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"Assess the view that religious language is meaningless."

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Sandy Ritchie 10th October 2002 "Assess the view that religious language is meaningless." In recent times one of the most compelling and interesting arguments against God and religion has come from linguistic philosophy. In very basic terms the argument points out the fact that religion must necessarily use language in order to express abstract ideas such as God, love and so on, and in doing so commits a fallacy because as soon as such ideas are put into words they become meaningless. However, this is a rather large generalisation; the specific arguments go into a lot more detail and most vary in some way from this basic idea. Before we look at these arguments, though, I feel it is necessary to emphasise just how important an argument this is for religious believers, as it shakes the very foundations of religion. Religious language has until recently been taken as unequivocal, absolute truth, and to deny that its meaning is not completely true in all senses is a huge and brave step on the part of philosophy, as without language much of religion simply would not function. In the course of this essay I intend to examine and assess logical positivism, put forward by the Vienna Circle thinkers, which links in with verification. Then I will examine the criticisms and challenges to this argument, followed by its complete rejection by Wittgenstein, and then I will go on to falsification and its criticisms. ...read more.


The other major challenge against meaningful religious statements, which bears a lot of resemblance to the first, is the falsification principle. This is a kind of development of the verification principle in that it incorporates the ideas of the logical positivists into its argument. It was first put forward by Anthony Flew in the 1950s. He said that since statements can be verified as true, they must also be able to be falsified as, well, false. However, he believed that religious statements cannot be falsified because whenever there arises some evidence against a religious belief the believers simply qualify their belief under other terms, so their belief in, say, God dies "the death of a thousand qualifications". Flew used John Wisdom's Parable of the Gardener to explain his theory. I will briefly paraphrase it to save time. Two people come upon a garden that shows some signs of order, and yet others of randomness and disorder. One of the people believes that there is a gardener at work in the garden, but the other points out that there is absolutely no sign of him except in the fact that there are signs of order in the garden. Both people are looking at exactly the same garden with exactly the same ratio of order to disorder, and yet one concludes that there is an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener, while the other concludes that there is no gardener at all. ...read more.


Language games are not restricted to entire cultures; there can be many games within a culture, which an outsider would simply not be able to understand. A good example of a game like this is religion. It has it own rules or uses for words, so the only people who can truly understand their full meaning are those taking part. However, problems with this vie include the fact that if it were true dialogue between religions would be impossible, as they would be mutually incomprehensible, religious believers are not all monks and nuns; they are involved in many aspects of life and none of the games they take part in are mutually exclusive, and finally non-believers may have a better view of religious language because they have an objective standpoint from which to view religion. From all of this it seems to me that religious language is faced with much criticism despite the fact that it has done nothing really very wrong. We all know how difficult it is to talk about God and other supernatural metaphysical religious ideas, but just because they cannot be defined or justified in this world does not mean they have no significance. They not only putting people on the right moral track, they are and have had a long history of being guides and gurus for millions of people over the years, and to dismiss them on the grounds that they are improvable is to reject thousands of years of human moral and linguistic development. ...read more.

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