Religious Language

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Firstly... there are 3 MAIN TYPES OF LANGUAGE:

  • Equivocal language - this is where the language we use changes meaning dependant on the context. FOR EXAMPLE - the word "bat" changes its meaning when either referring to a baseball bat in a game, or a vampire bat in a horror movie. In terms of religion - my dad being "strong" and God being "strong" both have completely different meanings.
  • Univocal language - this is where the meaning of the word remains the same dependant on its context. FOR EXAMPLE - the word "loyal" would mean the same when referring to either my friend, or God!
  • Via Negativa - this is when we talk about something by describing what it is NOT. FOR EXAMPLE - saying "God isn't weak" tells us that... God isn't weak.. so is he strong?

CLEARLY... there are weaknesses to these forms of Language: 

  • Equivocal - if the same word changes meaning dependant on it's context, we must have prior knowledge in order to understand it's meaning - we wouldn't know the difference between a vampire bat and a baseball bat if we didn't know they exist!
  • Univocal - if the same word has the same meaning dependant on its context, we may end up anthropomorphising God - if we say "God is strong" and "the tree is strong", we're comparing God to a tree, which is something we cannot do due to his natural, supreme power!
  • Via Negativa - Aquinas argues this is the most weakest form of language - by describing somthing by what it isn't... what do we ACTUALLY learn?! If we know "God isn't weak", this doesn't tell us anything about God himself.

Therefore, topic of Religious Language tends to be an issue... there are some main problems that arise:

  • We must have a prior understanding in order to fully comprehend religious language
  • We have little, if any, evidence to support religious statements
  • Human language is incapable of describing God accurately

Due to these problems, the Vienna Circle came up with the Verification Principle. But first... WHO were the Vienna Circle?

The Vienna Circle were a group of mathemeticians/sociologists/philosophers and psychologists. They were all Logical Positivists which meant they strongly believed on knowledge, reason and proof in their theories.

The Verification Principle:

This principle states that in order for a sentence to be considered meaningful (makes sense), it must either be:

  • A TAUTOLOGY - a sentence that is true by definition 
  • OR... is EMPERICALLY VERIFIABLE - it can be scientifically proven

As a result, the Vienna Circle claimed we shouldn't waste our time contemplating either Religious, Ethical or Aesthetic statements - they simply are NOT MEANINGFUL.


  • The principle fails its own test - the two statements are neither a tautology or emperically verifiable - it's a contradiction.
  • We don't live our lives to seek if our statements are emperically verifiable - we still do things/say things even if they're not based on scientific proof - I wouldn't drop my pencil case down


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