About controversial topics

A controversial question is a question that causes a dichotomy or polarization of a group of humans based on their convictions, dividing this group into two “camps” who “fight” each other.

It is interesting to see how individual humans can stand up and fight for what they believe as “the only right” thing. A tiny concrete issue of daily life can make a whole group of humans furiously yell against another group of humans who see the same facts but come to an opposite conclusion because they assign different priorities to the facts. Wars have been fought about such questions, wars between nations and wars between family members. Such questions can cause division and fundamental choices to be made by individual humans within existing groups of any size, starting with families and ending in the big economic, political and religious cultures on our planet.

controversial question

A question about some concrete issue for which there are two different and exclusive answers.

pair of opposites

The two opposite ideas in a controversial question.

dichotomy

A partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets) where this couple of parts must be (1) jointly exhaustive: everything must belong to one part or the other, (2) and mutually exclusive: nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts. (Adapted from Wikipedia)

Controversial discussion isn’t limited to religious groups. We see it in politics as well. For example the words “equality” and “liberty” are considered basic democratic values, but they actually exclude each other. Liberty means –also– that the political power should not hinder the stronger and successful humans from exploiting the weaker ones. This is quite opposite to saying that the political power should foster equality. “Democratic values support the belief that an orderly society can exist in which freedom is preserved. But order and freedom must be balanced.” (ushistory.org) The main purpose of political parties in democratic countries is to develop and promote certain sets of answers to certain real-life questions.

Controversial discussion isn’t limited to “big” religious or political questions. It can happen when the members of a local scout group, or the board members of an international corporation, discuss about what they should learn from some recent event, e.g. from a sad accident, or from something positive like a successful project. It happens every day in couples, families and communities who live together under a same roof.

Controversial questions aren’t limited to “serious” questions. A funny example is a debate about a photo that shows a sneaker. The sneaker on the photo is coloured grey and green, without any doubt, at least for me and some people. But some other people perceive it without any doubt as white and pink.

The observation that some questions are controversial isn’t new. Ancient Chinese Philosophers described it as the yin and yang duality.

The digital era enables us more clearly than ever to observe eager and endless fights between opposing views.

Naming the camps

Giving definitive and clear names to the two camps is often doomed to fail because the situations are complex and because human spirit is limited. It can happen that somebody belonging to a given group fights for some concrete cause into the opposite direction of what the other group members consider the “right” direction, and that the fighter gets shamed as a traitor.

Jesus refers to this kind of “wars” when he said:

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (…) Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:49.51)

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (Mt 10:21)

Examples of “camp” names:

  • traditionalist against progressivist

  • “pro life” against “pro choice”

  • “vaxxers” against “anti-vaxxers”

  • mercy against justice

  • believers against evildoers

  • capitalism against communism

  • liberalism against socialism

  • God against the Mammon

Controversiao questions and scientific evidence

No scientist will invest time in research about whether the Earth is flat because no human doubts about this question.

The scientific method is based on formulating a theory and then challenging it. Science starts when there is a controversial question. Science becomes useless when consensus has been reached.

Saying “There is no scientific evidence for claim X” doesn’t mean that X is false.

Producing scientific evidence on a controversial topic requires lots of money. Science is not an institution. Science does not ask whether something is good or evil, it works for their employers, who work for their investors. Hence science as such cannot be trusted.

Somebody who claims to tell you “the truth” about a controversial topic is obviously an imposter.

How to handle controversial discussion

As long as a group doesn’t reach a consensus on a given controversial question, the only solution is to agree on a modus vivendi.

modus vivendi

A set of compromise answers to a controversial question to which all participants of a team can adhere. A temporary agreement to be followed as long as there is no better solution.

Examples

July 2021. A friend of a friend in a private chat:

Ma arvan, et keegi ei peagi vaidlema teemal, kas maa on lame või mitte. Seal haritud inimesel “veidikest tõde” lamemaa poolt leida pole võimalik ju 🙂. Homoabielude suhtes saab kristlane alati võtta Piibli ning lugeda. Pole ju samuti vaidlusteks kohta. Ma ütleksin, et kindlasti on kerge mugavalt armastada, aga päris armastus on kõike muud, kui mugav. Me ei lase ju lapsel tikkudega mängida, mis sest, et ta sedasi ju õnnelik on … enne tulekahjut.

I answered:

Ma alati imestan, kuidas eesti kristlased usuvad ikka veel, et “Piibel ütleb selgesti” seda, mida nemad ise sel teemal arvavad. Näiteks homoabielude kohta lugesin hiljuti saksa keeles hoopis midagi muud http://blog.thomashieke.de/blog/bibel-und-homosexualitat/aber-in-der-bibel-steht-doch/