Religious Language and the Relationship Between Science and Religion

6341 Words26 Pages
Religious Language Statements about God or religious phenomena are philosophically problematic. How are we to understand talk of ‘the infinite’ or ‘eternal life’ or ‘omnipresence’ when we have no direct experience of these concepts? What does it mean to say that ‘God loves us’ when we have so little understanding of God? Such religious utterances seem impossible to derive from our everyday experience, and for this reason they are hard to verify. For some, this is inevitable given the subject; for others, it suggests that religious statements are in fact empty of meaning. There have been two main types of approach to these problems. Realists take as their starting point the idea that language corresponds to reality: for every statement we make there is a state of affairs that exists if that statement is true. This is called the correspondence theory. On the other hand, anti-realists consider reality fundamentally separate from language, and insist that meaning is a matter of coherence, not correspondence: a statement achieves meaning and truth through its relationship to other ideas or activities. This is called the coherence theory. Attempts to understand or analyse religious language usually depend upon one or other of these theories. Verification and Falsification One way of establishing whether or not a statement is meaningful was proposed by A J Ayer. This criterion for meaning was called the Verification Principle and insisted that for a statement to be meaningful, it must be verifiable by sense experiences – or, in the weaker form of the principle, it should be possible to know what sense experience could make the statement probable. This form of realism implies a very strict view of language: words have meaning only in so far as they correspond to things in the world which can be known. Such a view is deeply influenced by scientific notions of truth, and
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