Category: Religion

Ross Douthat, telephone! (it’s happening)

The Catholic advocacy group Catholic Answers released an AI priest called “Father Justin” earlier this week — but quickly defrocked the chatbot after it repeatedly claimed it was a real member of the clergy.

Earlier in the week, Futurism engaged in an exchange with the bot, which really committed to the bit: it claimed it was a real priest, saying it lived in Assisi, Italy and that “from a young age, I felt a strong calling to the priesthood.”

On X-formerly-Twitter, a user even posted a thread comprised of screenshots in which the Godly chatbot appeared to take their confession and even offer them a sacrament.

Our exchanges with Father Justin were touch-and-go because the chatbot only took questions via microphone, and often misunderstood them, such as a query about Israel and Palestine to which is puzzlingly asserted that it was “real.”

“Yes, my friend,” Father Justin responded. “I am as real as the faith we share.”

Here is the full story, with remarks about masturbation, and for the pointer I thank a loyal MR reader.

What should I ask Paul Bloom?

Yes I will be doing a Conversation with him.  Here is Wikipedia:

Paul Bloom…is a Canadian American psychologist. He is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on language, morality, religion, and art.

Here is Paul’s own home page.  Here are Paul’s books on Amazon.  Here is Paul on Twitter.  Here is Paul’s new Substack.  Here is Paul’s post on how to be a good podcast guest.

Four Thousand Years of Egyptian Women Pictured

In an excellent, deep-dive Alice Evans looks at patriarchy in Egypt using pictures drawn from four thousand years of history. Here are three examples.

A wealthy woman, shown at right circa 116 CE. Unveiled, immodest, looking out at the world. A person to be reckoned with.

After the Arab conquests, pictures of people in general disappear, and there are no books written by women. With the dawn of photography in the 19th century we see (at left) what was probably typical, veiled women, and very few women on the street.

In the  1950s and 1970s we see a remarkable revitalization and liberalization noted most evidently in advertisements (advertisers being careful not to offend). Note the bare legs and the fact that many advertisements are directed at women (below)

1952cocamagda

This period culminates in a remarkable video unearthed by Evans of Nasser in 1958 openly laughing at the idea that women should or could be required to veil in public. Worth watching.

In the 1980s, however, it all ends.

traditionsEgyptians who came of age in the 1950s and ‘60s experienced national independence, social mobility and new economic opportunities. By the 1980s, economic progress was grinding down. Egypt’s purchasing power was plummeting. Middle class families could no longer afford basic goods, nor could the state provide.

As observed by Galal Amin,

“When the economy started to slacken in the early 1980s, accompanied by the fall in oil prices and the resulting decline in work opportunities in the Gulf, many of the aspirations built up in the 1970s were suddenly seen to be unrealistic and intense feelings of frustration followed”.

‘Western modernisation’ became discredited by economic stagnation and defeat by Israel. In Egypt, clerics equated modernity with a rejection of Islam and declared the economic and military failures of the state to be punishments for aping the West. Islamic preachers called on men to restore order and piety (i.e., female seclusion). Frustrated graduates, struggling to find white collar work, found solace in religion, whilst many ordinary people turned to the Muslim Brotherhood for social services and righteous purpose.

That’s just a brief look at a much longer and fascinating post.

Response from Devin Pope, on religious attendance

All of this is from Devin Pope, in response to Lyman Stone (and myself).  Here was my original post on the paper, concerning the degree of religious attendance.  I won’t double indent, but here is Devin and Devin alone:

“I’m super grateful for Lyman’s willingness to engage with my recent research on measuring religious worship attendance using cellphone data. Lyman and I have been able to go back and forth a bit on Twitter/X, but I thought it might be useful to send a review of this to you Tyler.

