1.1 Religious language is the communication of ideas
about God, faith, belief and practice. An issue that
dominated the 20th century centered on the
meaningfulness of it. The verification principle
devised by the logical positivists was made to
overcome this problem, however did not succeed.
The failure of this led Anthony Flew to look at the
problem in a different way. He claimed that a
statement is meaningful if the speaker is willing to
accept sense experience that would count against it.
A statement is meaningless if a person would never
allow anything to count against the truth of their
statement - this is known as the falsification principle.
2 KARL POPPER
2.1 Flew was influenced by Karl Popper, a
philosopher of science and argued that the
scientific method was not based on
verification but on falsification. A scientist
proposes a hypothesis then sets out to test it,
if the scientist knows how to prove the test
false, then the statement is synthetic and
3 JOHN WISDOMS PARABLE
OF THE GARDENER
3.1 Flew drew upon the parable of the gardener by
John Wisdom to show the ambiguity of the
universe. 2 explorers come across a garden with
flowers and overgrown weeds. Even though
there are some areas that are overgrown, there
are some that seem tended to. One argues that
there is a gardener on account of the flowers
and the other argues that there is no gardener
on account of the weeds. They set about testing
the hypothesis and there is no evidence of the
gardener, however the believer qualifies the
hypothesis at every stage, i.e. he comes out at
night, he is invisible.
3.2 He used the parable to show that, like the explorer who
believes in the gardener, religious believers will not allow
evidence to count against their faith. For example, a
believer may state 'God loves us' but cannot explain the
problem of evil in the world. The believer qualifies this by
saying 'God's love is mysterious'. Flew claims that these
qualifications make the original statement meaningless,
he calls this 'death by a thousand qualifications'. As
religious people refuse to accept any falsification, their
religious statements are meaningless.
4 WHAT IS IT?
4.1 The falsification principle states that 'A
statement is meaningful if the speaker is
able to state what would count against it'.
For example, the assertion 'all leopards
have spots' is meaningful if the speaker is
willing to accept the statement will be
proved false if you encountered a spotless
leopard. However if you refused to accept
any evidence, then it is meaningless. He
applied this to religious language, arguing
that religious people do not allow evidence
to count against their beliefs.
5 RESPONSE: BLIKS
5.1 Richard Hare held that although religious statements
are not open to truth or falsity (non-cognitive) in the
way literal statements are true/false (cognitive), they
are important to the result they have on our conduct.
He regarded religious statements of 'bliks' which was
his term for unfalsifiable convictions. To illustrate his
point, he used the parable of the lunatic and the oxford
dons. A lunatic was convinced that all the other dons
were trying to poison him. Whatever their behaviour it
seemed consistent with their aim to kill him, he would
never accept any evidence on the contrary or would
falsify his belief, however the belief was still
meaningful to the student as it had an impact on the
way he looked at uni. He coined this way of looking at
the world a 'blik' that can neither be falsified or verified.
Hare argued that religious people adopt these bliks
instead of making statements that are true/false but are
still significant for them.
6 RESPONSE: BASIL MITCHELL
6.1 Mitchell pointed out that the
falsification principle ignores the
importance of faith. He argued that
religious people do accept there are
challenges to religious statements.
However, although evidence
continues to count against their
beliefs, they continue to trust in God
because of their faith. He used the
story of 'The Stranger and the
Resistance Fighter' to illustrate this.
6.1.1 During a war, a resistance fighter
meets a mysterious stranger. The
stranger tells the fighter that he is
on the side of the resistance, and to
trust him even if he appears to be
the enemy. The resistance fighters
faith is constantly tested, despite
being tempted to lose faith in the
stranger, the fighter remains
convinced he was telling the truth.
In this analogy God is the stranger
and the believer is the resistance
fighter. Mitchell argues that once
committed to a faith, a believer
cannot discard it if it seems to
count against it.
7 RESPONSE: SWINBURNE
7.1 Many philosophers argue that the statements
can be meaningful even if they cannot be
falsified. Swinburne used the analogy of the toys
in the cupboard, giving the example that the toys
come out at night and dance but return to where
they originally were without a trace. One cannot
falsify that the toys do not leave the cupboard
whilst unsupervised, the concept of their
movement still has meaning because we can
8 RESPONSE: R.B BRAITHWAITE
8.1 R.B. Braithwaite pointed out that the
error of the falsification principle was
to treat religious language as
cognitive language, when it is in fact
language is poetic and emotive and
can never be falsified. He argues that
religious statements are meaningful
because they indicate a way of life
and be verified in terms of a persons
behaviour and attitudes. 'God is love'
can be verified by the effect they
have on a believers life, so to say
that God is love is to express the
intention to live a loving way of life.