is your belief a house of cards?

belief a house of cards cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
clicking on this image takes you to my store

It is a disservice to expect people not to ask questions, to think critically, or to challenge the status quo of the popular thought of their group. It is wrong because it deprives them of real intellectual development and spiritual growth.

I think what usually happens to these people when they are confronted with a convincing truth that challenges their present way of thinking is that they revert to a childish coping mechanism of regressing into a more secure but less mature belief system. It worked before, it will work again. But it doesn’t.

The Copernican Revolution in the 16th century began peacefully enough, hardly making a ripple. But when it was realized that his theory disputed Aristotle and the church’s authoritative position then the opposition started. Even Luther scoffed Copernicus and said he’d rather believe the scriptures than “that fellow”. The scientific community, for the most part, accepted Copernicus’ theory, but the church took a long time to come around. Even Galileo with his scientific support of the theory met serious opposition. It wasn’t until Isaac Newton, who died in the 18th century, that the theory was generally accepted as true. Other theorists tried to augment and tweak Copernicus’ theory, but finally the old system of belief had to go. All of it! The house of cards, as delicate as it was, stood its ground for almost two centuries before it crashed.

I like this from Žižek:

“When a discipline is in crisis, attempts are made to change or supplement its thesis within the terms of its basic framework – a procedure one might call ‘Ptolemization’ (since when data poured in which clashed with Ptolemy’s earth-centered astronomy, his partisans introduced additional complications to account for the anomalies). But the true ‘Copernican’ takes place when, instead of adding complications and changing minor premises, the basic framework itself undergoes a transformation. So, when we are dealing with a self-professed ‘scientific revolution’, the question to ask is always: is this truly a Copernican revolution, or merely a Ptolemization of the old paradigm?” (The Sublime Object of Ideology)

I admit to you that I have lived in a house of cards of sorts. I live in them for as long as I possibly can, hanging on to any shred of belief I can muster. Finally, when it is completely obvious that it is no longer standing, then sorrowfully I come to my senses and let it go. These are traumatic times. But I don’t have two centuries to do this.

I wasn’t prepared by my earliest teachers for this. I was taught and commanded to not trust my intellect, to not lean on my own understanding, and to not ask questions that the Bible didn’t concern itself with. I was taught to neglect my intelligence. For the past several years I have been playing catch-up.

Do any of you know what I’m talking about?

(***I invite you to join The Lasting Supper, an online community I moderate where we explore and exercise these kinds of things in a non-confrontational setting.)

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  • Gary

    Absolutely understand. Scarey as hell…but necessary.

    Great post today!!

  • Shawn Spjut

    Every Sunday morning for more than fifty years. The pastor or preacher told me what the Bible said, God thought and what I was to do. And if I thought otherwise I was rebellious, more than likely demon possessed, and if I had any plans of ‘going to heaven’ then I needed to repent of my evil questioning thoughts and return to the ‘church’. Yak! Yak! Yak!

    Nothing is more liberating than to discover that “Why?” is a God thing and if it doesn’t frighten Him than why do we let it frighten us. Now that I no longer get my theology or moral beliefs from the pulpit, but from Holy Spirit who is actually the one that’s suppose to write them on our hearts, I realized I don’t have to have the answers to have faith. Faith is not what I believe, but who I believe and if I believe that Holy Spirit loves me and is committed into leading me into all truth like Jesus said he would, than we’re good to go.

  • Al Cruise

    Spirituality as taught by the institutionalized church is mostly a house of cards.

  • Al Cruise


  • Dorfl

    Heh. As a physicist (masters student, anyway) I really want to point out how geocentricism is technically correct – Ptolemy’s picture of the solar system was unambiguously wrong, but as far as modern physics is concerned you are allowed to put the origin of your coordinate system wherever you like.

    The last time I did that led to an enormously long derail though, so I won’t.

  • Diane Miller

    I used to teach in a Christian school. I used to say something very similar to my students. You must question your faith, and you must actively seek answers to your questions. If you fail to do that, your faith is a child’s faith and it will collapse the first time it’s tested.

    You are absolutely right.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Why has nobody else noticed that it was Copernicus that Galileo was arguing against?

  • Brigitte Mueller

    In any case, it seems that our universe is anthropos centic, which could be to say that we are the center of the visible universe.

    The physicists who asked these questions arrived at a remarkable conclusion. In order for life to exist–in order for the universe to have observers to take notice of it–the gravitational force has to be precisely what it is. The Big Bang had top occur exactly when it did. If the basic values and relationships of nature were even slightly different, our universe would not exist and neither would we. Fantastic though it seems, the universe is fine-tuned for human habitation. We live in a kind of Goldilocks universe in which the conditions are “just right” for life to emerge and thrive. As physicist Paul Davies puts it, “We have been written into the laws of nature in a deep and, I believe, meaningful way.”

    The anthropic principle is now widely accepted among physicists, and there are several good books that explain it in comprehensive detail. John Barrows and Frank Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is the most thorough and detailed exposition. In his introduction to that book, physicist John Wheeler writes that “a life-giving factor lies at the center of the whole machinery and design of the world.”

