Changing Beliefs

Changing Beliefs May 7, 2019

Marriage & Deconstruction: Communication is Key!

The cartoon above from David Hayward prompted me to share some thoughts about this topic. I hear very often from people who tell me that they have “lost their faith,” when in actual fact I think that all they have done is change their beliefs. I don’t think this is just a quibble about language. Often there is a tension in the mind of people (and families and communities) about this. Most people recognize that changing one’s mind is at least appropriate on some occasions, and most would also recognize that it is necessary and healthy to change one’s mind since none of us will know everything with complete accuracy throughout our lives from childhood. Indeed, couched in those terms, Christians should recognize that it would represent sinful arrogance to believe that we know and understand everything perfectly correctly – unlike everyone else in the world and in history.

But when one’s beliefs are the object and focus of one’s faith, then rethinking ideas can seem to represent the same thing as losing one’s faith. And doing that can seem dangerous, even sinful.

And so many therefore do it alone, without talking with their spouse, friends, and others.

This is not to say that it isn’t risky to do that. I know of instances in which someone approached their changing ideas in a mature way, but their spouse or family was unwilling to accept that what was happening could be healthy and a genuine expression of their faith, and thus rejected them and drove them away. Bruce Gerencser blogged recently about this very topic.

But even so, I’m not sure that keeping this as a supposedly deep, dark secret really benefits anyone, even if it maintains a veneer of stability and status quo.

Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale this semester with students as I taught my First Year Seminar class focused on dystopias, I made a point of highlighting the attention Atwood pays to the sense that people have in contexts such as the future the novel imagines, that they are the only ones who want to rebel against the system and long for change. Dictatorships can only thrive when we don’t know whether we can rely on those around us, and as a majority bring about change. That is every bit as true in religious dictatorships in congregations as in political dictatorships in nations. (Also, for those following the TV show, the trailer for season 3 has been released).

I had this blog post written before Rachel Held Evans unexpectedly died, and feel the need to mention her here. She was a great example of someone who understood that growing in faith, maturing in one’s relationship with God, could not but mean changing one’s beliefs. Since I posted my previous reflection and round-up about her, others have written, including Erin WathenEmily Swan, Pete Enns, Jim StumpBecky Castle Miller, Emma Green, Zack HuntGeoff Sutton, Carol Curuvilla, Donica Phifer, Jim MeisnerMaria Pasquini, Margot Starbuck, Katelyn BeatyNathan Campbell, and I’m sure many others whom I’ve missed.

On the topic of this post, see also the additional cartoon and post from David Hayward below. I wish he would stop hijacking the term “deconstruction” for what he is describing. But I appreciate what he has to say about the experience in despite of the confusion his misuse of Derrida’s famous term is inevitably going to create.

Deconstruction is Not Just About Beliefs!

Richard Beck also blogged about this, focusing on the need to follow “deconstruction” with reconstruction. Pete Enns wrote“the act of reimagining God in ways that reflect our time and place is self-evident, unavoidable, and necessary.”

Two other blog posts highlighted, in different contexts, the meanness of Christians in communicating with people who dare to ask questions or rethink their beliefs. Jeremy Myers wrote when blogging about hell:

The religious belief that hell exists only in the afterlife is the first step in creating hell here on earth for those whom the “religious” people think deserve to go there…

Indeed, the traditional Christian doctrine of hell (especially Traditionalism, or Infernalism) is almost solely responsible for creating a spiritual and psychological hell in the minds of those who hear and believe it…

The traditional views of hell end up creating hell in the minds of those who hear them.

And Vance Morgan quoted Barbara Brown Taylor’s CNN interview:

“True believers are among the meanest people I’ve ever met,” she says, stretching out her legs in a cozy living room filled with books on poetry, religious icons and a photo of her posing with Oprah. “I cannot think of anybody of another faith who has wounded me like Christians,” she says. “Judged, condemned to hell, cast out of the body of the faithful — look me up online.”

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  • Plus, changing beliefs often has very ironic consequences. Often former doctrinal Christians become doctrinaire Atheists.

    For instance, consider the fairly large number of former Augustinian-Reformed Christians that though they reject their religious beliefs, they carry over their belief in determinism into their atheism. They are as certain that all humans are “puppets” or “toilets” as any Calvinist. There appears to be little difference between religious determinists and atheistic determinists. The one thinks that the Trinity (or Allah, Fate, etc.) has determined everything, while the New Atheists believe that the Cosmos or the Laws of Physics have determined everything. Etc.

    And, it’s very ironic that in order to continuing thinking that God isn’t contrary to altruism and human creative choice, I realized I needed to leave organized religion as promoted by many creedal Christians who believe in Original Sin.

    It’s like being between cliche–between a rock and a hard place.

    • Chuck Johnson

      . . . believe that the Cosmos or the Laws of Physics have determined everything.

      But it’s true.
      The natural workings of the mechanisms of the universe have determined everything.
      But that’s just the mechanisms.
      Such mechanisms have little intelligence and they do their work blindly.
      They do not know what they are doing.
      We humans also do not have sufficient knowledge to know the workings of the universe in complete detail.

      So although what is going to happen is fully determined, our knowledge of the future is not complete.
      Also, there are no gods or other beings who have complete knowledge of the future.
      The universe itself has no mind and it cannot predict the future.
      It is a slave to the laws of nature.

      So, what looks like determinism (a conscious infallible knowledge of the future) is not that.
      But we humans are able to get glimpses of the future through our intelligence.
      And we humans can alter the future using our intelligence.

      • Hmm…then you disagree with some astrophysicists such as South African George Ellis who think that conscious humans influence the future, that there is creativity and openness in existence, that everything isn’t determined.

        I don’t know. I am only a rather average retired teacher and writer.

        If you are a physicist, I will let you debate with those scientists who think determinism isn’t true.

