Philosophy of Religion A2

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  • Created on: 31-05-13 17:18
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Philosophy of Religion Revision
Religious Language
What's the problem?
If we are to believe in God or some other aspect of religion, we must be able to talk about it
in a meaningful way. If talk of God is nonsense then the idea of God is nonsense
The divine is difficult to express in terms of limited human language
Cognitivism and non-cognitivism
Cognitive language expresses facts and knowledge (Tom is a man, circles are round etc)
Non-cognitive language expresses things which we could never know- feelings, values and
metaphysical claims
Critics of religion emphasise the non-cognitive nature of most religious language
Verification and Falsification
A philosophical movement which claims that language is only meaningful is it can be verified
by a sense-observation or it is a tautology
The Verification Principle simply states that: "A statement which cannot be conclusively
verified ... is simply devoid of meaning."
Verificationists like Ayer hold that statements can only be meaningful if they can be
demonstrated, and these can be divided into two types: (1) Analytic propositions, which
are true by definition, either because (a) this is required by the definition of the words used
­ e.g. `this circle is not a square', or (b) because they are mathematical ­ e.g. `2+2=4'. (2)
Synthetic propositions, which are true by confirmation of the senses ­ e.g. `I can see that
it's roast for lunch on a Thursday'.
A sense-observation refers to the act of gaining a piece of knowledge through your senses
If you cannot demonstrate with sense-observations how a statement is true then it is
factually meaningless
Language that talks about God is meaningless as there is no way to demonstrate the truth or
falsity of God-talk by observation of experiment
Early verificationism makes a large proportion of what people say `meaningless', even when
it makes sense. Swinburne uses the example of `all ravens are (at all times) black'. Whilst it is
generally accepted that this is the case, no matter how many ravens are observed, there is
always the possibility that one is not black, therefore making this statement meaningless.
No statement can be made about history, such as `the battle of Hastings was in 1066',
because they cannot be supported by observation and thus are factually meaningless
Ayer then developed the weak verification principle, a statement can be meaningful if
founded on reliable and sensible standards of evidence- e.g. eyewitness accounts/multiple
sources etc
AJ Ayer and verification
`the criterion we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion
of verifiability'
If a statement is not verifiable then it is meaningless or a tautology
By meaningless, Ayer meant it was not `factually significant'
Ayer did not deny that people make other types of statement that are important to them,
just that such unverifiable statements have no factual significance

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John Hick has criticised Ayer, suggesting that talk of God might be verifiable in principle.
Convincing evidence is not apparent now, but it could be in the future; the whole idea of final
judgement implies that God will be seen and known.
· Richard Swinburne argues that there are propositions which no-one knows how to verify but
still are not meaningless. He gives the example of toys which come out of their cupboard at
night and dance around.…read more

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The parable of the stranger might work if someone has had a dramatic, personal encounter
with God which forms the basis of your faith but most people have not.
It is a weak defence of the problem of evil. The parable talks of a stranger who is a man not
a God. This is not a meaningful analogy.…read more

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Argued that humans can know that God exists but not know anything about God, because he
is not like humans.…read more

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William Alston objected that symbolism means that there is no point trying to determine
whether a statement is true or false. Since symbols are not literally true they can have no
meaningful impact
People interpret symbols differently and symbols meanings change over time, they cannot
be used to communicate any kind of truth therefore
Cannot be subjected to verification or falsification and so meaningless
J.H.…read more

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His demythology goes too far and strips essential meaning from scripture.
Modernity and scientific viewpoints are not fixed they are continually changing; this would
require us to continually reinterpret the Bible.
The very fact of reinterpretation suggests that there is an unchanging body of facts to be
understood.…read more

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Principle of testimony
`(In the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they
report them.'
William James
James suggested that religious experiences were events which were `solitary' and in which
individuals experienced the divine or God.…read more

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The Toronto blessing is an example
Often includes ecstatic worship- falling, laughing, shaking and crying etc.
The knowledge of and experience of state of consciousness or levels of being or aspects of
reality beyond normal human perception, including experience of or communication with God
or a supreme being.…read more

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Religion results. A reversion to childish patterns of thought in response to feelings of
helplessness and guilt.…read more

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Hume rejects belief in miracles on the basis of our knowledge and experience
By definition, a miracle goes against human experience about how the world works.
Therefore, on the basis of experience, the probability that a miracle has occurred is less than
the probability that it hasn't. Because it is rational to believe what is probably, we can never
rationally think that a miracle has occurred.…read more


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