Atheism/What are your best 10 arguments that atheism is the best thing to believe in?
What are your best 10 arguments that atheism is the best thing to believe in?
Wow, the ten best arguments for atheist case! I'm having trouble coming up with ten! I actually find that the arguments for atheisms are highly interelated and so sometimes it can be hard to categorize them. Sometimes the approach atheists take to these sorts of questions is called skepticism, rationalism, or empiricism. Because their approach is different, they like to use language to emphasize that fact. It's not as though atheists believe in atheism, it's that they don't believe in God. Skeptics say they try not to just “believe” anything (ie when believe means to assume or take on faith), instead they talk about the evidence that they have for a claim and the extent to which it functions as evidence for other claims.
So anyway, I'll talk about some of the my favorite arguments and I'll give you a way of counting them that adds up to ten. Almost all of the argument make some assumption that God is the God of an Abrahamic religion and has strong opinions about morality. If you feel like there is a particular argument that you want to hear in more detail, feel free to ask a follow-up question about it. I'll try to link the related AllExperts posts I've written in the past as I go along. And if after these ten you are still hungry for more, I'd recommend the wiki Iron Chariots as a place designed to be an online repository for arguments against (mostly Judeochristian) God.
This has been a long detailed post to write up, but I'm still kind of glad you asked me this so I could gather a lot of my writings into one place.
1: Logical Problem of Evil (& Problem of Action):
The problem of evil was the most compelling argument for me when I decided I was an atheist. The argument seems to me to be both undeniable and unignorable. Not only does it persuade me God does not exist, it makes me that the very concept of God is a fundamentally incoherent one – I could not believe if I wanted to or if real miracles started happening all the time everywhere.
The classical image of God is one that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent. But if that God exists how could their be evil in the world? If you don't believe that there is evil in the world around us, open your holy book and find that it talks about evil. God could simply destroy that evil and make everything better, so it forces a contradiction. Either God doesn't exist, God really isn't strong enough to defeat evil, or what we call “evil” really isn't evil. A God who isn't all-powerful is reduced to a kind of supernatural creature or local superstition – more like a big ghost. A big ghost doesn't seem as likely as an all-encompassing feature of the universe, and it also seems to be a poor object of worship. If “evil” really isn't evil to God than God is evil – a being indifferent or possible eager to see human suffering. I don't want to join that religion either (see also 6 Moral Argument against Religion).
If you think about it, the argument doesn't even require true evil, just anything that is not exactly perfect. Suffering, ignorance, confusion, hardship, disease, natural disaster, human nature and hunger are all things God has chosen not to fix. And if God has everything the way he wants it, what is there left for us to do? If there is nothing for us to do (or whatever we do we'll end up fulfilling God's plan) than it's literately impossible for morality to exist because there is no basis for prefering one option over another. This is what I call the Problem of Action.
This argument is so well-known that there are many counter-arguments offered by Christians, called theodicies. One common theodicy is to claim that evil there to test people or make sure they go to the correct afterlife. But if that's the case than it is rather easy to show that this universe isn't a perfect test either. Another common theodicy is to claim God priorities human “free will” over destroying evil, and therefore he cannot prevent human evil. But that doesn't explain natural evil, that doesn't account for situations in which people lose free will like sleep or imprisonment, that doesn't explain why its necessary for the evil actions of some people to affect anyone else, and that doesn't explain evil tendencies in people.
But as this is the most prominent argument of the God debate, there has been much much said on the subject that I can't hope to summarize comprehensively here. I can however, reference the numerous writings I've done on the subject in the past. Here is the first AllExperts article in which I describe the Problem of Evil as my best argument and provide a summary of what is wrong with the most popular theodicies. Here I explain the difference between the logical and evidential problems of evil and specifically address a theodicy about suffering building character. Here I tackle the idea of God rewarding people for enduring hardship, like in the book of Job. Here I counter the idea that God can do whatever he wants with the objects he created.
2: Evidential Problems of Evil (& Problem of Waste):
The Evidential Problem of Evil is very similar to the Logical Problem of Evil, except that it is written in the language of empiricism rather than the language of theology. Not surprising, you can typically find believers citing the Logical Problem of Evil more powerful and skeptics citing the Evidential Problem of Evil as more powerful. The Evidential Problem of Evil is this – looking at the world around you, what would make one infer that the world is controlled by an all-knowing, all-powerful, benevolent diety. At first it seems to say the same thing as before – an imperfect world cannot be under the complete control of a perfect diety. But the Evidential Problem of Evil is useful to reject some theodicies which rely on wildly implausible but technecially self-consistent ways to escape the Logical Problem of Evil. For example, if a believer says that every bad thing is a necessary preqrequisite for a future good thing in some inscrutible way, all the skeptic has to say is “Okay, But what are the odds of that happening?” or more formally: “But aren't there many more ideas could we come up with, natural or supernatural, which would explain this situation as much or better?”
