Is God-talk Intelligible?


#1

What do you mean when you say 'God'?

Obviously, what I mean when I refer to 'god' is the universe, the entities and forces that constitute the natural world in its totality.

This is far from an anthropomorphic concept of god, but it is one that has a definite point of reference nonetheless.

I have been reading some essays by Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen in the collection entitled Atheism & Philosophy. In one of these, entitled 'In Defense of Atheism', Nielsen argues that talking of god/God is incoherent if by 'God' one does not understand a fundamentally anthropomorphic being (or, presumably, some other experiential referent). The reason is that statements about God are

...taken by the faithful to be factual statements. Yet they are neither directly nor indirectly confirmable or infirmable even in principle and thus are in reality...devoid of factual content. They purport to be factual but fail to behave as factual statements. We have no idea of how to establish their truth or probable truth, or their falsity or probable falsity. We have no conception of what it would be like for them to be true (or probably true) or false (or probably false).

Nielsen does admit to employing a weak form of verificationism in determining what is and is not in principle a statement of fact, in that there must be at least some empirical/experiential grounding for the meaning of a factual statement - something to which that statement refers; but adds that attempts to describe or refer to God as, for example, "Being in itself" or "transcendent to the world" are "purportedly referring expressions, [but] no intelligible directions have been given as to how to identify the supposed referents of such referring expressions."

Thoughts?


#2

God, who was the cause of the universe and everything in it, is known more by the "heart" than by the intelligence. (although reason plays a strong part!).

God is a Person, infinitely perfect, and He loves each individual He has created with unconditional love.

With His grace I can love Him back, and live at peace with my neighbor, in spite of any chaos that is going on around me.

God, the Father of all (first Person of Blessed Trinity); Jesus the Redeemer of all (second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and the Holy Spirit, ( third person of the Blessed Trinity generated by the love of the Father & the Son) loves us and wants to fill us with every good thing. (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, etc.)

May He lead you on your spiritual journey!


#3

[quote="Sair, post:1, topic:296961"]
What do you mean when you say 'God'?

Obviously, what I mean when I refer to 'god' is the universe, the entities and forces that constitute the natural world in its totality.

This is far from an anthropomorphic concept of god, but it is one that has a definite point of reference nonetheless.

I have been reading some essays by Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen in the collection entitled Atheism & Philosophy. In one of these, entitled 'In Defense of Atheism', Nielsen argues that talking of god/God is incoherent if by 'God' one does not understand a fundamentally anthropomorphic being (or, presumably, some other experiential referent). The reason is that statements about God are

Nielsen does admit to employing a weak form of verificationism in determining what is and is not in principle a statement of fact, in that there must be at least some empirical/experiential grounding for the meaning of a factual statement - something to which that statement refers; but adds that attempts to describe or refer to God as, for example, "Being in itself" or "transcendent to the world" are "purportedly referring expressions, [but] no intelligible directions have been given as to how to identify the supposed referents of such referring expressions."

Thoughts?

[/quote]

I think initially that it's a little problematic to situate "God-talk" as being "anthropomorphic," for the simple reason that that tends to overemphasize talking about God in human terms (which are obviously all we have). It's not that we don't use human terms to talk about God, again, being all we've got, but we do so by analogy. Anthropomorphism to me would seem to indicate more of an imposition of humanity upon our image of God, while speaking analogously of God using terms of human action seems to have more of a metaphysical separation, if that makes any sense. If any of this makes any sense, honestly--I've not had my coffee yet :P

For some clarity from a man who obviously has had his coffee, check out St. Thomas Aquinas' treatment of the Names of God from the Summa Theologiae.

-ACEGC


#4

Hmmm: the first thing to deal with here is the question of 'belief' by which I mean the idea of accepting something as a fact without the evidence we usually require for facts (see them, touch them, hear them, use equipment to measure them etc).

The whole point of 'belief' is that a thing does not need to exist to be believed. All believers know of things other believers believe in which they themselves reject. So believers agree that a thing need not exist to be believed. What they will not accept, however, is that their own beliefs are wrong, since, by definition, they believe them.

So god-talk is therefore intelligible, but only on the basis of the belief expressed. And even of people believe there is observable roof of god, they will not normally claim that there is observable proof of the particular god(s) in which they believe.

