Edexcel implications Ayer essay

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Charlotte Watson ­ corrected Ayer 2 essay
Examine the argument and/or the interpretation in the passage.
Do you agree with the ideas expressed? Justify your point of view and discuss its implications for
understanding religion and human experience.
The period between the two world wars saw huge advancements in science and technology, whilst
also highlighting the inability of religion to prevent suffering. A.J Ayer was part of the Vienna Circle, a
group with a secular agenda, who proposed the idea of logical positivism which influenced Ayer's
`verification principle'. The Vienna Circle had the intention of removing the influence of religion on
western thought and culture, and replacing it with scientific methodology and reasoning. The Vienna
Circle, and ultimately Ayer, was influenced by Hume's fork which states that propositions can only be
meaningful if proven analytically or empirically and also by Ludwig Wittgenstein and his `picture
theory'. Subsequently, Hume and Wittgenstein led to Ayer creating his `verification principle', a
system that proposed that a statement could only be meaningful if it could be verified empirically.
Ayer believed that the concept of God is impossible to verify and therefore `God talk is evidently
In this extract from Ayer, he broadens his attack to include atheism and agnosticism, as well as
theism. He argued that atheism did not make sense does not make sense in the same way that
theism does not make sense because God's existence cannot be verified. Ayer used Wittgenstein's
picture theory to influence his verification principle and thus influence his application of it to theism.
He takes from the idea of `of what we cannot speak we must remain silent' from Ludwig
Wittgenstein's language games and David Hume's `fork' and turns it into the idea that in order for
something to be meaningful, it needs to be verified through empirical evidence. Wittgenstein raised
the question of the meaning of language, and what criteria would need to be met for language to be
considered meaningful. Ayer argues that the statement `God exists' is just as meaningless as the
statement `God doesn't exist' as it cannot be verified against his principle; so in this way also rejects
atheism. Ayer also dismisses the beliefs of agnostics as he believes that it is `also ruled out' by his
verification principle. Ayer also disregards the view of agnostics as they consider the existence of
God as a viable hypothesis which Ayer himself does not.
Ayer is mistaken, however, to assume that theists base their beliefs only on a posteriori reasoning.
Despite Hume's view that a statement is only verifiable through logic or through sense experience
and experiment, some arguments for the existence of God, such as that of the ontological argument
are based on a priori knowledge. A priori knowledge is not verifiable through experiment and
would, according to Hume's fork, be classed as `meaningless'. Despite this, the Ontological
argument has managed to stand the test of time and is still regarded as one of the most respected
arguments for the existence of God. Anselm, who came up with the ontological argument defined
God as `that than which no greater can be conceived', for God to meet this definition, he must exist.
Anselm then furthers his argument to argue that a God that exists in both the mind and reality would
be greater than a God in mind alone. Descartes then went on to expand this argument and concluded
that God has all gifts, existence is a gift, and therefore God must exist. Malcolm also went on to
develop this idea suggesting that if God could exist he would exist necessarily as it is contradictory to
say that a necessary being doesn't exist, so God must exist.
Furthermore the success of Ayer's argument depends on our understanding of what we mean by
`atheist'. SHowever, this criticism would fail to pass the verification principle and would be deemed
meaningless in the eyes of Ayer.
Flew, on the other hand would argue that atheism is meaningful, but theism is not under the
falsification principle; if a statement is to have any meaning, it has to assert something as well as
deny the opposite of that assertion. According to Flew, under the falsification principle, atheism can

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Charlotte Watson ­ corrected Ayer 2 essay
be considered meaningful as theists do not allow for theism to be falsified and therefore, it can be
considered nonsense. Flew also claims that debates about God should begin from a "presumption of
atheism" which amounts to the claim that "The onus of proof must lie upon the theist" and that it is up
to the theist to introduce and defend her proposed concept of God because evidence is not needed
to justify atheism.…read more

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Charlotte Watson ­ corrected Ayer 2 essay
believing that life has no meaning or ultimate purpose. Is it not part of human nature to believe in
some deity?
Another implication of the verification principle would be on morality in general. Statements in law
such as `do not kill' are meaningless as only statements of science and knowledge can be verified.
Moral statements cannot be verified or even falsified and are therefore meaningless. This would
mean that the ideas of `right' and `wrong' cannot be verified.…read more



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