Eduqas/WJEC Philosophy B grade summary notes


This page contains an oversimplified summary of the Philosophy notes which are aimed to be what is required to know in order to get a solid B grade. This concept is currently a bit of a work in progress.

The Cosmological argument

  • A posteriori: knowledge gained from experience.
  • The cosmological argument is based on the experience of motion, causation and contingency in the world
  • The cosmological argument is inductive, meaning the truth of the premises provides evidence which supports belief in the conclusion. The truth of the premises does not logically prove or guarantee the truth of the conclusion.
  • Aquinas’ 1st way – motion – everything is in motion which can’t go back in time forever so there must have been a first unmoved mover (God).
  • Aquinas’ 2st way – causation – everything has a cause which can’t go back in time forever so there must have been a first uncaused cause (God).
  • Aquinas’ 3st way – contingency – everything is contingent which can’t go back in time forever so at one point there would be nothing yet then there would be nothing now so there must have been a necessary being that created this contingency universe.
  • Kalam argument: everything which begins has a cause, the universe began so it has a cause.
  • Further premises suggest the cause is God. It created the universe and time so it must be outside of them. It must have great power. It created us so must have some kind of loving purpose for our lives.
  • There can’t be an infinite regress because actual infinities cannot exist in nature.
  • Library example: imagine a library with infinite books, half red half blue – remove the blue ones and you’ve removed an infinite number, yet an infinite number still remain. That is absurd and cannot actually happen in reality.

AO2: Critique of the cosmological argument

  • Hume: infinite regress is not an illogical idea (nothing self-contradictory about it) so it is possible.
  • However, Kalam: Library example. Aquinas: If time infinite, we could never get to the present moment without an infinite amount of time passing which is impossible, so there can’t be an infinite regress.
  • Hume & Russell: fallacy of composition. Just because every human has a mother, that doesn’t mean the human race has a mother, Similarly, just because the parts of the universe have a cause, that doesn’t mean the universe itself has a cause.
  • However, Copleston response: The analogy between the universe and the human race might not apply. Sometimes what is true of the parts (bricks made of brick) is true of the whole (brick wall is made of brick).
  • Russell: brute fact argument – the universe might just exist with no reason, explanation or cause. It might just be there and ‘that’s all’
  • However, Copleston response: Philosophy and science are about finding out why things are true, finding explanations. It’s not valid to just assume the universe has no explanation.
  • However, Russell response: Russell doesn’t assume the universe is a brute fact, he just points out that proponents of the cosmological argument are the ones assuming that it isn’t.

The Teleological argument

AO1: A posteriori & inductive, Aquinas’ 5th way, Paley & Tennant.

  • A posteriori: knowledge gained from experience.
  • The teleological argument is based on the experience of order, complexity and purpose in the world
  • The teleological argument is inductive, meaning the truth of the premises provides evidence which supports belief in the conclusion. The truth of the premises does not logically prove or guarantee the truth of the conclusion.
  • Aquinas’ 5th Things in the universe follow natural laws which control their behaviour towards a goal/purpose (telos).
  • Things in the universe are not sentient or not sentient enough to have created those natural laws themselves, so there must be a designer of them.
  • Analogy of an archer and an arrow. If you see an arrow moving towards a target, you can infer that there must be an archer who shot it.
  • Since things in the universe are goal-directed towards a target (purpose), we can infer there must be a God who is the archer of the universe.
  • Paley’s design qua purpose. Watchmaker analogy. Rocks are natural, but we know a watch is designed by its complexity and purpose. Similarly, we know the universe must be designed because it contains things (e.g. human eye, wings of bird) which are complex and purposeful.
  • The designer of the universe must be much more powerful than a human designer. It must be God.
  • Tennant’s aesthetic principle: we have the ability to perceive beauty. That ability does not help us survive, so it could not have been naturally selected for and therefore God must have interfered in evolution to design us. So, God exists.
  • Tennant’s anthropic principle: evolution requires precise and rare cosmological & chemical conditions. The earth is so well-suited for life and evolution that it must have been designed by a God. So, God exists.

