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Strong Atheism: Argument from Non-cognitivism

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Argument from Non-Cognitivism (ANC is an interesting one that comes up in many more ways then I first realized. As I studied the information I began to see this argument creep up in other places, and take on other forms in the philosophical world and the tangible around me. Here is the argument from the site: http://www.strongatheism.net/library/atheology/argument_from_noncognitivism/.  I do believe that while reading this whole article would be helpful that the wikipedia entry would do just fine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theological_noncognitivism.  Note that the Strong Atheism (SA) website uses George Smith’s approach.

The goal of this argument is to prove that ‘God’ as a word does not hold meaning, thus making the God-concept meaningless. Ultimately Strong Atheism, by definition, uses this argument to disprove the existence of God. So let’s jump right into the argument. The introduction of the SA page gives us a framework for identification: A. Primary attributes. B. Secondary Attributes. and C. Relational Attributes. At length definitions can be found in section V. The Specificity Theory of Meaning. The ANC states that God lacks A, thus rendering B and C meaningless. This must be identified as an assumption. For example, Wind. I know that wind is actually particles that make up the air around me moving past me, and it is actually the nerves on the outer layers of my skin that creates the sensation. I also know that the sun interacts with the oceans on Earth to create this illusion of wind. All of this is known to me, and I agree that wind exists. However, if I did not know why I felt wind, or that it was particles rushing past me, or that the sun and the ocean interacting in some way made the particles to move, I would not doubt the meaning of wind. I would have no “fundamental character” of wind or the “basic nature” it is “composed of.” but I would know wind exists because I feel it’s affects, I see how it moves the world, even though I may not see it moving in the world. God is more complex that wind. I won’t dwell any longer on this particular point, I must move on.

We are left at the point of definition of God. LT Jeyachandran concedes to the inadequacies of negative definition: “The conventional way of describing God in abstract and negative terms-absolute, infinite, immortal, invisible, impassible, and so on-has tremendous merits but does not actually say what God is like. I suggest a more detailed exploration of God as a trinitarian being and have chosen to describe this God as an all-personal, all-relational being” (Beyond opinion, 232). I am under the impression that a lack of primary attributes does not negate the meaning of a word, or being, or its secondary attributes. One example used from the SA article was a dress. If I were to say that dress is beautiful, while I would not be defining what I mean by dress, the dress would not losing meaning due to my lack of providing primary attributes. A dress is a dress whether or not I, or anyone else knows what it is. Whether or not it is beautiful can be determined for that’s a subjective truth, but a dress’s absolute definition is not dependent on anyone’s understanding of the dress (I suggest the first few pages of The Abolition of Man for an insight to this statement as well, which is another approach to the ANC). All of the negative definitions for God are dependent on the positive contrasts for reference. For instance, since we know what is finite, we understand, theoretically, what infinite implies.

Moses asked for God’s name. It was not just a word to call him he was asking for, he had that. He wanted to define God, to understand all that he was. It came up another time in his life, when asked to see God, and was granted to see his back, whatever that means. Moses’ answer is interesting, and not at all expected. He was told, I AM. What that essentially means is that God is self-referencing. This idea falls flat, except within the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father is called the Father because of the Son, and the Son the Son because of the Father. Without the one, the other could not exist as they are- they are interdependent. The Holy Spirit is what binds them, and makes them One, Hebrew Echad, meaning one in spirit, not in physical form. I will not go too much further into the trinity, except to say read LT Jeyachandran, and watch him speak. He’s really good.  but that is how God is all-relational, and independent of His finite creation. A plurality of the word we use ‘God’ can explain how a secondary attribute can work as a primary attribute, within the trinity. All-relational becomes “a fundamental character” of who, and what is, God. Moreover, 1 John claim “God is love.” what is more clearly meant for a definition than saying “God is love”? What’s interesting is this passage is talking directly about the Father, and the Son, specifically the events of the cross. This definition could not exist outside of plurality, and relationship.

I want to conclude using the idea of a loving [human] mother. We know what a loving mother is first because we know that a mother is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons that combined together to make atoms, and those atoms were combined into various complex molecules that created visible matter that took shape as numerous fluids, full of other molecules, and organs, and tissues, and organic matter that is all cohesively held together by other molecules, which each have identical protein chains of Deoxyribonucleic Acid which somehow tell those molecules what to form, and what to do, but first create chromosomes, of a certain number and a particular arrangement that makes it possible for physical agreement with the term “mother” including gender, appendages, etc. No. It does not matter how well we define mother. What is practically meaningful in the idea of a loving mother is the relationship between mother and child- partly described in the term mother, and partly in the term loving. We are not lacking these defining characteristics for God.

I realize that this does not prove God’s existence. I don’t think that’s possible to do in full, if it were no one would question it. But I believe it does disprove the non-existence of God based on the ANC. feel free to comment, and tell me what I missed, I’m eager to know and explore this idea better.

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