The falsification principle and the responses

Katie Hanlon
Mind Map by Katie Hanlon, updated more than 1 year ago
Katie Hanlon
Created by Katie Hanlon over 5 years ago


A-Levels R.E A2 PHILOSOPHY Mind Map on The falsification principle and the responses, created by Katie Hanlon on 06/09/2014.

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The falsification principle and the responses
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.
2.1 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 therefore meaningful.
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.
4.1 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.
5.1 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.
6.1 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.
7.1 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 understand it.
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 non-cognitive. Non-cognitive 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.
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