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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.


My devotional blog is here.