    So many ways to look at things.

  • Mike Mayer

    And from an existential sense, geocentricism is the ONLY thing we can truly grasp on a day-to-day basis…. Otherwise we would all get awfully dizzy when we realize the amusement park ride we are on (earth orbiting around sun, orbiting around in the Milky Way, …. )

  • Mike Mayer

    Ummm… “The Big Bang had to occur exactly when it did”… if my understanding of this stuff is even somewhat in sync with modern thought, then the whole idea of “when” makes no sense… time didn’t exist prior to the Big Bang.

  • Dorfl

    The answer to that turns out to be ‘definitely maybe’: If general relativity can be extended without modification into arbitrarily high energy densities, then yes – we can show that time doesn’t extend indefinitely far backwards. But it probably can’t be, meaning that we don’t really know what happened at the Big Bang or if there was anything before that.

    Actually, I think it’s useful to think of ‘Big Bang’ as a short-hand for “That point in the past when the energy density becomes so high that our current models of physics can’t describe what happened”.

  • Dorfl

    “[…] we are the centre of the visible universe.”

    Well… yes.

    Any observer in the universe will be able to see approximately equally far in every direction, meaning that all observers will be at the centre of that region of the universe which is visible to them.

    “The physicists who asked these questions arrived at a remarkable conclusion. […]”

    I googled this quotation, and it seems to come from Dinesh d’Souza’s
    ‘What’s so great about Christianity?’. I think d’Souza has an habit of stretching the facts a bit, when doing so will allow him to make a rhetorical point:

    I think everyone accepts the Weak Anthropic Principle, which basically says that since we exist we know the universe must be such that our existence is possible. I don’t think very many accept the Strong Anthropic Principle, which states that the universe is actually required to be such that some kind of observers will arise in it at some point. d’Souza seems to mix them up, making it seem like there is much more support for what he would prefer to be true than there actually is.

    There isn’t agreement about whether the universe actually is fine-tuned or not. Our current models of physics have a number of free parameters in them, which simply have to be given some particular values by hand. It seems like the universe would not be able to support life if those values were very different from what they are – but it’s far from certain: it’s very difficult to figure out from scratch what the universe would have been like if they had been different. This might indicate that something has made those values suited for human life – but this is very speculative: we don’t even know if the parameters could be different from what they are, all we know is that we don’t know how to derive their values from more fundamental physics. If something has fine-tuned the parameters, that could indicate the existence of an intelligent fine-tuner – but this is pretty much guesswork: it could as easily be that the parameters vary slightly over very large distances, in which case life would be expected to turn up in those regions of the universe that are suited for life.

  • Roxie Deaton

    You are in good company. Einstein created the cosmological constant for just such an occasion!

  • RickRyals

    Copernicanism is the counter-evidential religion of scientists.

  • RickRyals

    Then there’s the actual observational evidence, albeit willfully ignored by the cutting edge:

    “But when you look at CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us?

    That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.”
    -Lawrence Krauss

    “Does the motion of the solar system affect the microwave sky?”

    The anomaly has been observed on three different occasions now via three different experiments, and yet… where’s the scientific interest?


  • Dorfl


  • RickRyals

    I’m only reiterating what Brandon Carter said when he formalized the anthropic principle as…

    “the contrary of what has come to be called the Copernican principle”…”a reaction against conscious and subconscious – anticentrist dogma”…

    …since there has been absolutely zero modification in the ideologically distorted interpretations of scientists since then:

    “Unfortunately, there has been a strong and not always
    subconscious tendency to extend this to a most questionable dogma to the effect that our situation cannot be privileged in any sense.”
    -Brandon Carter

    I saw where you think that you can argue about “fine-tuning” and strong principles, and I would assert that’s because you don’t even know what the most implicating evidence even is… thanks to your god, Copernicus.

  • Dorfl

    When you say ‘Copernicanism’, are you referring to the heliocentric model of the solar system – which David’s post discussed – or are you referring more broadly to the assumption that we aren’t in an especially privileged position in the universe?

  • RickRyals

    I’m speaking in the same context as Carter, of course.

    Maybe you don’t know that difference between Copernicus’ observation and its erroneous cosmological extension?

  • Dorfl

    “I’m speaking in the same context as Carter, of course.”

    Fair enough, but why?

    David’s post is just about the Copernican model of the solar system. Brandon Carter was talking about the Copernican principle. So I don’t see how Carter’s writing is actually relevant.

    “Maybe you don’t know that difference between Copernicus’ observation and its erroneous cosmological extension?”

    Since the post you’re replying to distinguished between “Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system” and “the assumption that we aren’t in an especially privileged position in the universe” – i.e. the ‘Copernican principle’ – I’m not really sure why you ask that.

  • RickRyals

    Maybe I’m off topic, but it relates to the Copernican revolution, which the author did discuss, and to the title…

    Except in this case, it is scientists whose belief is the house of cards.

    I figured that I was on topic enough considering all the relevant discussion that was going on… but maybe not, and if not, then I will take my leave…

  • Dorfl

    It’s not like I can say what is or isn’t an appropriate topic on David’s blog.

