“Critically assess the claim that religious language is meaningless”
Religious language has been argued about by many philosophers to whether or not the ways in which we speak about religion are relevant or meaningful. This issue of religious language looks at the way we talk about God, debate ideas and communicate our theist or atheist ideologies. For some, religious language is meaningful and full of purpose while others see it to being incomprehensible and pointless.
The Vienna Circle was made up of many great philosophers who were against metaphysics due to it leading to illogical thoughts like there being another world to ours. This view transcended onto the philosophical issue of religious language – David Hume for instance – thought that religious language was meaningless due to its irrational diction. A. J. Ayer furthered this point of view within the United Kingdom with a varied response to his ideas. It was through this logical thinking that the verification movement began. Verification claimed that language can only be meaningful if it can be confirmed through sense experience; this movement was based on science, rational thought process and empirical evidence. Simply put, the meaningfulness of a statement is illustrated through the means in which you verify it. An example of sense observation verification is if you were to say “My jumper is red”. Anyone can look at your jumper and see that it is indeed red. Although, if you were to say “my jumper is red and is beautiful” it makes it harder to verify the second half of the statement due to its inability to clarify if it is ‘true’ or ‘false’. To verificationists if it is unable to be verified then it is meaningless. Applying this to religion, if you said “God is good” it is almost impossible to verify its truth or logic. Therefore, religious language is indeed meaningless. However, the verification movement is full of flaws. Taking the previous explanation into consideration it is impossible to verify historical statements. For example, if you claim that the Battle of Waterloo happened in 1815 which lead to Napoleon being defeated you would not be able to verify it through sense observation making it meaningless. Moreover, Swinburne gives the example of “all ravens are black”. If you take this statement, scientifically it is considered true that all ravens have only black feathers. But, Swinburne explained that you can never be 100% sure if this is true how ever many ravens you look at there is still a chance that one is not black. Thus, these two criticisms suggest that verification might not be the best solution to the issue of religious language. Perhaps, it is indeed meaningful as you can not verify fully that it is not. Although in order to critically assess the claim that religious language is meaningless you must look at what is meant by “meaningless” and “meaningful”. To A. J. Ayer who supported verification, he defined meaningless to meaning it was not “factually significant”. This means that it can not further our knowledge or be supported by scientific experience or theory. Although, Ayer appreciate that a religious statement “may be emotionally significant… (but) not literally significant.” Ayer begins to expand on verification by expressing the differences between analytic and synthetic statements. An analytical statement is one that holds the answer in itself or empirical information like ‘2+2=4’. This is a strong example of verification compared to a synthetic statement like “it is raining outside”. While this synthetic statement might be true, it relies n your sense experiences to confirm it is. Religious language or statements such as “God exists” are impossible to categorise into these two categories making all religious language meaningless according to Ayer. Although, Ayer then reviewed his work after ‘Language Truth and Logic’ was widely criticised. He decided to re-write certain sections of his book concerning his verification model; this...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document