In Defence Of Theological Incognitivism
In response to the Matt Dillahunty's statement:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDNL_3JRew0
Dear, Matt, I understand you had a chat with an anonymous friend of yours, who is defending Theological Incognitivism. It looks as if your friend did a poor job presenting Theological Incognitivism to you, or you misunderstood his arguments, or both. Anyway I must defend and explain Theological Incognitivism properly. In my apology of Incognitivism I need to make the points that your friend has failed to make and also show you the power of Incognitivism as a practical tool.
Simply put, Theological Incognitivism is the claim that the word "god" itself is gibberish -- it is devoid of any meaning -- when a theist refers to his god he has no idea what exactly he is referring to, therefore any communication with theists is pointless.
As far as I can summarize your arguments, you claim that incognitivists give an unjustified "special treatment" to the word "god". Is it a good summary?
he told to you:
take for example a word "xyqwhjs" it has no cognitive meaning, it is gibberish, same as "god".
the very need for "xyqwhjs" as an example proves that "god" is different. why do you need to make up another word if you already have an example of gibberish: "god"?
Because he needs to demonstrate to you that the word "god" is NOT ALONE in the class "gibberish".
By this example he establishes the existence of the CLASS "gibberish" (meaning this class is non-trivial i.e. contains more than one element).
This example is necessary, because this entire debate is founded upon the assumption that the property "gibberish" exists, and exists independently from the word "god" i.e. constitutes a non-trivial class.
I presume you are an honest man and you have assumed the existence of the class "gibberish" beforehand automatically, therefore this example struck you as redundant.
However, it is not redundant, because your core strategy is to tie your opponent's notion of "gibberish" to the word "god" exclusively. In a sense this very basic example demonstrates the incompatibility of your debate strategy with the debate premise.
Furthermore, this example gives you a better idea what we mean by "gibberish".
From now on we can discuss why the word "god" shares its characteristic property with the word "xyqwhjs", what other words do the same, and how are they different from the words that do not.
you compared God to Harry Potter: how is Harry Potter not gibberish, if it has no real world reference?
your opponent said: Harry Potter is fictional.
and you went on a rant that is partially right about the particular way he presented his argument but misses the point of the conversation entirely
I agree with you that your opponent failed to counter your attack, the invocation of "fictionality" was lame, but he uttered "fictional" not without a reason.
"Fictional" means without a real world reference AND
with a generalized real world reference.
A fictional character is a non-existing (imaginary) member of an EXISTING CLASS.
When your opponent uttered the word "fictional" he did not mean the lack of real world reference, he meant the reference to a real world class of objects. This is how fiction works, this is the reason why people read it in the first place -- the recognition of the class membership relation between an otherwise incognizeable character and a very real, very familiar, perfectly cognizeable class of things. And this constitutes the fundamental difference between God and Harry Potter that you have overlooked.
Therefore your attack was very wrong. Harry Potter is cognizeable by proxy, whereas God is not.
Furthermore, we can locate precisely what is gibberish about Harry Potter.
Harry Potter is a fictional combination of some real elements, some fictional elements, and some gibberish elements.
A Harry Potter devoid of magic is perfectly cognizeable. Magic is the only incognizeable part of the character (as far as I know, his fans should correct me).
And yes! the very word "magic" is gibberish! It is not only lacking any real world reference, it is equivalent to "xyqwhjs".
ALL words are poorly defined (we do not know what exactly is "armchair") the "god" is not any more gibberish than the majority of a typical vocabulary an incognitivist uses casually without noticing any deficiency of the definitions. We should treat "god" with equal respect we treat all other words.
I hope, I captured your idea perfectly.
You are right, all words definitions are seriously deficient.
You are right, Incognitivism does not follow from this deficiency, it follows from the ABSENCE of the definitions.
You are wrong, that the "god" is merely deficient in the same way all other words are, the "god" has its definition completely missing (word salad does not count as a definition).
Any non-theological example of a poorly-defined word nevertheless has an ACTUAL PHYSICAL PHENOMENON behind it. We fail to define a word to be a perfect reflection of the phenomenon it designates, but the phenomenon is there, it is measurable, it ultimately NECESSITATES THE WORD. When we fail to define "armchair" we SHOW you an armchair! This is why "armchair" goes well with a poor definition whereas "god" does not. This constitutes the principal difference between the "poorly defined" words, and gibberish words. Conversely, when we fail to show you something we require a clean exhaustive definition, which is missing for the word "god".
Here we are rapidly descending to equate "gibberish" with "non-physical", but fear not, Matt. The physicality of the words has much greater impact on your ability to give them meaning than you used to think -- our entire communication (even though we have never met) is exclusively based upon our shared physical experience.
If I tell you "red" you think about red, not a dictionary... seriously... How do I know that you understand me?
