Are You an Ignostic?

Are You an Ignostic? October 15, 2012
The Circle of Self-Justification

I received an email from a reader last week claiming that he is an ignostic, and he thinks I might be one, too. I’d never heard of ignosticism before, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and read,

Ignosticism or igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism and atheism) assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts.

It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God:

  1. The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term “God” is considered meaningless.
  2. The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking “What is meant by ‘God’?” before proclaiming the original question “Does God exist?” as meaningless.

What I like about what I’ve read in the definition of ignosticism is that it rejects any definition of God that is unfalsifiable because the truth of the definition is assumed in the definition. I’m currently on the quest of a coherent definition of God, most notably in my Questions That Haunt series.

So, are there any ignostics out there?

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  • ryan

    I like the sound of this. A lot. Count me in.

  • Tony,

    Interesting question. As you are “currently on the quest of a coherent definition of God” it reminded me of Tillich’s struggle with the word ‘God’. Even if using the term ‘Ground of All Being’ does not solve the problem, it made me think of the following: is it possible to find the ‘right’ word for God? Does finding the ‘right’ word help your quest (and mine) in regards to finding a ‘coherent definition of God’? Sometimes I feel that our words do not do justice to what I am trying to find/define. Peace 🙂

  • Tom

    So an ignostic would not care to discuss the existence of love, because there is no coherent definition of love, so the term “love” is meaningless?

    • Chase Canis

      not exactly. An Ignostic would want you to define ASPECTS of “love” before having a discussion about “love”

      Besides, when you have a conversation about love, youre likely talking about what it means any way. When you talk about “God” people try to kick it off with whether or not they believe in the absolute existence of it… so we would rather know what what YOU think “God” is, before we start talking about what we believe.

  • Don’t definitions imply control? Isn’t the quest for a definition a sign that we want to control what we are defining? Where does mystery come into play?

  • Larry Barber

    I’m not sure that a God who could be coherently defined would be a God worth following. By defining something we are forcing our (very finite) categories on whatever we are defining. But forcing finite categories onto an infinite (or at least unimaginably large) God just doesn’t seem to work. I suspect that any definition for God that _we_ can come up will be either incoherent or inaccurate or simply too much smaller than God to be of any use.

  • Yes. I am an ignostic. Thanks, Tony. I’m always in the market for a new label to apply to myself. 🙂

  • Evelyn

    Ok, let’s apply view 1 to a table: A table is an object with a flat top and a stable base. This definition of a table is unfalsifiable so the question of the existence of the table is meaningless. The concept of the table is not meaningless but the term “table” is meaningless.

    We know that something which is a table exists (even though an ignostic would say that the question of the existence of the table is meaningless).

    The term “table” is not meaningless in this case because we are using it to define a thing whose concept we agree on. If we didn’t agree on the concept of “table” the term would be meaningless.

    Conclusion: If we agree on a concept that we can name, then we can meaningfully discuss the word related to that concept. Just because the question of the existence of something is meaningless, it doesn’t mean that the thing in question does not exist.

  • I’m with Evelyn. Ignosticism, or even theological noncognitivism for that matter, seems more of an attempt to avoid conversation or inquiry, rather than engaging in it. See here as well: (not for the easily offended). One can demand definitions ad infinitum, and it is impossible to start a conversation.

    Not that definitions aren’t important, because they are. But sometimes we apply terms to fairly unknown entities, such as “dark matter”. Also, why is falsification considered such an essential criterion? Why can’t it simply be verifiable, or detectable?

  • Lee P.

    Ooh, ooh! I was the one who brought this up in my email.

    I kind of like this post better than the demon question and I hope it gets a good response.

    My “demon” question was very popular but how proud of that should I be? It wasn’t as thought provoking as it was salacious. People love to talk about demons and hell. If Kevin Miller comes out with a movie called “Heaven Bound”, you expect it to be about half as popular as “Hellbound” has been. If that.

    I had a friend that has some interesting things to say when I brought up Ignoticsm and the incoherency of “God”. Let me see if I can dig up that old email.

  • Craig

    What does it mean for a definition to be unfalsifiable? Can anyone give an example of a falsifiable definition and an unfalsifiable one? A bachelor is a unmarried adult male human being. I take this to be a definition. Is it falsifiable or not?

  • If I may imitate Peter Rollins for a second, I’m more of an a/gnostic.

  • One little detail… how is any concept of God falsifiable again? What tests are we using? Logical ones? Empirical ones? Magical ones?

    • Scot Miller


  • Am I am ignostic? Sure, I mean, why not? What’s there to argue here? As others have pointed out, there is no end to the terms we could demand definitions for. Some terms happily find themselves agreed upon by a majority, some will be argued over infinitely. All are social agreements of sorts, none are as concrete as we think. If we wanted to we could all spend every conversation defining our terms indefinitely. So… Why don’t we do that? When I call something “red” that my wife thinks is “cranberry” what compels her to hold her tongue? Grace. Love. She overlooks my brutishness because it JUST DOESN’T MATTER TO HER. She chooses to assume that when it comes down to it we both see the same thing. It doesn’t matter what we call it!! What matters is that we’re talking, we’re relating, we’re shopping together, we’re living life together. We could argue about whether the blouse is red or cranberry forever, defining various shades, and eventually breaking out the spectrophotometer, a cranberry, and a stop sign. One of us is probably more right, but to prove that is to miss the point and to die a little bit.

