Theological Noncognitivism and Ignosticism

Introduction

Theological noncognitivism is the position that discussions about God, omnipotence and related subjects are cognitively meaningless. Simply put Theological Noncognitivism is much like making up a word and then discussing it. Issues surrounding the qualities of God and the limits of human intellect make theological noncognitivism a significant threat to theism and to specific forms of atheism.

Ignosticism is the same except that it carries a willingness to agree on a definition of God for the sake of discussion/debate.

The argument is as follows:

  1. God carries some or all of the following attributes:
      1.  Omnipotence
      2.  Omniscience
      3. Omnipresence
      4. Omnibenevolence

2. None of the attributes of God as defined in proposition 1 are cognitively meaningful.

Therefore,

3.   An affirmative position on God is  illogical

Omnipotence

Omnipotence is unlimited power and abilities, to be able to do anything and bring about any state of affairs

 Issue 1: The Omnipotence paradox:

The first case against omnipotence is the omnipotence paradoxwhich asks:  Could God create a rock that it could not lift? If God cannot create it than God’s power is limited or if God can create it but cannot lift it then God is not all powerful, either way God cannot be omnipotent.

Thomas Aquinas first argued that it is not possible for an agent (form here forward referred to as God) to bring about an impossible state of affairs since if God could it would be possible for that impossible state of affairs to suddenly be possible, which is a contradiction.

The second counter argument to the omnipotence paradox is that since it is possible for God to bring about anything then it is possible for God to make it so that he is not omnipotent. So God can create and move a stone while omnipotent and then make it so he is not omnipotent and powerless to move it. Thus it is possible for God to create a stone that God cannot move but only if God makes it so he is omnipotent while creating the stone and not omnipotent while not being able to move it.

Issue 2: All possible combinations of circumstances

Below are some examples of circumstances that even an omnipotent being could not bring into existence:

  1. A cause to occur after its effect.
  2. That a  first action is eternal (for first implies that a second is at least possible)
  3. That something can take place an odd number of times less than four.
  4. That a person can be bound to do something (assuming freewill exists)

Other issues and contradictions

  1. The existence of evil and dive morality: Can evil exist while a morally perfect being exists? Would an omnipotent being be both perfectly good and perfectly evil?…etc.
  2. The laws of nature: Is God capable of acting within or outside of the laws of physics? …etc.

These issues are discussed more thoroughly here (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/omnipotence/#3)

 Omniscience

To posses complete and total knowledge. An omniscient being has unlimited understanding and insight.

 Issue 1: Truth and falsehoods

Is it possible to know all truths and all falsehoods if carrying a falsehood makes a being mistaken?   It is possible that an omniscient being knows that all falsehoods are false and so is therefore not mistaken. However, does knowing that all falsehoods are false mean that omniscient being knows only truths? These questions mainly reflect a language issue of the meaning of truths and falsehoods and their compatibility with omniscience.

 Issue 2: Foreknowledge

The second problem with omniscience is the problem of foreknowledge and free-will. Complete knowledge of all truths would include knowledge of all truths about the future which is incompatible with freewill. This issue with omniscience then also becomes one of freewill versus determinism and whether or not God is eternal (existing in the past, present and the future).

Many questions as to the very definition and understanding of omniscience and omnipotence remain unanswered. Thus an understanding of omniscience and omnipotence remains incomplete and makes holding these characteristics of a divine being illogical unless ones accepts an incomplete understanding as satisfactory.

 Limits of Human Knowledge

The nature of and the characteristics of knowledge are addressed in Epistemology. Theological noncognitivism is not even concerned with a person’s potential volume of knowledge (i.e. number of facts known about a subject or number of equations memorized). Theological noncognitivism calls into question the human capability of understanding omnipotence, omniscience and related characteristics of God.

To understand what may or may not be beyond human comprehension one must first briefly look at learning.  Learning and knowledge is vastly beyond the scope of this examination but the primary reason omnipotence and omniscience is beyond human comprehension is:

Knowledge comes by experience:  Human beings acquire knowledge through various kinds of experience and by building on prior knowledge. No person can ever experience omnipotence and omniscience to acquire knowledge of it.  Thus knowledge (a justified true belief) of omnipotence and omniscience is impossible.

