The Religious Point of View

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Wisdom's Parable of the Gardener

  • Two people return to their garden which they have neglected.
  • One sees the flowers and the order of the plants, and concludes there must be a gardener.
  • The other notices the weeds and disorder and concludes there is no gardener.
  • The second person points out that none of the neighbours have seen a gardener, but the first responds that the gardener comes at night.

Two people can be presented with identical empirical evidence, yet their perspectives are completely different. This could mirror how the athiest sees the world without God by pointing out the disasters and evil, whereas the theist looks at the order and beauty of the world to decide that there is an intelligent designer: a God. There is no further evidence to suggest which one is right, and they are not disagreeing over the facts they observe, or any future observations. We cannot confirm either of their conclusions as there is no experiment, test or observation to prove either way.

To resolve the dispute:

  • Further discussion to connect and disconnect current observations to and from other beliefs and observations.
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Criticisms of Wisdoms parable

By saying that religious claims are an individuals persepective of the world, the teleological argument and the problem of evil are undermined.

If religious claims can't be proved true or false according to facts, do religious statements and discussioins have any meaning at all?

Athiest however wouldn't mind not being able to say anything meaningful about God as they believe He doesn't exist, and it can be a release to the ongoing debate.

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Flew's criticism of The Religious Hypothesis

He uses Wisdom's parable to conclude that religious claims about the world are unverifiable and unfalsifiable, and therefore meaningless. He uses the claim to prove this. The claim that there is a gardener is a hypothesis that needs testing. So, the two men decide to watch the garden all night, but no gardener appears. Person two says this proves there is no gardener, but the first person responds that the gardener is invisible. They then put up an electric fence and sniffer dogs around the garden, and still find no evidence for a gardener, so is said to be odourless and intangible. The believer holds onto a belief in the gardener, despite no evidence for one. Their claims keep being modifie, so their belief is effectively unfalsifiable.  

The claim is only meaningful if it is a general claim about the world, and the person making the claim can imagine being wrong, so if there is a possibility of the statement being falsified. Someone who refuses to give up their belief no matter what is not talking about the world, as they move their goalposts to acommodate new evidence. For example, Christians originally believed God created the world in 6 days, and made humans on the 6th day out of earth. Now, they qualify their belief in God to accommodate scientific beliefs, so the theory that humans evolved through evolution now suggests an Intelligent Designer (Intellingent Design theory) to qualify their belief.

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Ayer's Criticisms of the Religious Hypothesis

  • Ayer also argued that anything that can't be shown to be true and we can't imagine how it may be shown true under any circumstances, then it is meaningless.
  • The religious hypothesis is therefore meaningless as it refers to something transcendent and which lies beyond human experience. No experiments or observations can prove it, so religious statements are therefore meaningless.
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Mitchell's criticisms of Flew

If your country is being invaded, and you come across someone who claims to be the resistanace leader, you may be convinced to trust him. Sometimes, you see him acting for the movement, yet you remain convinced to trust him, overcoming your doubts. Your belief is something you don't give up, even if you have things that tell you your belief may be wrong. These doubts show your belief to be falsifiable, and reflect the doubts that theists sometimes have for example about suffering. Mitchell also believes that one day, the truth will be revealed when we die, so a belief that God exists is both falsifiable and verifiable, so religious statements are therefore meaningful.

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Hare's criticisms of Flew

A paranoid student is convinced that all dons want to kill him, despite his friend introducing him to the mildest and most responsible dons. The paranoid student may reply that the don was being cunning, but is secretly plotting to kill him, like the others. This reaction stays the same, no matter how many friendly dons he meets. The student can't imagine being wrong, so their belief is unfalsifiable, yet meaningful as it has a deep influence on his approach to the world, their beliefs, and the way he lives his life.. Therefore, their beliefis meaningful even if it is unfalsifiable as it is a fundamental belief.

According to Hare, we all have fundamental beliefs we refuse to give up, and form the basis of our other beliefs. They are unfalsifiable and unverifiable, yet meaningful. Religious beliefs fall into this category, and the belief of a theist that od exists is a blik, a belief that informs their perspective of the world. It is meaningful as it remains important to them as it is of fundamental nature to their beliefs.  

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Hick - The Religious Hypothesis

The ambiguous nature of the world and observations support the claims that God exists and God doesn't exist.

