What is Verification theory?
Verification theory was influenced by science which stressed the importance o confirming any statement by sense observation. If you cannot demonstrate with sense observations that a statement is true it is factually meaningless.
Tries to apply this approach to all language when making a statement of fact.
For a verificationist, talk of God is meaningless because there is no way to prove that God is real or not real by sense observations or experiments.
Statements of meaning must have some sort of evidence to prove it. If they don't the statement says nothing about realtiy.
People who follow this kind of thinking are called logical positivists. They believe that only statements which can be tested to be true or false have meaning.
There are 2 types of language
- Analytical = something that is true by definition. It contains all the information within the statement e.g. bachelors are unmarried men.
- Synthetic = statments that can be confirmed through the senses. e.g. its raining outside.
A.J.Ayer's Verification Principle ("Language, Trut
’A statement is held to be literally meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable’
A.J.Ayer did not deny that people can make statments that are meaningful to them ‘The sentence expressing it may be emotionally significant to him; but it is not literally significant.’
He classified two different types of statements.
1) Directly verifiable statements = a statement that is verifable through observation. (Includes basic statments: the experience is verifiable by its occurance)
2) Indirectly verifiable statements = Cannot be directly verifiable itself but can be verified by other directly verifiable statements of evidence. E.g. Black holes. You cannot see a black hole because it sucks everything into it including light, this makes them impossible to verify, however scientists used other directly verifiable evidence (measuring graivty around them) to prove that they exist.
Criticisms of Verification Principle
John Hick: Talk of God is eschatologically verifiable when we die will we know if God exists or not. Demonstrates with 2 people walking down an unavoidable road to a celestial city. 1 of the walkers thinks there is a city and that on the road bad things that happen are tests from the city an good things are rewards. The other walker doesn't think there is a city and that good things are welcomed and bad things need to be endured. At the end of the road one will be proved right and one wrong. This is the same as with God-talk.
What evidene counts in the verification principle? Ayer rejects religious experience however some experiences are not from drug or physical influences and God causing them should not be ruled out. Why is this not some form of directly verifiable evidence that can show God exists indirectly? If this is not counted then we cannot say the existence of black holes are meaningful, neither can we say that history is verifiable as no one is around to use their sense observations to prove it.
Swinburne: Some statements can be meaningful and not be verifiable. E.g. the toys come out of the cupborad and play when no one is watching them. This statement is meaningful but unverifiable.
The verification principle is itself unverifiable. This means that it fails its own test, how can this have any grounds as an argument if it fails its own test?
Anything that happened in history is meaningless as we can not use our sense observations to prove it. However it is generally accepted that things in history did happen and there is well documented evidence to prove it however it fails the verification test.