The Intelligibility of God-Talk

  • Kai Nielsen
Part of the Modern Introductions to Philosophy book series


There are certain primary religious beliefs which are basic to a whole religious Weltanschauung, for they are the cornerstone of the whole edifice.1 If these beliefs are unintelligible, incoherent, irrational or false the whole-way-of-life, centring around them, is ‘a house of cards’. Certain segments of it may still be seen to have a value when viewed from some other perspective, but if these primary religious beliefs are faulted, the religious Weltanschauung itself has been undermined. If it has been undermined and if people recognise that it has been undermined and still go around believing in it, accepting and acting in accordance with its tenets, they are then being very irrational. And while in humility we should recognise that we all suffer from propensities to irrationality and perhaps in some spheres of our life cannot help being irrational, it is a propensity we should resist, for to be irrational is to do something we ought not to do.


Intelligible Expression Religious Context Religious Believer Religious Discourse Putative Statement 
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Notes and Reference

  1. 1.
    This has been powerfully argued by I. M. Crombie in his ‘The Possibility of Theological Statements’, in Basil Mitchell (ed.), Faith and Logic ( London: Allen & Unwin, 1957 ) pp. 31–48.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rudolf Bultmann, ‘What Sense Is There to Speak of God’, The Christian Scholar vol. XLIII, no. 3 (Autumn 1960) 66–7.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rudolf Carnap, ‘The Elimination of Metaphysics Through The Logical Analysis of Language’, in A. J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism ( Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1959 ) p. 66.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Paul Edwards, ‘Some Notes on Anthropomorphic Theology’, in Sidney Hook .(ed.), Religious Experience and Truth (New York University Press, 1961) p. 242.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    John Passmore, Philosophical Reasoning ( London: Duckworth, 1961 ) p. 83.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    I have in mind Hume’s argument in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Section X, Pts Ix2014;II, and P. H. Nowell-Smith, ‘Miracles’, in A. Flew and A. Maclntyre (eds), New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: Macmillan, 1955) pp. 243–53.Google Scholar
  7. But to see that things are not all that obviously settled here, see C. D. Broad, ‘Hume’s Theory of the Credibility of Miracles’, in Alexander Sesonske and Noel Fleming (eds) Human Understanding: Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Press, 1965);Google Scholar
  8. Chapter 2 of Ninian Smart, Philosophers and Religious Truth (London: S.C.M. Press, 1964);Google Scholar
  9. Richard Swinburne, The Concept of Miracle (London: Macmillan, 1970).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 11.
    Paul Ziff, Semantical Analysis ( Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1960 ) p. 197.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    C. B. Martin, Religious Belief (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1965 ).Google Scholar
  12. 39.
    See my ‘Metaphysics and Verification Revisited’, The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy vol. v1, no. 3 (1975), and my ‘Facts, Factual Statements and Theoretical Terms’, Philosophical Studies vol. XXIII (1975) (Maynooth, Ireland).Google Scholar
  13. 41.
    I return again to this point - a point which surely needs further argumentation - in my chapter ‘On Fixing the Reference Range of “God”’ and my article ‘Metaphysics and Verification’. I also have discussed this point at some length in my Contemporary Critiques of Religion (London: Macmillan, 1971).Google Scholar

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© Kai Nielsen 1982

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  • Kai Nielsen

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