How "current" are the foundations of your beliefs?

Recently my kids asked me some questions about transubstantiation, and the distinctions between Catholics and Protestants.

At one time I could rattle off quite a bit of info on such topics, but having been an atheist for several decades, and being content with my conclusions following my religious search/education, I have spent more of my time recently in examining Humanist history/thought, than the alternative beliefs I have rejected. I was a little frustrated at being able to respond to my kids in rather vague terms about topics I think are important, and that I have spent a lot of time on in the past, altho not recently.

I often encounter similar situations. Say, for example, concerning evolution. I know that at one time I read several original and secondary sources and was up on the various arguments against the various strains of creationism/intelligent design/etc., but other matters have apparently crowded them from the tip of my tongue.

Same for many political issues.

To what extent does the validity of your views depend on your being able to currently explain/defend/justify them to another?

Do you feel it is necessary to periodically “recharge” your belief system through updating your fund of data with current research?

Or is it sufficient to be content with your understanding of your point of view on issues you feel important, despite being vague as to the specific processes that got you to that point?

Depends on the beliefs, I suppose. I, for example, believe in a supreme being. That’s impossible to prove, since God as I believe He exists is indistinguishable from the universe and laws of physics. But yes, I do find new information helpful in cementing my political or moral beliefs and sometimes shifting them to more rational ideals. I don’t feel I ever need to defend them, unless I ever take up a career in politics, but I do feel the need to keep them consistent if I’m to consider myself a reasonable little hobbit and get a good night’s sleep.

I do visit websites and read books relevant to my beliefs, and occassionally look at stuff completely anathema to my views to see the other side of the coin. It’s an interesting thing to have your views flip-flop or to suddenly understand what the other side’s on about.

Wow, great topic Dinsdale! I often go through the very thing you describe. Its hard to remember crucial details that have formed my beliefs on topics like religion and deep physics at times, most often when I am in a debate and need to know unfortunately. I find it very helpful to go back and research topics that I had read about in the past so that I can stay current and more easily justify my beliefs.

I guess I am feeling a little discomfort right now, and my apparent inadequacy in conveying a good portion of what I have learned/decided, to my kids.

General ideas might be sufficient for my internal view of myself and the world, but I do not wish to simply recommend that my kids think the same as I on important matters. Sure, a part of me hopes that they will reach similar, consistent, or complementary views on many “core” issues. But - for example, I do not wish to simply tell my kids - fopr example - “there is no supernatural.” Instead, I tell them I do not believe in it, and tell them why. At the same time, I try to explain why other people believe in various supernatural phenomenon, and urge them to reach their own conclusions.

I like to be a source of info for my kids. I don’t feel they should have to “re-invent the wheel” in order to answer simple questions. If they ask a simple question about religion, politics, science, or what have you, sure they need to be able to look things up for themselves. But I feel a good part of learning is asking the right questions of the right people. And right now I guess I am a little frustrated at running into clear signs of the limitation of my capacity for recall.

Another situation I find frustrating is when I encounter someone espousing a theory that I know is superficial and easily refuted. And I know at one time I would have been able to refute it, but I can’t access that info on demand. People are able to best me in impromptu “debate” - say on foreign policy or philosophy, buy posing specific arguments that I know I encountered, countered, and rejected in the past, but currently can refute only in general terms.

Perhaps I might say that one ought to revisit their important sources either when they feel it is important to communicate with others regarding such things, or when they encounter material that seems inconsistent with, or adds to their existing beliefs. Unfortunately, at least with the first, it is difficult to predict when such need might arise. The latter situation provides more leisurely response.

There are so many interesting and important subjects out there, and believing that this life is the only one I get, I don’t feel like spinning my wheels continually spending time on what I reject, or what I CANNOT know. Personally, I find myself often returning to biology, evolution, because I consider it so important to how we act and the lives we lead. (Currently I’m slogging through Mayr’s last 3 books. IMO, pretty much essential reading for someone who wishes to intelligently discuss many important subjects.) But I’ve been spending more of my time lately on topics such as architecture, the arts and crafts movement, Woody Guthrie, and the Viet Nam War. So if you have any questions on those topics - ask me quickly before I forget! :wink:

Speaking about political and social beliefs, I have a lousy long-term memory for details. When I’m studying something or other, I’ll read everything I can find on the subject. I’ll research both sides, study opposing arguments, and be a moderate expert on the topic. I then use my capacity for reason to determine which side of the fence I stand on, and be assured in my knowledge that I have a very good reason for my stand on the subject. The a month later, I’ll have forgotten most of the nit-picky details, and be left with only an outline of why I believe what I believe. Rather frustrating.

However, even if I can’t remember exact dates, people, case studies, or whatever, I still know that I came to a good conclusions. I know that my capacity for reason is much better than my capacity for memorizing statitstics, and that I don’ trivially commit to a certain opinion or belief, and if it’s really important to remember my exact argument for why I believe what I do, it’s usually not too difficult to give myself a quick refresher course. I think that the ability to come to a well-reasoned conclusion is more important than remembering everything that went into your decision. After all, when you go to the voting booth to vote yay or nay on topic, you’re not going to be quizzed on why you’re voting as you are. (“Please submit three concrete examples supporting your position and include cites.”)

