A revealing exposition of Igtheism

A revealing

I have written things previously about Igtheism. I have not released them.

My writings… sometimes, they’re too dense. I’m sorry.

But I thought that it would be worthwhile trying to put my thoughts into words, spurred on by Cara Santa Maria(@CaraSantaMaria) and Talk Nerdy to Me (ep 20 w/ Josh Zepps, @joshzepps) accidentally making igtheism clear without giving it a name. This made me feel like maybe the time is right for trying to explain this idea more fully in writing, trying to stick to the barest bones of an argument and explication to ensure linguistic acuity. Having their conversation as a prototype or paradigm definitely helps in doing some of the more straightforward fleshing out of examples that I otherwise would feel obligated to do. Thank you both for covering that so well.

Hopefully with revealing my qualms about what follows can make more apparent my attempts in what follows.

Exposition of Igtheism

So then, the remainder will be focused on conveying in addition to their example of an igtheistic behavior pattern at ~16 mins in (I think?)

If people ask me whether I believe in God, I tell them… « you tell me what God you are talking about and I will tell you if i believe in that thing. »

The more general stance of ignosticism (a preferable term for the general approach so as to distinguish it from agnosticism) would apply this kind of standard to any kind of problem. That is, beginning the idea that you are fundamentally ignorant prior to someone explaining what they mean by a term that you have only heard used in a variety of conflicting ways or never at all. In the former case you will probably know the usual lines of argument, in the latter case you’re more clearly talking about strict ignorance in that if this word existed in some kind of universal set of all words ever spoken, it was being ‘ignored’ up until this point.

Thus in order to answer questions like those posed in the “theism” debate, must always first ask the question of what do you mean by «X»? Now this is slightly different from what he was saying, because he presumes that you are choosing among a set of possible gods (this is implicit in his saying “what God you are talking about.”). Whereas the igtheist would deny that we have such a pantheon available to us to choose among.

If you’re reading this still, you probably are an igtheist

That’s just my guess. The position is merely saying that there’s some kind of precursor understanding that we need to have before we can begin to take a position on questions that other people put such great value on.

The igtheist position is a position in the same way that Zen is supposed to be a “religion”. At least in Alan Watt’s interpretation, Zen is an invitation to have a conversation rather than a dogma. An opening question, not a final answer. “Jeopardy” not “Who wants to be a millionaire”. The idea is that this is not meant to be the end of a conversation but the beginning of one. This is not a position that answers “is there a god?” but poses that in at least some instances where we don’t have agreed upon referents of terms, it is worthwhile to step back and carefully examine how different individuals might be characterizing the ambiguous concept better.

Atheism is incoherent or meaningless [1]

On the grounds that most of you would self identify as atheists[2], I can probably say that very few of you are atheists. And those of you who actually think you’re an atheist[3] are stuck in some kind of [Quinean][https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/quine] paradox around what it is that you are possibly believing. I would go further into that (and will if requested), but going into it here would make the path this essay takes too close to the too-dense version of explanation, and I’ve already gone on for quite a while.

If alternatively you mean that you lack a belief in god, I would have to ask, what it is that you lack a belief in. This also has a Quine style “how many possible fat men are in the doorway right now” response, or a “how many non-sounds are happening in the time it took you to read this sentence”. But I don’t even need to go there. Simply, if the “atheist” agrees that this is a worthwhile question to ask themselves, then they are actually an igtheist. That is what it means to be an igtheist — to be someone who agrees that the question of what is meant by “god” in discussion is a question worth asking. If they disagree, then its unclear why it matters that they are an atheist, since they do not care what it is that they lack a belief in.

So is theism.

That was the point of advancing the position originally.[4]


This is not a position, this is a conversational strategy. Or more accurately, it is a meta-position. It seeks to clarify the underlying issues that bear on this contentious debate without engaging the contention on its own turf.

Russell would say that to analyze “The present king of France is bald.” is to actually analyze three sentences, “There is a present king of France.”, “At most one such thing is the king of France.”, and “Those things that are the king of France are bald.” What the igtheist “position” does is to point out a level below these. That is, it denies not that “there is a god”, but rather it denies that we have an agreed upon definition about what it means for there to be a god or not — in a way that we don’t have disagreement about what it would mean for there to be a present king of France.

Asking what people mean is a good way to start a conversation that could otherwise become heated (e.g., theism). This avoids being either aggressive nor defensive. Instead it’s just, curious.


edit: 2014_19_4_1159
Thanks to Rafa Kern for helpful comments on these ideas.

  1. I actually don’t take this position, but rather am phrasing it this way so as to rile up atheists who I know will be defensive about this. In a certain sense it is directly contradictory to my stated intent of avoiding the contention, but thats because it is useful to use contention as a way to spread an idea, but not as a way to settle a question that has only intransigent positions. So if you are an atheist, and you are annoyed at my writing this, know that I understand, and also that I did the philosophical equivalent of trolling you. However I think that this position would be more useful to be heard if passed among adamant atheists than adamant theists since I think atheists have generally already bought into the difficulty of defining what “god” is such that anything can be said about “god”. This also supports a more moderate position like that Chris Mooney takes, but that conversation will have to wait for another day.  ↩

  2. And, I totally give Andrew Theis a pass for wanting to call himself that even after he is swayed by my position, because his name is just too perfect not to take advantage of that confluence.  ↩

  3. That is a believer in α-θεος in the Alan Wattsian sense of a believer in a “non-god” which is an interesting concept but not one I fully understand.  ↩

  4. Theological non-cognitivism is also relevant but for the sake of brevity I chose to omit it here. It has a few interpretations some of which I’m fond of and others which I’m less fond of but That will have to wait for another day.  ↩