A2 Philosophy



Myth; thelogically describing a story that isn't necessarily historically accurate

Myth presents many different layers of meaning. However whether or not the myth is true is unimportant as they do hold truths

They can be used in order to encourage a parituclar attitude to those who interpret it.

Religious language can be best understood in mythological terms

Myths are likely to be passed down due to their notable nature, in which they can be handed down over generations

However the problems that lay are the fact that sections of myths can be lost in translation which results into myth losing their original meaning.

Myths usually contain several understanding which can be conveyed from one story. This then results into a person being able to go over a story (myth) a number of times in order to find a bigger purpose

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To christians, myth can communicate values of Christianity, which can respond to some of the ulimate question

This leads to the concept of Genesis communicating a deep understanding of God as the creator and of the human beings place in creation

Myth points themselves to a different reality, meaning that it is important that myth communicate the truth.

Rudolf Bultmann                                                                                                                     Bultmann believed that if the truth of Christianity was to be discovered from the New Testament than as a believer they must reject an mythological language, in which cause he furthered into the idea of demthlogizing the Bible.

Paul Vardy                                                                                                             Vardy observed that the same ideas and values are communicated in myths from different cultures around the world.

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Sarah Tyler

Tyler defines myth as a literary form by believing that myths are lingustic methods of interpreting the ultimate reality. In her view, Myths are essentially vehicles for conveying complex religious truths in cosmic dimension.

John Macquarrie 

Macquarrie argues that myths answer not how but why questions in which are concerned with human existence, allow an insight into the realtionship with God.


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Myth: Weaknesses

1. Scholars disagree over which stories are meant to be myth, whether or not early writers of these stories (esspecially the gospels) intended them to be interpreted as myths

2. Overabundance of meaning in myth creates a diversity of Christian interpretions that the Christian faith holds.

3. Danger that religious narratives (e.g. The Resurrection) could be understood as myths due to the deep valuation of myth of myth as a narrative form. However, the understanding of the narratives as myth become the only way to hold onto them with some sort of credibility, if they cannot be understood as history.

4. Myths can undermine religious narratives status as true accounts of events.

5. Problems arise as is it possible to claim that all of them communicate the truth?

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Myth: Strengths

1. It provides a way of conveying complex religious beliefs about God to the next generations and makes it easy to do so. 

2. It conveys religious truth/ meaning in a way that doesn't need  to be taken literally.

3. Acceptance of science (creation story as a myth can be linked to the big bang/ evolution) and also the traditional religious narratives ( idea of Jesus being a  myth rather than uniquely God, there is also acceptance of other religious ideas which Jesus reamins central)

4.Myths offer a positive way of speaking about God making the via negativa seem unecessary.

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Analogy: Thomas Aquinas

We only have the language that we use; by using analogy we can get a deeper understanding of what God is.

Ÿ  Univocal; the word has the same meaning all of the time.

Ÿ  Eqivocal; the word has different meanings in different contexts, e.g. cricket (sport or animal).

Ÿ  Analogy; comparison between at least 2 things in order to describe or compare where at least one premise or the conclusion is general.

Ÿ  Aquinas saw that all good qualities in humans came from God and so related to him. God’s goodness is greater but the basic meaning is from God.

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Analogy: Thomas Aquinas

Ÿ  Analogy of Proportion; All good qualities belong proportionally with God and humans.

  •  The quality is proportionate to the object it is applied to.
  • God is powerful in terms of himself - we can attribute this to humans but in a proportionately different sense.
  • Swinburne; sometimes words could be used univocally to talk about God. E.g.  A human and God can be good but God is at a greater level of good.

Ÿ  Analogy of Attribution; God is the cause of all good things in humans. All attributes belong to God but in a greater sense.

  • Use one word to describe an attribute of something, then that word is applied to  the whole thing.
  • So human’s goodness is a dim reflection of God’s goodness.
  • E.g. Brian Davies example; Bread is good therefore Baker is good.
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Analogy: Thomas Aquinas (Plus strengths)

Ÿ Ian Ramsey (20th century philosopher); models and qualifiers; take a human attribute and then ascribe it to God.

