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Flashcards in RE language - Falsification/Symposium Debate Deck (23)
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1

influence

Influenced by Karl Popper, who argued that scientific knowledge is that which could be falsified e.g. we don’t prove the world is flat, we falsify it.
♣ We find through continual criticism and testing, weaknesses in our existing theories and try and make them better, it is the exception that disproves the rule
♣ Since it is impossible to falsify/verify God, one should presume atheism as the default position until falsification/verification becomes possible. Similar to presuming innocence in a court: it is the default option and the burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defence (defendant being the atheist)

2

flew general

Anthony Flew (religious statements are meaningless because they are not falsifiable)
♣ He argued that since we are material, it would be impossible for us to ‘identify such immaterial spirits’
♣ It is difficult to confirm authenticity of personal religious experience. Hobbes claimed, ‘to say that he hath spoken to Him in a dream is no more than to say that he dreamed that God spoke to him’
♣ RE statements cannot be falsified/verified because believers do not accept any evidence to falsify them e.g. believers think God is good despite the abundance of evil. They change the definition of evil/good to explain why God allows such evil, making belief in God unfalsifiable
♣ RE statements thus ‘die the death of a thousand qualifications’

3

flew parable

♣ Illustrates this with the Parable of the Invisible Gardener (taken from John Wisdom’s work)
o Come across clearing in the jungle with lots of flowers/weeds growing
o One explorer says ‘A gardener must tend this plot’
o The other disagrees
o They patrol with bloodhounds, but no gardener is seen. The believer is not convinced: ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves’
o The sceptic claims: ‘But what remains of your original assertion? How does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’
o He is essentially saying: RE believers use of RE lang is meaningless as they are unwilling to falsify any statement they make. In the attempt of justifying, they stray from their original assertion. ‘In this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of theological utterance’.
o ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?’
o If the tests for the gardener have been falsified, then the statement ‘there is no gardener’ is meaningful as it is clear by what criteria the statement can be falsified

4

flew criticisms - Swinburne

♣ Richard Swinburne (in response to Flew)
o Agrees that some statements cannot be falsified e.g. can never prove toys come to life when we are sleeping
o Yet we still understand this concept, so it is meaningful yet unfalsifiable
o It might be possible to falsify God, even if we don’t yet know how
o We cannot specify what would count against Big Bang, yet they are still meaningful theories as there are things which could falsify them (but we don’t know yet)
o ‘A man can understand the statement ‘once upon a time, before there were men or any other rational creatures, the earth was covered by sea’, without his having any idea of what geological evidence would count for or against his proposition, or any idea of how to establish what geological evidence would count for or against the proposition’
o There could then be things which count against God’s existence which we don’t know yet (Dawkins – God of Gaps)

5

flew criticisms - Tillich and Wittgenstein

♣ Paul Tillich would argue against Flew: see notes on Tillich, language can be non-cognitive and still meaningful
♣ Peter Donavan and Wittgenstein could argue against Flew’s disregard for religious language: meaningful within language game (see below)

6

flew criticisms - ayer

♣ Flew does not say go as far as to say that religious belief itself is meaningless, simply that religious people often seem to disregard any argument that counts against their belief
- Ayer would argue against this, believed religious belief itself was foolish: ‘If the existence of a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis’
- ‘To say that God exists is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance’
- Refutes religious experience: ‘the fact that he cannot reveal what he ‘knows’, or even himself devise an empirical test to validate his ‘knowledge’, shows that his state of mystical intuition is not a genuinely cognitive state’
‘No sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent God can possess any literal significance’

7

flew positives - davies

♣ Brian Davies
♣ Cites the slogan ‘God-talk seems prima facie puzzling’
♣ Gives the example of ‘there are elephants in Africa’, anyone with understanding of English would make sense of that sentence
♣ People would be puzzled by sentences like ‘God is transcendent’ or scientific statements. But the difference is only a few attempt

8

flew positives - waismann

♣ Waismann: ‘Anyone uttering a sentence must know under what conditions he calls it true and under what conditions he calls it false. If he is unable to state these conditions, he does not know what he has said. A statement which cannot be conclusively verified cannot be verified at all. It is simply devoid of meaning'

9

flew positives - carnap

♣ Carnap: ‘The word “God” refers to something beyond experience. The word is deliberately divested of its reference to a physical being or to a spiritual being that is immanent in the physical. And as it is not given a new meaning, it becomes meaningless’

10

flew criticisms, plantinga

- Plantinga: people who believe in God are perfectly within their intellectual rights even if they are not able to cite any kind of evidence in favour of their belief
o H, if P is right, any belief must be deemed to be rational unless we have a criterion to determine what can properly be believed without further evidence

11

hare general

R. M. Hare (RE lang is a blik: unfalsifiable but meaningful)
♣ Claimed that although Flew seems ‘completely victorious’, but that in the case of his university student parable, Flew’s test ‘asserts nothing’ as ‘there is no behaviour of dons that can be enacted which he will accept as counting against his theory’
- viewed religious statements as non cognitive bliks. flew maintained religious statements were cognitive

12

hare example and conclusion

♣ Uses story of a university student who thinks his professors want to kill him:
♣ Although the statement cannot be verified nor falsified, it is still meaningful for the man involved due to the impact it has on his life
♣ Student would not accept evidence to falsify his belief, but the belief or ‘blik’ is still meaningful and real to the student.
♣ Uses another example of steering function on car
♣ Know that something could go wrong to mess up the car’s steering
♣ Must have a blik about steel and its properties, so that normally I trust the steering of my car (i.e. should trust our bliks, can’t be objective if we have bliks)
♣ Agrees that falsification can be used to decide the meaningfulness of cognitive statements, but he says religious statements are non-cognitive
♣ Supported by Paul Tillich
♣ Religious beliefs are bliks; they are unfalsifiable and have a real impact on people’s view of the world, so they are meaningful
♣ ‘A statement can have meaning without asserting anything’
♣ Atheistic beliefs are ‘bliks’ too inc. Dawkins’

