‘God-talk is evidently nonsense’- Ayer
In Ayer’s article ‘God-talk is evidently nonsense’ he outlines his view that religious language is meaningless. The atheist philosopher and proponent of the ‘weak’ verification principle expresses his belief that one cannot talk meaningfully about God as ‘if God is a metaphysical term then it is not even probable that God exists.’ Ayer observed ideas from the Vienna Circle, developing the Logical positivist’s strong version of the belief that religious language is meaningless.
Theists attempt to prove God exists however Ayer rejects this. He focuses on the meaning in language, if words are meaningless, how could you make sense of this, or prove anything from it? ‘The existence of a being having attributes which define God of any animistic religious cannot be demonstratively proved’ indicates that there is a lack of evidence to lead to the conclusion that God exists. Deductive arguments e.g the Ontological argument fail to convince many that the conclusion ‘God exists’ is true, a key reason being that they seem to try to define God into existence, whilst many disregard inductive arguments. In inductive arguments the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises raising issues for non-believers. To prove the existence of God the statement ‘God exists’ would need to be an ‘empirical hypothesis.’ In response to the idea that God’s existence is probable Ayer states that to be probable God would have to relate to something we can observe, i.e. hold empirical evidence. Some argue for God through the order and regularity of the universe, e.g Paley. In Paley’s watch analogy (walking on a heath and discovering a watch which one recognizes that this item did not just come together by chance, which he then compared to the complexity of the universe) he implies that this order suggests a designer (God.) Ayer says that people who claim to experience the world as evidence for God are actually just saying there is ‘regularity In terms of looking at God as a ‘metaphysical term’ you cannot deduce if it is true or false as it does not fit the verification criteria of being analytic or empirically testable, thus cannot possess any meaning.
‘All utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical’ summarizes Ayer’s version of the verification principle (VP) including atheistic and agnostic assertions. The VP was proposed by the logical positivists whom applied science and the science of maths to language. This led to the belief that philosophy should be based around the logic of science, i.e. analytic (correct by definition) or synthetic statements (can be verified by reference to experience, and if not, it is cognitively meaningless. E.g using analytic statements like ‘all circles are round’ or synthetic statements like ‘roses are red.’ The concern is not whether a statement is true or false but whether it makes sense. Ayer argued for a weaker form of the VP to accept a statement as meaningful so long as experience can allow it to be possible ‘in principle’, therefore you must show how you could verify a statement. Ayer preferred the weaker version as to render all statements that cannot be empirically proven meaningless, almost all statements would be considered meaningless, e.g. historical statements such as Henry VIII was born in 1491. Ayer holds a different view too many, in the belief that the ‘sentences in question do not express propositions at all’ and ‘the atheist’s assertion that there is no God is equally nonsensical.’ By this Ayer means that theists, atheists and agnostics all fail to talk about God in a meaningful way as we do not know if God exists is a tautology or a contradiction. Atheists such as Marx who believed religion is an illusion describes religion as ‘the most common mental illness’ and ‘the opium of people,’ thus proposing that religion should be removed for people to become truly aware of their situation. Ayer would regard these statements as nonsensical as it is not possible to empirically prove that this is true.