Go see for yourself.

To reject heaven and accept atheism - is not merely about science, facts, beliefs, etc - it is about accepting the reality of all those who have died - being really dead. It is accepting the same reality about everyone you love NOW one day being - really dead. It is accepting the same reality about YOU one day.

The older you are, the more dear loved ones have passed away, the harder it will be to reject the notions of religion. To reject religion requires the re-mourning of everyone who you love who has died.

The complete post is quite long and just as good as this quote.


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Something about realizing the falsity of an existing belief makes it feel like a loss. It's not; you can't lose something that never was, but unless you can get people to realize and, more importantly, feel that it's not a loss, it will continue to be a serious flaw in human reasoning.

Feeling makes it real.

It feels like a loss because it is a loss. Beliefs are things, and they can be held or lost -- just as they can comfort and give meaning -- independently of whether they are or ever were true.

To reject heaven and accept atheism - is not merely about science, facts, beliefs, etc

Again, I'll reiterate that religion, in practice, isn't generally about scientific claims or facts or beliefs (in the sense of internal predictive models) either. It's usually about identification with a group.

That doesn't make it okay, but it does mean that you're not necessarily abandoning a particular internal predictive model when you abandon a religion.

Sometimes it's also about fear of divine punishment if you stop believing. I'm not the only one who was terrified of this every time I started doubting God's existence. This notion of thought crimes certainly helps keep people from thinking too hard about ideas which don't fit into their religious worldview.

(Maybe I'm a special case since I was never very good at identifying with groups, but the stories of other former Christians suggest that many of them had the same worries whenever they were about to commit a thought crime.)

China probably has the world's largest population of atheists today, due to the communist government essentially outlawing religion for many years. I suggest that anyone interested in maximizing the number of atheists can probably get the biggest bang for the buck by work on preventing them from being converted, instead of trying to deconvert people who are already theists.

What does this mean for the atheist movement? Does it mean that we can develop better ways to deconvert the religious? Or does it simply mean that the task is hopeless?

Not hopeless, it obviously works sometimes or we wouldn't be here. But this suggests deconverting young people will work more often, as they will have sunk less time into theism and generally act immortal anyways so knowing God hasn't got an eye out for 'em won't shock as much.

my experience with young adult Christians is that once they get to the stage of caring enough to argue with you, they are a lost cause. Most young don't care either way, and will quickly get bored if you talk to them about such matters

generally act immortal anyways

This is a good thing? Acting immortal predisposes you for rationality how?

It's possible, I'm just not seeing a good connection.

The idea is that acting immortal indicates less fear of death which means less pressure against rationality on this one issue. The premise may be false, though.

Irrationally believing you won't die counterbalances irrationally fearing going to hell.


Spriteless is just observing that younger people are generally less afraid of death.

This article also contains one of the strongest reasons that Atheist proselytizing is important:

"Imagine a man walking through a room on planks of wood suspended over spikes with large holes to fall in if you take a wrong step. He always manages to take the right next step, but he is never afraid because he "knows" that this is a solid wood floor he is walking on. Now turn on the lights."

Although it's intended as a metaphor to describe how frightening deconversion can be, it also illustrates how much of a moral obligation there is to deconvert.

I have friends and family that are various degrees of theist, and as long as they hold reasonably secular political stances I don't bother arguing them, but mainly that's due to intellectual laziness. As much as I admire the scholarly background of people like Richard Carrier I'm just not willing to learn all that much about Christian theology; and besides, as the article points out, the argument isn't really about that.

As much as I admire and defend people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, I'm not sure how useful their arguments are for persuading the core adherents. Maybe nothing would be enough... but I have the feeling that this might be a situation where the Dark Arts should be called into play. After all, according to this article it's the emotional mind that holds people to their religious convictions...

What particular metaphorical holes are you thinking of that deconversion lets you both see and avoid?

Really it's just the inversion of Pascal's wager.

Very few people will inherently desire to follow the doctrine of whatever religion they happen to be; because of their beliefs, they choose to do things that they otherwise wouldn't.

Homosexuals, for instance, might submerge their sexuality; this will likely serve to decrease their overall happiness. A Catholic couple in Africa might catch AIDS because the church tells them condoms are evil. An impoverished woman might elect to carry a foetus to term, condemning herself to poverty and creating a person who grows up in circumstances that nobody deserves. One country might view another country as inherently evil by choice; these two countries might even welcome nuclear war as a fulfilment of divine prophecy. Somebody with multiple sclerosis might vote against stem-cell research because they think zygotes have souls.

Perhaps most frightening of all, humanity might never explore space because the universe is only there so that our planet Earth can exist.

All that's just off the top of my head. I'm sure there are even more dire threats that theism might blind one in acknowledging.

From spriteless, elsewhere on this thread:

deconverting young people will work more often

And from Aurini above:

have the feeling that this might be a situation where the Dark Arts should be called into play.

No. Fighting against religion is not the one true cause that is so important that we should throw away our morals to fight it, indoctrinating children by use of the Dark Arts. No.

