Are We Actually Speaking the Same Language?


A few years ago I took a class on the Old Testament. In the class there were about 4 Jewish students, 3 Muslim students, 10 Christian students, and me. As the class was meant to be taken from an academic standpoint, it was not about whether what we read was true, but rather what the Old Testament can tell us about the people of the time. However, it seemed as though my classmates weren’t interested in anything other than having their beliefs confirmed, so they talked a lot about their faith and their thoughts from their religious perspectives. As I listened to their interpretations of the reading that we had all done, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were not, in fact, reading the same book. In many ways, it was like were weren’t even speaking the same language.

In the years since that class, that thought process has only been confirmed. When I talk to theists, especially when discussing religious texts, it’s like we’re not speaking the same language. I can’t help but think that this is what has caused a good deal of miscommunication between theists and non-theists. When we speak, we use different words, or we use the same words differently. When we discuss scripture or holy writ, the non-theist (or nonbeliever) does not interpret it the same way that the believer does. We see it differently. This makes it very difficult to come to an understanding. It leads to frustration and anger. And I think that it is important to try and realize that this miscommunication is occurring in order to prevent that frustration and anger. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to avoid this miscommunication because it is not always obvious when a word is being used differently.

Some of the words that I’ve noticed as being used differently:

Faith:
To a non-theist, this means belief without evidence.
Theists, in my experience, use this word differently depending on a number of factors, but two interpretations that I’ve noticed are trust and their relationship with their deity.

Belief:
A lot of non-theists don’t like this word. Many feel that it implies faith. To me, a belief is just something that one holds true whether it is or not.
I’ve noticed that a lot of theists use this to mean truth.

Truth:
When non-theists say something is true, we mean that it is supported by evidence.
Theists tend to have two interpretations of this word. The first is the capital-T truth, which seems to me to mean the words written in their particular holy book. The second is small-t truth, which seems to be defined as true facts.

Christian:
When a non-theist says this, we generally mean someone who identifies as a Christian.
When a Christian says this, they can mean a number of things. They can agree with the non-theist, they can mean someone who has been saved, and they can even mean someone from their denomination only. It can be difficult to determine what is meant when someone says this.

Atheist:
When an atheist says this, they mean someone who believes that gods don’t exist.
When a theist says this, they often mean someone who asserts that there are no gods, or they may try to differentiate between the above claim and not believing in any gods.

Scripture:
When I hear a Christian say this I hear “the Bible,” but it seems that they often mean “the Gospels.” I’m not really to sure about other religions , but I generally just take “scripture” to mean “holy book.”

Worldview:
When non-theists say this, we generally mean a series of beliefs that inform a person’s view of the world.
When theists use worldview, it seems as though they often mean a single belief, or a few beliefs, where religion is concerned, and only where religion is concerned.

Evidence:
When non-theists say “give me evidence,” we mean tangible evidence. We mean “give me something I can see, touch, and accept.” We want something that will convince us, which means that we need to be able to confirm it.
Theists tend to use “evidence” more loosely. They often conflate personal experience with evidence, and they often try to show their holy book to be true using that holy book.

Argument:
This one I think is generally a matter of whether or not one has had philosophical training, but there is still some difference between theists and non-theists.
Non-theists tend to mean a series of claims meant to support a conclusion.
Theists often mean getting into a shouting match.

This is not an all inclusive list, but it includes the words that I have noticed getting used differently the most. And it includes some of the most common usages that I have noticed. Also, while I say theist vs. non-theist, I’ve noticed this mostly between members of the Abrahamic religions and atheists/agnostics (I don’t have much dealings with people within the Eastern religions, and I haven’t noticed Pagan’s using words that I use differently. Well, not enough to comment on anyway).

What other words get used differently between theists and non-theists? What do these words mean to you?

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33 responses to “Are We Actually Speaking the Same Language?

  • zareenn3

    Someone said to me the other day that religions are in fact like languages.

    I think it happens that in such kinds of classes, people are there just to argue, and miss the whole point of the class. I have atheist friends and even though I do believe in God, I never get offended by their view and I want to learn more because I want to understand the way they interpret things. I think maybe we should all be patient and tolerant and try and understand the other person’s perspective. I also think that belief or religion or faith or whatever is a very personal thing and everyone should have a right to believe what they like.

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  • Joe

    Great post, indeed there are issues about what these things mean. That is why some of the very first posts on my blog define 2 of these terms belief and truth. I use the philosophical sense. I also explained what I understand evidence to mean. There I used the legal definition. But I will give what I think they mean:

    Belief:
    I define belief the same way the philosopher Quine defines belief. There is no reason to think this understanding of belief is different than what the Greek writers of the new testament meant. “[belief] is a disposition to respond in certain ways when the appropriate issue arises.”

    http://trueandreasonable.co/2014/01/09/do-you-belieeeeve/

    I find it hard to believe(nyak nyak) that you exclude the possibility that you can prove a belief. After all knowledge is a form of belief right? It is justified true belief. This is how these terms have been understood for ages. But recently people have been motivated to try to change the meaning of these words. It does indeed add to confusion.

