criterion for supernatural

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criterion for supernatural

What sort of phenomenon would be better explained by an appeal to the supernatural than by a natural explanation? The obvious response is "any phenomenon that violates the regularities of the natural world". But how would we know what those regularities are in the first place? Changing the criterion to "any phenomenon that violates the observed regularities of the natural world" assumes that every regularity of the natural world has been observed. Even as an atheist, this irks me. Events like Christ's resurrection seem intuitively like things that, if they occurred, would indicate the existence of the supernatural ("woah! that is NOT normal!"), yet I can't see any criterion for saying so! It would seem to follow from this that nothing at all can be accepted as evidence for any supernatural aspect of a religion.


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I imagine that no one

I imagine that no one replied as there's not much to argue with! Smiling
I think you've hit a good point here.
Supernaturalism defines itself as something that contradicts our knowledge and observations of the world, so at best it can only be a skepticism of our ability to know anything.

The way I see it, there are two brands of theistic claims.
The first makes direct claims about the natural world, and therefore are directly in contradiction with scientific fact. The second type of claim tries to avoid contradicting science by 'transcending nature'. The thing is, if they aren't talking about nature then it becomes questionable to what they are talking about.


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There is, of course, the

There is, of course, the third:

A claim about the natural world that doesn't contradict with scientific fact and yet, also, claims a belief in something which transcends what we now perceive as natural.

I think Tod, or Hammy, or someone put it right.. implicitly.

Supernatural is supernatural only so much as you can't describe it.

If it can be seen, observed, in anyway, directly or indirectly, it is natural.

Therefore, supernatural is merely a word with regards to "perceptual transcendence" not actual. 


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RhadTheGizmo wrote: There

RhadTheGizmo wrote:

There is, of course, the third:

A claim about the natural world that doesn't contradict with scientific fact and yet, also, claims a belief in something which transcends what we now perceive as natural.

I think Tod, or Hammy, or someone put it right.. implicitly.

Supernatural is supernatural only so much as you can't describe it.

If it can be seen, observed, in anyway, directly or indirectly, it is natural.

Therefore, supernatural is merely a word with regards to "perceptual transcendence" not actual.

Pretty much my view on the supernatural. To me, it is a catch all for anything beyond understanding. Nothing is really gained by using the term or classifying something as supernatural.


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wavefreak

wavefreak wrote:
RhadTheGizmo wrote:

There is, of course, the third:

A claim about the natural world that doesn't contradict with scientific fact and yet, also, claims a belief in something which transcends what we now perceive as natural.

I think Tod, or Hammy, or someone put it right.. implicitly.

Supernatural is supernatural only so much as you can't describe it.

If it can be seen, observed, in anyway, directly or indirectly, it is natural.

Therefore, supernatural is merely a word with regards to "perceptual transcendence" not actual.

Pretty much my view on the supernatural. To me, it is a catch all for anything beyond understanding. Nothing is really gained by using the term or classifying something as supernatural.

You realize that the precise same point applies to the term "god", right?

Once you do, you learn why there really isn't a great divide between theism and weak atheism. Both admit they don't know, one just calls this admission "god".

 

 

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Quote: There is, of

Quote:

There is, of course, the third:

A claim about the natural world that doesn't contradict with scientific fact and yet, also, claims a belief in something which transcends what we now perceive as natural.

I think Tod, or Hammy, or someone put it right.. implicitly.

ACK!

Don't attach my name to this!

I am firmly attached to the position that you must define what "outside of scientific fact" is before you can claim it.  So far, everything that has attempted this has turned out to be incoherent.

My position is this:

I do not discount the possibility that I am misinformed about the nature of logic.  If someone can demonstrate that my conception of natural is errant, I'm happy to listen.  So far, 100% of the evidence points to the conclusion that "supernatural" cannot, and therefore, does not exist.

 

 

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Quote: ACK! Don't attach

Quote:

ACK!

Don't attach my name to this!

Hah.  I was speaking of the things below that line.. not above it.

Heh.. but if i was incorrect about that to.  Apologies. 


