Religious Language

Report
Religious Language
Speaking about God
Part 1
Why Religious language?
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The concept of a God is:
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We talk of things using our knowledge that is
acquired through our experience
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Something other
Something timeless
If something is ‘other’ and ‘timeless’ it is by definition
not part of our experience
How then can we talk of something that does
not belong in our world?
True or False?
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Cognitive
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Non-Cognitive
• Statements that are either true or false
• Used of God in theistic proofs
• Statements that are neither true nor false
• Used by philosophers who generally do not
seek theistic proof
What does a word mean?
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Univocal
• Words that have only one meaning
• E.g. sky, tree
• Words about God must have same meaning
as in our world
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Equivocal
• Words that have more than one meaning
• E.g. mouse, web
• Via negative
Thomas Aquinas
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Language as Analogical
• Middle position
• God not like us
• But we can reason about Him
• Means of comparing what we know to God
e.g. father, love, good
Analogy
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Of attribution
• Contains idea of origin
• E.g. Human wisdom is a reflection of God’s
wisdom
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Of proportionality
• Attributes of God are proportional to his
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nature
Just as attributes of humans is proportional to
their nature
Putting it all together
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Answer the following exam question
in groups
• Aquinas provides the solution to talking about
God through the concept of analogy. Discuss.
How to answer
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Start with the problem – Why are we even discussing this?
Explain concept of God
Consider Cognitive and Non-cognitive language
Introduce Univocal and equivocal - examples
Aquinas’s answer – Analogy – explain, give example
What do you think and why?
Conclusion
Religious Language
Speaking about God
Part 2
Logical Positivism
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Empiricism
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The Vienna Circle
• Knowledge is based on experience
• 1920s & 1930s
• What is meaning of ‘meaning’?
• Philosophers
• Schlick and Carnap
Verification Principle
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By the Logical Positivists
Logical principle about meaning of words
• For a statement to be meaningful it had to be
verifiable by sense experience
Verification Principle
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Wittgenstein
• A major influence due to his theory that
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language had to be about objects
But misunderstood as he believed in the
mystical
VP excluded statements such as
• ‘Julius Caesar landed at Deal in 55BC’
Verification Principle
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A J Ayer
• Book, 1936, Language, Truth and Logic
• Strong verification
• Verify by sense experience and observation
• Weak verification
• Verified by others
Problems with VP
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Principle itself is not verifiable and
therefore is not meaningful
Keith Ward – religious statements not
excluded
• If I were God I could check the truth of my
own existence
Problems with VP
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John Hick
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Theological statements meaningful by
weak verification
• Eschatological verification
• ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’ = historical
statement
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Ayer later admitted inadequacy of the
principle
Falsification Principle
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Anthony Flew – 1950s
• Statement is meaningless if no sense
experience cannot count against it
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Parable of John Wisdom
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‘Death by a thousand qualifications’
• The invisible gardener
Problems with FP
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Hare
• Religious beliefs are ‘Bliks’
• Parable of lunatic who thought dons were
trying to murder him
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Mitchell
• Religious statements can be falsified in
principle but not in practice
• Parable of resistance leader
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Hare and Mitchell accept falsification principle to an extent
Problems with VP
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Richard Swinburne
• The coherence of Theism 1977
• Claimed that statements can have meaning
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although they are not falsifiable
Toys play at night
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John Hick – Celestial City
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FP fails it’s own test just as VP does
• Verifiable but not falsifiable, yet is meaningful
How to answer
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Start with the problem – Why are we even discussing this?
Explain empiricism
Introduce the Vienna Circle
VP – what does it say – example
Who has challenged it and how
What do you think and why?
FP – what does it say – example
Who has challenged it and how
What do you think and why?
Conclusion
Religious Language
Speaking about God
Part 3
Symbolic Language
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Signs
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Symbols
• Provide information
• Impact on feelings and emotion
• Have the power to evoke participation
Symbol
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Paul Tillich – 1885-1965
• “Symbolic language alone is able to express the
ultimate because it transcends the capacity of any
finite reality to express it directly” (Dynamics of
Faith, 1958)
• God is not ‘a Being’ but Being itself
• God is personal but not a person
Symbol
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Don Cupitt (Taking leave of God, 1980)
• Religious language is not about the
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transcendent or metaphysical
It is about our experiences, our psychology
and feelings
Therefore the problems of religious language
disappear
• Not everyone agrees though, Keith Ward maintains the idea
that God is transcendent (Holding Fast to God,1982)
Metaphors
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Metaphor creates participation
Janet Soskice
• (Metaphor and Religious Language, 1985)
• Language reveals something about God
• E.g. Brain = Computer
Metaphors
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Sallie McFague
• (Models of God in Religious Language, 1982)
• Not only religious language but theology is
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metaphorical
Root metaphors = Father, Son, Kingdom
Wants new metaphors, e.g. mother, lover,
friend
Something to think about
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Do you think a symbol can represent that
which is beyond our experience?
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How can we be sure that a symbol does
not give the wrong insights about the
ultimate?
Myths
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A myth was seen as something that was
not true
Now seen as giving insight into human
existence
Need to be deciphered. language used
is symbolic
Models
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Ian Ramsey (Religious language, 1957)
A model helps us to understand the
original
‘Models’ need to be qualified
‘Qualifiers’ point to how we should
understand the original in relation to the
model
Models
Model
Infinitely good
Qualifier
Language games
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Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Early ideas of ‘Picture theory of meaning’
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Latter claimed he was wrong
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• Words name objects
• Therefore objects are meaning of words
• Unrealistic to assume that all words are based
on pictures
Language games
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Put forward idea of language-games
Meanings depend on the context in
which a word is used
• E.g.: problems with the concept of the ‘soul’
would disappear if people realised that the
physical language game does not apply to the
soul
Putting it all together
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Answer the following exam question
in groups
• ‘All talk about God is both without meaning
and without purpose.’ Discuss.
How to answer
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Start with the problem – Why are we even discussing this?
Pick out the salient points – ‘talk of God – without meaning –
without purpose.
Define God
Consider the arguments against the idea of God – verification
and falsification
Include criticism of above
Refer to the various ideas of symbolism, showing how religious
language could be valid.
What do you think and why?
Conclusion

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