God talk is evidently nonsense – Ayer

Ayer regards God as a nonsense concept – starting from his belief that God doesn’t exist he explains that to discuss God’s existence is pointless as is discussing his nature – what is the point? He doesn’t exist. It is as meaningless to discuss the existence as the non-existence of God. Neither can be verified as neither claim is a significant proposition.

He allows that it might have been possible in the past to make some claims about gods which are meaningful e.g. that when one hears thunder then god is angry but suggests that it is merely the choice of words used; in other words the claimant is making a mistake because they are simply insufficiently sophisticated (or perhaps as Hume would have said ‘barbarous!’) so the noun god is okay because it is used of a very specific category of experience but the word God is not since it refers to a transcendent being.

People who therefore claim to have had some sort of religious experience by claiming that God is beyond description because he is some sort of transcendent being are saying ‘nothing significant’ i.e. he suggests theists are trying to have their cake and eat it – if God is beyond description then why are they trying?

And as for mystics – their claim that their knowledge is superior to any other is fallacious too. He does not regard intuition as a genuine cognitive state – in fact those who claim such do no more than reveal the state of their minds! He denies any sort of religious knowledge as different from any other sort of knowledge – if it cannot be verified then it isn’t knowledge.

He concludes by dismissing the idea of religious experience as a valid argument for God on the basis that it is irrational. A man who claims to have seen a yellow patch is making a synthetic proposition which can be verified by checking, whereas the same man who claims: ‘there exists a transcendent God’ is making a claim that cannot be verified in any way at all and is therefore meaningless.

Ultimately intuition about something which is not intelligible to reason can never reveal any truths because they cannot be empirically verified. Such is the nature of science

General points about the anthology paper

  • Try to make links between the extract and the passage as a whole if you can. ‘earlier in the passage Ayer suggests…’ or ‘towards the end of the passage Ayer concludes …’ ‘ however in this part of the passage Ayer…’
  • Remember the more dogmatic a claim the easier to refute! ‘no grounds for…’ ‘all philosophers / believers think …’
  • knowing (of)God is real = real means cognitive, contingent, physical
  • Knowing about is different.
  • Part (a) clarify / examine – what kinds of concepts need explaining, explain them pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the points of view
  • To score high marks only use well chosen, short quotations.
  • Why do you agree or disagree? Take a stance and support it – explain why? Because… use evidence; how these ideas have impacted on groups…
  • Think ‘so what?’ what difference would it make if the claims made in the extracts were true?
  • Speculate what might be different? How would things change? What would we not have?
  • 45 minutes on (a) and 30 on (b)
    • Because
    • However
    • Furthermore
    • On the other hand
    • In addition
  • Identify important quotations that you can use and explain the meaning of
  • Illustrate and exemplify e.g. use other aspects of studies
  • Can evaluate as you go along but leave something for (b)
  • Do you agree? Yes or no – why?
  • Can you back it up with examples, scholars?
  • I … but also supported by critical response to scholarly ideas – names useful but not essential
  • Because …
  • Consider the arguments on the other side.
  • Who cares? Does it matter? To whom? Believers / non-believers / society / philosophers see Ayer’s article
  • If so why?
  • What are the consequences?



Some useful quotes:

Tillich ‘… turns humans into autistic creatures.’ Referring to if religious dimension denied.


Remember that religious experiences are proof of God to the person who has experienced them but not necessarily to others this makes them meaningful to the experient.

Is it a risky business/

Are religious experiences symptoms of insanity?

Discuss in relation to understanding the nature of the experiences or of human nature.

I agree but here’s the problem…

I disagree… because….

E.g. I agree with Swinburne’s principle of testimony but these are not ordinary experiences.

You cannot brand everyone insane…

Nothing would sway some people against…


If one looks at those who have had religious experiences are they all liars or misinterpreting their experience? Isn’t it the way their lives have changed which matters? Doesn’t this provide empirical evidence of some sort? And anyway even if some are not all necessarily are.

Implications – if this passage is true; that religious experiences are true, then it proves that God exists.

If however this passage says that religious experiences are not true then these people are mistaken and therefore we cannot trust that anyone / scriptures etc. are trustworthy and therefore the foundations of western society are thrown into question. What it doesn’t do is disprove the existence of God.