For starters, I appreciate that Lyman and I agree on a lot of stuff about the paper. He has been very kind by sharing that he agrees that many parts of my paper are interesting and “very cool work”. Where we disagree is about whether the cellphone data can provide a useful estimate for population-wide estimates of worship attendance. Specifically, Lyman’s concerns are that due to people leaving their cellphones at home when they go to church and due to questionable cellphone coverage that might exist within church buildings, the results could be super biased. He sums up his critiques well with the following: “Exactly how big these effects are is anyone’s guess. But I really think you should consider just saying, `This isn’t a valid way of estimating aggregate religious behavior. But it’s a great way to look at some unique patterns of behavior among the religious!’ Don’t make a bold claim with a bunch of caveats, just make the claim you actually have really great data for!” This a very reasonable critique and I’m grateful for him making it.

My first response to Lyman’s concerns is: we agree! I try to be super careful in how the paper is written to discuss these exact concerns that Lyman raises. Even the last line of the abstract indicates, “While cellphone data has limitations, this paper provides a unique way of understanding worship attendance and its correlates.”

Here is where we differ though… To my knowledge, there have been just 2 approaches used to estimate the number of Americans who go to worship services weekly (say, 75% of the time): Surveys that ask people “do you go to religious services weekly?” and my paper using cell phone data. It is a very hard question to answer. Time-use surveys, counting cars in parking lots, and other methods don’t allow for estimating the number of people who are frequent religious attenders because of their repeated cross-sectional designs.

There are definitely limitations with the cellphone data (I’ve had about 100 people tell me that I’m not doing a good job tracking Orthodox Jews!). I know that these issues exist. But survey data has its own issues. Social desirability bias and other issues could lead to widely incorrect estimates of the number of people who frequently attend services (and surveys are going to have a hard time sampling Orthodox Jews too!). Given the difficulty of measuring some of these questions, I think that a new method – even with limitations – is useful.

At the end of the day, one has to think hard about the degree of bias of various methods and think about how much weight to put on each. The degree of bias is also where Lyman and I disagree. In my paper, I document that the cell phone data do not do a great job of predicting the number of people who go to NBA basketball games and the number of people who go to AMC theaters. I both undercount overall attendance and don’t predict differences across NBA stadiums well at all.

The reason why Lyman is able to complain about those results so vociferously is because I’m trying to be super honest and include those results in the paper! And I don’t try to hide them. On page 2 of the paper I note: “Not all data checks are perfect. For example, I undercount the number of people who go to an AMC theater or attend NBA basketball games and provide a discussion of these mispredictions.”

There are many other data checks that look really quite good. For example, here is a Table from the paper that compares cellphone visits as predicted by the cellphone data with actual visits using data from various companies:

 

The cellphone predictions in the above table tend to do a decent job predicting many population-wide estimates of attendance to a variety of locations. The one large miss is AMC theaters where we undercount attendance by 30%. Now about half of that undercount is because the data are missing a chunk of AMC theaters (this is not due to a cellphone pinging issue, but due to a data construction issue). But even if one were to make that correction, we undercount theater attendance by 15%.

Lyman argues that one should be especially worried about undercounting worship attendance due to people leaving their phones at home. I agree that this is a huge concern that is specific to religious worship and doesn’t apply in the same way for trips to Walmart. I run and report results from a Prolific Survey (N=5k) that finds that 87% of people who attend worship regularly indicate that they “always” or “almost always” take their phone to services with them. So definitely some people are leaving their phones at home, but this survey can help guide our thinking about how large that bias might be. Are Prolific participants representative of the US as a whole? Certainly not. There is additional bias that one should think about in that regard.

Overall, my view is that estimating population-wide estimates for how many people attend religious services weekly is super hard and cellphone data has limitations. My view is that other methods (surveys) also have substantial limitations. I do not think the cellphone data limitations are as large as Lyman thinks they are and stand by the last line of the abstract that once again states, “While cellphone data has limitations, this paper provides a unique way of understanding worship attendance and its correlates.”

All of that was Devin Pope!

