The reason I’m an atheist isn’t because of the argument from evil or from unbelief or from inconsistent revelations or anything. No, the reason I’m an atheist is because theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction.
If I want to pull somebody away from magical thinking, I don’t need to mention atheism. Instead, I teach them Kolmogorov complexity and Bayesian updating. I show them the many ways our minds trick us. I show them the detailed neuroscience of human decision-making. I show them that we can see (in the brain) a behavior being selected up to 10 seconds before a person is consciously aware of ‘making’ that decision. I explain timelessness.
And if they have time to consume enough math and science, then The God Question just fades away as not even a question worth talking about.
I agree with Luke to a point. Ultimately, atheism and deconversion should be a side-effect, not the goal. Anything else is like focusing solely on trying to get people to stop buying lottery tickets, instead of trying to give a practical introduction to probability (about which, particularly as it relates to rhetorical tone, more later). And I’m certainly excited for Luke’s likely next steps, but I don’t think his approach is a particularly good model for most atheists interested in talking to theists.
For one thing, although I’ve been reading his blog and keeping up with the read-through-all-of-Yudkowsky project, I haven’t the foggiest idea what Luke meant by “theism drastically fails Solomonoff induction.“ And by the looks of the comment thread attached to the post, neither did most of his readers. When you’re immersed in rationality readings, it’s hard to speak in layperson-accessible ways.
Yudkowsky’s “Intuitive Explanation of Bayesian Reasoning” is quite readable (and well worth reading) but, although he meant for it to be accessible to anyone with a grade school background, he admits it landed at the undergrad level. That’s not to say these discussions are too highfalutin’ to be accessible or relevant, but it does mean that, if we want religious people to put the time and effort in with these texts, we atheists/rationalists/statistics geeks need to come up with a darn good elevator pitch to get them to follow us into the weeds.
That’s where I’ve always had a bit of a problem with some of Luke’s metaphysical writings. Despite reading the transcripts of all his desirism podcasts and accompanying posts, I still don’t really understand how desirism works, but, more importantly, I don’t know what I would need to give up and what I would gain if I were convinced these metaphysics were correct. So when I read the umpteenth post on the simplified world he used to explain his theory, the stakes were nonexistent.
Making the debate entirely about atheism vs theism can have the opposite problem, where both groups treat the stakes as so high that it would be treasonous to give ground or admit confusion, but at least both sides agree it’s an important fight. When atheists retreat into a fog of grad-level metaphysics or high energy theoretical ethics, there’s no reason to assume theists are going to be hooked. No one has time to spend running every new theory to ground.
It’s essential to spend some time on accessible arguments, even if they aren’t your strongest arguments. That’s not to say Luke needs to be the one working on them, but he, and everyone else in his next project, need to make sure they keep some on-ramps accessible and alluring.