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Eloise Jones Case

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Explain how the verification principle has challenged the meaningfulness of religious language and summarise how religion has responded to that challenge.

The theory originates from the ideas of the Logical Positivists and the Vienna Circle in the 1920's, who were partly inspired by the work of Austrian born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is known as the verification principle. These people held the belief that theological interpretations of events and experiences, belonged in the past, to an unenlightened age when 'God was used as an explanation for anything that science had not yet completely mastered. So essentially philosophy was used to fill in the gaps that science could not.

This led to development of the verification principle by Ayer who was a logical positivist. He believed that empirical methods have to be used to access whether a proposition is in principle verifiable, and therefore meaningful. It is the step taken to verify a proposition, which make it meaningful. With that a certain proposition would need to be analysed in order to decide whether it was meaningful or not. Ayer decided that a proposition is meaningful if it is known how to prove it true or false in either principle or practice. With this Ayer would consider a physicist to make propositions about world and the near future which may be challenged or proved untrue, but Ayer would consider such propositions meaningful because the physicist bases their findings on experiments. Leading on a scientific theory may not be verifiable 'in practice', but because scientists know how to verify a theory, it is verifiable 'in practice'. Therefore according to logical positivist, as religious propositions cannot be analysed using empirical methods they are meaningless.

A.J. Ayer distinguished between two different types of verification. There is strong verification and weak verification. Strong verification refers to statements, which are directly verifiable, that is, a statement can be shown to be correct by way of empirical observation. For example, 'There are human beings on Earth.' As there you can see with a strong verification there is no doubt that the statement is true. Weak verification refers to statements, which are not directly verifiable, for example 'Yesterday was a Monday'. The statement could be said to be weakly verified if empirical observation can render it highly probable. It occur where there are some observations that are relevant to proving a proposition true or false, but not enough to prove it conclusively.

Not surprisingly the verification principle of meaning was not universally welcomed. The most significant criticism was of the theory itself does not pass the test as a meaningful statement. The theory cannot be verified by sense experience and so is not a meaningful synthetic statement; and if it is analytic, it is giving a new sense



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