        But thanks for the dialog (of course, if everything is determined, then you had no choice.:-)

        • Chuck Johnson

          Hmm…then you disagree with some astrophysicists such as South African George Ellis who think that conscious humans influence the future,…

          Proposition X:
          Human consciousness does influence the future.
          Human decisions and actions do influence the future.

          Proposition Y:
          All human decisions have previously been determined by the natural workings of the universe.

          Propositions X and Y are both true, simultaneously.
          That’s because “determined future, definition B” is the way that our universe actually works.

          The confusion and paradox here is caused by two different definitions of “determined future”.

          Determined future (Definition A):
          A determined future is one where some intelligence has pre-planned every event and every detail that will happen into the infinite future.

          Determined future (Definition B):
          A determined future is one where unintelligent and unknowing forces, matter, energy, etc. all operate together to create a future that has to unfold and develop one way only because that’s the way that natural forces work.

          Notice that Definition A has all sorts of existential, philosophical and religious implications.

          Notice that Definition B has no philosophical implications.
          Definition B essentially says “it is what it is” and “it will be what it will be”.
          Definition B recognizes that we know in part and we prophesy in part.
          Definition B is an interesting philosophical observation, but if it is true, it doesn’t help us to predict the future. What will be will be.

          I am a scientist, and I know that Definition B is the correct way to understand the past, present and the future.

          • Thanks for further explanation of your views.

            Like Professor McGrath wrote, changing one’s views is a complex process and is often misunderstood.

            Here’s a follow up reflection question about your Proposition X and Y:

            Your X appears to be contrary to determinists who claim that consciousness is an illusion and that all humans are “puppets,” that humans are incapable of “moral responsibility,” that all humans have an analogical “tumor” which causes all of their actions, that all humans have no more choice than “bacterium,” that humans are without inherent worth within themselves,
            that equality, liberty, justice, human rights, etc. are all “myths,” that the human species is “chemical scum,” etc.

            On the other hand, your Y statement seems to claim that it was determined by the cosmos that Donald Trump be president, and therefore democracy is a sham, an illusion, because the moment the Big Bang occurred, if one had like Laplace said, an all-knowing view, it was determined completely that Trump must become president. And all humans are “puppets” determined by the cosmos, so that Professor McGrath, you, and everyone else think what you do because the cosmos determined it. You had no choice.

            According to X and Y determinism are these other determinists’ views true or incorrect?

          • Chuck Johnson

            According to X and Y determinism are these other determinists’ views true or incorrect?

            Both views are incorrect.
            Read my previous explanations.

            Determinism is true to the extent that the universe is a clockwork that causes everything to happen without regard to human efforts to accomplish things.

            “Without regard” here means that the universe is blind to human efforts because the universe has no mind to think with and no eyes to see with. The universe is just a set of physical properties that make things happen.

            For example, the universe and its natural workings created the human race, and created Dr. Martin Luther King.

            One of the features of Dr. King is that he had a brain and a mind.
            Dr. King’s mind was quite competent and inventive.
            He wrote a letter from Birmingham Jail because he decided to write it. This was an exercise of his will.

            The universe allowed for the existence of Dr. King and it allowed Dr. King to be inspired to write.
            Dr. King used his will and his expertise in writing.

            There is no conflict between the will of Dr. King and the will of the universe.

            This is because Dr. King is the only one here with the will, the intention and the ambition. – – – The universe has no will, intention or ambition. These are the attributes of living, thinking beings only.
            The Universe is not a life-form and it doesn’t think.

            My point here is that the philosophers (determinists) get confused and they think that since the clockwork of the universe causes everything to happen the way that it does, this means that the will and the intentions of humans do not exist.

            This is not true.
            It is a natural property of the Universe to create animals (such as humans) that have intentions and wills.

            So, when Dr. King wrote his letter, it was both the intentions of Dr. King and the natural behavior of the universe that caused that letter to be written.

            The universe had no opinion in the matter, Dr. King was the one with an opinion.

            The universe supplies the matter, energy etc. that allows everything to happen, but it has no intentions or thoughts.

            This is true throughout the universe.
            Intentional causation only exists where brains and minds exist.

            Where brains and minds do not exist, causation is always unintentional.
            Gravity, for example, cause things to happen (attraction) but without any intentions of doing so.

            The properties of the universe have all sorts of important effects on the human race.
            One effect that it does NOT have is the negation of human will, intention and human agency.

          • Thanks for sharing your different perspective on determinism.
            It is a more positive view than that we humans are “puppets” without moral responsibility.

          • Chuck Johnson

            It is a more positive view than that we humans are “puppets” without moral responsibility.

            We are controlled by other people’s thoughts and actions and by the events of the universe that we live in.

            To that degree, we are controlled and we are puppets.
            The determinists who then say that this is the entire story neglect the agency of contents of our own minds.

            If we are puppets, then many people and outside events are pulling our strings.
            The contents of our minds allows us to pull our own strings, too.

            This is a practical matter.
            Our legal system blames the criminal for the crimes that he commits, and it also will often blame other people or external circumstances for a crime which has been committed.
            This is shared responsibility.

          • Odd, my comment I was typing suddenly disappeared. Of course, the determinists claim that even one mistake was so determined that even if the cosmos came again a “trillion” times, it would occur again.

            Briefly, what I previously wrote is that I don’t think I am controlled as a “puppet” by others. Influence, even harsh influence, isn’t control in a puppet sense.

            When young, I did a little puppetry. Human consciousness, the influence of others, etc. is nothing like that.

            I can’t even imagine how those determinists live out their daily lives, thinking that no one is morally responsible, that their every action isn’t their choice, that all ethics are “myths,” etc.
            Several times over the years, I’ve tried to live as a determinist, but couldn’t do it for even a few minutes.

            And, I definitely, wouldn’t do it as a teacher. I was an educator for many years, have done jury service, voted diligently, and so forth. In all of those fields, moral responsibility, creativity, conscious choice, etc. are very important.

