10 Years in the Bloggernacle

January 30, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 3:22 pm   Category: Bloggernacle

10 years ago, give or take a few days, I started my first Mormon blog: Issues in Mormon Doctrine.  A week or two prior, I had happened upon Jared’s blog (which was also brand new at the time), and realized that I had finally found a forum in which I could discuss the many issues that had been stewing in my head.  While I shared with Jared an intense curiosity regarding the relationship between science (especially of the Darwinian stripe) and religion (of the Mormon stripe) my blog focused more on the tensions and contradictions that I saw in Mormon doctrine, as I understood it.  It was a couple months later that Jared, Christian and I started Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation.  (It was Christian who would eventually accuse me of playing Aaron Cox in the Banner of Heaven hoax, a part which he, in fact, played himself.)

Looking back on my first few years in the bloggernacle I feel a strange mix of embarrassment and nostalgia.  On the one hand, I (thankfully) deleted Issues in Mormon Doctrine and can hardly stomach my posts that remain at Mormons and Evolution (it looks like Christian has since taken down the 2nd iteration of the site).  My “issues” and “reconciliations” all seem so naive and unpolished in retrospect.  Of course, I was putting out about 2 posts a day at the time, so I consciously sacrificed form for the sake of content – or so I imagined.  Perhaps the high water mark at Issues in Mormon Doctrine was a long essay dedicated to the distinction between revelation and inspiration and why we as members were only bound to the former.  This essay was later presented to and well received by a mid-sized Sunstone audience that included an approving D. Michael Quinn.  It was not long after this presentation that I posted another long essay on my blog in which I announced my disbelief in God and the church.  This was a very, very sad time in my life that I will not dwell much upon it.

Given my uncompromising stance on the truth of evolution and an equally uncompromising insistence on facing issues in Mormon doctrine and history head on (at least that’s how I saw it at the time), I developed quite a few antagonisms throughout the bloggernacle.  I repeatedly butt heads with J. Max and, to a lesser extent, Geoff B. over at M* to the point that I was banned from the site.  Keep in mind, this was before the M* rebirth as the explicit and unapologetic conservative phoenix that it is today, which goes to show how uncompromising and unconservative I was at the time.  Here’s a doozy of a comment that pretty much summed up my mindset just prior to my rejection of the church:

“I personally feel that the best path to take is to adopt a[n approach] somewhat critical of authority, keeping it on a leash composed of experience and rationality. Clearly some authoritative claims of religions are totally false.”

This is THE position that I now argue against.  Another person that I (obviously) clashed with was NDBF Gary who I frequently labeled and dismissed with the exact same words of contempt by which I am labeled and dismissed today.  I also look back with fondness upon the never-ending free will debates that were carried on here at the ‘Thang between Geoff J., Blake, Jacob, Clark and I, although I am, again, somewhat embarrassed by my naive commitment to naturalism/scientism.

Immediately after announcing my departure from the church, the Mormon Archipelago dropped Issues from their feed and it wasn’t long after that that I deleted the blog altogether.  I never fully left the bloggernacle, although I mostly engaged in non-threatening, philosophical conversations both here at the ‘Thang and over at Clark’s blog.  While I did feel a lot of hurt by what I thought the church had done to me, I never tried to fight the church or undermine anybody’s belief in it.  I knew full well that despite the ways in which religion can go wrong, it usually goes very right in the believers’ everyday lives.

While I never fully abandoned the bloggernacle during this time, my attention did tend more toward to the philosophical blogosphere.  I started a new blog, Minds, Meaning and Morals, in which I posted whatever papers I was working on as an undergrad in philosophy and I participated in the Philosopher’s Carnival a few times.  Later on, I created another blog, Stop That Crow!: A Strange Inversion in Mormon Reasoning,  in which I tried to explore the implications that physicalism had for Mormon theology.  Even though I no longer accepted Mormon doctrine, I was convinced that Mormon doctrine was committed to metaphysical materialism, and that blog was my attempt to bring a faithful Mormonism and an atheistic naturalism closer together.  During this time I was very much influenced by Dennett, Dawkins and several authors that provided evolutionary explanations of religion.  It was my abandonment of physicalism in favor of neo-pragmatism that lead me to junk the idea that Mormonism is committed to materialism at all.

As my posts at Stop That Crow! began to trail off, so too did my checking in at and commenting within the bloggernacle.  It was during this time that I began to read Hayek, MacIntyre, Rorty and Gouldner and instead of posting my thoughts about these authors online, I wrote them in a moleskin notebook that I kept with me at all times.  Hayek chipped away at my welfare liberal convictions, MacIntyre shook my confidence in modernity, Rorty undermined my scientism and Gouldner exposed the dark side of my intellectualism.  These all set the stage for a reevaluation of my reasons for leaving the church.

