Introduction to Dialogic and Hypertheology

(Please read this brief introduction first. It will help you greatly in learning how to read the diagrams that follow).

Hypertheology emerged from a study of underlying logical structures in philosophy, Christian theology and other systems. It was found that in their logical structure, systems can be described in a way analogous to the dimensions of geometry. Some views, such as those of Buddha, Heraclitus and Meister Eckhart, tend toward monism and can be considered "zero-dimensional". They recognize no fundamental distinctions, no antitheses, no parts or aspects of ultimate reality; hence this view is structurally equivalent to a geometrical point:


Ordinary logic ("monologic") is based on the antithesis between true/false, right/wrong, good/evil etc. This provides the fundamental basis for reason and is the natural-linguistic (and also traditional Western "dualistic") way of looking at the world. It specifies laws of thought (identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle) that are necessary for rational discourse. Because of this axis of antithesis, conventional logic may be said to be one-dimensional, like a line:


A _____________________ not-A

Many structures in theology, philosophy and other subjects exhibit a complex and often confusing relationship that is sometimes described as "paradoxical" or even "contradictory." However, these views may actually be complementary rather than contradictory. The key to resolving many apparent conflicts is to realize that the doctrines fit into a two-dimensional framework, like a rectangular area. The area is formed by two separate, "orthogonal" axes of monologic, that is, two separate theses/antitheses:

                          A ________|________ not-A 

In order to fit the text conveniently onto a table, the two axes of the diagram are turned 45 degrees so that now the antitheses are on diagonals:

                               A       B
                                \     /
                                 \   /
                                  \ /
                                  / \
                                 /   \
                                /     \
                            not-B      not-A

The following table format is used to represent the resulting dialogic diagram:


A and B


Taken separately, the two antitheses A and B offer only partial statements of "desirable" ideas; this often leads to misinterpretations and exaggerations. Taken together, the two theses (A and B) balance each other and serve to moderate each other's exaggerations.

The composite statement "A and B" represents simultaneous affirmation of two "complementary" theses. (The left-right position of theses is unimportant.) Such a pattern is here referred to as "dialogic". A significant feature of dialogic is that the exaggeration of A implies the negation of B, and vice-versa. Except for this feature, the connections between A and B are not logically determined; they must be discovered "empirically" through discourse. A and B are simply said to "complement" one another so as to make up a more complete or balanced view.

What is the significance of the colors?

Applications of Dialogic to Theology

Christian theology is an ancient field of discourse drawn from a tightly-integrated text (the Bible). Its creeds have been refined through 2000 years of study, argument and competition with unorthodoxy. Hence an important feature of orthodox Christian theology is its attempt to balanced ideas derived from all the biblical texts; unorthodox views tend to exaggerate one subset of texts. In theology, we often find two complementary theses that must be mutually inclusive to express the richness of the full biblical views. However, they may still appear very different from one another, and attempts to merge the theses into one statement are generally unsuccessful. That is why it has been found helpful to extend the textual relations to a second dimension.

This richness in theological expression in some cases even extends to a third dimension. Some of the central doctrines of theology require an additional dimension to bring out their full interrelationships. This 3-dimensional structure ("trilogic') follows the same rules as the 2-dimensional dialogic structures, i.e. there are three "orthogonal" theses that together form a full complementary view of the concept. It is not possible using a flat screen to illustrate 3-dimensional structures, but actually that is unnecessary; three linked 2-dimensional dialogics are adequate to represent the 3-D relationships.

Hypertext has proved to be a useful tool for illustrating these ideas, because it allows more flexibility of connections than the printed page. In the dialogic diagrams, the two upper statements represent positive or appropriate views; the two lower statements are exaggerations that result in the negation of one of the views. In some cases, arrows will be seen at the right and left sides; these link to two other dialogic diagrams that, taken together, express one of the three-dimensional doctrines. Take some time to consider the relationships as you examine each category.

You will discover that in many cases the dialogic structure reveals a rich structure and subtlety in many ancient ideas. Awareness of the full expression of these multidimensional concepts dispels some of the accusations of irrationality or contradiction in these views which can occur from seeing them as one-dimensional.

T. F. Torrance on the rediscovery of the Trinity


The concepts of complementarity and dialogic are not new. Ancient Chinese thought has long recognized the desirable "balance" or "moderation" to avoid idealistic extremes, as expressed by the yin/yang symbol. In the West Aristotle introduced a similar concept (the composite, synalon ) in the Physics. Augustine and Calvin have described ideas in which dialogical structures are implicit. In the 20th century complementarity was adopted as the paradigm for describing phenomena in quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr. His is a strong, mutually-exclusive form of complementarity between the "idealized" wave and particle descriptions of quantum phenomena. Recent recognition of the usefulness of dialogical thought in evangelical theology is based on the teachings of Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical Presbyterian theologian who helped a lot of people in the US and Europe in the critical period of the 1960's and 70's. His small, out-of-print book The Church Before the Watching World (Inter-Varsity Press, 1971) was a primary stimulus for this work. Dr. Richard Bube, as a Stanford professor of physics, also recognized the value of dialogical structures in his writings for the American Scientific Affiliation and elsewhere. Specific references, where available, are given in the "more" links on each diagram.

Most of the dialogic patterns of particular ideas shown here are ancient ones that have been found to re-emerge in specialized or disguised forms in many different fields of discourse. These may be called "dimemes" or "trimemes" in analogy with R. Dawkins' concept of the meme. Definitions of these terms are provided here.

Your formulations of these great ideas may not agree with mine, but these are offered so that you can begin to think dialogically about ideas in general, for such structures can be found everywhere.

Viewing the Dialogic Diagrams

Each dialogic diagram contains five links to other documents. The "overview" link gives a discussion that relates the two complementary ideas in the diagram. The four "more" links in each section of a diagram provide additional details and references that are specific to that section. Some of these documents may be blank and under construction.

Some dialogic diagrams are combined in a group of three which have the same category. These "trilogic" diagrams are linked together by arrows on the sides of the diagram. Click on the arrows to move among the three related diagrams. Also, in these cases there will be a "3-D Overview" document that describes the relationship among all three terms. This document can be reached from any of the three dialogic overview links; the Overviews contain an additional link to go the the 3-D Overview.

Using the Index

The index of diagrams (see link below) is divided into general categories. Click a link to go the dialogic diagram on this subject.

See INDEX of diagrams

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This and associated pages [except for quotations as noted] 2000 Paul Arveson.

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