, but people who incorrectly apply empirical methods. Or consider the pseudo-scientists who look for ghosts or the alien chasers, they will use empirical methods, not rational, but it is not empiricism which is the problem but that these people do not use empirical results the way they should be used.

Looking negatively at reason just because there are people (most of them) who abuse it for their own already decided beliefs is like being against cars because some crazy people drive over other people in the street.

Suzanne said...

I liked your post. I too am very skeptical, probably to a fault. I am always second-guessing myself, which makes it very hard to make simple decisions. I feel like I am Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, when he is thinking "on the other hand..." I have always been very skeptical, so maybe this is a personality trait that some of us are born with, and I do wonder how some people can be so sure of themselves. Anyway, I enjoy your posts, so please do continue. I've been lurking around the blogosphere for the past few months, since I discovered from an old college friend that there were actually others brought up orthodox that had stopped being religious (my non-frum Jewish friends, including my husband, were brought up reform or conservative). I'm still trying to figure out where I stand on many issues, so I don't like to comment too often. But your blog was one of the first that I noticed, and I think it's one of the best.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of an interesting philosophical question:

If a man says something in the woods and there's no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?

Puzzled said...

Baruch - What of the controversy over the 4 color theorem? All your comment said is that disagreements can be pushed to the meta-level, but meta-level disagreements matter too, and can, as the 4 color theorem showed, boil down to the object level.

I don't think there's anything wrong with disagreement, and I certainly don't think rationality rules out the possibility. Rationality is a process of doing better, as the original post suggested, not a continuous state of perfection. The problem is when you refuse to admit the possibility of improvement.

Regarding spontaneous generation, I know, it's crazy. I've had a ton of people say to me "what, you trust scientists over our Revered Sages? They know so much more than we do, why would you even question what they say? Don't you know that science has been wrong about things?" On the other hand, they have a point. If you refuse to admit the possibility of being wrong, you'll always be right, enabling them to say "we've never seen the rabbis to be wrong about anything. Yes, they said there's spontaneous generation, but we just deny that they're wrong about that. Meanwhile, you scientists have admitted you were wrong..."

Jewish Atheist said...

ksil lo yavin:

when it comes to preference or belief, your eitza could be dificult to implement, no?

Right, obviously I'm not talking about preferences here, just factual beliefs.


Spinoza:

mThere is nothing wrong with using reason. All of mathematics is founded on reason. It works perfectly well.

Math is unusual that way, though, in that it's built on reason. Most things aren't like that.

You cannot look negatively at reason just because some people fail to use it properly. It is the people who are the problem, not the method. These people have long ago made up their mind what to believe and now need to "deduce" what they believe.

I agree with you technically, but in practice, how can you know if you are one of the people who uses it properly when you know that everybody who uses it improperly thinks that they are using it properly? There needs to be some kind of reality check very often.

The same can also be said with empiricism.

Yeah, you have a good point here. I guess with both reason and empiricism, the important thing is constantly checking your work against reality and against other smart people's reason and empiricism.


Suzanna:

Thanks for the compliment. I always liked the quote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." I think it's crazy that so many people talk about having strong convictions as if it's necessarily a good thing.

Anon:

Deep. :-)


Puzzled:

Yeah, so frustrating. Scientists are often wrong, but science as a whole approaches correctness. Religion sometimes ditches things when they can't get their people to believe in them any more, but they have no internal self-corrective process.

I constantly see even very smart and intellectual Orthodox Jews trying to figure out how much they're *allowed* to believe even when the truth is staring them in the face.

Baruch Spinoza said...