Hmm... I'd like to hear you elaborate on this topic; I can't say that I agree with you, but I'm not completely certain that I disagree with you either. Given that, I'll act as an argumentative foil providing three examples of Dark Art Atheist arguments that I believe are at the very least justified, and maybe even necessary.

1 Santa Claus: as a child I believed in him to an embarassingly late age. Though my innate curiosity drove me to set 'cunning traps' so that I could catch him filling the stockings, I never doubted the cached wisdom that he actually existed. I was testing the hypothesis, but regardless of the outcome I believed in the hypothesis. When a schoolmate finally told me that Santa Claus didn't exist it took me less than a second to reorient the data - of course he didn't exist! Heck, even a five year old possesses enough reasoning skills to figure out that it's a ridiculous concept, but few of them ever bother to crunch the numbers. With my own children (one day) I plan to use Santa Claus as an object lesson demonstrating how a million people can believe a foolish thing.

It is not intellectually honest, however, to equate Christianity to Santa Clause. [Insert Christian apologetic explaining that it is possible to be a rational Christian for reasons A, B, and C - I can write this if you wish, but I hope you'll grant it for sake of argument.] Comparing a silly story that every child - even the particularly thick ones - sees through by puberty, to a body of intellectual and moral consideration going back at least 1600 years, is certainly not apt. However I would tell it to my ten year old as if it were, and I would not bring it up in later years unless he specifically asked. The month spent lecturing about all the fine details could be better spent in teaching him how restore a DeLorean. If he goes to his cryogenic cylinder believing Christianity to be comparable to Grimms Fairytales due to my use of Dark A.. ahem a White Lie, I'll stand by the decision.

2 One of the criticisms levelled recently at Richard Dawkins (and others) is their willingness to debate Creationists. Over the past few years it's become evident that the Creationists are intellectually dishonest (they'll continue arguing points to their followers, which they admitted to be false during debate), and when you get down to the bones of the matter [see what I did there?] they don't even have a coherent... anything! Some people argue that debating them gives them undue prestige, incites public interest in pseudo science, and the smarter policy would be to ignore them as the cranks they are, and just write books about real science - not books disproving pseudo science.

But once again, this is a Dark Art using social stigma and ridicule to marginalize this group; it's not an intellectually honest response.

3 The Great Unwashed Masses: personally, I like to hang out at dive bars; the people there are the salt of the earth, and it's an environment I feel comfortable in. But as much as I love these people, most of them don't have the capacity (or the interest, anyway) to understand relativity, evolution, economics, and the importance of science. And because they don't really understand any of these things, they're equally susceptible to quackery... which matters when you consider that there's more of them than there are of us.

Sometimes (if it comes up) I'll cheerlead for science, just dropping some neat little factoid that will catch their interest; if they express interest in some sort of pseudo science then I'll offer a sneaky (and overly simplistic) argument that, while not embarassing them, allows them to laugh at the pseudo scientist; and if they ask something like "How do you know that dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago?" I'll look them straight in the eye and say "Well, carbon dating..." even though I have a High School understanding of how it actually works.

I am not going to give them my Bayesian probability estimate of the truth of some statement, I'm not going to go into detail about the nature of light cones and FTL travel, and if the 'fact' that I don't know as well as I like is closer to true than the 'fact' currently in their head, I'm going to state it as if it is the truth from on high.

Dark Arts? Absolutely! But when most people hear "the Big Bang probably happened" they think to themselves "Well, I guess that still leaves room for A Wizard Did It." If they pursue these topics they'll eventually get to science, but I can't teach them science in a five minute conversation. If I try, I'll just turn them off of it. What I'm doing is triggering their emotional/signalling responses to implant an idea in their brain that will hopefully blossom. It's the equivalent of telling children that "Math is Fun!" even though it clearly isn't for the first ten years.

Whew That was a lot of typing. I hope you have a chance to respond, Nerzhin.

The wiki describes the Dark Arts as "techniques crafted to exploit human cognitive biases." Interpreted charitably, none of your three examples fall into that category as I understood it - what I had in mind was something like a sexy, shirtless Daniel Radcliffe proclaiming his atheism on a billboard. What you're describing sounds like the Light Arts tweaked for an audience of non-Bayesians, which I have no objection to.

The underlying issue is that rationality is good for everyone, even the unwashed masses. It's not just helpful for the few elite at Less Wrong who have "the capacity to understand relativity, evolution, economics, and the importance of science." Of course you tailor your message to the audience, but that can be done without exploiting cognitive biases.


indoctrinating children

Nor is preventing this the one such cause. :-)

IAWYC though.


Although it's intended as a metaphor to describe how frightening deconversion can be, it also illustrates how much of a moral obligation there is to deconvert.

I agree that there is aesthetic and even moral obligation for all humans to confront the truth. However, this metaphor implies that there is some sort of real visceral danger to religious thinking. I thought one reason deconversion is such a difficult task is because it is either the same or possibly healthier to be religious.. what real physical dangers are religious people ignorant of, that they need to "turn on the lights"?

What's the current view on whether there's enough information available to reconstruct the dead ?

(by which I mean the unfrozen dead)

Resurrecting the ancient dead requires that our models of physics be wrong in character, not just detail.

