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    Thread: Theological Noncognitivism

    1. #1
      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      Theological Noncognitivism

      I'm just over a quarter of the way through George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, and his comparison of the concept of god (with all of it's common attributes, i.e. omniscience, omnipotence, etc.) to religious agnosticism is intriguing.

      Recently I've been flirting with the idea of theological noncognitivism due to his comparison, and I think utilizing such a concept could be beneficial for anyone attempting to have a conversation about god that actually goes somewhere.

      Don't worry, I'm skeptical about that ever happening too.

      For those not aware of theological noncognitivism:
      Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language, and specifically words like "god", are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered to be synonymous with Ignosticism.

      Theological noncognitivism can be argued in different ways, depending on one's theory of meaning. Michael Martin, writing from a verificationist perspective, concludes that religious language is meaningless because it is not verifiable.

      George H. Smith uses an attribute-based approach in an attempt to prove that there is no concept for the term "God": he argues that there are no meaningful attributes, only negatively defined or relational attributes, making the term meaningless.

      Another way of expressing theological noncognitivism is, for any sentence S, S is cognitively meaningless if and only if S expresses an unthinkable proposition or S does not express a proposition. The sentence X is a four-sided triangle that exists outside of space and time, cannot be seen or measured and it actively hates blue spheres is an example of an unthinkable proposition. Although the sentence expresses an idea, that idea is incoherent and so cannot be entertained in thought. It is unthinkable and unverifiable. Similarly, Y is what it is does not express a meaningful proposition except in a familiar conversational context. In this sense to claim to believe in X or Y is a meaningless assertion in the same way as I believe that colorless green ideas sleep furiously is grammatically correct but without meaning.
      Smith makes a comparison between religious agnosticism (after showing how religious agnosticism is irrational) and the concept of god, through an attribute-based approached (mentioned above). In a nutshell, he refutes the legitimacy of religious agnosticism, then goes on to show how attempts to give positive qualities of god (specifically the Christian God) ultimately fail, and ends up showing that the Christian God is "simply the agnostic god with window dressing."

      Ultimately, he shows that the term "god" is meaningless.
      If god is completely unknowable, the concept of “god” is totally devoid of content, and the word “god” becomes a meaningless sound. To state that “god exists”—where “god” represents an unknown, a blank—is to say nothing whatsoever. It is on a par with, “Unies exist” or, “A blark exists.”
      And so, this leads me to believe that if one is going to engage in a conversation about the existence of god, a definition of god must first be put forth. This is where theological noncognitivism overlaps/becomes synonymous with ignosticism.

      It seems atheists are fully ready to jump on the "lack of evidence" bandwagon. While jumping to that topic is relevant and important, it sort of assumes that one actually has an understanding of what it is they're talking about (i.e. god). Essentially, I feel like going from "God exists" to "where's your evidence" is lackluster and premature. Note that I'm not singling anybody out here. My posting history in R/S is full of arguments demanding evidence for god.

      And so if one can actually put forward a definition of god after they claim "god exists", the conversation may actually proceed in a reasonable manner as everyone will have an idea of what they're talking about, and the conversation won't stall whenever conflicting definitions pop up.

      Of course, there is the flip side to this which leads me to flirt with the idea of theological noncognitivism. Can theists actually come up with a definition that doesn't end up sending their pet god to the realm of religious agnosticism (thus turning it into a meaningless utterance)? I'm not sure they can. Of course, if they can, then it would be entirely pertinent to then demand evidence for such a god.
      Last edited by BLUELINE976; 07-06-2011 at 05:25 AM.
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      This makes no sense. The definition of the word "God" is very clear - it is a being that created the physical Universe. Consequently, this being must exist outside of this physical Universe.

      George H. Smith certainly isn't the brightest light in the harbor. I have known George all my life, and I can say that most of his theories are junk, just like this one. George was born in Japan, but he also lived in Tuscon, Arizona, as well as Roseburg, Oregon. You won't find any information about him living in Oregon though, and that's because he used a false identity (Stephen Hanosh). He attended the University of Arizona, but never finished his studies, thus leaving without a degree.