"Baruch - What of the controversy over the 4 color theorem? All your comment said is that disagreements can be pushed to the meta-level, but meta-level disagreements matter too, and can, as the 4 color theorem showed, boil down to the object level.":

This does not challenge what I said about mathematics. Because the entire problem with the 4 color theorem is that there is no deductive proof of it, at least not by people. That is why a lot of people, myself included, have a problem with considering this theorem part of mathematics because we must rely on the faith of a computer. However, I entirely, and so do all others, accept the theorem as true. We just have a problem of thinking of it as a mathematical proof. But no two mathematicians disagree about it being false. Mathematicians just have different approaches to mathematics, some want deductive proofs that we can go over, some are comfortable relying on a computer because all of math already is build upon faith on our fellow mathematicians and their results, no one person can know all of math. That is all what there is about the 4 color theorem. So what you said is not a challenge to what I said. The 4 color theorem will be recognized as true but everyone, just many are uncomfortable of considering it mathematical.

ksil said...

JA, "factual beliefs"....what in the world is that?!?!

something is either a fact, which is difficult to have an opinion on, becasue its a FACT. a belief is just that, your opinion about something.

Puzzled said...

Well, I don't see what you rely on in saying it's true if you deny the validity of the proof. But my point is real to the other side - there is no deductive mechanism to decide the question of what defines a valid deductive proof. So it requires something else to decide this question.

Jewish Atheist said...

ksil:

By "factual beliefs" I meant beliefs which are true or false, even if we don't know if they are true or false, as opposed to beliefs which are purely subjective, like what kind of ice cream is "better."

Garnel Ironheart said...

> I finally started to realize how futile it is to try to convince non-skeptical people they are wrong.

What an amazing coincidence. I've also just started realizing how futile it is to try and convince skeptics that they are wrong.

ksil said...

garnel, proving skeptics they are "wrong" about being skeptical? proving they are wrong about questioning?

skeptics change their minds, that how they got where they are, no?

Baruch Spinoza said...

"Well, I don't see what you rely on in saying it's true if you deny the validity of the proof. But my point is real to the other side - there is no deductive mechanism to decide the question of what defines a valid deductive proof. So it requires something else to decide this question.":

We do not say it is false. The problem we have is whether or not we can consider is part of mathematics because we have to rely on a computer for aid. The 4 color theorem is proven, but some are uncomfortable with it because it does not carry with it the mathematical beauty that mathematicians were doing. My point is that your example is not a refutation to what I said. To refute what I said you must find a theorem in mathematics that is supported by one group of mathematicians but rejected by another. And that you will never find.

Baruch Spinoza said...

"What an amazing coincidence. I've also just started realizing how futile it is to try and convince skeptics that they are wrong.":

Oh my science, those evil skeptics! How dare they?! Demanding evidence, reason and science. Rejecting anything which does not fit in already known facts about the universe. How dare they be so rational and empirical! They must be closed minded because they will never accept the story about the talking snake in the garden of eden. No matter how many times how much that story is explained to them they can never accept it. It must be because they are closed minded. Oh and they also do not believe in God. No matter how many times we try to explain why there must be a God, without using any evidence or without using any reason, just with our emotions, they still never accept. Those evil skeptics! They are just so closed minded.

Scott said...

I used to be what might be called a right wing christian conservative. Now I consider myself an anarchist who finds it much easier to sympathize with the left over the right. Yeah, I've been wrong. Maybe I still am.

Jonathan said...

I think that every person need some religious bullshit to believe in. As an Israeli, I'm surprised to see that many Orthodox Jews who believe in a lot of religious nonsense are much more rational than non-religious in other fields.
For example, they don't deny HBD, they don't believe that the Palestinians are eager to live with the Jews in peace.

Jewish Atheist said...

As an Israeli, I'm surprised to see that many Orthodox Jews who believe in a lot of religious nonsense are much more rational than non-religious in other fields.

That brings up a good point I didn't think to include in this post. A lot of religious people are perfectly skeptical and reasonable in every subject other than religion. It's a phenomenon called compartmentalization. You'll even find Modern Orthodox Jews who laugh at the "superstitious" beliefs of the ultra-Orthodox while maintaining equally ridiculous beliefs themselves.