I had assumed that microscopic reversibility and a large set of measurements were all that was required. Could you explain where my assumption is wrong ?

Quantum mechanics (in any interpretation, not just many-worlds) makes this impossible even in principle; the necessary information can't be retrieved, and may not even be present in any one quantum outcome. Even under classical mechanics, you need exact measurements of essentially the whole universe, including photons on their way to infinity, meaning that you need sensors and computers that are larger than and outside of the universe.

To actually retrieve the computation they embodied? That which made them, well, them?

My personal guess is that, barring the possibility of "it turns out something like time travel is possible after all", and even then, the trickiness of somehow reaching back to before the machine was built, or some other improbable major physics revolution that would let us retrieve information from the past, well, sadly, I'd have to guess no.

Of course, I'd be ecstatic if it turned out there was a way. I'm just not expecting it. :(

No consensus. Many people think we will eventually invent tech to relaunch cryonically frozen people, and many other people disagree, but pretty much no one sees any hope for reconstructing people whose brains have already decomposed.

Depends on what you think of as a person. If you reconstructed someone based on your and other people's memories of them and whatever other record there exists, they may well be just what you remember. That might be enough to make you happy. Of course, the recreated person won't be the same as whoever they are modeled after.

The thing I love about lesswrong is that you're never more than one step away from an epistemological landmine, and even a simple ordinary question like "can we raise the dead" ends up as "is a person the same person just because you have no way of knowing that they aren't the same person ?".

In a Big World, though, there is no one person who generated those memories. If you can accurately approximate the objective distribution of those people, and draw someone at random from it, that seems as good as resurrection to me. (Assuming quantum immortality/no Death events, and strictly patternist personal identity/causal continuity is unimportant; I see no reason not to assume these, but apparently some disagree.)

If you can accurately approximate the objective distribution of those people, and draw someone at random from it, that seems as good as resurrection to me.

How might we go about doing this? One method I can see is to make a large number of measurements on physical objects/systems correlated with the deceased persons (in the information theoretic sense), then do a full quantum simulation of the universe starting from initial low-entropy conditions, and look for branches that contain systems that match those measurements, then backtrack the simulation a bit to where those persons are still alive.

Is that what you had in mind?

I can't parse your assumptions - are they separate assumptions, or are you implying that they're equivalent? Quantum immortality, in particular, seems irrelevant to the argument. I don't see what the disagreement is in the link, except to QI.

In a Big World, though, there is no one person who generated those memories

If we define a "Big World" to be, say Tegmark Level I infinite universe, then it is still the case that one particular space/time localized stable pattern realized in organic molecules did create the memories. There are other "copies" of that same pattern 10^118 meters away, but they are not here. I am unconvinced of your somewhat radical statement here.


Straight from the Caprica pilot.

It's a much older idea than that. One of the best stories on it that I've read is by... Ray Bradbury, perhaps? I'm not sure. It's about a long dead classical composer whose personality and memories are reconstructed inside a living person's brain. He remembers his life, he remembers writing music and even remembers dying... but discovers that he can't compose anything new. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

Vaguely remember as well. I recall a girl doing research on this person on the nth floor of library -- that is somehow connected. This person is simulated in a virtual world, and then realizes he's a simulation when he cannot compose anything new. The realization occurs amidst Greek or Spanish architecture during a sunrise. Same story? But which?

I probe my brain for another clue... I learned the word "hegemony" while reading this book. Googling "hegemony" and "science fiction" eventually gives Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Google is awesome.

But it was the poet Keats that was simulated.

That was 1989. I bet we can think of an older example. A person resurrected but lacking their "essence" is older than AI.

That isn't the story I'm thinking about. In the story the reconstructed person is in a real body, a real mind - he's been mapped onto a living person's brain. Since his style of music is no longer popular, he produces a new symphony in the style of the day, despite knowing it's still a rehash of his previous work. At the end of the performance, everyone applauds... but they're actually applauding the neuroscientists for their work, not the composer for his, and in the end he gets 'erased' so that the test subject can have his mind back. It might be a story from the 50s, since I seem to remember reading it in an anthology of such.

A Work Of Art, by James Blish. Enjoy..

Yes, that's it! Thank you so much. It's definitely from that 50's pulp anthology, which I'm sure is packed away in a box somewhere. The 50's were great for science fiction when you consider the magnitude of the ideas they loved to deal with... often far more sophisticated and penetrating than the military SF of today or even the time travel or alien encounters of the 80s and 90s.

Oh yes !

Some of the ideas though - they're not the sort you would want spread.

Get hold of their DNA, and you might be able to get somewhere fairly soon.

E.g. see my "Celebrity cloning" video.

A person is nature plus nurture, and besides, I'm not even sure if DNA alone would produce the same baby. Epigenetics, womb variation, and whatnot all have an effect even before a child is born.

You mean without brute-forcing it by creating every conceivable person? (I'm sure I read something in Deutsch to the effect that infinite computing power might be available in certain universes...)

Not very useful if you want to interact with the specific person you want resurrected. You also risk creating a lot of unnecessary suffering in the created persons.