  •   A model is the quality/ attribute being described in a lower form.
  •   A qualifier is when you back up the model that you have just proposed. E.g. infinitely.
  •  E.g. God is perfectly just.
  • challenges the verification principle by explaining the complexity of religious language
  • Avoids anthropomorphising God because words are not meant to be taken literally
  • Avoids agnosticism because it conveys the knowledge of God
  • Helps to explain difficult concepts, such as God’s agapeic love
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Analogy: Thomas Aquinas: Weaknesses

  • Aquinas based his work upon a number of assumptions that came from religious belief.
  • Makes assertions about God even though it recognises that words are limited.
  • It is debatable whether it gets around the falsification and verification principle as it does not stand up to verification because the object one is trying to illustrate by use of analogy cannot be empirically verified
  • The analogy of attribution raises the problem of evil. The world also compromises evil so does God posses these qualities as well
  • Richard Swinburne argues that we don’t really need analogy at all. When we say ‘God is good’ and ‘humans are good’ we may be using good to apply to different things, but we are using it to mean the same thing i.e we are using the word good univocally
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Types of Language

Types of language;

1. Cognitive/ realist; These are sentences that can be proven and tested.

2. Non-cognitive/ non-realist; conveys information but not proven to be factual;

  •   Emotions, feelings and metaphysical claims.
  •  Claims about the non-physical world E.g. God and heaven etc.

3. Analytic statement; something that is true by definition,; contains all of the information within the statement to verify itself. e.g. bachelors are unmarried men.

4. Synthetic propositions; statements that can be confirmed through the use of the senses, e.g. It is raining outside. 

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Logical positivists

Ÿ  Ludwig Wittgenstein (Tractatus) ; influenced logical positivists in 1920’s. ‘some language is meaningless’ & ‘Language that has meaning is based on science, Empirical reality or senses’.

Ÿ  A.J. Ayer influenced by Vienna Circle ( ‘Language, truth & logic’ & ‘ The problem of logic’). Any religious discourse is meaningless.

  • A statement that cannot conclusively be verified either to be true or false has no meaning at all.
  • Statements that have meaning must have some sort of evidence to prove it.

 Non-cognitive, metaphysical statements are completely meaningless (As you cannot prove them!) Just as the statement; square circles are green is meaningless.

Ÿ  A.J. Ayer is not denying the existence of God; he is denying the possibility of God existing altogether as there is no way of verifying his existence.

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Verification Principle

ŸVerification Principle: If something is true, it can be verified! If you can apply the verification principle and it is verifiable then you must accept it to have meaning.


Opposing the Verification Principle:

Ÿ  In the future there could possibly be changes in the world that possibly mean that now, meaningless statements could have meaning as there has been a way of proving it.

Ÿ  In order to solve the problem, if you can think of a hypothetical theory/ evidence to prove the statement, then it may have meaning,

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Verification Principle

Ÿ Weak Verification; need only to state what kind of evidence would need to verify a statement.

Ÿ Strong verification: Verifiable according to empirical evidence.


Second Edition Verification Principle:

ŸŸ  Changed the definition of verification principle; ‘ A statement is held to be literally meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable’.

Ÿ  He rejected his earlier definition of weak verification as being far too liberal, to solve this problem, Ayer came up with new criteria; directly and indirectly verifiable.

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Verification Principle


 Directly verifiable; a statement being verifiable through observation.

Ÿ Indirectly verifiable; A statement that is not directly verifiable or analytic and when put with other evidence entails one or more directly verifiable statements which are not deducible from these other premises alone. E.g. scientists predicted and demonstrated the existence of black holes in space. However, black holes cannot be directly observed, but scientists demonstrated their existence by looking at other evidence which suggested the existence of the black holes.


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Verification Principle: Weaknesses

The verification principle itself cannot be verified itself therefore it has no meaning itself.

 Eschatological Verification; through the use of weak verification, When we dir we will know whether God exists or not, therefore that is a plan. As a result from that you can say that ‘God exists’ does have meaning as one day we will be able to dis/prove the claim.

Ÿ  Some religious statements can be verified - can see the effect of something therefore it has meaning, e.g. black holes existing.