Regarding the examples you give, though, people are apt to believe in things that happen to coincide with their prejudices regardless of evidence. So racists are likely to believe in what you call HBD and anti-Arab people are more likely to believe that Palestinians are not eager to live with the Jews. It's usually got nothing to do with being rational in either case.

Baruch Spinoza said...

"I used to be what might be called a right wing christian conservative.":

I was all over the place on this issue. When I was a high-school I really liked the ideas of communism, and had no problem admitting I was a communist. I thought of myself as a conservative right-wing religious Jew, put in reality I was more of an authoratirian Jew. Then in the time about in college I became a liberal left-wing Jew. After a little while I became a liberal left-wing skeptic. Still in college I later moved towards a right-wing skeptic, and this is pretty much where I am now.

"I think that every person need some religious bullshit to believe in. As an Israeli, I'm surprised to see that many Orthodox Jews who believe in a lot of religious nonsense are much more rational than non-religious in other fields.
For example, they don't deny HBD, they don't believe that the Palestinians are eager to live with the Jews in peace.":

I agree with this. And I try to provide some explanation back here: http://skepticbutjewish.blogspot.com/2010/05/stupid-brain-center-hypothesis.html

Jewish Atheist said...

Spinoza:

I was all over the place on this issue.

So when you were a communist, was it because of reason? What mistakes in your thinking were you making then that you aren't making now? Do you think that in another five or ten years, you'll believe something completely new?

Baruch Spinoza said...

"So when you were a communist, was it because of reason? What mistakes in your thinking were you making then that you aren't making now?":

No, it was not really the result of reason. Communism had this really nice appeal to me. And it had nice one liners. I liked the idea of it because I disliked money. I disliked money because I consider it to be a waste of humans to only strive for more wealth (actually I still think of that now). And I saw communism as a system which rejects money and allows people to fully grow in what they can accomplish. There was some reason involved in that decision, but no much, it was largely the result of appeal. But some of it were based on reasons. For example, I believed that history is a class struggle so it is a good idea to get rid of class. But that was basically where all my reasoning stopped. I did not examine that idea in more detail and furthermore what "getting rid of class" even meant in the first place. To be fair communism was not something I was passionate about, just something that appealed to me and kinda made sense to whatever little reason I gave to it.

"Do you think that in another five or ten years, you'll believe something completely new?":

From my experience change in beliefs, for me, happens when there are ideas that currently challenge me in some manner. I seriously doubt I will be religious again or believe in Aliens because none of arguments in favor of these actually challenge me on any level. But I was once a non-determinist, now I am one, because the determinism arguments did challenge me. So it must be something that challenges me on some level currently. The only kind of political philosophy that does currently pose some challenge to me is anarchism (anarcho-capitalism), all the others ones do not bother me intellectually. I have been called an anarchist several times (because of voluntary taxation and secession) by other people though I never thought of myself as an anarchist. So I guess if I change to something new in the future it will probably be an anarcho-capitalist. I plan to study a lot more economics in the future. If something can change me to this position it may be economics, so I do not know, I do not see it happening though.

Jonathan said...

JA,

Many secular people are rational when they discuss other people's religion and do it from a skeptical point of view, but they are not rational when they disuss their religion - humanism. I suspect that you belong to this group.

Random said...

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Possibly the only time ever JA will find himself on the same side of an argument as Oliver Cromwell, so treasure it while it lasts. Good to have you back by the way, I was started to get afraid you'd packed it in...

A good post though, and one I don't find much to disagree with, oddly enough. A note of caution though - there is more than a little hint here of the old problem of assuming that expertise and mastery of a small area of achievement provides insights that are true and relevant for all times and all places. An iota of humility is always of benefit, when other people disagree with you the problem doesn't always lie with them, no matter how rigorously you have attempted to examine your argument. As a programmer I am sure you are familiar with the expression GIGO - if your initial (usually unexamined) assumptions are wrong then the conclusions are going to be unreliable too, regardless of how carefully you check the logic in the intermediate steps. This is a problem we all suffer from of course.

