Religious Language

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Religious Language
Realist view ­ words have objective meanings
Anti-realist view ­ words have subjective meanings
Tautology ­ the saying of the same thing twice in different words
A priori ­ based on theoretical deduction rather than empirical observation
A posteriori ­ knowledge which comes from empirical observation
Vienna Circle
The Vienna Circle is a group of philosophers who advocated the idea of logical
positivism. This was a philosophical approach which considers that the only
meaningful statements are those which can be solved by logical analysis.
They sought to legitimise philosophical ideas by placing it on a basis shared with
empirical sciences. Metaphysical ideas tend to be classified meaningless.
They believe that meaningful statements fall into two categories:
Analytic propositions ­ statements that contain all the information within the
statement, e.g. red is a colour (a tautology), 2+2=4 (mathematical statement)
Synthetic propositions ­ factual statements which can be confirmed a
posteriori (reasoned from past experiences)
Language is therefore influenced by science, as it can only be verified using sense
observation, or empirical knowledge.
Verification Principle
A.J. Ayer
Ayer believes the term `God' is a metaphysical term, and if `God' is a metaphysical
term, it cannot even be probable that God exists. The statement is neither true nor
false so it is meaningless.
Ayer denies any possibility of God's existence as there is no way of empirically
verifying his existence. He believes that ethical statements fall short of the
verification principle as they could not be verified empirically. He believes in
emotivism as he believes ethical statements are not expressions of fact, but instead
expressions of emotion and influence the emotions of others (boo hurrah theory).
Ayer believes there are two types of verifiability:
Practical verifiability ­ statements that are tested in reality, e.g. Manchester
united wear red football shirts
Verifiable in principle ­ they are meaningful in principle, but as of yet cannot
be verified, for example proving there is life on other planets

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These ideas led Ayer to form strong verification and weak verification.
Strong verification ­ verified conclusively by observation and experience
Weak verification ­ shown to be probable by observation and experience
Ayer then rejected strong verification as he believed this was too extreme.…read more

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The explorer who doesn't believe in the gardener finally asks the other, `just
how does what you call an invisible, intangible and elusive gardener differ
from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?'
Flew argues that sometimes it seems as though believers continually qualify their
beliefs in the light of contrary evidence.…read more

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Science can never disprove God because God isn't measurable in
scientific terms ­ science is limited in its abilities
Swinburne believes the falsification principle does not work for all statements
but they are still meaningful. He uses the analogy of the toys in a cupboard.
There are toys in a cupboard which come out and play, but only when no one
is watching.…read more

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How does one interpret religious language from an atheistic viewpoint?
If an atheist cannot comprehend the religious language game, how are they
supposed to comprehend and make sense of a supposed God?
Religious language alienates those outside of the game
Via Negativa
Via Negativa is based on the idea that God is transcendent and you cannot say what
God is. However, you can clearly say what God is not.…read more

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Univocal ­ the idea that words have one objective meaning. Aquinas believes
it is two different things when we refer to God as `holy' and when we refer to
ourselves as `holy'; they do not mean the same thing, therefore we cannot
speak univocally about religion
Equivocal ­ the idea that words have subjective meanings.…read more

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Aquinas avoids anthropomorphising God; this is good as we cannot
understand God's greatness if we reduce his nature to language that can only
explain contingent beings
Some people argue that Jesus is the anthropomorphised version of
God; they share the same attributes and qualities, but Jesus was placed on
Earth in human form.…read more

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He also argued that religious language is symbolic, communicating things which are
often difficult to put into words. E.g. Catholics believe a lighted tabernacle candle is
scared and represents the presence of God, while to others it means nothing.
Tillich also believes symbols can lose their meaning, for example the Hindu symbol
of peace was taken over by the swastika's meaning of hate.…read more

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Evaluation ­ Myth
Stories are meaningful and memorable, and they can be taught to children
to help them understand religious values
How do we know which myths are communicating an objective truth? If
there is a truth to be expressed, then it should be able to be expressed
How can we know that what we are understanding from the Bible is the
right truth? For example there is debate over whether humans have
stewardship or dominion over God's creation
Emile Durkheim believes myths are…read more


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