My excellent Conversation with Peter Thiel

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, along with almost thirty minutes of audience questions, filmed in Miami.  Here is the episode summary:

Tyler and Peter Thiel dive deep into the complexities of political theology, including why it’s a concept we still need today, why Peter’s against Calvinism (and rationalism), whether the Old Testament should lead us to be woke, why Carl Schmitt is enjoying a resurgence, whether we’re entering a new age of millenarian thought, the one existential risk Peter thinks we’re overlooking, why everyone just muddling through leads to disaster, the role of the katechon, the political vision in Shakespeare, how AI will affect the influence of wordcels, Straussian messages in the Bible, what worries Peter about Miami, and more.

Here is an excerpt:

COWEN: Let’s say you’re trying to track the probability that the Western world and its allies somehow muddle through, and just keep on muddling through. What variable or variables do you look at to try to track or estimate that? What do you watch?

THIEL: Well, I don’t think it’s a really empirical question. If you could convince me that it was empirical, and you’d say, “These are the variables we should pay attention to” — if I agreed with that frame, you’ve already won half the argument. It’d be like variables . . . Well, the sun has risen and set every day, so it’ll probably keep doing that, so we shouldn’t worry. Or the planet has always muddled through, so Greta’s wrong, and we shouldn’t really pay attention to her. I’m sympathetic to not paying attention to her, but I don’t think this is a great argument.

Of course, if we think about the globalization project of the post–Cold War period where, in some sense, globalization just happens, there’s going to be more movement of goods and people and ideas and money, and we’re going to become this more peaceful, better-integrated world. You don’t need to sweat the details. We’re just going to muddle through.

Then, in my telling, there were a lot of things around that story that went very haywire. One simple version is, the US-China thing hasn’t quite worked the way Fukuyama and all these people envisioned it back in 1989. I think one could have figured this out much earlier if we had not been told, “You’re just going to muddle through.” The alarm bells would’ve gone off much sooner.

Maybe globalization is leading towards a neoliberal paradise. Maybe it’s leading to the totalitarian state of the Antichrist. Let’s say it’s not a very empirical argument, but if someone like you didn’t ask questions about muddling through, I’d be so much — like an optimistic boomer libertarian like you stop asking questions about muddling through, I’d be so much more assured, so much more hopeful.

COWEN: Are you saying it’s ultimately a metaphysical question rather than an empirical question?

THIEL: I don’t think it’s metaphysical, but it’s somewhat analytic.

COWEN: And moral, even. You’re laying down some duty by talking about muddling through.

THIEL: Well, it does tie into all these bigger questions. I don’t think that if we had a one-world state, this would automatically be for the best. I’m not sure that if we do a classical liberal or libertarian intuition on this, it would be maybe the absolute power that a one-world state would corrupt absolutely. I don’t think the libertarians were critical enough of it the last 20 or 30 years, so there was some way they didn’t believe their own theories. They didn’t connect things enough. I don’t know if I’d say that’s a moral failure, but there was some failure of the imagination.

COWEN: This multi-pronged skepticism about muddling through — would you say that’s your actual real political theology if we got into the bottom of this now?

THIEL: Whenever people think you can just muddle through, you’re probably set up for some kind of disaster. That’s fair. It’s not as positive as an agenda, but I always think . . .

One of my chapters in the Zero to One book was, “You are not a lottery ticket.” The basic advice is, if you’re an investor and you can just think, “Okay, I’m just muddling through as an investor here. I have no idea what to invest in. There are all these people. I can’t pay attention to any of them. I’m just going to write checks to everyone, make them go away. I’m just going to set up a desk somewhere here on South Beach, and I’m going to give a check to everyone who comes up to the desk, or not everybody. It’s just some writing lottery tickets.”

That’s just a formula for losing all your money. The place where I react so violently to the muddling through — again, we’re just not thinking. It can be Calvinist. It can be rationalist. It’s anti-intellectual. It’s not thinking about things.

