Synesthesia

There’s a useful concept among atheists called ‘semantic atheism’. It refers to a result of the process whereby the God of gaps is slowly pushed back by advances in science. Basically God as an explanation for the unexplained is increasingly unnecessary. Soon there is no need for a concept of God in an explanatory sense.

As a consequence of this gradual pushback there’s increasing stress on the notion that any discourse about God essentially belongs to a realm outside that of logic and reason. This idea itself is old, but to the more logically inclined among us it makes very little sense. If  the concept of God does not fall inside the realm of logic and reason, how will we ever be able to talk about it? More importantly: how can we ever be sure we’re talking about the same thing?

‘God’ as a concept in this view is a semantic void, a meaningless word that can be inserted in language, but that doesn’t really mean anything nor refers to anything. Even though God might actually exist, the concept simply does not and cannot refer to Him and we should still all be atheists, even if only semantic ones.

I disagree up to a point. Talking about God can be compared to synesthesia, even if the comparison is slightly slanted. Synesthesia is a condition where someone perceives a stimulus of one sense in two or more. For the synesthete a particular shape may have a color or taste. A musical interval may taste sweet or a particular sound can be cold. These associations are consistent within one synesthete, but not among synesthetes. Not all of them experience the number 2 as ‘red’, or a minor third as sour. There are no rules for the population of synesthetes as a whole.

Every synesthete is therefore a synesthete on his or her own, there are no shared experiences. But that doesn’t mean that the phenomenon itself cannot be communicated. In fact: a synesthete can communicate about his condition with a non-synesthete. The latter may not be fully able to sympathise, but that does not prevent some understanding between the two.

I myself (a non-synesthete) once pointed out to a friend who was unaware of her condition that she was a synesthete. After she did some googling around for herself I heard nothing but cries of recognition and relief.

The experience of God, just like synesthesia, may be a lonely and lonesome experience and essentially incommunicable, but still people seem to understand each other quite well when they’re talking about it. Semantic atheism still is a good and useful concept, but it’s too strict and logical to accurately describe human experience.

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