An Enigma Examined

How is it that persons given identical sets of facts frequently come to contrary conclusions? In recent months I have considered this notion and in some of my writings here, in a collateral way, have marked my observations. The enigma is observable in every class, rank and collection of people. I’ve seen it to hold in families, in churches, and in politics. As recently as last week, we saw a striking example in our country when our Supreme Court Justices ruled 5 to 4 on an issue. How can that be? Why is that so?

For the sake of this conversation, I want to rule out the possibility of dishonesty and “agenda,” for although I’m not quite naive enough to disallow for such happenings among us, I believe the issue I’m raising exists outside such considerations. Think about this; approximately half of Americans are Republicans; the other half Democrats. Ministers reading the same Bible as their colleagues strongly avow the use of fermented wine for communion; others believe that to be a sin. Some ministers take a literal conservative view of the Bible; others, reading the same Holy Writ plead for liberality. Children reared in the same family, same gene pool, same parental guidelines take wildly divergent paths in the world–some pressing for bigger government with more power; others wanting minimal government invasion into private lives.

Think about abortion. Given the same set of facts, honest people divide into two groups. Standing on what each proclaims as reasonable grounds, one set votes for the rights of the mother; the other for the life of the unborn.

A piece by Paul Martin Lester notes a national survey of photographers, in which a question was posed as to the ethics of a particular situation. Given the same set of facts 38 percent said the response at question was ethical; 34 percent called the action unethical.

In an article in which Ann Morning wrote concerning the definition of the term “race,” she observed that after interviewing over 40 university professors in biology and anthropology, she found their views to vary widely.

Almost 40 percent of these academics took what can be called an “essentialist” view: they described races as groups of people who share certain innate, inherited biological traits. In contrast, over 60 percent held a “constructionist” perspective: they argued that races do not correspond to patterns of human biological variation, but rather that racial groupings are “constructed” through social processes that take place in particular historical, political and economic contexts. In other words, the jury was out on the scientific nature of race.

She goes on to ask,

With a commonly-accepted set of facts, why did they arrive at different opinions about whether the groupings we call races actually exist “in nature,” independent of our study of them, or whether these groups are ones that we humans construct, guided by our cultural presuppositions, and then impose like an artificial grid on the fuzzy reality of human diversity?

What is it that causes this phenomenon? Perhaps a difference in values is the mainspring, yet that leaves unexplained that children from the same families vary distinctly in their views, and should we consider it to be the gene pool and inherent tendencies we are against the same wall. Levels of education seem not to scribe a defining line, nor do church denominations or the area of the country–with some modest exceptions.

Ideas out there? I’m interested in hearing them.

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My devotional blog is here.

22 thoughts on “An Enigma Examined

  1. renaissanceguy

    Shirley, I have wondered the same things.

    I tend to be cynical enough to say that we all have agendas that sometimes we don’t consciously realize.

    People who believe that race is constructed do so because it supports other beliefs that they really want to hold. Likewise for people who see it as a natural phenomenon.

    I think you could apply that same principle in all your examples.

    My point is not that we are all self-deceived or insincere. Some agendas are inherently better than others, and when we stick to the right agendas, then we will tend to hold right opinions.

    The agenda of the pro-life movement is to guard the sanctity of life. That is a good agenda, and it leads to right opinions.

    So I say. 🙂

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  2. These are one of the posts (and the comments) that stir the waters of emotion within! I always appreciate the way you make me think. I have a lot to say about how environment effects us and our understanding and opinions about life and everything else. I do believe environment from our infancy mixed with nature (the way He made us) is key to understanding individual differences. And then mix in the fact that many, if not all, change their opinions to support decisions they sometimes make. Even when those decisions go against one’s core beliefs. We tend to fall into self-preservation at times, right or wrong. Although this has been proven in research, I don’t think we need the scientific evidence to tell us this. I think this proves the importance in not making a decision based on emotions alone. It is possible to defend changes in our core beliefs as easily as am impulse buy at the Walmart checkout stand all because we don’t want to feel guilty or uncomfortable with ourselves. And then those decisions add to environment and nature… anyways… that’s my 2 cents!

    Hi, Rochelle. Thanks for your contribution to this complicated subject.

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  3. Melissa

    Why can’t we just belive that God made us and that we all think differently due to happenings in life…how we are raised, things we face, things we see, things we do, We are influnced by so many things in this world that it is easy to get different opinions by the same people we all see things differently and I think that is the way that God intented it… that is why you can have a preacher talk about one scripture and be talking about Gods love and mercy take the same scripture give it to another preacher (or the same) and be talking about Gods wrath and judgement… But the difference is there is a person in the sanctuary that needs what is heard… I may be way off here but I guess that is how I see it lol

    Hi, Melissa. Welcome.

    No, you’re not way off and there is much wisdom in what you say.

