Explain what is meant by verification and
falsification in the context of debates about
Antony Flew believed that religious claims are cognitive in that they are intended to
be factual assertions. Flew insisted that claims by the believer such as ‘God loves us’
are not to be taken as ‘anything but assertions’. Verification means to prove the truth
of a statement whilst falsification means to prove a statement is false.
Logical positivism was developed by the Vienna circle. They only accepted two
forms of verifiable language: Analytical a priori statements which are logically true or
false, an example would be ‘all circles are round’ and synthetic a posteriori statements
which are true or false, based upon experience or evidence.
This thinking formed the basis of the Verification Principle and as Schlick, the leader
of the Vienna Circle believed that ‘the meaning of a proposition is the method of
verification’, with only those that can be verified as analytical a priori or synthetic a
posteriori having meaning. The logical positivists argued that propositions about God,
ethics, art and metaphysics were meaningless as such propositions could not be
proved true or false. A.J. Ayer argued that ‘God exists’ is neither true nor false
because there is no empirical evidence to support the claim.
The Verification Principle doesn’t threaten all religious language, for example ‘all
priests wear black robes’, much is intended to be taken literally and it is only when an
attempt is made to get beyond such literal descriptions that a problem occurs.
Antony Flew formulated the Falsification Principle which accepts that a statement is
verifiable and therefore meaningful if it is known what empirical evidence could
count against it.
John Hick said ‘In order to say something may possibly be true, we must say
something which may possibly be false’. In other words the Falsification Principle
demands that believers should be able to say what would cause them to withdraw their
statements or acknowledge that they are seriously challenged, if those statements are
to have meaningful content. Flew argued that believers do not satisfy these demands
and so is religious language is meaningless. Analyse and evaluate the ways in which
EITHER verification OR falsification
can be used to discredit the
meaningfulness of religious language.
Flew used the Falsification Principle to attempt to prove that religious statements are
meaningless because a religious believer will allow nothing to count against his or her
beliefs, for example, believers give reasons that maintain God’s goodness whatever
evidence is offered to the contrary and Flew stated that these constant qualifications
render religious statements meaningless, because they die the ‘death of a thousand
Flew used Wisdom’s Parable of the Gardener to illustrate how believers will not
allow evidence to count against theological statements. Flew argues that the believer
is guilty of the same error as the man who believed in the presence of a gardener.
Failure to prove God’s existence doesn’t lead to a withdrawal of the believer’s faith
claims, rather they continue to bel