          • Chuck Johnson

            Briefly, what I previously wrote is that I don’t think I am controlled as a “puppet” by others. Influence, even harsh influence, isn’t control in a puppet sense.

            Virtually everything that you know and believe is the result of your exposure to the thoughts and actions of other humans.
            This is a huge degree of control.
            A great deal of this control over you happens without you even being aware of it.

            Being controlled by others, some of that control being understood by you and some not even being recognized is control similar to that of a puppeteer.

            But this is not full control of you.
            The contents of your own mind allow you to be pulling the strings along with all of the other puppeteers.
            Pulling those strings usually a cooperative effort, but it sometimes becomes a battle of wills.

            We are all caught up in human culture.
            A giant collective human mind exists, and it continues to grow and become more effective as time passes.
            Here is a description of that collective mind:


          • Chuck Johnson

            Several times over the years, I’ve tried to live as a determinist, but couldn’t do it for even a few minutes.

            You can do this indefinitely, and with little problem doing it.

            Just realize that even though the clockwork physical mechanisms of the universe have determined that only one past, present and future is possible, those same physical mechanisms have created the contents of your mind.

            The contents of your mind cause you to make your decisions and to take your chosen actions.

            The clockwork mechanisms of the universe have given you the option to choose and have given you agency.

            The mechanisms of biological evolution have created minds that choose, including you mind and mine.

            And since this is determinism, the evolutionary processes HAD TO come into existence and HAD TO give you the ability to choose.

            Evolution on Earth was in the cards all along.
            Intelligent minds that choose was in the cards all along.

          • Chuck Johnson

            When the comment that you are typing disappears, you can often bring it back by hitting the “Reply” button.
            The box will open with your previous typing.

          • Thanks for the suggestion.

          • Chuck Johnson

            I think that the logic that some of these determinists are following is the fact that our entire being before we are born is outside of our control.
            Therefore, we are all completely at the mercy of forces that we have no control of. We are what the universe has made us.

            But our own actions are only outside of our control until we are born. That’s when the thought processes of our brain give us decision-making power.

            And if we then read about “determinism” and decide that we are only puppets with no purpose or responsibility, then the agency of our own mind might get corrupted by such a dismal philosophy.

            Then our own agency would get undermined and our morality would get corrupted.
            But only if we let it.

          • As in discussions of so many important issues, key words can sometimes confuse because they have many very different definitions, even contradictory ones.

            I have no doubt that I didn’t have any choice or responsibility before I was born. Nor did I decide to be born into a mild fundamentalist Baptist family, to be born with my particular intelligence and temperament, etc.

            I don’t even know if my unending questioning, asking why about everything and anything–and continuing to change my beliefs over 65 years, as (Professor McGrath speaks of how some humans do)-
            was my choice at first. I seem to have been born with a ‘why’ in my throat;-)

            And, besides all of that, I formally studied classes in psychology at university, worked as a mental health care worker at a mental hospital, etc. So I am very aware that human beings are a mix of nature, nurture, choice, and so forth.

            Almost the only view of determinism that I came across was first in Christian leaders beginning when in 1964 we 17 year old’s were shocked by a new leader of our youth group who promoted Augustinian-Reformed theology to us (T.U.L.I.P.),
            (2nd) then the views of non-theistic determinism that I studied formally at 2 secular universities,
            (3rd) then for 55 years reading and dialogging with so many other determinists (such as the ones I quoted in my previous comment).

            I am no longer a Baptist, am an ex-Christian, but when I was a Baptist I had to constantly explicitly explain which sort of Baptist I was since there are at least 250 different Baptist denominations, many of whom believe in totally contradictory versions of reality!

            So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there are also different versions of the term “determinism.”

            Thanks for the dialog. And thanks to Professor McGrath for bringing up the difficult issue of “changing” one’s views in his article.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t buy the definition of Grace as “The unmerited favor of God toward mankind.” UNMERITED? I didn’t ask to be born! It’s God’s fault I’m here! Grace is the least He could do! lol

          • The more troublesome part of that is when the Christian determinists claim that God foreordained billions of us human to eternal damnation for God’s own “glory” and “good pleasure” before the creation of the cosmos:-(

            The last horrific sermon I heard before I deconverted was where a famous Christian minister claimed that God has created some humans as “toilets” and “spittoons” and another stated that all humans are “worthless,” and another that all infants are “in essence, evil”!

          • Chuck Johnson

            As in discussions of so many important issues, key words can sometimes confuse because they have many very different definitions, even contradictory ones.

            Yes, word perceptions mean a lot.
            Arguing without first agreeing on word definitions can waste a lot of time.

          • Chuck Johnson

            I am no longer a Baptist, am an ex-Christian, but when I was a Baptist I had to constantly explicitly explain which sort of Baptist I was since there are at least 250 different Baptist denominations, many of whom believe in totally contradictory versions of reality!-Don

            Science doesn’t work that way but religions do.

            This is because the religionists believe that God thinks of things and then communicates those ideas to us humans.
            This is quite false and causes religious people to diverge in their faith and their thinking.

            God is actually a fictional character and a human invention.
            The religionists project their own ideas onto God and then claim that their own ideas are God’s sacred word.
            This whole process lacks empiricism, thus religious ideas diverge wildly over time.

            Science stays on track to discover the truth because it makes use of empiricism.
            Science is always asking the universe what it has to say about the scientific questions at hand.

          • Of course, some famous scientists don’t agree with your views. I gave a few of their quotes (all humans are “puppets,” “chemical scum,” etc. in my first comment).

          • Chuck Johnson

            Of course, some famous scientists don’t agree with your views. I gave a few of their quotes (all humans are “puppets,” “chemical scum,” etc. in my first comment).

            The fame of scientists does not impress me very much, and it should not impress you very much either.

            I have noticed, Daniel that you are overly impressed by reputations whether they be scientific or other sorts of reputations.

            Hitler was well respected by many in the USA and in Europe.
            Trump has an amazingly high approval rating.

