Ignosticism’s Allure

“I refuse to be drawn on the question of whether god exists until somebody properly defines the terms.” -John Lloyd

A few days ago, I watched an animated adaptation of a TED-Ed talk by John Lloyd. The objective of the adaptation, besides bringing humorous imagery to complex musings, was to evoke a sense of wonder at the many parts of the universe we can’t see and don’t understand. In the course of his talk Lloyd identified himself as an ignostic. I’d never heard the word before, in addition to examining Lloyd’s definition, I turned to the keepers of all knowledge–Google and Wikipedia–for further instruction. According to the internet, the basic idea behind ignosticism is that discussion of whether or not God exists depends upon the definitions of key words like ‘god’ and ‘exist.’ Until those words are defined, the conversation is largely pointless as everyone involved will simply be talking past one another.

I heartily agree with this. It seems to me that defining the terms should be the first order of business in every thoughtful discussion. For similar reasons I believe everyone should be agnostic (in the Huxlean sense), regardless of her religious ideology. Atheists cannot prove there is no god, they can only amass evidence for an alternate (perhaps mutually exclusive) theory which deems the god-hypothesis null. Likewise, theists cannot prove that there is a god. Religion–after all–is a faith position, not an evidentiary claim.

: Path

: Path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But for me, the allure in ignosticism as a worldview is that it begins conversations rather than ending them. It invites everyone to examine their assumptions about abstract ideas such as ‘god,’ ‘belief,’ ‘knowledge,’ and ‘true.’ It evades the cognitive short-cutting that is so fundamental to the way humans think, and so harmful to meaningful discourse in the private and political sectors (Micheal Shermer touches on the role of ideological labels in public discourse here). Both it’s definition, and its relative obscurity as part of American nomenclature lends ignosticism to fulfill the role of conversation opener. In a social climate where people are much more likely to throw around talking points rather than discuss the philosophy beneath them, conversation openers are sorely needed.


2 thoughts on “Ignosticism’s Allure

  1. Thank you for the useful links. I found the Ted-Ed talk as well as your article’s discussion intriguing. It did not occur to me before that when discussing our beliefs it is necessary to define who ‘god’ is (if there is one) and what the point of existence is. Like John Lloyd mentioned everyone has to ask themselves, “Why are we here?” and “What are we going to do about it?” From my experience, when a Christian talks to someone outside of their faith, often times the conversation tends to center around the existence of God. Although that is tantamount to a discussion of beliefs, usually you can learn more about an individual by first asking them, “Why do YOU think you exist?”

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