AO2: Critique of the teleological argument

  • Hume criticised design arguments from analogy because the universe is not like a mechanical man-made thing – it is more organic.
  • However, modern philosophers claim Paley’s argument is not based on analogy – it is based on a designer being the best explanation of complexity and purpose.
  • Evolution undermines Paley’s argument because it explains how animals can appear designed despite having evolved through purely scientific processes.
  • However, Tennant’s design arguments attempt to show how evolution couldn’t have happened at all (anthropic principle) or the way it did regarding beauty (aesthetic principle) without God’s design.
  • Hume’s epicurean hypothesis is that an orderly and complex universe could have come about purely by chance if the universe has existed forever. On an infinite time-frame, everything possible to happen is certain to happen. So, an orderly and complex universe can come about by pure chance.
  • Modern science says that the universe has not been around forever though, it started at the big bang.
  • The problem of evil can be used against the design argument because it suggests that the world has not been designed by a loving God.
  • However, theodicies would respond to this – maybe evil is our deserved punishment (Augustine) or something to overcome for our spiritual growth (Irenaeus/Hick).

The Ontological argument

AO1: A priori & deductive. Anselm, Descartes and Malcolm.

  • A priori – argument based on reason. The ontological argument is not based on experience, just a logical analysis of the meaning of the word ‘God’.
  • Deductive – If the premises are true, the conclusion must be true.
  • Anselm’s 1st ontological argument: God is the greatest being, it is greater to exist than not to, therefore God exists.
  • Anselm’s development: God is a necessary being since it is greater to be necessary than contingent, therefore God exists necessarily.
  • Descartes’ ontological argument: God is the supremely perfect being which contains all perfections. Existence is a perfection, so God exists.
  • ‘God’ and ‘existence’ are like a triangle and having three sides, or a mountain and a valley. You can’t have one without the other.
  • Malcolm’s ontological argument:
  • God is an unlimited being who either exists or does not.
  • IF God exists, nothing could stop him existing, so he would be necessary.
  • IF God does not exist, nothing could bring him into existence, so he would be impossible.
  • So, we have gone from God either exists or does not exist, to God is either necessary or impossible.
  • God is not impossible (because God is not an illogical or self-contradictory idea – like a square circle or something which both exists and does not exist at the same time), so by process of elimination God exists necessarily.

AO2: Critique of the ontological argument

  • Gaunilo’s perfect lost island objection: Anselm’s logic suggests that the perfect island must exist – since it’s greater for it to exist than not to.
  • However, Anselm responds than an island, no matter how great, is contingent – dependent on something else to exist, e.g. a sea. Yet, the greatest being is not dependent on anything else (necessary). So, the logic works for God because he must exist (is necessary) and does not work for a perfect island because it can’t be proven to exist necessarily as it’s contingent.
  • Kant’s objection: Anselm and Descartes treat ‘existence’ like a ‘predicate’ – like a description of God. For them, whether God exists is therefore a matter of what God is. Kant claims that existence is not a predicate – not a description of what a thing is, but a description of whether a thing exists. For example if I say a cat ‘exists’, I do not describe anything about what the cat is.
  • However, Malcolm says Kant is right, but only about contingent existence (for contingent things, like a cat). A necessary being contains the reason for its existence within itself and therefore its necessary existence does define it and describe it. So, necessary existence is a predicate.
  • Hume’s objection that ‘necessary being’ is meaningless: A necessary being is one which must exist – we shouldn’t even be able to imagine it not existing. Hume claims that we can imagine God not existing, however, so God (or any being) cannot be necessary, since whatever we can imagine to exist we can imagine to not exist.
  • However, Hume’s argument depends on the claim that what we can imagine must be possible – that because we can imagine God not existing, it’s possible that God doesn’t exist and therefore that God cannot be necessary. Yet – the masked man fallacy shows that we can actually imagine the impossible. We can imagine that a masked man who robbed a bank is not our father, yet if it was our father then we just imagined the impossible. So, perhaps when we imagine God not existing that’s also impossible because God is necessary.

Evil and suffering

AO1: Natural & moral evil

  • Natural evil is evil which results from the workings of the natural world.
  • Natural disasters like hurricanes & volcanoes, diseases like cancer and wild animal attacks.
  • Natural evil is typically thought to be a problem for God’s existence because it seems that God has total control over the natural world and therefore would intervene to prevent it if he existed.
  • Moral evil is evil which results from human actions.
  • Violence like murder and theft. But also things like freud, deception and manipulation. Also, some human actions negatively affect the planet/environment which causes evil in the natural world but as the result of moral evil. E.g. climate change, floods, pollution.
  • Moral evil is typically thought to be a problem for God’s existence because he could step in and prevent things like the holocaust.

AO1: Epicurus’ classical logical problem of evil & Mackie’s modern development.

