Debating "God" is an incoherent term [Mod Edit]
This is a reply to another post of Todangst's wherein he claims that the term "God" is incoherent. (This particular post of his was brought to my attention by my friend Sodium. Sodium hasn't seen any decent replies to Todangst, so I offer this one.)
Todangst starts out by telling us that he’s shown that certain terms having to do with immateriality are “necessarily incoherent”. As it turns out, he hasn’t shown this at all. (See my short essay here to see why.) He now makes two attempts to show that the word “God” is incoherent. The first attempt involves showing that the concept of a disembodied person (i.e. a soul) can only be defined negatively and is thus incoherent. Since on most versions of theism, God is a disembodied person, those versions of theism would be incoherent if Todangst is right. The second attempt involves showing that various attributes belonging to God contradict themselves or observed features of the universe.
But neither of Todangst’s attempts are successful. I’ll begin with the first. Todangst says that the concept of an incorporeal person (i.e. a soul), like that of immaterial substance, “contains an internal contradiction: to be a person is to exist as something, some thing, not 'no thing'.” Now it may be that souls don’t exist. Many contemporary analytic philosophers think they do. Most naturalistic philosophers don’t believe in them. But leaving aside the reasons for thinking that they exist, is the concept itself really incoherent?
No. Some analytic philosophers think that the concept of a soul may involve locative, hyperspatial entities. On these definitions, a soul would be located in a n>3D region of space. And other philosophers believe that the concept of a soul involves spatial entities that exist in zero-dimensional regions of spacetime. But for the sake of argument, I’ll assume with Todangst that the concept of a soul involves nonspatial entities. Thus, the concept of a soul is defined as follows:
'x is a soul' means by definition '(i) x is spatially nonlocative, and (ii) x is capable of consciousness'.
The main reason Todangst says the concept is incoherent is because he thinks that it can only be defined negatively. Well, even if Todangst were right about this (he’s not), this doesn’t imply that the concept is unintelligible. Certain denizens of the universe are defined in only negative terms and we have a perfectly intelligible conceptual grasp on them. For example, a point in space is defined as something lacking spatial dimensions. We could never in principle get a clear mental image of what such entities are supposed to look like (anything we imagine is extended). We can’t think of any positive attributes they have (mass, color, shape, etc.) This doesn’t mean the concept is incoherent.
In any case, Todangst hasn’t even shown that such definitions, of necessity, are negative. One might say that points in space nevertheless have positive attributes like being a place possibly occupied by point-sized objects. Similarly, one may say that a soul has the positive attributes of being conscious, being possibly embodied, being substantival. So Todangst’s first attempt to show that “God” is incoherent doesn’t even get off the ground.
His second attempt is even worse. He thinks that God is incoherent because any event that God “judges” is fundamentally something that God “Himself” planned out in minute detail. On this view, God causes absolutely everything. There is no room for random events or genuinely free actions. Every movement of your limbs, for example, is controlled by God. So really, God is judging nothing but that which he’s already fully determined to happen, and as a consequence millions of people are being roasted in hell for things they had no choice about. A very evil and incoherent God indeed. The problem with this is that Todangst is arguing only against a particular, highly qualified Calvinist or Thomistic picture of God. I would join him in rejecting such views. And so would the vast majority of theistic philosophers. If Todangst really wants to say that the Calvinistic view of God provides an argument for the incoherence of the concept of God simpliciter, he’ll be forced (oddly) to defend highly controversial theological frameworks for understanding what God is like. He has to argue that Aquinas was correct; he has to argue that Calvinist interpretations of passages in Romans are correct. Given the swirling black hole nature of theological disputes, I doubt that Todangst is thrilled about the prospects of playing the theologian. In which case, he should re-title his post to read: The Calvinist’s use of “God” is an incoherent term. To which the response is, most theistic philosophers already knew that.
Rude, offensive, irrational jackass.