    Sometimes we can prove our beliefs sometimes we cant. But its not the case that if we can prove a belief we no longer believe them. We actually

    Truth:
    A proposition is true if and only if it accords with reality. Whether we have evidence of it is irrelevant. It was true that moons around neptune existed long before we have evidence of this truth. Why? Because the statement “Neptune has moons” accorded with reality. It was always false to say Neptune has no moons.

    http://trueandreasonable.co/2014/01/05/in-real-life-and-reasonable/

    Faith:
    Has different meanings. It can mean a belief system like the Islamic faith or the Christian or Catholic Faith. But that is really a distinct definition from what we are talking about.

    If I say “I have faith in God” that means “I believe and trust in God.” This is what the Greek words used in the new testament for faith or belief translate as. They are words that have been used in other greek works and they do not mean the belief must be without evidence. It is simply a mistranslation to say it does.

    Now some people *interpret* those words differently. People interpret scripture all different ways. That is they say yes I realize in the other greek texts it doesn’t mean this but I think Paul or John mean something different. But I think on the whole that break from the normal translation is not supported. Again its just my view I can give my reasons for it – and intend to in a blog sometime.

    The fact that Christians and non-christians have come to interpret the word very differently from the original greek authors does not mean the greek authors meant what the revisers thought. If you want to have the faith that Paul or John talk about then you should understand those words as they would have understood them. Not how someone in 1950 or even 1590 decided they should mean.

    Scripture:
    I think most Christians I know consider the old and new testament their Scripture – ie, the bible. However about half of the Christians think there are only 66 books in the bible. The other half think there are more. Catholics believe there are 73 books in the bible because they include all the books of the greek Septuagint in their old testament. Protestants do not. Orthodox seem to consider a few more books cannonical than even what Catholics do – although I am not sure how definitive they are on this.

    As far as argument it technically can mean both. But of course in these sorts of discourse we hope it to mean a series of premises that support a conclusion. I am not sure if you were serious with that comment. But if you are do you think religious people are always the ones who refuse to be reasonable? If so would you agree that perhaps maybe there may be some ingroup out group bias effecting your views? I mean there are allot of religious people in the world.

    Evidence:
    I use the US governments rule defining what “relevant evidence” is:

    Rule 401 says:

    “”Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”

    As we discussed earlier historians often use accounts as evidence. I can tell you that court room trials generally involve allot more testimonial evidence than tangible evidence. It seems to me that atheists first come to believe that they are entitled to place some ill-defined burden of proof on the religious persons shoulders. And then what qualifies as proof or evidence is much more stringent than what they require as evidence in other areas like law or history.

    Atheist:
    I have heard some minor disputes about what this means. For example is someone who never considered whether there is a God an atheist? Or does he have to specifically believe the claim that there is no God? I am not sure there is much significance in these distinctions so I really don’t take a position on it.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      If something accords to reality then we can (theoretically) get evidence to support the claim. It may have always (well, from the time that Neptune’s moons formed) been true that Neptune has moons, and we haven’t always had evidence that the moons existed, but that evidence has been there. We just needed the technology to find it. However, what is true does change. For example, in 1999 it would have been true for someone to say “there are nine planets in our solar system.” Saying that today would be false. So to say that something that is true is always true isn’t quite accurate.
      As I mentioned numerous times in the post, I was discussing trends that I noticed about how the theists I have talked to talk about arguments. I’m not saying “this is how all theists use the word” or “no atheists use the word this way.” I’ve just noticed that the atheists I talk to use the philosophical version of argument, whereas a number of the theists don’t.
      I don’t think the government’s version of evidence is the best version. After all, it is generally only meant to be used in legal matters. If you want to show that something in nature (ie. the age of a tree or the return of an asteroid) is true, then you should use the scientific method of true. If you want to show an idea to be true, then you should use the Philosophical version of evidence. This is because different types of evidence work on different types of claims. For example, giving a philosophical proof is useless if you want to show that a fossil is 10 million years old. Likewise, if you want to show whether or not we can have knowledge, you can’t use a scientific form of evidence because science necessarily assumes that we have knowledge. As such, you’d want to use philosophical evidence.
      If one never considers the existence of god, then one cannot form a belief. As such, it isn’t possible to be an atheist having never considered the existence of god. An atheist is someone who has considered the existence of god and found the claim wanting.

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      • Joe

        “If something accords to reality then we can (theoretically) get evidence to support the claim.”

        I highly doubt this. Especially when you seem to limit “evidence” to “tangible evidence.” For example did Martin Luther say “here I stand” at the diet of worms? Either he did, or he didn’t. So the claim that he did is either true or false. What sort of tangible evidence can you rely on to support the claim one way or another?

        “For example, in 1999 it would have been true for someone to say “there are nine planets in our solar system.” Saying that today would be false. So to say that something that is true is always true isn’t quite accurate.”

        The definition of a planet was changed/refined after 1999. So what astronomers meant by the word “planet” was not the same thing they mean now. The truth of a statement will change if reality changes or if the definition of the relevant words change. But if we mean the same thing by the word and talk about the same time then a proposition is either true or false. My mother either yawned on January 25, 1986 between 10:42 am and 10:45 am central standard time on, or she did not. The statement “Joe’s mom yawned on January 25th between 10:42 and 10:45 am” might be impossible to prove or get any evidence for it. Yet if, in reality, she yawned at that time, then the statement is true.