      George also endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2008. That right there should tell you everything you need to know about him.

      George H. Smith a.k.a Stephen Hanosh also posts on Dreamviews as "Maeni."

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      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      Excuse me, but I'm only looking for serious inquiries in this thread.
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      And I am being serious, too. I have known him and his whole garbage family since I was a small girl.

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      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      Obvious troll is obvious.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Melisa View Post
      And I am being serious, too. I have known him and his whole garbage family since I was a small girl.
      Interesting, you lived in Roseburg oregon

      JUST LIKE CARERA!!!
      Last edited by gameoverlord345; 07-09-2011 at 03:15 AM.

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      and he used a FALSE IDENTITY like Bashar Al Assad i suppose RIGHT?

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      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      I figured this thread would be more popular. Sadface!
      The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended. - Frédéric Bastiat
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      Antagonist Invader's Avatar
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      Can theists actually come up with a definition that doesn't end up sending their pet god to the realm of religious agnosticism (thus turning it into a meaningless utterance)?
      So what does a definition about god require in order for it not to be considered religious agnosticism?

    10. #10
      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Invader View Post
      So what does a definition about god require in order for it not to be considered religious agnosticism?
      Something that doesn't put it outside of human comprehension (i.e. classifying god as "supernatural", "incomprehensible", "unknowable", etc.), giving it contradictory attributes (Smith explains this in detail in the beginning of the book), or giving it relative/abstract titles such as "love", "the universe", or "justice." I remember Smith going over abstract titles like that, but I forget what he says exactly. I'll have to look.

      The bottom line is, they must come up with a definition of god that can be thoroughly examined and determined if such a thing can 1) exist due to no internal contradictions, 2) can even be knowable to human beings, or 3) is not some quaint synonym for an existing concept.

      I'm busy ripping up my back deck so I can't check to see what Smith says about the abstract titles at the moment, so here's a .pdf of the book: Link
      The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended. - Frédéric Bastiat
      I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves. - Christopher Hitchens
      Formerly known as BLUELINE976

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      Antagonist Invader's Avatar
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      Hum, okay. So what if one were to define god as a "dreaming" entity in which the existence we're familiar with is a dream with rigid rules.. In this case, when we consider traits commonly associated with god, like omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience and so on, these make sense within the dream paradigm.
      And for clarification:
      1) "Dream" here is not used literally in the sense of an entity going through REM sleep, but as a synonym for imagination.
      2) For practical purposes "omnipotence" is used here to refer to all that can be done within reason (no contradictory actions). If there's a word that means "virtually everything but not quite," I'd like to use that in place of the one above. Because omnipotence is inclusive of everything it must also include all contradictory actions and so by default is not possible at all, thereby falsifying the existence of anything that has the word in its definition. Hence the clarification.

      Can a definition like this make any sense, or not?

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      Quote Originally Posted by Melisa View Post
      This makes no sense. The definition of the word "God" is very clear - it is a being that created the physical Universe. Consequently, this being must exist outside of this physical Universe.

      George H. Smith certainly isn't the brightest light in the harbor. I have known George all my life, and I can say that most of his theories are junk, just like this one. George was born in Japan, but he also lived in Tuscon, Arizona, as well as Roseburg, Oregon. You won't find any information about him living in Oregon though, and that's because he used a false identity (Stephen Hanosh). He attended the University of Arizona, but never finished his studies, thus leaving without a degree.

      George also endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2008. That right there should tell you everything you need to know about him.

      George H. Smith a.k.a Stephen Hanosh also posts on Dreamviews as "Maeni."
      Well. Most of this has...nothing to do with the argument. Congratulations.

      As to the original post, I've always considered religion content-less subject. It's not a 'lack of evidence' matter as you said, but rather, a 'lack of need for evidence'. I guess the stems from the definition of god, but because there isn't proof for religion, there's no evidence that can disprove it. Trying to disprove religion is trying to prove a negative. That's just logically pointless. Like Melisa up there said, no matter what scientists prove, should we even crack the reasoning behind the universe and explore beyond it, believers can always just say: "Oh. Well he's outside that too."

