Leaving a line of retreat for theists

True, but it can also be a dangerously convenient get-out-of-debate-free card for people who are actually more traditionally theistic than their professed beliefs imply. e.g. one minute they'll talk about an impersonal, ineffable, deistic creator-god whose nature is forever beyond the understanding of our finite minds, and the next minute they'll be talking about Jesus of all things.

Oh, absolutely. The Intelligent Design folks are guilty of privileging the hypothesis for acting as if a proof of a Creator would be proof of Jesus. Nor is the argument unique to Christianity; I've heard Muslim and Hindu apologetics of much the same regard as the Paley watchmaker argument.

Nonetheless, there does exist a humble deistic position; one that does not assert that the arguer knows the mind or acts of God. Other than various classic sources affiliated with Freemasonry, such as Jefferson, I've also heard it from Quakers, Unitarian-Universalists, and Sufis.

Leaving a line of retreat for theists

by [anonymous] 1 min read23rd Apr 201120 comments


Eliezer recommends that we leave a line of retreat when discussing controversial topics, since this prevents scary propositions from clouding our judgment. However, I've noticed recently that there are some topics that are just too scary for people to think about, the existence of God being a primary example. Simply put, people don't want to admit that the universe is beyond the reach of a caring God, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. People especially don't want to hear that they will one day cease to exist, never to be reincarnated or continued in an afterlife. I've found this to be a major stumbling block when having discussions with theists or agnostics--though the people I've talked to are willing to accept that nonbelievers can lead very moral lives, the thought that "it's just us" is the stopsign that prevents the discussion from moving further. Naturally I've explained that it's important to only believe things that are true, but for some people this meme just can't overcome the scariness of a naturalistic universe.

Have any LessWrongians managed to overcome this obstacle? If so, how? We can generalize this problem somewhat: are there effective techniques for getting people to clearly evaluate the probability of scary or depressing propositions? Explanations with the smallest amount of inferential distance are preferred--while something like cryonics does answer most of the theistic objections raised above, it's a huge distance away from most people's belief systems. (That said, it's quite possible that the answer to my question might be "No, there are no effective techniques that have short inferential distances," and in the spirit of this post I'm willing to accept that.) I'd also be interested in hearing anecdotes about similar situations if anyone has any.