Of course, if someone is arguing on faith or some a-priori argument rather than evidence, than the Evidential Problem of Evil wouldn't work. Or to put it another way, the Evidential Problem of Evil always exists in the context of countering someone else's claim that they have evidence to show God exists. For example, if a believe is making an Intelligent Design argument that God exists from aparent design in nature and the skeptic doesn't want to explain how evolution works, then the skeptic can instead apeal to the Evidential Problem of Evil: If we assume God did create the animals, and we know that violence and hunger are inherent parts of animal lifecycle, why should we expect God to hate it when innocent people suffer? When David Hume wrote “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” he wrote 80 years before Darwin published “Origin of Species”, therefore Hume did not know about evolution. Nevertheless Hume successful repeled the telelogical argument (what Intelligent Design was called back then) by appealing to the Evidential Problem of Evil as well as other evidential problems. For example: If the believer says that God created animals just like Men create machines, should we expect animals to be created by numerous fallible beings like Men? I highly recommend “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” for a powerful case for why evidence-based arguments favor skeptics and for why non-evidence-based arguments are unsatisfying.
A very similar idea to the Problem of Evil is what I call the Problem of Waste. The portion of the universe relevent to humans is very very small compared to what exists. The volume of the Earth is about 10^-53 the size of the volume of the observable universe, or about the same ratio between the volume of a proton and the volume of Earth. And almost all of that space in the observable universe is just boring and redundant - having no scientific, aesthetic, or economic value of any kind. The fraction of the total time in the universe that humans have been around is about 0.001% of the time (again assuming we can agree the universe is as old as scientists know it to be). And the only thing that we know to be special about our fraction of the universe is that it has humans on it (and we don't know one way or another whether planetary life is special). So if we are makig arguments from evidence, what would make us think that the universe was created for us? It's “made in God's image” all over again! If God did create the universe for humans, why did he then find it necessary to fill it up with unrelated substances? Absent the belief in some kind of Manifest Space Destiny, which isn't written into any ancient religion, how can theology explain all the space? I like this youtube video which powerfully illustrates the disconnect between the beliefs of ancient religions and the amazing reality of space that religion never could have anticipated.
3: Problem of Hell
With so much talk about the evil of the world that a monotheist's God might fix, we've neglected the evil that God does in those same Abrahamic religions. I'm talking, of course, about Hell. A believer might say that God only saves people from Hell and that Hell is only the default fate for people. But that's a false distinction to make and I discussing the hypothetic God that has a basic grasp of the consequences of his actions. A believer might also say that God doesn't have any option but to permit certain people to be sent to Hell, but I don't buy that either since God gets to make the rules. While we're at it, tortuing and sacrificing Jesus is an entirely unnecessary course of action for a Christian God to take (or allowed to occur).
So this should force the believer in two one of two theological options. Either no one goes to Hell or sending anyone to an afterlife of infinite torture is the morally responsible thing to do. If the believer takes the former route, than this arguments ends there - the religion is better off without the theology of hell and if I still want to attack the religion I have to use another argument. If the believer instead claims sending some people to Hell is a moral thing, then we are led to another type of Problem of Evil. Either this so called benevolent God doesn't exist or God exists in a form so alien to human interests that he ceases to be an diety worthy of worship (see also the 6 Moral Argument against Religion). Moreover the thought of a believer who actually prefers for someone to be sent to torture instead of bliss, all else being equal, is something that causes me to experience the revulsion that is the natural reaction to someone who loves cruelty. Obviously most people do not actually believe that Hell is good, but unfortunately this is the ugly ideology that a large number of people swear their loyalty to.
People can speak about justice all day, but there is no person bad enough to merit infinite torture. The immorality of the punishment always excedes the immorality of the crime. The marginal value of increasing the deterrence vanishes to zero. The value of containing the threat from others is achieved easily enough by death (and should also be achieved by having an all-controlling power God), and therefore Hell is not necessary for safety. And if the fate of someone's soul is sealed at death, God has apparently abandoned all hope of rehabilitation.
