Added March 20, 2003
You have frequently stated that theistic language, as well as some non-theistic language, is unverifiable nonsense. This is confusing. I contend that in both cases some such claims can be verified to be false. If you, as do the Logical Positivists, insist that ALL claims about God are unverifiable, are you not also declaring them to be meaningless, i.e., gobbledygook, gibberish?
You have raised a very complex issue, and you have used phrases which complicate the issue even more.
Consequently it is necessary to clarify the term, 'theistic,' according to conventional usages, i.e., as reported in the dictionary: "belief in a god or gods, or to a theist." It follows, then, that the term, 'god,' also requires clarification, in short: 1) a supernatural, immortal male deity; 2) eternal, infinite, all powerful, all knowing, Supreme Being, Almighty; 3) a person or thing that is excessively worshiped and admired; 4) an idol, 5) a spectator or auditor in a gallery or a theater.
Obviously 1 and 2 are the relevant conventional and biblical usages to be addressed here noting that the term, 'supernatural' necessarily involves also unverifiability and unfalsifiability.
Let us for the moment, then, concentrate on the terms, 'meaning,' and 'unverifiable.'
Consulting various dictionaries, which do not give meanings but rather usage relative to different categories of academia and subject matter, I found they were consistent in stating (if I may be succinct) "to verify is to confirm the truth," and aside from several other usages, the term, 'mean,' was shown to be used to mean, "to have IN MIND as a purpose." (My uppercase.)
This implies that our conventional use of the term, 'language,' has no INHERENT meaning, as I have long taught my students. It follows, then, that language (i.e., languaging), in the true sense of that term is, "the giving of meaning."
After all, when and if intelligence disappears from the universe, so will the functions of our brains that assign meaning. Meaning did not "exist," the way physical objects exist, before intelligence appeared on the scene.
I can imagine someone posing the question, "What if all intelligence disappeared from the universe after the Rosetta Stone had been created and then millions of years later intelligence evolved again and discovered and deciphered it, would that not be evidence that meaning does exist outside of minds?"
I would still argue, "No!" But that issue is beyond the scope of this discourse.
Suffice it to say that chiseled marks on stone, black ink on paper, written words on parchment, etc., though conventionally referred to as language are in fact not.
There is no such thing as physical language. Only when physical symbols are attributed meaning can it be said that language exists for language is the giving of meaning to symbols.
Hence, to argue about the attributes and ontology of symbols is not to be arguing about language.
One may impose upon any symbol any meaning one has in mind so long as it is understood that it is a personally stipulated meaning and not necessarily the conventional usage of the general public or of a special community of thought.
Meaning, hence language, is ideational, not physical, in nature and is in some intelligent being's "mind."
It does not exist in the physical world outside a brain.
It is unfortunate that the public has not been thoroughly taught that.
Hence, it can rightfully be claimed that a physically presented sentence, i.e., set of physical symbols has an ontological status occupying space while its meaning does not..
Therein lies a problem of communication.
Hence, it is necessary to set some ground rules of discussion.
When it is claimed that a sentence, a claim, a statement a proposition, is or is not verifiable, I shall be referring to the ideational meaning, not to the physical symbols that represent it.
It is to be understood that when I speak of "language" being verifiable, unverifiable, falsifiable, unfalsifiable, true or false, it is to be construed that I am referring to the giving of meaning, i.e., languaging, not to the symbols of languaging.
So, to reply to part of the issue you've raised, all theistic and some non-theistic
language do meet the requirement for being declared epistemically unverifiable or unfalsifiable inasmuch they are referring to an entity or entities that are defined to be unverifiable.
Unfortunately, most of the people of the world will disagree, including many eminent philosophers and especially theologians. That accounts for the lengthy discourse upon which we are about to embark.
For me, then, on the one hand, "to verify" is to show that a claim, not represented through physical symbols, is or is not true; i.e., it is or is not supported by evidence.
On the other hand, to the terms, 'unverifiable,' and 'unfalsifiable,' I ascribe the meaning, "unable to be shown to be empirically true or false;" i.e., it cannot be shown to be supported by empirical evidence.
Let us not conflate "is not supported" with "cannot be supported."
We must be careful not to confuse "cannot" with " cannot now."
The use of the term, 'evidence,' calls for caution because we often conflate various "kinds" of evidence: scientific, mathematical, logical, psychological, hypothetical, and so on.
To pursue what is "meant" by evidence is beyond the scope of this discourse. Hopefully my use of the term will be clear enough to support my arguments.
In general, I mean by the term, facts that are accessible to our sense faculties, directly or indirectly. We shall not inquire into the "meaning" of the term, 'facts.'
Consider Einstein's analytic (non-synthetic) equation, e=mc2 (square). No matter what version one uses, i.e., e=mc2, e/m=c2, e/c2=m, or 1=mc2/e, they are all true by definition; that's the nature of mathematics.
Now, we have scientists, discussing the continual expansion of the universe, saying that dark energy is continually being created out of NOTHING, and that this is supported by Einstein's Universal Constant.
In addition to these uses of language (elsewhere I have referred to the use of metaphysical language by some scientists), the New York City Museum of Natural History's presentation of the life of Einstein gives the impression that he declared that energy has no mass; this despite the apparent evidence that his equation, e=mc2 indicates that it does have mass. Would Einstein contradict himself?
However, it is argued that the equation does not represent light quanta and physical mass but is a definition and that "m" and "c" refer respectively to the numerical values, i.e., incorporeal concepts that in reality do not physically exist, of mass and the speed of light in an absolute vacuum.
The key words, here seem to be, “in an absolute vacuum,” of which the dictionary makes no mention.