 Strong verification is not possible to talk meaningfully about history as no sense- observation can confirm historical events,

Ÿ  Swinburne: Strong verification excludes all types of universal statements as there maybe a random event that occurs that may mean that this cannot be verified.

Ÿ  What is classified as evidence?

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Verification Principle: Strengths

Saves wasted time discussing God                                                                                                                                                                                                       We often regard verification and falsification as ways of distinguishing between sense and nonsense                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Supports the design argument for God’s existence because it is based on a posteriori evidence

Supports the claim of an afterlife and religious experience

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Falsification Principle

ŸBased on Karl Popper’s philosophy that something can only have meaning or be valid if it can have something that can count against it. E.g. ‘Elves live in the forest however they only come out when nobody is looking’; there is no evidence to counter this therefore this statement has no meaning.

Ÿ  ‘A statement is verifiable if it is known what empirical evidence counts against it’.

Ÿ  ‘Religious statements die a death of a thousand qualifications’; religious language has no meaning as there is nothing to hold against religion to prove it wrong as there is always a reason to any criticisms. Religious believers never believe anything can falsify their beliefs.

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Falsification Principle

 Gardener analogy of God (suggests that religious believers refuse to let their beliefs be falsified. Instead, when questioned religious believers qualify their beliefs - refuse to believe that their beliefs are irrational.)

Brian Davies: ‘Religious believers make claims, e.g. God loves human beings, and however they are unwilling to allow anything to counter these claims. The claims seem unfalsifiable therefore can you say that these are genuine claims in the first place?

Ÿ  Flew; ‘God loves all humans’, from this you could say that God allowed a small child to develop incurable cancer and have an awful death, as a result you could use this as evidence to falsify the claim therefore it has meaning. HOWEVER from this religious believers often carry on to say that ‘God loves humans in an inscrutable way, a way different to how we love’ this then has no meaning because it does not allow anything to falsify it!

Ÿ  Flew then challenged both R.M.Hare and Basil Mitchell to say what would have to occur to constitute for you a disprove of the love of God?

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Falsification Principle

R.M.Hare’s response;

Ÿ  It would appear that on the surface, Flew to be right.

Ÿ  HOWEVER what Flew doesn’t realise is that people have different levels of falsification.

Ÿ  Not everyone has the same ’blik’ ( a frame of reference in terms of which data is interpreted- mental filter) by this we define which evidence is defined.

Ÿ  A blik is a particular view on the world that cannot be explained and is not based on any type of empirical facts or reason, it just is and cannot be explained. People need different amounts/ levels of information to prove something wrong or right. So the evidence of existence may just be enough for a religious believer to prove the existence of God and to them it is so blindingly obvious whereas to others it may not be so. So religious believers have a religious blik by which they already have enough evidence for the existence of God.

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Falsification Principle

Ÿ  Parable of lunatic ( used to show that Bliks may be seen to show the sane and insane people. there are no sense- observations available to everyone that will resolve conflicting bliks. If religious beliefs are bliks it suggests that religious beliefs are an interpretation of the world which could be seen as either sane or insane).

Ÿ  Hare; Flew makes the mistake of treating religious statements as scientific statements.

Ÿ  Agrees with Flew HOWEVER need to take into account the assertions we have and the how our interpretations within situations are different!

 Basil Mitchell‘s response;

Ÿ  Believers are not blind to the problems; Religious language does have meaning but in a different sort of way.



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Falsification Principle

Ÿ  Religious believers do not discredit any objections bur instead they do have a prior commitment to faith.

Ÿ  ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’. Their faith is stronger than any of the criticisms thrown at them.

Ÿ  Believers do not look for qualifications to count against their belief.

Ÿ  The Partisan and the stranger.( suggests that religious beliefs are potentially statements about how the world is; if this is correct, it means that religious belief statements are as meaningful as any claim about how things are in the world is potentially falsifiable.)

Ÿ  Swinburne; toy in the cupboard example, the toys only come out when you are not looking therefore you never get to see them. It is quite possible for statements to have meaning although you cannot prove them.

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Ÿ  The idea that something cannot or should not be explained using the written word.

Ÿ  Concepts that are too complex or abstract to show.

Ÿ  Religious Experiences; you can never fully explain the experience; can’t use language as it is personal.