        If you want to redefine truth to have more requirements ok. But then what new word would you suggest we use for how truth was traditionally understood, by people like Aristotle and Aquinas? It seems to me that I and others have an innate interest in having their beliefs correspond with reality. That is so regardless of whether you think I have tangible evidence of it.
        There is a problem with taking the traditional meanings of words like truth, and evidence, and changing it. Namely, it makes it hard for future scholars to understand those who came before. You mean something different even though you use the same words as earlier philosophers who have already addressed many issues.

        “As I mentioned numerous times in the post, I was discussing trends that I noticed about how the theists I have talked to talk about arguments. I’m not saying “this is how all theists use the word” or “no atheists use the word this way.” I’ve just noticed that the atheists I talk to use the philosophical version of argument, whereas a number of the theists don’t.”

        That could be I don’t really mind one way or another.

        “I don’t think the government’s version of evidence is the best version. After all, it is generally only meant to be used in legal matters.”

        While I agree with your reluctance to allow “the government” to give meanings to words, here I think there is good reason. What is or is not evidence is of prime importance to the actual truth finding function of our courts. And while often Government definitions can be decided based on political motives here there seems no political motivation to avoid truth finding in cases. Liberals and conservatives will want our courts to find the truth. Therefore they will both have an interest in defining relevant evidence in the way that serves that purpose. This is the standard in all fifty states, and many very intelligent people have thought about this issue, and there is very little controversy in this definition.

        You on the other hand just seem to use fiat and suggest that only “tangible evidence” should be considered “evidence.” The only thing I can wonder is if you really thought that through. What exactly is motivating this move? Is it because you think you will have an easier time defending your anti-religious views? That hardly seems like a good reason wouldn’t you agree? Also have you thought about your own beliefs and likely how few of them you have seen actual tangible evidence for?

        “If you want to show that something in nature (ie. the age of a tree or the return of an asteroid) is true, then you should use the scientific method of true. If you want to show an idea to be true, then you should use the Philosophical version of evidence. This is because different types of evidence work on different types of claims. For example, giving a philosophical proof is useless if you want to show that a fossil is 10 million years old. Likewise, if you want to show whether or not we can have knowledge, you can’t use a scientific form of evidence because science necessarily assumes that we have knowledge. As such, you’d want to use philosophical evidence.”

        I am not so sure that enshrining this functional fixedness is accurate or helpful. People learn across fields all the time. Philosophers learn from psychologists and vice versa. Archaeologists often rely on historical accounts to help them in what they do and vice versa. I am not sure we should draw hard and fast rules here.

        “If one never considers the existence of god, then one cannot form a belief. As such, it isn’t possible to be an atheist having never considered the existence of god. An atheist is someone who has considered the existence of god and found the claim wanting.”

        Ok could be. I have read similar distinctions between people who say atheists believe that no god exists versus those who say atheists just don’t believe in God. I see the distinctions you and they raise, but I am not sure why these distinctions are important.

