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“God Loves Us”: Theology and Falsification Reexamined

  • Gary G. Colwell (a1)

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Some have argued that because factually meaningful assertions must be falsifiable, putative theistic assertions such as “God loves us” are not meaningful because they are not falsifiable. It is further suggested that every attempt to make a factually significant theistic assertion founders on the same shoal of falsifiability.

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1 Flew, Antony and MacIntyre, Alasdair, eds., New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1955), 9699. Hereafter New Essays. For variations on the same theme see Nielsen, Kai, Contemporary Critiques of Religion (London: Macmillan, 1971). See also the useful anthology by Diamond, Malcolm L. and Litzenburg, Thomas V. Jr., eds., The Logic of God (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975), chaps. 6 and 7.

2 Here we shall grant for argument's sake that experiential falsifiability is a necessary and sufficient condition of factual significance.

3 In the event that there is more than one man by this name we may stipulate that our man is U. R. A. N. Ether.

4 An alternative statement: “Children of Ether exist”.

5 Whether or not love can best be characterized as a disposition is not at issue here, nor need it be.

6 Here of course we are not denying the widespread unanimity which does exist among parents, in our society at least, in condemning child abuse. Short of this, however, opinions rapidly diverge.

7 Here the assumption is that “Ether” is a fictitious name which has never been used of a living person; not that Ether is dead though his children may still be living.

8 The uniquely identifying divine name(s) of God in the Christian religion can be substituted for “God”: names for the Persons of the Trinity, all of whom are said to be divine.

9 If “disposition” is problematic with reference to the deity, replace it with some other term, e.g., “constitution”, which permits an ontological make-up significantly different from our own.

10 It may follow ontologically, but of this more later.

11 It could be made to follow if we revised B to read “God loves his children”, and 5 to read “We are God's children”.

12 E.g., Jn. 13:35; 1 Cor. 13; 1 Jn. 4:8.

13 E.g., Job; Mt. 10:24, 25; Heb. 12:3ff.

14 Mt. 26:36–46; 27:45–47.

15 Even if someone were to insist that the first-order question is already a conflation of at least two questions this would not change the fact that both questions are epistemologically prior to the question of love—and this is the point we are making.

16 It seems evident from a passage in Mark's Gospel (2:1–12) that omnipotence takes priority over the attribute of mercy; for there would have been no help in Jesus telling the paralytic man, “My son your sins are forgiven”, if Jesus had not the authority to make such an assertion.

17 It would, of course, show other things following upon such an inconsistency.

18 New Essays, 99. The numbers have been added.

19 Ibid., 103.

20 Ibid., 104.

21 One of the implications of Flew's response to Mitchell is that if God existed he would necessarily remove all seemingly pointless suffering, simply because he, being omniscient and omnipotent, would have the knowledge and power to do so (Ibid., 107). The conclusion does not follow, of course, from the premises. God may have good reasons for permitting life to go on as it does, and in his wisdom may desire for the present to withhold a detailed explanation. (The companion argument, also invalid, which is implied by the same response is that God must be responsible for human misdeeds because he creates and sustains human beings.)

“God Loves Us”: Theology and Falsification Reexamined

  • Gary G. Colwell (a1)

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