Interesting throughout, definitely recommended.  You may recall that the very first CWT episode (2015!) was with Peter, that is here.

LDS and indeed USA fact of the day

Thus, approximately 1 out of 7 people who I classify as a Latter-day Saint attends [religious service] weekly.

And:

However, only 5% of Americans attend services “weekly”, far fewer than the ~22% who report to do so in surveys.

Oh, and this:

The religions with the longest average visit duration are Orthodox Christians (116 minutes), Latter-day Saints (115 minutes), and Jehovah Witnesses (115 minutes). The religions with the shortest average visit duration include Muslims (51 minutes), Catholics (66 minutes), and Buddhists (71 minutes). Jews (92 minutes) and Protestants (102 minutes) have average durations in the middle of the distribution.

That is from a new Devin G. Pope paper on religious attendance, measured by using cellphone data rather than self-reports.  Interesting throughout.

Michael Cook on Iran

Our primary concern in this chapter will be Iran, though toward the end we will shift the focus to Central Asia.  We can best begin with a first-order approximation of the pattern of Iranian history across the whole period.  It has four major features.  The first is the survival of something called Iran, as both a cultural and a political entity; Iran is there in the eleventh century, and it is still there in the eighteenth.  the second is an alternation between periods when Iran is ruled by a single imperial state and periods in which it break up intoa number of smaller states.  The third feature is steppe nomad power: all imperial states based in Iran in this period are the work of Turkic or Mongol nomads.  The fourth is the role of the settled Iranian population, whose lot is to pay taxes and — more rewardingly — to serve as bureaucrats and bearers of a literate culture. With this first-order approximation in mind, we can now move on to a second-order approximation in the form of an outline of the history of Iran over eight centuries that will occupy most of this chapter.

That is from his new book A History of the Muslim World: From its Origins to the Dawn of Modernity.  I had not known that in the early 16th century Iran was still predominantly Sunni.  And:

There were also Persian-speaking populations to the east of Iran that remained Sunni, and within Iran there were non-Persian ethnic groups, such as the Kurds in the west and the Baluchis in the southeast, that likewise retained their Sunnism.  But the core Persian-speaking population of the country was by now [1722] almost entirely Shiite.  Iran thus became the first and largest country in which Shiites were both politically and demographically dominant.  One effect of this was to set it apart from the Muslim world at large, a development that gave Iran a certain coherence at the cost of poisoning its relations with its neighbors.

This was also a good bit:

Yet the geography of Iran in this period was no friendlier to maritime trade than it had been in Sasanian times.  To a much greater extent than appears from a glance at the map, Iran is landlocked: the core population and prime resources of the country are located deep in the interior, far from the arid coastlands of the Persian Gulf.

In my earlier short review I wrote “At the very least a good book, possibly a great book.”  I have now concluded it is a great book.

Cultivating Minds: The Psychological Consequences of Rice versus Wheat Farming

It’s long been argued that the means of production influence social, cultural and psychological processes. Rice farming, for example, requires complex irrigation systems under communal management and intense, coordinated labor. Thus, it has been argued that successful rice farming communities tend to develop people with collectivist orientations, and cultural ways of thinking that emphasize group harmony and interdependence. In contrast, wheat farming, which requires less labor and coordination is associated with more individualistic cultures that value independence and personal autonomy. Implicit in Turner’s Frontier hypothesis, for example, is the idea that not only could a young man say ‘take this job and shove it’ and go west but once there they could establish a small, viable wheat farm (or other dry crop).

There is plenty of evidence for these theories. Rice cultures around the world do tend to exhibit similar cultural characteristics, including less focus on self, more relational or holistic thinking and greater in-group favoritism than wheat cultures. Similar differences exist between the rice and dry crop areas of China. The differences exist but is the explanation rice and wheat farming or are there are other genetic, historical or random factors at play?

