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Gender: Male
Hometown: New Hampshire
Home country: USA
Member since: Sun Oct 3, 2004, 04:16 PM
Number of posts: 13,826

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Giant Jar of Jellybeans

What does this have to do with religion? I'll get there.

Most of us I assume are familiar with the idea of a jellybean jar contest. Participants attempt to guess the number of jellybeans in what's typically a large, and possibly oddly shaped, container of jellybeans. The person who guesses the correct number of jellybeans, or, in a more lenient version of the contest, guesses closest to the correct number, wins a prize.

Those running the contest might not even know the correct answer themselves until the contest is being decided and a careful counting is performed.

The relationship to religion I'm getting at? The difference between a scientific and rational approach to problem solving and a religious or mystical approach, as well as the problems of trying to be a bit too generous about wanting to say that everyone is "right" in their own special way.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, the analogy is less than perfect. Discussing how the analogy does and does not work could be an interested part of this discussion, and I don't want to discourage that. All I ask is that people who see a mismatch don't jump down my throat as if I'd insisted the analogy was perfect, terribly upset that I'd dare compare these things and be oh so terribly wrong about them.

(1) There is a truth, a single truth that's true for everyone, even before anyone knows what that truth is.

(2) The more precise your guess, the more likely that you're wrong. Although there might not be a prize for being vague, a guess like 1000-1200 is more likely to be correct than 1048.

(3) If there's a price for entering the contest, the smartest choice might be not to play at all, or only play the game in your mind without committing to anything.

(4) Two people with different guesses can only be correct at the same time if they both guess ranges rather than exact numbers, and those ranges overlap. If one person guesses 2030, and another guesses 1443, either one is wrong or both are wrong. Parables about blind men and elephants can't fix that.

(5) It's fine not to give a damn about the contest or the prize, but not giving a damn doesn't mean that there isn't a correct answer, or that everyone else should share your disinterest in the answer. Your desire for everyone to stop arguing over the jellybeans and just "try to get along" doesn't make the question or the answer go away. Your insistence that there are more important things to worry about than jellybeans doesn't mean that people arguing over the jellybeans have somehow abandoned all other concerns in life.

(6) Some answers are obviously crazy, like 2 or 3,000,000,000,000,000,011. The fact that "no one knows for sure" doesn't open up a door that makes all guesses "equally valid".

(7) I don't need to know the correct answer myself to judge the odds of your answer being correct. If you guess 89009, I say that's way too high, and you snap back, "Well then, what's the answer Mr. Know-it-all!?", that's frankly a stupid retort. I don't need to "know it all" when limited knowledge and understanding is sufficient to rule out some answers or approaches to obtaining answers.

(8) Even if there is no prize or I don't care about the prize, the challenge of getting to the answer might be interesting in and of itself. I might learn something by trying to come up with a good guess.

(9) Choosing an answer that "makes you happy" or that "works for you" (like maybe your child's birthday) will have no bearing on your odds of being correct, even if doing so has some other side-effect benefit of amusement for you.

(10) A person who says the answer "came to them in a dream" could turn out to be right. A person who performed a complicated mathematical analysis could be wrong. Probability favors the math over the dream, however, and the mere chance that the dream might be correct doesn't make the dreamer's approach "equally valid".

(11) If you're going to appeal to quantum mechanics to find a way that everyone can be correct -- for example, the multiverse interpretation -- then you have to accept that there are still many more ways for most people to be wrong, not to mention plenty of universes where the contestants all turn into jellybeans themselves or die in an asteroid strike before the contest ends, and you will then have stepped so far off the deep end searching for a way for everyone to be correct that you will have made discussion of the problem, not to mention everything from charity hospitals to retirement planning to congressional representation, pointless in the process.
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