The ways contemporary theists describe their gods either include self contradiction, or are unintelligible, or fail to tell us what their god actually is. In short, theological non cognitivism (closely related to ignosticism) is the view that we’re lacking a clear idea of what God is supposed to be, and while that’s the case it’s nonsensical to profess belief in this thing.
Some theological noncognitivists consider themselves atheists, at the time of writing I count myself part of this group; until we know what Blorg is, we can’t have a positive belief in it. And if it turns out that Blorg is a term we can’t make sense of (like a square circle) then we can conclude that Blorg doesn’t refer to anything in existence. In either case, we are ablorgists.
Other noncognitivists reject the label atheist, insisting that they need a clear account of what God is supposed to be before the question of belief in his existence can be addressed.
On the face of it, it might look like noncognitivists are mistaken; surely believers have a clear idea of what it is they believe in. Christians, for instance, mean the god of the bible when they talk about God. He’s the creator of the universe, the author of all kinds of miracles, the heavenly father. He’s all knowing, perfectly loving and limitless.
The noncognitivst replies “But what is God?”. So far we’ve seen a list of things God has supposed to have done, we’ve seen secondary and relational characteristics of God, but we’re still missing any information about God’s primary characteristics, about what god actually is.
An article on the site StrongAtheism.net makes this distinction clearly:
Firstly, if one were to say that, “The dress is beautiful”, and I were to respond by asking, “What is a dress?”-it would hardly be a help to me for that individual to respond, “It has a nice design and is comfortable”. While it being comfortable and being designed attractively may play a factor in its being called beautiful, my question has not been answered. I have not asked for further secondary characteristics of the dress, but rather what the dress is itself that it has the capacity to be called “beautiful”.
Similarly, when the Strong-Atheist inquires, “What is God?”-the theist’s reiterating of the various capacities and secondary character traits found in scriptural texts and elsewhere is insufficient. The question inquires specifically into what “God” is, rather than what “God” can do, likes to do, or has done.
I’ve seen one theist, who seemed to appreciate the problem, reply to the challenge of defining God in the following way “by God, I mean whatever it is that you (the atheist) claim not to believe in”. Though if we understand atheism to simply mean the absence of theism, he failed to shift the burden of providing an intelligible God concept.
Aside from having no clue about what God is, there are other reasons that the modern God concept is half-baked. The secondary attributes that God is commonly claimed to posses are a rich source of contradictions. His limitlesness is just one of them. A limitless thing is necessarily a non existent thing, as Nathaniel Branden explains:
“God” claim the mystics, “is infinite.” What does it mean to be infinite? It means to possess no limits. To possess no specific determinite finite number of attributes – no specific particular identifiable qualities. It means to be nothing in particular. But to be nothing in particular is not to be. To assert that an infinite being exists is to assert that something can exist that possesses no identity – that is nothing in particular. To accept the existence of a being who possesses no identity one has to reject the Law of Identity. But to reject the Law of Identity is to reject the total of one’s grasp of reality. Thus the concept of an infinite god is the destruction of man’s concept of existence, of being.
If the God we’re talking about in a given situation is anything like the god that most Christians profess belief in today, I think that theological noncognitivism (and strong atheism) is an appropriate response.
Posted: January 4th 2009
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