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        • hessianwithteeth

          This isn’t actually getting us anywhere, so let’s try a different approach.
          “I highly doubt this. Especially when you seem to limit ‘evidence’ to ‘tangible evidence.’” Define evidence and explain why you feel that this definition works and mine doesn’t.
          “For example did Martin Luther say ‘here I stand’ at the diet of worms? Either he did, or he didn’t. So the claim that he did is either true or false. What sort of tangible evidence can you rely on to support the claim one way or another?” Again, I’m a historian. We have a lot of ‘tangible’ evidence to support what Martin Luther said. We have his own writings, we have writings about him (written during his life time) that discuss the things he said. We even have painting that depict the things that happened. Not to mention the writings about the events he attended that might mention him, but that aren’t directly about him. All of this is very tangible, and it is evidence. We aren’t just saying “I believe Martin Luther said this because I want to,” we are saying “Martin Luther said this because all of the evidence says that he said this.”
          “The definition of a planet was changed/refined after 1999. So what astronomers meant by the word ‘planet’ was not the same thing they mean now. The truth of a statement will change if reality changes or if the definition of the relevant words change.” What is a true statement if not a statement made up of words whose meaning currently match up with the given statement as a whole? In other words, we use words to describe concepts. These words are constantly changing meanings. What a word means today isn’t necessarily what it meant a hundred years ago. You seem to want to suggest that there is some true essence beyond the words themselves. So what is this essence? Is it, as Plato suggests, a form? Or is it something else?
          “But if we mean the same thing by the word and talk about the same time then a proposition is either true or false. My mother either yawned on January 25, 1986 between 10:42 am and 10:45 am central standard time on, or she did not. The statement ‘Joe’s mom yawned on January 25th between 10:42 and 10:45 am’ might be impossible to prove or get any evidence for it. Yet if, in reality, she yawned at that time, then the statement is true.” No, it is not either true that your mother yawned or false. In this case, there is a sense of ambiguity. If somebody recorded you mother yawn, and the yawn was time stamped, provided that the film can be shown to have not been tampered with, then we can say your mother did yawn. However, ambiguous statements like this are a lot more complicated. Have you heard of Schrodinger’s cat? It’s a thought experiment that goes like this: Schrodinger puts a cat in a box with a vile of poison in it. So long as the vile isn’t knocked over, the cat is fine. The box is such that you cannot see in it and you cannot hear any noise coming from it. Once you have opened the box, you can say that the cat is either alive or dead, however, so long as the box is closed, it can say that the cat is both alive and dead. This thought experiment is meant to express the state of quantum superposition where a photon can be said to exist in multiple states at one time. However, Philosophers use this same experiment to discuss ambiguities in truth statements. Read up on formal logic if you are interested in this idea.
          “If you want to redefine truth to have more requirements ok. But then what new word would you suggest we use for how truth was traditionally understood, by people like Aristotle and Aquinas?” Again, the definitions of words change over time. This is one of the biggest issues with translating ancient texts. I am not redefining truth. I am saying that without evidence you cannot know whether or not something is true. This isn’t to say that it is not factually correct, it is to say that we cannot know whether or not it is true. This is a commonly accepted idea in Philosophy, and mainstream society. I’m not interested in whether or not something is true in a vacuum, because that truth has no baring on us. I care about truth from the human perspective. Can we show something to be true? If we can’t, what is the probability that it is true? Does it have any baring on me or on reality? Your mother yawning has no baring on me or on reality. God’s existence would. As such, I care about whether God exists, but I don’t care about whether your mother yawned (I don’t even really care if she exists, since her existence doesn’t affect me). As such, the fact that your mother yawned may or may not be true, but it is irrelevant. God may or man not also exist, but that actually matters. However, I see no evidence to suggest that God exists, so I doubt that that it is true that God exists. I also doubt that it is probable.
          “It seems to me that I and others have an innate interest in having their beliefs correspond with reality. That is so regardless of whether you think I have tangible evidence of it.” I’m not saying that the truth of your beliefs depend on my believing them. I’m saying that if you want to convince anybody (which a number of theists do), you need evidence that will convince me. In the same way that my belief does not affect the truth of you belief, your belief does not affect the truth of mine. If you care about believing what is true, that’s good. But there is still a standard that needs to be applied to your evidence. This is because you do not exist in a vacuum either. Your beliefs do affect me, because you act on them. And people are often interested in spreading their beliefs. If you don’t care that your evidence meets this standard, fine. Believe whatever you want, but don’t expect me to be convinced by your evidence. And don’t tell me that you care about truth, because if you want to use whatever you want as evidence, then there is no standard, and it is a lot easier for you to either use weak evidence and say that is enough or try to fit the evidence to your beliefs. Caring about truth means finding as much evidence to support your beliefs as you can, and trying to make sure that you arguments are as strong as possible. Caring about truth means being willing to change your beliefs if the evidence contradicts that belief.
          “There is a problem with taking the traditional meanings of words like truth, and evidence, and changing it.” Really? Perhaps you should tell that to the linguists. The meaning of words change all the time. For example: http://mentalfloss.com/article/54770/15-words-dont-mean-what-they-used.
          “While I agree with your reluctance to allow ‘the government’ to give meanings to words, here I think there is good reason. What is or is not evidence is of prime importance to the actual truth finding function of our courts.” Actually the courts aren’t concerned with truth, they are concerned with persuasion. Truth and persuasion are not the same thing. That’s why convictions are “guilty” and “not guilty,” not “guilty” and “innocent.” It’s also why lawyers learn how to debate, they don’t learn how to determine what is or isn’t true: a lawyers job is not to prove that the person did in fact do it, their job is to convince the jury or judge one way or the other. The government works much the same way: it is the job of the politician to convince us to vote for them. If we want to form our method for searching out truth from a group, the government is not a good group to idealize. Scientists are much better at looking for truth.
          “You on the other hand just seem to use fiat and suggest that only ‘tangible evidence’ should be considered ‘evidence.’ The only thing I can wonder is if you really thought that through.” Again, what would you consider evidence? I do not think that evidence has to be able to be touched, but I do think there are standards that need to be maintained. Again, all I’m saying is that different arguments require different kinds of evidence. If you think that “God told me” should count as evidence, I’d say no it doesn’t.
          “What exactly is motivating this move? Is it because you think you will have an easier time defending your anti-religious views?” Yes. I hate religion and want to destroy it. Therefore, I am demanding a degree of evidence that the religious couldn’t possible provide. Like written sources outside of the Bible that show that events and people (including God) in the Bible actually exist. How could I be so hateful and bigoted? How could I ever demand the same of the Bible as I demand of other written documents and historical claims? -_-
          “Also have you thought about your own beliefs and likely how few of them you have seen actual tangible evidence for?” No. I have never once thought about my beliefs. I just like to tell others to provide evidence for their own beliefs. I have never spent any time musing about my beliefs or thinking about them in any way. I just picked a belief to follow at random. In fact, I haven’t even talked about how I came to my beliefs on this blog, nor have I done any musing about why I believe my beliefs and not others on this blog. If you looked through this blog’s archives you wouldn’t find me publicly thinking about what I believe, why, and why I don’t agree with other claims at all. Nope. I do no thinking once so ever. I am against thinking. I don’t like it. I don’t do it. -_-
          “Philosophers learn from psychologists and vice versa. Archaeologists often rely on historical accounts to help them in what they do and vice versa. I am not sure we should draw hard and fast rules here.” Philosophers don’t do psychology, nor do they use the methods used by Psychologists. Yes, they use studies done by Psychologists to prove their point, but that doesn’t mean they are actually doing the studies. And it doesn’t mean that they are using the Psychological method to apply the studies. They are still using the Philosophical method in their paper. Though this is not at all what I’m saying. What I was saying is that there are different methods of proving something that work best for different claims.
          “’If one never considers the existence of god, then one cannot form a belief. As such, it isn’t possible to be an atheist having never considered the existence of god. An atheist is someone who has considered the existence of god and found the claim wanting.’ Ok could be. I have read similar distinctions between people who say atheists believe that no god exists versus those who say atheists just don’t believe in God. I see the distinctions you and they raise, but I am not sure why these distinctions are important.” Would you be willing to call someone who had never considered the existence of God a Christian. If not, then you understand why the distinction matters.