            Hawking and Krauss (in case you don’t know it) have had many ideas which were unscientific and anti-scientific.

            Newton believed in a strange variation of Christianity.

            Those “famous scientists” will only have ideas that impress me to the extent that they can show me the evidence that their claims are true, and explain it so that I can agree with them.

            That’s the way that science really works.
            Not by idly philosophizing and expecting that the public will believe them out of respect, faith, reputation, emotion or whatever.

            In fact, those scientists that you refer to might not either agree of disagree with my views.

            That’s because I have taken the time to define my terms, and the kind of philosophizing that you refer to is usually done without defining terms.

            It’s largely an appeal to emotions, much like religions are.
            It’s not so much science as a public entertainment.
            Don’t fall for ideas just because they might sound “sciency”.

        • Chuck Johnson

          If you are a physicist, I will let you debate with those scientists who think determinism isn’t true.

          Being a physicist is not especially helpful in solving this mystery.
          George Ellis is not especially qualified just because he is a physicist.

          Being a competent semanticist will solve the mystery.
          See my solution using word definitions.

        • Questioner

          There is quantum determinism.

    • arcseconds

      Christians on the whole seem to like dramatic conversion stories, and often they’re reported as though they are ‘total conversions’, everything about the new believer has changed. I don’t doubt this is sometimes the case, although I’m inclined to think the stories where the path was changed, but it took a lot of work to go down that path are more realistic.

      But it’s been my observation that usually conversions tend to not be a complete reformation of the person, but rather conserve rather a lot, in fact so much so that I’m tempted to say that we find out what is really true of that particular person, and maybe people in general, and what they say they deeply believe in isn’t actually as important as we often like to think.

      E.g. an acquaintance of mine went from Wicca to orthodox Catholicism, radically different beliefs on the face of it, but she likes pondering all sorts of metaphysical and moral questions, but even better she likes having answers to them. A minor media figure in my local environment went from dogmatic socialism to dogmatic libertarianism – the dogmatism and the secure position from which to criticise society (and, perhaps, the ability to feel superior to the rest of us) has remained the same. Another friend of mine went from some vague new agey spiratualism to being a Baptist, but she was always after some kind of naked emotional corporate union (she was into one of those vaguely culty self-empowerment workshop things for a while).

      (Atheists, especially movement atheists, like conversion stories too, but they tend to be more about the victory of critical thinking rather than complete moral reorientation.)

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reflection. It took me back me back years to when I young and amazed by dramatic conversions.

  • Questioner

    Not knowing that God is a made up fictional character is like not knowing that Mickey Mouse is a made up fictional character. God is pretend.

    • Wow, you can make assertions without argument or provision of evidence. How impressive.

      If I had to guess, my suspicion is that people who leave these sorts of comments actually hold the opposite view to the one they express, and do this sort of thing to make holders of the opposing view look bad.

      • Questioner

        Wrong guess without evidence. Wow, you can make assertions without argument or provision of evidence. How impressive.
        It is a comment. Take it or leave it. What is your evidence and argument that there is a God. You have no actual accurate and reliable evidence and all of your arguments are fallacious.

        • God is Reality at its most transcendent. Unless you deny that there is such a thing as reality, then God exists. If you’d like to discuss the attributes, and perhaps join me and other liberal religious people in opposing anthropomorphic ideas of the divine, then fine. Otherwise, we’re talking about that which exists by definition – unless you are perhaps talking about the idea of “a god,” one being among others that might or might not exist within the universe, in which case once again we may well agree. But that isn’t what you said.

          • Questioner

            Define reality. You have no idea what you are talking about. Reality at its most transcendent is a contradiction. That which exists by definition is that which is just made up. You are just making up fiction.

          • If you think reality is made up, and deny that something simply exists – whether the universe, a multiverse, laws of physics that bring universes into being, or something else – then you are the one who has not idea what they are talking about.

          • Questioner

            You still have not defined reality. Define exist. You do not know what you are talking about. Are you a pantheist? Nothing can be defined into existence.

          • Define exist? Unless you’re very new here my panentheist views should be well known. Are you one of those people who comments multiple times in argumentative fashion before thinking to ask, hey, whose blog is this and what views might they hold?

          • Professor McGrath, if you don’t mind sharing, would your panentheism lean toward John Cobb or Charles Hartshorne?
            Do you have another philosopher to recommend?
            (I’m a former Baptist minister and fairly well read, so like academic books (though not as difficult as Kant:-)

          • I’m not sure I know either in sufficient detail to say. I’m much more influenced by Paul Tillich and his view of God not as a being but as Being itself. I like process thought, but am by no means an expert on it. And I’m a member in an American Baptist church, in case that counts for anything! 🙂

          • Yes, I’ve read your blog for a while. And I was an American Baptist youth minister years ago, and my dad was an American Baptist minister in Nebraska. I attended American Baptist Seminary of the West but dropped out when I had a spiritual crisis.
            The Tillich book that most influenced me is Dynamics ‘of Faith, read and reflected on it 4 times 🙂

          • I’ve had the privilege of teaching a course somewhat regularly that includes Dynamics of Faith among the assigned readings, which has been simply wonderful. It has been important for my own journey as well. Sorry to hear about ABSW not providing the support that you needed during your crisis!

          • Questioner

            Being just means existence in this context. So your god is existence itself. Define what it would mean to claim that X has real existence. Existence itself is simply the physical universe? Or are you just trying to sound profound by using vacuous words.

          • Questioner

            Panentheism is the idea that god is greater than the universe, which is a contradiction.

          • Please read a few astrophysicist and cosmologists. Even the most brilliant scientists admit that they are only beginning to start to understand the nature of reality.
            Your definition of the word “God” appears to be a creedal one while Professor McGrath is presenting more of a philosophical one. One astrophysicist you might check out is South African George Ellis, and there are many others. Nearly all of them reject fundamentalistic religion, but only a minority claim that the cosmos is meaningless.

