Accepting Inconsistency

Following my previous post on things I learned at Bible college about how to have a reasonable discussion, here is another: you need to accept that people are inconsistent.

That is to say, it is entirely possible that someone you are debating with will hold two opinions that you believe cannot logically be held at the same time. In a reasonable discussion, you need to accept that this is so without assuming evil intent. One good reason for doing so is that it’s probably true of you also – no-one currently on earth has a worldview and set of opinions which is entirely self-consistent and logically perfect.

What you should not do is claim that one or both of the views “isn’t really their view”, or that they are lying or dissembling when they claim to hold both. You are, of course, entirely entitled to point out the inconsistency as you see it, and ask them how they reconcile the two positions. It may be that they haven’t noticed the conflict, and this will cause them to think. Or it may be that you haven’t understood their position fully, and after discussion, you agree the two views are actually compatible. Or it may be that your worldviews and base assumptions differ to such an extent that what you believe is logically impossible, they think is logically fine.

The clearest examples are also the most controversial, but to try and illustrate: some people I talk to cannot understand how my beliefs about church leadership are consistent with with my view that everyone is created in the image of God and therefore equally valuable and important. But I, of course, think these views are entirely consistent. And I often cannot understand how the views on human rights espoused by some people I talk to are consistent with with their views on abortion. But they, of course, see no conflict. Regardless, in either direction, it’s not OK for either me or them to make bold statements that the other party is a liar, is debating in bad faith, or is in other ways evil just because, in that party’s opinion, the other person’s set of views is not logically coherent.

2 thoughts on “Accepting Inconsistency

  1. How about a revision to the title:
    “Accepting Inconsistency: Logic and religion are seldom friends”

    Belief in any religion at its core requires acceptance of ideas which (by design) can’t be proven. So, mutual agreement between two people with different views isn’t arrived at by sharing facts. (Facts aren’t required) Mutually held opinions (beliefs) are all that matters.

    Logical consistency with physically verifiable truth isn’t a requirement of religion, in fact, it’s the enemy of religion.

    Application of sound principles of logic always ferret out inconsistencies in religious belief, not the other way around. It’s of little use to apply principles of logic to religious belief if you’re uncomfortable accepting any outcome but the one that you already hold dear. If you pursue any question about religion with a logical mindset, you eventually arrive at a point where a belief must be accepted on faith.

    Consider a thought experiment as an example:
    Q: Who is god?
    A: God is our father, the creator, among other things.
    Q: How do I know that?
    A: It says so in the bible.
    Q: Who wrote the bible, can I talk to them?
    A: Prophets who died a long time ago, who saw god.
    Q: How do I know that they saw god?
    A: They wrote it in the bible, and lots of people say so.
    Q: Can I see god to confirm this, is there a way to do the same so I know for sure?
    A: Maybe if you pray hard enough, you can. Or you’ll get a feeling that you can interpret as originating from god, which might be good enough.

    At this point, it’s up to the person to try hard (have faith) and wait for an answer. If they don’t get an answer, they have a couple choices:
    – Accept the idea that god exists, on faith
    – Keep trying (and keep believing in hopes of getting an answer) while holding the possibility in mind that god may or may not exist
    – Consider the experiment unfinished, and likely implicit proof that god isn’t paying attention, that the person themself isn’t worthy of an answer, or that god isn’t there.

    • Hi Chrod,

      Welcome to my blog :-) I don’t plan to retitle the post as you suggest, because that would give the post a title entirely unrelated to its actual subject matter.

      You say that logic and religion are seldom friends but, as a Christian, my logic training allows me to spot the following logical fallacies in your post: hasty generalisation, straw man, false dichotomy, and (implicitly) the myth of neutrality (not sure that last one has a formal name as a fallacy, but it’s certainly a logical error).

      If the dialogue you postulate reflects your understanding of Christianity (I wouldn’t want to speak for other belief systems, which are very different), then perhaps you need to read my previous post, which talks about understanding someone’s position before you critique it. Because it certainly doesn’t reflect a solid understanding of Christian thought.

      All the best :-)