I write more about Hell, and especially how it relates to notions of Justice, here. The Ownership Theodicy for the Problem of Evil I referenced earlier is also relevant to this discussion.
4: Symmetry and the multitude of religions
At this point you're probably done talking about the Problem of Evil. I now turn towards the multitude of religions and what symmetry has to say about it. This is what I refered to my second best argument (if I count the first four here all as one), in a previous AllExperts post. The idea of symmetry is that people who swear one particular religion is true typically do so by holding their own religion to a different standard than they hold other religions (and ideologies) too. Iron Chariots calls this the Outsider Test. As a common saying among atheist debators “You're an atheist too, with respect to all other Gods. I just believe in one fewer God.”
If a believer says to me “I know the Christian God is real because I feel his presence when I participate in Church services”, my most natural response is “Certainly you must know there are Muslims that claim a similar certainty in an Islamic God when they attend Mosque services.” In this case, the reason the Christian gives for their loyalty to Christianity is nothing more than personal bias. Indeed, the overwhelmling strongest predictor of someone's religion is the religion of their parents. Similarly a believer might make a complicated and deeply philosophical argument that some finding in evolutionary biology, medical science, or cosmology means their God is real. But such an argumnet cannot hope to be successful unless they extend their argument to affirm the specific features of the religion they ask people to join. The symmetry argument also has an applications for claims more specific to one religion, for instance in claims that historical evidence was found that supports their Holy Book's supernatural version of history. In that case they do not know that the low standard of evidence they use to affirm their own religion, would also support other historical claims made by other religions and a whole host of other crackpot ideas about history.
I used an argument of symmetry in response to the number and success of Christians in this AllExperts post, in response the claims made by the History Channel and the devotion of early Christians here, and in response to claims about the perfection of the Quran here.
I think the problem of symmetry can also function as an argument on its own, not just as a counterargument. For instance, all religions give God different names, different attributes, different historical knowledge, and different moral codes. One would expect that if God was real, either as an entity which contacts humans directly or a entity that fundamentally shook our historical past, that the details about God would be truly cross-cultural. It's not enough for religion to exist almost everywhere or for most religions to have a few things in common – I clear to me that they are not talking about the same thing. This phenomenon is better explained by a common mechanism whereby cultures generate and propagate religious beliefs. An abundance of false common beliefs is found everywhere and throughout history, and this is an explaination that obeys principles of symmetry. In light of this, skepticism seems to be a more appropriate response.
5: Principle of Parsimony
You may have heard of Occam's Razor, “the simplest explaination is most likely to be true”. It was more formally stated by Occam in its original form: “Among all hypotheses consistent with the observations, the simplest is the most likely.” To quantify it a little more would be the principle of parsimony “The hypothesis that explains the most number of things and make the least number of assumptions is best”. An even better way to quantify the idea would be to take into account probability, where unlikely events are more in need of explaination and also serve as worse as assumptions. If you are familiar with conditional probability, Beyes theorem quantifies the process of incorporating all the evidence for a hypothesis in turn.
The principle of parsimony is one that makes intuitive sense to me and in the past I had assumed my readers would agree with the principle of parsimony. I have used it to argue against a cosmological God and a telelogical God, without taking any time to justify it by itself. From at least Newton's Principia, the principle of parsimony has been a cornerstone of science; since then science has learned a great number of things and has put that knowledge to use in amazing technologies. In this AllExperts post I use this history of scientific progress to make a fairly weak inductive argument for the principle of parsimony before going on to discuss mathematical patterns in nature. But recently I have stumpled upon this article which is a fairly robust philosophical justification of the concept, and I think it is how I would justify the principle of parsimony to the rare person who would challenge it.
This may all sound fairly benign and non-controversial, but I think this simple concept of parsimony actually sets up the entire skeptic-rationalist-atheist worldview. Because if the principle of parsimony is not just a tool of science but a universal methodology for finding the truth, than it implies we should evaluate claims scientifically whenever possible. In other words “If you don't think religious beliefs should be taught in a science class, you should be an atheist.” Holding religious ideas to the same standard we hold scientific ideas is precisely the concept that got so many of the New Atheists labeled “strident”. In the preceding generation, biologist Stephen Jay Gould offered a unique solution to a problem in evolutionary biology but introduced the tenuous concept of Nonoverlapping magiserium (NOMA) to avoid the implications that scientific methods have for religion. Similarly Carl Sagan wrote the phase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” but stopped short of calling himself an atheist. The scientific methodology hasn't changed, what's changed is the social stigma from speaking out against religion. With an evidence-based approach to life and willingness to speak freely, religious belief goes from being “a matter of faith” or “a difference of opinion” to being “wrong” or “not even wrong”.
