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:
- God carries some or all of the following attributes:
2. None of the attributes of God as defined in proposition 1 are cognitively meaningful.
3. An affirmative position on God is illogical
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:
- A cause to occur after its effect.
- That a first action is eternal (for first implies that a second is at least possible)
- That something can take place an odd number of times less than four.
- That a person can be bound to do something (assuming freewill exists)
Other issues and contradictions
- 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.
- 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)
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.
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.