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          • Joe

            If you don’t mind I’m going to break this up a bit and respond over time.

            “Again, I’m a historian. We have a lot of ‘tangible’ evidence to support what Martin Luther said. We have his own writings, we have writings about him (written during his life time) that discuss the things he said. We even have painting that depict the things that happened.”

            Ok this explains quite a bit. So if I verbally tell you something happened then that is not evidence, because you think “evidence” means “tangible evidence.” But if I write it down on paper that same testimony becomes evidence? Because by writing it down you have “tangible evidence”? I did not think you intended to defend that sort of distinction. Are you really doing that?

            I thought by requiring tangible evidence you were drawing a distinction between “testimonial evidence” and “tangible evidence.” Generally the weight of a testimonial claim should not depend on whether it is written or oral.

            In fact in courts verbal testimony is given some preference. You can understand a person better by seeing the emphasis they place on certain words. This is one of the reasons we generally don’t allow people to just write down a statement and have it read to the jury.

            Unless the paintings have a bubble showing Martin Luther saying “here I stand” they will not really provide evidence that he said that. Again the dispute is not whether he was at the diet of worms but whether he said “here I stand” there. Of course if you put something like a bubble in the painting it is just more testimonial evidence.

            My definition of relevant evidence is the same as that used by courts. I think it’s a pretty good one. According to that definition we would have conflicting evidence on whether he said “here I stand” at the Diet of Worms. If we did not use testimonial evidence and only used tangible evidence we would have no evidence on that question. Now if we had a recording of the events that would be tangible evidence. But of course there was no recording.

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          • Joe

            I said: “The definition of a planet was changed/refined after 1999. So what astronomers meant by the word ‘planet’ was not the same thing they mean now. The truth of a statement will change if reality changes or if the definition of the relevant words change.”

            You said this without the numbers: ”1)What is a true statement if not a statement made up of words whose meaning currently match up with the given statement as a whole? 2) In other words, we use words to describe concepts. These words are constantly changing meanings. What a word means today isn’t necessarily what it meant a hundred years ago. You seem to want to suggest that there is some true essence beyond the words themselves. 3)So what is this essence? 4)Is it, as Plato suggests, a form? Or is it something else?”

            1) I am not sure what you are saying. I think a true statement is one that accords with reality.
            2) I tend to agree that we use words to describe concepts. But over time the words can change which concepts they represent. I do not deny that this happens. But I think on the whole it is unfortunate. Why? Because like I said if we change the meanings of the words then we will have difficulty understanding people who have already thought about things and therefore they can not as effectively contribute to our understanding of the world.

            What I suggest is that Aristotle meant something like what I understand truth to be when he said “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” This view of truth can be seen in Plato as well later when Aquinas says “Truth is the equation of thing and intellect” and “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.”

            Now you can and people do change what these words mean. So now you want to change what truth means so that the word “truth” no longer means that, you want it to mean some other concept. I would say that you should think of a new word for your new concept, that way people will be able to learn from Aristotle Plato and Aquinas more easily. Why? Because we will still be talking the same language – like the title of your blog suggests we should.

            My second point is different. I maintain that conforming our beliefs our beliefs to reality is something people have always seemed to think worthwhile. This is so regardless of whether you think there is evidence for it or not. Evidence is subjective. People disagree about the strength of the same evidence all the time. As I indicate in my very first blog post my kids wanted to know whether something happened “in real life” before they were even in kindergarten. So if “truth” is no longer the word that means a “statements that accords with reality” then what will we call statements that accord with reality? Should we think of a new word for that concept? Because, yes I think this concept of having beliefs that accord with reality is an important one.

            3and 4) like I say above there is a concept and that concept used to (and still does in philosophical circles at least) attach to the word truth. I am not sure exploring Plato’s forms will be helpful.

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          • Joe

            I said: “But if we mean the same thing by the word and talk about the same time then a proposition is either true or false. My mother either yawned on January 25, 1986 between 10:42 am and 10:45 am central standard time on, or she did not. The statement ‘Joe’s mom yawned on January 25th between 10:42 and 10:45 am’ might be impossible to prove or get any evidence for it. Yet if, in reality, she yawned at that time, then the statement is true.”