6: Moral Argument against Religion
Believers sometimes get a lot of traction in debates when they claim that “Without God, morality is not possible” but even if we don't attack the philosophical foundations of their ideas we know this not to be true. In this AllExperts post I explain my own ideas about morality and in this AllExperts post I demonstrate that the demographics show no sign of immoral behavior. As I argue in 7 Euthyphro's Dilemma section, if people form moral judgments at all they form them independent of God. Even the changing concensus on what are the moral rules of a religion, for example Americans deciding to stop practicing slavery or their currently evolving opinions on gay rights, are reflections of the independent moral capacities of individuals and cases when they supercede adherence to religious tradition.
So given all that, individuals can and do refuse to participate in religion because they don't like what it stands for. This sociopolitical choice as philosophical implications because they are effectively saying either “I can't believe in a God that carries around your immoral, bigotted, and arbitrary ideas” or “If a God with your ideas exist I don't want to worship it and follow its rules”. This is the argument that motivated the late Christopher Hitchens, who stated on many ocassions that he doesn't accept the premise that the God described in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam to be a be worthy of respect. Here is a “best of” series of video clips that represents some of his harshest criticisms, Here is the book “Good is not Great” written on the subject, and Here is a debate alongside Stephen Fry that very successfully argues that “The Catholic Church is not a force for good in the world.” Christopher Hitchens has also been especially critical of Islam, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the modern atheist figure I would think of as a for a personal, moral rejection of Islam. In her books Infidel and Nomad, the her reasons for leaving Islam mostly stem from a preference for the liberal Western values she found herself exposed to over the tribalistic (her words) and Islamic values she found herself raised in.
Allow me to bring up one of my favorite examples. The story of Abraham is the foundation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (as well as religion derived from these religions). Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son on an altar because he believed God was telling him to. Now think about what you would do in his situation in a modern context. You overwhelmed by unreal sensations and told by voices in your head that it is God speaking to you and He wants you to kill someone you love as a sacrifice to him. Hopefully you'd have the good sense to doubt your senses and check yourself into a mental health facility. You couldn't be sure you were really hearing an intelligent agent speak to you and even if you were sure about that you couldn't be sure that intelligent agent was God. Even if you could know somehow that it was God speaking to you, you should reject the immoral commandment to kill someone as a form of worship, loyalty, and ego-stroking. A truly moral God would honor that behavior – doing the right thing even when confronted with an opposing authority figure – not the decision to unquestioningly obey.
7: Euthyphro's Dilemma
The origin of Euthyphro's Dilemma is found in a dialogue by Plato between the character Socrates and Euthyphro. Socrates posed the question to Euthyphro (I paraphrase): “Is God an entity that follows a set of perfect moral principles that he has discovered OR is God an entity that create moral principles that should be followed perfectly?” Neither case seems to be an entirely satisfactory way for the believer to think about their God and there's been a lot of philsophical writing about it in the past about what it means theologically and whether or not it poses a probem for God. A good way out for the believer is to reject the dilemma, contending that God and Goodness are indistinguishable concepts or (I think equivalently) assert that the question is pragmaticaly irrelevant to the practice of the religion.
I am more concerned about an argument I might call Jeffreyphro's Dilemma. “Are humans created by God in such a way that they are able to independently evaluate his moral code? Or are humans created by God in such a way that their moral code is inherited from their Creator?” If we go with the first route of the dilemma, than humans don't need God or religion in order to make the right choice. That means religions can be right or wrong about moral living, but there is nothing really to set them apart from other groups of humans engaged in moral reasoning. That might not show there is no God, but it shows a way of living and thinking about morality that is not at al dependent on religious teaching (see 6 Moral Argument Against Religion). One ends up with a kind of Secular Humanism and the holy books are at best compendiums of mostly good advice.
If we go the second route of the dilemma, humans cannot independently verify the moral code of God. At first this might seem to recommend universal adherance to religion, except under this scheme there is nothing to prevent us from following an evil Creator diety. The claim “God is Good” is unfalsfiable. So there is nothing to recommend religion because in that route people who recommend religion as the moral choice literally cannot know what they are talking about.