Summary

Clearly a definition of God is possible and an ignostic is willing to accept an incomplete definition and understanding for the sake of discussion and/or debate and learning. However, according to theological noncognitivism that definition is cognitively meaningless because omnipotence, omniscience and related characteristics of God remain under debate. Also, our brains simply are not capable of carrying a justified true belief of omnipotence or omniscience. So therefore a positive position on the meaning of the word ‘God’ is illogical.

The theological cognitivism case against strong atheism

Atheists who deny God must first assume that they can understand what it is they are denying. According to theological noncognitivism this position is illogical for it is the equivalent of denying that ‘blarg’ exists. Not all atheists assume that a knowledge and/or complete understanding of God is possible but denial of the existence of God is just as meaningless as the assertion that God exists unless an incomplete definition is assumed.  This will be addressed more thoroughly in a future article.

Further exploration:

  1. The Argument From Non-Cognitivism by Anon
  2. Atheism, Agnosticism and noncognitivism by Theodore M. Drange
  3. Atheism: The Case Against God. By George H. Smith
About these ads
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Theological Noncognitivism and Ignosticism

  1. Truly you have a dizzying intellect. I’m going to be chewing on that one for a while. Did you read my post, “Do You Know Jack?” It discusses some of the same material from a more undergraduate perspective. I’d love it if you’d give me some feedback on it. Thanks again for your significant contribution to my thinking.

    • bryanbr says:

      Thank you Spiritualsavant, I am flattered. The reading on this subject is fascinating and thought provoking. I will read ‘Do you know jack?’ today and let ya know what I think. Thank for coming by and the kind words.

  2. archdragon87 says:

    Hey Bryanbr. Good article but there’s a couple of things I’m not quite wrapping my head around. I’m hoping that since you’ve done a little more research you might be able to explain them.

    “That a first action is eternal (for first implies that a second is at least possible)”
    Completely not following. What prevents a first action from being eternal? Just because a second action might follow doesn’t negate the first action…does it?

    “That something can take place an odd number of times less than four.”
    I think I’m just struggling with the language here. Isn’t an odd number that’s less than four either 1 or 3?

    “That a person can be bound to do something (assuming freewill exists)”
    I actually don’t buy that foreknowledge destroys free will. It’s possible to know what someone will choose without negating their ability to make that choice.

    “No person can ever experience omnipotence and omniscience to acquire knowledge of it.”
    Why not? I mean I understand that in practice it’s pretty much impossible at this stage in human history, but theoretically what stops a human from becoming all powerful and all knowledgable?

    “Atheists who deny God must first assume that they can understand what it is they are denying.”
    I know you said you’ll be coming back to this, but maybe my thoughts can help with that post.

    Atheism isn’t the denial of God(s). It is not accepting the claim that God(s) exist. Generally an atheist (like myself) who denies the existance of God is denying a particular God, in which case we do have an understanding of what is being denied because the believer has already given the definition.

  3. bryanbr says:

    Thanks for the reply Archdragon, I will try to address all of your concerns.
    1. What prevents a first action from being eternal? Just because a second action might follow doesn’t negate the first action…does it? I removed the reference to a second action. For something to be the first it has to have occurred. If something is occurring, even eternally, than it is not yet the first.
    2. I think I’m just struggling with the language here. Isn’t an odd number that’s less than four either 1 or 3? Yes this is a tricky one. They key to understanding it lies in the ‘times’. ‘Times’ is plural and so why one doesn’t apply becomes obvious but three is a bit harder. Three is the first odd number meaning it has occurred an odd number of times only once.
    3. ‘I actually don’t buy that foreknowledge destroys free will.’ If God knows something is going to occur than they not free to do so. A proper examination can be found at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/omniscience/#ForHumFreAct
    4. Why not? I mean I understand that in practice it’s pretty much impossible at this stage in human history, but theoretically what stops a human from becoming all powerful and all knowledgable? For the same reasons that no being could. Even is a person was to spontaneously evolve they could only ever be almost omnipotent.
    5. My comment about atheism only applies to a specific kind of atheist. You would be right that some are just denying a given definition but an affirmative denial first needs something to deny. Next post will explore this better.

  4. Pingback: The Ignosticism Position | The BitterSweet End

  5. The reason I am a theological noncognitivist is because no thought of anything labeled “God” can be had — and — if you talk as though you’re talking about something without being able to think of anything you could be talking about, then you aren’t talking about anything.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s