Why No One Should Ever Say They Do (or Don’t) Believe in God.
by: P. W. Sharkey
Your thoughts on this Meditation are welcome. Please use the contact page to provide your comments for publication.
I have recently been watching a number of debates concerning religion. In far too many I have heard proponents of various pro-religious positions cite such figures as Albert Einstein or Baruch Spinoza (among others) as “believers” because they happen to have used or mentioned the word ‘god’ in one or another of their statements. Not only is this a blatant use of the fallacy of appeal to authority, it is also grossly misleading and, if not simply based upon profound ignorance, just plain dishonest. The “gods” that the excommunicated Spinoza and theoretical physicist Einstein referred to were anything but the kind of “god” such debaters were attempting to find support for by invoking such references.
Let’s face it. The term ‘god’ is essentially meaningless; it lacks absolutely any commonly agreed upon descriptive reference and is so historically and theoretically ambiguous as to almost ensure confusion in and about any utterance in which it is used. Asking or answering any question, positive or negative, about one’s belief in ‘god’ tells one absolutely nothing. Moreover, such questions almost ensure misunderstanding between the questioner and respondent: sometimes ameliorating (owing to assumed agreement) or aggravating (owing to assumed disagreement) their relationship.
I submit that “god” is literally and essentially a nonsensical (without any intrinsic meaning) term. How much clearer our discourse and communications would be without it: Similarly, the terms theist and atheist.
When asked whether he was a theist or atheist, one debater answered: “Neither, I’m a lawyer” -- which drew considerable laughter from the audience. Given the history of lawyer jokes, he may have had a rhetorical advantage over the rest of us non-lawyers in responding to such a question. But, it makes just as much sense to respond with ANY other personal descriptor one might choose because the question is nonsense! Ask me whether I believe in Allah, or Yahweh, or Zeus or any one of over a thousand other such purported beings and I can respond. Ask me whether I believe in “God” and I cannot respond without both the questioner and me committing the fallacy of assuming we have the same thing in mind about the otherwise vacuous “referent” in he question.
In philosophical circles this view is known as “ignosticism.” Theist, atheist, agnostic, ignostic -- who cares and why? All such terms when used as labels to “identify” someone, even ourselves, are mistaken, misleading, and misguided. Understanding this can help make one a master-debater.