If I may respectfully address the issue of pantheism: it has always seemed to me to be unnecessary to add the concept of 'god' to 'everything', because 'everything' is by definition all encompassing. Defining god(s) as 'life' might make more sense to me, because it is through life that all knowledge and experience comes. Life is in turn a part of, and result of all else. (Hokomai pulls up to a screeching stop, realising he is sounding religious, and quickly exists the thread! :D)


#5

[quote="edward_george, post:3, topic:296961"]
I think initially that it's a little problematic to situate "God-talk" as being "anthropomorphic," for the simple reason that that tends to overemphasize talking about God in human terms (which are obviously all we have). It's not that we don't use human terms to talk about God, again, being all we've got, but we do so by analogy. Anthropomorphism to me would seem to indicate more of an imposition of humanity upon our image of God, while speaking analogously of God using terms of human action seems to have more of a metaphysical separation, if that makes any sense. If any of this makes any sense, honestly--I've not had my coffee yet :P

For some clarity from a man who obviously has had his coffee, check out St. Thomas Aquinas' treatment of the Names of God from the Summa Theologiae.

-ACEGC

[/quote]

Is the imposition of human terms upon God a symptom of the lack of an actual experiential referent for any reality identifiable as 'God' apart from human perceptions of familiar (or at least identifiable) objects? What I understood from Nielsen's argument was that there is no precise - or even approximate - thing or experience or state of affairs that corresponds to the term 'God' as understood by classical theistic believers, and so the meaning of 'God' is at best open to speculation, at worst quite incoherent. In this context, 'meaning' is a measure of the correspondence of a symbol - in this case, a name or word - to a recognisable experience, be it the perception of a particular object or the awareness of a particular - or even approximate - state of affairs.


#6

[quote="Hokomai, post:4, topic:296961"]
Hmmm: the first thing to deal with here is the question of 'belief' by which I mean the idea of accepting something as a fact without the evidence we usually require for facts (see them, touch them, hear them, use equipment to measure them etc).

The whole point of 'belief' is that a thing does not need to exist to be believed. All believers know of things other believers believe in which they themselves reject. So believers agree that a thing need not exist to be believed. What they will not accept, however, is that their own beliefs are wrong, since, by definition, they believe them.

So god-talk is therefore intelligible, but only on the basis of the belief expressed. And even of people believe there is observable roof of god, they will not normally claim that there is observable proof of the particular god(s) in which they believe.

If I may respectfully address the issue of pantheism: it has always seemed to me to be unnecessary to add the concept of 'god' to 'everything', because 'everything' is by definition all encompassing. Defining god(s) as 'life' might make more sense to me, because it is through life that all knowledge and experience comes. Life is in turn a part of, and result of all else. (Hokomai pulls up to a screeching stop, realising he is sounding religious, and quickly exists the thread! :D)

[/quote]

God-talk always did seem at least superficially intelligible to me, when I was growing up as a Catholic - but there were many, many layers of meaning and enculturation to wade through before getting to the conceptual core of what 'God' actually meant - and then discovering that there was a great emptiness underneath it all.

As far as pantheism is concerned, there is really no necessity to refer to 'god' at all - in essence, the term 'god' in this context is a kind of shorthand for the attitude I adopt, as a naturalistic pantheist, towards the universe - that of reverence and a sense of awe. In that regard, it does borrow, to some extent, from the classical theistic notion of god, but primarily in reflecting back upon the perspective of the adherent. Awe and reverence are, after all, considered to be the correct attitude of the believer towards the divine.


#7

[quote="Sair, post:5, topic:296961"]
Is the imposition of human terms upon God a symptom of the lack of an actual experiential referent for any reality identifiable as 'God' apart from human perceptions of familiar (or at least identifiable) objects? What I understood from Nielsen's argument was that there is no precise - or even approximate - thing or experience or state of affairs that corresponds to the term 'God' as understood by classical theistic believers, and so the meaning of 'God' is at best open to speculation, at worst quite incoherent. In this context, 'meaning' is a measure of the correspondence of a symbol - in this case, a name or word - to a recognisable experience, be it the perception of a particular object or the awareness of a particular - or even approximate - state of affairs.

[/quote]

Aquinas would posit that all of our knowledge comes to us through sense experience--only angels, he would say, being spiritual but finite beings, could have immediate knowledge of a phenomena. We must have a phantasm, a mental sense image, in order to know something. In order to talk of God, we must situate the discussion in terms of the things more proximate to us, that is, the order of the sensible world. This is why Aquinas' Five Ways for the existence of God begin with the things we can have sensible experience of and proceed outward to higher realities. The modern project tends to go off the rails at this point; they essentially posit that, yes, all knowledge comes via sense experience, but that that means that sensible knowledge is the limit of what can be known--i.e. only empirically verifiable phenomena are within the realm of truth and reality. Aquinas would disagree and says that we can know the transcendent via the world--we can know the Creator through his creation, and this is essential to his epistemology, and indeed to the whole of the Catholic faith.

