Word of the Day: Deepity

Dictionary openA deepity is basically the opposite of a profundity.  A deepity is a statement that, to the extent that it’s true, is trivial, and to the extent that it’s profound, is false.

Daniel Dennett, one of the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse, invented the word, and he defined it this way:

A deepity is a proposition that seems to be profound because it is actually logically ill-formed.  It has (at least) two readings and balances precariously between them.  On one reading it is true but trivial.  And on another reading it is false, but would be earth-shattering if true.

Here’s an example: “Evolution is only a theory.”  Yes, evolution is a theory.  This statement is trivially true.  But to the extent that it’s profound (evolution has a long way to go before it becomes truly accepted, say), it’s false.

A New Age-y sort of deepity might be “God is the universe” or “God is nature.”  Sure, we can redefine God to have the same meaning as anything we want.  Trivial.  But the profound implication (we’ve now explained God or proven his existence) is meaningless.

Slogans on church signs are a great source of deepities.  “Good without God becomes 0.”  It’s trivially true that removing all the letters except the third one from the word good gives you just the letter o (or a zero, if you prefer), but the profound implication (you can’t be good without God) is nonsense.

A deepity can deceive if the truth of the first (trivial) interpretation is allowed to rub off on the second.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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17 thoughts on “Word of the Day: Deepity

  1. Hi Bob,

    “horsemen of the atheist apocalypse”? 🙂

    The horsemen are not the best atheist philosophers out there: they are just the most widely known due to their love of polemics. A philosopher who dryly disproved the theistic arguments and argued for God’s nonexistence with the latest insights from analytic philosophy would be better than books like “The God Delusion” or “God is not Great”.

    Speaking of new words: Dawkins coined the word “Theorum” about evolution to make the point that while, stricto sensu, evolution cannot be proven, it is not however a gratuitous hypothesis because it is backed up by everything we know.

    • Philosophical arguments, even those in favor of my position, are quite boring IMO. I’m afraid that so much hanging around apologetics.com and seeing philosophy used as a smokescreen to avoid confronting issues directly gave me a skewed negative approach. There could be lots of good stuff there, but I’m afraid that I have a bad attitude.

      Yeah, I heard Dawkins struggling with the public’s confusion over “theory.” IMO, we need to educate the public, not change the word. There are lots of words that the public misunderstands. Better education, not more words, is the solution.

      • Hi Bob,

        But how can you be an intellectually fulfilled atheist if you don’t deal with the best theistic arguments in the market?

        Yes, philosophy may be a smokescreen, depending on who is using it, but it’s nonetheless necessary.

      • I couldn’t be. You know of any good arguments that I’m not aware of? Show me.

        I’m not convinced that within philosophy there’s any there there. Could well be, but I haven’t seen much beyond mental masturbation. Useful as a smokescreen, for sure, but that doesn’t interest people who are actually seeking the truth.

    • to all,

      Here is how to write a “new atheist” book:

      1) pick some verses of the Bible and the Koran that look ugly.

      2) Search the news and pick some evils done by fanatics.

      3) Ignore the highest philosophical works by theists. But pick theists who are hopeless crackpots for your illustrations of religion. In other words, ignore the principle of charity.

      4) Present the issue you are raising in a dualistic way, with all believers together on one side and your party on the other side.

      5) Use caustic rhetoric.

      • I have a (fiction!) New Atheist book that I hope to be announcing to you sometime in 2012. This wasn’t my approach. (But you’ll obviously have your own opinion.)

        I seek out the best that Christian apologetics has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s not always impressive. And, of course, when I come across something like WLC’s hilariously brainless defense of Yahweh’s genocide, the stature of the speaker is irrelevant. Lampooning is mandatory.

  2. Hi Bob,

    You are not, in my opinion, like a New Atheist. I don’t see you pouring your anger on religions and on all believers and calling for the destruction of gods at the stake. As your blog states, yours is a CIVIL critique of Christianity. The New Atheists are angry.

    I am looking forward to reading your book. Even if I have a hard time reading English literature (English is my second language). But I will make it.

  3. Is it? Show me.
    Romans 3: There is none good, there is no one who does good..
    O.K. showed you!\
    You asked:

    While you’re at it, explain how non-Christians–Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.–are good (or are

    you saying that they’re not?).
    Yup, They may do good things in man’s eyers..But in God’s eyes they are sinfull and evil..Only those in CHRIST can do good. The rest of mankinds good is Idolatry.

    • To BobC,

      And why would God’s Spirit be limited to the boundaries of the visible Church? God is not bound by human distinctions, such as the external line between Christians and NonChristians.

      • You’ve probably had the situation where you have 10 kids, but you detest 8 of them and you consign them to eternal torture. It’s just like that with God–quite understandable, really.

        I mean, seriously–who hasn’t been in this situation?

    • Romans 3: There is none good, there is no one who does good..
      O.K. showed you!\

      A quote from your holy book is going to convince a skeptic of anything? Perhaps you’re joking.

      They may do good things in man’s eyers..But in God’s eyes they are sinfull and evil.

      Not according to the definitions of “good” and “bad.” Consult the dictionary.

  4. To BobC,

    And why would God’s Spirit be limited to the boundaries of the visible Church? God is not bound by human distinctions, such as the external line between Christians and NonChristians.

    Random Function 2
    I have no idea what that means, regarding what I wrote?

  5. To BobC,

    You assume that one needs to be an explicit and self-aware Christian to be moral. But there are implicit Christians, or as some theologians call them: anonymous Christians who, for some justifiable reasons, are not members of visible Churches. The Spirit of God transcends human Churches!

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