Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Discussing Ignosticism: Does Ignosticism Refute God?


A reader raised a valid concern regarding ignosticm. He stated:

"It's worth noting that ignosticism doesn't support atheism; at least under certain definitions. By asserting atheism you assume a definition of god that you reject. At which point the ignostic answer is to ask "what's the atheistic definition of god?" How can you reject such an entity if you have yet to define it?"

This is correct. Ignosticism doesn't actually disprove the possibility of God being extant, or the existence of any gods or goddesses, for that matter. I actually talk about this some more in my book on Ignosticism, by the same title.

At best ignosticism shows that most, if not all, definitions of God are invalid due to the problem of coherency (or lack thereof, in this case) and comprehensibility (or, again, lack thereof).

Just a quick remind of how I am using the terms comprehensibility and coherency.

Coherency here concerns itself with whether or not an argument, theory, policy, or in this case, description is logical and consistent. Most theological descriptions of God are not.

Meanwhile, comprehensibility has to do with whether or not we can discern and understand God well enough to supply a valid description. Although, it appears this is impossible. Hence, these are the two areas where ignosticism objects to descriptions and definitions of God being taken at face value.

It's true that ignosticism doesn't disprove the existence of God. But it's not meant to. It's only meant to challenge the logical consistency of definitions regarding God and show that minus this, our ability to comprehend God would seem impossible, thus rather futile.

If such a being as God exists at all, all ignosticism can hope to show is that nobody is capable of adequately defining it (God), in which case it might as well be irrelevant, since it cannot be talked about in any relevant manner that would be meaningful to us. In order to talk about something meaningfully it has to be both coherent and comprehensible first.

What I show in the book is that ignosticism is, at the least, compatible with all atheistic assumptions (hint: there's only one assumption here -- that there is no God).

I would offer a small correction where our reader suggests that there are atheistic definitions of God: this is wrong. In actuality, there is no atheistic definition of God. Atheism simply rejects the *theistic claim, the one that says there exists a God (this being the alternative hypothesis) because, upon closer inspection, this claim cannot seem to be established let alone validated as it fails to nullify the null hypothesis (the null hypothesis in this case being the natural world as we observe it, minus any supernatural propositions).

Assuming there is a God that can be described adequately enough to nullify the null hypothesis is the theist's position, and multiplies assumptions about reality beyond the necessity of the atheist who already agrees with naturalism's view of reality.

Now, one might wonder why naturalism is the null hypothesis? Well, because this is the starting point. This is where we posit the question of whether or not there is more to the world than we observe. In other words, you begin at zero then count up to one. You don't begin at one, or two, or three, or a dozen and then assume zero isn't a valid starting point. Zero assumptions is the null hypothesis, and making zero assumptions about reality, that's where we start.

Atheists merely take the view that, when it comes to describing something like God, the null hypothesis must be defeated by an alternative hypothesis before any assumption can be taken seriously. Ignosticism confirms this assumption by demonstrating that all descriptions of God fail to nullify the null hypothesis and establish a valid alternative hypothesis, e.g. the existence of a discernible, comprehensible, God.

As such, based on this logical progression, I thus contend that ignosticism is an additional justification for the reasonableness of atheism.

Unsatisfied with my answer, our reader comes back to his original point.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but 'atheism' is the rejection of the claim a god exists. As such, in order to properly reject such a claim, you must first have a proper definition. Otherwise you can't be certain of what you are rejecting. That is, if you happened to define 'god' as the sun, atheists would (by definition) reject the existence of the sun.

If this is not the case, then the atheistic position has it's own definition of a god, which is then rejects. Otherwise 'atheism' itself is undefined and illogical to accept.

The only way out of this is to say that atheism rejects the term god itself, rather than any possible thing it represents. Which to me seems a bit silly."

At this point I tried to explain things another way. 

Atheism takes no stance on how the God proposition is presented, except to say that as it is commonly presented there is no evidence to prove such a proposition, and lacking such a demonstration the proposition is prima facie false.

In other words, the validity of atheism is not dependent on the underlying semantics of how the theist chooses to represent, and ultimately, define their version of God.

Does that make sense?

So, the positive claim being made here is the theist's claim. Mainly, that God is extant. And thus God being an object that exists, they claim to be able to derive a description of this being.

The atheist position is merely a response to this claim being presented, regardless of how the theist chooses to define their terms.

The atheist, for the sake of argument, can accept the theists proposition and take it at face value, whether or not they are ultimately true. For example, the atheist could say, sure, you believe that the Sun is god, but then, all you have is a definition with no real world value. No meaning. In order for that statement to be meaningful, we'd have access to some evidence that demonstrates the claim is true, otherwise it's a baseless assertion.

Once supplied the definitions of the theists God, the atheist can make logical deductions to determine whether or not such a description is logically sound, whether or not it is evidenced, etc. until they have scrutinized it thoroughly enough to evaluate the proposition.

So, you see, the atheist can accept terms or reject terms because it's less about singling out any given definition of God than it is singling out whether or not any of these definitions can be justified and, ultimately, can be verified.

As such, having evaluated the proposition and the terms supplied by the theist, the atheist says the theist has yet to meet the burden of proof, and therefore no real demonstration has been provided, thus the theist's claims about God are baseless. 

This being the case, it doesn't appear their is any evidence to propose such a God in the first place, hence it would seem the theist position is wrong, therefore God does not exist.

Back tracking for a moment, once a definition has been supplied by the theist, this is where the ignostic becomes concerned. The ignostic points out that the description of God isn't actually describing anything, and this is a problem. The ignostic observes that for a description to be valid, it would have to be both logically consistent and comprehensible.

Now, in theology, there are, of course, logical descriptions of God. But this doesn't in itself justify the definition of God as true to the conditions of which it was constructed. That is, the next step in ignosticism asks whether the description provided is true because it accurately describes the thing itself (the referent, or in this case God) or whether it's true because it meets all the requisites of a logical conceptualization.

I personally hold that most logical descriptions of God fit into the latter category, thus nothing has actually been proved other than the fact that genuinely smart theists are capable of constructing logically consistent definitions.

But God has not been made comprehensible, just coherent. For God to become entirely comprehensible to us we would need to understand the thing we were examining. 

Not having anything to examine, theologians often will say God is incomprehensible, beyond our understanding, a safeguard themselves from criticism so they won't need to meet the burden of proof, but can still use their logically consistent definitions as apologetic tools to prop up their proposition with the illusion of, at least, appearing true--even as that has not been demonstrated.

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