          • Questioner

            According to physics there is a definition of what is real and what is not. The physical equals the real. The nonphysical is not real. I am well versed in cosmology and astrophysics thank you.

          • arcseconds

            Does the number 2 exist?

          • Questioner

            As a fictional model.

          • ? Only physicalists (as I understand it think that only the physical exists) It would appear that quantum physics, etc. aren’t physical. Heck, it would seem that the laws of physics aren’t physical unless you are defining physical very broadly . Much of reality appears to be process. But I’m not a scientist, only an avid reader of various scientific fields . I did major in anthropology for a couple of years.)
            So I’ll let you dialogue deeply with the scientists on whether or not only physical exists.

          • Questioner

            Quantum physics is a mathematical fictional model. The laws of physics are just descriptions of how nature behaves. They are not somehow entities unto themselves. Being physical is what it means to be real. When a storm comes into existence we say it materialized.

          • Not in any of the books on cosmology and astrophysics that I’ve tried to read!
            If it was fictional, NASA NEVER would have been able to send a probe successfully to Pluto, etc.

            If I may ask, where did you study mathematics and science at?

            I’m a retired American literature teacher. Fiction I do know, have taught it for years, and am a writer.
            Fiction has nothing to do with science or math.

          • Questioner

            Quantum physics, like any science model, is susceptible to disproof at any time. It is just a fictional model that we use to compare to reality. It has its limits. That’s why we are looking for more powerful theories. Some candidates are string theory and quantum loop gravity. More data is needed to formulate better models. Math is totally fictional models. If you add 2 quarts of water to 2 quarts of alcohol you do not get 4 quarts of liquid. You get less because the molecules merge together. 2 + 2 = 4 is a fictional model that we use to compare to reality. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The same with all math. Platonism is false. Newtonian physics is a fictional math model. It still has its uses, but has been superseded by the fictional relativity model which also has its limits.

          • L.O.L. Quantum Physics, the Theory of Relativity, math aren’t “fictional”.
            The Theory of Relativity has been demonstrated to be true repeatedly over the last 100 years.
            It appears that you are using the word “fictional” with a different definition . For all of my math and science teachers would strongly disagree with you.
            It seems that you are talking about the fact that science is constantly fine-tuning it’s understanding of the natural world. That’s completely different from claiming that quantum physics isn’t real, but is fictional.
            As for Newton, try jumping off a building and see whether or not the law of gravity works.
            I didn’t receive information from you on where you earned your physics degree or your math degree, but I will assume that you did. And say, again, present your claims to NASA, various astrophysicists , etc.
            They very strongly disagree with you, or you are using different semantic definitions for terms such as fictional, reality, etc.

            As our philosophy professor used to emphasize, first define terms:-)

            Lastly, you bring up Platonism, which is a different area than astrophysics and math, etc.

            Some philosophers, mathematicians, etc. are Platonists.
            Also you might want to check out Alfred Lord Whitehead, the famous co-author of one of the great math books of the 20th century, along with Bertrand Russell.
            Whitehead very strongly disagree with your points.
            I’m traveling cross country, and am relying on very real math, not fictional.

          • Questioner

            Quantum THEORY and relativity THEORY are simply fictional models, as is math. We keep using them until the model fails, then we discard it for another model. Yes those MODELS work well most of the time. But relativity for example has singularities, places where the theory does not work. So we need a better model. I gave an example of where math does not work when compared with reality. Those models do not exist as entities unto themselves. We made them up. They are thinking tools. If they fail when confronted with reality, then we will make up better thinking tools. Math has evolved over a 10,000 plus year period. Read a history of math book. We kept making up better math as the environment demanded better thinking tools. The symbols you use for math have just been invented during the last few hundred years. The math you are using to travel was INVENTED to solve those kinds of problems and did not exist until it was invented to solve them. That math was made up over time as humans were confronted with new problems. The Newtonial fictional model still has its applications in low gravity but in higher gravity relativity works better. According to relativity time is passing slower at your feet than at your head. The Newtonial fictional model does not predict that. Chess did not always exist. We INVENTED the rules and pieces for chess. Likewise we INVENTED math, quantum theory, relativity to help us make better predictions. Those MODELS do not have an existence independent from us. You are relying on a real fictional model that was made up by humans to help solve problems.

          • No they aren’t. But I do see this is a semantic tangle. What it appears you are speaking about is that the continually improving map of reality of scientists isn’t the same as the mostly unknown objective reality of the vast cosmos.
            The map isn’t the same as the actual geography.
            However every scientist observes facts and then constructs hypotheses which seem to match what is known. Then he checks his hypothesis continually, and either fine-tuning it closer and closer to what appears to be the actual reality out there OR he abandons the hypothesis as fiction, not true not real. Repeat over and over. Some eventually have been so successively tested over and over that they are accepted as a theory (though scientists continue to still test even ones that have demonstrated to be valid in the past.)
            Sometimes a scientist will go out on a limb and argue for an outlandish hypothesis, but no good scientist intentionally chooses fiction with no facts. Only creationists do that sort of ‘science.’
            No humans didn’t invent math, they discovered it. Then they used their discovery to calculate everything from inventing an engine to sending a probe to Saturn.
            If scientists used fictional models, the probe would never have reached the goal they set for it.

          • John MacDonald

            This is bizarre. You think inventing chess rules and pieces is analogous to discovering and working out the principles and matters of fact of quantum mechanics? Math describes reality. If I say 3X2=6, I am describing that there are groups of 3, and two such groups, for a total of six things. Of course math and physics can be wrong, and hence need retooling, but your analogy that mathematical theories and physical theories are like inventing the rules and pieces of a game is odd, to say the least.

          • Questioner

            Odd to you, but accurate.

          • John MacDonald

            Not really. One is inventing out of whole cloth, the other is an attempt at understanding and describing an already existing reality.