We can take a set of colourful objects and NEGOTIATE THE MEANING of "red".
We can not do it with "god"!!!
You can not explain empathy to a psychopath, unless you both agree to examine relevant fMRI experiments.
Without a measurable physical phenomenon we can not communicate at all. The illusion of something "beyond physical" comes from the fact that the vast majority of experiments and measurements we perform are organoleptic, and we never bother reflect on the nature of our feelings. If we both feel red vaguely similar we do not pause to scrutinize how we develop the meaning of "red". Conversely, Dennis Prager and his flock have no idea about empathy because they HAVE NEVER FELT IT -- for them "empathy" seems complete gibberish. But we know they are wrong, because we have fMRI... A physical experiment gives meaning to a word.
All words have meaning as long as we can share physical experience of the phenomena these words designate.
Ultimately, in the foundation of cognition sits physical experience. (Say "Hi!" to AI fanboys)
Dennis Prager believes and actively preaches that, besides the fear of eternal damnation, nothing can stop you from killing your neighbours.
you said something along the lines:
the "god" has a solid corpus of usecases, from them we can derive its meaning.
No, we can not.
I can say: "a teaspoon created the world".
You are compelled to demand: "show me the teaspoon".
Then I reply: "it is a very special teaspoon, it has powers to avoid my attempts to show it to you"
By that I effectively create A BRAND NEW NOTION OF "TEASPOON", which shares no properties with teaspoons except for the name.
From that point you are free to tell me that my word "teaspoon" is eligible to inherit the corpus of usecases of the original "teaspoon".
And this is exactly what christians do every day!
Every time two christians talk about God, they talk about two different gods which are merely homonymous.
Therefore there is no "solid corpus of usecases" for the word "god" (homonymity is not identity).
You can picture the process of cognition as a process of refinement of a category (see "category theory") describing an object. Let's take a "sailing boat". You can begin with a blank page and add properties to your description of the "sailing boat" until the description vaguely reflects your knowledge of sailing boats so that separating them from all other objects you can wish to describe. To the same end you can begin with a description that contains ALL properties and then you remove them one by one: "can fly?" -- remove, "lighter than air?" -- remove, "solid?" -- remove... etc. This is the process of cognition.
Can you remove any property from the candidate description of a "god"?
Whatever property you try to remove omni-something prevents you from doing so -- THE VERY PROCESS OF COGNITION CAN'T EVEN START!!!The god's description prevents the definition of god
-- how can you claim cognizeability under this condition?
In other words, cognition is all about drawing distinctions. You cognize sailing boats by separating them from mosquitoes. Even though there is no strict margin that encompasses all sailing boats without overlap with other categories, there are examples of NOT "sailing boats", because of that the "sailing boat" has its meaning.
You can not cognize an "all-encompassing god" exactly because it is all-encompassing -- adding this category into your world-view does not increase the information value of the said world-view, exactly as it would do by adding an empty category -- no cognition happens unless a dividing line is drawn across your world-view. From the cognitive standpoint "ALL" is homomorphic to "NOTHING"
And when you say "all" in common parlance, you do not mean theological/categorical "all". What you actually mean by "all" is "the entirety of a given set", your convenient every-day "all" is always limited to something that is not "all".
And finally, Matt, THE BURDEN OF PROOF!
When you attack Theological Incognitivism from the standpoint "there must be something in the christian talk", you effectively ask me to prove a negative. You give me a word from YOUR dictionary and ask me to prove that it has no definition.
At the same time you demand evidence from the claimants of God -- the same logic applies here -- unless you give me a definition, the word remains undefined.
Following your christian opponents, you attempted to replace "god" with "supreme being" as if it clarifies anything, whereas it is still gibberish, because the "supreme" is complete gibberish. In practice "supreme"s gibberishness manifests as a moving goalpost -- christians make up meanings for "supreme" on-the-fly, swithcing between meanings faster than you speak -- you know it, Matt, much better than I do.
If you want to debunk Theological Incognitivism once and for all, all you need to do is to give us just one non-gibberish defenition of "god". A very simple, yet impossible task -- it is exactly an indicator of a great solid argument.
Incognitivism is a very powerful tool for debunking religions, particularly godless religions, since they do not offer you a low hanging fruit such as Jegovah.
Incognitivism alone (I have developed it inadvertedly when I was 17) allowed me to deconvert myself from christianity in the absence of youtube, or any semblence of atheist community in my vicinity, there were no internet, no call-in shows, no books... I had no access to any world view outside the bible AT ALL -- by scrutinizing the church rituals and believers' interpretations of those I somehow developed a tool very similar to incognitivism which allowed me to break the mental shakles of christianity and then evolve rapidly through a few brief phases of deism and panteism into a normal freethinker, not any weaker than those who were lucky to avoid childhood indoctrination. Incognitivism made me commence my deconversion (without any help from other people!) and allowed me to get rid of all dogmati so cleanly that you can never tell I was indoctrinated since my early childhood. And after I completed my deconversion, Incognitivism saved me from falling prey to more sophisticated breeds of spirituality, which happens so horribly often with former christians (so many of our fellow ex-christins venture deep into delusions of buddism, new-age, occultism, you name it).
