Originally posted by Suzianne
This is standard nonsense attempted by some atheists to simply shut down all opposing viewpoints. It's an attempt to "take their ball and go home". The problem is, it's not their ball.
Well, the noncognitivist position claims to undermine “strong” atheism as well—
“From this view strong atheists have made the assumption that the concept of God actually contains an expressible or thinkable proposition. However this depends on the specific definition of God being used
.” [My bold-italics]
The article does go on to state that “most theological noncognitivists do not believe that any of the definitions used by modern day theists are coherent.” However, that strikes me as an over-generalization; I’m not sure that all “modern day theists” are supernaturalists, for example.
—As an aside, I think that theological noncognitivism also undermines apophatic theology
—such as the Christian thinker Dionysius the Aeropagite, and at least some in the broad nondualistic stream of Judaism. Apophatic theology claims that one cannot meaningfully say what God is, only what God is not (“not this, not this”, etc.). I now think that process leaves an empty set, with nothing meaningful to believe/disbelieve.
I do not think that the gods of mythology are incoherent (Zeus, say): they are beings with well-defined naturalistic attributes—the sign “Zeus” has a signified
(i.e., a coherent meaning, e.g.: “a mythical being ascribed the following attributes . . .” ), but no referent
(real-world existent). Whether or not Zeus exists as an actual being is in-principle testable/falsifiable (by repeated observation that supports the null hypothesis). *
However, I do think that a statement like the following, on analysis
, lacks coherent meaning: “God is a supernatural entity that created the universe and transcends it.”
(1) “Supernatural” is essentially an “apophatic” category: it can only be whatever is not-nature; the term itself has no content. (2) “Created” implies time, not just because it is in the past tense here, but because we are only aware of creation as an act in time, which is a dimension of the natural universe; we have no way of knowing what “supernatural” (unnatural) “creation” could possibly mean. (3) “Transcends”, here, is just like the term “supernatural” (and is really redundant: the terms are often used interchangeably, and I just wanted to include it).
To put it crudely, “God”, in this and similar “definitions”, ends up being defined—on analysis—as “that which we know not what”.
And, unlike Zeus, the existence of a God so-defined is not, even in principle, testable/falsifiable; not just because a powerful, supernatural being could (unnaturally) alter any outcomes (e.g., “miracles” as unnatural occurrences)—but because the “definition” really has no testable content.
I am, of course, willing to entertain definitions of “God” that are—on analysis—coherent/meaningful. Perhaps the theological noncognitivists are (at least partly) wrong. But that needs to be shown. [(NOTE: I perhaps should have chosen a more provocative title for the thread—but I am glad that you
showed up anyway.
By the way, Wittgenstein did not make his point, about our ability to be bewitched by (our own) language into believing that we know what we’re talking about, only (or even particularly) about theology—he leveled the charge against most of western philosophy, which includes lots of very bright people. Analytical philosophy
, very broadly, analyzes statements and propositions to see whether or not they are actually meaningful as stated— “The right method in philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. ,the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had not given a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would not be satisfying to the other –he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.” [Wittgenstein in the Tractatus
* I agree with Karl Popper (as do, apparently, most scientists) that falsificationism
, not verificationism
, is the proper methodology in inductive/empirical reasoning.
NOTE: I apologize for the typos in the OP; I hope they caused no confusion.