In the afterlife, religious statements can be verified, so the religious hypothesis is genuine

Only statements that make claims about the world are meaningful

Factual significance is judged by whether the truth or falsity of an assertion makes a difference to our experience of the world.The factual significance is best assessed through verification (judged by whether it removes the grounds of rational doubt about the truth stated)

Religious statements can't be falsified, because if there is no God, when we die will be dead, and won't be able to see that there is no God. But they can be verified in the afterlife: if we find ouselves in heaven when we die, the experience would remove any rational doubt about the existence of heaven.

The parable of Celestial City

A believer and a non believer travel along a rouad (life), one thinking they are going to Celestial City, and seeing the pleasant parts of the journey as encouragement, and the other not. When they round the last corner (death) it will be clear who's right.

Eschatological verification - verification after death. Many religious statements rest on the claim that there is an afterlife, and are meaningful as they can be verified in the afterlife.

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Hick - The Eschatological Argument

How can we be thought to have survived if our body has decomposed?

If someone appears in heaven, it what sense can it be thought to be me?

Hick's Thought Experiments

1. If person X disappeared in America, and the double of person X appeared in Australia at the same time, we would consider the person in Australia to be the same as X.

2. If person X dies in America, and their double appears in Australia at the same time, we would accept it was the same person if we had accepted it was the same person in the first scenario.

3. If person X dies in America, and their double appears in heaven, we would have to accept it was the same person if we had in the previous two scenarios. If we accept it is the same person in heaven, we accept it makes sense to talk about surviiving one's death and preserving one's personal identity.

Resurrection is therefore possible, and if we are resurrected to heaven, we will be in no doubt that it's heaven we're in. To remove any rational doubt that we're in heaven., we will need to understand the purpose and destiny God gave us, and encounter Jesus, the saviour. Only those who already believe in God will be able to verify this, but as it is logically possible for someone to verify the hypothesis that God exists, the claim is meaningful.

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Criticisms of Hick

The scenarios in Hick's thought experiment produce duplicate people, not the self same person who disappeared or died. If the real person appeared alongside the double, we would think the double was a different person to the original, so the double can't be the same as the original as their status is the same. God could create a duplicate of us in heaven, but it wouldn't be us. For personal identity to be the same after death, there has to be some form of bodily continuity. Rebuilding a copy is not resurrecting the self same person.

Can we truly verify experiences in the afterlife? In order to verify that God or heaven exist, we need to recognise the vision in front of us as either God or heaven, but it may not be possible to recognise something we have never seen before or lies beyond our understanding. If God is beyond our comprehension, it may not be possible to recognise or verify something is God, or heaven.

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Seeing as - Wittgenstein

Seeing as means seeing something and interpreting it, either consciously or unconsciously.

Many factors affect the way we see things, such as our prior expectations, our beliefs about the world, our emotional state, our cultural concepts and our conceptual scheme. 

The duck rabbit illusion - you can see a duck or a rabbit

Seeing is an interpretative act

We can also see the illustration now as one thing now as another. So we interpret it as see it as we interpret it.

Whichever we happen to see, the sensory input must remain unchanged, so what we see is determined at least in part by what we are expecting to see,

Observations are therefore influenced by our surrounding beliefs about the world.

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James - The Religious Hypothesis

The Religious Hypothesis - God exists and is the best explanation for the world's existence

There isn't enough evidence that God exists or God doesn't exist

The belief that a belief in God offers eternal lief can't be verified, and we have no time to wait for evidence - we're like travellers on a mountain, and if we stand still we will freeze, so we have to instsntly decide to have faith in God or not.

Maybe religious claims are not claims about the world.

Maybe they're not a hypothesis to compete with a scientific hypothesis.

Maybe they're something else entirely.

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Wittgenstein - Picture Theory

Language is a way of representing facts.

'The cat on the mat' is meaningful as it represents/pictures a state of reality in the world

When we try to use language in any way other than to say things about the world, we are speaking nonnsense.


This fails to capture the complexity of language, as language is richer and more varied than this.

It is a mistake to rule out the rest of language that can't be proved true or false, as otherwise beauty, poetry, love, religion, art and the meaning of life would be considered nonsense, yet we understand each other when we talk about them.

