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Atheism 2: The Meaningfulness of Religious Language


Martin is making a really complicated case here, but I’ll try to break it down.

  1. The verifiability theory of meaning is true (and cases against it fail)
  2. When applied to religious language, this theory shows that it is meaningless.

Martin both responds to objections to the theory, and also responds to people who accept the theory, but think that theistic language fulfills the demands of the theory.

The theory consists of four parts:
  1. A statement has factual meaning if and only if it is empirically verifiable.
  2. A statement has formal meaning if and only if it is analytic or self-contradictory.
  3. A statement has cognitive or literal meaning if and only if it has either formal meaning or factual meaning.
  4. A statement has cognitive or literal meaning if and only if it is either true or false (p.42).

I really have no context to understand this theory well. Martin elaborates on it and responds to objections, but I don’t really know if I can fairly assess what he says. I do know that very few people now make the case that religious language is meaningless, at least that I know of. Does that mean that Martin’s hypothesis has been disproved?

In the least, I doubt I could defend an argument that statements about God are meaningless, but it’s an interesting route to take. Even Martin accepts that there is no full theory of justification, so even though he says that God talk is meaningless, he still thinks it’s only “prima facie” justified (p. 77), so there is room for the theory to be undermined. Thus the rest of the book. How nice it would be to be able to simply call all God talk meaningless and leave it at that. I’ll have to think about this one.

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