            You said: “No, it is not either true that your mother yawned or false. In this case, there is a sense of ambiguity. If somebody recorded you mother yawn, and the yawn was time stamped, provided that the film can be shown to have not been tampered with, then we can say your mother did yawn. However, ambiguous statements like this are a lot more complicated. Have you heard of Schrodinger’s cat?”

            Ok here IMO you are making better arguments. I give my definitions as pretty much a starting ground, but do understand that people can push those definitions. I am familiar with Schrodinger’s cat. And I agree it challenges our traditional notions of reality and truth. It is a paradox after all. There are many such paradoxes that can be difficult to understand. But we still make due and as a practical matter use the notion that there is either A, or not A to good results. Anti-realists can have reasoned objections to the traditional understanding of truth.

            Just like Gettier provided some good reasons to reject the traditional theory of knowledge. But IMO if we are to “speak the same language” it is important to grasp the traditional understanding first. And then present the arguments of why the traditional understanding might be under fire.

            Now I do not have a satisfactory answer to the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox. I will say that I still wonder if we are missing something in how this thought experiment is set up and understood. But I am not sure what it is, because I am not that knowledgeable about quantum physics. Did you know that Schrodinger thought the cat was in fact either dead or alive and not a mixture of both?

            However with respect to my claim about my mother yawning I do not think the statement is ambiguous. At least the ambiguity is not obvious. If you want to clearly separate it from Schrodinger’s cat then we can add say that she was in a room with other people looking at her at that time. They would have all seen if she yawned but they are now dead.

            If you want to take an anti-realist position that is one thing. But I don’t think most people theist or non-theists agree with it. You should understand that you understand things different than most people.

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          • Joe

            In your original blog you said:
            “When non-theists say something is true, we mean that it is supported by evidence.”
            Now you say:
            “I am saying that without evidence you cannot know whether or not something is true. This isn’t to say that it is not factually correct, it is to say that we cannot know whether or not it is true.”

            Ok there is a difference between something being true, and “knowing” something is true. I agree that knowledge is more than mere true belief.

            You say:
            “I’m not interested in whether or not something is true in a vacuum, because that truth has no baring on us. I care about truth from the human perspective. Can we show something to be true? If we can’t, what is the probability that it is true? Does it have any baring on me or on reality?”

            Ok I think I see your point and agree to some extent. But it’s important to understand that even if we have no evidence of the truth of something the reality can still effect us. In the dark ages people were unable to show what the plaque actually was. But it still effected them. I think sometimes – albeit rarely – when I speak with non-theists they tend to think if they decide there is insufficient evidence of God then God doesn’t exist. Your defining truth as that which “is supported by evidence” tends to point in that same direction.

            The other issue that arises is the subjectivity of proofs and evidence. I explain why I think this is so here:
            http://trueandreasonable.co/2014/01/11/extra-extra-read-all-about-it-gods-existence-proven/

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  • jrob8157293

    Faith: putting trust in something due to belief that may not be completely logical and is based somewhat on evidence but mostly on spiritual intuition. It requires making a leap and we people of faith must acknowledge that. We feel it in our hearts and souls. It is inexplicable.

    Belief: an idea or value that someone holds based on some kind of source or some kind of evidence.

    truth: That which is certain and can be proven with indisputable, irrefutable evidence, although there are very few things in existence that fall into this category.

    Truth: inner, intrinsic, spiritual truth that comes from faith and the Divine and is felt within the soul and is felt as a certainty to the believer even if it cannot be proven as fact, though it might be based somewhat on evidence. Like faith it is inexplicable.

    Christian: anyone who accepts Jesus as God or as their Savior and tries to live their life according to His Word. Christians may hold different beliefs from one another but there are basic core ideas and beliefs that the vast majority of Christians hold. All or nearly all denominations and movements within Christianity have a claim to the Christian faith and are really just different schools of thought that comprise One Body of Christ and One Church.

    Atheist: Someone who does not believe in the Divine.

    Scripture: the holy texts of a spiritual tradition.

    Worldview: someone’s perspective on the nature of our world, Earth, the Universe, Multiverse, or existence, or anything or everything in existence.

    Evidence: tangible, recorded, written, historical, scientific, circumstantial, philosophical, experiential, anecdotal, personal, or witnessed observations that may support or rebut a claim. Some of these forms of evidence are more reliable than others.

    Argument: a proposed idea or series of proposed ideas backed up by evidence or reasoning that support a viewpoint.

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  • CarolinaSistah

    Hi Hessianwithteeth,

    First I want to say thank you for following my blog.

    Next I want to say I have now read two of your pieces and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every word.

    I think I am going to enjoy following your blog and exchanging some interesting dialogue. This particular article had me smiling as I recognized myself (the Theist).

    I’m looking forward to learning and sharing with you (the Non-Theist, non-gender conformer)

    Thanks again for following my blog. Peace!

