Friday, February 1, 2013

Is Theological Non-Cognitvism the Atheist's Young Earth Creationism?

In a brief discussion I had with someone earlier, I reiterated my personal policy of not debating theological non-cognitivists.  Theological non-cognitivism holds that statements such as, "God exists," are not only false, but literally meaningless.  But, what exactly is meaningless about referring to the creator, designer and sustainer of all physical space, time, matter and energy?  What is meaningless about stating that "X has necessary existence"?  Clearly if it's coherent to say that something can not-be, its negation (X cannot not-be) must also be coherent, and therefore meaningful.

It seems to me that the few atheists who do adopt theological non-cognitivism are generally unfamiliar with the arguments of natural theology, or else they are unable to effectively refute them.  I once had a debate with someone who granted the truth of every one of my arguments for God's existence, but his response was simply that the term, "God," is meaningless.  He then proceeded to call the entity we agreed exists as "Shmog."  Well, unfortunately for him, a rose by any other name is just as sweet.

I really do think non-cognitivism is a minority view among atheists.  I should also add that I mean no disrespect to Young Earth Creationists.  The reason I find the two analogous is that I often hear of atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, who refuse to debate YECs because he doesn't think their views are respectable.  Might we also add theological non-cognitivism to the list of views not deserving of debate?


  1. Isn't one of the outcomes of "Natural theology" that we cannot really attach any positive meaning to the word "God" and that we necessarily have to describe God by what He is not?
    IOW doesn't natural theology actually entail Theological Non-cognitivism? To me, the difference between "I do not know what God is, but I know what He is not" and "God is meaningless" does not seem all that big.
    The outcome of natural theology is so vague, that I can sympathiize with Non-cognitivists on that matter.

    And to be honest: "God is the designer... of X, but I haven't got any clue as to how he designed it, in what manner he sustains it, how wishing something into exsitence could in principle work, but nevertheless I assert that God does all these things", or "God is personal, but in a completely diiferent manner than you and I are, but nevertheless I assert that He is personal" do not seem to have that much meaning to me.
    So, to a certain extent, I can understand non-cognitivism. If you really do not know something, you should not just pull words out of your sleeve and pretend you have found meaning.
    One of the reasons why the arguments for natural theology are so difficlult to refute is precisely the fact that upon closer look, there really isn't much to refute at all. I wouldn't call it "Smogh", but I would call it "an opaque concept" and opaque concepts by any other name are just as opaque.

  2. Some proponents of natural theology adhere to negative theology, which is to say that we know God is necessary because he cannot be contingent. I'm one such person. Yet, there's a massive list of attributes I ascribe to God, so it's much more nuanced than associating it with theological non-cognitivism.

    One doesn't need to know how something is true in order to know that it is true. I don't need to know why the sky appears blue in order to know that it does. Likewise, one doesn't have to know how God designed the universe in order to come to that conclusion. Not knowing how things are done doesn't even begin to approach theological non-cognitivism.

    You can call the arguments opaque if you want. Obviously, I disagree, but that's for another discussion.