A new paper by Talhelm and Dong in Nature Communications uses the craziness of China’s Cultural Revolution to provide causal evidence in favor of the rice and wheat farming theory of culture. After World War II ended, the communist government in China turned soldiers into farmers arbitrarily assigning them to newly created farms around the country–including two farms in Northern Ningxia province that were nearly identical in temperature, rainfall and acreage but one of the firms lay slightly above the river and one slightly below the river making the latter more suitable for rice farming and the former for wheat. During the Cultural Revolution, youth were shipped off to the farms “with very little preparation or forethought”. Thus, the two farms ended up in similar environments with similar people but different modes of production.

Talhelm and Dong measure thought style with a variety of simple experiments which have been shown in earlier work to be associated with collectivist and individualist thinking. When asked to draw circles representing themselves and friends or family, for example, people tend to self-inflate their own circle but they self-inflate more in individualist cultures.

The authors find that consistent with the differences across East and West and across rice and wheat areas in China, the people on the rice farm in Ningxia are more collectivistic in their thinking than the people on the wheat farm.

The differences are all in the same direction but somewhat moderated suggesting that the effects can be created quite quickly (a few generations) but become stronger the longer and more embedded they are in the wider culture.

I am reminded of an another great paper, this one by Leibbrandt, Gneezy, and List (LGL) that I wrote about in Learning to Compete and Cooperate. LGL look at two types of fishing villages in Brazil. The villages are close to one another but some of them are on the lake and some of them are on the sea coast. Lake fishing is individualistic but sea fishing requires a collective effort. LGL find that the lake fishermen are much more willing to engage in competition–perhaps having seen that individual effort pays off–than the sea fishermen for whom individual effort is much less efficacious. Unlike Talhelm and Dong, LGL don’t have random assignment, although I see no reason why the lake and sea fishermen should otherwise be different, but they do find that women, who neither lake nor sea fish, do not show the same differences. Thus, the differences seem to be tied quite closely to production learning rather than to broader culture.

How long does it take to imprint these styles of thinking? How long does it last? Is imprinting during child or young adulthood more effective than later imprinting? Can one find the same sorts of differences between athletes of different sports–e.g. rowing versus running? It’s telling, for example, that the only famous rowers I can think are the Winklevoss twins. Are attempts to inculcate these types of thinking successful on a more than surface level. I have difficulty believing that “you didn’t build that,” changes say relational versus holistic thinking but would styles of thinking change during a war?

What should I ask Slavoj Žižek?

Yes, I will be doing another Conversation with him.  Here is the first one, in Norway with a live audience.  I am very much enjoying his new book Christian Atheism: How to Be a Real Materialist.  Slavoj is one of the very few CWT guests (can you guess the others?) who can handle pretty much any question about any area, and have something fresh to say in response.

So what should I ask him?

Build Back Key Bridge Better

The collapse of the Key Bridge is a national disaster but also an opportunity for societal advancement. We must rebuild but in doing so we must also address the historical discrimination faced by workers in Baltimore and beyond. Ensuring the participation of Baltimore’s workforce in the reconstruction project is essential. It’s Baltimore’s bridge and in rebuilding we must actively engage and employ a diverse pool of local talent, reflecting the city’s rich cultural tapestry. We can Build Back Better by providing meaningful, well-paying jobs to those who have been historically marginalized, fostering economic growth and equity within the community.

Furthermore, offering accessible, quality day care for workers will directly contribute to an equitable working environment, enabling parents and guardians to participate fully in the reconstruction effort without the burden of child care concerns. We must reject the idea that equity and productivity are at odds. A more inclusive workforce is a more productive workforce.

American workers are the most productive in the world thus to Build American we must Buy American. Reconstruction of the Key Bridge is not just a matter of national pride but also an essential strategy for growing our economy. By prioritizing American materials and labor, we invest in our communities, support local industries, and ensure that the economic benefits of the reconstruction project are felt widely, especially in areas hardest hit by economic challenges.