Jewish Atheist said...

Hey Random!

A note of caution though - there is more than a little hint here of the old problem of assuming that expertise and mastery of a small area of achievement provides insights that are true and relevant for all times and all places.

As a rule of thumb, I try to defer to the experts in all fields where expertise means something. (e.g. I trust the climate scientists regarding climate change but put no stock in "expert" theologians except very narrowly.)

As a programmer I am sure you are familiar with the expression GIGO - if your initial (usually unexamined) assumptions are wrong then the conclusions are going to be unreliable too, regardless of how carefully you check the logic in the intermediate steps. This is a problem we all suffer from of course.

That's I think where atheists have the biggest advantage -- we have the fewest assumptions. I know that theists like to argue things like oh it's just an assumption that you're not just a brain in a vat! but to me that's more of a conclusion than an assumption.

Baruch Spinoza said...

"That's I think where atheists have the biggest advantage -- we have the fewest assumptions. I know that theists like to argue things like oh it's just an assumption that you're not just a brain in a vat! but to me that's more of a conclusion than an assumption.":

You should put more emphasis on skepticism than atheism. Because atheism by itself is rather pointless. If atheists send the message "we are better because are are atheists" then they miss the entire point. Skepticism is where it is all at. Skepticism is a method while atheism is simply a conclusion from that method. There are many atheists who are skeptical with regard to religion but not skeptical to aliens or ESP, say. So the method is what is fundamental here that we would like other people to embrace.

The way I like to think about skepticism, is not a method for determining what is true, but rather as a method for rejecting what is false. I, as a skeptic, will never ever make the claim that I know what is true. I will only make the statement that I know what is not true and form certain degrees of certainty about our univers. In that way, skeptics make the fewest errors than all other kinds of people because they reject what is false.

sabril said...

"A lot of religious people are perfectly skeptical and reasonable in every subject other than religion. It's a phenomenon called compartmentalization."

I think it's not just compartmentalization. I'm just speculating, but I think that a lot of ideas like HBD-denial and global warming alarmism satisfy a psychological need which would otherwise be satisfied by more traditional religion.

But anyway, I agree with your main point that it's good practice to be wrong once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of wrong.......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y3DFKU3RCk

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

I can relate in many ways. I am a PhD student in a mathematical discipline and I program from time to time. I was raised rationalist-orthodox-Jewish (if there is such a thing), and didn't manage to free myself until college. While I was certainly Orthodox, I was never as "all-in" as many others. Namely, I always had friends that I respected who were skeptics.

I sometimes thought to myself that my beliefs were related to my upbringing and questioned whether I would have held them if I was born in Saudi Arabia, for instance. Since a priori reasoning and not evidence was the basis of my beliefs, I wondered whether I could rationalize to myself a different belief system if I truly wanted to. I never went too far with these thoughts, I was even scared that entertaining these thoughts was sinful.

My father-in-law wanted my wife to read The Blind Watchmaker and she was looking to oblige. I felt like I needed to go through it and refute it. My religious belief was mainly based on the Kuzari argument so the book wasn't especially relevant to my beliefs per se. However, I had picked up the book thinking (based on what my father, a prominent Rabbi, had written) that evolution couldn't explain "complex" features of life. My dad's argument was essentially the same as Paley's. After reading the book I realized I had been wrong about something that I thought I was right about. I wasn't super-committed to the anti-evolution thing. I hadn't put a ton of thought into it, thinking it was just so easily refuted. So I didn't run to ID blogs after reading the book. I wasn't gonna buy into conspiracy theories about the science community, i was an engineering undergrad so I knew better than that. I knew that I could update my beliefs to accommodate evolution, as I was already considering Genesis to be non-literal wherever it was convenient for me. Still, I was taken aback by the fact that:
1) I could be so totally wrong about something that seemed completely self-evident to me.
2) I could update my beliefs to accommodate the evidence against them. That is, my beliefs weren't falsifiable.

Anonymous said...