Ÿ  Ludwig Wittgenstein; ‘Where one cannot speak; one must be silent’


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The Via Negativa

The Via Negativa;

Ÿ  Mystics; you understand that religious experience and God cannot be explained through language as religious language is ineffable.

Ÿ  Due to this, Mystics came up with the Via Negativa to explain what God is not - through explaining what God isn’t, you explain what God is.

Ÿ  Apophatic; way mystics use to explain God.

Ÿ  Dianethis (500AD) - focused on how people spoke about God, explains how people tend to use literal names for God that should not be interpreted in a literal manner.

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The Via Negativa

God is outside all of human understanding and all categories of knowledge.

 He has three stages of knowledge and meaning of God.

 Via Negativa

 State of Affirmation; Affirming what God is through the use of non-personal terms E.g. The one etc. The source of all this is the Bible; we learn this through the Bible. However the Bible is limited and has a lot of symbolism. 

 Try to convey God is outside human understanding is to qualify what we say about God. E.g. God is more than goodness therefore we cannot relate it to things on Earth as nothing is more than we already know about.

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The Via Negativa

Ÿ  Plotinus (205-270) ; interpreted Plato; reality is derived form a single supreme something; THE GOOD!; transcends existence and the unknowable.

 Only by meditating on the higher level can the one be encountered.

As thing is unknowable and imageless this is the apophatic meditation; don’t   meditate on a specific something - just concentrate on the higher goods.

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Signs and Symbols

Ÿ  Symbol; something that has a deep communicative power and invokes participation in the intended meaning.

Ÿ  Sign; pointing you towards something to a certain direction.

Ÿ  J.H. Randall; religious symbols serve four main purposes;

 Motivational one; to fire up our emotions.

 Social one; people have a common social understanding of the symbols.

 Communicative one; symbols express religious faith better than  religious       language ever has.

 Religious symbols clarify and disclose our experiences of the divine; trying to explain it would be like trying to explain the Mona Lisa.

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Signs and Symbols

Ÿ  Paul Tillich;

Religious language is symbolic and symbols communicate something which is often difficult to put into words.

  Symbols may be understood in two ways;

  They point to something beyond themselves.

  They participate in that to which they point.

   Symbols opens up levels of reality which are otherwise closed for us.

   They also open up levels and dimensions of the soul which correspond to those            levels of reality.

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Signs and Symbols

 Symbols are independent of empirical criticism therefore belief in God can only            be expressed through the use of symbolic language. As a result symbolism opens        up a depth of reality that would otherwise remain closed. 

Religious statements are symbolic but are nevertheless cognitive statements. A symbol participates in that which it points. E.g. A flag is symbolic of the nation that it represents.

 Words become symbolic rather than literal; we are aware of religious symbols            however what Tillich is suggesting is that statements such as ‘God is good’ should  not be taken literally but used as a symbol.

 Symbols have both negative and positive aspects as words cannot adequately  describe God but their meaning is always ‘partially negated by that to which they point’.

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Signs and Symbols

Criticisms of Tillich;

  • Ÿ  His ideas are too vague.
  • Ÿ  If religious statements are not literally true, then it’s difficult to see what content that they may have.
  • Ÿ  It is difficult to be clear on what is meant by the idea of a symbol participating in something.
  • Ÿ  John Hick; Tillich never explains how the idea of participation works. Tillich would argue that the statement ‘God is good’ is symbolic. Hick asks how the symbol of God being good participates in ‘being itself’? Similarly taking the example of a flag, how does this add any power to a king’s authority? Burning a flag is an act of national hatred but it doesn’t mean that there is a loss of power.


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Signs and Symbols

Don Cupitt; religious language should not just be seen as benign the metaphysical as it’s about the things that we experience. This means that problems with religious language disappear as it is not seen as beyond experience. To some, religion is not about an external being but about our psychology and feelings; known as reductionism.


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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Language Games

Ÿ  Didn’t agree with the verification principle as words can have meaning dependent upon their use and function agreed within a group. Language can be particular to certain areas.

Ÿ  In a particular game you have an agreed use of language so that each of you understand the language that you use.

Ÿ  When the language game starts to have and develop rules it then starts to make sense.

