Saturday, October 23, 2004

Blinded by our paradigm

People can be so arrogant, especially Christians. In researching for my next post on the topic of hell (yes, wait for it), I have found there are people who are not convinced of an idea in the face of convincing evidence. Today, I think I worked out why this is so.

All the ‘ideas’ each of us hold form a kind of connected structure. Each component is shaped to fit with and compliment the others to such an extent that if a component were to be removed, the whole structure would collapse. Quite understandably, people try and avoid such collapse at all costs, because it is too humbling to realise their whole creed of ideas is fundamentally flawed and requires a complete change in paradigm (their overall system of ideas). So, because they don’t want to change paradigms, they will not change any the small ideas that comprise it.

If someone suggests a certain idea is wrong, a person cannot simply correct that certain idea by itself – because it is tied in with all their other ideas. Changes to one idea influence all the ideas in the paradigm. Changing one idea might mean that several other ideas loose support, especially if those other ideas need it to be valid. So, if one is believes the other ideas are correct, one fixes them in place – and it leaves a shape that is fitted only by a particular idea, other ideas simply do not fit.

People therefore say, “Those other ideas are certainly true, so therefore this idea is true also because it’s the only one that fits with them”. Then, they use the same logic on every other idea they have, and so their logic becomes circular. Unless they change all their ideas to fit with a new idea, they cannot accept it.

This, I think, is why there are so many useless arguments between Christians who think different things. Ultimately, if the foundation is a certain shape, the house must also take that shape. The shape of the house can only be changed if the foundations themselves are changed. But of course, people hold the foundation of their ideas, which is their ‘paradigm’, very dearly – so they don’t want to believe ideas that don’t fit onto that foundation. It seems the paradigm is what truly governs what people believe, rather than the logical arguments that may be presented to them.

Ultimately, people hold their own paradigm because it makes a certain amount of sense as a whole, otherwise they wouldn’t hold it; but what are the underlying, logical conclusions of that paradigm, and are they sensible?

To make matters worse, people have a tendency to think something is more likely to be true if a majority believes it. Even though the idea may not have logical basis, it is perceived as having logical basis if everyone thinks it does. They are thus victims of ‘group-think’, to use a psychology term. And so this makes people even less likely to change their paradigm, because that would go against the common opinion. In fact, people tend to believe what the group believes without really thinking through it for themselves, and ‘the group’ takes on a mind of its own.

So, when a different idea is suggested, people do not see it for what it is, but for what it is not. They only see how it cannot possibly be unified with their current ideas, and so instead of critiquing the idea itself, they criticise it because it does not fit. So long as they have this mindset, they will not see the value of the idea. It is like giving petrol to someone who travels on horseback. Of course, they deem the fuel as worthless unless they use a car instead of a horse.

Clearly, then, when Christians argue over some ideas, it is like they think they are arguing over how valuable petrol is, when they are actually arguing whether a horse or a car is better. The petrol, of course, is of far less significance than the car. Likewise, the ideas they argue are mere components of much greater paradigms, and so they don’t see the other’s perspective - their paradigm. They have different paradigms, and so they each cannot fit each others ideas and thus disregard them without valid reason.

So I wonder if we can really understanding an idea if you don’t understand the paradigm it fits into. I wonder how many different ‘Christian paradigms’ there are, and whether we really understand them.


Andrew said...

I have found there are people who are not convinced of an idea in the face of convincing evidence.

And Reuben states the astoundingly obvious once again...

Anyway, yes, paradigm changes are difficult if you don't understand the new paradigm before you move to it. I think Nathan's cave analogy summed it up nicely, with people almost drowning as they change.

I wonder how many different ‘Christian paradigms’ there are, and whether we really understand them.

I would say that 99% of Christians know only one paradigm: Whatever one they happen to have been taught. There are lots of different Christian paradigms, which is what makes theology so interesting...
There seem to be overarching paradigms which have other subsets of mix and matchable paradigms inside them which have other subsets in turn.

Nathan said...

Yay - good post!

Nathan said...

Oh, interestingly enough, by post on caves was inspired in part by pentecostalism and arminianism (as I mentioned) but also by stuff like that in your next post.

The original analogy was finding the highest value of a multi-variate function, possibly even a vector field or something cool like that - but that wasn't easy to explain, so I simplified. Anyway, using that analogy, it looks like we've followed similar the same vector paths.