Religious Language: Verification Principle
Strong Verification Principle
Invented by 1920s philosophers called the Vienna Circle they were logical positivists (logical positivism: was a movement in philosophy that believed that the aim of philosophy should be the analysis of language)
Language is only meaningful if either a tautology or able to be verified by empirical evidence, any language that does not meet these requirements is factually meaningless.
Language that talks of God is meaningless as it cannot be proved true or false and has no meaning in a factual sense.
Criticisms of Strong Verification Principle
· Swinburne: people generally accept “all ravens are black” but no way to confirm this statement.
· Strict scientific views mean that statements people say are meaningless even if it makes perfect sense.
· No statements can be made about history, art or religion as these cannot be verified as fact or with observation.
Weak Verification principle
A.J. Ayer was a British philosopher who wrote “Language, Truth and Logic”.
He said “the criterion we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability”.
He said that meaningless statements are not “factually significant”.
He is not arguing that meaningless statements are not important; he is merely saying that they are unverifiable and therefore have no factual significance.
Ayer said that there are two types of verifiability
· “Practical verifiability” = statements that are tested in reality, these are “strong” as they are verified conclusively by observation and experience.
· “Verifiability in Principle” = statements that need advanced technology to prove such as ‘aliens exist’, these are “weak” as merely shown to be plausible by observation and experience.
Ayer on Religious Language, he says that religious claims are meaningless as cannot be supported by observations from empirical evidence and are not plausible. Moreover, he says that we can make no meaningful statements about metaphysical ideas= statements beyond the world of senses, because we have no knowledge of the world beyond our own, he says “such a reality have all been devoted to the production of nonsense”.
Ayer says that calling God perfect, immutable and transcendent tells us nothing about the world around us and is beyond our observation so is meaningless. Religious experiences are similarly meaningless as they are not verifiable as driven through emotions, they are only explainable through psychological means.
In the second addition of his book Ayer responded to many of his critics. He acknowledged that the distinctions between the two verification principles were not notable as;
· The strong verification principle “had no positive application”.
· The weak verification principle is “far too liberal”.
Criticisms of the Weak Verification Principle
· The verification principle in itself is unverifiable, as “statements are only meaningful if verifiable by sense observation” is in itself unverifiable.
· John Hick says God talk is eschatologically verifiable, thus suggesting religious language is not meaningless as its truth is verifiable in principle…