Religious language is defined as the communication of ideas about God, faith, belief and practice. This definition makes it difficult to talk meaningfully about it as each of these words have concepts behind them and each and every individual interprets these differently, so religious language is different to everyday language, as it only denotes to an individual’s belief and faiths traditions.
There are also many problems with religious language as a whole as it anthropomorphises God, by using terminology such as ‘Him’ ‘King’ and ‘Shepherd’ this is limiting and subjects God to have human qualities, which is against what The Bible wants to portray God as. Also another problem is that some think that religious language is cognitive, thus something must be known about God to talk meaningfully about it.
Yet this creates the problem that religious statements are not about objective facts that can be proved true or false but are answers to questions that are unable to be validated, as they are based on objective facts that are open to cognition. These issues have led to religious believers to find ways in which they can talk about God in a meaningful way and the opposite as non-believers are searching for ways to render religious language meaningless.
A group of philosophers called the logical positivists who as a group did not seek to understand how we gain knowledge of the external world, but how we use language to convey it. They believed that everything that can be verified is meaningful. Thus the verification principle was developed which stated that if it could be empirical tested by the five senses then it was meaningful, for example, a house is made of gingerbread, is meaningless as it can be proved false by taking stone samples from the house. Yet this causes a problem when talking about philosophical and religious aspects.
The logical positivists thought it was pointless to talk about art, music, ethic and God as it could never be verified, so couldn’t be rendered true or false. Therefore it is meaningless as it is used to consider things beyond the human experience and this creates the ‘impossibility’ to understand to meaning of anything being said. A. J. Ayer; a logical positivist introduces two types of verification, strong and weak, to deal with the acceptation of scientific and historical propositions which are struggling to regard as meaningful or
not. Strong verification is when there is absolute no doubt that a statement is true, as it is verified through sense, for example, ‘It is sunny today’. Yet weak verification occurs when some of the observations are not conclusively true or false, for example, ‘humans are made of atoms’ as this may be accepted by people who were at the time of the discovery, also future scientific statements are verified by the weak, as they will only be affirmed in the future not at present.
The falsification principle created by Flew, stated that religious statements are meaningless as there nothing which can count against a religious believer, as they will not count or accept any of the evidence against their faith. Criticism ‘dies the death of a thousand qualifications’. For example Flew used the story of a father of a terminally ill child, prayed for God to make their child better, but the child died, the father qualifies this by saying it was God’s decision and maybe God’s love is ‘not merely human love’.
Tillich believed that religious language was meaningful as it was conveyed through metaphors and symbols, however philosophers such as Paul Edwards thought that revelation could not be portrayed through the verification principle using empirical evidence therefore symbols don’t elude any factual knowledge, and are meaningless. Another critique of Tillich is that he stated that metaphors and symbols can be mistranslated and over time the original meaning may have been lost or forgotten therefore considering symbols meaningless as the meaning may have been changed from what was originally intended to represent.
Also with the criticism that symbols can be interpreted in any way the individual wants to, this is demising the ultimate truth of reality it is trying to convey as it may point in a different direction as to which was also originally intended. Overall, the verification and the falsification principles argue that it is not possible to talk about God meaningful way as it is not possible to prove the existence of God of go verify any of the statements related to God.
Courtney from Study Moose
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