I was on a beach vacation in Cancun while this was all going down so I was in a unique position to really reflect on what had happened. I decided that then and there, for the first time in my life, I was going to think honestly about whether the Torah was from God. I realized the same sort of arm-chair reasoning I was using to disbelieve evolution was at play in Kuzari. The argument makes ridiculous assumptions about how ancient people thought about history and their ability to be skeptical about ancestor tales. It all seems compelling if you don't attack each point carefully. Most importantly, you just have to be honest with yourself.

Anyhow, I went atheist and now I am just so much happier because of it, no longer wasting my life on superstition. My wife was always even more skeptical than me so I suppose I am lucky for that because it would have been very difficult to become an atheist with a believer wife.

Anyhow, I get into debates with people from my old life pretty regularly. You can go crazy over that stuff though. The thing I tend to notice is that there is almost no point in arguing with someone who won't seriously entertain the other view. Since I actually really truly held the Torah view as an educated adult, I know all the arguments. In all my discussions I have never heard anything new from these people (yet they frequently acknowledge I have told them new things). I know inside that I truly considered that view. I also know that they haven't really considered mine.

For me, it required the perfect storm to really try to look at the world from the other perspective. It was amazing how everything fell into place once I took God and Torah out the equation. My world view was suddenly so much less 'forced' on reality. I tend to think others would see it the same way.. we just have so much trouble with that leap of "lets really try to see it the other way". For me, it was all bout being wrong, I think you are dead right.

Jewish Atheist said...

Great comments, anon.

Underachiever said...

Compartmentalism: what everyone (and probably JA included) does with HBD.

"So racists are likely to believe in what you call HBD"

Racists think X (=HBD); therefore, X is wrong (or probably wrong). Better yet, people that think X are (probably) racists and are evil.

Never mind that evolutionary theory, personal experience, adoption studies, twin studies, brain size, and civilizational level all side with X. Never mind that the idea of non-X is a recent invention and only exists in a few countries. Never mind that the few countries (all white ones) where non-X is dominant, it is considered evil to believe in X and those who do believe in X are ostracized from society and from the highest levels of influence. Never mind that throughout history, the vast majority of people thought X was obviously correct. Never mind that Arab traders had the same stereotypes of blacks as people have today.

But as a rational computer programmer, JA wouldn't buy the "Racists believe HBD; therefore it is wrong" argument, at least not explicitly.

Lets make some HBD predictions though to test this hypothesis. (besides the ones about the twin and adoptions studies which ALL turned out to support HBD).

If communism collapses in North Korea and it becomes capitalist, will it become a rich country? HBD says yes.

Will Haiti become rich or even moderately well off? HBD says no.

Will China have first world levels of GDP per capita? HBD says yes.

Will India be as rich as China? No.

Will Arab Muslims immigrants to Western Europe assimilate and do as well financially and intellectually as Europeans? HBD says no.

Will sub-Sahara Africa catch up to the rest of the world? HBD says no.

Will NCLB close the gap without sacrificing standards? HBD says no.

The ONLY remotely plausible evidence I have ever heard for non-HBD is the Flynn effect and the German IQ study done on the mixed offspring of black servicemen and white women.

I would have to look into the Flynn effect a bit before attempting to refute or accept it, but I imagine the answer involves a distinction between verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Non-verbal reasoning has previously been shown to be affected by malnutrition in twin studies. I know that the Flynn affect only shows up on certain subsets of IQ tests and I imagine that these specific subsets are the ones that are affected by nutrition. Again, I would have to look to make sure.

With the German adoption study, the big question is whether the children were followed through to adulthood and the gains lasted. If not, the study is useless because the Minnesota adoption study had already shown that children brought up in upper class white homes had a high IQ, but ONLY while they were children. When they became adults there IQs dropped back to 100 for white, lower 90s for mulattoes, and I think 87 for the black children.

If anyone is angry from reading this, just know that the feeling is probably coming from cognitive dissonance in combination with anger from my breaking our HBD taboo. Don't worry though, just call me a racist because that can make all my arguments go away.