13

hare positives - hume

♣ Hume argued that our whole commerce with the world depends upon our blik about the world and that differences between bliks about the world cannot be settled by observation of what happens in the world. ‘Without a blik there can be no explanation; for it is by our bliks that we decided what is and what is not an explanation’

14

hare positives - tillich

♣ Agrees that falsification can be used to decide the meaningfulness of cognitive statements, but he says religious statements are non-cognitive
♣ Supported by Paul Tillich
o Religious language is not cognitive, can be meaningful despite being unfalsifiable
Religious language is symbolic, different to facts yet still meaningful e.g. my love is like a red, red rose. It is poetic, but cannot be tested.

15

hare criticisms, c.s.evans

♣ C. S. Evans argues against Hare as whilst he talks about bliks being right or wrong, sane or insane, he does not explain why this this. We do not know how to judge them as right or wrong when they are unfalsifiable. (this idea is supported by Hick)
♣ ‘We want to distinguish, in Hare’s terminology, between right and wrong bliks… Hare assumes that one can make this distinction, for he identifies one blik as sane and the contrary blik as insane. (…) But a discrimination between sane (=right) and insane (=wrong) bliks is ruled out by his insistence that bliks are unverifiable and unfalsifiable’.

16

hare criticism, flew

lots of religious believers take their language to be cognitive, so hare's argument does not work e.g. Jesus rose from the dead

17

Mitchell - general

Basil Mitchell (statements are meaningful if they are falsifiable, RE lang can be. it is cognitive - unlike hare )
♣ For statements to be meaningful they must assert something. Evidence for statement should outweigh evidence against.
♣ Rejects Hare’s bliks/belief that statements can be non-assertive and meaningful as well as Flew’s argument about God related statements being unfalsifiable, claims that there is ‘something odd about his conduct of the theologian’s case’
♣ Mitchell argues sufficient evidence, through which we can interpret statements, gives them meaning

18

Mitchell - example and conclusion

♣ Uses example of the partisan:
o Cannot verify the statement ‘the stranger is on our side’, but neither can you falsify it
o Mitchell suggests that the man’s prior meeting with the stranger gives him faith by which to interpret the evidence. He trusts the man even when seeing him in the uniform of the occupying force
o The partisan does not deny that there is strong evidence against his belief. If he does not, ‘he is guilty of a failure of faith as well as logic’ (Flew)
o Can be applied to faith in God: a statement about God can be deemed meaningful if there is sufficient evidence to allow it, faith in God is key to interpreting God talk. If a believer does not accept the evidence against a loving God, then they are guilty of self-delusion. Believer accepts that RE lang is potentially falsifiable. (Unlike Flew’s depiction of a believer)
o Makes clear the difference to Hare’s argument: ‘the partisan admits that many things may and do count against his belief: whereas Hare’s lunatic who has a blik about dons doesn’t admit that anything counts against bliks.’ Partisan has reason for blik: has weighed up evidence and chooses to continue blik (contrastingly to Hare who believed you blindly follow bliks). Faith in blik is what makes it meaningful.
♣ So: religious language is meaningful because it can be falsifiable (link to Swinburne)

19

Mitchell positives - hick

♣ Hick adds to Mitchell’s argument:
♣ The Stranger himself knows whether he is being honest, thus there is truth to be known about the statement
♣ When the war is over the truth will come out
♣ Certain afterlife beliefs mean that the conditions of weak verificationism can be met
♣ Problem with this is that it is an asymmetrical solution to problems raised by verification and falsification
♣ ‘The hypothesis of continued existence after bodily death provides an instance of a proposition which is verifiable if true but not falsifiable if false (…) It can be false, but that it is false can never be a fact that anyone has experientially verified’
♣ Hick equates falsification with verification theory – this is an error. He has failed to demonstrate that Christian claims are genuinely falsifiable propositions.
♣ There is a difference between eschatological verification, which is unfalsifiable, and Hick’s comments. Mitchell argues there is possibility within this life to falsify our beliefs, Hick looks to the afterlife which is unfalsifiable in this life time.

20

Mitchell negatives, flew

♣ Flew, can argue against the subjective nature of using faith as an interpretive key – if God were omni-everything, there would be no ambiguity.

21

mitchell negatives, davies

♣ Brian Davies
♣ The assumption that a statement is only meaningful and factual if it is conclusively verifiable is unreasonable.
♣ ‘All people spend part of their lives asleep’ – seems true, but no way of empirically verifying it
♣ It is always possible that one will one day come across someone who needs no sleep at all
♣ Therefore, it is wrong to appeal to conclusive verifiability and falsifiability as criteria of meaningfulness for factual statements

22

hare criticism, hick

Religious beliefs/ bliks are based upon reason (evidence)
There is inconsistency as Hare claims that there is a distinction between sane and insane ‘Bliks’.
But he also claims that ‘Bliks’ are unverifiable and unfalsifiable. If we cannot either prove or disprove religious ‘Bliks’ we cannot call them right, wrong, sane or insane either.

23

hare positive, kant

Kant differentiated between phenomenal reality and ‘noumenal reality’, with phenomenal reality being accessible through the five senses, whilst ‘noumenal reality’ is always beyond our grasp. This can be applied to the issues of ‘bliks’, since we cannot know whether a ‘blik’ is right or wrong by appealing to facts, for how things really are (‘noumenal reality’) cannot be imagined.