And as before, there is also a way to reject the dilemma. The believer can contend both that God's moral code is right and that this can be independently verified – defining what ideal moral reasoning would arrive at and God's moral code to be the same thing. The problem with this is the believer then has to say a particular religious sect or a particular religious individual is the best represenation of God's moral code, and this claim needs verification. With so many different takes on God (see 4 Symmetry and the multitudes of religion), the only responsible choice is to not accept any religious principle uncritically. That leads back to the situation in the first route, because one still ends up with a humanistic process that doesn't necessarily rely on religious dogma.
8: The Lack of Evidence for God
When believer tries to argue the facts are on their side, the facts are often wrong. For example here and here I write about Biblical history and correct some factual errors. Here and here I write about the facts in the origin of the universe in a way that does not need any reference to God. So far the creationists have stayed away from my AllExperts page, but their facts are wrong too. All of this is despite all the motivation humans have had to find facts supporting the existence of God. At some point the absence of evidence actually is the evidence of absence. God is no more plausible than Sagan's Dragon in the Garage, because like a dragon in a garage, the existence of God should be obvious or at the very leasts testable.
The fact that believers keep using facts that aren't true and arguments that don't work also starts to make their value as authorities on the subject suspect. Someone wrote an “atheist parable” about a pawnbroker to illustrate this concept.
9: Faith is a poorly-formed concept
W-hat does faith mean? If you ask different people you can get many different definitions. Some of those definitions are for things that are good ideas that have nothing to do with religion, some are bad ideas, and some are incoherent notions. How is it that something that is supposed to be so important and so universal have so many divergent definitions? A lofty theological answer to that question would be to say that faith is such a deep and complicated concept that any attempt to define it reduces it to a sort of caricature. More likely, I think apologists use the word faith in different sense as it suits their purposes, proposing a sensible definition when it needs to be defended and a far-reaching definition when they use it to influence other people's lives. If you attempt to call them on the equivocation, they retreat into obscurantism - claiming their position is always too complicated or nuanced to be critiqued while never delivering on their promise to provide a clearer understanding of the word faith. So with that disclaimer that there will always be someone to define faith differently, I can procede to talk about the issues I have with specific meanings of the word.
The most common definition used in God debates is a type of hope or a type of wishful thinking. “I want this to be true, therefore I will believe it.” This definition actually doesn't argue that things taken on faith are true, just that it can have demoralizing consequences not to believe it. The athiest demographics I cited earlier do not indicate any adverse effects to a lack of faith (if that's what atheists have). Moreover I don't want to believe in comforting lies, and even if it is considered “rude” I think the kindest thing for me to do is to help other people not to believe in comforting lies. The word hope brings to mind situations in which belief is necessary for morale. But if someone is capable of meta-thinking “I need to believe this is true in order to get the motivation for the actions” (ie “I need to fear Hell in order to be moral”) than someone should also be capable of meta-thinking “This may not be true but I should act as though it was true in order to get the motivation for my actions I want.” (“I need not fear Hell and know also I should be moral”). The latter seems to entail both a realistic grip of the situation and a proactive approach in life. Faith, defined thusly, might have some temporary uses in extreme circumstances, but there simply seems to be more mentally healthy, more functional, and more permanent ways to approach situations like this.
Another common definition is that faith is a type of axiom or type of working assumption. In the same way axioms are needed to make progress in mathematics, so it is argued faith has to be put in something in order to procede. These are usually the same people who will refer to atheism or science as faith-based religions, using it as an insult at the same time they try to defend it. But as my 5: Principle of Parsimony make clear, not all assumptions are equal and not all explainations serve equally well. Moreover people don't use faith just as a sort axiomatic starting point, they frequently use it to justify ignoring countrary evidence or launch many superfluous assumptions (like the difference between a deist God and the God of a specific religion). The most sophisticated and careful use of faith as a necessary axiom that precedes consideration of empirical evidence is found in Descartes Meditiations. Without getting into too much detail on Descartes argument, let me just say that I think there are philosophical flaws in his arguments and that there are secular alternatives to achieving his epistemological goals (I give a brief overview of my epistemology here).
Another common definition is that faith is a type of revealed knowledge. God somehow has the capability of contacting people, implanting an idea into their heads, and people can recognize it as true. This goes back to Jeffreyphro's Dilemma (see 7 Euthyphro's Dilemma) in which one cannot be sure whether or not to trust the knowledge revealed this way. After all, what's to say there isn't a demon or mental insanity which has planted those thoughts? See also the Abraham example in 6 Moral Argument against Religion.