    If “God” exists He/She/They/It is defined by HOW we hold our definitions. God does not equal A,B, or C, but “exists” in the tension of the spaces between them.

  • This is a hugely helpful idea, it seems to me. I often find myself grasping for useful descriptors that attempt to strike a balance between theist and atheist. I sometimes say I’m a mystical atheist who worships a Risen Jesus…or an apophatic mystical non-theist or some other awkward “thing.” I think concept like ignosticism and apophatic mysticism are nicely complementary.

  • Laura

    Not an ignostic, but very pleased to see Wikipedia as a tenable research citation.

  • Charles

    By what standard are we deciding that a defenition of “God” could ever be falsifiable or not? If God exists, then all (actuality) resides in the abstract existence and essence of his Nature. Actuality is the essence of what ever could be (True) in existence, for things which are actual, are in fact True. Therefore by finding a falsifiable definition of God, I feel we would (actually) be heading in the wrong direction entirely.

  • Alan K

    Does not ignosticism require the elevation of its principle to divine status? According to its own rules, ignosticism would have to reject itself.

  • Craig

    Perhaps an ignostic is someone who thinks that the definition of “God” must be such that the claim that God exists is falsifiable. While this standard is at least coherent, why should anyone accept it? Can anyone provide me with a reason for thinking that every non-falsifiable claim about something’s existence is meaningless? Suppose there is such a thing as a logically necessary truth. We could then truly and meaningfully say: there exists at least one logically necessary truth. Would such a claim be falsifiable? If not, then we have good reason for thinking that at least one non-falsifiable claim about something’s existence could be both meaningful and true (and the question of whether such a claim were true would likewise be meaningful). So until an ignostic can correct my confusions and guide to the light, put me down as a naive, atheistic, anti-ignostic.

  • Ted Seeber

    Why bother with the definition of God, when you can just go to a Catholic Mass and meet him face to face (or at least, body to tongue)?

  • Walter

    When, by defining, we exclude characteristics, what we are defining is something less than God. Hence any definition of God is meaningless. The only working definition that makes sense is to think of God as that which we do not understand.

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  • duane

    Thinking themselves wise they became fools.

  • Nick Gotts

    We talk and argue all the time about things that don’t have a “coherent definition”, or have multiple possible “coherent definitions”, including about their existence: ghosts, the meaning of life, randomness, race, justice, pain, consciousness… Moreover, suppose a “coherent definition” of God is proposed; we can then ask for a “coherent definition” of every one of the words used in the definition, and so ad infinitum. Natural language does not and cannot achieve precision by defining all its terms, for this reason; rather, it does so by language users specifying what they mean by a term more precisely (never with complete precision) as and when necessary.

    Secondly, unfalsifiability most emphatically does not imply meaninglessness – Karl Popper, who if he didn’t invent the word, is certainly the thinker most associated with it, was absolutely clear on that point. Logical truths, for example, are unfalsifiable, because no possible observation could show them to be false, but if you think “17 is a prime number” is meaningless, you’re just wrong. In fact, all definitions are neither falsifiable nor unfalsifiable, any more than dogs or dilemmas are, because they are not propositions: they do not have truth-values at all.

  • Andrew

    I am ignostic (…) All worldleaders outthere better become ignostics as well. Let’s set the right example and leave all nonsense behind us . Keep it simple .ignsticism has ruled “the bulk” cosmos for billions of years .

  • Hannah

    My beliefs are very much alike with those of ignostics, so I like to think I am one. However, the law and my entire family claim that I am a “Christian” since the religion was “passed down to me”, so…I don’t know.

    But it’s been a while since I “believed” in the Christian God.

  • DDP
  • Jake James

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to correct people when I say I’m Ignostic – they assume incorrectly that I don’t now how to spell Agnostic – and will argue with me until I define Ignosticism for them.

    I’ve been an Ignostic all my life.

  • luke pat trick

    I think if you break it down to its rawest form it would be:
    -theist = there is a god
    -atheist = there is no god
    -agnostic = there is no way to determine whether there is a god or not
    -ignostic = there is no way to determine whether there is a god or not, because there is no way to determine what god is… is he an old man w a white beard and robe? Or is it the breeze through the leaves of a tree? The roll of the waves of the ocean crashing against the shore? The absolute innocence of a young child? The love you hold for your significant other? Etc etc

  • Mark Palmer

    Aye. Ignostic here. Not only regarding “God” but Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and right hand Kanutzen valves.

  • Fred Boulton

    I’ve been an ignostic all my life but didn’t know it! I’ve always called myself an atheist, but knew that it really didn’t apply to me because I’ve no idea what a god is and have never seen anyone determine what a god is. It’s just nonsense to me, and just inventions of humans.

    Thank you for my new label. I love it!

  • andrew

    I am a very comfortable ignostic and therefore do not entertain any belief in deities as such .I also apply a social filter at my home to keep religious people far from me and my family ( they all -without exception-come with a lot of baggage) . Sofar my home is quiet and without profanity and other nonsense . I am ready for a better subject to explore or immerse myself into our amazing world with endless wonders to admire .Having answered my religion question ,my mind is free to explore many other interests that ARE worthy of spending time on .

  • Edwin McCravy

    I go by the fact that I cannot imagine anything that I could believe any Christian of Jew would label “God”. So all I can see that there is to “God” is three alphabet letters, a capital “G”, an “o”, and a “d” in that order. What else is there to it? Every definition I have ever seen for “God” amounted to “God is that which created everything but God” which starts and ends with “God”, and thus is circular. Makes no sense to me.

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