Assess whether ‘God exists’ is a testable hypothesis Essay
Assess whether ‘God exists’ is a testable hypothesis
Ultimately, God’s existence cannot be classified as a ‘testable’ hypothesis. A hypothesis is a proposal, which can be tested and then either confirmed or rejected. God’s non-physical state makes this virtually impossible, as we are unable to use our senses to confirm his presence or absence. Anthony Flew and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories provide a considerable amount of evidence, which suggests that there cannot possibly be a religious hypothesis. Good introduction.
Firstly, Anthony Flew’s parable of the gardener is highly vital in the quest to prove that God’s existence is not a testable hypothesis. The scenario includes two explorers, who discover a humanly made clearing, yet evidence suggests that it occurred naturally. Both explorers have contrasting views, one favours natural causes and the other favours human intervention. Subsequently, no evidence of the gardener is present, however is invisible. Flew’s claim hinges on falsification,and if a religious claim cannot be falsified it is essentially meaningless, as the claimant hasn’t allowed themselves to be proven wrong. The hypothesis of God’s existence is relatively similar to this case, as God is ‘transcendent’ and beyond our experiences, which by Flew’s logic makes the religious hypothesis meaningless, as it is not testable. Good.
William Paley’s ‘watchmaker analogy’ is instrumental in the argument for the claim that God’s existence is a testable hypothesis. Paley’s analogy consists of a watch, which possesses parts, which ultimately fulfils a purpose. Paley’s bold claims are plausible, as he likens the watch to the universe. Evidently, a watch’s sole purpose is to tell the time. Therefore, there must be a watchmaker. This links together with the human analogy, which implies that human beings must have a creator, who is in this case God.
Essentially, Paley’s view is that due to the complexity and order of the universe, it is a requirement that a supremely intelligent being must exist. That being is supposedly God. Critics would say that this is far from the truth, and that we have not empirically witnessed the presence of God and it is safe to presume that we will never be able. Therefore, we can assume that God’s existence cannot be likened to that of a watch, because the process of making a watch is a testable hypothesis, whether the creation of the world is not and never will be. Good use of the analogy.
Flew argues that religious believers hold onto God’s existence regardless of any evidence brought forward to suggest otherwise. Subsequently, Flew’s proposal is that the religious hypothesis must be rejected, due to the unfalsifiable nature and the undying support by religious believers, who are unable to allow their religious beliefs to be deemed meaningless. However, Flew’s approach is not widely accepted, and Basil Mitchell is one of many, who expressed their criticisms. Mitchell disagrees with Flew’s view that religious beliefs are unfalsifiable. Mitchell suggests that when religious believers encounter suffering such as evil, they are bound to question their faith, which makes it falsifiable. How plausible is this claim?
Also, numerous believers do lose their faith, therefore, Flew is misguided in his attempt to show that believers see their religion through rose tinted glasses.So,while Mitchell may not be claiming that God is indeed a religious hypothesis, he still possesses the belief that religious belief can be falsified via trials of faith. Good.
In addition, the verification principle is often used to support both the claim that God exists and that God does not exist. John Hick acknowledged that the religious proposals cannot be falsified, however can be verified therefore making the hypothesis testable.Ultimately,John Hick ‘s suggestion is that in the afterlife, religious statements can be verified, and can prove whether God’s existence is a religious hypothesis. Hick proposes that, an observation is best assessed, if it can be verified, with the removal of rational doubt.
Hick accepts that religious propositions cannot be falsified, because if God doesn’t exist, when we die we will be un able to confirm or deny this. Hick uses the parable of the Celestial city to illustrate this. It includes two men, who are travelling to the same destination, yet have contrasting expectations of what they will find. This parable hints towards Eschatological verification, which relates to Hick’s argument that many claims are reliant on the presence of the afterlife.
Nevertheless, critics suggest that we will never be able to truly verify our experiences. This essentially applies to the existence of God and heaven if God is a figure beyond our thoughts, it is hard to envisage how we will be able to identify that we are experiencing God and heaven, rather than merely a illusion.