The last definition of faith I want to talk about is a type of courage or a type of beneficial risk-taking. The idea here is that faith is what you use when you need to make a tough decision in the face of uncertainty. I would counter that there are also circumstances in which it takes courage to resist the temptation to act rashly or to avoid jumping to conclusion on incomplete information. A best approach requires a balanced strategy. There isn't enough evidence for God (see 8 Lack of Evidence) to convince me that the theistic assumption is the appropriate one to make in this case. This also brings up Pascal's Wager, which attempts to frame this decision so that God is the appropriate choice. I've commented on Pascal's Wager a little bit here, in its own AllExperts post.
Faith plays a very central role in relgion. As its portrayed in modern religion, its seen as a beneficical attitude on life, if not also a get-rich-quick and a cure-all. In its ancient roots I don't think it means that at all. It's actually about obedience to authority, letting yourself be controlled by influential liars, and complete submission. Faith is a poor indicator of character, let alone the single-most important factor in character used to decide whether or not someone goes to Heaven or Hell (see 3 Problem of Hell), as Evangelical Protestantism would imply it is.
10: God should be accessible
The last argument is that God should be an accessible. If God is real and belief in God is important, a complex and detailed theological knowledge should not be necessary to get there. If you have to be a priest or religious expert to get to religion, than it seems like God is disenfranschising the theologically ignorant as well as the mentally-disabled. This seems to put a limit on the complexity of arguments justifying belief in God. Moreover, the classical concept of God, at least Descartes' and Milton's concept of God, is to be a non-deceiver. This would seem to forbid a situation in which the available evidence points to a lack of a God, so as to make faith more of a challenge or so as to have later (less-accessible) evidence point towards God. This is parodied here and here respectively. A parallel argument cannot be made against the atheist case. In fact, many atheists believe that the belief in God is natural result of the work on evolutionary forces on the brain and that careful rational thinking is necessary to dispell this delusion.
I think any overly hierarchical religious organization lacking in transparency is a bad side for religion. But I most think of Catholicism, Mormonism, and Scientology.
(first question for Problem of Evil, second question for Religion Symmetry)
 The farthest away point from us that it is still possible to see light from. It is widely expected that there is much more outside the observable universe, but the earliest light generated there still hasn't reached us yet. The fact that the universe has expanded so much complicates things, so the observable universe has a radius of about 46 billion light years when the age of the universe is 13.8 billion years.
(first of three questions)
 But if cattle and horses and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do, horses like horses and cattle like cattle also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies of such a sort as the form they themselves have…Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed and black. Thracians that they are pale and red-haired.
 By the way, Richard Dawkins has been refered to as a “strident atheist” so many times by so many clueless commentators that he has begun to repeat the label and make jokes about it. Now to call an atheist “stident” is like called a black man “uppidity” or a feminist “oversensitive”. The distain that some members of empowered parties express in response to when these disempowered parties are given a voice ends up speaking poorly of the empowered parties not the disempowered parties.
 The phase “not even wrong” is a attributed to physicist Pauli and its modern application is to describe psuedoscientific beliefs that don't even exhibit an awareness of what they would need in order to be right or plausible.
If you've read Robert Persig's “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence” (a book I like a lot), there is a rather in depth analysis on whether or not there are concepts that definitions always reduce to a significantly less meaningful form. Persig's example is Quality, whose meaning he contends extends from “A job well-done” to “the right thing to do” to “factually accurate” to “having intrinsic beauty” and other meanings he cannot find the words to describe. I feel a little conflicted on whether or not I feel its possible for concepts to exist like this that are even more complex than words can describe. I think I would say that at the very least any concept which is at least simple enough to be comprehensible and useful to humans should be able to be put into words. The definition of the word might not be concise (ie lacking in parsimony) but enough words should be able to describe it. One can imagine academics writing whole books on a single conceptual word, exploring its different connotations, uses, linguistic histories, cultural touchstone etc. One cannot easily imagine a conceptual word for which reading several academic books on the word does not lead to a functional understanding of the word. Using Persig's example of Quality, reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence” and all of the cultural/religious references that book makes, would seem to be something that does not trivialize the meaning of the word Quality. If he thought it did, I doubt Persig would have written a book about it.