Practically Speaking

The Pragmatic Argument About “God”

1) “God” exists in the human vocabulary.
2) Human reason is restricted by vocabulary.
3) God transcends the human vocabulary.
4) Therefore:
    a) “God” in the human vocabulary has no referent.
    b) All God-narratives are metaphysical sentences.
    c) God-narratives are only meaningful (not true or false).

Can we talk about God at all and know what we mean, or should we know what we mean when we talk about “God”?


Fr. Herbert McCabe, God Matters, pg 6

A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth And Logic, pg 117

Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pg 615

George Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, pg 26

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7 thoughts on “Practically Speaking

  1. campeador says:

    Good show, Steven! Very well and succinctly put.

    Let me add to your ‘syllogism’: Human feelings (as well as a multitude of other ‘things’, including God) transcend the human vocabulary.
    Therefore: Words (including the ones used here) are an imperfect (deficient) medium with which to ‘encapsulate’: ‘meaning’, ‘truth’, ‘reality’, etc. Words will only serve as approximations in ‘describing’ that which is beyond words. One could say (and some have) that words are ‘maps’, providing useful, but far-from-complete, abstractions which allow one to ‘navigate’ the ‘territory’ (Das ding an sich, or Noumenon). So, it’s my opinion (belief) that we engage in a “fool’s errand”, whenever we strive to convince one another of the ‘validity’ of our personal beliefs, or non-beliefs. To paraphrase: “Believe and let believe.”

    However, one’s actions, performed in the furtherance of personal beliefs, fall into the category of ‘religion’. Actions, as opposed to beliefs, are subject to ‘measurement’, useful in determining their degree of ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ in particular cases.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Steven Hoyt says:

      thank you, and, well said yourself.

    • Steven Hoyt says:

      all that we have are beliefs. when we feel they’re justified, we call them true. it cannot be a fool’s errand to justify personal beliefs, or any.

      in fact, all beliefs are regardless, justified if one is any kind of rational person.

      since it seems you’d like to use “belief” and “personal” non epistemologically, i take you to mean there’s no proving objectively, any metaphysical proposition. that of course is true.

      however, we ensure we at least use logical validity for coherency, and at a minimum, suggest there are reasonable grounds for these kinds of propositions to believable at all.

      so for these, the questioning isn’t about technical validity (since any non sense can be uttered validly). they also literally have no truth-value. to suggest this is what constitutes a fool’s errand is to not understand what metaphysical statement represent. they are judged merely as being worth believing enough to inquire from in more real terms having assumed it true.

      in that case, doctrinal objections are not such an errand but are instead, absolute necessities. surely rather than viewing them as epistemology, the task of evaluation is one of moral, social responsibility.

      wouldn’t you think?

      surely we have (and must) sentiments about morality itself, about human worth, ethics, etc. which all fall into this metaphysical prospect i think you’re suggesting are not genuinely debatable when indeed, they are.

      experience doesn’t transcend vocabulary though and it is merely a conflation or mistake in thinking vocabularies must have a correspondence to their referents. they don’t in that sense. since you’re following kant, follow him all the way. that is to say our statements about reality are objective (limited by real facts) but relate to our thoughts and their justifications only beyond that. this flows into peirce and naturally ends with rory … echoed in mlodinow and hawking’s model-dependent theory; of course after declaring philosophy is dead while only rearticulating the century-old american pragmatism in the dress of “science” “theory”.


      • Steven Hoyt says:

        lol … rorty. i blame the phone. =)

      • Steven Hoyt says:

        given we act from beliefs, by the way, both are objectionable. in that way, jefferson is right; why call any religion bad if its fruits are good. conversely, what value is a necessary truth, an absolute truth (so to speak) if it turns out its fruit are worm-ridden.

        know what i mean?

      • campeador says:

        Let me begin with an apology: That bit about ‘fool’s errand’ was very inartfully put. I didn’t mean to imply that our beliefs cannot be ‘judged’ or measured against other beliefs and that we should not strive to justify our belief’s to one another. Rather, I was making the point that we cannot ‘prove’ our beliefs to one another.

        I also regret ‘sending the message’ that I am well-versed in the ins-and-outs of philosophical discourse. I am familiar with certain concepts, but my only brush with a formal treatment of epistemology, for example, is a Philosophy of Science course in my senior year in college. I threw-in the ‘Das ding an sich’ reference, not because I “follow” Kant, but because I have been exposed to the argument that the “thing itself” is not the same thing as the words that we use to ‘describe’ the thing. Which ties-in to the point that I was attempting to make about word’s inability to fully encapsulate ‘things’, whether those ‘things’ are ‘objects’, ‘feelings’, or ‘concepts’. Please note that I don’t use these terms in any ‘official’ philosophical sense. Which explains my penchant for using quotation marks to stress the fact that the terms in question have not been fully defined. My use of single quotation marks are analogous to ‘air quotations’ that speakers sometimes use to denote a somewhat figurative use of the term being ‘air quoted’.

        You are, of course, correct in stressing that “doctrinal objections…are absolute necessities…[constituting] a moral, social responsibility.” In my own poor way, I tried making the distinction between the belief, and the moral and social impact (or worth) that the belief will surely have. I did so by differentiating ‘belief’ in God (intensively ‘personal’) and “religion’ (social activity). This last is absolutely subject to scrutiny, ‘measurement’ and judgement.

        I am not familiar with the works of Messrs. Peirce, Rorty, Mlodinov, or Hawkings (unless you’re referring to the physicist), so alas!, I have little to say on these.

        I do want to comment on an assertion of yours, found in another post: “God is the reason we are drawn to the good.” I consider this statement to be one of the, if not THE, best pronouncement about the ‘nature’ of God that I have ever run across. I will certainly be using it, with proper attribution of course, in future expositions.

        I’m looking forward to continuing these valuable exchanges of facts and opinions.

      • Steven Hoyt says:

        listen, first, there’s no need for apology, ever, with me. i thought your comments were (and still are) stellar. in writing, i have a knack at sounding aggressive and often hostile but really i have none of that in my mind or heart when responding. it’s more of a stream of thought when presented ideas that have consequences. i’m really talking it through in my own head; “that can’t be right! can it?”

        i thank you for engaging at all, much less so well!

        i wouldn’t worry about the attribution, by the way. i just put many theologians’ ideas into one consolidated, short sentence. primarily, that’s aquinas, rashdall, and specifically schillebeeckx … being brief. LOL.

        i’m so glad you took the time to restate things so i can understand you better. sad part is, we’ve nothing to disagree over now what’s left to do but be bored. seriously though, i have enjoyed talking with you either way and always look forward to the next opportunity.

        yes, hawking, the physicist: sourced from “the grand design”, co author, mlodinow.

        anyway, until that next time …

        be well.

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