    Like

  • thinkingliketheancients

    A different language indeed.
    I translate Ancient Greek and Latin to English and Spanish; I am also ok at Italian and French reading, and I am trying to learn German. Further, I am a theist, quite religious in fact, and I went to University at a non-religious school, having had the chance to attend another that was in line with my beliefs.
    The reason this all matters is that my experiences have taught me that language is not words, it is culture. It is not what we say, but what we think, as you found out, that makes up language. I realized this as I translated Spartans misunderstanding Athenians, Romans misunderstanding Greeks, the Roman Empire misunderstanding the German Tribes. At the same time, I realized that because of this conundrum of translation, even while speaking the same language understanding was not assured. In other words, we are constantly translating.
    Every individual on this earth has a different language; some may get better at translating others by virtue of filial relations, day to day interactions, or shared experiences, but even then translation is essential to understanding. In this light, theism just is another language, just like atheism is. Different religions simply have different languages – a subcategory, in fact. Your work proves that effectively enough. What you don’t address is the need for effective translation. If I am at school, I do not use ‘faith’ in the religious context, but the secular one. I try to translate as much as possible. It may be tedious, but being aware of our need to translate brings about far more understanding and acknowledgement. At any rate, I don’t think it is completely the listener’s fault when a certain idea is not understood; it is also the speaker’s responsibility to render speech translatable.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Maitreya Buddha

    Yes. Indeed. If you feel it is hard just imagine how it must have been like in the beginning of enlightenment!
    If you look into the data of IQ and religion you might find an explaination for the very thing that John Cleese is stating is his youtube clip called “stupidity”

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  • penshift

    Have you come across the concept of symbolic interactionism? If you haven’t the basic precept is that language formation is built via shared understandings of a meaning or meanings of a symbol (heard, written or physical). Because of how faiths are taught the meanings of words will literally shift to the meanings attached by like-faithed groups. It can get in the way of academic debate but it’s an interesting phenomenon in and of itself.

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  • D.T. Nova

    In some cases it’s only some theists rather than all of them who have a different definition: for example it’s only American Christians who get confused by using “Lord” to refer to someone who isn’t God.

    Creationism:
    To non-theists, this means the anti-scientific belief that life was created fully formed, and that evolution has not happened as science has shown. And that’s what it means to people who actually have that belief as well.
    But some theists who believe that their god “guided” evolution call themselves creationists too.

    Debunk:
    To a skeptic, this means to point out the flaws in popularly believed claims in public, for the purpose of educating others.
    I’m not sure how common this really is, but I once had a discussion with a Christian who had the strange notion that it meant tracking down individual believers and harassing them about how they are wrong.

    Marriage:
    To all non-theists and many theists, this means legal recognition of a relationship.
    But to those who are opposed to equality for religious reasons, it means religious recognition of a man owning a woman.

    Like

  • The Bad Catholic

    Reblogged this on Late Nite Philosophy and commented:
    A thought in line with Sunday’s post; the importance of knowing what people are saying. Using one’s words is important, listening to others’ words is more important still; knowing what you’re saying with your words, and what you’re hearing from others, equally so.

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  • gregadamyork

    Great summary, and the translation key is superb!

    Like

  • L Alan Weiss

    I will write more later today, but this post is superb. Believers, of whatever ilk, are purveyors of “God pollution” and atheists tend to run around cleaning up. This is a symbiotic relationship at best. Neither bent is healthy. There is always a middle way.

    Like

    • paidiske

      I wonder if the “middle way” is dependent on a good education in the matter under discussion? So many people – religious and non-religious alike – are incredibly ignorant about religion that when they argue about it they’re dancing with shadows rather than really getting to grips with the issues.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L Alan Weiss

        You have hit on a good point. I, for one, would never have used the term ‘the middle way’ two years ago. A simple idea expressed by a Zen saying sent me on a journey into reading and thinking about religions in general, and Buddhism and Taoism specifically. Finding a middle way takes study, thought, and the will to see past dogma.

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        • paidiske

          The middle way is a concept in Buddhism and Taoism? I’ll have to bring it up for discussion next time I lunch with a Zen monk who’s a good friend of mine. The “middle way” has long been a hallmark of Anglicanism, which finds itself a child of the Reformation somewhere between Catholicism and the other various Protestant churches.

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  • The Brain in the Jar

    I think this miscommunication is caused by a fear of being wrong and changing your belief. Everything is easier when you’re always in control of the definitions. Once the definitions are something that doesn’t change according to what we like though – evidence is not just what was written in the ‘holy book’, and God is not just what the crazy priest in your neighbourhood says he is, we understand the world may also not be exactly what we want.

    I noticed this happen both among theists and non-theists. Lack of defining God is the atheist’s most common problem. As for non-theists, they tend to release a string of fallacies so big I tend to lose track. Then again, I haven’t argued much with people who are supposed to know something.

    Liked by 3 people

  • AthenaC

    I was actually mulling across something similar to possibly put together a post on my own blog – just the way conversations take different forms and some of the different issues when the participants have more or fewer common frames of reference.

    For example, when I talk with my brother, we have a lot in common in the way we view the world – we are both Catholic, we have the same parents, we went to the same high school. So in our conversations we can skip past all our shared assumptions and, say, discuss theology on a deeper level than with most other people.

    But when I talk with any of the non-theists in our group of friends and the conversation turns to religion, I have to talk about things at a much more basic level, I have to define a lot of terms, explain common meanings and common usages for certain terms, and I have to be prepared to answer questions on and defend some very foundational concepts.