If this is the case, then Einstein is not addressing physical reality.
Let us be clear, here; "m" and "c" in the equation are not referring to mass and light but refer only to numbers, i.e., mathematics.
How is such an equation to be verified?
Is an explosion of a nuclear bomb sufficient evidence to verify the mathematical language?
Is this not, then, an analytic, i.e., true by definition as is all mathematics, claim that cannot be shown to be true or false because no empirical (accessible to the sense faculties) evidence can possibly be discovered to support it?
Let us not ignore or forget the caveats of the three great mathematical experts:
Albert Einstein: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." And, "The only justification for our concepts and systems of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences; beyond this they have no legitimacy,"
Bertrand Russell: "Mathematics is the subject in which we don’t know what we are talking about nor whether what we are talking about is true," and
G. H. Hardy: "A mathematician is someone who not only does not know what he is talking about but, also, does not care."
Since value and speed do not exist physically, they are only mathematical "values" that do not speak to the issue of the behavior of light in different physical media, as for instance, according to one report, as through water or air or as laser beams traveling through caesium atoms at three hundred times the " the speed of light," or tachyons that in order to exist must accede the speed of light.
Moreover, an absolute vacuum does not exist; there is after all “universal gravitation” and a CMB, i.e., a cosmic microwave background that permeates every point instant of the cosmos.
May we not assume, then, since light is always traveling in some kind of medium, and has an impact effect on its environment suggests that it does have mass?
Otherwise some questions arise:
Isn't "something” that has no mass, i.e., is non-dimensional, nothing other than an idea?
If energy, i.e., light has no mass, why is the speed of light altered in different media?
“If the energy of m times c squared has no mass," is not the language saying, also, "The energy of photons as PARTICLES, has no mass"?
Note the dictionary report of the meaning attributed to the term, 'photon': "a quantum of electromagnetic energy having both particle and wave behavior: it has no charge or mass but possesses momentum, i.e., motion: the energy of light, X rays, gamma, etc. [sic] is carried by photons. (Shades of Samuel Alexander’s ultimate substance of the universe).
"If so, how can the motion of light but not the "light" have a causal effect" as in causing greater warmth?
Is it possible, or at least conceivable, since "m" is "only" a mathematical "existent," that pure energy, i.e., light, does in fact have a degree of mass, that registers numerically as zero or less requiring a different kind of mathematical designation, and that since matter is convertible to pure energy, the latter is another form of mass-bearing existent as is a gas, air, water, fire, which are different but measurable?
Let us not forget that at one time Neutrinos were considered not to have mass. After all aren’t space-craft engineers conceiving space “ships” propelled by solar winds by the pressure of streams of photons against mile-square-size sails and defense mechanisms that emit sufficient-diverting pressure to prevent Yucatan- Peninsula-like meteor impacts that possibly caused the dinosaur extinction.
As the hard cover book, Space 2100: To Mars And Beyond In The Century To Come, describes it, “As sunlight reflects off the surface of a shiny bit of metal, it exchanges the tiniest bit of momentum with the object. . . . and the momentum can build up over time to interplanetary speeds."
Exactly what is meant by the term, 'exchange' implying the absence of the impact of mass?
Is momentum, some "existent" also absent mass?
Momentum is, according to the dictionary, "in mechanics a quantity [my emphasis] of motion of a moving object equal to the product of its mass and velocity."
Except as a mental abstraction, it is not possible for motion to exist other than as a change of space-time relocation.
Is not "an exchange of momentum," since it is a "product of mass and velocity," a cause and effect event, and consequently an impact of mass upon mass?
Is Einstein positing a kind of existent different from matter/energy?
Is he perhaps being misinterpreted?
Is it any wonder that theists point to their unverifiable uses of language, as little different from some of the language, now smacking strongly of metaphysics, being used by scientists?
Aside from the explosions of nuclear bombs, a transfer of matter to energy having no mass but absent mass causing material havoc, how is such language to be verified?
Clearly, then, there is language that can be shown to be true or false, and language, because of the way it is defined, that cannot (ever) be shown to be true or false.
Because our schooling institutions choose not to emphasize the way we abuse language and pay no heed to advice to do so, there is little possibility for radical refinement.
Consider, also, that when we show a claim to be false, we, in fact, are verifying that it is true that the claim does not correspond with the facts.
For instance, if I claim that I usually prefer ham and eggs to just plain ham, knowledge of the evidence of my consistent behavior in making a choice between the two would probabilistically verify the truth of the claim.
If I "claim" that I like ham and eggs better than anything, can the "claim" be shown to be true or false? Obviously it cannot (ever) be shown to be true since "anything" includes ham and eggs. Nor can it be shown to be false.
My understanding is that a claim, and whether it is true or false, are related to knowledge and requires knowledge of empirical evidence to determine its truth or falsity. There can be no knowledgeable evidence of my behavior to verify whether the claim is false.
Unless I stipulate that I MEAN "anything else" by the term, 'anything,' the claim is improper grammar incapable of conveying knowledge of my intended behavior. Hence, it is neither true nor false epistemically.
It is important, as I have shown elsewhere in my homepage, to clarify the usage of such words and symbols, especially terms like 'means,' 'meaningful,' 'meaningless,' 'gobbledygook,' and 'gibberish.'
To the question, then, relating to theistic language: My philosophical position, considering that no word or symbol has inherent meanings, is an unequivocal YES!; theistic language is epistemically unverifiable. Contrary to the position taken by Logical Positivists, however, it is not meaningless.
