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Introduction to Semantic Apologetics

by Francois Tremblay



Semantic apologetics designates an area of atheology which uses the meaninglessness of religious language to disprove claims about the god-concept. This type of argument carries us into a rarely-explored area, that of definition and meaning.

There is a good reason why it does not usually concern us. The meaning of common concepts is learned during childhood and usually obvious to any sensible observer. For example, pretty much everyone has a clear idea, or at least a clear mental picture, of what we mean when we say “table”: a flat surface with legs, used to eat on or to support household objects. The meaning of this definition or picture is also obvious: we can point to various existents and evaluate without hesitation that “this is a table, this is not a table”.

There is a good reason why these concepts are so intuitive. They designate material objects that we observe every day. Hard to observe or abstract existents are another matter. It’s hard to find people who agree, for instance, on what the concept “freedom” means. It is too removed from daily reality, and people manipulate it to fit their own vision of the world, whatever the ideology. But the instances of “freedom” are still material.

This commonality of meaning totally breaks down with the god-concept, but for a different reason. The only instances of the god-concept we observe are in books – literary universes. So we form an imagined mental picture of “god” in our minds. This fools us into thinking that the word “god” actually means something, on the same level than “table” does.

Here lies the crux of the problem. Part of the definition of “god” is Creator, which is to say, supernatural. We have no idea what “supernatural” means, nor can we apply any property to the supernatural. This is a fundamental problem. Likewise for the other properties of “god”. As the articles in this section discuss, there is no possible way for the believer to extract any meaning from the common definitions of “god”.

Thus the sentence “a god exists” is meaningless, and any position that relies on the possibility of a god existing is meaningless, leaving only strong atheism, which is compatible with the idea that the concept “god” does not even pass the simplest of burden of proofs.. The meaningless, the contradictory, cannot exist.

Here is a typical semantic argument:

  • Posit a religious term T.
  1. T is defined either negatively or as a property of an undefined substance.
  2. Terms defined negatively or as properties of an undefined substance are meaningless.
  1. T is meaningless. (from 1 and 2)

Last updated: January 1, 2005