Tuesday, August 28, 2012

the demand for meaning

At times my Pragmatist heart is irritated by the endless abstract debates about the existence of gods. I have an instinctual distrust in rarefied arguments. I want to hurry along to the propositions about the supernatural which have more relevance to a human like me. After an entire belief system is atomized into a long list of short propositions, "The god known as ____ exists" is merely the first candidate for evaluation.

Furthermore, as atheists examine the rest of the propositions in the list, I wish that they would borrow the Pragmatist approach, the demand for meaning. The meaning and reliability of any proposition (including the level of accuracy) should be bound to its verified implications. If the proposition were accurate, then what would be the difference? How does someone distinguish this proposition from the unlimited number of false propositions? What's the basis of the verification procedure's trustworthiness? Questions like these aren't quite the same as demanding evidence. These are requests for rigorous clarification. Communication doesn't happen until the listener manages to decode the speaker's logic. The demand for meaning is the refusal to start a discussion before everyone understands the essential claims which are connected to the propositions.

For example, "The god known as ____ is good." A listener could ask, " 'Good' according to whom?" Or "As demonstrated by what?" Until the speaker offers an unambiguous explanation of the exact interactions between the proposition and reality, the listener isn't obligated to make erroneous assumptions to fill in the gaps in comprehension. Details matter. Once the demand for meaning has established the specific method to judge the proposition, the speaker and listener can go on to compare the results that they each obtained by that method. Perhaps the method is to accept the opinion of a hierarchy of elites who somehow have privileged access to supernatural truths; the speaker has no objections in doing so, but the listener balks.

I don't deny the emotional desire to search for meaning wherever it may be found in numerous narratives. I do ask that others try not to be exasperated by my demand for meaning when they express their own ideas to me. And when someone believes in something supernatural because the belief is comfortable, they should have the honesty to admit it.