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A2 Verification and Falsification.doc

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York University
Political Science
POLS 1090

Explain what is meant by verification and falsification in the context of debates about religious language. 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 qualification’. 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
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