Is it possible to talk meaningfully about God? [20 Marks]

This comes under the topic of Religious Language. Discuss the verification principle and the responses and also falsification principle. Discuss Bliks and Parables. 

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  • Created by: Beth
  • Created on: 05-12-11 18:28

What is Religious Language?

Religious language is the communication of ideas about God, faith, belief and practice.  

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What is Cognitive and Non Cognitive language?

Cognitive language is language whih expresses knoweldge and facts. However non cognitive language expresses things which we could never know such as feelings etc....

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What do many believe religious language is in rela

Many belive that religious language is non cognitive as it cannot express knowledge and facts.  However many hold that religious language is not non cognitive but is in fact  cognitive as something may be known about God. For example we often attribute God human qualities such as a gender (him/her) and therefore something can be known about God. This could be seen as religious believers talking about God in a meaningful way.

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What group of people referred to Religious Languag

The Logical Positivists.  This is a group of Philosophers known as the Vienna Circle. The group were highly influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein. 

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What sort of propositions have meaning according t

Only propositions which can be verified empirically ( or logically, in the case of analytical statements). 

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How did the leader of the Vienna Circle put it ?

Moritz Schlick: 'the meaning of a proposition is the method of verification'
This is essentially the VERIFICATION PRINCIPLE 

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What are the only two forms of verifiable language

ANALYTIC PROPOSITIONS( A PRIORI)- Knowledge is gained through logical reasoning. These are propositions which are true by definition, for example: 'all bachelors are unmarried' this is ultimately true by definition. 
SYNTHETIC PROPOSTIONS: (A POSTERIORI)- knowledge could be verified( proved true or false) by some sort of sense experiment.  

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If a statement cannot be proved true or false then

Meaningless. If it is not possible to know how to prove the statement true or false, using either knowledge gained through logical reasoning( a priori) or verified through sense experiment( a posteriori) then logical positivists regard it as meaningless. 

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' The moon is made of green cheese' is this meanin

YES- it can be proved FALSE and is therefore meaningul as you know the conditions under which it can be proved false. 

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Why would, therefore, according to logical positiv

Because any statement about God cannot be verified using the senses, knowledge or scientific experiment. It is not possible to know the conditions under which such propositions could be proved true or false and are therefore meaningless. 

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What did A.J Ayer believe?

A.J Ayer was also a logical positivist who believed that empirical methods have to be used to assess whether a proposition is in principle verifiable and therefore meaningful. So if the statement "God exits" is verifiable in principle this may be meaningful. He still believes, similarly to the Vienna Circle, that if a statement cannot be proved true or false then it is meaningless.

- on this ground and the above so far any talk about God is meaningless.  

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What did Ayer realise later?

He realised that we accept scientific and historical propositions that have not been verified to be true. For example we know that the Battle of Hastings took place but how can we be sure we didn't observe it ourselves. Also we believe many elements of science to be true and we don't state that is meaningless when something cannot be verified so why do we only state that talk about God is meaningless? 

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What, according to ayer, are the two forms of veri

Strong verification which occurs when there is no doubt that a statement is true as we can verify it with observation. And also weak verification where a principle may not be true now but could be affirmed in the future. 

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However what does John Hick argue which supports t

John Hick proposes the idea that religious language can be verified because when we die that truth of God's existence will either be proved true or false. This is known as the 'eschatological verification'.

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What may also support this claim?

Ayer's weak verification as he states that a statement may be meaningful if it can be verified in the future. The statement 'God exists' can be verified in the future( when we die) and is therefore meaningful on the basis of weak verification. 

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Who proposed the falsification principle?

Anthony Flew. 

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What did he conclude about religious statements an

They are meaningless. 
This is because there is nothing which can count against religious statements being true or false. Falsification is simply just the reverse of verification in that verification means to be proved true whereas falsification means to be proved false and for flew non-falsifiability is the same as meaningless.

Therefore for Flew since the existence of God can not be proved false the statement "god exists" is meaningless.  

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What parable did he use to prove his point that re

Parable of the Gardener
- two explores came across a clearing in the jungle.
-In the clearing there were many flowers growing and many were weeds.
-One explorer says: "some gardener must tend this plot"
-The other disagrees and states  that "there is no gardener"
-They pitch their tents and set a watch but no gardener is ever seen.
-"perhaps he is an invisible gardner"
-They therefore set up a barbed wire fence and electrify it and patrol with bloodhounds as they remembered that  in H.G Well's the Invisible Man he could be smelt and touched by receiving a shock. 
-There is no evidence of an invisible man yet the believer is still convinced there is a gardener.
- he states: "but there is a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves"
-The second gardener replies :" but what remains of your original assertion?" "How does what  you call an invisible intangible, eternally elusive gardner differe from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?" 

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Why does Flew use the parable of the Gardener?

To explain why a believer will not accept that religious statements are meaningless because a religious believer will allow nothing to count against his or her beliefs. 

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Who uses the example of toys and why?

Richard Swinburne. He uses the examples of toys because he believes that there are some statements which we cannot falsify but we can still understand the meaning behind the statement.

The toys in the toy cupboard support this point.
-We can never prove that the toys do not come out of the toy cupboard and move around when we are not watching them. Yet although we cannot falsify the statement that the toys do not move around, we still understand the meaning behind the statement.

Therefore the statment: "God exists"
Even though this cannot be falsified (although according to Hick it could be after we die) we still understand the meaning behind this statement, we know what exists mean and we know the concept of God and we knot that this does hold some meaning and is therefore meaningful according to Swinburne.  

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Who agreed with Flew?What did he think aswell?

R.M Hare.  He also thought that the falsification principle could decide the meaningfullness of cognitive language. 

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What example does he give?

The example of the student who is convinced that dons (Oxford professors) are out to kill him. He would not accept any evidence that he was shown to the contrary. The student would not accept evidence to falsify his belief, but the belief was meaningful for the student even if it was not true as it influenced the way he saw the university which was significant for him. 

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What did Hare call this way of looking at the worl

A blik.

A blik is a non rational belief which could never be falsified.
Bliks are not necessarily untrue but they are groundless.
Hare believes that religious beliefs are like these bliks because of the impact they have on the way people look at the world and live their lives.

This therefore would make talk of God meaningfull...  

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what does hick conclude about religious language?

There are reasons behind religious beliefs: experiences, scripture, etc..

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What is one of the major critcisms of the verifica

It is developed by non-believers, who in seeking to demonstrate why religious language is meaningless have failed to grasp the meaning and purpose of religious language for the believer. 

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How does mystics such as St John on the Cross stat

By not saying what God is but by saying what he is not, the via negativa (apophatic way)  For example by saying God is "not evil" and "not human" we can know about God. 

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