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RhadTheGizmo wrote:

RhadTheGizmo wrote:
If it can be seen, observed, in anyway, directly or indirectly, it is natural.

Bear in mind that a lot of our natural concepts aren't things that we directly 'observe' but are defined by the way they affect the observable world.

Quote:
Therefore, supernatural is merely a word with regards to "perceptual transcendence" not actual.

I'm not sure what the difference is between the two...
If perceptual transcendence means beyond observation, not just feasibly but conceptually. And it is not allowed to affect or interact with the material world either, otherwise it would be indirectly observable and therefore part of science too. The question again is what is left?

If it cannot be described with words then what are you talking about? Smiling


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Quote: Bear in mind that a

Quote:
Bear in mind that a lot of our natural concepts aren't things that we directly 'observe' but are defined by the way they affect the observable world.

That's why I said indirect. Smiling

Quote:
If perceptual transcendence means beyond observation, not just feasibly but conceptually. And it is not allowed to affect or interact with the material world either, otherwise it would be indirectly observable and therefore part of science too. The question again is what is left?

Heh.  Sorry.  I know I can be unclear sometimes when I try to get fancy. Smiling

Basically what I wanted to get at is that supernatural is word meant only to "label" what one thinks to be uncomprehendable--either in whole or in one aspect--for whatever reason. 

Yet, like most other things, what one thinks is uncomprehendable now, may not be uncomprehendable tomorrow.

Therefore, I only speak to "perceptual transcendence" because IMO, supernatural, only speaks for the now about what one thinks of the now, not about the absolute in the sense of tomorrow, and forever.

Just my opinion though.

Your the linguist. Smiling :P 

 


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RhadTheGizmo

RhadTheGizmo wrote:
Basically what I wanted to get at is that supernatural is word meant only to "label" what one thinks to be uncomprehendable--either in whole or in one aspect--for whatever reason.

Yet, like most other things, what one thinks is uncomprehendable now, may not be uncomprehendable tomorrow.


Can you give a reason for this incomprehsibility?
Some concepts we cannot understand because we need to have a certain experience. Other concepts we cannot understand is because they are part of a linguistic/social practice that we are not familiar with.

Quote:
Therefore, I only speak to "perceptual transcendence" because IMO, supernatural, only speaks for the now about what one thinks of the now, not about the absolute in the sense of tomorrow, and forever.

So you're thinking of something that transcends some people's understanding but not necessarily others? What are the ones who don't understand missing? Either way, it means that until then, you still don't understand what you're talking about! Sticking out tongue

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Your the linguist. Smiling :P

My the linguist indeed!

 


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Quote:

Quote:
Can you give a reason for this incomprehsibility?

If I could give a reason.. wouldn't that mean that I, in some way, understand?

Quote:
Some concepts we cannot understand because we need to have a certain experience.

Tis true.

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Other concepts we cannot understand is because they are part of a linguistic/social practice that we are not familiar with.

It seems that you are compressing "understand its meaning" and "understand its existence" as one in the same.

Perhaps it's not what you're doing.. but if not.. I don't understand.

If you just mean.. "not familiar with" the "linguistic/social practice" because I've never experienced or been exposed to it.. then it would not be "supernatural," I just won't know of it until someone talks to me about it.

One cannot try to understand until someone talks of it.

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So you're thinking of something that transcends some people's understanding but not necessarily others?

Tis true. But, naturally, the supernatural could transcend all peoples understanding now and forever.  In which case, it's completely irrelevant and will never become so.

Quote:
What are the ones who don't understand missing?

Don't know. Perhaps nothing.

Quote:
Either way, it means that until then, you still don't understand what you're talking about! Sticking out tongue

Tis true. Smiling

Quote:
My the linguist indeed!

Hah.


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My poor, simple, logical

My poor, simple, logical mind can't wrap itself around the difficulty with this.   I'm serious.  I can't even conceive of what's difficult.

*Supernatural cannot refer to anything.

*Therefore, anything that is defined as supernatural cannot exist.

Done.  End.  Fine.  Fini.