    What I’ve found, though, (and it sounds like you found, too) is that a lot of people are either unable to or don’t know they should go back and examine and explain some basic concepts underlying their worldview. They may not know how to, or they may feel threatened by it. Whatever the reason, I think you described it perfectly by saying that you are speaking different languages.

    Liked by 1 person

  • lady82faye

    I like your post. I consider myself to be a Christian, and even I feel a lot of us aren’t speaking the same language or reading the same book. You’re either ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal, and both sides look at those who try to take it in stride, so to speak, as weird. I think I’m one of those “take it in stride” Christians. I definitely believe in Jesus, but I’d like to think Jesus wasn’t as much as a religious prude as some conservatives would make Him, nor do I think that He’s so liberal that He’d let everything slide. I do think He was a spiritual being who, while seeing potential in everything, knew that you have to believe in and for yourself, and be mindful of your surroundings and who you allow in your space. I think that’s a universal life belief, too. IDK. Sometimes I worry that those who will argue with people behind the Bible tend to do one of two things: dissuade anyone from finding their beliefs credible, and/or are more caught up in religious principles than an actual relationship, if that makes any sense. Religion, like politics, is very divisive. Two or more groups of people can believe the same thing but would let doctrine or philosophy dictate their response to (almost) everything, which makes no sense to me. I truly believe that Jesus didn’t die for you to die behind doctrine, political, religious, or otherwise.

    But, that’s just me.

    I do have two questions, though: when you’re referring to yourself, do you call yourself “atheist” and your philosophical thought “non-theist,” or are they interchangeable? Also, can an atheist be a humanist? I was asking because, while I do have friends who aren’t religious or are agnostic, I can’t say I know anyone who is openly atheist; idk if that’s because they don’t care to discuss it out of judgment, or I just never ask. Shrugs. I always think that your beliefs are your beliefs; everyone has a reason why they believe what they believe.

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  • Home And Spirit

    Yes, this is true however it is true amongst the whole human race. A friend of mine accidentally upset someone recently because the other person misunderstood the meaning behind his chosen word, ‘thoughtful’. This is how miscommunication and arguments often happen. It would be so much better if we took the time to ask each other to elaborate rather than jump to conclusions as to what the other person means.

    Liked by 2 people

  • paidiske

    Very good blog post.

    My only comment would be on “argument,” and there I would say that I often see a difference between those who are academically trained, and “argue” in the more formal sense of the word, and those who are not and don’t have the cognitive discipline to marshal their points that way, and often degenerate into angry shoutiness – on all sides of the argument.

    “Hope” is another one that comes to mind. For atheists it seems to mean – vaguely wished for uncertain outcome, whereas for theists it often means certain eventuality guaranteed by God.

    Liked by 3 people

  • equippedcat

    Faith: The ability to believe without proof or adequate evidence.

    Belief: Something you know, but can’t prove or disprove

    Truth: Something which is unable to be denied, an actual fact

    Christian: Someone who believes in many of the claims made about Jesus Christ, and make a serious effort to follow His teachings. A “born-again” or “evangelical” Christian is one who believes most of the claims made about Jesus Christ, and have “given control of their life” to Him. This sub-set usually believes that the rest of the set are not truly Christians. I suspect that some people who identify as Christian are not, and some of them know that and are identifying for their own reasons. Since the term has such a wide coverage, it tends to mean something different to everybody, so is of limited use outside each persons own “group”.

    Atheist: Despite being educated to the contrary, my initial thought is always that atheist says person who believes no gods exist.

    Scripture: Documentation provided by or inspired by God. For Christians, this should be the New Testament of the Bible, with the Old Testament providing background, history, and prophesy about the coming of Jesus. Just because something is claimed to be scripture does not mean it is; only if it actually was caused to exist by God is it truly scripture.

    Worldview: I don’t use this term, but it would seem to be one’s view of the world. I don’t see any intrinsic spiritual aspect, except that religion can have an impact on the world which must be considered as part of the world view.

    Evidence: Something used to support a position. It can be true or false, and if false can be deliberate or accidental or mistaken. The best evidence has a lot of support (high degree of confidence that it is true due to collaborating evidence or even proof) and the worst evidence has little or no support (including personal experience, which can have significant reliability for those who had the experience and very little reliability for everyone else).

    Argument: An attempt to show someone who is perceived as being “wrong” what the “right” viewpoint is. This can be formal (logical structure and rules) or informal, and mildly contentious (due to the claim by each party that the other party is “wrong”) to wildly contentious (shouting, swearing, significant insults). Some theists “shout”; so do some of the more Gnostic of Atheists.

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  • notesfromthenorth75

    Reblogged this on Notes from the north and commented:
    Very interesting post on the use and meaning of words to different people…..

    Like

  • camillemichelle

    As someone who went to Christian school and then deconverted, I find this list very accurate. Most of the conversations about religion I’ve had with religious people devolve into arguments over the definitions of terms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • equippedcat

      It would certainly be helpful if terms were more precise and stable in their meanings. Unfortunately, it appears that it is human nature to nudge the meaning of terms for their own purposes, either benign or to mislead. And these changes sometimes become institutionalized, making the language less precise and easier to be misunderstood.

      Like

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