Is religious language rational?

The whole course for A2 philosophy on religious language.
Topics include:
-the problems of religious language
-the verification and falsification principles
-analogy, symbol and language games

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Problems with religious language
1. Contradictory to our logic
EG ­ the virgin birth
2. Abstract, metaphysical and puzzling language
These ideas are beyond our understanding and experience
EG ­ the Ontological argument
3. Using our human, worldly language to describe a transcendent being
This will lead to misunderstanding and error. No language can properly convey exactly what we
want to say about God. Our language is inadequate.
4. We may end up anthropomorphising God
Giving God human qualities is misleading. This difference in ideas can lead to disagreement about
the meaning of religious language
5. Use words that we use every day but in a different meaning.
This can cause confusion.
EG ­ Spirit (religious or alcoholic?)
6. Some religious language is confusing and paradoxical
EG ­ Mackie's inconsistent triad
7. Stories can be interpreted literally or nonliterally
There are disagreements as to which interpretation is the correct one.
8. The same word can mean different things in different religions
EG ­ Karma in Buddhism and Hinduism
9. Verification principle
Statements are only meaningful if analytic or synthetic. Therefore religious statements are
10. AJ Ayer
Religious statements are nocognitive and emotive utterances.
11. Flew
Religious believers always qualify their claims rather than accept they're wrong. Their claims `die the
death by a thousand qualifications'.
12. The verification and falsification principles demand religious believers should be careful and
consistent in their use of language
The same standards of everyday language should be applied to religious language.
We use the principles in everyday life to determine meaning.
A group of philosophers ( Schlick, Carnap and Waissmann) met in the 1920s in Vienna and became known
as the Vienna Circle. They claimed that people spend large parts of their time talking nonsense because we
actually say nothing factual. They developed Logical Positivism.
The Verification principle
Statements are only meaningful is capable of being shown true or false. An a nalytic statement is true or
false by definition whilst a synthetic statement is true or false through research.
AJ Ayer became a member of the Vienna circle.
He said that if a statement is not analytic or synthetic, best to call it cognitively meaningless.
Under the verification principle, metaphysical language is meaningless. Religious statements are neither
analytic nor synthetic they cannot be probable even in principle.
Ayer says religious statements convey no information, they are noncognitive. At best they are emotive
All unverifiable religious language is meaningless and so to say `there is no God' is just as to say `there is a

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Strong Verification ­ a statement is meaningful if it can be verified in practice.
EG ­ William has brown hair . One would need to find William to check this.
Strong verification rules out many statements which we would class as meaningful such as historical
statements as they cannot be checked.
Ayer weakened the principle to allow for indirect experience.
Historical statements became meaningful under w
eak verification but so did other statements which Ayer
considered meaningless.…read more

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EG ­ when describing God as `loving' you would place `infinitely' before it. Loving is a model word, infinitely
is a qualifier.
This distinguishes God from humanity and stops us from thinking of God in terms that are similar to us.
Models and Qualifiers allow us some insight into the nature of God.
Religious language as Symbolic
God is beyond the understanding of the finite world.…read more

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Weaknesses of the Verification and Falsification Principles
The principles fail their own test
Analogy, symbol and language games are successful and defeat the challenge of the principles
Noncognitive does not mean meaningless. It means statements are not meant to be understood as true or
Swinburne ­ Toys in the Cupboard analogy demonstrates that the statement `the toys move around when
no one is looking' is meaningful because we understand what is meant by it even if it is untrue.…read more


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