Are we prepared to accept contradiction, plurality, and even ambiguity as an integral part of our theology? Is the aim absolute precision and consistency, or is built-in ambiguity a requirement of a theology that comprehends reality?

11 comments for “Contradiction

  1. Julie in Austin
    April 24, 2004 at 11:40 am


  2. Ben Huff
    April 24, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    I don’t know if God deals with contradiction, ambiguity, etc., but I think they are mandatory in this life. Because if we get it all straight, cut and dried, then how are we supposed to avoid saying we have enough? And we’re told very clearly that if we say we have enough, wo unto us because there is no end to God’s words, and even what we thought we had will be taken away. One way to think about this taking away is to suppose that if our knowledge stops progressing, it is only a matter of time before it fails to answer the challenges our developing lives will throw at it. I think this happened to me in high school because somewhere around my freshman year I thought I had learned everything there was to learn at church, didn’t feel like there was anything new for me to hear, and so a couple of years later I got ambushed by a bunch of questions that had been gathering themselves in the wings while I was dogmatically slumbering, and had a real fight on my hands for the next several years. I got behind, and then it was a dicey business trying to catch up.

  3. April 24, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    I bet most (all?) things are straight in God’s mind… After this life, I’m sure we’ll get some answers like, “That wasn’t REALLY a contradiction, but it appeared that way like it always does to you puny mortals”.

  4. lyle
    April 24, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    Paradox is not optional. Consistency & Completeness seem to be diametrically opposed.
    Of course, this comes from a member of the Federalist Society, the ACLU, & a Bush 43′ intern.

  5. smalltownlawyer
    April 25, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    As C.S. Lewis said: “There must perhaps always be just enough lack of demonstrative certainty to make free choice possible; for what could we do but accept if the faith were like the multiplication table?”

  6. April 26, 2004 at 12:53 am

    Dare I make Richard’s question more complicated? I don’t want to hijack it, the way I hijacked Steve’s post on the Atonement, but I have a hard time resisting such interesting questions.

    Are all ways of talking ultimately reducible to one way, or are there multiple ways? If the latter, then it is conceivable that there would be a “lack of match” between claims in two different ways of talking. It would be somewhat odd to call them contradictions, since they aren’t said with respect to the same thing in the same way, etc. So, though it might be that all things are straight in God’s mind with respect to each way of speaking about the world, if there isn’t only one way to do so, then there could plurality even in his mind: no contradition _within_ any particular way of talking, but possible “contradictions” between them.

  7. john fowles
    April 26, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    I thought I would pipe in here with a thought about completeness vs. harmony. Unfortunately, it is not my thought. Jack Welch is fond of saying that Bertrand Russell was almost driven to suicide when an obscure mathematician in Germany published the idea that a perfectly complete and consistent system was impossible in mathematics (after all, Russell had been trying to construct such a system). This is true musically as well: if you play all of the keys on a piano at once, you don’t achieve harmony but rather disharmony. The trick is knowing which keys to play together in order to create harmony. Perhaps, then, the gospel appears similar to us while in this mortal state. If we try to make it complete or completely internally consistent, then it can appear to lose some of its harmony. But it can be harmonious if certain aspects are appropriately emphasized at the appropriate time.

  8. Martin E. Lee
    May 1, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    contradiction, plurality, and even ambiguity – yes. The standard works contain all three.

    “I and my father are one” John 10:30. That can be inconsistent with our doctrine until linked with John 17:20+ Abinadi really adds apparent contradiction to our doctrine of the Father and the Son in Mosiah 15 when he says “…the Father, being the Father and the Son.”

    “he that hath seen me hath seen the father” John 14:9. That can be ambiguous until linked with Acts 7:55+ where Stephen sees “Jesus standing on the hand of God”

    “for by grace are you saved…it is a gift of God…. Not of works” It sounds like a plurality of principles when linked with Romans 5:9 that indicates salvation is tied to obedience and John 3:5 that links salvation with baptism.

    contradiction, plurality, and even ambiguity seem to be an integral part of the scriptures.

    May I pose another question: Is there any source from which you are unwilling to accept more truth? MEL

  9. John Taber
    May 2, 2006 at 9:11 am

    “May I pose another question: Is there any source from which you are unwilling to accept more truth?”

    To be perfectly honest, that was one of my hangups when I first went to the temple. And when I encountered various LDS-themed publications (in and out of the “official” church) that interpreted things differently than I had. It wasn’t until I was well into my mission that I came to recognize that it’s just a matter of perspective – and that God is always willing to work with us, to accomodate what perspective we happen to have.

  10. John Taber
    May 2, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Also, along those lines: During my mission (especially toward the end) I seemed to be able, when studying the scriptures, to see the words almost literally come off the page, and to perfectly grasp their meaning, as well as the perspective of whomever wrote them. That was twelve years ago, and I haven’t been able to do that since, at least to that degree. I miss that.

  11. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 2, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Going along with Jim’s thought having something to do with there being a plurality of possible truths (And hey! Wasn’t what was engraved over the door to Plato’s academy something like, Let noone un-versed in geometry enter here”?):

    Yes, John Fowles, Kurt Goedel’s enigmatic proof threw Russel’s grand scheme into shambles: As Goedel proved that even as simple of a thing as the mathematics of (re smalltownlawyer’s post # 5) C.S. Lewis’s “multiplication tables” relies on certain basic assumptions being made, as basic of ones as that certain entities /x/ are “NEVER”(?) equal to to certain entities /y/.

    [E.g., that /1/ is never equal to /0/ is never equal to /mathematical infinity/. Yet, if two lines are thought to run parallel throught all space and time, would they not nonetheless finally join together into a sinble point, by definition, at the beginning-point, big-bang singularity of “mathematical zero” space-time? (using the Kantorian mathematics used by Einstein/ other cosmologists using analytical geometries)? And perhaps also at the universe’s endpoint, big whimper singularity at /mathematical infinity/? So the assumption of non-parallelity must break down at these beginning- and endpoint singularities of space-time.]

    In matrix theory, all proposed building blocks for the universe (a infinite string, a line segment, an infinite ribbon, a finite ribbon, an infinite in all directions plane, a rectangle, ad infinitim) will work — albeit imperfectly, each particular model needing to be, well, adjusted. But all models put together, en toto — an infinite number of them, will together describe the universe perfectly (and only at this point without there need to be any more “adjustments” to our model.

    And, this aligned with doctor Faulconer’s thought in # 6.

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