 

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Quote: *Supernatural cannot

Quote:
*Supernatural cannot refer to anything.

*Anything that exists cannot be supernatural.

Quote:
*Therefore, anything that is defined as supernatural cannot exist.

Anything that is supernatural, therefore does not exist.

I think that would be better Hammy-- and more accurate.

Supernatural can refer to something.. it's a word.. obviously I use it somehow in order to refer to something.

And obviously the fact that something is defined as supernatural doesn't mean it cannot exist-- because an eclipse was once defined as supernatural.  Does that mean it was? Or does that mean that it didn't exist.

Of course not.

So I reformulated your statements to more accurately state what (i think) you meant... as well as what I think as well. 


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RhadTheGizmo

RhadTheGizmo wrote:
Supernatural can refer to something.. it's a word.. obviously I use it somehow in order to refer to something.

The crux of our argument is that the definition of supernaturalism breaks the rules of language that would allow it to refer.

Quote:
And obviously the fact that something is defined as supernatural doesn't mean it cannot exist-- because an eclipse was once defined as supernatural. Does that mean it was? Or does that mean that it didn't exist.

Of course not.


That is a different definition of supernatural.
People commonly use it to describe things they have no explanation for. This is not how we use the word in philosophy. So is your God supernatural in the sense of the eclipse, a natural mystery? Or is it supernatural in the philosophical sense?

The reason why I asked you why a person didn't understand is because you use the analogy of other things that exist without us being able to understand them. In those cases, there are reasons why these things were beyond a grasp. God, on the other hand, appears to be word-play gone wrong - rather than referring to something beyond our understanding it merely breaks the rules of language, leaving itself with no meaning.


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Quote: The crux of our

Quote:
The crux of our argument is that the definition of supernaturalism breaks the rules of language that would allow it to refer.

 

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. So is your God supernatural in the sense of the eclipse, a natural mystery? Or is it supernatural in the philosophical sense?

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God, on the other hand, appears to be word-play gone wrong - rather than referring to something beyond our understanding it merely breaks the rules of language, leaving itself with no meaning.

No, definitely, I would agree the whole thing seems to be word-play gone wrong.  In the philosphical sense? No. If he were supernatural in the philosphical sense, then I would necessarily need to agree with your (or other RSS) members arguments regarding it/him/her.

But.. there is nothing that requires that one does accept that God is "philosphically supernatural."

The Christian God could merely be a sentient being made by the culmination of all matter and energy-- who then cut off his metaphorical arm to make the universe.

[Shrugs] I don't know.

If I refer to something as definitively supernatural ("philosphical supernatural) then that "thing" has no meaning.

Yet, there is nothing to say that which necessitates a Christian God to be fully natural, fully supernatural (incoherent, IMO), or some where inbetween.

 


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RhadTheGizmo

RhadTheGizmo wrote:

Quote:
*Supernatural cannot refer to anything.

*Anything that exists cannot be supernatural.

Quote:
*Therefore, anything that is defined as supernatural cannot exist.

Anything that is supernatural, therefore does not exist.

I think that would be better Hammy-- and more accurate.

I always find this sort of exchange humorous. To an atheist, tbe phrase 'the supernatural does not exist' seems 'damning'... to a negative theologian, it's akin to saying windows don't exist because you can see right through them.

If a window is defined as 'colorless/transparent', stating that it lacks color is not a condemnation. 

 

Quote:

 Supernatural can refer to something..

Now, on the other hand, this claim is false. It cannot refer to someTHING, seeing as it is NO thing.

The term is a universal rule out, it cannot refer to anything, by its very definition. It is utterly negative.

Quote:
 

it's a word

So is 'nothing' and 'non' and 'not'  These terms are rule outs. We can call them contradistinctions, they do not refer to anything, they rule out things.

In the case of super-natural, the rule out is existence. So the term can only have meaning as a universal rule out. It can only mean 'nothing'

But, seeing as buddhists and negative theologians intended to say 'nothing', again, saying that the supernatural is akin to nothing is not news to them.

Quote:
 

.. obviously I use it somehow in order to refer to something.

