Friday, August 17, 2007

Selection bias

Years ago I was surprised to learn that a majority of philosophers were atheists. This of course made me feel good about my own atheism, but I never found out if a majority of philosophers of religion were atheists. I don't know, but I'd guess that a majority are religious (probably Christian).

If this is true, should this make me feel worse about my atheism? Maybe I should, they are they relevant experts after all, but I can think of ways to squirm out of that, mostly because of selection bias in the group. A religious philosopher could be excused for thinking this is a lame response, she can just say, "Here are the six million papers showing why I'm right, have you read any of them?" I haven't but I still don't change my mind, I think they're biased by their prior commitment to their religion.

Tyler Cowen disagrees with the relevant experts about the likelihood of being able to upload our brains to computer. If they chose to study that they probably already had pretty strong views on that before they became experts, making bias a serious problem. But is it less of a problem to simply go with of common sense intuitions? Isn't that pretty much asserting that there's no point in even studying the problem in the first place.

I can see both sides of the argument. I'm torn, how can I side with the uploads, but against the philosophers? I think I should "choose" to revise my estimate of uploading down and my estimate of the likelihood of God up. But practically, it is very difficult to change what you actually believe even if you think you should. My brain thinks the odds of us being a computer simulation are quite good, but I don't really believe it in my heart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that Philosophers of Religion (if they are more religious) are more biased than general philosophers. After all philsophy is a neutral term. You don't start with any premises about religion.

There are many religious people who have pursued careers in science and have stayed in science. But there are probably even more scientists who are atheists. Does that mean atheists are more likely to become scientists, or that scientists are biased, or that thinking in a scientific way is likely to make you question the fundamental premises of religion?

But I think it is probably difficult to stay neutral in one's own particular area of research/work because of course one hopes it will work.

What's the answer? Don't be impressed because some smart group of people believe the same as you do. (I know I am!) Just do your best to find the truth and adjust beliefs as new convincing evidence/arguments come to light.

It's really the process of truth-seeking that matters I think.