Also, I do not mean "meaningless" when I use terms like 'gobbledygook' and 'gibberish.' Moreover, when I am not being careless, I always modify such terms with the term 'epistemic.' Even Lewis Carol's, "T'was brillig and the slithy tove did gyre and gimble in the wabe" from his poem, "Jabberwocky" is given meaning.
Whenever one describes a claim as "gibberish," which conventionally is used to mean "meaningless," he probably means that. But the person who spoke the "gibberish" meant something by it even though he may have difficulty explaining what he meant. The Jabberwocky lines have at least artistic or poetic meaning. Of course, taken out of context, as we have done here, complicates the argument even more.
When used conventionally, however, gibberish means "meaningless," to some people and especially to Logical Positivists who mean by such terms, "unverifiable in principle."
I have difficulty understanding the use of that phrase. The term, 'principle' implies that principles exist. Let us not equivocate the term 'exist.'
I don't believe that principles exist any more than do anything we conceive, such as laws, concepts, numbers, beliefs, ideas, minds -- why stop there -- witches, angels, demons, flying horses, unicorns -- oh yes, gods. I'll let you add a few from an "infinity" of other concepts, all terms to which we "give" meaning.
All that existed in the universe, before the qualities of life and intelligence emerged, was matter/energy.
Later the functions of life emerged including intelligence and concepts.
Concepts are not permanent "entities" in the universe. In its history, they come and go out of "existence," i.e., are dependant upon physicality.
And though individual physical existents go out of existence, physicality does not. (Of course those who believe that "God" created the universe out of nothing will argue to the contrary.)
Physicality and its interactions can be tested to exist given the justifiable assumption (which we will not address here) that it exists beyond our perceptions.
The "objects" of our concepts cannot," though our symbols for them can.
The former "exist" as functions of the brain.
Is it not evident, then, that when we use the term, 'exist,' relating to concepts, that it is not descriptive of the same thing as when we speak of entities accessible to our sense faculties, directly or indirectly?
In my view, to do so is an equivocation of the term, 'exist.'
What they presumably represent are not accessible to the sense faculties and cannot be shown to exist. Let us not confuse language (the giving of meaning) and names of things, ideas, concepts, etc., with the real world.
It should become obvious that "languaging," in all its aspects, is not a perfect instrument (shades of Dewey) for dealing with the real world.
The exercise of verification is a tool leading to probable knowledge just as mathematics is a tool leading to an understanding of our physical world, even though mathematics does not, in fact, describe the world (Einstein, Russell, and Hardy).
If this is the case, then it is also the case that some people use the term, 'unverifiable' differently than do others.
Consider the issue of whether the inspectors in Iraq can verify that Saddam Hussein is cooperating with the UN's unanimous vote on Resolution 1441 that he must completely destroy all his weapons of mass destruction.
Some claim, "Yes." Some claim, "No." Does it mean only the presently used inspectors or inspectors brought in in the future?
The present inspectors may not be able to verify whether Hussein has destroyed ALL of his mass weapons. But whether the mass weapons have been all destroyed can be verified sometime in the future because they and the evidence of destruction, are accessible to our sense faculties. The inspectors, present and future, may not have the time or will to achieve verification.
However, with time and patience it is doable, if we are willing to dig up the whole of Iraq or make a through search of a possible sympathetic (to Iraq) country. If the weapons were only conceptual, then they would be impossible to verify except as symbolized concepts. Moreover, it does not mean that Hussein is not cooperating with the inspectors. He is, however slowly and grudgingly. So, once again, whatever the debate may be about the term, 'unverifiable,' I mean, by it, "EPISTEMICALLY unverifiable and meaningless" with no implication of meaninglessness in any other sense.
Let us now consider the use of the term, 'unverifiable,' relative to theistic language, for example, "God rewards the just."
Without the slightest reservation, I insist that such a claim is epistemically unverifiable.
To which concept of a god, that the members of humankind have referred from the past to the present, does it refer?
It is unfortunate and arrogant and shows abysmal ignorance on the part of the theistic authorities and their "flock" to speak as if only their personal "gods" exist.
Apparently religious authorities are either oblivious to or choose to ignore the vast history of the development of CONCEPTS of gods.
I have no problem with people having the legal right (but moral right?) to say theistic language is true or false if they clearly, often, and publicly emphasize that they cannot verify the claim and that they are using the terms in an epistemically unverifiable way and that the terms do not apply to claims of knowledge. They are just any ole, and across the breadth of the world, radically different symbols for beliefs or meanings given to theistic claims.
To use them, in relation to theistic language, without that clarification is extremely misleading and clearly has dangerous and deleterious consequences for the peoples of the world -- as today's events verify.
History has shown, repeatedly, the horrors that ensue from such abuse of language.
It is only when they use such terms with theistic, and other language, implying synonymity of meaning in connection with real-life verification, i.e., accessibility to our sense faculties, that I find their use problematical.
Surely we do not want to conflate our different uses of the terms, 'true,' and 'false.'
There is no doubt that in the different theories of truth, they are clearly distinguished. As in the language of geometry, one does not conflate the concepts of one system, Euclidian, with that of another, Spherical.
Obviously, theistic language is not MEANINGLESS gibberish or gobbledygook considering that billions of people give meaning to it.
Keep in mind that one may and often does give a term any meaning one wishes.
Both terms may be used to mean "meaningless" by those who are deeply offended by theistic language because they feel hurt when thinking of the suffering it has caused and is still causing. They are giving notice of extreme displeasure. When they are in such an emotional state, they are prone to refer to theistic language as gobbledygook, meaning "epistemically unverifiable."
Now let us consider that a theistic claim like, "The just are rewarded," is justifiably inferred [i.e., deducible] from the claim, "God rewards the just."