          • Questioner

            The procedure is the same. Defining objects, (e.g. numbers, photons, rooks) and deciding on the rules that they follow (e.g. addition, refraction, moving in a straight line). The math and chess objects and rules are totally made up by us. In physics we need to reality test to find out what the objects and rules are. If math and physics (theories) can be wrong, then they are not reality, they are fictional models that we adjust as needed to be more effective.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said, this is bizarre. “Discovering” the rules, materials, and forces of quantum mechanics is not like “inventing” the rules and pieces of the game of chess. Anyway, you can have the last word since this is silly, lol.

          • Questioner

            As I said, in physics we need to reality test (i.e. experiment, discover) to find out what the rules and objects are. Otherwise constructing a physics model is similar to constructing the game of chess or a mathematical system. Obviously you do not get analogies and do not read carefully.

          • John MacDonald

            I certainly do not have the frame of reference necessary to assess whether the consensus of mathematicians and physicists are correct or not about chess being a useful analogy for representing their content areas. So, I can only assume you all are correct, and I’m sorry I was dissenting in a less than polite manner. Thanks for the discussion!

          • arcseconds

            I guess Questioner got bored or is too busy.

            What is the difference exactly? There are a list of rules for chess, which defines the game, and since the late-19th to early 20th centuries anyway, one very influential view within mathematics is that it’s also just a matter of rules.

            And in fact the rules may be quite arbitrary and not describe some deeper reality, as there are different sets of rules that e.g. define arithmetic, and they don’t all prove the same set of theorems.

            It might be worth noting that arithmetic can quite easily fail to obtain with physical objects. For example, if you have a litre of water and a litre of oil, and you add them (by pouring them into the same vessel) you have two litres, so we might say arithmetic is true of combining volumes of water and oil, but it’s not true of combing water and salt, you don’t end up with two litres of anything that way. So it’s only true sometimes, and not others.

            Same with chess. Some arrangements of objects are chess games, others aren’t.

            Maybe arithemetic is just a game we happen to find more useful than chess?

            What is the difference between showing that there is no highest prime, and showing that from this position, white will checkmate in six moves?

          • John MacDonald

            You can’t be serious? You don’t see the difference between “positing” the laws of quantum mechanics to “describe” an already existing reality, and “inventing” the rules of chess to “create” the chess reality?

          • arcseconds

            I wasn’t talking about quantum mechanics, it’s harder to make the argument that’s arbitrary as it’s obviously connected to physical reality quite closely, and it’s not a mere description as it makes novel predictions that worked out, e.g. the existence of anti-matter.

            It’s less clear that mathematics describes an already existing reality.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t know much about advanced math, but I do know basic math is taught to children by giving concrete manipulatives and examples so kids can understand. For instance, 2X3 can be represented by a child using 3 groups of two, or two groups of three – added to result in 6 things. Using negative numbers, eg., 2X-3, it’s still grounded in 2 groups of 3 or three groups of 2, but the principle that a negative times a positive number equals a negative must be grounded for the child in something, like the idea of increasing debt = so, a debt of -3 plus a debt of -3 = a debt of -6. Similarly, a negative times a negative gives a positive, because taking away -3 debt and -3 debt results in six: it’s like giving someone six dollars. The whole basis of teaching math nowadays to kids (I used to be a public school teacher) is to start with real world manipulatives and examples and build on that, so the foundation of a child’s understanding of math is always secured in what is explicit and concrete. So, the foundation is always that, regardless how abstract and fantastical one moves from that foundation. In that regard, I think math is more akin to being grounded in an already existing reality, like quantum physics. But, like I said, this is sooooo not my area! lol

          • arcseconds

            Yes, but it’s a bit of a trick, isn’t it? We select examples where arithmetic works (or rather, a limited portion of arithmetic works, as normally we’re dealing with small numbers at least, and often not all the operations are applicable) and then go “see? arithmetic works!”.

            You can see this in your own examples, normally the first example would be done with beans or counters or something, where negative numbers and fractions aren’t applicable — so not all subtraction or division problems have answers. And addition and multiplication only describes what happens to beans up to a certain point — eventually you run out of beans.

            To motivate fractions and negative numbers you have to move to different examples, like cake and debt (or moving backwards).

            And even with the small whole number arithmetic it only works under certain conditions: objects need to be identifiable, and maintain that identity over the time period in which you’re doing the arthmetic, and don’t come into being, vanish, merge, split or anything else like that. Imagine trying to teach arithmetic to children with raindrops on the windscreen, or bacteria in a growth medium, or even salt and water as in my earlier example.

            I mean, sure, it’s often applicable to ‘medium-sized dry goods’ over time spans that are interesting to us, and we find it useful for many purposes, but in some different world where things rapidly come into being and vanish and don’t maintain their identity and are impossible to track, it would be of no use at all. Beings living in that world probably woudn’t develop arithmetic, wouldn’t find it useful, and might not think of it as ‘true’ in any sense. “Sure”, they might say to you once you’d painstakingly explained it to them “IF there were ‘objects’ that stayed where they were and what they were for any length of time MAYBE these rules you talk about would apply sometimes, but it’s all just a bit made up, isn’t it? What’s the point? Is it some kind of game?”

            Or our own world, considered from a perspective of a being for whom a thousand ages is like an evening gone. “Well, sure,” they might say “for very short amounts of time I can see you can do this addition and multiplication stuff. But those bits of the universe you call ‘counters’ only got shaped like that mere moments ago, and in an instant they’ll have been scattered far from these groups you’ve put them in, and a few ticks later they’ll have disintegrated. And this morning the even smaller bits of the universe that make them up were smushed together, and this afternoon it’ll all get sucked into a black hole. I’m not sure why you think it’s an eternal truth when it’s evidently only true for such an infintesimal amount of time. Remind me what the point is again?”

