Religious Language



  • Ways in which people talk about God in a meaningful way
  • Still noting He is transcendent and ineffable; or whether it is meaningless.


  • Claims that language is only meaningful if it can be verified by sense observation; empirically.
  • Influenced by science; a way of verifying a statement.
  • If you cannot demonstrate with sense-observations how a statement is true, then the statement is factually meaningless.
  • Language tells us something about why the world is the way it is.
  • An important aim of verification was to indicate which areas of philosophical or scientific enquiry are factually meaningless and do not need to be investigated.
  • 'My car is red' is meaningful because it can be empirically verified. 'statue is beautiful' is subject to ones own opinion.
  • They argue that any statement not being proved by true or false is esentially meaningless.
  • Languaeg that talks about God is meaningless for a verificationist because there is no way to demonstrate the truth or falsity of God-talk by observations and experiments.
  • The problem with the strict scientific approach is that many statements would be meaningless; even if they seem to make perfect sens. Swinburne gives the example of 'all ravens are black'. No way to ever confirm this statement because you cannot be in the presence of all ravens at once. 
  • Another problem is that no statement can be made about history because it has already happened so we cannot re experience it.

A.J. Ayer and Verification

  • Ayer supported verification theory; "the criterion we use to test the genuiness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability."
  • By meaningless, Ayer meant that a statement was not 'factually significant'.
  • He was not denying other types of statement. But saying 'God answers my prayers' does not have factual significance.
  • How do you Verify a Proposition?
  • Ayer said you can decide whether a statement is verifiable or not by a 'putative proposition'
  • Firstly, Ayer distinguised 'practical verifiability' from 'verifiability in principle'. 
  • Practical verifiability refers to a statement that can be tested in reality. A red car is verifiable in practice but saying there is life on mars is verifiable in principle because we lack the technology to verify this.
  • Secondly, Ayer distinguised strong and weak verification. 
  • Strong verification applied to anything that can be verified conclusively by observation and experience.
  • Weak verification refers to statements which can be shown as probable by observation and experience.
  • If verification is applied to religious claims, the claims can appear meaningless because they cannot be supported by observations from sense experience that go with what is probable. 
  • Consider the teleological and cosmological arguements; have been widely criticised because you cannot verify them with sense experience. 
  • The design in the world can be a debate but this could stand for anything.
  • Secondly, Ayer said we can make no meaningful statements about metaphysical ideas because we have no knowledge of things beyond experience gained through our senses.
  • Ayer also rejected any argument from religious experience.
  • Something such as Paul saying…


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