However, I want to make it clear at the outset that I am not concerned merely with definitions or descriptions of a god or his presumed thoughts and actions.
Rather, I am arguing that all language about gods is epistemic nonsense because the term "god" is, in fact, only a word we use to obscure our ignorance of the how and why of things and consequently so are all other words related to the word, "God."
"God" is the name we give to the limitless scope of our ignorance.
First let us review some facts about deductive logic.
Among other concepts, logic is concerned with truth and falsity. That is to say, when the premises can be shown to be true and the argument is valid, the conclusion is necessarily true and can be verified to be so and is called a "sound" argument.
By the same token, logic can validly deduce false conclusions from false premises. This is called an "unsound argument."
Important for us to understand, however, is that logic can, also, validly deduce epistemically unverifiable conclusions from epistemically unverifiable premises. Though some may be tempted to call this an unsound argument, it raises philosophical issues we will not pursue here. However, I suggest that we name such an argument an "immune argument" because if knowledge cannot be related to it, neither should be the terms, 'true,' and 'false.'
A true conclusion is deduced not by the truth of the premises but by the form of the argument.
It is the facts supporting the conclusion that verify the conclusion to be true.
There are many validly derived conclusions from one or more false premises in an argument; i.e., it is shown that the facts are contrary to the premise(s). Also, it may be the case that there can be no facts to verify or falsify the premise(s).
The conclusion I must draw from the above is that, hypotheticals excluded, no claim can rightfully be declared to be true or false, in fact, unless it can be tested to being supported by direct or indirect empirical evidence, in the conventional use of that term, leading to knowledge.
I am aware that there are philosophical questions that could be proffered here, but to engage in a discussion of such terms as 'evidence,' 'facts,' 'truth,' 'falsity,' 'knowledge,' 'real world,' and many relevant others would obfuscate the issue at hand.
The bottom line in all such discussions must be that such terms speak only to probabilities, not absolutes, else such discussions will lead beyond the bounds of this issue.
That some claim is said to be false implies the possibility of its being true (as some might argue) and not that it is nonsense.
However, there are no truth-values in epistemic nonsense claims.
Consequently the claim is neither true nor false and is unverifiable.
I am aware that there are those, depending on their cultures, religions, personalities, schooling, etc., who will argue that their nonsense claims make sense.
Given a world of nearly seven billion people, there is hardly unanimity of thought.
Now to theistic language and the claim that, "'The just are rewarded' can be deduced from 'God rewards the just'."
For simplification, I am restricting my discussion to language about a Biblical unknowable god. That is not to say that I am implying that there are knowable gods.
Moreover, I, personally, am not declaring that "God IS unknowable."
That would be a claim that there is a God. And though I would say "I don't believe there is a god," I would not claim there is not a God. I am not willing to make either claim in the face of the Biblical definition of unknowability.
To do so would be epistemic nonsense in that it would be declaring that I know something about an unknowable god.
That would be a contradiction which, being absent of the possibility of knowledge, would also be absent of truth-values.
I will say, however, that given the definition of unknowability, from an epistemic point of view, there is no need for the term, 'god,' or any term equivalent in meaning, to be in our vocabulary.
Now a few more comments about theistic language in general.
First, what do I mean by the term, 'epistemic nonsense'?
Epistemic nonsense is a term or claim that is devoid of knowledge of reality that gives the illusion of saying something knowledgeable about it.
We are aware that not all usages of "theistic" language mention the term, 'God.' They are, however, silently invoking "His" unknowable existence as the foundation of anything else "theistic" about to be said.
Such language must then be treated as if the term, 'God,' is part of the claim no matter how many non-theistic clauses, phrases or sentences may be uttered in the claim absent the term, 'God.'
If one claims (as the Bible clearly declares and strongly implies), "God exists but cannot be known," the claim is unverifiable.
If one declares an unknowable God can't exist, this, too, cannot be verified.
If there is or isn't such an unknowable god, what epistemic sense does it make to say anything theistic that is not mere conjecture but may or may not be a fact?
Any claim about such a god cannot be verified to be true or false because such a god may or may not exist and there is no way to obtain knowledge relevant to the claim.
Therefore, any theistic claim, including concomitant "theistic" claims absent the term, 'God,' are unverifiable because they are epistemically vacuous and have meaning in concept only.
Anything uttered explicitly or implied to be a claim, that does not include the term, 'God,' but is relevant to the claim that an unknowable God exists, cannot be shown to have any relevance to something unknowable and, hence, is theistic epistemic nonsense.
Let us return, then to, "'The just is rewarded [or not]' can be shown to be false."
We know from the facts of experience, that it is not always true that the just are rewarded.
Hence, even though it can be tested that the just are not always rewarded, it cannot be tested that an unknowable god, believed to exist, rewards (or does not) the just. The claim is predicated upon a god BELIEVED, not verified to exist -- ever -- according to available evidence in the history of humanity.
Nor can it be shown to be empirically verifiable by logic because the premise has not been shown and cannot, by definition, be shown to be true.
I clearly distinguish between "theistic" and "religious" language, the latter does not always include the former.
Theists are religionists but religionists are not always theists.
Religious and theistic language, when predicated upon the claims attributed to an UNKNOWABLE god, make no more ontological or epistemic sense than does the claim of an unknowable god. This is so because such claims imply that one claims to believe in such a god.
Moreover, we must be careful about mixing theistic (existence of God) language with anthropological language and calling the mix "theistic" language.