 

Of course. And in doing so, you steal the concept. To make the word make sense, you steal from naturalism, you imagine something, in some hazy fashion. But in granting the term meaning, you violate the word's status as a universal rule out:



"What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if thou hast been able to understand what thou wouldest say, it is not God. If thou hast been able to comprehend it, thou hast comprehended something else instead of God. If thou hast been able to comprehend him as thou thinkest, by so thinking thou hast deceived thyself. This then is not God, if thou hast comprehended it; but if this be God, thou has not comprehended it."- St. Augustine, From Sermon LII. 16

Whole passage found here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160302.htm

 

 

Quote:

And obviously the fact that something is defined as supernatural doesn't mean it cannot exist

Obviously, it does!

It's a rule out of nature. To exist is to exist as something, to have identity.  To have identity is to have a nature.

Having a nature and being a part of nature are two uses of the term nature, but two inter-related uses. You can't speak of nature devoid of existence and identity.

So, to rule out nature is to rule out existence.

And again, it is the negative theologian who states this, not the atheist!

Note the following passage: while this writer uses the term 'existence' in regards to 'god', he cannot actually use the term as we use it (see Augustine): 


"God's 'existence' is absolute and it includes no composition and we comprehend only the fact that 'He exists', not His essence.

(Note: but we now know, via Kant, that to rule out essence, identity, is to rule out existence!) 

 Consequently it is a false assumption to hold that He has any positive attribute... still less has He accidents, which could be described by an attribute. Hence it is clear that He has no positive attribute whatever. The negative attributes are necessary to direct the mind to the truths which we must believe... When we say of this being, that it exists, we mean that its non-existence is impossible; it is living - it is not dead;

(He's giving a necessary being argument, but we now know such arguments fails because they use 'existence' as a predicate, while ruling out identity) 

 ...it is the first - its existence is not due to any cause; it has power, wisdom, and will - it is not feeble or ignorant;

(Notice how he violates his own declaration that 'god' has no attributes. Is he a moron here? No, he's aware, he's simply forced to contradiction)

 He is One - there are not more Gods than one… Every attribute predicated of God denotes either the quality of an action, or, when the attribute is intended to convey some idea of the Divine Being itself - and not of His actions - the negation of the opposite." (Maimonides Guide to the Perplexed, 1:5)

Quote:
 

 - because an eclipse was once defined as supernatural. Does that mean it was? Or does that mean that it didn't exist.

Of course not.

Please think over your own comments here.

An eclipse is a refernce to a physical event. Holding that it was 'supernatural' was holding that it was a sign from 'god'. This means that the event itself was never 'supernatural', merely its putative cause.

So there was never any debate as to whether it existed in the first place. What was under consideration was it's 'cause'.

So your comments here are a non sequitur.

Quote:
 

So I reformulated your statements to more accurately state what (i think) you meant... as well as what I think as well.

The term supernatural can have no meaning, other than as a contradistinction.

But seeing as this is the intent of negative theology, it is not saying anything to say that the supernatural is equitable with nothing....

 This is the heart of negative theology:


"One should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; nor should we say that God is nonexistent.We can only say that neither existence nor nonexistence applies to God, or that God is beyond existing or not existing."

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Tod: I agree and perhaps

Tod: I agree and perhaps have stated better what I think.  To define something that exist in nature as supernatural would be a contradiction or something that can be explained in natural terms would be a contradiction.

However, I would still contend that lots of people use it in the subjective, personal, manner to refer to some concept "incomprehensible in natural terms to them" as opposed to definitively a concept that is "incomprehensible in natural terms."

Hm.. but perhaps I'm wrong. Smiling In anycase, agreed.  Good stuff. 


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RhadTheGizmo wrote: Tod: I

RhadTheGizmo wrote:

Tod: I agree and perhaps have stated better what I think. To define something that exist in nature as supernatural would be a contradiction or something that can be explained in natural terms would be a contradiction.

However, I would still contend that lots of people use it in the subjective, personal, manner to refer to some concept "incomprehensible in natural terms to them" as opposed to definitively a concept that is "incomprehensible in natural terms."

