Antony Flew argues that the concept of God is meaningless, since it cannot even in principle be falsified, and therefore since ‘God exists’ denies nothing. by Antony Flew. L et us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article “Gods.” Once. The contribution in question is the symposium in which Antony Flew’s short paper “Theology and Falsification” was presented and discussed.
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The following excerpt was published in Reason and Responsibility It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article “Gods. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds.
One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot. No gardener is ever seen. They patrol with bloodhounds. For they remember how H. Well’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen. But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock.
No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all? In this parable we can see how what starts as an assertion, that something exist or that there is some analogy between certain complexes of phenomena, may be reduced step by step to an altogether different status, to an expression perhaps of a “picture preference.
The Believer says there is a gardener but invisible, etc. One man talks about sexual behavior. Another man prefers to talk of Aphrodite but knows that there is not really a superhuman person additional to, and somehow responsible for, all sexual phenomena.
Wells’ invisible man could not, admittedly, be seen, but in all other respects he was a man like the rest of us. But though the process of qualification may be and of course usually is, checked in vlew, it is not always judicially so halted.
Someone may dissipate his assertion completely without noticing that he has done so. A fine brash hypothesis may thus be killed by inches, the death by a thousand qualifications.
And theokogy this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of theological utterance. Take such utterances as “God has a plan,” “God created the gheology “God loves us as a father loves his children. Of course, this is no sure sign that they either are, or are intended to be, assertions.
But let us confine ourselves to the cases where those who utter such sentences intended them to express assertions. Merely remarking parenthetically that those who intend or interpret such utterances as crypto-commands, expressions of wishes, disguised ejaculations, concealed ethics, or as anything else but assertions, are unlikely to succeed in making them either properly orthodox or practically effective.
Now to assert that such and such is the case is necessarily equivalent to denying that such and such is not the case. For if the utterance is indeed an assertion, it will necessarily be equivalent to a denial of the negation of the assertion. And anything which would count against the assertion, or which would induce the speaker to withdraw it and to admit that it had been mistaken, must be part of or the whole of the meaning of the negation of that assertion.
Parable of the Invisible Gardener – Wikipedia
And to know the meaning of the negation of an assertion, is as near as makes no matter, to know the meaning of that assertion. When the Sceptic in the parable asked the Believer, “Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?
Now it often seems to people who are not religious as if there was no conceivable event or series of events the occurrence of which would be admitted by sophisticated religious people to be a sufficient reason for conceding “there wasn’t a God after all” or “God does not really love us then. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made — God’s love is “not merely human love” or it is “an inscrutable love,” perhaps — and we realize that such suffering are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that “God loves us as a father but of course….
But then perhaps we ask: Just what would have to happen not merely morally and wrongly to tempt but also logically and rightly to entitle us to say “God does not love us” or even “God does not exist”? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?
Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc.
Theology and Falsification
These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and theeology class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.
Table of Contents for the Online Textbook. Theology and Falsification The following excerpt was published in Reason and Responsibility X of Logic and LanguageVol.
I Blackwell,and in his Philosophy and Psychoanalysis Blackwell, For those who prefer symbolism: