Is god-talk meaningless, or do I just lack the ability to understand it?
I suppose it is no secret, per my ramblings on this site, that I am a critic some of the thing that atheists throw at theism. This is not because I like theism and hate atheism, rather that I have a distaste for ear-tickling arguments that get accepted without any rational discretion. One in particular that is often thrown around is the idea that god-talk is meaningless, and it is on this idea that I witch to camp out for a moment.
The root of these assertions can be traced back to a school of thought known as logical positivism which got started in the early 20th century in Europe with a group called the Vienna Circle. Influenced by the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, logical positivism asserted that anything meaningful should be empirical verified. Anything else then was categorically meaningless. This sort of principle seemed to be the doom of theism because gods, at least in the sense of classical theism, are transcendental, thereby not empirically verifiable. Gods were then placed into the placed in the meaningless category.
Positivism was not met with the optimism one might hope, as philosophers here and there began to point out that the verificationist principle was self refuting, asking how one would empirically verify the positivist's assertion that statements must be empirically verifiable. Wittgenstein grappled with this idea and felt that event his own work was in danger of falling into the nonsense category. Wittgenstein later backed off his bolder claims and took a weaker approach to it.
One critic of note that gains some fame because of his distaste for positivism was Karl Popper. Popper did not object to the principle. Rather, his concern had to do with the problem of empirical induction. He proposed that along with every assertion that is empirically verifiable, it should also be empirically falsifiable. Popper's falsification principle works well in the context in which was intended (empirical induction) but others have attempted to extend it beyond this. The problem in doing so, is that it, like verificationism, attempts to impose a form of empiricism upon meaningfulness, and in turn falls on the same knife verificationism does.
Because verificationism and falsification cannot be universals, the meaninglessness they entail then is at best a possible, but not a necessary description about metaphysical claims. Evidently, if an assertion is possibly meaningful to John, but not Jack, then it is not necessarily meaningless. This, of course, does not preclude that John's assertion is not indeed meaningless, but it could be the case that Jack lacks the ability to meaningfully understand such claims. It is therefore, it is possible that Jack does indeed lack the understanding. What is necessarily true though, is that Jack cannot say whether John's assertion is meaningless or if it because he lacks the understanding. Evidently, however, there may be meaning because John seems to have meaning. Therefore it is more likely the case that Jack lacks the understanding needed to have meaningfulness from John's assertion.
Assertions about the existence of gods then, need to be defeated on other grounds, but not this one. I think that theist make the same sort mistake when they begin to make universal statements and then attempt to prove them, as probably one of the biggest problem with how proponents of intelligent design argue.
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”