Came here from Astral Codex Ten. I’m non-religious but after reading other writers was already fairly convinced that original sin is a helpful frame. That said, this is a good framing for why, and one I think I could use to decent effect if someone I was talking to expressed that original sin was a bad frame. Glad I read this!

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Where did you find that alien story? Did you make it up, or did you read it somewhere? Is it copyright by somebody? I'd like to expand it into a short story, but I don't want to step on anybody's toes.

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Jan 16, 2022·edited Jan 16, 2022

As an atheist and former Christian, my morality didn't change at all when I left, except for the things I thought of as "God's morality" instead of as "my morality" (e.g. "no sex before marriage").

And some basic ideas I had learned about morality, such as the "golden rule", made just as much sense outside the church context (interestingly, I had never even heard of the "platinum rule" until after I left, and I think I heard it from an atheistic source like ACX or LessWrong.)

One extremely important principle to me is that, just as I have feelings, so too do other people. While I can only feel my own pain, the pain of others is just as real and just as bad. Thus I should avoid creating pain for others for the same reason I avoid creating pain for myself: pain is bad.

Another extremely important principle is that society works much better if people strive to act morally. Shoplifters raise prices for everyone, and force stores to spend more on security and security guards, which in turn also raises prices; at the same time, more must be spent on cops and courts and lawyers, which raises taxes. Nobody wants that.

And, since my life can be just as good if I generally act morally, I will act morally. And you can see that none of these ideas depend on a God. Humans have an inbuilt sense of right, wrong, caring, compassion, fairness, and justice, and writers of all stripes tap into that.

Granted, I don't know how you'd teach an atheist the moral firmness/absolutism that I strove for as a Christian - I did my best never to lie, for example - but, hell, even most Christians don't manage that.

I was taught to give 10% of my income to the Church. At once point as my faith waned, I gave 20%: 10% to the church and 10% to charity, to hedge my bets. I tithed 10% to show God I was willing to be faithful to Him as I waited for signs He was real; I gave 10% to charity so that if the church was false, I would still be doing something good. Obviously, God did not bite; instead I found clear evidence that my church was false, so today I am a GWWC signatory.

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Ah, Grantchester. First two seasons were so good, went downhill after the priest left.

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Resident Contrarian, dear friend. As a Jewish person, this article made me think of the passage in the Torah that calls Jews to be "a light to the nations." I've had my doubts about that passage, in the vein of "is this just some dumb bronze age book saying I'm inherently better for a tribe I was born into? Does it have no value in an age where most nations are monotheistic?" The way I reconciled the command to myself was this: Some of the lights we see around us are genuine, like the sun. They create and shed brightness for those around them. Others are like the moon: they reflect the brightness of those around them. Similarly, some people strive to be morally better than they were yesterday, and do as much good as they can, while others strive to be as good as their neighbors, no worse than anyone else is, more or less. The more of the first type of person we have in the world, the better the world becomes. The more of the second type of person we have in the world, the more it becomes a "race to the bottom," as people merely reflect each other's morality. The command "be a light to the nations" says to be the first type of person, not the second.

Now, this will also sound like religious bragging, and far worse than yours, so let me add a couple big caveats here. The first is that the commandment is universalizable. The commandment may be in a Jewish holy book, but if everyone strives to be a light rather than a reflection, that is absolutely better than if only Jewish people do. There is nothing about Jews being commanded to be a light that means non-Jews can't or shouldn't. A light is good independently of how many lights are in the room. It's a reflection that depends on the quality of others. The second caveat is that most Jews absolutely fail at this commandment. Being born Jewish doesn't make someone inherently better at being a light to the nations than anyone else, it just makes them more obligated to. And thinking you're inherently better (Jews or anyone) is a good way to stop getting better and start becoming worse.

I have no idea how I would react to the "pull the lever and be alone for 1000 years" scenario, but I do have a bit of an idea how I would react to similar scenarios. At one point, I heard an atheist arguing against a Christian, and he said "if the gospels are true, then all Jesus gave up was his weekend." Now, I don't believe that Jesus was a divine being, but I have been a full 24 hours without either food or water. If someone were to come to me at the end of that day and say "go another 48 hours for the sake of all souls everywhere," I know I wouldn't be able to do it. I'm just not strong enough. I also wouldn't tell anyone, because I think I know some people who are actual good people and would totally take that offer, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for the pain of a good person. So essentially, I would doom the world.

Anyway, I hope I haven't offended everyone's religion too much (though realistically, I probably have). Just offering my religious perspective on this article. And I hope Jews, non-Jews, and everyone reading this goes out and acts like a light to the nations. Be better than me, the asshole who would doom the world.

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If you are looking to convince atheists, I would lean towards Aristotle, or better, Adam Smith discussing Aristotle in Theory of Moral Sentiments https://www.adamsmithworks.org/documents/asw-edition (Part VI I believe). He discusses the idea that moral behavior must be worked at to become second nature, to become who we are. I think this lines up very well with your continuous improvement model.

Thanks for finding the time to write :)

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The problem as posed is too simple. As it is, all I have to do is decide upon the instant to windmill slam that button; the problem of what to do with myself for the millennium succeeding that moment remains, but is a separate problem to be solved upon its immanence - most likely by going insane, but the point is that whatever solution is to be found is to be found in its own time, which will be ample.

The car trip I think better illustrates the question, because while inertia does help keep you going once you're going, in that circumstance the effort to achieve the altruistic outcome must be sustained over many hours, rather than little more than the span of a single quick thought.

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