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Ignosticism or igtheism is the idea that every theological position assumes too much about the concept of God and other theological concepts; including (but not limited to) concepts of faith, spirituality, heaven, hell, afterlife, damnation, salvation, sin and the soul.
Ignosticism is the view that any religious term or theological concept presented must be accompanied by a coherent definition. Without a clear definition such terms cannot be meaningfully discussed. Such terms or concepts must also be falsifiable. Lacking this an ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the existence or nature of the terms presented (and all matters of debate) is meaningless. For example, if the term "God" does not refer to anything reasonably defined then there is no conceivable method to test against the existence of god. Therefore the term "God" has no literal significance and need not be debated or discussed.
Relationship to other views about God
Ignosticism and theological noncognitivism are generally synonymous, but the relationship of ignosticism to other nontheistic views is less clear. While Paul Kurtz finds the view to be compatible with both weak atheism and agnosticism, other philosophers consider ignosticism to be distinct.
The term ignosticism was coined in the 1960s by Sherwin Wine, a rabbi and a founding figure of Humanistic Judaism. The term igtheism was coined by the secular humanist Paul Kurtz in his 1992 book The New Skepticism.
In a chapter of his 1936 book Language, Truth, and Logic, A. J. Ayer argued that one could not speak of God's existence, or even the probability of God's existence, since the concept itself was unverifiable and thus nonsensical. Ayer wrote that this ruled out atheism and agnosticism as well as theism because all three positions assume that the sentence "God exists" is meaningful. Given the meaninglessness of theistic claims, Ayer opined that there was "no logical ground for antagonism between religion and natural science", as theism alone does not entail any propositions which the scientific method can falsify.
Like Ayer, Theodore Drange sees atheism and agnosticism as positions that accept "God exists" as a meaningful proposition: atheists judge it to be "false or probably false" while agnostics consider it to be inconclusive until further evidence is met. If Drange's definitions are accepted, ignostics are neither atheists nor agnostics. A simplified maxim on the subject states "An atheist would say, 'I don't believe God exists'; an agnostic would say, 'I don't know whether or not God exists'; and an ignostic would say, 'I don't know what you mean when you say, "God exists" .
Although a self-proclaimed atheist, Sam Harris has expressed frustration with being labeled an atheist and often employs ignostic arguments criticizing the ambiguous and inconsistent definitions of "God". Harris finds the label and concept of atheism as extraneous as needing to label oneself a non-racist or a non-believer in Zeus. In this sense, Harris finds debating about the existence of God to be both absurd and ascientific yet still an inconvenient necessity when speaking in defense of reason and science.
Ignosticism is not to be confused with apatheism, a position of apathy toward the existence of God. An apatheist may see the statement "God exists" as insignificant; yet they may also see it as having semantic value, and perhaps being true.
Dependence on a particular view concerning the word God
Drange emphasizes that any stance on "Does God exist?" is made with respect to a particular concept of what one claims to consider "God" to represent:
Since the word "God" has many different meanings, it is possible for the sentence "God exists" to express many different propositions. What we need to do is to focus on each proposition separately. … For each different sense of the term "God," there will be theists, atheists, and agnostics relative to that concept of God.
Some, such as Drange above, claim that God means different things to different people, and thus when God is spoken or written, an ignostic may seek to determine if something like a child's concept of a material god is meant or if a theologian's purported definition is intended instead. A theistic child's concept generally has a simple and coherent meaning, based on an anthropomorphic conception of a god. Many philosophers and theologians have rejected this conception of a deity to label "God" while claiming belief in another conception of a deity, including St. Augustine, Maimonides, St. Thomas Aquinas, Baruch Spinoza, and Søren Kierkegaard.
- "The Argument From Non-Cognitivism". Retrieved 2008-02-11.
- Conifer, Theological Noncognitivism: "Theological noncognitivism is usually taken to be the view that the sentence 'God exists' is cognitively meaningless."
- Kurtz, New Skepticism, 220: "Both [atheism and agnosticism] are consistent with igtheism, which finds the belief in a metaphysical, transcendent being basically incoherent and unintelligible."
- "isms of the week: Agnosticism and Ignosticism". The Economist. 2010-07-28. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Ayer, Language, 115: "There can be no way of proving that the existence of a God … is even probable. … For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experimental propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible."
- Ayer, Language, 115–16
- Ayer, Language, 117
- Drange, Atheism
- Sam Harris on the "dangers" of "atheism" on YouTube
- Rauch, Let It Be: "… many apatheists are believers. … Even regular churchgoers can, and often do, rank quite high on the apatheism scale."
- Hanisch, Drawings
- Armstrong, Karen (1993). A History of God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-42600-0.
- Ayer, A. J. (1952) . "Critique of Ethics and Theology". Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-20010-8.
- Conifer, Steven J. (June 2002). "Theological Noncognitivism Examined". The Interlocutor 4. Retrieved 2007-05-24 (Updated to current URL 7-5-2013).
- Cousens, Myrna Bonnie, ed., "God", Guide to Humanistic Judaism, Society for Humanistic Judaism
- Drange, Theodore (1998). "Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism". Internet Infidels. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
- Hanisch, Helmut (2002-10-21). "Children's and Young People's Drawings of God". Retrieved 2007-04-26.
- Kurtz, Paul (1992). The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge. Buffalo: Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-766-3.
- Rauch, Jonathan (2003). "Let It Be". The Atlantic 291 (4). Retrieved 2007-05-24.
- Spiegel, Irving (1965-06-20). "Jewish 'Ignostic' Stirs Convention; Dropping of 'God' in Service Deplored and Condoned". New York Times. p. 62.
- The dictionary definition of ignosticism at Wiktionary