For example, the absolute sovereignty of God and the free will of man. The Bible teaches that both are true, yet they appear to contradict each other on a human level of understanding.

  • 2
    Your question brings to mind the famous liar paradox that has been debated for centuries (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liar_paradox) May 11, 2017 at 19:23
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    Without getting too ecclesiastical the two ideas don't seem to contradict to me, perhaps conflict...
    – Tom22
    May 11, 2017 at 20:33
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    alternative facts...? May 11, 2017 at 20:40
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    How fundamental to your question is the biblical example? On the face of it you've got a question more suited to christianity.se (which I assume is why you've picked up a couple of close votes), but the question in the title is perfectly on-topic.
    – Chris H
    May 12, 2017 at 14:54
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    @Jay I have not voted to close this but i think the question could be improved. My issue is the ~right~ to rule doesn't contradict freewill to ~act~ . You can freely choose to break the laws then be punished by the laws should you so choose. Now, ~destiny~(not sovereignty) does seem to conflict with ~free will~ , but "destiny" isn't in the quote. It would be nice for the question to supply a secular contradiction to make it clear that it is indeed a contradiction, not merely two parallel principles that coexist but may have sometimes create some sparks when they conflict.
    – Tom22
    May 12, 2017 at 17:46

10 Answers 10


I think that Paradox comes closest. Merriam-Webster has a number of definitions, but the one that looks appropriate is:

2 a : a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true


The key here is seemingly contradictory.

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    This is close. But, a paradox perhaps is true. Dwight is looking for a way of describing two things that are assuredly true -- yet apparently conflicting.
    – thomj1332
    May 11, 2017 at 21:52
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    In a more scientific context (objectivity), paradox could exclusively mean something that is contradictory. "Fighting for peace" is not a true paradox (objectively speaking) because it does not inherently imply literal fighting (violence), it can also include figurative fighting (debating). However, it seems like a paradox, because at first sight, "fighting" seems the opposite of "wanting peace" when you (wrongly) infer the necessity of violence.
    – Flater
    May 12, 2017 at 9:15
  • Quite. In formal logic and in mathematics a paradox is a situation where there is a strict contradiction (which means that your axiom system can prove false - a problem for most systems of logic). So "paradox" is not a good word to use because many people who know the word will misunderstand you. Russell's Paradox for example is a contradiction. There's no seeming about it. May 12, 2017 at 20:39
  • Not every scientific paradox is a mathematical contradiction; for example, the twin paradox in the theory of special relativity is mathematically self-consistent, but difficult to reconcile with common-sense notions.
    – David K
    May 15, 2017 at 1:11


which Merriam-Webster defines as:

A contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles

and of which Britannica states

...contradiction, real or apparent, between two principles or conclusions, both of which seem equally justified;

Not to be confused with antimony, chemical element #51.

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    This is the classic theological term. Please add supporting evidence. May 12, 2017 at 16:37
  • I would welcome any correct edits. A multitude of dictionary definitions are available on google. The exact relation between "antinomies" and "paradoxes" is a sensitive matter, however.
    – Colin
    May 12, 2017 at 20:11
  • Didn't Quine prefer "antinomy"? May 12, 2017 at 20:40
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    ELU expects reasonable research to accompany answers. Here, though, I agree that dictionaries disagree confusingly. -Ologies & -Isms...The Gale Group includes the paradox sense: << a real or apparent contradiction in a statute >> and AHD (same link) sense 2 reads << A contradiction between principles or conclusions that seem equally necessary and reasonable; a paradox >>. May 12, 2017 at 20:41
  • 1
    @ColinZwanziger Thank you for editing, it's perfect now. BTW, it's Stack Exchange's policy, not just mine.
    – Laurel
    May 13, 2017 at 17:34

I would call this an apparent contradiction. The contradiction isn't really there, but I think it is -- due to ignorance or some other limitation.

Also, I will preemptively bring up the psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance (Reference). It may apply in some peoples' minds. But, I propose shooting it down as an answer because cognitive dissonance is when someone holds two ideas that are indeed contradictory. Like having a weasel and a badger in your brain at the same time -- they don't get along! Again, I don't think it applies here because Dwight is looking for a way of describing two things that are indeed true.


While not exactly what you're looking for, oxymoron comes close:



A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true)

I've heard this usually applied to an adjective-noun pair, such as in jumbo shrimp or military intelligence.


you might consider:

yin-yang or perhaps dualities

from Wikipedia:

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (also yin–yang or yin yang, 陰陽 yīnyáng "dark–bright") describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

Many tangible dualities (such as light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang.

This duality lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine,1 and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts and exercise, such as baguazhang, taijiquan (t'ai chi), and qigong (Chi Kung), as well as appearing in the pages of the I Ching.

  • 1
    dualism would also work in this vein
    – Colin
    May 11, 2017 at 20:33

For the specific context of Christian theology, such contradictions which defy rational analysis are referred to as mysteries. See wikipedia, which references some offline books.

In theology, an article of faith or doctrine which defies man's ability to grasp it fully, something that transcends reason, is called "a mystery of the faith".


Depending on the context, another option can be incongruous juxtaposition.

From google dictionary:

jux·ta·po·si·tion ˌjəkstəpəˈziSH(ə)n/ noun

  • the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect. "the juxtaposition of these two images"


ˌinˈkäNGɡro͞oəs/ adjective

  • not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something. "the duffel coat looked incongruous with the black dress she wore underneath"
  • 3
    maybe you should consider adding sources for your answer would for more credibility.. May 12, 2017 at 6:46
  • What kind of notation is your pronunciation using? You might link to a key when you use anything other than IPA.
    – JDługosz
    May 15, 2017 at 4:45

Not sure if this works in the context you are talking about but doublethink

Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts

from Wikipedia


The word used to describe this when I attended theology lectures was tension. Unfortunately I haven't had much success in finding the word in online theology glossaries, but one general dictionary gives

2.2 A relationship between ideas or qualities with conflicting demands or implications.
‘the basic tension between freedom and control’

which is essentially the same idea.


Paradox is pretty close to what you wanted. Now, the behaviour of accepting such opposing viewpoints is called "Cognitive Dissonance"

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is consequence of a person's performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.

From Wikipedia

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    Accepting such opposing ideas simultaneously is only "cognitive dissonance" if there is no resolution to the apparent contradiction. There are many paradoxes (or "apparent paradoxes") that can, in fact, be resolved, where you can show that the contradiction goes away when you have a better understanding of reality, etc.
    – Jay
    May 12, 2017 at 17:34

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