Moreover, ‘Logical Positivists’ possess the belief that all knowledge is derived from our senses. Therefore, if knowledge is not empirically gained, it is meaningful. God’s alleged characteristics hint toward him being non-physical, making it impossible to empirically witness his existence. This led to logical positivists claim, that God’s existence is not testable and the claim is meaningless, as it is empirically not verifiable and cannot be tested.
Equally, the flaws within the verification argument are highlighted regularly. History and Science exploit the weaknesses for all to see. An example from science is the existence of atoms, which cannot be verified, but almost certainly exists.Therefore,this example highlights the out-dated nature of the verification principle, as issues are more complex than the verification principles allow. Also, the example of Julius Caesar is one which resembles that of God. There are no longer witnesses for the existence of the roman leader and documentary evidence is limited. This leads you to believe that, if Caesar’s existence cannot be verified but still be true, then maybe the same can be said for the existence of God. Strong analysis.
Furthermore, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was one of the most decorated philosophers of his generation, rejected the possibility of a religious hypothesis, basing it on the fact that the meaning of words hinge on the context that they are used in, and whether we are a part of the specific group. Wittgenstein claims that there cannot be a religious hypothesis, because the context will vary depending on whether it’s religion or science. Wittgenstein rejected the single theory of meaning, and all words can be used in a variety of context. Wittgenstein’s claim is that all statements are meaningful as long as they are understood by other language users. Regarding religious statements, we must be a part of the game and share the beliefs in order to understand the religious statements.
Therefore, religious statements cannot be a hypothesis as they are too subjective ,unlike, scientific claims. This accounts for why Atheists do not possess the same faith and beliefs, because they do not interpret language in the same way as the religious believers, when it comes to the existence of God. However, Wittgenstein’s theory is far from flawless, and this is evident. A meaningful statement no longer has to be connected to the real world, as it is associated with a language game, which renders the truth of it to be irrelevant. For example, a group of priests could talk meaningfully about non-existent objects, and this wouldn’t affect the meaningfulness of the language game. This sparks anti-realism, which is detrimental ,as to an extent religious claims often involve claims about what exists in reality. The religious language game is applicable to society, and not such members of the religious language game.
In addition, Evidentialism is a theory, that suggests it is irrational to believe in something without sufficient reason. Faith allows someone to simply state their belief, without explanation or defence. Kierkegaard’s infamous quote, ‘when I pray, I hear silence, therefore God exists’ Kierkegaard suggests that faith can provide solace in a meaningless world. The supposed silence that Kierkegaard hears would indicate to an atheist that God didn’t exist. But, for Kierkegaard, faith is more important than reason, and belief in God is required, which makes is God’s existence a religious hypothesis a meaningless discussion. How plausible is this claim?
Despite this, faith is not without it’s faults. Believers often require a purpose in life, which hey gain from a supernatural being.Ultimately,our faith in God may well stem from our own insecurities and the desire to feel that there is an afterlife waiting for us if we abide by God’s rules.
To conclude, ultimately, the existence of God’s is not and will never be a testable hypothesis, for an array of reasons. The main issues arise from the fact that God can not be empirically proven, due to his non-physical state, making it far from testable, which makes it hard to provide support for the case of it being a hypothesis. The case brought forward by Anthony Flew and Ludwig Wittgenstein is compelling to say the least, as they highlight several issues, which back up claims that God’s existence is not a testable hypothesis.
The inability to falsify religious claims essentially makes them meaningless, as there is no possibility of the clamant being proved wrong, therefore since God’s presence cannot be empirically know, we cannot test his existence. Wittgenstein highlights the subjective nature of nature, which prevents you defining a term, and he claims that hypothesis are scientists rather than believers. Therefore, we cannot label the God’s existence as a hypothesis, as we’re unable to gain access to it empirically or otherwise. Meaningful conclusion.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 10 September 2017
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