    For what it’s worth, I do agree with Carter that it’s possible to go too far in assuming that our position can’t be privileged in any way. The pre-big bang theory assumption that the universe is isotropic in time is a good example. And of course, unlikely doesn’t mean impossible – the odds will still be one in a hundred that we are in a position so rare that the odds are one in a hundred of us ending up there by chance.

    I don’t agree that cosmologists are wrong to look for other explanations before deciding that the CMB map indicates that we are near the centre of the universe though. From painful experience, it tends to save a lot of embarrassment to look for boring explanations – such as systematic errors in the detection equipment or the analysis – before announcing world-changing paradigm shifts. The recent “These neutrinos are moving through the Earth faster than light oh wait nevermind this fibre cable was loose” at CERN is a good example of that.

  • RickRyals

    “I don’t agree that cosmologists are wrong to look for other explanations
    before deciding that the CMB map indicates that we are near the centre
    of the universe though.”

    Stop here, I never said that and I certainly don’t agree with it either. I said that it shouldn’t be willfully ignored the way that it is, It may well hold the secret to the decades long effort to find a true cosmological principle that explains why quantum theory is so very wrong when it comes to hierarchy problems from first principles.

    I’d say that’s pretty much a no-brainer, but that’s not at all how theoretically and ideologically righteous theorists see it. Science doesn’t give a damn how they see it, science demands equal time and earnest for direct observational evidence!!!

    The culture war and cutting-edge theoretical certainty are the only reasons that this obvious purposeful stupidity exists.

  • Dorfl

    “Stop here, I never said that and I certainly don’t agree with it either.”

    I’m sorry. That was a careless misrepresentation on my part.

    “I said that it shouldn’t be willfully ignored the way that it is.”

    I don’t agree that it is being ignored. I mean, you cited Lawrence Krauss and CERN Courier both mentioning that possibility, so cosmologists are certainly aware that it is a possible explanation for the data. But it isn’t an explanation that is going to get much attention until it has been definitely ruled out that it’s simply the result of systematic errors.

    Even if hindsight bias allows us to point out all the cases where it has turned out to be a mistake – a mistake that sometimes delayed paradigm shifts in science for years or decades – it’s still usually best to start by attempting to explain anomalous observations within the theoretical framework we have. When that turns out not to be doable, we can start looking at ways of changing that framework. This approach is frustrating and slow, but it keeps us from constantly running down blind alleys.

  • RickRyals

    Right, I mean, it isn’t like we already have a bunch of other evidence indicating that carbon based life might somehow be specially relevant to the structure mechanism of the universe… *eyeroll*

  • RickRyals

    AND FYI, physicists have been looking for the structure principle of which I speak for about four decades now prior to those who have given up to pursue the multiversal fantasy worlds of unsubstantiated theories… not even a repeatable hint of new physics at the LHC and I really HOPE that they don’t get any more money for super duper super-symmetry colliders until they are forced to take a long and hard look within.

    But regardless… 4 decades of saying that we need a structure principle as long as it isn’t bio-oriented. Either that, or we have to call in the multiverse or else we’re IDists.

    You need to quit assuming that I haven’t already been down all these roads of lame rationale and start trying to see why I’m right… You’d be amazed at the ill-conceived and ill-logical reactions that you get from otherwise sane people.

  • RickRyals

    Before the denial starts.. Leonard Susskind in his interview with New Scientist concerning his book, The Cosmic Landscape: String theory and the illusion of intelligent design.

    Amanda Gefter:
    If we do not accept the landscape idea are we stuck with intelligent design?

    Leonard Susskind:
    I doubt that physicists will see it that way. If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent – maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation – I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature’s fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics… …the appearance of design is undeniable”

    Apparently Lenny doesn’t know that there’s an evidence supported scientific plausibility that defines the difference between principle-enabled evolution and intelligent design, but at least he is gutsie’ enough to admit that there really is a valid scientific interpretation of the evidence that indicates that we are not here by accident. Few will even honestly ask the obvious question about what good physical reason might exist for why the implied specialness might be true?… if you can’t lose the rationale for “fine-tuning” in an infinite sea of possible universes…

    You can’t say that there isn’t precedence for equal time.

    Give it up…

  • Dorfl

    I’ll just wish you good luck.

    If your ideas are correct they’ll end up overturning the consensus eventually.

  • RickRyals

    I’m sure that the consensus will eventually be overturned from lack of progress, but I don’t see them ever giving up their god Copernicus as long as they wrongly believe that this is an admission in the direction of the creationist’s position…

    Take note, it is ONLY string theorists who even give fine tuning the time of day… and that’s ONLY because they have the multiverse to lose the implied significance that resides in the observation.

  • Mike Mayer

    I only skimmed your comments and the URL you posted, but it looks like this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. I agree that the motion of the earth around the sun should not CAUSE structure in the CMB map. But, it is not so crazy a thought that there might be some larger cause that results in a CORRELATION between the motion of the earth around the sun and the CMB structure.

  • RickRyals

    I agree.