      This brings me to your actual argument (the definition of god). I agree, that a definition would have to be put forth. But what then? We still don't have a way to disprove it. An argument, an any proving and disproving contained within, is a structure of logic. Utilizing language to make conjectures to get a point across. Religion? A belief-based construct. The entire point of belief being 'considering something as truth despite contrary evidence." Neither side can win, not in a sensible format.

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      Bleh!

      Quote Originally Posted by BLUELINE976 View Post
      Theological noncognitivism can be argued in different ways, depending on one's theory of meaning. Michael Martin, writing from a verificationist perspective, concludes that religious language is meaningless because it is not verifiable.
      Meaning has nothing to do with scientific verification. Does the verification that we have DNA mean anything to starving caveman, or the average american while were at it? Meaning is subjective and is the judgment of consciousness.

      Demanding meaning be backed up by facts doesn't work. I first have to decide if the facts are meaningful! (no im being serious here!)

      George H. Smith uses an attribute-based approach in an attempt to prove that there is no concept for the term "God": he argues that there are no meaningful attributes, only negatively defined or relational attributes, making the term meaningless.
      God is spirit. This is one of the most basic biblical attributes of the western God. And it is the most meaningful attributes of the western God in that millions of people claim to experience this spirit directly (therefore meaningful to them). Just the word "spirit" holds so much meaning for people everywhere that could ever be held in that six letter word.

      If god is completely unknowable, the concept of “god” is totally devoid of content, and the word “god” becomes a meaningless sound.
      True and false!

      One, its not fair for an atheist to tell a theist what is the definition of God. It is in the theists ballpark to state the definition of THEIR God. And I say THEIR God, because it is also false to assume that everyone who professes to believe in God holds the same definition of God. And I don't know where he pulled that God being unknowable is a basic definition or even attribute of God. As far as I can see across the theist board, just the opposite is true.

      One of the most spiritual christian paths, Gnosticism, is the belief that the only God there is, is the God that one can experience directly - thus the term gnosis - direct experience. We are not talking about a definition of God that treats God as solely an intellectual concept that you can never touch or know. We are talking about a God as a direct - human - experience. A true gnostic then would reject all concepts of God as absolute truth, because a concept isnt an experience.

      Two. God is a meaningless sound if you don't know what God means.

      Can theists actually come up with a definition that doesn't end up sending their pet god to the realm of religious agnosticism (thus turning it into a meaningless utterance)? I'm not sure they can. Of course, if they can, then it would be entirely pertinent to then demand evidence for such a god.
      I'm honestly confused what sort of evidence an atheist is searching for.

      Do you want to hear a booming voice?

      Do you want to be struck by lightning?

      Some sort of "God" particle? How would that even work?

      I'm actually convinced, that there could be no evidence. At least no absolute objective evidence. Even if everyone could hear a booming voice answer each of their prayers, is that still a reason to trust the voice? Let alone believe the voice created the universe, just because it said it did? And even if such a voice could show you great visions of the universe being created, couldn't you just yawn and say national geographic is more fascinating?

      Have you ever heard the phrase if you see Buddha on the road kill him? Well the phrase I remember hearing was different. If you see God on the road, kill him. The meaning is the same.

      What evidence are atheists and theists looking for? Something OUTSIDE of themselves? How can you know anything outside of yourself to be true? Why would you trust some booming voice magically speaking in your bedroom more than you would trust the unspoken voice of your own heart?

      What evidence would you search for, if a theist told you that the Universe is the body and expression of God? What then? What magical God particle would you look for, when everything already is God? This is even in the bible, left a stone and you find God. What would you look for?

      Now some people looked for an underlying matrix behind all of reality, showing how reality is really one thing, or in this case one Being. But you can believe in the matrix without believing in God. Why? Because no objective evidence is a direct experience and therefore its not a truth.