Agreed. Theists like Luther would say that you must do so on faith... i.e. your words make no sense in a rational manner... but again, seeing as negative theists already concede this at at the outset, it's all understood.

It's like trying to discuss the color of transparency... we might say 'very light white"... for example... knowing full well it was wrong, in any literal sense.

Jewish thinkers dealt with this by using double negatives, triple negatives... 'god does not exist, god does not not exist, god does not not not exist' and so on.

They knew that their subject matter made quantum physics  a piece of cake.

Quote:
 

 

Hm.. but perhaps I'm wrong. Smiling In anycase, agreed. Good stuff.

What I like about it is that it is a grounds for theists and atheist to both stand upon..... But two errors often occur

1) The atheist takes from this an argument that rules out god deductively.

2) The theist forgets that his talk of god must necessarily be meaningless.

I believe some Jewish scholars would say that this is even the point of all of this: we are meant to be frustrated, and in this frustation, we learn how limited we are, and how separate we would have to be from a 'god'

Well, linguistically, rationally, empirically, etc.

Not 'faith wise'

Notice that this view justifies atheism, but, at the same time, allows for a quiet, contemplative, mature sense of 'faith' in a 'god' beyond us.

 

 

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I've been thinking about the

I've been thinking about the subject of this thread for the past few days ever since I finished reading Karen Armstrong's book A History of God (a book I highly recommend). I had never known about negative theists until reading this book. I've seen todangst use the term, but I didn't know what it was referring to.

Anyway, on to the purpose of this post:

todangst wrote:
Notice that this view justifies atheism, but, at the same time, allows for a quiet, contemplative, mature sense of 'faith' in a 'god' beyond us.

Can the same person be an atheist, but have this sense of faith about a 'negative' god, a god that's a subjective experience?


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Strafio

Strafio wrote:
RhadTheGizmo wrote:
And obviously the fact that something is defined as supernatural doesn't mean it cannot exist-- because an eclipse was once defined as supernatural. Does that mean it was? Or does that mean that it didn't exist.

Of course not.

That is a different definition of supernatural.
People commonly use it to describe things they have no explanation for. This is not how we use the word in philosophy. So is your God supernatural in the sense of the eclipse, a natural mystery? Or is it supernatural in the philosophical sense?

I think they can be seen to be the same in some sense. Supernatural refers to ‘not natural,’ that’s it… this can be the supernatural ‘itself’ or a supernatural ‘cause.’

For example:

We ‘talk’ of supernatural ‘things’ ‘directly,’ such as god.

We also ‘talk’ of supposed supernatural ‘causes,’ for example, thunder or earthquakes were once considered to be the work of god, but when saying “thunder is supernatural”, we are actually referring to the supernatural cause of thunder, not thunder itself (i.e. the effect), we are saying “god causes thunder” or the “the cause of thunder is supernatural.”

So I think we are still ‘taking’ ‘about’ the supernatural, only the latter talks about the cause of the phenomena, rather than the phenomena itself.

Assuming the supernatural ‘exists,’ the former is then ‘referring’ to an ‘actual’ definitive supernatural ‘concept’ while the latter is merely pointing out ones incredulity/ignorance.

todangst wrote:
RhadTheGizmo wrote:
Supernatural can refer to something..

Now, on the other hand, this claim is false. It cannot refer to someTHING, seeing as it is NO thing.

The term is a universal rule out, it cannot refer to anything, by its very definition. It is utterly negative

I think what he means here is that you can technically apply the term to anything you like… “rain is supernatural” uses the term. (Obviously, it makes no sense to since the term is without meaning… and it’s a stolen concept.)

todangst wrote:
RhadTheGizmo wrote:
And obviously the fact that something is defined as supernatural doesn't mean it cannot exist

Obviously, it does!

It's a rule out of nature. To exist is to exist as something, to have identity. To have identity is to have a nature

I think what he means here, like the above, is that you can technically use the term, so saying thunder is supernatural doesn’t actually mean thunder doesn’t exist, since it clearly does. They’re merely pointing out their ignorance/incredulity.