A little over 3 years ago I published my first post at the ‘Thang under the self-explanatory title, “Why I Was Wrong.”  In this post I expressed many of the ideas and doubts that I would refine, distill and eventually weaponize over the next few years.  My posts moved from “our reasoning is more tentative than we think” to “there are different kinds of reasoning” to “reason undermines priesthood authority and thus revelation”.  A little over a year ago, I wrote “The Mormon Intellectuals’ Trojan Horses“, which was very much intended as a response to and critique of the thinking that underlied my Sunstone talk from a few years prior.

Of course, realizing that you took a wrong turn is not the same thing as actually finding the right path, and I still struggle with the latter to this day.  Contrary to the common perception that I am self-righteously exalting my own priesthood authority and imposing upon others my own standards of orthodoxy, I am not very orthodox, nor am I very righteous and for that reason I do not have any priesthood authority to wield.  Some might call this hypocritical of me.  I, on the other hand, see my posts as a sort of “scared straight” program wherein somebody who is suffering the consequences of their bad decisions warns others not to follow their path.  I know from experience that simply telling somebody to follow church authority in spite of their reasoning doesn’t help much, but I do hope that using reason to expose the tensions and contradictions between Mormon and intellectual values might help some people second-guess their own decisions to leave the church.

This brings me up to the present day.  Looking back over the past 10 years, I see so much growth and change in my own life and mindset that I can’t even begin to imagine where I will be, intellectually speaking, 10 years from now.  I think of the friendships and connections that I have built with people, most of which I have never even spoken with, and am filled with gratitude and admiration.  Yes, there are hostilities and many things that are corrosive to one’s testimony in the bloggernacle, and I sincerely regret the part that I have played in both of these phenomenon.  But there are really, really good and interesting people to be found here as well and it is these (you) people that prevent me from feeling much guilt about the pleasure that I’ve had interacting with you all over the past decade.


  1. For some reason I had forgotten you started the original Mormons and Evolution.

    Next stop turning you into a real Peircean pragmatist and not the Rorty styled neb-pragmatist. (Admittedly Putnam’s form of neb-pragmatism is better than Rorty’s and avoids the near relativism Rorty heads into)

    Comment by Clark — January 30, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

  2. While I don’t think I’ll ever embrace Pierce, I do agree that, from what I can tell so far, Putnam is much closer to where I stand than Rorty is.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 30, 2015 @ 8:27 pm

  3. Thanks for sharing your journey, Jeff. You undoubtedly have a unique perspective on the gospel. I always find it interesting, even when I have nothing to contribute.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 30, 2015 @ 8:48 pm

  4. Jeff, you’ve been a great help to me in my life and belief, and I appreciate it. (That’s been true throughout the past eight years I’ve been reading here.)

    Comment by Lawrence — January 31, 2015 @ 1:53 pm

  5. I remember Issues in Mormon Doctrine — I linked it in my early blogroll at DMI. And of course Stop That Crow (liked the content, but never got the reference). Glad you’re still in the boat.

    Comment by Dave — January 31, 2015 @ 9:56 pm

  6. Jeff: You actually started my connection with the bloggernacle with “Issues in Mormon Doctrine”. I was so excited/fascinated about your idea of “epigenetic traits” that we carried with us from the pre-existence. Remember those posts?

    I miss the days when we posted and it felt like we had a capacity to influence each other and move things forward in a very real sense. I don’t get much of that sense of collaboration anymore. That is what I miss most.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 1, 2015 @ 9:25 am

  7. Yeah, I remember that, Matt. Seems so long ago, I don’t even remember what my emphasis on epigenetics was supposed to amount to. (Was I pushing against a gene centric view of evolution, maybe?) I wonder if any of those ideas are still over at the evolution site?

    I agree that there isn’t the same sense of shared-project building that we had before. I think a lot of it has to do with most of us just having moved on to other things and interests (I think we’ve all shared Geoff’s feelings as some times and to some extent.) I also think that a lot of the break down comes from my own current project. After all, so much of what brought us together was our desires to systematize as many authoritative statements and as much good science as we were able to under a single, self-consistent roof. My current project is basically an attack on this, so it was a little naive of me to think that you guys might want to contribute to, engage with or push back against my ideas here.

    I definitely miss the camaraderie that we used to have. But I think loneliness is unavoidably the price one pays for the joys of having a unique and at times radical perspective.


