Ignosticism


Ignosticism

Ignosticism is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism) assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts. The word "Ignosticism" was coined by Rabbi Sherwin Wine. It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God.

The first view is that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition cannot be falsified, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the "question" of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the "concept" of God is not considered meaningless; the "term" "God" is considered meaningless.

The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by God?" before proclaiming the original question "Does God exist?" as meaningless.

Some philosophers have seen ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, [cite web |url=http://www.strongatheism.net/library/atheology/argument_from_noncognitivism/ |title=The Argument From Non-Cognitivism |accessdate=2008-02-11] while others have considered it to be distinct. An ignostic cannot even say whether he/she is a theist or a nontheist until a better definition of theism is put forth.

Relationship to other views about God

Ignosticism and theological noncognitivism are generally synonymous, [Conifer, "Theological Noncognitivism": "Theological noncognitivism is usually taken to be the view that the sentence 'God exists' is cognitively meaningless."] but the relationship of ignosticism to other nontheistic views is less clear. While Paul Kurtz finds the view to be compatible with both weak atheism and agnosticism, [Kurtz, "New Skepticism", 220: "Both [atheism and agnosticism] are consistent with igtheism, which finds the belief in a metaphysical, transcendent being basically incoherent and unintelligible."] other philosophers consider ignosticism to be distinct.

In a chapter of his 1936 book "Language, Truth, and Logic", A. J. Ayer argued that one could not speak of God's existence, or even the probability of God's existence, since the concept itself was unverifiable and thus nonsensical. [Ayer, "Language", 115: "There can be no way of proving that the existence of a god … is even probable. … For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experimental propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible."] Ayer wrote that this ruled out atheism and agnosticism as well as theism because all three positions assume that the sentence "God exists" is meaningful. [Ayer, "Language", 115–16] Given the meaninglessness of theistic claims, Ayer opined that there was "no logical ground for antagonism between religion and natural science", [Ayer, "Language", 117] as theism alone does not entail any propositions which the scientific method can falsify.

Like Ayer, Theodore Drange sees atheism and agnosticism as positions which accept "God exists" as a meaningful proposition; atheists judge it to be "false or probably false" and agnostics consider it to be inconclusive until further evidence is met.Drange, "Atheism"] If Drange's definitions are accepted, ignostics are neither atheists nor agnostics. An atheist would say, "I don't believe God exists"; an agnostic would say, "I don't know whether or not God exists"; and an ignostic would say, "I don't know what you mean when you say, 'God exists' ".

Ignosticism is not to be confused with apatheism, a position of apathy toward the existence of God. An apatheist may see the statement "God exists" as meaningless, yet they may also see it as meaningful, and perhaps even true. [Rauch, "Let It Be": "… many apatheists are believers. … Even regular churchgoers can, and often do, rank quite high on the apatheism scale."]

Dependence on a particular view concerning the word "God"

Drange emphasizes that any stance on "Does God exist?" is made with respect to a particular concept of what one claims to consider "God" to represent:

As "God" means very different things to different people, when the word is spoken, an ignostic may seek to determine if something like a child's definition of a god is meant or if a theologian's is intended instead.

A theistic child's concept generally has a simple and coherent meaning, based on an anthropomorphic conception of God: a big powerful man in the sky responsible for certain matters. [Hanisch, "Drawings"] This anthropomorphic divine conception has been rejected by Spinoza, as well as by Ludwig Feuerbach in "The Essence of Christianity" (1841).

A theologian's concept is more complex and abstract, often involving such concepts as "first cause", "sustainer", and "unmoved mover" and claiming such attributes for God as "omnipotent", "omniscient", and "omnibenevolent". To the ignostic these abstractions, taken singly or in combination, cannot be said to be false; rather, they are muddled, self-contradictory, linguistically empty, or perhaps poetic. Hence, one cannot meaningfully expound on the existence or nonexistence of God.

The consistent ignostic, therefore, awaits a coherent definition of the word "God" (or of any other metaphysical utterance purported to be discussable) before being able to engage in arguments for or against God's existence.

ee also

*Epistemology
*Fallacy of many questions
*Scientific method
*Verificationist
*Theological noncognitivism

Notes

References

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* |chapter=Critique of Ethics and Theology
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* Cousens, Myrna Bonnie, ed., [http://home.teleport.com/~hellman/archive/whoisgod.shj "God"] , "Guide to Humanistic Judaism", Society for Humanistic Judaism
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