Verification Principle (A.J. Ayer)
Something cannot be held to be true until it can be scientifically verified. If something cannot be experienced through the senses it cannot be verified.
Ward - just because we can't verify God, it doesn’t mean he isn't verifiable. “If I were God I could verify my own existence”
Hick - we can verify the afterlife in principle, once we reach heaven.
The theory cannot verify itself or prove it exists.
Strong and weak verification
“A proposition is said to be verifiable ..if it's truth could be conclusively established in experience”
“If it is verifiable in the weak sense, it is possible for experience to render it probable”
Strong verification is impossible. You cannot get outside your mind to check your perception.
Ayer - historical statements and the general conclusions of science would be unverifiable. He opts for weak verification.
For a statement to be meaningful, it must be known what empirical evidence would prove it false. Religious statements like ‘God is good’ cannot be proved false to a non-believer. Sometimes the religious belief is lost due to the amount of qualifications used to justify the idea. “death by a thousand qualifications”
Braithwaite - religious language is meaningful because it is prescriptive - it recommends a course of action.
Swinburne - If toys came alive in your bedroom you wouldn’t know so it cannot be falsified. Perhaps we cannot falsify God because we don’t know enough about him.
Bliks (R.M. Hare)
A blik is simply how you view something. They are non-rational and cannot be falsified because they are groundless. Even though they cannot be falsified, they are still meaningful to those who believe in them. He uses the example of a student who thinks his teacher will kill him, but has no evidence.
Mitchell - religious claims are not groundless bliks, as they are grounded on valid reasoning. The power of faith is stronger than the evidence against God.
Language games (Wittgenstein)
Language creates imagery. Certain words are associated with certain images and these images help us understand language itself. For Wittgenstein language games were similar to an inside joke. You would only get the joke if you were in on the joke. This is similar to language, you will only understand the language being used if you are familiar with the language. That is why he believes that Religious language is meaningful (but only to the religious believers). Non-believers would not think that religious language is meaningful, because we are not involved in that 'game'.
D.Z. Philips developed this theory. He argued that philosophy and religion are two different groups and both have different definitions of God. He argues statements such as ‘God exists’ are not factual, they are merely expressions of belief.
If a meaning is defined as “that which makes sense within the rules of the game” then it almost seems as if the rules themselves are exempt for criticism.
Religious language is symbolic, not literal. Symbols are something that we can all participate in. He said symbols do four things in particular:
They point to something beyond themselves.
They participate in that which they point to.
They open up levels of reality which are usually closed to us.
They open up dimensions of the soul.
Symbols help describe things that cannot always be expressed in words alone. The only way we can describe God in a meaningful way is through symbols.
J. Randall calls religious language symbolic and non-cognitive. To him religious language arouses emotion and make people act. They stimulate and inspire community action and clarify our experience to God.
Alston - symbols are meaningless as we don't know whether they are true or not.
Edwards - symbols cannot be verified or falsified due to their subjective nature.
Macquarrie - there is no difference between a sign and symbol. He proposed that signs and symbols link to human experience (the existential response) e.g. water.
Religious language is best understood through the use of analogy. He criticized univocal and equivocal language.
Univocal: words have one objective meaning. When we say God is good and we are good it doesn’t mean the same thing, we don't speak univocally in terms of religion.
Equivocal: words have subjective meaning. This means there is no objective meaning to words such as love.
Instead he calls for two types of analogy:
Analogy of attribution: our goodness comes directly from God. God’s attributes cause our attributes, our goodness comes from him. We don't know what it means for God to be good, but we know he is good because we see it in ourselves.
Analogy of proportion: there is a proportional relationship between all things. For example ‘God has life, humans have life. plants have life’. These are proportional to each other. We understand plants as being alive in a sense but this does not compare to how we define ourselves as alive. Similarly, God’s life is greater than ours, all things must be understood in proportion to one another.
Ramsey - words like ‘kind’ and ‘caring’ cannot be used univocally and equivocally, so we have to quantify the model with words such as ‘infinitely’ and ‘eternally’. By qualifying our terms, we can use analogies to express God.
By using analogy we lose the meaning and purpose behind what we are trying to communicate.
St Paul - we cannot accurately express God, even through analogy until we see him.
Via Negativa (Dionysius)
The belief that words limit our understanding of a transcendent God; he is so vastly different to what we know that human terms limit him. Instead of saying what God is we should say what he isn't (e.g. timeless, immortal) in order to come closer to understanding God. Positive terms may be misleading, because they are rooted in our language. “God is beyond assertion”.
Maimonides - religious language is meaningful when used negatively. He used the example of a ship - by describing what a ship isn't, we get closer to understanding what it is.
Davies - by eliminating negatives we have no idea if what remains is God or not. How can we describe what God isn't if we have no idea of what he is? Maimonides ship example is flawed as it compares God to an object routed in human understanding.
Flew - the negatives amount to nothing. How do you know the God you are worshipping if you can only reliably say what he isn't.
For religious believers, via negativa contradicts certain statements in holy scripture that describe God positively.
Religious language is rooted in the language of mythology, and said that myths are ways of trying to explain something through the use of storytelling. A fictional story conveying an objective truth. If we understand myths in relation to our own existence, they become meaningful.
Jaspers - myths express intuitive insights (something that you just know) and are stories about God (not external realities) and carry meaning.
Durkheim - myths are constructs of society, not objective realities. They change as societies change, they reflect the values of society at the time.
Bultmann - the bible isn't literal and argues for the understanding of biblical stories as myths. We must demythologise stories in order to separate truth from myth. This way we can find true meaning in myths which make religious language meaningful.