-ACEGC


#8

Sair, you might want to look into apophatic theology and mysticism. These are wedded to each other and are considered by us as the ultimate way of knowing God experientially.


#9

[quote="WoundedIcon, post:8, topic:296961"]
Sair, you might want to look into apophatic theology and mysticism. These are wedded to each other and are considered by us as the ultimate way of knowing God experientially.

[/quote]

A good source to understand how we Christians conceive of and relate to God as opposed to the purely atheistic concept (that we are anthropomorphizing Him) would be Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Lewis, by the way was atheist at one time. Indeed, his attempts to disprove God as fact (the Fact he would later describe Him) was how he discovered the Truth.:)


#10

[quote="Sair, post:1, topic:296961"]
What do you mean when you say 'God'?

Obviously, what I mean when I refer to 'god' is the universe, the entities and forces that constitute the natural world in its totality.

This is far from an anthropomorphic concept of god, but it is one that has a definite point of reference nonetheless.

I have been reading some essays by Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen in the collection entitled Atheism & Philosophy. In one of these, entitled 'In Defense of Atheism', Nielsen argues that talking of god/God is incoherent if by 'God' one does not understand a fundamentally anthropomorphic being (or, presumably, some other experiential referent). The reason is that statements about God are

Nielsen does admit to employing a weak form of verificationism in determining what is and is not in principle a statement of fact, in that there must be at least some empirical/experiential grounding for the meaning of a factual statement - something to which that statement refers; but adds that attempts to describe or refer to God as, for example, "Being in itself" or "transcendent to the world" are "purportedly referring expressions, [but] no intelligible directions have been given as to how to identify the supposed referents of such referring expressions."

Thoughts?

[/quote]

As an aside, I thought pantheism conceives of god as more than being merely equivalent to the universe, more like a mind within all we observe, in which case pantheism wouldn't be any more provable than deism.

We all understand existence and we can comprehend the changeable nature of that which exists but we don't necessarily understand how anything changeable can be permanent so it's rational to deduce that something other than what we observe exists without changing, i.e. is self-existent.

Also, if a hypothetical God did, indeed, reveal Himself to someone somehow, that person would still be limited to talking about Him in anthropomorphic terms, having no other terms or concepts available with which to speak of that which is ordinarily out of reach of human comprehension.


#11

[quote="Sair, post:5, topic:296961"]
Is the imposition of human terms upon God a symptom of the lack of an actual experiential referent for any reality identifiable as 'God' apart from human perceptions of familiar (or at least identifiable) objects? What I understood from Nielsen's argument was that there is no precise - or even approximate - thing or experience or state of affairs that corresponds to the term 'God' as understood by classical theistic believers, and so the meaning of 'God' is at best open to speculation, at worst quite incoherent. In this context, 'meaning' is a measure of the correspondence of a symbol - in this case, a name or word - to a recognisable experience, be it the perception of a particular object or the awareness of a particular - or even approximate - state of affairs.

[/quote]

It may be better to say that it's a symptom of imperfect experience of the "experiential referent". He's there, He can be and is experienced to different degrees, but never fully for us while we are alive.

The problems I have with the quotation you provided in the first post are 1) the idea that we must "have an idea how to establish [a statement's] truth" is equivalent to the idea that we can empirically test such a statement over and over again, and 2) the idea that whether or not we can establish the truth of a statement is at all related to the truth of the statement or that the lack of such ability necessarily means that we "have no conception of what it would be like for [the statement] to be true (or probably true) or false (or probably false)."

For the first issue, our knowledge of religious truth comes from revelation (which I suppose you could call experiential but not repeatable on demand) and reason.

For the second, that doesn't even work in mathematics. For an example: the Axiom of Choice is neither provable nor disprovable from the standard axioms of set theory, and both it and its negation are consistent with these axioms. Being math people where our worlds exist primarily in our heads anyway, we just tend to explore both how math would be with and without it, and we certainly have ways of telling the difference between the two math worlds despite being unable to verify the statement that distinguishes them.

Or, also in math land, we have via Godel that there must necessarily be true statements even in arithmetic that are not provable at all.

So basically, I think he puts too much emphasis on experience, especially experience which is (implicitly assumed to be) completely under our control.


#12

[quote="Sair, post:1, topic:296961"]
What do you mean when you say 'God'?

[/quote]

Sair:

I mean, that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Obviously, what I mean when I refer to 'god' is the universe, the entities and forces that constitute the natural world in its totality.

