Critically assess the claim that all religious language is meaningless. (35)
Religious language has been argued about by many philosophers with regards to whether or not the ways in which we speak about religion are meaningful. This issue of religious language is concerned with the methods by which man talks about God in conjunction with theist or atheist ideologies. For some, religious language is meaningful and full of purpose while others see it to being incomprehensible and pointless.
If we are to take the logical positivist approach then we would view all religious language as meaningless. For logical positivists the entire discipline of philosophy was centred on one task, ...view middle of the document...
These are empirical propositions which are verifiable through empirical examination, and, thus can be tested to be either true or false. Thus, statements often to do with God, would be completely meaningless, for example “God is omnibenevolent” as it can’t be justified by any of the above three sections. As put by Moritz Schlick “the meaning of the presupposition is the method of verification…we know the meaning of the statements if we know the conditions under which the statements is true or false.”
According to the verification principle, then, religious language is rendered meaningless for the following three reasons. Any discussion of God cannot be based on empirical evidence and since religious experiences are subjective and not universal, they do not for the basis for empirical propositions. Science is objective as we can perform experiments and gain a set of results, which can then be repeated over to achieve roughly the same data. Following from this, they viewed religious language to not be univocal and therefore the meaning of an assertion is unclear. For example, when I say “God is Good” I mean something very different to simply saying “Ollie is good,” both use good as a description of either God or Ollie but both have entirely differing translations, and thus can’t be univocal. This would mean that religious language has to be equivocal; this is to say that the same word within language can have different means like the word “bat.” Therefore, as religious language talks about infinite existence and the like, we often interpret this in different ways, and come to different understandings or conclusions. A J Ayer, like logical positivists, believed that empirical methods had to be used to assess whether a proposition was verifiable in principle, and therefore meaningful. As he put it “the criterion which we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability.”
In spite of this, several problems arise when applying the verification principle to any statements which we want to justify through empirical evidence. For example, a strong application of the verification principle would mean that we cannot make any historical statements. Say I wanted to prove that Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492, in theory, no one person can verify this statement through empirical evidence. If we apply this to all statements, then scientific laws to become meaningless because we can’t actually prove their validity through empirical evidence, instead we just assume these laws about the world, such as Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity. Perhaps the biggest problem with the verification principle is you can’t actually verify the principle itself, thus the accuracy of the whole system becomes incomprehensive and counter intuitive. These above problems led to the development of weak verification as proposed by Ayer. He stated that “a proposition…is verifiable in the weak sense if it is possible for experience to render it...