      I know scientifically speaking, its difficult for many intellectuals to accept someones subjective experience of God as any evidence at all. But to argue that because the experience was subjective and therefore holds no meaning, is an opinion and not a scientific truth.

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      Quote Originally Posted by juroara View Post
      Bleh!

      God is spirit. This is one of the most basic biblical attributes of the western God. And it is the most meaningful attributes of the western God in that millions of people claim to experience this spirit directly (therefore meaningful to them). Just the word "spirit" holds so much meaning for people everywhere that could ever be held in that six letter word.
      This is exactly what he is talking about. Just the word spirit hold 'so much meaning for people everywhere'. That powerful subjectivity makes it's debatibility impossible in a logical format.

      One, its not fair for an atheist to tell a theist what is the definition of God. It is in the theists ballpark to state the definition of THEIR God. And I say THEIR God, because it is also false to assume that everyone who professes to believe in God holds the same definition of God. And I don't know where he pulled that God being unknowable is a basic definition or even attribute of God. As far as I can see across the theist board, just the opposite is true.
      This supports my first point.


      I'm honestly confused what sort of evidence an atheist is searching for.

      Do you want to hear a booming voice?

      Do you want to be struck by lightning?

      Some sort of "God" particle? How would that even work?

      I'm actually convinced, that there could be no evidence. At least no absolute objective evidence. Even if everyone could hear a booming voice answer each of their prayers, is that still a reason to trust the voice? Let alone believe the voice created the universe, just because it said it did? And even if such a voice could show you great visions of the universe being created, couldn't you just yawn and say national geographic is more fascinating?

      Have you ever heard the phrase if you see Buddha on the road kill him? Well the phrase I remember hearing was different. If you see God on the road, kill him. The meaning is the same.

      What evidence are atheists and theists looking for? Something OUTSIDE of themselves? How can you know anything outside of yourself to be true? Why would you trust some booming voice magically speaking in your bedroom more than you would trust the unspoken voice of your own heart?

      What evidence would you search for, if a theist told you that the Universe is the body and expression of God? What then? What magical God particle would you look for, when everything already is God? This is even in the bible, left a stone and you find God. What would you look for?

      Now some people looked for an underlying matrix behind all of reality, showing how reality is really one thing, or in this case one Being. But you can believe in the matrix without believing in God. Why? Because no objective evidence is a direct experience and therefore its not a truth.

      I know scientifically speaking, its difficult for many intellectuals to accept someones subjective experience of God as any evidence at all. But to argue that because the experience was subjective and therefore holds no meaning, is an opinion and not a scientific truth.
      I can't speak for all atheists, but we don't need to look for evidence. We shouldn't need to have start working to prove a negative. Even if we were looking, we wouldn't know. The beauty of using science as the primary paradigm for the categorization and understanding knowledge is that science in itself is a construct of reevaluation and verification. There is no set content. Anything and everything can be disproven or proven given the sufficient support.

      As for your point about 'no objectivity being an experience in itself', you're right. But that experience is supported by the paradigm of science. We continually strive for that objectivity through a system of strict rules to eliminate subjectivity. And you're right, it'll never be perfectly objective, nothing will. But it's the closest we can get and it's only getting closer.
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      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      For fuck sake, my post just deleted itself or something. I'll try again later.
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      Quote Originally Posted by BLUELINE976 View Post
      Something that doesn't put it outside of human comprehension (i.e. classifying god as "supernatural", "incomprehensible", "unknowable", etc.), giving it contradictory attributes (Smith explains this in detail in the beginning of the book), or giving it relative/abstract titles such as "love", "the universe", or "justice."
      Hopefully you are just asking for a new analogy. If you're not, this thread is a little pointless... It is naive to pick and choose from key information and then decide on a brand new definition. How could it teach you about the real God? You are still left with the same questions and the rest of the story that has been ignored.

      I'd like to know more specifically how this author makes God appear "meaningless." That's probably the source of the problem right there...

