Friday, March 11, 2011

Bad Analogies

My wife and I were discussing this last night, and I thought I'd write a bit of it down:

Have you ever noticed that confusing religious doctrines are often "explained" using poor analogies?

Example 1:  The Trinity is like water.  It has three different states, but is still water.
-The "three states" are just a matter of convenience, water molecules in any given state are the same, just have different kinetic energy.  In addition, there are multiple types of ice, all taking on different crystalline stuctures.
-If we actually apply this analogy, we conclude that god behaves differently based on his energy, but can only exist in one state at a time.
-The analogy is unhelpful... the trinity makes no sense whether is has a vague linguistic reflection in a description of the physical world or not.

Example 2:  We all have faith every day, otherwise why would we think the sun will come up in the morning?
-We understand the mechanism behind the sun's "rising" quite well, as opposed to whatever we are being asked to accept on faith.
-We do not anxiously await the rising of the sun every morning, instead we take for granted that it will rise.  This is not faith or hope, it is simply acclimation.
-Someday the sun will not come up.  Until that happens, however, the overwhelmingly-regular pattern of the rising of the sun is obvious to our pattern-seeking minds.  If such overwhelmingly obvious patterns existed in relation with faith, there probably wouldn't be a whole bunch of religions.  (Very few people would argue that the sun will not probably come up tomorrow.)
-Ironically, the sun has only departed from its regularly-scheduled routine in the Bible itself (Joshua 10:12-13), never in legitimately-recorded history.
-Once again, the analogy is unhelpful.  Faith is still nothing other than the decision to believe in something in which there is no reason to believe.

Perhaps these "parables" are hidden from me because of my lack of belief?

This is not an uncommon trend in theology.  A comprehensible definition is not available for the strange abstraction that the would-be believer is asked to accept (I ranted about that in another post), so they make up an analogy base on common human experience that jabs in the general direction of the glorious, self-contradictory truth that is ultimately meant to be conveyed.

I am not attacking analogies as a teaching tool; they are often incredibly helpful and relevant.  Human beings run on similarities.  However, analogies that make no sense and are ultimately irrelevant to all but the barest shadow of the concept are simply obfuscation.  They are engineered to make doctrine seem plausible until it is satisfactorily situated in the believer's mind with a healthy shield of cognitive dissonance.  Milk before meat.


  1. thank you
    it is true - bad analogies are common, even rampant.
    to keep people and/or get them to believe wrong.
    instance - 'trin' is false. but must be kept believing people that it is true. otherwise lost people are gone from control of group.
    groups used 'trin' long long long time. adopted it by force vIA constantine, then for 2000 years came up with one lie after another to defend it AND TO ATTACK TRUTH and TRUTH TELLERS.
    bad analogies everyone knows (whether they think true or false, they know bad analogies).
    if you know 3 people all of your life who know truth, you are blessed more than others who don't.

  2. my most problematic analogy was the liking of eternity to a circle or a ring. It has no beginning and no end. But does that mean that everything will come around again, does that mean if God is my father, and our existence is circular, then am I his great great great gandfather (or some degree of that relation

  3. Something about the ring/circle thing has always bugged me, and I think you've hit upon it! Though it has no obvious beginning or end, a circle has a finite (and well-defined) circumference. Only that much length actually exists along the circle.