            If you find this annoying, it’s no trouble to stop, it’s not like there’s anything much riding on this for me… we could pick it up later if you’re still interested.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, you certainly know more about this than me! Can we perhaps say that mathematics developed around descriptions and inferences made from experiences with ordinary, everyday things, but then in some cases mathematicians transgressed the limits of applicability because math’s principles (ultimately grounded in everyday experience) were perhaps misapplied in some cases beyond everyday stuff to things that may/may not behave like the content of average, everyday experience? (such a Kantian question, lol)?

          • arcseconds

            I don’t know about that, John, I’m just making this stuff up as I go along! You shouldn’t probably find it too convincing…

            (I did study this kind of stuff once upon a time, but I’ve forgotten a lot of the details, and at the time I would have been pretty impatient with the idea there’s no essential difference between chess and mathematics, too, but now I’m less sure, although to be honest I am kind of playing advocatus diaboli here…)

            Certainly we can say something like that, but “the context of discovery is not the same as the context of justification” as the saying goes (one of my teachers used to wag his finger at me about this). Just because counting started with keeping track of sheep (or whatever) and arithmetic for accounting, doesn’t mean that counting is about sheep or that arithmetic is about accounting (or beans and bottle-caps or whatever kids these days use). I’m pretty sure pure mathematicians do not think of their activities as being ‘about’ physical items in any sense, they are pure theories, based ultimately in some abstract intuitions about e.g. grouping objects that come under one concept together, without caring about what the objects are or what a concept is. Or some abstract notion of ‘distance’, without worrying whether it’s time or space or spacetime or which dimension or whether physical space (or spacetime) that physical objects are located in behaves anything like that at all.

            But even these abstract notions aren’t really all that interesting to mathematicians and aren’t what ‘it’s about’.

            It’s the theories themselves that are — intuitions about grouping objects or distance or whatever are only interesting in so far as they can be a source of new theoretical structures.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m also curious as to your take on The Principle of non-Contradiction: A being (something that ‘is’ in some sense or other) cannot both be and not be (i) at the same time, and (ii) in the same way. So, for instance, as physics has showed, a particle can be located simultaneously at coordinates ‘x’ and ‘y,’ but can’t both be and not be at coordinate ‘x’ at the same time and in the same way.

          • arcseconds

            Well, there’s the slogan “things travel as waves but arrive as particles” – in e.g. the double slit experiment, particles always arrive as points on the film detector thing, so at the point where we know their location, they have one and only one definite location.

            (This is subject to the Heisenburg uncertainty principle, so to the extent we know the location we don’t know the momentum, but this doesn’t matter in this particular case as the particles would be absorbed by the film)

            More generally, when a system is measured, whatever is measured has a definite value (or values), and these values are not strange values, e.g. definite location, definite energy, the particles are definitely spin up, or spin down (some of the properties are a bit odd, but spin can be thought of as it’s behaviour when in a magnetic field. In a magnetic field of a certain ‘shape’, spin-up particles move in one direction and spin-down ones in another), etc.

            It’s in between times things get odd. Particles sometimes don’t have properties in the way we would normally think of having properties when they’re not being measured, and by ‘not being measured’ I mean the properties, not the particles. If you measure some properties, other properties can and will be perturbed into some kind of undetermined value.

            (although the system still has a state that is described (allegedly completely) by the wavefunction, so there is a specific ‘value’ that each property has, it’s just that this value is a combination of ‘measurable’ values which expresses the probability that every measurable value will have. So for example the ‘spin’ value (for a particular direction) might be (roughly speaking ‘30% spin up + 70% spin down’. )

            Anyway, the way the double-slit experiment is normally understood AFAIK is that the wavefunction determines the probability of the particle being found at any point, if you measure it. But if you’re not measuring it, the only thing that ‘exists’ is the wavefunction.

            This is all to say that it’s misleading to think of a particle as being a ball-bearing which is somehow in two places at once.

            There’s a wavefunction that has some amplitude at each slit, — which itself isn’t that mysterious. 19th century physics was used to thinking of light as a wave in a continuous ethereal substance, and a wavefront arriving at two apertures and then going through both (but not through the opaque material the apertures are in)

            But when you ‘locate’ the particle by measuring the location (either by the film in the version where you get the interference pattern, or by a detector on one slit in the version where you work out what slit it ‘really’ went through and thereby destroy the interference pattern), it is definitely in one and only one place.

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry about the hyperbole. I’m certainly no mathematics or physics professor, and if you and Questioner were just representing the consensus in math and physics, then I’m sure you are correct and my approach is wrong. I’ve been a little cranky and standoffish lately because I have a close friend who has been having serious health scares, and I’m very worried for her, and everything seems to be getting to me: you know how it is when your mood attunes to the world and entities present themselves “as irritating” (a similar phenomenon happens when you have a headache). Anyhow, I’ll defer to you and Questioner and the consensus on the issue of the analogical relationship between chess and math/physics, and I’ll try to be more polite in the future. Again, I’m sorry for having a poor attitude recently. I can certainly do better!

          • arcseconds

            No, it’s definitely not the consensus. I think most physicists are realists about physics theories and mathematicians are, I think, largely platonists. Although they’re really topics in philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics, and the philosophers, as you might imagine, have all sorts of views and little consensus 🙂

            I was just askin’ 😉

            Sorry to hear about your friend. I just figured you were getting annoyed at Questioner because they’re a dogmatic physicalist who issues pronouncements rather than explains themselves.

          • arcseconds

            Let’s back up a bit. Where did you get the idea physics makes this claim? I studied physics at university, and I never came across this. I would certainly have remembered it.

            It was, however, discussed in the philosophy classes I took, although philosophers are certaintly divided on the topic.

          • Questioner

            Physicists only work with the physical because the nonphysical is absolutely nothing with which to work, measure, observe, etc. Nonphysical means completely empty, absolute nothingness. Any quantum state is a physical state.
            To which claim are you referring?

          • arcseconds

            To the claim that you made in the comment to which I am replying:

            According to physics there is a definition of what is real and what is not. The physical equals the real. The nonphysical is not real.