When non-believers, of which I am one, deny the existence of an anthropomorphic god, it must be understood that they are referring to the gods of "holy" writings. In such cases, by claiming the non-existence of such a god, they are using language that appears to be theistic. It is, in fact, pseudo-theistic language. The term, 'god,' for non-believers, is an epistemically empty term.
Taken out of the context of claims of belief in, or existence of, an unknowable god, stated or implied, some religious claims may be argued to have ontological status in the minds of the believers.
If they are theistic claims, however, they are predicated upon the one premise that cannot be verified; i.e., "An unknowable God exists," most often euphemistically stated as, "God exists."
Here, we may have an argument part immune and part valid. It won't work!
One may give meaning
Even if coherence
To any language
Hence, though the premise, "God (the unknowable god of the Bible) exists," is meaningful in some vague way, it is epistemically meaningless by definition.
If, however, one resorts to the old bromide, "God can be known by his works," it is clearly obvious that the statement is epistemic nonsense because evidence shows that even though there may be an unknowable god, all we know is that the works exist, not how or why they do. Thereby that claim has no relevance to the issue because we have no grounds for making the claim.
To attribute either of the truth-value characteristics to supernatural, transcendental, metaphysical, and divine entities, however, is not only to define them to be nothing but the conceptions of intelligent beings but also to commit the error of misplaced categories.
And, as is well evident, no one speaks of or worships a god.
Each person speaks of or worships his CONCEPT of a god, however he may have acquired his concept.
The utterance of the term, 'God,' however, does not always imply theism.
I quote (with minor revision) from the introduction of my book, Hey! IS That You, God? p. xv.
"God" is a stir word, a regulatory word, a reward word, a fear word, a smooth word, a threat word, a filler word. It is devoid of all intellectual content which helps us to communicate about things that in fact exist in our universe. Analogously, it is a variable like a mathematical x, y, or z. It is a word that is all things to all believers -- a catchall word like "good" and "bad." It is often used as an expletive, as a verbal gush of words, particularly in emotional expressions that give the illusion of communication.
In such usage, it is difficult to determine whether the term is being used theistically.
To consider the issue of whether such theistic language "has" value is an entirely different and irrelevant subject to which I will not contribute here other than the following succinct statement.
Colloquially stated, yes, it does; in fact, however, no language HAS inherent value. Different people ATTRIBUTE different values to different uses of theistic language partly because in every case affirming the existence of a god, they have been conditioned to do so.
Let us return then, to claims like, "God rewards the just," "The just are rewarded," and "God protects the innocent."
We can certainly infer THE WORDS of such "claims" if we choose to and most believers do, ignoring the exceptions to the "claims." But the question, "Is the inference justifiable," is another issue.
That "the just are rewarded" is often true. But because of the impossibility of evidence, the reality cannot be empirically verified to be true (or false) that it is a result of God's rewarding the just.
Yes, we can deduce words from other words and we can verify that we do so. We cannot justifiably claim that the "claim" is epistemically true -- or false.
To say, "'God protects the innocent,' is false," is to say that you, "know God's goodness is the same as man's goodness and God's protection is the same as man's conception of protection." Against what, going to Hell? That would make, "God protects the innocent," true.
But, we don't know anything about "God!"
IF there is a God and He protects the innocent from going to Hell, He does protect the innocent!
Remember, "God works in mysterious ways, 'His' wisdom to behold." Moreover, nothing happens in this universe except by God's will. But, more to the point, the fact that "God" is defined to be unknowable, coupled with "His" other defined divine attributes, characteristics, powers, actions, concepts, goals, etc., leaves "Him" immune to being called "unjust."
To say the "claim" is false, is to claim to know something about God that cannot be known; i.e., "God does not protect the innocent."
To consider the "claim" to be false, is to ignore what we call in logic "hidden or implied premises" or "missing components."
Since no one can know there is or isn't an unknowable god, when one chooses to refer to the term or the concept of such a god, one is compelled to couch his statement as a hypothetical.
There is a great big "IF---THEN" here not being given any consideration. That is, "If God exists and is a good and just God, a hypothetical, then He 'rewards the just'," the deduced hypothetical.
It isn't that one is justified in believing that the just are rewarded BECAUSE "God rewards the just." It is true that believers do infer that the just are rewarded by "God." It is true, also, that believers, as with non-believers, experience that the just often are rewarded and don't give any thought to a "God."
No one experiences "God" rewarding the just. When believers give "God" credit, they do not realize that they have been conditioned (The church says "indoctrinated," or improperly and euphemistically stated, "'educated' in the ways of God") to believe that a god (whose existence is unknowable.) rewards the just.
Just non-believers are also rewarded and do not give a god credit for that. They, too, infer this from experience in the real world and knowingly or unknowingly accede to the principle of parsimony, in this case, that just behavior has its own rewards -- unfortunately the term 'sometimes' is overlooked.
Also, there is abundant evidence that many people believe that not only believers but just non-believers are frequently "rewarded" when God, if he's a "forgiving god," "takes them to Heaven" by frequently extreme and torturous means.
Moreover, the claim that because just people suffer proves that the claim "God rewards the just," is false is to ignore that the sufferers are rewarded when God "takes them to Heaven."
Are they not rewarded by being "taken to Heaven?" Would that not mean that the statement is true?
However, let us assume it is false. Then, one may have a valid argument here, but not a sound one.
One could KNOW it to be false IF one could also KNOW that there is a god who behaves this way. But one not only does not know, one CANNOT know because one cannot know that IF there is an unknowable god, he would or would not behave that way. All that one KNOWS is that "many good people suffer unnecessarily," believers or not. One does not know that this is because of a god's behavior.
Truth and falsity in the real world requires verifiable empirical evidence, not deductive "evidence."