Ÿ  Often people will use the word incorrectly and misunderstand the game it is applied to. I.e. once you apply the rules of the game to another you then misunderstand the language. - using ‘God‘; the game is wrong when you are applying empirical evidence in order to explain however you can’t do this as you are applying the rules of one game to a completely different game.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Language Games

Ÿ  The rules by which we agree on the language within the game is called ‘grammar’. When we get things wrong it is because we don’t understand the grammar.  

 ‘God has big feet’; does not fit within a religious context as it does not fit the surrounding grammar.

Ÿ  Felicity McCulcheon; draws parallels between games and language, every different game you play has a different set of rules.

 you need to go by the rules in order to play the game correctly. The same is with the language; you need to know grammar in order to participate in the game correctly.

 Games are about the participation; speaking the language is participation,       however in order to participate you need to understand the grammar. Games are      not reality; neither is language however it is determined by the users. In the game a wrong move is the same as using a word incorrectly; by doing it you are making a mistake and you need to correct it 

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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Language Games

Challenges to Language Games;

Ÿ  Removes the link between claims made with language and empirical evidence.

 Could this result in Wittgenstein’s view leading to religious beliefs being          understood in an antirealist manner?

 Some statements they make are true propositions that refer to how things empirically are.

Ÿ  Could be argued that religious belief is an activity. It involves sharing a way of life, a language and a manner of speaking about the world and our place within the it.

 Wittgenstein captures the essence of what it means to be religious; it is not    philosophical enquiry into the nature of belief but a shared community life.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Language Games

Ÿ  D.Z. Phillips; statements about religious belief are really a description of the grammar of the religious language game - the implication of this is that something cannot be both a rule of grammar and at the same time, be a description of reality.

 Prevents philosophy of religion; it suggests that no-one who is outside of the game can criticise the belief.

Agrees that religious statements cannot be understood in a literal manner but still have a profound meaning for those who make them.


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Falsification Principle

Anothy Flew applied the falsification principle to religious language Sir Karl Popper influenced Antony Flew: -  stating that religious statements are meaningless because nothing can count against religious statements, and they can be neither verified nor falisified

Flew believed that a statement was meaningful when we know that the empirical evidence counts against it, in other words if it can be verified,

The example of the (two explorers return home, garden looks tended to in certain places, Gardener and the Weeds one argues there must of been a gardener while the other argues there cannot have been because of the weeds in other areas)

Flew argued that religious believers don't give a condition which count against their claim.


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Falsification Principle Weaknesses

Flew argued Christians say "God is good" no matter what counter-evidence is offered, and stated die the death of that these constant qualifications render religious statements meaningless as they " ", always has to be some sense experience that can count against claim

Weaknesses of the falsification principle :

1. Basil Mitchell: argues Flew was wrong to believe that religious believers never allow anything to counta against their beliefs, used the Parable of the Stranger to explain how religious language cannot be verified/falsified: stranger meets a resistence worker who is on his side, asks him to trust him even though he may see him do things that go against their cause and sure enough he does so, argues in the same way Flew missed the point of believers commitment to God based on faith, religious believers do not allow anything to conclusively disprove their faith but show real problems of which they are aware Criticisms: Parable of the Stranger is a weak analogy in compairson to the problem of evil

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Falsification Principle: Strengths

1. Depends on falsification rather than verification to decide whether a statement is meaningful

2. Challenge of falsification is based not on language used but that the basic insight of to assert something is to deny something else, proof of existence of God must be absed on what the believers knows rather than just what he believes

3. Adheres to Hume's "matters of fact", example of sun rising-we can never extend with certainty paste experiences to future ones, Popper/Flew's theory allows for this, never able to universally disprove theories but conclusively disprove them

4. Falsification stops scientists from being bias in trying to "prove" the theory, often a lot of pressure to come up with solutions and only a particular one is wanted which can of course affect the methodology/research design, however falsification allows the elimanation of certain factors from the science, and is a step closer to solving the problem, and there is a lot less personal involvement in this

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Religious Language

Problems with Religious Language;

Ÿ Religious language is only understood by a select few.

Ÿ Most of the words we use are based on scientific understanding/ reasoning therefore we cant use those to describe God.

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