3. A Word About Word Traps

Now, just before I introduce the first major line of evidence for the existence of God, I need to very briefly talk about the problem of words and definitions, and the nature of language itself. If we’re not careful, rather than discussing arguments with any real substance, we may find ourselves arguing over words and their meaning. We fall into what I call “word traps.”
   For example, when I say I am going to present new evidence for God, the clever skeptic could reply, “which god?” After all, perhaps I’m simply proving the existence of Zeus or Artemis, or an anonymous entity that created the universe and then disappeared, never to be heard from again. Rather than taking up space arguing over the exact definition of God, or which God I am talking about, I will let the evidence speak for itself.
   As another example of potential word traps, when discussing God, theologians like to use words such as “omnipotent” which means “all-powerful,” and “omnipresent” which means something like “present everywhere at the same time.”
   However, if we say God is omnipotent and omnipresent, a skeptic could simply ask questions like, “Can God create an exclusion zone in which he is not present?” If the answer is yes, then he can’t be omnipresent, because by definition, he would not be in the exclusion zone. If the answer is no, then he can’t be omnipotent, because there is something he can’t do. Therefore, they might reason, God can’t be both omnipotent and omnipresent.
   These issues might keep philosophers and theologians awake at night, but to me they really just highlight the nature of language and logic. Words are just approximations of the things they are describing. They are symbols and representations, not the thing in itself. The word “cat” is not a cat. It’s just a shortcut for describing a whole universe of things we think of as cats.
   Words like “omnipotent” and “omnipresent” are perhaps useful shortcuts for theologians to describe the power and presence of God, whom they assume exists; but they can also be word traps, where we can tie ourselves up in logical and theological knots, because words are only approximations of reality. They are perhaps convenient and concise ways to describe something, but they can sometimes get in the way of productive discussion. In this letter, for the most part I have deliberately chosen to avoid using theological words and concepts like “omnipotent,” because they can sometimes distract us from arguing about things that actually matter, especially to atheists.
   Besides, even when we think we have precisely defined a word, we still need other words to define it, and we could easily get caught up in an endless loop of trying to define something precisely, using symbols that can only ever be approximations of the things they are trying to describe.
   Therefore, let’s just agree to put aside petty squabbles over words, agree that words are only approximations, and let’s move on to the substance of the arguments.


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