Critically assess the claim that religious language is meaningless (June 2011)
Religious language is used by believers to communicate ideas about God, faith and practice that are not available to all outside the religious community. For some, religious language is used as a tool to serve various purposes, such as to educate the religious community about God and His greatness, therefore serving a meaningful function. However, others regard religious language as meaningless due to it's equivocal and unclear nature.
One theory that supports the claim that religious language is meaningless is The Verification Principle which is supported by A.J. Ayer. He argues that religious language is meaningless, due to it’s lack of empirical evidence. The theory of verificationism states that language is only meaningful if it can be verified by a sense-observation. If a statement cannot be verified using sensory experience, it cannot be true and therefore, becomes meaningless. For example, if I say that the colour of my car is red, this can be observed by looking. I can go outside and look at my car, and verify whether it is red or not. The statement, ‘My car is red.’ can be verified by human observation, and is therefore, according to verificationism and Ayer, a meaningful statement. However, the statement ‘God loves you.’ would be a meaningless statement according to this theory as it cannot be verified by sense-observation, and cannot be supported by scientific fact. This makes statements relating to the nature of God meaningless as they cannot be proven.
However, although this is being said, philosophers have critiqued The Verification Principle in many ways, the main being that it is in itself, inverifiable and self refuting. It could be argued that it is illogical to take verificationism as truth and the measure of all things if it has nothing to be measured by to prove or even suggest it's validity. This theory is seen to dismiss something as false or meaningless simply because it cannot be understood or observed. If we look back in history, the Earth was once regarded as flat but science advanced and disproved that notion. At the time the statement 'the Earth is round' would have been meaningless but has since been proven on the contrary. This suggests that although some things cannot be observed by human sensory experiences, it does not mean that they are meaningless. Therefore, statements in relation to God such as 'God is all loving' are not meaningless although they cannot be verified, because t...