Validating: Does Religion have a Special Kind of Truth?

  • Patrick Sherry
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series (LPR)


In this chapter I shall consider the claim that religion has its own special kind of truth.1 As it stands, this claim is ambiguous: it may mean that in the Bible and in other religious contexts the words ‘true’ and ‘truth’ have a special meaning, in which case we would have to show how this is related to their meanings in other contexts — a particular case of the general problem of ‘relating’ which we considered in the last chapter; or it may mean that a special kind of understanding and verification is required in religion. Both these claims, and some others like them, have actually been made, so that it will be necessary to disentangle a number of different issues. I shall do this by considering several different versions of the view that religious truth is a special kind of truth. I shall conclude that in so far as this view has any validity, it amounts to one or more of the following three theses, all of which I hold:
  1. (1)

    Sometimes ‘truth’ is used in an ontological sense, i.e. synonymously with ‘actual state of affairs’. Now it is indeed true that religious doctrines often describe unique states of affairs, like the existence and transcendence of God.

  2. (2)

    Since these states of affairs are unique, their verification (in so far as they can be verified) may be very peculiar. It often seems very difficult to understand religious doctrines and to see how people can claim to know that they are true. We seem to be dealing with peculiar kinds of evidence.

  3. (3)

    Even when we can see the relevant evidence, it often seems difficult to understand how the doctrines correspond to the facts in question. For instance, it is hard to see the relationship between traditional Christological language and the facts recorded in the Gospel about Christ’s life, teaching and death. The reason for this is that theological language has, to use Wittgenstein’s terminology, a special ‘grammar’ and ‘method of representation’: it employs unusual concepts and adopts symbolic and mythological modes of description.



Correspondence Theory Natural Theology Religious Doctrine Religious Context Religious Truth 
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Copyright information

© Patrick Sherry 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Sherry
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LancasterUK

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