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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Argument For Theological Noncognitivism

Here is the next installment in my series of responses to the Triabloggers. In the last one, I presented a proof showing that presuppositionalists cannot maintain both that all valid arguments do not beg the question and that all knowledge presupposes the existence of God. Thus, they must either abandon their presuppositionalism or claim that some valid arguments beg the question. If they claim that some valid arguments beg the question, then they should provide a compelling argument for why the rest of us should abandon such a basic rule of logical argument. At this point, it seems we have a choice between logic and presuppositionalism. I'm choosing logic.

I will now turn my attention to theological noncognitivism. This is the view that theological terms (such as “God” and “the supernatural”) are non-sensical, and cannot even be entertained as concepts. I will focus here on the term “God” as defined and used by Steve Hays, one of the Triabloggers.

The term “God” has been defined by Steve as aspatial and atemporal mind. God and mind are one and the same. This is not to confuse God with the human mind, however. According to Steve, the human mind is aspatial yet temporal. Atemporality is God’s alone, apparently.

But what is mind? By taking the human mind to be aspatial, Steve is refusing to locate it in the human brain. Yet, Steve says that neuroscientists, by studying the brain, can study “manifestations” of the human mind. This implies that the human mind is at least in some way spatial. Steve has not presented a clear view of the physicality (or lack thereof) of the human mind.

Generally, when we think of the mind, we think of thought. Minds are thinking things. But thought takes time. That is presumably why Steve says that the human mind is temporal. Yet, this would preclude the possibility of there being an atemporal mind.

By failing to present a clear understanding of the term "mind," Steve makes it that much more difficult to understand what he means when he defines "God" as "atemporal and aspatial mind." As problematic as this is for Steve's position, it does not fulfill the argument for theological noncognitivism. So let's try to ignore the problems with Steve's usage of the term "mind" and move on.

Steve also says that God does not interact with or respond to the physical world, which is both spatial and temporal. (We may pause to note that the Bible offers many examples of God interacting with spatio-temporal events; e.g., God is depicted as engaging Job in conversation. This runs contrary to Steve’s usage.) Steve notes that “events are inherently temporal.” Events happen; God does not.

Steve also says that God “can instantiate any compossible state of affairs.” Steve is here coupling the term “God” with the verb "instantiate." Like all dynamic verbs (as opposed to stative verbs), “instantiate" denotes an action. To instantiate something is to do something. Actions are events. Thus, God cannot instantiate anything. This is a contradiction in Steve’s usage.

Since the term “God” is said to refer to an entity which cannot perform any actions, the term “God” cannot be used in conjunction with any dynamic verbs. Similarly, the term “God” cannot be used in conjunction with any stative verbs. For example, the sentence “God loves mankind” indicates that God maintains some feelings about mankind. The maintaining of feelings requires time. God thus cannot maintain any feelings, or any state of affairs whatsoever.

As we can see, the term “God” cannot be used in conjunction with any stative or dynamic verbs. This exhausts the possibilities of using the term “God” as the subject of a sentence. Therefore, “God exists,” “God instantiates compossible states of affairs,” and all other sentence about God's actions, states, or attributes, are meaningless. In sum, there is no sense in regarding “atemporal and aspatial mind” as anything at all.