We can build back better. We must build back better. By engaging Baltimore workers in Baltimore’s bridge we can rectify long-standing discrimination. By providing accessible child care, and adhering to “Buy American” rules we can build America as we build America’s bridge. Building back better is not simply about building physical infrastructure. It’s about building a bridge to the future. A bridge of progress, equality, and unity, symbolizing our collective commitment to a future where every individual has the opportunity to thrive.

Addendum: April 1, 2024.

My Conversation with Fareed Zakaria

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  You can tell he knows what an interview is!  At the same time, he understands this differs from many of his other venues and he responds with flying colors.  Here is the episode summary:

Tyler sat down with Fareed to discuss what he learned from Khushwant Singh as a boy, what made his father lean towards socialism, why the Bengali intelligentsia is so left-wing, what’s stuck with him from his time at an Anglican school, what’s so special about visiting Amritsar, why he misses a more syncretic India, how his time at the Yale Political Union dissuaded him from politics, what he learned from Walter Isaacson and Sam Huntington, what put him off academia, how well some of his earlier writing as held up, why he’s become focused on classical liberal values, whether he had reservations about becoming a TV journalist, how he’s maintained a rich personal life, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Why couldn’t you talk Singh out of his Nehruvian socialism? He was a great liberal. He loved free speech, very broad-minded, as you know much better than I do. But he, on economics, was weak. Or no?

ZAKARIA: Oh, no, you’re entirely right. By the way, I would say the same is true of my father, with whom I had many, many such conversations. You’d find this interesting, Tyler. My father was a young Indian nationalist who — as he once put it to me — made the most important decision in his life, politically, when he was 13 or 14 years old, which was, as a young Indian Muslim, he chose Nehru’s vision of secular democracy as the foundation of a nation rather than Jinnah’s view of religious nationalism. He chose India rather than Pakistan as an Indian Muslim.

He was politically so interesting and forward-leaning, but he was a hopeless social — a sort of social democrat, but veering towards socialism. Both these guys were. Here’s why, I think. For that whole generation of people — by the way, my father got a scholarship to London University and went to study with Harold Laski, the great British socialist economist. Laski told him, “You are actually not an economist; you are a historian.” So, my father went on and got a PhD at London University in Indian history.

That whole generation of Indians who wanted independence were imbued with . . . There were two things going on. One, the only people in Britain who supported Indian independence were the Labour Party and the Fabian Socialists. All their allies were all socialists. There was a common cause and there was a symbiosis because these were your friends, these were your allies, these were the only people supporting you, the cause that mattered the most to you in your life.

The second part was, a lot of people who came out of third-world countries felt, “We are never going to catch up with the West if we just wait for the market to work its way over hundreds of years.” They looked at, in the ’30s, the Soviet Union and thought, “This is a way to accelerate modernization, industrialization.” They all were much more comfortable with the idea of something that sped up the historical process of modernization.

My own view was, that was a big mistake, though I do think there are elements of what the state was able to do that perhaps were better done in a place like South Korea than in India, but that really explains it.

My father was in Britain in ’45 as a student. As a British subject then, you got to vote in the election if you were in London, if you were in Britain. I said to him, “Who did you vote for in the 1945 election?” Remember, this is the famous election right after World War II, in which Churchill gets defeated, and he gets up the next morning and looks at the papers, and his wife says to him, “Darling, it’s a blessing in disguise.” He says, “Well, at the moment it seems very effectively disguised.”

My father voted in that election. I said to him, “You’re a huge fan of Churchill,” because I’d grown up around all the Churchill books, and my father could quote the speeches. I said, “Did you vote for Churchill?” He said, “Oh good lord, no.” I said, “Why? I thought you were a great admirer of his.” He said, “Look, on the issue that mattered most to me in life, he was an unreconstructed imperialist. A vote for Labour was a vote for Indian independence. A vote for Churchill was a vote for the continuation of the empire.” That, again, is why their friends were all socialists.

