Religious Language

  • Created by: LeFay
  • Created on: 12-01-14 17:36


  • Philosophical movement which claims religious language is only meaningful if it can be verified be a sense-observation or it is a tautology.
  • The verification movement was influenced by science, which emphasised the importance of confirming any statement by observation. 
  • Moritz, Schlick, and other supporters of the verification pointed out that the meaningfulness of statements is shown by the method by which you verify the statement.
  • If you cannot demonstrate with sense-observation how a statement is true, then the statement is factually meaningless.
  • Language tells us something about the way the world is.
  • Statements that do not tell us something that may be shown to be either true or false by sense-observation are therefore factually meaningless or tautologies.
  • Any statement that cannot be proved true or false is "meaningless", by which they mean that the statement literally has no meaning in a factual sense.
  • Language that talks about God is meaningless for a verificationist as there is no way to demonstrate the truth or falsity of God-talk by observations and experiments.
  • Problem with the strict scientific approach is that it would mean that many statements people make are meaningless, even when most people think they make perfect sense.
    • Swinburne:
      • "All ravens are black." 
      • While people generally accept ravens are black, there is no way to ever confirm this statement, there is always the possibility of there being one raven that is not black.
  • No statement can be made about history, as it would be meaningless.


  • "The criterion we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability."
  • If a statement is not verifiable it is either meaningless or a tautology. 
  • By "meaningless", Ayer meant that a statement was not "factually significant".
  • "The sentence expressing it may be emotionally significant to him; but it is not literally significant."
  • How do you verify a proposition?:
    • Distinguished "practical verifiability" from "verifiability in principle". 
    • Practical verifiability referred to statements which could be tested in reality.
    • Distinguished strong and weak verification.
    • Strong verification applied to anything that can be verified conclusively by observation and experience.
    • Weak verification refers to statements that can be shown to be probable by observation and experience.
    • The sense in which verificationism should be used is the weak sense because the strong sense of verification "had no possible application".
    • It is impossible to demonstrate that all human beings are mortal without killing every human who lives or will live.
    • If the principle of verification is applied to religious claims, the claims can appear meaningless because they cannot be supported by observations from sense experience that go with what is probable. 
    • It may, of course, be argued that there are signs of design in the world but this then becomes a debate about what level of proof satisfies the weak verification criteria.
    • Religious believers would argue that God's existence can be verified, but non-believers would dispute this.
    • We can make no meaningful statements about metaphysical ideas because we have no…


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