            What makes you think this is ‘according to physics’? I never encountered ‘physics’ (physics classes and textbooks) saying anything of the sort.

      • Robert Conner

        If God can be “reimagined” then supposedly anyone can imagine God in any way they please according to any criteria–or “reality” if so preferred–they choose. If God is Reality, and Reality didn’t care about the dinosaurs or the 20,000 Brits who fell on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, then it follows that God doesn’t care. So why would we care?

        • The first part of what you wrote reminds me of what young-earth creationists say about science and about secular values: science is always changing and so unreliable, and if cultural values evolve then anything goes. I don’t find such criticisms to be on target at all. Of course human thinking about any topic has changed over time, and of course there is uncertainty, but that doesn’t in and of itself mean that it makes sense to pick and choose whatever beliefs and values we wish, as though some cannot either correspond better to relevant evidence than others, or be better suited to an individual, culture, or time period.

          The second part clearly has an anthropomorphic god in mind and so its relevance here is unclear. But to the extent that our thinking about the nature of reality should be informed by what we know and has implications for how we live and behave towards one another, the importance of the topic seems self evident.

          • Robert Conner

            Your faux naive reading of my response does you no credit. Obviously science, unlike “god,” cannot simply be reimagined according to just anyone’s criteria, which you know (hopefully) as well as I do. So “god” changes over time and evolves, the better to align with the “evidence”? And what “evidence” would that be, exactly? What I seem to detect is just another theologian moving the goalpost around to avoid having to account for theodicy among other things, i.e., a human creating god in his own image. Again.

          • Our descriptions of reality, whether scientific, theological, or any other, should take into account all the evidence we have, whether the nature of matter, the existence of evil, or anything else. Having just said as much, what you wrote about avoiding the problem of theodicy suggests that you are either not understanding or not willing to interact with the views I actually hold. The same goes for what you said about creating god in our image in relation to what I have repeatedly said about anthropomorphic gods.

  • PhillipWynn

    Advocatus diaboli here. Is there necessarily anything wrong with keeping one’s changed beliefs to oneself? I thought of that when reading about Barbara Brown Taylor’s travails, in terms of a thought experiment only. To what extent do my changed interior beliefs matter to anyone other than myself? At times this article seems to lean toward the idea that it is better that one should share. But isn’t it possible that that idea is as much as anything a reflection of the contemporary “let-it-all-hang-out” culture, where one shares with absolute strangers details of one’s life while, in a crowd, talking on the ubiquitous stupid-phones? The preening narcissism of Facebook pages tends to flatten all opinions to equality; I share with all my contacts my deep insights that rival or surpass those of Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus Himself.

    For isn’t it arguable that the beginning of wisdom must include a recognition of one’s relative insignificance? And to the extent anyone experiences this insight, isn’t it somewhat contradictory to proclaim it to all and sundry? Time and again I’m reminded of something I once read a certain guru said, that those who haven’t experienced enlightenment shouldn’t spread their own confusion about matters they really know little about.

    Yes, yes, self-esteem, blah blah blah. Yes, we can go too far in self-diminishment. But in our contemporary culture, where often it is the extremes that are elevated, isn’t one of our pathologies the opposite?

    • Gary

      You said, “Is there necessarily anything wrong with keeping one’s changed beliefs to oneself?”

      Can’t make $$$ by keeping your changed beliefs to oneself.

      From her website:
      “Hello, I’m Barbara Brown Taylor.
      I say things you’re not supposed to say.”
      “Few souls are as synced to the world’s mysteries as Barbara Brown Taylor’s….
      Taylor writes spiritual nonfiction that rivals the poetic power of
C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner.”

      I must say, she sure knows how to self promote. Book sales must be very good. Although, Bart Ehrman does the same. But he also donates a lot to charity.

      Her quotes, ““True believers are among the meanest people I’ve ever met,”, and
      “I cannot think of anybody of another faith who has wounded me like Christians,”

      She not only lumps a lot of people into one category, but also sells a lot of books, allowing her to reside very comfortable at her farm in Georgia. Makes the wounds go away, I’d say.

      • PhillipWynn

        Thanks for doing the homework on that individual … and saving me the trouble! Seriously, such “spiritual advertising” — and I personally see no distinction in this regard between those on left and right — seems to me to feed into a kind of self-righteous Gnosticism among its consumers that is practically tailor-made to exploit the narcissistic tendency in contemporary culture.

        • Gary

          “Tailor-made”, maybe Taylor-made”? I don’t knock someone for making good money. But the self righteousness of both sides can be a little too much sometimes.

          • PhillipWynn

            Sorry about that; I’m such an inveterate punster that I sometimes do it unaware!

  • Robert Conner

    “reimagining God…”

    Which affirms what skeptics have said all along: God’s a product of your imagination. So sure, whatever, “reimagine” It. Whatever blows your dress up.

  • John MacDonald

    Thanks so much for sharing that! It encouraged me to do a post about Heidegger’s existential/phenomenological theory of judgments and predicates on my blog, which I posted just now. I’m providing a link here if anyone is interested:

    • arcseconds

      It looks like I have to sign up for a google account to comment?

      As usual I find Heidegger to be dreadfully confusing. At the points where I understand what he’s saying, it seems to be something obvious, expressed in a thoroughly opaque manner. Sometimes he seems to be saying something important, and clearly lots of smart people think he is, so I don’t want to dismiss him, but I seldom have any clarity on what the important things are.

      I don’t understand this fixation on the cupola. It seems like it has one foot at least still fixed in a rudimentary approach to language, where every word needs to stand for something, so what does the “is”in “Heidegger is confusing” stand for? Whereas I think it’s pretty clear that we have to pay attention not just to the words, but to grammatical structure, and if we do that we can see it’s simply a feature of indo-european grammar.

      Other languages have different structures for expressing predication, so they don’t have cupolas, and in particular modern formal logic doesn’t have such a thing.

  • Seed of Bismuth