Tuesday, September 20, 2011

'God'? What do you Mean by 'God?

The Christian says, “God exists, and he loves me.” The atheist says, “God does not exist.” The pantheist says, “all that is, is God.”

The philosopher says, “What do you mean by 'god'?” and “what do you mean by 'exists'?”

So what is 'God'?

I believe in unicorns.  They are magical, horse-like creatures possessing a single horn in the middle of their foreheads.  Their touch heals all disease, and they can only be tamed by the virtuous and the virginal.  The term 'unicorn' exists, it is well defined.  Presented with a phenomenon, I can instantly make the choice and say, “this is not a unicorn,” although I have never seen one.  Unicorns exist; they are conspicuous by their absence.

Professor von Meeces.
Sitting next to me right now is Professor von Meeces.   He loves meeces to pieces.   Professor von Meeces is a cat.   He is a phenomenon, a signifier as the semioticians say, that corresponds to the sign 'cat'.  He has pointy ears, a fuzzy tail, and dainty cat feet.  He enjoys wandering the neighborhood at night, ear scritchies, and taking extended tongue baths (which is his current activity, as my hands are otherwise engaged in typing).  He is white with grey splotches on his head, body, and tail.

But Professor von Meeces is not 'cat'.  He is a four-dimensional representation of the symbolic archetype 'cat'.  'Cat' is the intensional defenition; P vM is a member of the extension.  He is a member of the set of all cats: {..., Professor von Meeces, ...} whose sign is 'cat'.  'Cat' exists, because Professor von Meeces is one; he is a cat.   He is also bored, and leaving to find something fun to do.

'Justice' is a sign, and intensional definition.   As such, it must describe an exstensionally defined set.  There must be phenomena that are justice.   But as Sir Terry reminds us, we may grind the universe as finely as we may, and we will not find one particle, one molecule, one atom of justice.   So although the sign 'justice' exists, finding it is necessarily difficult.   We must decide from moment to moment if any given phenomenon is in the extensional defenition of 'justice'.

So what of God? Or perhaps, to say, what of 'God'?   God is a sign that points to phenomena, like 'unicorn', 'cat', or 'justice'.  But 'God' is tricky to define, perhaps trickier than 'justice', 'cat', or even 'unicorn'.

John of the epistles says that “God is love”.  So perhaps by the principle of transitive equality, we can sat that 'love is God'?  Upon further investigation, we find that people use 'god' to mean many different things, at different times.  So much is godlike, or perhaps indulging in an archaism, godly.  God is mercy, but also justice.  God is peace, but is also righteousness.   'God' is a semantic variable, it points not to a set of phenomena, to a set of signifiers, but to a different set of signs.  'God' means different things to different people at different times in different places.

And so the philosopher asks, “What do you mean by 'God'?”

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Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org

1 comment:

Doc Anne said...

Very nice.
That is all.