Influenced by Carnap and Wittgenstein, my view is that the disagreement between religious and non-religious people is mostly a semantic issue: the theistic and atheistic are referring to the same phenomena, only to disagree on the reference terminology. For example, consider the cosmological argument: the scientist and the preacher agree that the universe needs to have an uncaused cause, say X. The scientist refers to X as Big Bang, while the preacher refers to X as God.

I believe this idea is trivial; thus it is very likely that Wittgenstein or some of William James later contemporaries might have already talked about this issue. Can anyone point to me a specific passage from some famous philosopher having any idea similar to this?

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    I see a couple issues with this. First atheist and scientist are not synonyms. Second, scientists don't think the universe "needs" to have an uncaused cause. And third the big bang theory doesn't follow from a cosmological argument it's hypothesized from observations.
    – Cell
    Apr 27, 2019 at 19:55
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    It's not merely a semantic issue because the theist and the atheist will disagree over what properties X has. Some e.g. think that you should pray to X. Or that X loves them. Atheists don't think this. So it's not just a semantic issue.
    – E...
    Apr 27, 2019 at 20:11
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    Consider Christianity and Islam. I'm not sure how it could be a semantic disagreement when one says Jesus died and one says he never did. Sorry, but this approach is ignorant of what the religions actually teach: don't worry everyone, it is easy to solve thousands of years of religious conflict by telling them they're all actually the same. Apr 27, 2019 at 22:23
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    You have the right idea, except that the Big Bang is not the uncaused cause: rather, it definitely was caused by something.
    – Bread
    Apr 28, 2019 at 0:42
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    I'm not interested into phil of religion, but I totally disagree on the assertion that Big Bang and God are "the same thing with different names". God plays many roles - according to the religious point of view - and not only that of "creator". An I'm not sure that the BB is a "creator"... maybe only the first instant of creations. Apr 28, 2019 at 11:40

1 Answer 1


This is only a partial answer, but hopefully it provides additional references.

There was a similar project to remove disagreements "on the reference terminology", however, only among scientists, that A. J. Ayer credits with Otto Neurath: (page 82)

It was his acceptance of this doctrine of physicalism that let Neurath to insist so much upon the unity of science. It was not only that he wished scientists of different branches to work together more than they do. He believed that, in spite of the differences in the professional vocabularies they were all fundamentally speaking the same language: they were all investigating the same physical world.

Otto Neurath may be a place to look for more information. Ayer provides a survey of the Vienna School in his article and additional sources might appear there.

If one considers that anyone, any sort of believer or non-believer, can practice science since science is objective, what believers would bring to science is additional semantic content. For example, Alvin Plantinga claims that the difference between a theistic approach and an atheistic approach to evolution is that the theist believes that evolution was "guided" and the atheist does not. In particular he writes this: (page 308)

The scientific theory of evolution just as such is entirely compatible with the thought that God has guided and orchestrated the course of evolution, planned and directed it, in such a way as to achieve the ends he intends.

What this means is that from a semantic perspective, theism is likely able to engulf all scientific statements about "phenomena" adding to them divine guidance.

Ayer, A. J., Kneale, W. C., Paul, G. A., Pears, D. F., Strawson, P. F., & Warnock, G. J. (1957). The revolution in philosophy.

Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism. OUP USA.

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