Contemporary Critiques of Religion by Kai Nielsen

By Kai Nielsen

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It indeed can refer in the absence of a referent, but for it to be a genuine referring expression, we must understand what would count as a referent of such a term. Otherwise we cannot understand what is asserted or denied when it is used. In fine, we must have some idea of what it would be like for 'God' actually to make reference or fail to make reference. But this is just our puzzlement. We seem to have no way of identifying the referent of 'God'. Since whatever it is, it is not something literally observable like a rock, a germ, a distant star or something we could become directly aware of like a pain or an anxiety, it is not clear what, if anything, is actually being referred to or could be referred to by 'God' given its present use in the language.

Bits of talk which appear to be assertive, appear to be factually significant, but actually only masquerade in this role. To show that such talk really has the requisite kind of intelligibility, it must be possible to specify what conceivable event or series of events, if they were to occur, would constitute 'a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God'. It is a claim of logical empiricists that where the concept of God is used non-anthropomorphically, nothing does or could, and that thus such God-talk is devoid of factual content.

All statements which are informative about the nature of our world are verifiable statements; non-analytic unverifiable utterances are cognitively meaningless. Such is the core of logical empiricism. Few philosophers today would subscribe to all this core doctrine. It is particularly evident that there are meaningful utterances, indeed, cognitively meaningful utterances, perfectly literal and quite informative, which do not even purport to be verifiable. Moreover, some of them are not in the slightest degree emotive.

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