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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ignosticism: Possibly the Best Argument Against God Ever


Although I am extremely busy at the moment, I just had to relay this really excellent conversation I am having on Ignosticism.

Borrowing from rabbi Sherwin Wine, who coined the term Ignosticism, I  define Ignosticism as:


Ignosticism is the theological position that every other theological position assumes too much about the concept of God.

Ignosticism holds two interrelated views about God. They are as follows:


1) The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed.

2) If the definition provided is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God is meaningless.

In other words, a) a definition which is incoherent can’t be about anything, and b) a definition which isn’t about anything cannot be said to be meaningful.


A theist reader wrote in and argued that:

Your first view in Ignosticism is impossible to satisfy. How can a finite being provide a "coherent definition" of an infinite being? We are not capable of it.

My response was that

All you have done, it seems, is semantically twist the definition of God to mean that which is incomprehensible. In which case you void any and all puported experiences of God because you couldn't comprehend them. This is exactly what ignosticism concerns itself with.

He denied the observation and claimed:

No, that's not what I've done at all. I can certainly have valid experiences with an infinite God; while I might have difficulty articulating such an experience, I cannot and never would claim to be able to define Him, confine Him to my limited view or know more than an infinitesimal fraction of who or what God is.
What I can do is be humble in the face of God - not an attitude I find in many atheists (or in your case, ignosticists?).

To which I offered up a smart Alec reply, the main points of which was:

I would say any experience which you could not learn from is probably an unintelligible experience. In which case, the question would be, is it really God that you believe you are experiencing? How would you know? In a sense you are admitting to know God, or certain attributes of God, via his interaction with you. But this places the burden on you to define God as something coherent, otherwise your entire experience of God proves to be meaningless.

Or do you just like the idea of belief in God so much that you are willing to obscure his very Entity by claiming your experiences, albeit real, simply cannot be understood because whatever God is, and however he chooses to reveal himself, is as mysterious as he is transcendent? Well, then, if that's how you wish to define God, then there is simply nothing to talk about.

But if you wish to start talking about the experiences, and how God reveals himself to you, then you are dealing with experiences which can be cognitively understood, thereby revealing aspects of God which are, by definition of the experience, comprehensible. But you can't have it both ways.

A seriously thoughtful person, asked this:

So, basically the problem of defining God as incomprehensible is that it makes God incoherent by definition?
  
I guess one could ask the theist how they know God is incomprehensible...if he is truly incomprehensible, how would we even figure that out? If the theist doesn't know what they're worshiping, then they are just as agnostic as any skeptic.

The only objection I can really think of is to say that if a truly infinite God existed in reality, it would be incomprehensible to us, with our limited minds. Therefore the theist would say that it is arrogant of us to assume we need to define God, since we can never know what he is. What do you think of this line of argument?

His main point bears repeating.


"So, basically the problem of defining God as incomprehensible is that it makes God incoherent by definition?"

Excellent! 

Yes, exactly. That is the first claim of ignosticism. 

If God is incoherent then the experiences believers attribute to God are by extension unintelligible and therefore meaningless.This happens because to claim God is incomprehensible, since we have finite minds, is to deny our cognitive ability to understand complex minds. I do not see any evidence to suggest finite minds cannot detect infinite minds. 

Understanding, of course, would be a different matter entirely. That is where most theists get hung up. Like the first theist, they assume our minds are capable of detecting the infinite mind of God, thereby recognizing the experience as tangible, but then, in the same breath, they turn around and say whatever that experience contains in terms of information cannot be understood finitely due to God's incomprehensible nature. 

The claim that God is incomprehensible to us therefore voids the experience of God. Since, as our thoughtful reader brought up, there is no proper way to test what we are experiencing would be God, or something from our imaginations that we, in our inferior state of mind, mistook for God. Or something else entirely.

Here is where ignosticism comes in. When the purported experience of God is assumed real, as theists so often profess, we are faced with the challenge of describing that experience, which according to the theist is impossible because that would require us to give a definition of God, but as the sophist theologians love to harp, we cannot pretend to understand God--he is beyond our understanding. 

So in order to first communicate the experience of God, you have to know what God is, or at least describe God, in coherent terms which are comprehensible otherwise you cannot talk of having an experience of "God."

Hence, whenever a theists resorts to terms like: infinite, transcendent, being outside of space and time, all they are doing is obscuring God into a meaningless concept which is deliberately incoherent. God is safeguarded from any further criticism. A sly tactic which then forces the person of faith to ignore any and all evidence and accept on faith that God is real. Here is where the second part of ignosticism comes in.

Having established that the theist has failed to properly define God or give any adequate coherent description of God, thus has created a term which is meaningless. Therefore God is not a term we can talk about. Until a coherent definition of God can be supplied, it is meaningless to talk about God or any experience related to God, since we cannot know what God means or describe the experiences coherently. Now, assuming God is real, all this means is that his existence is meaningless, because we could never, not even in a million years, understand it.

On the other hand, it is also highly suggestive that God is a fancy conjured up by human imagination, in which case, it would be equally meaningless to talk about God as anything other than a crude human invention. 

Finally, the ONLY real objection to the ignostic position, as our thoughtful friend rightly observed,  is that we should not be so quick to try to define God (should he exist in the complex and incomprehensible way that theists like to proclaim). 

The only problem is this automatically results in a reversion back to the default position of agnosticism. As such, no theist could claim a warranted belief in God. This is what the first theist failed to understand, but our friend understood by taking the time to think about it more carefully.

Which is why ignosticism is merely the philosophical engine behind my atheism. Most God definitions prove meaningless either by contradiction, negation, or by having to take the recourse and admit incomprehensibility which defeats the purpose of a revealed interpersonal relationship with God. This is why I think ignosticism is the single strongest argument against the concept of God--indeed all gods. 

It would be remiss if I did not say that ignosticism (and likewise theological non-cognitivism) is not the only argument against God which has merit. Ignosticism is merely one of the strongest. Taken in tangent with other objections to God, I believe there is nothing in the way of a proof or proofs which can overcome the devastating series of disproofs. Which only strengthens the atheistic position, because the burden is forever on the theist to find an adequate answer to what they claim they are experiencing when they purport to experience God--which, ironically, they claim they cannot do due to their finite minds. This is what is called an end game check-mate! 

Belief in God being meaningless, what alternative is left?

ATHEISM.





Advocatus Athesit

Advocatus Athesit