But when used to actually imply something supernatural, a god, say, then clearly we are referring to nothing.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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I think Topher has got a

I think Topher has got a pretty good explanation of what I meant.

Quote:
2) The theist forgets that his talk of god must necessarily be meaningless.

I still disagree with this to some extent.. but this may merely be because I tend to steal from naturalism (as you might say) and don't agree with St. Augustine in his suppositions about the Christian God and the inability to comprehend him.

Quote:
Notice that this view justifies atheism, but, at the same time, allows for a quiet, contemplative, mature sense of 'faith' in a 'god' beyond us.
 


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Quote: *Anything that

Quote:
*Anything that exists cannot be supernatural.

Ahh... I get it.

That's a solid point, Rhad.  Thanks.

I think in logical proofs, it's not really an issue.  A cannot equal B and B cannot equal A.  But, in colloquial terms, this is a lot stronger, since supernatural can be used in sentences which make references.  It is in the ontological sense that it cannot refer to something, and this is probably lost on the casual reader.

 

Quote:

And obviously the fact that something is defined as supernatural doesn't mean it cannot exist-- because an eclipse was once defined as supernatural.  Does that mean it was? Or does that mean that it didn't exist.

Of course not.

You're right.  It's much easier to just say it your way than to add a bunch of disclaimers like "properly defined."  That opens up a whole new can of worms.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Todangst wrote: What I

Todangst wrote:

What I like about it is that it is a grounds for theists and atheist to both stand upon..... But two errors often occur

1) The atheist takes from this an argument that rules out god deductively.

2) The theist forgets that his talk of god must necessarily be meaningless.

Let me make sure that I understand you correctly.

When you say an argument that rules out god deductively, you mean "god" in the broad sense -- some possible definition that might be possible within some framework that we haven't examined, or that we've examined only partially, etc, right?

Or, do you mean to say that when a Christian posits his god as supernatural, we cannot then say that his god does not exist, we can only say that if it exists, it is natural?

 

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Hambydammit

Hambydammit wrote:
Todangst wrote:

What I like about it is that it is a grounds for theists and atheist to both stand upon..... But two errors often occur

1) The atheist takes from this an argument that rules out god deductively.

2) The theist forgets that his talk of god must necessarily be meaningless.

Let me make sure that I understand you correctly.

When you say an argument that rules out god deductively, you mean "god" in the broad sense -- some possible definition that might be possible within some framework that we haven't examined, or that we've examined only partially, etc, right?

Or, do you mean to say that when a Christian posits his god as supernatural, we cannot then say that his god does not exist, we can only say that if it exists, it is natural?

Neither. What I am saying is this: If the negative theologian defines his god as 'beyond existence' then for an atheist to use this as proof that 'god does not exist" is to miss what the negative theologian actually just said...

Of course, an atheist can say "existence beyond existence' is incoherent, there's no way to talk about such a 'thing' or even to call it a 'thing' at all..

To which the negative theologian again says "Yes, and?"

 

See? 

 

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Maybe we should ask them

Maybe we should ask them what relevence their God has to our everyday lives?


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Quote: Neither. What I am

Quote:

Neither. What I am saying is this: If the negative theologian defines his god as 'beyond existence' then for an atheist to use this as proof that 'god does not exist" is to miss what the negative theologian actually just said...

Of course, an atheist can say "existence beyond existence' is incoherent, there's no way to talk about such a 'thing' or even to call it a 'thing' at all..

To which the negative theologian again says "Yes, and?"

 

See?

Forgive me if I seem dense.  I'm just making sure that I'm putting all the pieces together.

So, the above exchange would result in the atheist looking dumbfounded and saying, "So, anything you say about this deity is inherently a contradiction," and the theologian would reply, "Yes."  The atheist would just point out that he'd said something about the deity, and the theist would say, "yes, but you don't understand the nature of existence beyond existence, and you're only working on this existence,"

And then the atheist would scratch his head and go home, and the theist would go back to church, where people believe in a defined god?

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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