Monday, February 11, 2008

Words Words Words and Dreams

I hope you aren't waiting for that post I was working on about Alan Watts. Consider it on the back burner. I just have to make a short post on the meanings of words because it came up in a comment I just replied to which I found buried in an old post.

I've written before about how before I can claim I am an atheist or agnostic I have to say I am an ignostic. I see Firefox 2 doesn't think that word exists, but it does. You can look it up. It's a shorter way of saying "non-cognitivist with respect to god-talk."

If you think I am lost and that I am searching for God then you are both right and wrong. If we mean "God" as in the great unknown Truth out there, then the answer is yes, but if you mean something else, well first tell me what that is. I really have no idea what "God" means to most people. I think definitions like "supreme being" or "creator of the universe" are not very helpful. "Supreme" in what sense? What kind of "being"? Is it made of atoms? If not, then what? How do you know? (etc.)

It isn't just the word "God" though. It's words like "soul", "spirit", and even "ghost". I kind of know what these words mean in fictional stories, but not in our reality. In the movies a soul or ghost is a glowing gas in the form of some dead person. This gas seems to move and think like the body did. The gas can even pass through solid objects! What kind of gas is that? Words like "soul" can't be defined in our reality.

I'm not saying I know everything or current scientific theories explain the universe completely. However, useful words must be defined using things we can sense. I know what a tree is because I can see and touch it. When I was a baby my parents pointed at some objects and said "trees". Useful words point to things we can experience, even non-physical things like dreams. Yet even non-physical things correspond exactly to physical events in the brain.

Some people do have some kind of mystical experiences which they choose to label with words like "spiritual" or "god". They could be right for all I know. But I haven't experienced anything like that. I have had dreams, but so have almost everyone I have met. Scientists can scan the brains of people who are dreaming, so words like "dream" are useful and point to something real. I haven't seen the same consistency with so called "spiritual" experiences among different people as I have seen with experiences like "trees" and "dreams".


Linda said...


I am still anxiously waiting for your Alan Watts post(s). ;-)

My definition of God fits somewhere close to yours, I think. I definitely don't think of a being sitting up there somewhere on his throne and controlling the universe with his staff.

Who can actually define God in any understandable terms, anyway? I don't think Jesus himself gave us a clear-cut definition, other than 'father.' But that's misleading also, in that it puts a human quality on God.

I don't think "spritual" can be described. It has to be experienced. As soon as you attempt to form the words to describe it, it gets distorted into something else.

Do you believe in other dimensions co-existing with the ones we know of? Just wondering if that would be even possible or fathomable...

that atheist guy said...

Sounds familiar...

"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
'Nothingness' is the beginning of heaven and earth.
'Oneness' is the mother of everythings."

Anyway, some theoretical physicists use multiple dimensions in their string and brane theories. I think those extra dimensions are really tiny though. What does it all mean? I have no idea.

I do think we'll get more reliable information on the true foundations of reality from those physicists than "spiritual" leaders.

The Dalai Lama said, "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change." How many other religious leaders would say that?

Anonymous said...

Wow, your honesty is so refreshing.I am a Christian and there are so many things that I don't understand.Christians always talk about Faith.That's what it all boils down to.How else can we fathom that God has always been,it is impossible to wrap your mind around that!One thing I do know,when you seek God you will find him.The Bible talks about that in 1 Chronicles 28:9. God is big enough that when you search for him he will reveal himself and there will be know doubt in your mind that it was God himself!! It took me forever to find God,but it is well worth the search.He will teach you things along the way.I believe we are created for one reason, to be in a relationship with our creator.If we live against the very reason we were made, we're never really at peace. Thanks for your Blog!! I will be quiet now!!

J. K. Jones said...

It’s been a while since I read your blog. I missed it.

I find it hard to believe that so may theology books have been written and you still don't know what we think God is like.

that atheist guy said...

Thanks. If you could recommend a book or link that has a definition of "God" let me know. Everyone seems to have their own personal definition, or just define it by saying what it isn't.

I'll type it into Wikipedia...


"God most commonly refers to the deity worshiped by followers of monotheistic and monolatrist religions,"

Wait, what exactly is a "deity"? It's blue, so I click that:


"A deity is a postulated preternatural or supernatural being, who is always of significant power, worshipped, thought holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, or respected by human beings."

OK, but what exactly is a "supernatural being"? Supernatural is just anything that isn't natural, and I don't know anything about those things. Beings are things like people, and I don't know anything about beings that aren't natural.

So to be really strict about it I should call this blog "that ignostic guy's blog" since I can't even make a claim of belief or unbelief about something I don't understand. But I already have all my stationary and business cards printed so I can't go changing things now! ;-)

J. K. Jones said...

It seems to me that the philosophy behind what you are saving is logical positivism. It seems as though you embrace the idea that the only way we can know anything is if we can verify it empirically.

The problem with logical positivism is that its main premise, that only what can be empirically verified is truly knowledge, is not capable of being empirically verified.

To quote John Frame:

“…the logical positivists insisted that a piece of language cannot meaningfully state an empirical fact (either truly or falsely) unless it is empirically verifiable by methods akin to those of natural science. But many observed that this “verification principle” itself could not be empirically verified in that way. That argument led to the demise of logical positivism as an influential philosophical movement.” – John M. Frame


that atheist guy said...

I haven't studied philosophy enough to know much about logical positivism but I just skimmed the article on Wiki. One response to the criticism you bring up is, "logical positivism is a philosophy of science, not an axiomatic system that can prove its own consistency (see Gödel's incompleteness theorem)."

Anyway, I didn't know the ideas I was writing about were related to logical positivism and the first thing that came to mind when I read your comment is that I don't agree with the premise as you wrote it:

"its main premise, that only what can be empirically verified is truly knowledge" (emphasis mine)

Of course I can't be sure. There might very well be other ways of judging whether a piece of information is true or not. I just don't know of any.

What other ways are there? I suppose pure guesses are sometimes right, does that count? Religious folks talk about faith and/or revelation but I see a lot of contradictory information in the world based on faith and revelation so I doubt those are reliable methods.

So what should we do?

I read the essay you linked to, but I don't really get what he is saying. Can't I just say "I believe in god-force X which created logic. By even attempting to use logic against me, you have proved that god-force X is real."

I googled a bit and found the following link:

In short, YES I actually am skeptical of my skepticism. Now what?

J. K. Jones said...

“What other ways are there? I suppose pure guesses are sometimes right, does that count? Religious folks talk about faith and/or revelation but I see a lot of contradictory information in the world based on faith and revelation so I doubt those are reliable methods.”

Try thinking logically. I mean that literally. Think about your conscious mind in and of itself.

You exist because you must exist in order to doubt your own existence. You think, so you must examine your thoughts. See where you get from there.

As for the laws of logic and God’s existence, we have discussed that before. Try:



that atheist guy said...

"You exist because you must exist in order to doubt your own existence."

I don't understand what you mean there.

There's a lot of stuff at those links you posted. Is there anything specific you'd like to focus on?

I think you sent me the one before. There they start off with, "Atheism maintains that physical laws are properties of matter, and that truth and logic are relative conventions (agreed upon principles)." I disagree with their description of what "atheism maintains", so they are arguing against a position I do not hold.

For me, atheism is just a lack of belief; a disagreement really. It makes no positive claims. Other atheists define it differently and take a different position, but I am not arguing for them.