    I remember that well. That was before the archipelago was even formed and the only way I could find people was by following embedded links and sidebars. While I think the benefits of MA definitely outweighed the costs, I think that in the end it contributed substantially to a lot of the cliche-iness and political polarization that we now see in the ‘nacle.


    Thanks a bunch for the feedback. I’m well aware that my perspectives aren’t helpful to everybody, but it’s nice to know that they’re helpful to some people.


    Sometimes your re-packaging of my points in softer language is probably most that anybody contributes to my own views. Thank you so much for your patience in enduring my long-winded points of peripheral interest.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 2, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

  8. I think we were dead before you started on this bent, really. I think it’s more that when Blake dropped out, none of the rest of us really had that much variety on the atonement topic, which was always the biggest draw. Once we all got to “well, we’ve already covered that…” there really wasn’t much else to do. So don’t blame yourself. If anything, it’s more that we all keep looking for something novel to discuss, and we’ve already discussed this with you. It seems, in the end, we need some new cool thang…

    But mostly I think it’s because Geoff stopped blogging about BYU football.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 3, 2015 @ 7:57 pm

  9. I think that’s a great observation Matt. For some topics (atonement, free will, etc.) they’ve sort of been hashed out. Short of new blood coming in not familiar with those earlier discussions it’s hard to get too terribly excited.

    All that said I think there still are some good topics. I’m hoping to start back up that epistemological discussion I started at my blog years ago and never was able to finish for various reasons. I’ve kind of enjoyed the recent “historicity turmoil” at various blogs. So that’s a repeating topic that never gets old for me at least. There are a few others.

    Comment by Clark — February 3, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

  10. I actually do have a new (for me) perspective on free will. I just don’t think it’s worth getting too worked up about anymore. I’m guessing that the other guys who (I assume) haven’t changed their views wouldnt be too worked up about it either. If I posted on it, I wouldn’t expect more than 20 comments.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 4, 2015 @ 12:23 am

  11. Most deliberately argumentative discussions hold no draw for me. I prefer ones that bear testimony and tell a personal story about spiritual growth.

    That doesn’t usually draw people out of the woodwork for long-winded debates (unless it’s some controversial topic, like how I was taught to change my opinion about gay marriage or feminism,) but it doesn’t ever grow old.

    Comment by SilverRain — February 4, 2015 @ 5:56 am

  12. Matt: But mostly I think it’s because Geoff stopped blogging about BYU football.

    Ha. Maybe now is a good time to confess that I blogged about BYU sports at Vanquish The Foe for a while and I still write over at Loyal Cougars. (Not to mention all that BYU sports tweeting I’ve been doing lately.)

    The beauty of blogging/tweeting about sports is there are always new things to talk about.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 4, 2015 @ 10:54 pm

  13. Thanks for this post, Jeff. Not only is it a terrific read on its own, but it also serves to mark the 10 year anniversary of The Thang that we just reached about a month ago.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 4, 2015 @ 10:55 pm

  14. LOL. That’s hilarious. I’ve been following you on Twitter in my sports list for years and seriously never knew you were the same Geoff J here.

    Comment by Clark — February 5, 2015 @ 10:37 am

  15. Haha! Surely you jest…

    Comment by Geoff J — February 5, 2015 @ 10:42 am

  16. Nope. Dead serious. I just had a collection of people I followed for BYU football based upon searches during games and from others retweeting. Embarrassing I know.

    Comment by Clark — February 5, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

  17. Clark, that is unbelievable.

    Jeff, thanks for this post, I find your story quite compelling, albeit somewhat tragic in certain elements. I’ll admit to feeling a twinge of guilt for not commenting and engaging more on your posts. I still make it around to read (almost) everything that gets posted at NCT. FWIW, your campaign against CCD has been thought provoking, even if I am not fully persuaded to your way of thinking, it has caused me to reflect and shift my thinking on some things.

    All, if this is a 10 year anniversary post, let me take this chance to say that I really appreciate all the friendships I have built on this blog. Back when I was here all the time I felt like I knew everyone who commented, what other blogs they read, where else they commented, their pet issues, etc. I admit that I have forgotten a lot of the people I knew back in the day, but I still count the core set of people here as great friends. I have learned a lot from all of you, and I miss the good ole days when we were hashing things out. Especially Geoff has been a great friend and big impact. He’s the only guy in the bloggernacle I ever met irl and he is just as cool as you imagine him to be. Thanks for pulling me into the NCT family, Geoff.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 9, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

  18. Wonderful post. I hope your growth continues.

    Comment by Adam G. — February 10, 2015 @ 3:21 pm

  19. Jeff (#10), I can’t promise to get worked up, but I would be interested in your new perspective on free will.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 13, 2015 @ 8:17 am

  20. Well, basically I abandoned materialistic determinism for pragmatic pluralism. My old view was that from matter emerges organisms that we interpret as making free decisions. This view presupposes that freedom and mind are basically instrumental or merely useful concepts while causation and matter are the real stuff that are there regardless of how useful the concepts are.