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Wittgenstein - Language game

  • Understanding the meaning of a word, is being able to use the word correctly in a variety of contexts.
  • Langauge can give orders, describe an object, report an event, tell a joke, ask, thank, curse, greet, pray, make up a story and many more
  • Meaning is use - to know the meaning of a word, we should look for how it is used.
  • Language games - the different uses of language as activities that take place in different social contexts.
  • Language use is an activity governed by rules, which vary from context to context. The rules governing the word 'experience' in science are different to the governing rules in religion.
  • It is a mistake to assume that one use of a word is better or more fundamental than another.
  • Statements are meaningful if they are understood by other langauge users in a specific context. Morality, art, poetry etc are therefore all meaningful.
  • Religious statements are meaningful as they're part if a religious langauge game.Believers use the language, and follow its rules, so the language is meaningful to whoever can use the language appropriately.
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Wittgenstein - Language game continued...

  • To understand religious statements we need to be part of the religious langauge game.
  • We can't treat statements from one language game as if they come from another,  so we can't treat religious statements like scientific statements as if they were a hypothesis.
  • Science and religion are two different language games, not in competition or able to solve the other.
  • Religious claims (about God, creation, judgement) are not subject to the same rules as scientific claims.
  • When a beleiver says 'the creator exist', it is an expression of faith, of belief in the grace of God and salvation.
  • Athiests don't understand religious statements or religious language games unless they become involved in a religious way of life.
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Ayer and Flew - Language

  • For a statement to be meaningful, it must refer to the world.
  • The only meaningful statements are about science, the world we see, or are true by definition.
  • Language can only be meaningful in one way: if it's factually significant.
  • When religious language fails to be factually significant, it is meaningless.
  • Beauty, love, poetry etc are nonsense.
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Criticism of Wittgenstein

A meaningful statement no longer has to be connected to he world, so it doesn't have to be true or false

The view that the nature of language doesn't refer to the world is anti realism. 

Making religious claims does involve making claims about what does and doesn't exist in reality, so religion is mre than a game played in words and deeds by religious people.

The religios language game includes substansive metaphysical claims regarding the existece of God, Jesus, the afterlife, creation etc, so many theists wouldn't agree that religion is different to science. For a theist, God is real, and not just another piece in a language game.

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Religious beliefs as an attitude - Plantinga and H

  • Beliefs are belief in or belief that
  • Belief that entails a certain proposition is true:
  • I believe in aliens -----> I believe that aliens exist.
  • Belief that is an expression of an attitude, a trust and committment to someone or something
  • I believe in God --------> I trust in God, accept God and His purposes, and committ my life to Him and live in His presence.
  • Religious belief is more about an attitude to God rather than about the belief that God exists - (the existence of God is a given). They express an attitude towards God and the world, and is part of the way the believer sees the world and makes sense of it, and within which their other beliefs have meaning.God is already present in their lives.

Price - a belief in is evaluative, and caputures an attitude of trust, commitment, relying on it/hem and having a belief and confidence in the value of something/someone.

  • 16th century Protestant Reformation - Martin Luther and John Calvin
  • Relationship thorugh God mediated by the Church ---> direct personal relationship between believers and God
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Religious belief as a moral commitment - Braithwai

The meaning of religious statements is determined by their use - they are used by believers to expressed a commitment to a certain way of life - a morality.

An Empiricists View - considers observation and experience to be the foundation of our concepts.

We must consider a statements empirical use and verifiability to uncover meaning

Empiricism through observing how religious statements are used can uncover meaning.

Religious statements work in the same way as moral statements - they're used as an expression of an attitude towards life, and a commitment to a certain way of behaving.

God is love = I will act in an agapeistic way

Religions may recommend similar ways of living, but they can be distinguished by the stories that the believers actions are embedded in - e.g. Noah's Ark, Exodus from Egypt by the Hebrews distinguish religious statements from moral statements - moral statements are not embedded in stories.

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Criticisms of Braithwaite

Braithwaite doesn't capture what believers are sometimes trying to say when talking about God, Jesus, Heaven etc - they don't consider their beliefs as a type of morality embedded in myths.

When religious believers say 'God is love', they are using it to prescribe a course of action - they are talking in a literal way about the universe by referring to a literal God/creation etc

Braithwaite belittles relgigious language by reducing it to an 'intention to carry out a certain behaviour policy'.

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