    However, there are absolutes and Jesus Christ is The Way.

    Hope you’re back often.

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  4. Shirley, concerning “I believe I’m understanding you now to say that I don’t have enough experience to have formed a correct conclusion about the incident. We just disagree here.”

    That is exactly what I’m saying. I just don’t think you’ve been exposed to that many black preachers. I don’t mean black Oneness Pentecostal preachers, who believe what you do. But black preachers who preach in the slave tradition in a historically black denomination.

    This isn’t really a criticism. Preachers and their wives seldom have the opportunity to visit churches of denominations other than their own. They are either at their own church or a guest at someone else’s (same denomination). And if all one’s relatives go to the same denomination, there’s no chance even on vacation. In that way, those of us who can get up on a given Sunday and go wherever we decide are blessed (and educated).

    I don’t claim to be a Bible scholar, but I believe I understand Scripture enough to know that we are to examine others–and ourselves–according to God’s word. That is my mandate, and I do it to the best of my ability. The Gospel does not prescribe situational ethics.

    The last word is yours, my dear.

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  5. Dave, If Christ resides in ALL truth, He’s there when 1+1=2. Right?

    Dean, There is nothing wrong with a small pool. But maybe that’s part of the reason for the enigma: Big pools and small pools. Peace, indeed.

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  6. Dave,

    I think you are looking only a the differences between Christianity and other faiths. Now the major difference is why I choose to be a Christian. That difference is a person: The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to pay for the sins of everyone. But there are many similarities between religions. A version of the Golden Rule, for example. And therein, I find truth.

    I see huge difference between Truth, possessed only by God and the little truths that we discover. And yet every little truth is a part of the Truth of God.

    “For we see through a glass darkly, then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known [that is, fully]” But the Spirit will guide you into all truth. And the Spirit lead me to my ministry: That of racial reconciliation.

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  7. Dave

    helenl, you stated in your testimony that you find the voice of God in different faiths. How can that be when Jesus made ultimate faith claims that completely contradict the others? You found ‘truth’ and that proved the logic of it? Kind of backwards isn’t it? What is your criteria of truth? Can’t be experience as 2 people can come away from the same experience with 2 different opinions. Plus, your senses can and do fool you.

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  8. “I’m curious, though, as how you logically arrive at the statement that “I don’t think you had a clue what Jeremiah Wright was saying to a Christian congregation?” Why would I not have a clue as I listened to him and watched him?”

    Because when you wrote about him here
    https://writenow.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/barack-obama-responds-to-his-pastors-profanity-and-racism/
    and here
    https://writenow.wordpress.com/2008/03/13/pastor-jeremiah-wrights-inflammatory-sermons/
    you called his preaching “inflammatory and profane” and “racist” rather than prophetic. I think you said that because you think it’s true. You don’t have the experience to know that it isn’t and why Barack Obama really had to distance himself from Wright.

    Helen, I readily acknowledge you and I to have quite different opinions about Jeremiah Wright. I believe I’m understanding you now to say that I don’t have enough experience to have formed a correct conclusion about the incident. We just disagree here.

    I do agree that life experiences no doubt influence our decisions and judgments.

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  9. Dave

    Shirley, there is a major typo in this paragraph-

    It should be-” It is the knowledge of God which all UN believers inescapably have within themselves that makes it possible for them to know other things about themselves or about the world. ”

    ALL men, even unbelievers (Romans 1), have a knowledge of God. The proof reader missed this.

    Shirley, I have been a lurker for a while. As you know I always have enjoyed your writing.

    What grief comes from typos. This time, saved you some major explaining.

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  10. Dave, from the Heart of the Matter, I bring these words:

    It is the knowledge of God which all believers inescapably have within themselves that makes it possible for them to know other things about themselves or about the world. Because they know God, they have a rationale for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, man’s dignity and ethical absolutes. Accordingly they can pursue science and other aspects of life with some measure of success – even though they cannot account for that success (cannot provide the preconditions for the intelligibility of logic, science or ethics).

    Are you implying–by referring us to this writing– that only believers “have a rationale for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, man’s dignity and ethical absolutes.” Are you indicating this to account for the divergent outcome that results from two persons studying the same circumstances? Believers come to the “right” conclusion; unbelievers the false?

    Surely not.

    If that is Greg Bahnsen’s conclusion and yours, you must explain the wide divergence of opinions within the community of believers.

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  11. Esther

    We’ll understand it all by and by. There is no way we humans can understand all of God’s thinking, on ANY subject.
    By the way, how can 3 daughters born of the same mother (namely me) all be so completely different? One “skinny winny” with no working on it and eating anything………….one average size but having to work on it and one average size by eating only very healthy. All think differently also. Just the mircle of diversity. God’s little secret.

    Hi, Esther. Genes!