      Quote Originally Posted by Invader View Post
      Because omnipotence is inclusive of everything it must also include all contradictory actions and so by default is not possible at all, thereby falsifying the existence of anything that has the word in its definition. Hence the clarification.
      It is contradictory only in an invalid context. All-inclusive can be substituted with "totality". So this isn't really an issue of power/-potence, but the understanding of "omni-". In just three of the related attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence) we can see them together form a bigger picture, where the prefix "omni-" is inclusive by positive connotation and yet includes no linear, arbitrary opposite.

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      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      Meaningless as in, after he deconstructs religious agnosticism and the attempts to give god positive qualities to actually define him, the term "god" means nothing. It has no coherent definition.

      I included a .pdf link to the book. I think that would actually be better than having a thread about it if one wants to understand.
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      Blueline, I've encountered this kind of argument before from people like Molyneux. I'm afraid I have to disagree with your assertion about a god being noncognitive by way of counter-example:

      A person living in a very advanced civilization builds a supercomputer. He writes a program that simulates a universe of the same size and complexity as our own. Let us assume that his computer has ample space for such a program. The program runs by simultaneously recalculating the position, momentum, energy, etc. of each subatomic particle in the universe, updating, then recalculating again, then updating again, and so on. Let's also assume that the computer is fast enough to run the entire simulation in a reasonable amount of time. Since we have absolutely no way of knowing if our perceived universe is the largest possible universe, in duration, space, or number of particles, these assumptions are not invalid.

      The writer of this program would be an evolved, very much NON-supernatural being within his own universe. However, within the program, he would have all the powers of a god. He could move particles at will. He could run the simulation forward or backward. He could read minds by simply printing out the positions of certain particles.


      I don't believe in any god any more than I believe in teapots orbiting Mars, however the concept of a god outside of our universe is not noncognitive.

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      so would you define god as a computer geek in another dimension then? seems kind of silly when we arent a computer program to me.
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      Quote Originally Posted by BLUELINE976 View Post
      3) is not some quaint synonym for an existing concept.
      Hard for this to be true, the concept of god predates most (if not all) of the things you might label "existing concept". All "existing concepts" therefore, are synonyms for god, not the other way around.

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      Quote Originally Posted by siuol View Post
      so would you define god as a computer geek in another dimension then? seems kind of silly when we arent a computer program to me.
      No. You don't seem to understand what a counterexample is. When someone makes the logical statement "X is impossible/X can't happen", to disprove such a statement requires only 1 example of X, regardless of how ridiculous it sounds.

      Also, you have no way of knowing that we're not in a computer program such as I described. You've made a baseless assertion and backed it up with nothing.

      I do not personally believe we are in a computer program. This is a thought experiment to argue a point, nothing more.
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      Quote Originally Posted by siuol View Post
      so would you define god as a computer geek in another dimension then? Seems kind of silly when we arent a computer program to me.
      ROFL! LOL!
      Really!?

      ...REALLY!?
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      yea i guess i can't support that we aren't, and we'll never know unless the programmer tries to divide by 0 or something and crashes the system or something like that

      Quote Originally Posted by sloth View Post
      ROFL! LOL!
      Really!?

      ...REALLY!?
      no, not really. i was trying to be funny, but unfortunatly im really bad at it, so im just going to retreat into my corner for a little while.
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      Quote Originally Posted by siuol View Post
      yea i guess i can't support that we aren't, and we'll never know unless the programmer tries to divide by 0 or something and crashes the system or something like that
      Not to drag this on any further but...if the system crashed you wouldn't know it. The programmer would return the simulation to a point just before the crash and continue from there, so you would literally have no way of knowing that anything happened.

    25. #25
      Haunted by entropy. Achievements:
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      Quote Originally Posted by siuol View Post
      no, not really. i was trying to be funny, but unfortunatly im really bad at it, so im just going to retreat into my corner for a little while.
      Awe man. Now I feel bad. I'm sorry, man!
      ---o--- my DCs say I'm dreamy.

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