Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language, and specifically words like "God" (capitalized), are not cognitively meaningful. Some thinkers propose it as a way to prove the nonexistence of anything named "God". Others, without respect the existence question, feel freer to think and talk about their idea of "God" and find renewed communal spirituality despite or perhaps because of a lack of "language agreement". It is sometimes considered to be synonymous with Ignosticism.
Theological noncognitivism can be argued in different ways, depending on one's theory of meaning. Michael Martin, writing from a verificationist perspective, concludes that religious language is meaningless because it is not verifiable.
George H. Smith uses an attribute-based approach in an attempt to prove that there is no concept for the term "God": he argues that there are no meaningful attributes, only negatively defined or relational attributes, making the term meaningless. Smith's position is that noncognitivism leads us to the conclusion that "nothing named 'God' exists", proving strong atheism.
Another way of expressing theological noncognitivism is, for any sentence S, S is cognitively meaningless if and only if S expresses an unthinkable proposition or S does not express a proposition.[original research?] The sentence X is a four-sided triangle that exists outside of space and time, cannot be seen or measured and it actively hates blue spheres is an example of an unthinkable proposition. Although the sentence expresses an idea, that idea is incoherent and so cannot be entertained in thought. It is unthinkable and unverifiable. Similarly, Y is what it is does not express a meaningful proposition except in a familiar conversational context. In this sense to claim to believe in X or Y is a meaningless assertion in the same way as I believe that colorless green ideas sleep furiously is grammatically correct but without meaning.
Some theological noncognitivists assert that to be a strong atheist is to give credence to the concept of God because it assumes that there actually is something understandable to not believe in. This can be confusing because of the widespread belief in God and the common use of the series of letters G-o-d as if it is already understood that it has some cognitively understandable meaning. From this view strong atheists have made the mistaken assumption that the concept of God actually contains an expressible or thinkable proposition. However this depends on the specific definition of God being used.
As with ignosticism, the consistent theological noncognitivist awaits a coherent definition of the word God (or of any other metaphysical utterance purported to be discussable) before being able to engage in arguments for or against God's existence.
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- Fallacy of many questions
- Scientific method
- Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (1990)
- Positive Atheism and The Meaninglessness of Theism
- Atheism: The Case Against God (1975)
- Theological Noncognitivism Examined
- Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism (1998) by Theodore M. Drange
- The Argument from Non-Cognitivism, by James Lazarus, is a discussion of Smith-style noncognitivism.
- Theological Noncognitivism Examined, by Steven J. Conifer, is an examination of theological noncognitivism from a skeptical perspective.
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