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  12. Dave

    The problem is that most have not thought through the implications of their presuppositions and are arbitrary and subjective. For a much more complete presentation of my position than this medium will allow see the article by Greg Bahnsen, “The Heart of the Matter” at http://www.cambridgestudycenter.com/artilces/Bahnsen1.htm

    Shirley, yes. You have me pegged.

    Dave, wonderful that you are here. I anticipate lots of good conversation. I’m going over to check out the link.

    Have you been lurking? 🙂

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  13. Welcome, Dave–hope you’re here often. Thanks for the compliment.

    So then, if our “presuppositions must be non-arbitrary and logically consistent” how do two sets of people, each operating by that same principle, arrive at diametrically opposed positions?

    If our presuppositions are indeed non-arbitrary
    and logically consistent how do they lead us to such varied conclusions?

    New subject: Do you live in the San Diego area?

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  14. Dave

    helenl, When I mention ‘logic’ I’m speaking of the rules of logic (induction, deduction, etc). In that sense it is never right to be illogical. God is not illogical. He is transcendent to our experience but not illogical. He is also not arbitrary in His thinking.

    You mention that it was ‘logical’ for you to follow your experience. On what basis was it logical? Can you elaborate further?

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  15. I think we must be careful about being too “logical.” I know that a common statement, but what about visions and beliefs that are spiritually discerned?

    I’m not talking about something that defies scripture but rather something that colors or alters one’s interpretation of scripture. I’ve already told the story of how I came to be interested in race relations. That experience explains much of the difference in degree of emphasis that I have that differs from my family.

    It is logical that I would follow that experience, but the experience itself came rather mystically.

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  16. Dave

    Shirley, this is a very interesting blog.

    We must realize that the idea of neutrality is a myth. ALL facts are interpreted. We all have a set of presuppositions(some call it a ‘worldview’) by which we look at the everything around us and try to make sense out of it.

    The key is that we our presuppositions must be non-arbitrary and logically consistent.

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  17. Shirley, Because of the nature of the question, I’m not sure I have a definitive point. I do think the difference doesn’t lie in core values, but to how we see those values acted out.

    As far as saying you “lack understanding,” I think you do. (For example, I don’t think you had a clue what Jeremiah Wright was saying to a Christian congregation.) But I also think I have a lack of understanding. So it’s not an insult, just a part of the problem we’re trying to figure out. If we understood the “enigma,” we wouldn’t be discussing it. Sorry if I sounded critical.

    No harm, no foul. I took no offense, and mean none.

    I’m curious, though, as how you logically arrive at the statement that “I don’t think you had a clue what Jeremiah Wright was saying to a Christian congregation?” Why would I not have a clue as I listened to him and watched him?

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  18. Hi, Helen–

    I do appreciate your extensive comment, but I need you to help me out a bit here, for I’m not sure I understand completely what you’re saying.

    Are you saying that because of my (and my family’s) church background I am lacking in understanding? I am inclined to ask this because of your saying of yourself–who has moved through many church affiliations–to others of your family who have not–“Thus, we are more progressive than some of the others.”

    If that is what you are saying, I need to point out that I’m not primarily speaking of my family or of my church, although within both, I see wide divergence of opinions and philosophies.

    Notice instead that my primary examples were: the Supreme Court ruling of last week, a survey of professional photographers, an interview of more than 40 university professors, and the almost straight down the middle division in American politics.

    Maybe I have missed your point, and if so, please be patient with me and help me understand.

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  19. I think it is due, not to core values, but to how we see those values acted out.

    For some, abortion is the litmus test. All abortion is wrong, because, after all, all abortion ends a life no matter how it got started. Those people seems to value freedom of choice in other areas, such as whether they should own guns, school vouchers, etc.

    For some freedom of choice is the test, or so they say, they value the freedom of women to choose what happens to their own bodies, but often do not agree with gun ownership and school vouchers.

    Neither of these groups favors abortion. But both groups are equally inconsistent. Only the Libertarians are consistent at this point, in that they favor choice in almost everything. But Libertarians are a small group. And I take it you meant between Democrats and Republicans.

    I don’t mean this to sound ugly, Shirley, but it seems your family has married within a small pool of Oneness Pentecostals for a long time. Many Christians marry other Christians from different denominations. My mother and sister have stayed in the same church (Disciple of Christ) since 1951. My brother and his wife (parents Baptist) have been in the same church (independent Christian – not DOC) for about thirty years. My husband I have attended or belonged to Baptist, Presbyterian, Brethren, independent Bible church, Assembly of God, Progressive National Baptist (Black), Catholic, and Orthodox. This broad sampling brings in new ideas and examples of the way values are acted out. Thus, we are more progressive than some of the others. We also move to North Carolina from Missouri, so maybe that plays in.

    Not sure if I shed any light on the question or just told my story. 🙂

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