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John Hick and the Concept of Eschatological Verification

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Michael Tooley
Affiliation:
Research Fellow, Australian National University

Extract

Many philosophers have claimed that theological statements, if taken as referring to something transcending the world of human experience, are devoid of factual content. They may be meaningful in other ways, but they cannot function to describe anything, to say anything true or false. The two most famous defences of this view are Ayer's in chapter vi of Language, Truth, and Logic, and Flew's in his essay ‘Theology and Falsification’.1

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1976

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References

page 177 note 1 Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth, and Logic (London: Gollancz, 1936, 2nd edition 1946).Google ScholarAntony, new, ‘Theology and Falsification’, University (19501951)Google Scholar; reprinted in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, edited by Antony, Flew and Alasdair, MacIntyre (London: SCM Press, 1955).Google Scholar

page 177 note 2 Hick, John, Faith and Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957, 2nd edition 1966).Google Scholar Numbers in parentheses in the text of this paper will refer to pages in the second edition of Hick's book.

This view has also been advanced by Crombie, I. M., in his article ‘Theology and Falsification’, in Socratic Digest (1952)Google Scholar, and reprinted in New Essays in Philosophical Theology. In a later article, however, Crombie defends the view that theological statements have factual content without appealing to the possibility of eschatological verification. See ‘The Possibility of Theological Statements’ in Faith and Logic, edited by Basil, Mitchell (London: Allen and Unwin, 1957).Google Scholar

page 182 note 1 John, Hick, ‘Theology and Verification’, Theology Today, xvii, 1 April 1960.Google Scholar Reprinted in The Existence of God, edited by John, Hick (New York: Macmillan, 1964.Google Scholar The quotation is from p. 259 of the latter. I think it important to note that this is one of the very few passages in the article that is not contained in chapter 8 of Faith and Knowledge.

page 183 note 1 Hick himself seems to concede this point in the following passage: ‘There are, I suggest, two possible developments of our experience such that, if they occurred in conjunction with one another (whether in this life or in another life to come), they would assure us beyond rational doubt of the reality of God as conceived in the Christian faith.’ (p. 187; emphasis added.)

It is certainly natural to interpret this passage as asserting that one need not appeal to eschatological verification to show that theological statements are in principle verifiable, and hence factually significant. Unfortunately this passage also occurs in Hick's article ‘Theology and Verification’, where he explicitly asserts that he does not think there is any viable alternative to eschatological verification.

page 184 note 1 Nielsen, Kai, ‘Eschatological Verification’, Canadian Journal of Theology, (1963).Google Scholar Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion, edited by Cahn, Steven M. (New York: Harper and Row, 1960).Google Scholar The quotation is from p. 187 of the latter.

page 184 note 2 Wisdom, John, ‘Gods’, in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953). See pp. 149–50.Google Scholar

page 184 note 3 Ibid. p. 150.

page 185 note 1 Blackstone, William T., The Problem of Religious Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 116.Google Scholar

page 187 note 1 For a clear and forceful discussion of the philosophical difficulties involved in the notion of personal survival of death, see Antony Flew's article, ‘Immortality’ in vol. 4, pp. 139–50 of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul, Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967).Google Scholar A sustained defence of the view that the concept of personal survival of death, both in embodied and non-embodied form, is coherent, can be found in Lewis's, H. D. book, The Self and Immortality (New York: The Seabury Press, 1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see especially chapters 8 and 9. See also the thorough discussion of the issues in Terence Penelhum's, Survival and Disembodied Existence (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970)Google Scholar, and chapters 24 and 25 of his Religion and Rationality (New York: Random House, 1971).Google Scholar

page 188 note 1 Kai Nielsen, ‘Eschatological Verification’, pp. 193–8.

page 190 note 1 Martin, C. B., Religious Belief (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1959), p. 117.Google Scholar

page 193 note 1 Wilson, John, Philosophy and Religion (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).Google Scholar See the discussion in sections B and C of chapter iii.

page 193 note 2 Perhaps the best support for the claim that Wisdom held that the concept of God was a theoretical concept is provided by the dialogue contained in chapter 1 of Paradox and Discovery (New York: Philosophical Library, 1965).Google Scholar See especially pp. 13–18.

page 193 note 3 Nielsen, Kai, op. cit. pp. 197–8.Google Scholar

page 194 note 1 See, for example, J. J. C. Smart's discussion in Chapter II of his book, Philosophy and Scientific Realism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963)Google Scholar, and also Wilfred Sellars' essay on ‘The Language of Theories’ in his book, Science, Perception, and Reality (New York: Humanities Press, 1963).Google Scholar

page 194 note 2 Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth, and Logic, p. 115.Google Scholar

page 195 note 1 There are principles which are formally quite close to traditional formulations of the verifiability principle, and which nevertheless allow for the possibility of nonempirical, factual statements. However such principles, though formally similar, are radically different in spirit from the verifiability principle. For further discussion see my paper on ‘Theological Statements and the Question of an Empiricist Criterion of Cognitive Significance’ in The Logic of God: Theology and Verification, edited by Diamond, Malcolm L. and Litzenburg, Thomas V. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974).Google Scholar

page 199 note 1 Ibid. section iv.

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