For we are often told that the nature of God is a mystery which transcends human understanding…….then he must also admit that he is bound to talk nonsense when he describes it
A) Clarify the argument and/or interpretation of the passage (30marks) B) Do you agree with the ideas expressed? Justify your point of view and discuss the implications for understanding religion and human experience (20marks)
AJ Ayer was a member of the Vienna Circle, a group of logical positivist philosophers who were influenced by the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. They developed a theory based on the Verification Principles. Anthony Flew claimed that religious statements are meaningless because there is nothing that can count against them, using the Falsification Principle he maintained that the claim ‘there is a God’ is meaningless because religious people making this claim will not accept any kind of evidence that could count against this. He uses the analogy of a gardener to affirm that believers are often so convinced of their ‘truth’ that they refuse consider any evidence that God doesn’t exist. Which is why it is said that religious language ‘dies a death of a thousand qualifications’.
Ayer claims in his work that there is general understanding amongst philosophers that the existence of a transcendent being who we attribute as ‘God’ can not be proven or that there is even any way to prove his existence to be probable. To state the regularity in world points to a God is, according to Ayer, the same as saying that there is requisite regularity in the world. A religious person would argue that God is a transcendent being who makes himself known through certain empirical manifestations. This implies the God is a metaphysical term and since metaphysical term is neither true nor false, the sentence has no literal significance.
The majority of Ayers argument is that inevitably, talk of God is meaningless. This is supported by the passage as it focuses on ‘what is unintelligible’. The paragraph, in a basic form is that, theists often cant and don’t believe that they can describe God, which suggests that the concept of God is meaningless. ‘God’ transcends nature and is mysterious to us humans. But according to Ayer, transcending human understanding amounts to being unintelligible as no description can meaningfully be given. Some may argue that God can be known through faith without a necessary reason. This means that we cannot fully define God or even fully understand the idea of him, which Ayer says many theists may agree with. Ayer states that if the mystic cannot communicate their experience, then ‘he is bound to talk nonsense’. However just because something is not understood doesn’t mean that is nonsensical, for example just because a child, or even an adult, doesn’t understand a complex mathematical or scientific theory, doesn’t mean that it looses all meaning, therefore becoming meaningless. It just means that not all humans are inclined to understand said matters. The theory of language games that was proposed by Ludwig Wittgenstein can counter argue Ayers claims that all religious talk is meaningless. The rules of Wittgenstein game state that one community, so for instance Ayer would be in a scientific community, cannot judge the significance of the religious community because ‘one form of life cannot judge another’. Players who aren’t involved in the same game/ community don’t fully understand other communities. So to Ayer, the talk about God means nothing to him therefore he disregards it as completely meaningless for everyone, but for those who are involved in the religious games and communities, it has a lot of significance. The situation is the same when reversed. For instance a believer in the Christian faith may see a glass of red wine as a symbol of Christ’s Blood where as the scientific communities would just see is as just a glass of wine.
Ayer, in this passage, refers to God as an...