Excellent throughout.  And don’t forget Fareed’s new book — discussed in the podcast — Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present.

My excellent Conversation with Marilynne Robinson

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is the episode summary:

Marilynne Robinson is one of America’s best and best-known novelists and essayists, whose award-winning works like Housekeeping and Gilead explore themes of faith, grace, and the intricacies of human nature. Beyond her writing, Robinson’s 25-year tenure at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop allowed her to shape and inspire the new generations of writers. Her latest book, Reading Genesis, displays her scholarly prowess, analyzing the biblical text not only through the lens of religious doctrine but also appreciating it as a literary masterpiece.

She joined Tyler to discuss betrayal and brotherhood in the Hebrew Bible, the relatable qualities of major biblical figures, how to contend with the Bible’s seeming contradictions, the true purpose of Levitical laws, whether we’ve transcended the need for ritual sacrifice, the role of the Antichrist, the level of biblical knowledge among students, her preferred Bible translation, whether The Winter’s Tale makes sense, the evolution of Calvin’s reputation and influence, why academics are overwhelmingly secular, the success of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, why she wrote a book on nuclear pollution, what she’ll do next, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: As a Calvinist, too, would not, in general, dismiss the Old Testament, what do you make of a book such as Leviticus? It’s highly legalistic, highly ritualistic. Some Christians read Leviticus and become a split Christian Jew almost. Other Christians more or less dismiss the book. How does it fit into your worldview?

ROBINSON: I think that when you read Herodotus, where he describes these little civilizations that are scattered over his world — he describes them in terms of what they eat or prohibit, or they paint themselves red, or they shave half their head. There are all these very arbitrary distinctions that people make in order to identify with one clan over against another.

At the point of Leviticus, which of course, is an accumulation of many texts over a very long time, no doubt, but nevertheless, to think of it as being Moses — he is trying to create a defined, distinctive human community. By making arbitrary distinctions between people so that you’re not simply replicating notions of what is available or feasible or whatever, but actually asking them to adopt prohibitions of food — that’s a very common distinguishing thing in Herodotus and in contemporary life.

So, the arbitrariness of the laws is not a fault. It is a way of establishing identification of one group as separate from other groups.

COWEN: So, you read it as a narrative of how human communities are created, but you still would take a reading of, say, Sermon on the Mount that the Mosaic law has been lifted? Or it’s still in place?

ROBINSON: Oh, it’s not still in place. We’ve been given other means by which to create identity. Moses was doing something distinctive in a certain period of the evolution of Israel as a people. He didn’t want them to be Egyptians. He didn’t want them to subscribe to the prevailing culture, which was idolatrous, and so on. He’s doing Plato in The Republic. He’s saying, “This is how we develop the idea of a community.”

Having said that, then there are certain other things like “Thou shall not kill,” or whatever, that become characterizing laws. Jesus very often says, when someone says to him, “How can I be saved?” He says, “You know the commandments.” It’s not as if God is an alien figure from the point of view of Christ, whom we take to be his son.

Interesting throughout.

LDS principles for AI

Knowing that the proper use of AI will help the Church accomplish God’s work of salvation and exaltation, the Church has issued the following guiding principles for using AI. These were introduced to employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, by Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (co-chair of the Church Communication Committee) and Elder John C. Pingree of the Seventy (executive director of the Correlation Department).

Here is the full link, better than most of what is done in this area.  For instance:

  • The Church will use artificial intelligence to support and not supplant connection between God and His children.
  • The Church will use artificial intelligence in positive, helpful, and uplifting ways that maintain the honesty, integrity, ethics, values, and standards of the Church…
  • The Church’s use of artificial intelligence will safeguard sacred and personal information.

Worth a ponder.  Via Tyler Ransom.