Religious Language

A study of religious language, including: Falsification, the Verficiation Principle and forms of religious language.


Key Terms

Congnitive (realist): Factual statements that can be proved to be true or false.

Non-Congnitive (anti realist): Non factual statements. They do not have to correspond reality, but must cohere to a communities position.

Mathematical verification: Questions that can be calculated, eg. 2+3=5

Analytical statements: True by definition eg. a circle is round

Synthetic statement: Statements that can be verified through sense experience, eg. a dog barks

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The Verification Principle

Background: Logical positivsm, 1920's Vienna Circle, Ayer

Basic argument: Only statements that can be verified syntheticaly, analyticaly or mathematicaly are thruthful/factual.

Therefore...Religious Language + Arguments concerning God are meaningless.

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Statements that express unverifiable opinions or emotions, such as 'I love you' are deemed meaningless.

Ethical and moral statements such as 'do not kill' are meaningless.

Laws of science can't be absolutely verified eg. statements such as  'gravity always makes an object fall to the ground' are untestable.

Historical Statements are regarded as meaningless as they cannot be verified.

The verification principle itself can't be verified, Ayer refuted some of his claims.

Wittgenstein: Language must be regarded in a non cognitive, anti realist way. Implications: good= PB can be discussed, no problems about statements being objectively true bad= faith claims are given little weight.

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The Falsification Principle

Background: John Hick and Anthony Flew

Basic argument: Hick='in order to say something which may be possibly true, we must say something which may be possibly be false.' Flew=because believers allow nothing to be counted agianst their faith, religious language is meaningless. The argument for God 'dies a death of a thousand qualifications' eg. Parable of the Gardener.

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Criticisms/Alternatives to Falsification

Hick=eschatological verification: God's existence can only be verified in LAD.

R M Hare=bliks:'ways of regarding the world which are in principle neither verifiable nor falsifiable.'  Believers use religious language to express concepts that are important to them. They make a significant diference to that persons life , therefore their statements do have meaning.

Basil Mitchell= believers do allow people to challenge their faith, but nevertheless, they will continue to believe even in the face of evidence to the contrary. eg. Parable of the paranoid student.

R B Braithwaite=religious claims are meaningful because they express an intention to follow a certain code of behaviour.

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Ways of describing the qualities of God

Via Negativa: Truths about God can be revealed by talking about what he is not, eg. God is not evil. Criticisms: Can be hijacked by atheists eg. God is not all loving. Believers want to speak about God in a positive way. We cannot describe God in factual terms.

Univocal: one meaning eg. love. Problem= no distinction between human love and Gods love.

Equivocal: one word, two meanings eg. Bat. Problem= each word has a totally different meaning, causing confusion.

Aquinas: Analogical Language= Avoids these problems. Analogy of Attribution: Gods attributes (such as Love, Strength etc.) are on a higher level than our own love. Analogy of Proportion: Gods qualities are in proportion to our qualities.

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Myth and Symbolism

Myth: Uses symbol, metaphors and imagery. Can be defined as: A story or narrative that expresses a truth when it is not known for certain what happened. Examples: Noahs Ark, Creation Story, Garden of Eden, Exodus from Egypt.

Criticisms: Bultmann= religions need to be demythologized if they are to be taken seriously. Dawkins 'much of the Bible is...just plain weird.' depends on interpretation. Strengths: Myths aren't concerned with making objectively true statements. It is important to understand how they should be interpreted rather than being conerned with trying to establish what the facts of the matter actually are.

Symbolism: Pictures, actions, objects, words etc. eg. National flag, Jesus on the Cross etc. Always non cognitive. Jesus 'I am the light of the world' Psalmist 'the lord is my sheperd.' Symbols aren't to be interpreted literally because they transcend normality, fact and objectivity.

Criticisms: Original meaning can be lost. Depends on interpretation. Can be outdated. What should the focus of worship be: personal issue or symbol?

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