So, you mean something finite and temporal; something that needs to have a beginning and will have an end; something that has no possibility of achieving existence except by the postulation of an anomaly magically appearing where there is nothing, which then, without explanation, magically evolves into such an abundance of forms that we're still counting them?

This is far from an anthropomorphic concept of god, but it is one that has a definite point of reference nonetheless.

Yes! I can certainly see that!

I have been reading some essays by Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen in the collection entitled Atheism & Philosophy. In one of these, entitled 'In Defense of Atheism', Nielsen argues that talking of god/God is incoherent if by 'God' one does not understand a fundamentally anthropomorphic being (or, presumably, some other experiential referent). The reason is that statements about God are

The statements you posted for him show me that he is a relatively shallow thinker. They do not in any sense "defend atheism." What he is describing we already knew and are in the process of taking sides on.

Nielsen does admit to employing a weak form of verificationism in determining what is and is not in principle a statement of fact, in that there must be at least some empirical/experiential grounding for the meaning of a factual statement

Except for statements of historical fact.

  • something to which that statement refers; but adds that attempts to describe or refer to God as, for example, "Being in itself" or "transcendent to the world" are "purportedly referring expressions, [but] no intelligible directions have been given as to how to identify the supposed referents of such referring expressions."

I would say that he hasn't done much reading.

God bless,
jd


#13

[quote="Hokomai, post:4, topic:296961"]
Hmmm: the first thing to deal with here is the question of 'belief' by which I mean the idea of accepting something as a fact without the evidence we usually require for facts (see them, touch them, hear them, use equipment to measure them etc).

[/quote]

Hoko:

Well, rats! That means that will have to throw out all of my history books! :shrug:

The whole point of 'belief' is that a thing does not need to exist to be believed.

"History" doesn't. (At least, any more.)

All believers know of things other believers believe in which they themselves reject. So believers agree that a thing need not exist to be believed.

Not true of Christian believers. All Christian believers are saying is that God is invisible to our senses (but, perhaps not always).

What they will not accept, however, is that their own beliefs are wrong, since, by definition, they believe them.

Sounds like a description of you! :eek:

If I may respectfully address the issue of pantheism: it has always seemed to me to be unnecessary to add the concept of 'god' to 'everything', because 'everything' is by definition all encompassing.

Only if one can be absolutely sure that "everything" undeniably means "absolutely everything."

Defining god(s) as 'life' might make more sense to me, because it is through life that all knowledge and experience comes. Life is in turn a part of, and result of all else. (Hokomai pulls up to a screeching stop, realising he is sounding religious, and quickly exists the thread! :D)

Yes: I was going to say . . .! :thumbsup:

God bless,
jd


#14

[quote="Sair, post:1, topic:296961"]
What do you mean when you say 'God'?

Obviously, what I mean when I refer to 'god' is the universe, the entities and forces that constitute the natural world in its totality.

This is far from an anthropomorphic concept of god, but it is one that has a definite point of reference nonetheless.

I have been reading some essays by Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen in the collection entitled Atheism & Philosophy. In one of these, entitled 'In Defense of Atheism', Nielsen argues that talking of god/God is incoherent if by 'God' one does not understand a fundamentally anthropomorphic being (or, presumably, some other experiential referent). The reason is that statements about God are

Nielsen does admit to employing a weak form of verificationism in determining what is and is not in principle a statement of fact, in that there must be at least some empirical/experiential grounding for the meaning of a factual statement - something to which that statement refers; but adds that attempts to describe or refer to God as, for example, "Being in itself" or "transcendent to the world" are "purportedly referring expressions, [but] no intelligible directions have been given as to how to identify the supposed referents of such referring expressions."

Thoughts?

[/quote]

This thread is against the rules. But before it gets locked I suggest you read Edward Feser: The Last Superstition, Aquinas. He has an excellent blog at edwardfeser.blogspot.com/. He happens to be discussing the Realistic Theory of Knowledge at the moment.

:thumbsup:


#15

[quote="Linusthe2nd, post:14, topic:296961"]
This thread is against the rules. But before it gets locked I suggest you read Edward Feser: The Last Superstition, Aquinas. He has an excellent blog at edwardfeser.blogspot.com/. He happens to be discussing the Realistic Theory of Knowledge at the moment.

:thumbsup:

[/quote]

:thumbsup:

Linusthe2nd, regarding Dr. Feser we are inevitably always in agreement. ;)


#16

Sticky: Temporary Ban on Evolution/Atheism Threads
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