    Whereas I interpret the LFW guys as trying to make mind and freedom just as real and non-instrumental as causation and freedom, my approach pushes things in the other direction by saying that causation and matter are no less instrumental and “merely” useful concepts than mind and freedom are.

    In other words, the world around us is neither material nor mental, for these are both sets of categories that we bring to the world according to our own purposes. Neither one is more real or fundamental than the other. Neither one emerges from the other in any kind of metaphysically interesting sense since the transition for one to the other happens in us subjects rather than in those objects.

    Thus, if somebody insists of construing people in terms of matter and causation rather than mind and freedom, they better have a good reason for doing so. (Trying to justify evil is not a good reason!) Indeed, even if an evil-doers does insist on seeing himself or other in terms of matter in motion, what really matters is whether his judges and punishers choose to see him that way. And I can think of no good reason why they would ever choose to do this.

    This perspective probably seems strange when not considered within the much larger pragmatic mindset that I have built up over the past 5 years. Sadly, I haven’t blogged very much about this mindset.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 13, 2015 @ 1:38 pm

  21. Jeff G,

    I too also look back with fondness upon the never-ending free will debates that were carried on here at the ‘Thang between you, Geoff J., Blake, Jacob, and Clark (and atonement and intelligences and Calvinism and MMP)

    Comment by Riley — February 20, 2015 @ 4:51 pm

  22. Also, Geoff’s BYU posts nearly chased me away. Every time. ;)

    Comment by Riley — February 20, 2015 @ 4:53 pm

  23. It’s true, I had a hard time following that explanation. If both matter and mind are both simply constructions from within a subject, what is the subject itself?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 21, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

  24. Thanks for this post, Jeff G.

    Comment by Michelle — February 22, 2015 @ 1:02 am

  25. I just want to say, too, that one thing that moved me with this post is how God brings different people and resources into our lives to help us come to ourselves. People like those you listed become, in my view, little-p prophets in their own right. God speaks to us in a language that we can understand, working in so many ways for our individual salvation, and I am so grateful for that.

    Comment by Michelle — February 22, 2015 @ 1:30 am

  26. Jacob,

    A “subject” is itself a category our conceptual frame by which we construe and understand ourselves and others. We could equally see ourselves in terms of matter in motion, but there seems little reason to do so.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 22, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

  27. Though our paths are somewhat different, I can truly relate to the journey.

    I will be studying some of your other posts when I have time and a working shoulder again.

    Comment by Bruce Nielson — February 27, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

  28. Would you mind doing a separate post on your new perspective on free will? From what you’ve explained so far I’m not sure I totally follow, and I’d be grateful for further explanation.

    Comment by Lawrence — March 3, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

  29. I don’t know if I’ll dedicate another post to it, so I’ll try to re-phrase it:

    Basically the free will debate boils down to whether we are really just causally determined matter in motion or intentional agents that freely makes decisions that are not predetermined by causes. At least this is how I look at the free will debate.

    What I object to is the idea that reality has some exclusive way that it is supposed to be described in terms of such that the truth or reality of the descriptions that we bring to it are measured and evaluated. Put another way, the idea that ideas and words are representations that in some sense match up with what reality is independent of all language users and their interests. Put a third way, the debate presupposes that we are under some obligation to reality itself to describe it in the proper way…. and I totally reject this.

    Matter in motion and freely choosing agents are simply different ways of describing ourselves, and there is no sense in which one of these conceptual schemes is more fundamental or more deeply connected to reality as it “really” is. We are under no obligation to reality to describe it correctly. Instead, we are under obligations to each other to describe the world the right way… and the rightness of our descriptions are measured by the interests and values of language users, not independent reality.

    Thus, there is no important role for “radical emergence” to play in this story since the difference between matter in motion and free agents is not metaphysical, but is instead conceptual/linguistic in nature. In other words, emergence happens within those who are talking about the “emergent object” rather than in the object itself.

    This perspective is very similar to my previous compatibilism, but with one very big difference: before I accepted the premise that physics was more basic, more fundamental, constitutive of or in some sense more “real” than the emergent properties of agency. Under this way of looking at things, agency is merely a useful fiction of sorts while matter in motion is the real deal. My position now says that both sets of concepts are useful instruments (fiction only has meaning when contrasted to fact) and that neither set is more or less real, fundamental or basic than the other.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 5, 2015 @ 2:37 pm