Notice, I do not claim that it is true that there is a real (physical) world. I BELIEVE there is a physical world or I would not be replying to you. There is evidence available to my sense faculties of which you, too, are aware and that billions of other people are also subjected to. You and I are obviously not figments of imagination. You, too, believe I exist because of that same evidence. There are many, many facts permitting us both to make this claim. This is not the place to present that evidence. However, we can both agree that it is most often beyond language in the colloquial use of that term.
This is not the case with, "'God rewards the just' is false."
There is evidence that many just and good people suffer. To claim this is evidence that "'God rewards the just' is false," makes no epistemic sense, primarily because one is referring to an UNKNOWABLE (even though avoided being mentioned) god.
Such a reference clearly shows that in such claims, there is no possibility for knowledge which is a prerequisite for use of the terms, 'true' and 'false.'
Truth and falsity are terms that relate to the linguistic claims we make about facts we presume to be knowable.
Epistemic nonsense claims do not deal with facts.
They are claims about imaginary "facts" to which it is impossible to bring evidence to bear.
For a claim to be false, it must not be epistemic nonsense.
It must make sense to be called false.
Theistic language may be true or false but there is no way for us to determine whether it is or not; hence, it is epistemically meaningless.
Consequently, it is epistemic nonsense.
One is not deducing fact from facts but, rather, deducing words from words. We might just as well deduce from A is B and B is C that A is C.
There are no letters in the universe. Those are symbols used to "represent" ideas we call letters. One is deducing only symbols from symbols -- to which each of us gives his personal or conventional meaning.
Consider the claim that because there are just and good people suffering and not being rewarded, this verifies that "God is not all good, or not all powerful, or not all knowing," or just that, "God does not exist."
First, it is abundantly clear to those who reason well that people suffering, just or not, good or not, verifies ONLY that people are suffering, not, necessarily, why they are suffering. No evidence is being offered that there is or is not an all good, powerful, knowing god or that such a god does not exist.
All this language is epistemically empty. Moreover, ignoring the emptiness of theistic language for the moment, those who make such a claim are forgetting the "reward of Heaven."
Remember, believers claim that existence here on Earth is only preparation for the journey to Heaven (the city of God) or Hell (the city of Satan -- another eternal and unknowable god called a "fallen angel"), and is a test of how one handles adversity as well as happiness.
But for more empty theistic language, consider Saint Augustine's admonition that it does not matter whether you behave justly of not, your fate is already sealed -- even before the day of your birth, Heaven or Hell, which also cannot be determined to exist.
If that is the case, there is no need to claim that God rewards the just and, in the face of suffering, that the claim is false.
There are no rewards for anyone, just or unjust. Going to Heaven, then, is not a reward and going to Hell is not punishment. They are destinies.
There are differing religious "authorities" who make such unsupportable comments, as is often cited. However, they are not explanations. Their conflicting comments are fantasy, stories like the Creation story. They cannot know that an unknowable God does or does not exist. The language is vacuous or at least fictional.
We certainly do not want to conflate fictional truth, falsity, and knowledge with real-world truth, falsity, and knowledge. Do we?
Now let us address my insistence that theistic claims are not true and that they are not false either.
As I have shown, the TERM, 'false' can be deduced from the language that precedes it. That can be verified. But is that the issue here? I don't think so.
When one claims that a claim is true or false, one is claiming to have knowledge of some kind. It is clear that theistic language does not speak to reality.
We must be very careful not to equate hypothetical "knowledge" with knowledge relating to verifiable language about existents that are susceptible to our sense faculties, directly or indirectly. To use the two terms in language that does not relate to knowledge being claimed is to abuse them -- notwithstanding various theories of truth.
When I say such theistic language is epistemically empty, I do not mean it is meaningless.
It has been suggested that I refer to such theistic language as "incoherent" rather than as "epistemic nonsense." I don't and I wouldn't. Why diddle daddle with words. Hit the nail on the head. I insist on "epistemic nonsense."
The use of the word "incoherent" implies confused expression, even an emotional state of mind, about a subject that should be seriously and objectively considered.
To be truly educated in this subject, one must come to understand that all talk about unknowable anything, gods, metaphysical beings, unicorns, whatever, is not just a matter of epistemic nonsense.
It is also a matter of the acceptance of such language as being epistemically meaningful, and what affect it has on the development of one's mindset.
Such acceptance, to one's detriment, creates a mindset that cannot recognize, or is willing to accept other, unverifiable claims.
There is a contrived claim that "God is so powerful, he can create a rock he cannot lift, but, then, having created it, he lifts it."
This is a perfect example of sheer word games that have no relevance to (real) truth, falsity, and knowledge.
Any claim to knowledge from hypotheticals is based on previous experience of the real world. There is no such experience possible here. The "incoherence" is contrived.
Not every theistic claim is contradictory, even though it may be epistemic nonsense.
For instance, "An unknowable God exists," is straight forward. There may be such a god.
Certainly, the person making the claim does not know that he is not knowledgeably making the claim. He is psychologically certain. He has not a shadow of doubt that his claim is true.
We, in turn, must realize that we, too, do not know that his claim is true -- or false.
The only weakness of the claim, other than being epistemic nonsense, is that we cannot know which it is. It is epistemically empty. How can we knowledgeably deny or affirm it?
It is not incoherent. It is epistemic nonsense, as is the above paradox. Why avoid stating the truth that it is epistemic nonsense, to be politically correct? To call it incoherent when it is obviously epistemic nonsense is to cloud the issue. It implies that if it is not muddled language and is coherently stated, it might be true.
