Flew and the falsification principle

  • Created by: Nin714
  • Created on: 11-12-21 13:09

Flew and the falsification principle

- oxford paper: 'theology of falsification'
- John wisdom parable, Gods: sceptic and believer have different views about the existence of a gardener who visits a clearing in a jungle because the gardener cant is detected using 5 senses. all evidence against the existence of the gardener will convince the believer, and the sceptic keeps qualifying his statement about the characteristics of the invisible gardener to accommodate each challenge.
- religious believers behave like this, refusing to accept any counter-evidence to their claims about god
- religious claims end with a death by a thousand qualifications- assertions are modified till they assert nothing- description of gardener had no content
- a principle must be falsifiable if it is to be meaningful- we need to know what evidence would count against our assertions if they’re to be meaningful. e.g. if you ask theists under what circumstances could 'god is loving' be false?- if they cant think of any, it is not saying anything at all.

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Hare (response to flew)

- we all have unfalsifiable bilks
- bilk: a way of understanding the world. we all have subjective understandings. theism is unfalsifiable but so is atheism
- paranoid lunatic asks us to imagine a 'lunatic' who's convinced that all university dons want to murder him. Even if he meets kind dons, he's convinced that they're acting and just want to kill him. No one can persuade him he's wrong.
- religious claims are non-cognitive expressions of preference

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Mitchell (response to flew)

- we need to make commitments to trust and believe in things even when evidence is lacking
- the story of a partisan: A country is occupied by an enemy during war. There's a partisan (resistance fighter) Partisan meets a stranger that impresses him. Stranger asks partisan to trust him, even though the stranger may behave in ways that make it seem as if he's on the enemy’s side. The partisan trusts the stranger. The stranger is helping resistance and is also seen working alongside the enemy to help capture resistance. Partisan continues to trust the stranger even when there's counter-evidence and he has doubts. This is because there must be a reasonable explanation, he's acting this way During the war: the partisan has to make a decision on whether to trust the stranger based on incomplete and ambiguous evidence. He must accept the reality of the evidence against his belief. He doesn't have blind faith that the stranger is trustworthy- it's a belief in the character of the stranger who impressed him.

After the war: Truth and falsity on whether the stranger is trustworthy can be found depending on partisans survival after the war- this will have factual content and is cognitive.

Implication: applies this parallel to loving God In this world: the evidence for a loving God can seem incomplete and ambiguous. We need to choose whether or not to trust the claim. Isn't blind faith, there's a reason for faith. If we don't see the weaknesses of the claim, we're guilty of a "failure of logic" and if we don't accept the strengths of the assertion, our beliefs become vacuous formulae (wanting the reassurance of experiences). The end: there's factual content and God loves us will either be true or false. Hare: religious beliefs are bilks therefore groundless

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some statements can be conclusively falsified when they can't be conclusively verified. e.g. to say all giraffes have long necks is probable- but it's impossible to verify because we would have to check all giraffes necks (past, present and future). But when we find a short-necked giraffe, I have falsified the original hypothesis.

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Hare strength

Tillich: Non-cognitive view of religious language can make religion more personal. Religious language is not cognitive, but symbolic. Symbols aren't the same as facts and it's wrong to criticize them as if they are verifiable or falsifiable. however, it's not meaningless like a bilk.


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Mitchell strength

Mitchell: Mitchell's response to flew is close to what religious people would respond. Mitchell recognizes the issues about belief in God e.g., suffering in the world and realizes we might be conflicted to know whether faith in God is reasonable or unreasonable.

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popper/ flew criticism

-Religious belief statements are potentially falsifiable. Religious believers do no continually qualify their beliefs, instead religious believers clarify and state their beliefs more clearly e.g. the freewill defense is an explanation of belief in God and Freewill, it cannot be
dismissed as a qualification
-Flews argument that empirical evidence as the test of meaning is itself unfalsifiable.
Flew asks religious believers "what would have to occur for you to disproof the love of God?" But the religious believer would respond "what would have to occur for you to disproof the primacy of empirical evidence?" If flew cant think of any circumstances where he can say empirical evidence is not necessary, then his assertion is meaningless

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Swinburne, coherence of theism: after the symposium, other writers added to the debate.
- Swinburne says we don't need to specify the falsity of an assertion for it to be meaningful.

- For example, we cant specify what will falsify scientific theories about the beginning of the universe because we don't know enough about the scientific theories involved, - But this doesn't make the assertions meaningless to us. This is because we hypothetically understand what could count against these theories. therefore, we can allow something to count against the existence of God even if we can't specify what it may be.

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hare criticism

Flew: is arguing hares assessment of religious language as non-cognitive has problems.

- If religious language is about how someone chooses to view the world rather than making claims about facts, there's no difference between religion and non-religion.

- Religious believers see themselves as making genuine assertions, which they see as true facts of the world, not bilks. When Christians say Jesus rose from the dead, they believe he literally, physically did.

- If they were interpreted by bilks they would be "entirely unorthodox" and if they're not intended as assertions "religious activities become merely silly"

Evans, philosophy of religion:
Hares notion of bilks is inconsistent. Hare's parable argues that the lunatics' bilk is insane, but hare provides no criterion for distinguishing between bilks that are sane or insane, therefore right or wrong.

- If bilks can’t be verified or falsified, how do we know what's insane? If a bilk is just a preferred worldview, how can it be right or wrong?

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Mitchell criticism

- In some ways, Mitchell's analogy leads one back to Flew's original issue - if religious statements are assertions about how the world is they are meaningless having died a death of a thousand falsifications

- the parable of partisan and stranger doesn't correspond to religious believer and God because the partisans justification to trust the stranger is because of being impressed by him through face-to-face interaction. This cant applies to religious believers and God.

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