Speaking of my particular version of Incognitivism and its development, I asked myself a series of obvious questions about the every day practices of the fellow church-goers. Take for example a ritual performed in a church, I asked: how much information is needed for a ritual to succeed? I compared how much information the stated goal comprises, and how much information is fed into the ritual when it is performed. When a prayer is performed how do I make sure that I communicated the exact message to the alleged god? Is there any logically consistent way to transfer the information in the assumption that we always have a physical channel of infinite capacity i.e. I assume that the god can physically obtain any info, but can he do it in a logically consistent way? -- can he separate the message I try to communicate to him from the information corpus available to him?
I hope you can see how these questions do NOT depend on the presumed omnipotence of the god. (It is funny to make a note: If you allow for a logically inconsistent god, you in a sense agree that this "god" is gibberish.)
I went to a church for water blessing, I asked myself how does Holy Spirit know what body of water to infest? How does it tell the target body from the water molecules surrounding it, leaving it and entering it continuously? Does Holy Spirit infest Chlorine molecules dissolved in the target body of water? How much of Holy Spirit is carried away when holy water evaporates? How much holy water is needed to bless an object of given mass? How much Holy Spirit does the water retain after application to an object?
The official teaching of the church attempts to dismiss these questions by claiming: Holy Spirit is indivisible, the holiness of water is binary, the blessing happens by COPYING of the state of holiness as opposed to transferring. If it is the case then the entire Universe is alresdy blessed since the very first water blessing ever performed. Why bother repeating it each year?.. This was another robust nail in the coffin of my christian delusion.
You may ask how is it related to Theological Incognitivism?
All these questions above are simplified versions of the ultimate question: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "HOLY WATER"?
Christians have no answer -- they do not mean anything by "holy water" -- "holy water" is gibberish.
A particular advantage of the incognitivism is that it can be used against a viewpoint (a teaching, a statement, or even an isolated notion) WITHOUT ANY OPPOSING POINT. In order to defeat a God you do not need a scientific framework (that is vulnerable to wholesale dismissal), you do not need to educate your opponent -- incognitivism allows you to ACCEPT your opponnet's statement as a starting point, and fight it by questioning, where the questions do not require any external frame of refence -- you investigate you DEVELOP you improve the viewpoint of your opponent instead of denying it. It is that the gibberish viewpoints are resistant to improvements!!!
The usefullness of Incognitivism for debating yourself follows naturally from this improvementalism feature -- you better be friendly to your opponent while challenging yourself.
And Incognitivism is by no means limited to Theology!
It is equally useful in science, and more than needed there, given the current developments in many fields of study.
Ask your friend Laurence Krauss what does he mean by "teleportation", wich he loves to speculate about (supposedly to excite the audience). How does he intend to communicate the destination into a teleportation experiment? Does he even know how much information the destination specification takes? ...and relative to WHAT???? When you throw a ball you communicate the initial conditions to the ball itself, and then it calculates the destination point by interacting with THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. There is no way for you to specify the destination explicitly -- it is not even a physical problem it is a logical inconsistency incident. By invoking "teleportation" you exclude the ball from gravitational interaction which is the only source of MEANING for any frame of reference in which you can specify the destination. This Krauss's picture of "possible future with teleportation" is not even an impossible future, it is pure gibberish.
Although, you can see there are different grades of gibberish... or rather to say different grades of the concealment of gibberish. "Xwehjbd" is apparent gibberish, "magic" is slightly concealed gibberish, "god" is very well concealed with the "corpus of usecases", "teleportation" is greatly concealed with impenetrable wall of quantum mechanics, "global average temperature" is a perfectly concealed gibberish, so perfectly that you are now surprised how dod it end up on this list.
Ask your climate alarmist friends what do they mean by "global average temperature" -- so far no one of public speakers on the topic revealed any cognizeable definition of the term. It is gibberish in the realm of political debate and common parlance (albeit it is not gibberish within the realm of relevant mathematical models, it is kept omitted because it would inevitably raise a whole host of inconvenient questions regarding the relevance of the definition to phenomena in question, thus it is easier for public speakers to go with a gibberish term which inherits its quasi-meaning FROM THE NAME ITSELF (just like a godly God)).
All in all, Incognitivism is the most powerful and the most AVAILABLE tool for everyone to tell apart quantum medicine from real medicine, science fiction from real cosmology, global warming from real climate studies, and theological meaningless "god", form the idea of a god which is a legitimate study subject for biologists.