Of course, if one asks why it is epistemic nonsense, then it is appropriate to talk about contradiction, incoherence, and the like. But if the phrase is understood, there is no need to pursue the issue.
To do so is to pursue an examination of the language, not the truth or falsity of the claim.
However, when one offers an argument like, "If it is true that God creates a rock he cannot lift, then, the claim, 'He lifts it,' must be false," how can one, uninformed in matters of logic argue, to the contrary? The term, 'God,' could easily be supplanted with another symbol such as 'Fido.'
What we can argue is that we are playing a word game. We are not arguing about a GOD that can lift rocks he can't lift. We are arguing whether some, phrases, clauses, or sentences, can be deduced from our use of others.
I'm certain all will agree that we don't really want to conflate hypothetical verification with epistemic and empirical verification or hypothetical falsity with falsity relating to empirical evidence.
Aside from being epistemic nonsense, the competing claims about God must make sense. Otherwise, we could not determine that we contradict. That the contradiction, God lifts a rock he cannot lift, is epistemically meaningless does not imply that some statements about God are either (epistemically) true or false.
If one cannot understand that any mention of a god and theistic language related to the term, as it is used here on Earth, are strictly hypothetical, then there is no possibility of arguing rationally with him.
One may refer to such language as axiological, immune, opaque, incoherent, contradictory, ontological, etc., to no avail because one is not speaking to issues of reality.
Language after all is not a thing, it is but the functioning of the brain giving meaning to the symbols we have invented, for the concepts we conceive, and the "objects" of our sense faculties.
Moreover, what do hypothetical truths and falsities, will o' the wisps, have to do with truth, falsity, and knowledge in the legitimate sense in which we use these terms?
In a work of fiction the claims make sense. But can you apply truth, falsity, and knowledge to them outside the context of the fiction? If you can, they are no longer fictional. Some of them may even be true in the real world. They may be true or false in the realm of mythology, i.e., fiction. They are "true" or "false" within the bounds of fictional unknowable gods, but not relevant to verifiable real gods. To make presumably epistemic claims about fictional entities is either to be playing word games or being a trickster.
And when we speak of truth and falsity, are we not referring to verifiability through our sense faculties (facts) not through deductive logic (form) that can PROVE, but not verify, anything except hypotheticals?
As to the Logical Positivists' claim that theistic language is `meaningless, they are clearly wrong.
Their problem is they give too restrictive a meaning to "meaning" and "meaningless."
"Meaning" does not require a relationship with truth, falsity, and knowledge, as is frequently the case in the arts.
"Paradoxes are given meaning, else they could not be called "paradoxes" nor hold such a position of interest to some philosophers.
Just as hypotheticals "possess" hypothetical truth values, paradoxes have no truth-values because WE create them absent truth-values.
Language, relating to unverifiable language (claims), has no truth values or has only hypotheticals to which we erroneously attribute real truth values.
When we create paradoxes, we give up the right to assign truth values to them because we create them incapable of having truth-values.
Moreover, when one claims to predict that an unknowable God is going to appear and knows full well it is not going to happen, he is merely playing word games, concocting a series of symbols to which he gives meaning not relevant to the conventional and justifiable uses of those terms. To predict involves expectation of fulfillment.
People who use language like "God is unknowable but I know what He wants of us," are speaking in the realm of epistemic nonsense even if they are assigning personal meaning to it. If I were such a believer, I'd insist that I am making sense and so would other believers.
Those who really believe that an "unknowable" God's intentions can be known should be willing to admit, as some theologians do, that the "holy" (Biblical) writings about God being unknowable are not inerrant.
Moreover, they should be able to describe their gods empirically in at least some specific detail. If not, they have a responsibility to verify that their knowledge includes something more than merely the existence of "holy" writings. Some believers need to verify that they are not confusing hallucinatory experiences with verifiable facts.
People uneducated in the uses and abuses of language, in any pursuit of knowledge, tend to make and believe unverifiable claims.
Our theistic societies condition us with a mindset, beginning with the word "God" at birth graduating to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the whole gamut of unverifiable concepts including those we use so efficiently as tools.
The blame for such ignorance of the strengths, weaknesses, the good, and the bad results of the use of language is to be placed on their parents, their cultures, their schooling systems, particularly on their religious authorities for seeking to control their beliefs, and even on the individuals themselves for having no will to improve their thinking processes, except, of course, when it can be verified that they have been conditioned to be unable to.
Such discussions as these between believers and atheists and agnostics are generally useless except for those people who are "on the fence" about these issues.
Believers studiously avoid using the term, 'unknowable,' when they use the term 'God.'
The Bible clearly "speaks" of God's" UNKNOWABILITY even though the New Testament segues into language declaring that He can be known through His son.
It is truly astounding that in the 21st century those who claim to be reasoning, intelligent, and rational human beings maintain their faith, easily accept myth, poetic fiction, and concepts in general for predictable or knowable facts.
There are two main reasons; the first, is our careless use of language.
But, as to maintaining faith, there is a more frightening reason.
No one is born a believer in a god!!
Though there are understandable reasons for acceptance of non-theistic matters, what seems to be not understood, by the faithful, is the power of the conditioning process, euphemistically called "indoctrination" or "religious education," beginning at birth, and reinforced not only by religious authorities but also by the theistically oriented uninformed masses, throughout history and the world.
And, it was, and is still, frequently done not with the best of moral methods.
Moreover, to equate beliefs founded on the impossibility of being tested, with beliefs deeply held by individuals, that can be tested is to ignore sciences' most important tools, i.e., concepts and uses of language (mathematics), for acquiring probable truth and knowledge.