Jonathan said...

Underachiever,

I am deep in the pro-HBD camp, as you can see from my previous comments, but I don't see any problem in accepting the flynn effect as real and significant. Height rose dramatically during the 20th century, but it is not reasonalbe to say that the height diffrences between males and females or between east Asians and north Europeans have no biological basis.

alex said...

Hey dude.. haven't read your post yet, but I skimmed it and it seems to be very intelligent. So kudos to you!
Just wanted to say that you don't know how- um... cathartic, I guess- it is to find this blog. I also grew up as an orthodox jew(ess?), and I am also now an atheist. It's hard, because most kids who 'go off the d' do so for the shallowest of reasons- i.e sex, drugs, 'youthful indiscretion.' Especially because I'm a girl, people tend to think that I'm doing this because I want to justify 'immodesty' or 'immorality.' While I'm not making any definitive statements about the nature of such practices (most of them are only percieved as bad lol), I do think they are insufficient reasons to 'dump' religion.
So it's a GREAT feeling to discover someone who has gone a more intellectual route as well, and who has been able to cast off years of indoctrination! I don't think I've EVER met/heard of someone like me before.
I haven't gotten out of my Monsey community yet- I concluded that I was an atheist at a decidedly young age, and in my attempts to be honest about it and to rationally defend my positions, I 'revealed' my 'apikorsus' and effectively landed myself in hot water. Especially because I am from a long line of 'distinguished rabbanim,' I have gotten a REALLY hard time- regardless of how diplomatic and non-provocative I attempt to be. I'm still a pretty young teenager now, and so any option of leaving is pretty nonexistant. Finding someone like me online (chas vishalom internet in my house- no, I'm using my friends laptop) is an incredibly positive experience. So thanks for the (perhaps unintentional)support, I guess. Keep doing what you're doing and don't let the deluded faze you. They mean well. Some are just not equipped to deal with cold rationale, and thats cool too.
Peace

Jewish Atheist said...

alex:

Thanks for the comment! There are tons of us ex-Orthos blogging -- it's a great time to be a heretic. :-)

I can't imagine how hard it is for you -- I'm really lucky that I didn't become an atheist until after college, so while I was a bit of a troublemaker as a teen, I at least didn't have to deal with that. Don't let them get you down -- in a few years you'll be free whether they're happy about it or not.

David said...

Hey Jewish Atheist
Is it possible to prove there is NO god?
Is there any chance a god who created the the universe and life does exist?

Anonymous said...

This post is one long fart. you should have stayed in bed and thought about it some more.

Alexandra said...

@ David-

You are making a fundamental error here. The burden of proof is NOT on JA. Rather, the onus is on YOU for making a claim. When you posit something's existence, you MUST provide evidence, or else I can say the flying spaghetti monster is the one true god and you cant disprove it so it must be true!
For example, someone who doesn't believe in unicorns is not obliged to defend their beliefs- they are merely rejecting an unsubstantiated myth for the simple reason that there is absolutely no evidence that points to unicorns' existence. HOWEVER were one to posit that Unicorns did in fact exist, they would be required to present much evidence supporting their claims.
Carl Sagan, the brilliant physicist, once said 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,'and this is absolutely integral here.
In God's case, billions of people searchin over thousands of years to find one little shred of objective, empiracal evidence have turned up empty. Not even ordinary proof, let alone extraordinary. This is a gross oversimplication, of course, but I still think it conveys my point well.
-Alex

Anonymous said...

@jewish atheist

pardon my english...

i liked your post very much! but being myself a really deep skeptic, i'm surprised a person like you, who seems very intelligent and very commited to seek the truth, believes that the 9/11 attacks were all orchestrated by therorists and that this has nothing to do with the u.s government.

i don't like the idea that as a really skeptical person i have a view that differs from an other very skeptical person. i'm really interested to know your view on the topic...

-Eva