How To More Effectively Disagree In Biblical Matters

Recently we came across something called “Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement” (pictured below), which was based off of an essay written by Paul Graham called “How to Disagree“. The essay resonated with us, as it highlighted many of the observations we have come to in our own lives when it comes to discussing and analyzing the Bible. We thought we would share it here — and hopefully it will help us to have more fruitful discussion on the matters of Christian doctrine.

During the course of writing our own Bible studies and moderating the comments, we have noticed that essays may be flooded with disagreement. That does not present a problem in itself, but much of the disagreement doesn’t address any of the central arguments of our theses. We do not want to discourage anyone from disagreeing, as we can all benefit from an honest and robust discussion — assuming we each act in good faith toward one another.

We have considered that perhaps we need to get better at disagreeing in a more constructive and mutually beneficial manner — to which end we wrote our article on begging the question — an informal fallacy we often see used in Christian doctrine. Unfortunately, that essay seems to have made very little impact on those who disagree with us and each other, as many continue to routinely use “begging the question” in their comments about Scripture — suggesting that they really do not understand their own logical fallacies.

Similarly, we found Graham’s essay useful in differentiating between productive and unproductive disagreements. As Graham rightly mentioned, many people may even be unaware of the weakness of their own disagreements and arguments. We must all acknowledge the truth and warning of Proverbs 21:2,

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes”

Therefore, the threshold of proof that we demand of our own positions is naturally lower than what we expect from those who disagree with us.

Hopefully this essay will help us all to really reflect on our own underlying motivations — if each of us can honestly apply the pyramid to our own arguments. Furthermore, Graham’s hierarchy may help us to identify dishonest — whether witting or unwitting — arguments in others:

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