Unit 4


Is God even probable?

  • The existence of a being with the attributes of God cannot be demonstratively proved, or even shown to be probable
  • If God were probable, the idea that he exists would be an empirical hypothesis - we could test it
  • If we could test it, we could make verifiable statements about God - but we cannot
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  • Ayer says that to say 'God exists' is simply to say that certain actions have occured in a particular sequence (Teleological argument)
  • Believers say that God can be known through empirical manifestations, but is not defined by these manifestations
  • Ayer says this means that God is metaphysical and cannot be proved to be true or false; therefore, we cannot talk meaningfully about him
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Atheists and agnostics

  • An agnostic holds that God is a possibility. but there is no evidence to believe or disbelieve; for an atheist, it is most probable that God does not exist
  • Ayer said that both views are based on unverifiable positions, so both are ruled out
  • If God is a metaphysical term, then the atheist's claim about God's non-existence is as nonsensical as the theist's claim about God's existence
  • Agnosticism makes no observations to verify their views, so agnosticism is "also ruled out"
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God and the empirical world

  • The example of thunder and Jehovah - deities related to natural objects: does this have meaning?
  • God is said to control the empirical world and is therefore superior to the empirical world yet he exists outside it - he has super-empirical attributes
  • If he has super-empirical attributes, then God is an unintelligible notion
  • If God is unverifiable, then 'God' is simply a word. It tells us nothing of him
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Transendent truths

  • Ayer claims that "there can be no transcendent truths of religion"
  • If we say that God transcends human understanding, this is unintelligible
  • If we say that God is an object of faith not reason, this is also unintelligible
  • Therefore, "it is impossible for a sentence to be both significant and to be about God"
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The God of the mystics

  • Mystics claim that God does reveal truths, but these truths cannot be explained to everyone in rational terms
  • Ayer says this is nothing more than intuition and so isn't sufficient evidence for the existence of God - if the mystic had any real facts they would reveal them
  • The same applies to religious experiences - anyone who claims to know something intuitively doesn't have true knowledge, but are "merely providing material for the psychoanalyst"
  • Religious experiences don't imply that there is such a thing as religious knowledge
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Ayer's conclusion

  • Religious experience is not valid proof of God's existence, nor does it provide religious knowledge
  • This is because no intuition can reveal facts "unless it issues in verifiable propositions"
  • The same problem arises in a consideration of moral knowledge
  • Science is the only discipline which offers verifiable empirical propositions
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