Monday, September 5, 2011

Paradox, Contradiction, and Justified Beliefs

A paradox is a seeming contradiction, i.e. when one believes two statements which may superficially appear to conflict but, in the last analysis, can be shown to be compatible. A contradiction occurs when one believes two mutually exclusive statements are both true.

One might think it obvious that there must be a process one must follow in order to differentiate between paradoxes and contradictions, but in practice, laymen - and, unfortunately, "experts" too - will sometimes attempt to excuse themselves from explaining how their beliefs which at least are paradoxical are not actually contradictory. One common theological example is the tension between the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human freedom. Both are common beliefs which at least seem to conflict. Yet sometimes a pastor will, after alluding to this tension, simply encourage his flock to have faith that these are both true and trust that God has it all figured out.

The most obvious problem with this lax approach is that it gives heretics room enough to justify belief in anything. Paul might as well have said, "if Christianity is unreasonable, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." A faith which cannot be defended is a faith not worth defending. This isn't to suggest that a Christian ought to know everything. What it does suggest is that to justifiably believe any two doctrines which appear to conflict, the Christian must at least be able to present a speculative resolution compatible with Scripture.


biblicalrealist said...


Should we leave any room for allowing believers to affirm Scriptural truths that they might not be able to philosophically reconcile? Considering that there will be men on both sides of any such issue, it seems to me that it would have been better if those on the erroneous side had instead chosen not to force a reconciliation. Your example, that of sovereignty vs. freedom, has to be the toughest of such issues. As one who affirms a middle position (congruistic), I see how much easier (and more popular) it is to resolve the problem at the expense of one principle or the other; and so I admire those in the past who affirmed both sovereignty and freedom even while admitting their inability to reconcile the two. If, in the end when all mysteries are revealed, it turns out that the middle position (philosophically reconciled or not) is the correct one, then it will also turn out that those who did not attempt a reconciliation chose a better path than many who did attempt one. Does that make sense?

Ken Hamrick

Ryan said...

I recognize - as a Calvinist - that the Spirit often works in the hearts of men, causing beliefs which, though correct, are at the time caused philosophically unjustified. And faith is, after all, the foundation of apologetics.

My post is more so directed against believers who have in effect resigned themselves to being unable to reconcile what they dogmatically consider to be "Scriptural truths." Of course I cannot expect that new believers will immediately be able to comprehend all the ways in which Scripture coheres, but they should constantly be trying to.

I don't know the particulars of your belief regarding free will and divine sovereignty. But given the good work you've done writing about, say, the way in which a believer can be declared righteous through union with Christ, would you not agree that the nominalistic position is unjustified, as they have not provided a speculative resolution for their at least apparently conflicting beliefs? Or would you admire them?

biblicalrealist said...

The nominalist position is unjustified when the importance of substantial reality is properly upheld. The nominalists have apparently resolved their conflicts by rendering reality irrelevant. While I don't admire their system, I do admire many of their adherents for other reasons.

As for free will and divine sovereignty, I think the most important thing is that the "master choice" is God's (and unconditionally so). But it escapes me as to why Calvinism and Arminianism had to develop such polar extremes on this issue. God can still unconditionally elect even if using "softer" methods of persuasion; and men are still free to choose even if that freedom does not include the ability to change God's plan. Regeneration prior to faith is not necessary to unconditional election, and conditional election is not necessary to freedom. I greatly admire Andrew Fuller's mediating position of breaking the inability into moral and natural.

Ken Hamrick

Anonymous said...

Morning, Noon, and Night
The cause of Arminyans' fright
I scare, maim, and torture
I am the Arminyan scorcher!