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What is ignosticism?

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The term ignosticism is most frequently used by those who claim religious terms such as God are vague or poorly defined and are therefore meaningless. Both atheists and agnostics make use of the “ignostic” label, but in all cases it carries the same fundamental idea. Mostly to give a veneer of sophistication, the ignostic position is sometimes labeled “theological noncognivitism.” Among the criticisms held within ignosticism is that religious language is circular, assumed rather than proven, or simply disconnected from human experience.

What ignosticism fails to accept is that the very nature of language is contextual. Disputes over what a word means in a certain context do not logically mean there can be no meaning to the word at all. Neither does the presence of nuance mean the concept is beyond all understanding or that the subject in question does not exist. Comparative terms—words such as better—are notoriously subject to nuance and conditional interpretation, but ignostics are not prone to suggest there is no meaningful way to compare two moral statements.

Within philosophy, there are legitimate discussions about the relationship of language, terminology, and understanding. Some concepts can be stated in the abstract but not directly perceived by the mind, such as the quantity ten trillion. There are areas of spirituality—as well as politics, advertising, relationships, etc.—where unreasonable persons subtly vary the use of a word in order to take advantage of others. And, of course, it’s entirely possible for a person to use words he doesn’t actually understand, making his perception of those ideas effectively meaningless.

Ignosticism, by and large, is not a valid part of such discussions. Rather, it’s an attempt to pretend something can be ignored unless it can be excessively defined, rather than simply understood. This is sometimes referred to as “Loki’s Wager”; in a Norse myth, the trickster Loki avoids giving an enemy his head by saying he never agreed to give his neck and insisting the lack of a clear distinction between “head” and “neck” makes the wager impossible to pay off. Rhetorically, this is related to “red herrings” and “rabbit holes.” Scripturally, it would fall under the distractions listed in 1 Timothy 6:4 and Titus 3:9.

Those claiming ignosticism, suggesting it’s impossible to reasonably define what is meant by words like God, are actually the ones injecting unreasonable uncertainty into the discussion. Defining one’s terms might be a valid part of a discussion, but the mere need to do so does not invalidate the entire subject.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022