Archive for the ‘Does God exist’ Category

What does the word “God” mean?

September 24, 2007

I am starting to read a book How to Think about God by Mortimer J. Adler. The purpose of the book is to answer the question Does God exist? The author approaches the question very rigorously. In the first section he makes some initial remarks about proceeding in a rigorous fashion, and then I got to this:

“In the preceding pages, the word ‘God’ has been used again and again, and used without explanation of its meaning. What went through your mind, I would like to ask the reader, when you read sentences containing the word? Were you stopped by it because it was as meaningless to you as a word in a foreign language, or as a word not in your vocabulary?”

This startled me. It never occurred to me that there might be different meanings of the word for different people, or no meaning at all for some people.

He argues for the importance of clearly articulating what the word “God” means if headway is to be made in answering whether God exists:

“Everyone concerned with the question whether X exists must attach the same meaning to the word that names or designates X; and that meaning must be made as clear and precise as possible. Scientific inquiries, in which the X in question may be a certain kind of elementary particle or a certain celestial body, would not proceed without first giving as much clarity and precision as possible to the word that is used to name or designate X.”