Nevertheless, I’m one who loves to debate and argue just for recreation, and it’s always frustrating when I’m trying to support my position, and can’t remember the exact piece of data that I know would reduce my opponent’s argument to so much debris. That’s why I started hanging around the SDMB. It’s a great place to keep up with things, remind myself as to why I believe what I do, and sometimes learn that my beliefs may be wrong.

Hypothetically speaking, of course… like I would ever be wrong… the mere idea:wink:


Wow, that was one of the most typo-ridden posts I’ve put up yet. I guess I need a refresher course on typing, too. :slight_smile:


Good questions Dinsdale. Somewhat frustratingly I find myself in a similar situation with my son who is off at college. Beliefs that I’ve arrived at through a lifetime of thinking and reading are often difficult for me to articulate. I sometimes wish I could defend my beliefs as clearly and concisely as some of the erudite posters here. I’m amazed at what some people know.

To what extent does the validity of your views depend on your being able to currently explain/defend/justify them to another?
I don’t think the validity of my views are affected by my inability to clearly articulate them. Certainly however, the effectiveness of my ability to get others to see my point of view is severely affected.

Do you feel it is necessary to periodically “recharge” your belief system through updating your fund of data with current research?
Yes. And one source is right here at the SDMB. I also read a lot.

Or is it sufficient to be content with your understanding of your point of view on issues you feel important, despite being vague as to the specific processes that got you to that point?
When it comes to one’s children it’s not helpful to be vague. Vagueness can lead to dogmatism (“you should believe xyz, just because”). I want my children to be able to arrive at intelligent conclusions on their own. I want to teach them to be skeptical. The more information I can provide, the better. Taking an approach of “let me explain how I have arrived at my conclusion” rather than “here is the Truth” can be very powerful. They become participants in the journey of discovery rather than mere receptacles of other’s opinions.

If you talk about the foundations, most of them have been around for a while, particularly with regards to religious matters. Christianity has been around for centuries, atheism longer than that.

Specifics are different. Some specifics are also so specialised layman are not required to understand them. For example, Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity.”

:confused: :confused: :confused:

Could you give some examples of pre-Christian atheists?

Ancient Atheists

Using the term lokayatas from that reference, I Googled and found the following from Hinduwebsite
[qutoe]The lokayatas believed in the existence of this world only, neither in heaven nor in hell, neither in vice nor virtue. They accepted only that reality which they could subjectively perceive and interact with, not in any imaginary world or some kind of ideal world.

Is that sufficient?

I gotta figure odds are there had to be at least a coupla folks back in ancient Rome and Greece who thought all that Zeus/Juptier stuff was a little hinky. Even if they kept quiet about it.

Christians, by definition have only been around for about two thousand years. Even Christian bible literalists believe there were people around four thousand years before that.

To what extent does the validity of your views depend on your being able to currently explain/defend/justify them to another?
None. sometimes i defend them internally to myself, and sometimes i achieve an understanding by talking about them with someone, but its not as adversarial a conversation as the question implies. i.e. less of a debate than a chat session.

**Do you feel it is necessary to periodically “recharge” your belief system through updating your fund of data with current research? **
yes, especially since I am an agnostic, and furthermore, believe that it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the metaphysics of the world can change with time. So, it is not only conceivable that further research can shed light on the existence/non-existence of deities and or scientific phenomena, but sometimes the actual rules may change. I just dont have the information, but am always seeking it.

Or is it sufficient to be content with your understanding of your point of view on issues you feel important, despite being vague as to the specific processes that got you to that point?
no. I do not believe that understanding of this world is best achieved through intuition. Intuition is natures way of speeding up critical thinking when we are in a hury or emergency. But it can be wrong and is no subsitute for rational, rigorous analysis.

A lot of things I have always believed in, formed through objective information, but were not changed even though I could not convince others of their truth.

Put it another way, my favorite two rock groups, based on their singing talent alone, are the Psychedelic Furs, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Both have lyrics displaying a great scepticism, yet, the Psych Furs seem to believe, that, in the end, the answers are knowable if you look into yourself, a kind of transendentalism. Echo on the other hand seems to be saying “everything’s a big lie, and I dont know if i ever WILL know the truth”

While I indeed used to feel betrayed by the world that would not show me its answers, I no longer take it personally. However, I feel more aligned with Echo’s feelings: Trust no one, even yourself.

I would say that I could give a reaosnable discourse at around 1st year university level on almost any subject you could name (except for a few glaring exceptions) and I have patchs of knowledge that would easily be classified as “educated layman” level. I try to keep as current as I can on all topics but specific things tend to pique my interest more.

First posted by Algernon:

Your children are quite fortunate. Those are admirable goals for a parent. If children ask you something that is a matter of opinion, it is often helpful to turn the question back on them and ask for their opinions before sharing yours. Then throw in a “Why?”

I’ve learned more about what I believe by people questioning me than I have by their sharing their thoughts.

Is this true for you? :wink:

(Thumbs up on your questions, Dinsdale!)