Furthermore, to claim that there is no necessary connection between a claim being true and there being knowledge that it is true is a useless exercise of language having no epistemological value.
To use language that way makes the phrase, "Anything is possible," a necessarily true statement incapable of being false when in the face of evidence of even one simple example out of countless possibilities shows that it is patently false.
In such usage, it becomes true that there may be flying horses, unicorns, and an infinity of other such concepts and supernatural divinities imbued with ontological status.
Saint Anselm reigns again; if you conceive it, it exists.
That is a new twist of its use if ontology is only a claim of being. Perhaps, one day it will appear in dictionaries under "in Philosophy." As of now, it does not seem to be in accord with conventional usage.
It is unfortunate that dictionaries' recordings of language usage are so often taken as an excuse for legitimacy.
As my students know, the more "meanings" we give to a term, the more confusing attempts at communication become.
In the case of theistic language, it should be clear that to use the term, 'exist,' in reference to supernatural "beings," and concepts, whether they be mathematical or other conceptual "existents," that it CANNOT "mean" that they are accessible to the sense faculties, they are known, (i.e. supported by evidence), or CAN offer the fulfillment of prediction.
Hence, the term, 'exist,' in its multiple usages, which is often used as a synonym of the terms, 'be,' 'am,' 'is,' 'are,' and other forms of the infinitive "to be," DO NOT "mean" the same thing.
It should be clear, then, that when we do give multiple "meanings" to language, we are equivocating.
If one insists on using the term when referring to non-physical concepts, it should be enclosed with quotation marks, e.g., "ontology" or at least indicate that concepts do not occupy space-time. Though they may, or may not, have axiological value, that is a far cry from dimensional and knowable reality.
Jesus Christ was a human being, like the rest of us, about whom a legend arose as to his divinity and his relationship to "God," in order to give "substance" to His UNKNOWABILITY, justifying Jesus as the central figure of the New Testament.
This is clearly a linguistic ploy to avoid having to admit that to speak of a god that is unknowable AS IF he does exist, gives the impression that one actually exists. This has been attested to by theists themselves. Eventually they would have to come to terms with the fact that they cannot epistemically speak of an unknowable God's existence and whether their concomitant claims are being true or not.
Moreover, by using language like "Jesuits do not leave their minds 'behind,'" when they discuss the "existence" of "God" and studiously examine theistic jargon to weed out obvious inconsistencies, incoherence, etc., one is only appealing to expert authority in dogma, not to evidence that the dogma is true or false or so able to be determined.
Do the Jesuits not, in the end of their "evaluations," still believe in the existence of an unknowable god, unless of course they became atheists or agnostics as did five of the Catholic Popes?
Those Jesuits who believe in the existence of a god, were conditioned, as were the rest of us, by their parents, their church, their mentors, a god-oriented society, and the intense marketing, for millennia, of god concepts supported over the years by trillions and trillions of dollars as well as by threats of punishment, damnation, and rewards at the hand of their postulated god.
Luckily for some of us, the conditioning process may not have been as intense because of our intellectual or experiential environment, leaving us "on the fence."
We began questioning such language before it was too late, offering both evidence and our recognition of the abuse of language upon which to base what language to accept as true and what to reject as false or epistemically unable to be determined to be true or false.
From my own point of view, I try to avoid using much of the jargon, like (non-physical) ontology, concepts as "objects" of the mind, etc., of religious "philosophers" which obfuscates the issues rather than clarifies them.
Such use forces philosophers into dialogues in which through the ages they continually disagree and rehash by asking "What do you mean by those terms" in order to reveal the obfuscation leading us far from the core issues.
It may be mental exercise, a way of making a living, or even fun for some; to others it can be frustrating to be sidetracked from the issue originally raised unless, of course they enjoy arguing for the sheer joy of arguing.
Is it not abundantly clear that if one uses the term. 'unverifiable,' one means "unable to be determined to be epistemically true or false, not hypothetically true or false"?
To make this point clearer, does not, "God exists," mean "God exists, though He is unknowable"?
And does it not clearly, without further discussion, mean that nothing epistemically can be concluded from the statement?
If I'm missing something here, no discussion in my over sixty years of argument and study about this subject has revealed it to me.
One cannot rationally discuss these issues if one excludes the role that language plays in the formation of our concepts and the acceptance of truth, falsity, and knowledge related to our sense perceptions of the presumed physical world.
The use of terms like 'exist' and 'ontology' make little epistemic sense used as loosely as they are by theists.
To repeat for emphasis: Is it not clear that the word, "God," like so many other words such as Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Pegasus, soul, Heaven, Hell, and many thousands more are hypotheticals, some of which we hypostatize, without bothering to use the hidden "IF---THEN"?
Any "truths" or "falsities" about them are also hypotheticals.
I admit that there are hypothetical truths and falsities, but let's not conflate them with truths and falsities related to reality.
It is obvious to one who understands the many functions of language that the use of the term, 'God,' and all concomitant theological (i.e., god-ological) language falls into the category of hypotheticals.
In summary then:
UNKNOWABLES (gods) cannot be talked about epistemically.
No theistic language can be false -- or true.
The word, "God," is theistic.
Everything said or implied, though fundamentally anthropological, when used in the penumbra of the term, 'God,' is functioning theistically.
Contradictions and paradoxes cannot be said to be false; they are epistemic nonsense lacking in truth values.
Hypotheticals beget only hypotheticals.
It makes no sense to speak of a claim being false unrelated to verifiable truth and knowledge.
Conclusions only validly deductively arrived at are only coherently, not correspondently, i.e., in reality, true, unless the premises being verifiably true soundly permit verifiably true conclusions.
© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella