Critically assess the claim that religious language is meaningless.

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Critically assess the claim that religious language is meaningless.

The verification principle is a key argument for whether religious language is meaningful or not. Verification means a sentence can only be meaningful if some sense experience e.g. see, touch, and hear can count in its favour. This principle aimed to distinguish between statements that were factually significant and those which were not factually significant. If a statement could be verified then it was significant, or meaningful, but if not it was meaningless. Since religious statements, such as, god loves you, could not meet this principle of verification, they could not, on this view, have a truth value and were therefore meaningless.

The verification principle treats philosophy like a science and argues that a sentence can only be meaningful if some sense experience can count in its favour. On this basis most religious statements cannot be accepted because they refer to things beyond sense experience. Even if it was claimed that God is experienced by miracles that is not meaningful because it is the miracle that is experienced and not god. Ayer argues that the language we use in the material world is informative- it gives us information. However, we cannot apply the rules of normal language to religious language because religious statements cannot be supported by observation from sense experience that go beyond reasonable doubt and religious language refers to a world beyond the senses which cannot be verified because we have no knowledge of things beyond experience gained through our senses. If Ayer is correct, religious statements are nonsense if they are referring to God defined in the traditional sense as infinite, impersonal and transcendent because statements about God do not tell people anything about the world which is verifiable. Ayer argued that if God is transcendent we cannot apply the normal rules of language to religious statements therefore Ayer claimed that for religious statements to be meaningful, they should restrict themselves to material objects or statements describing verifiable aspects of the world. It is not a question of whether the statements are right or wrong but whether they are meaningful or not.

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Ayer admitted that a distinction between practical verifiability and verifiability in principle. There were many things which were meaningful at the time Ayer was writing but which had not been absolutely verified e.g. were there mountains on the other side of the moon. However, one day a means might be devised of finding out whether this was the case, so Ayer allowed that the idea was verifiable in principle.

Ayer later introduced two forms of the verification principle in recognition of the fact that there were also other types of statements which we accept as meaningful but ...

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