  • Epicurus – ancient Greek philosopher, posed the problem of evil thus:
  • Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then he is not all-loving.
  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
  • Is God willing and able to prevent evil? Then why is there evil?
  • Is God neither able nor willing to prevent evil? Then why call him God?
  • The point of the argument is: one of these options must be the truth, but whatever you choose it’s not logically possible to believe in an all-loving & all-powerful God.
  • Mackie’s modern development is called the inconsistent triad.
  • This is the a priori and deductive argument that is based on an analysis of the meaning of the words ‘omnibenevolent’, ‘omnipotent’ and ‘evil’.
  • Mackie says that if we analyse those words, we will see that they form an inconsistent triad such that it cannot be possible for all three to co-exist.
  • It is not logically possible for a thing to exist if there is a being with the power and motivation to eliminate it.

AO1: William Rowe and Gregory S. Paul.

  • Rowe and Paul put forward the problem of evil as evidence against God’s existence.
  • Rowe points out that suffering is immense – far more than could ever be useful or purposeful.
  • Also, animals suffer – example of a fawn burning in a forest fire with no one there to see it. Such things happen, yet they are clearly pointless and therefore evidence against a perfect God who would not allow such a thing to happen.
  • Gregory S. Paul – infant death is a strong example of natural evil. Infants are too young to understand what is happening to them – they are also innocent.
  • It’s difficult to see how there could be any purpose or justice in their suffering.

AO1: Augustinian type theodicy.

  • Augustine claimed that God allows evil because we deserve it.
  • “All evil is either sin or punishment for sin”.
  • Adam and eve sinned against God during the ‘Fall’.
  • After that, all humans were born with original sin – a corruption in human nature causing an irresistible temptation to sin.
  • This means that we all deserve punishment and therefore deserve evil.
  • Evil is just the lack of goodness (privation) caused by our falling away from God’s goodness.

AO2: evaluation of Augustine

  • A loving God would not blame us for the actions of our ancestors – Adam and eve, as that is not fair.
  • However, Augustine is not saying we are punished with evil for the actions of Adam and Eve, he’s saying we deserve evil because we have original sin and therefore are sinners and so deserve punishment.
  • However, Augustine would have to say a child who dies of cancer deserved it. That doesn’t seem like something a loving God would allow.
  • The scientific evidence goes against the whole Adam and Eve story. There was no Fall – we evolved.
  • However, there is still clear evidence in the world that people are sinful and evil. Perhaps Augustine is right that we are born with original sin, even if the Fall isn’t exactly how it happened.
  • Irenaeus’ theodicy arguably fits better with a loving forgiving God, so perhaps it’s superior to Augustine’s
  • However, criticisms of Irenaeus apply

AO1: Irenaean type theodicy.

  • Irenaeus claimed that God allows evil because it serves the good purpose of soul-making (developing our moral character).
  • We were created in God’s image and need to grow more into his likeness by becoming good.
  • To become fully-formed good people who deserve heaven, we need to choose good over evil.
  • This requires that evil exist.
  • Irenaeus points to the example of Jonah and the big fish – Jonah disobeyed God, so God sent the fish to swallow and punish him. After experiencing evil, Jonah decided to obey God. So, evil serves the good purpose of soul-making.

AO2: evaluation of Irenaeus

  • Some evil is purposeless. Paul’s point. E.g. a child who dies of cancer is too young to learn anything and develop their soul from their experience. Such evil can’t be explained as soul-making.
  • However, maybe it teaches the parents an important lesson.
  • However, a loving God would not hurt an innocent child to teach its parents a lesson.
  • Some evil is soul-breaking rather than soul-making. Some people, e.g. an adult with cancer, become depressed and become a worse person as a result of evil. It’s not helping to make their souls better.
  • However, arguably those people just failed to rise to the challenge of their situation.
  • However, it seems harsh to tell a depressed cancer patient that they simply failed to rise to the challenge – a loving God would not do that.
  • Augustine’s theodicy arguably fits better with God’s perfect justice since we deserve punishment for evil and that is a better explanation of it than that it benefits us.
  • However, criticisms of Augustine’s theodicy apply.

Religious experience

AO1: Visions, conversion, mysticism & prayer

  • Visions can be sensory – experienced through the senses, dreams/imaginative – or intellectual, seen through the ‘eye of reason’ according to St Theresa of Avila, for example when she ‘knew’ Jesus was present despite not seeing him.
  • Conversion experiences are when someone is converted by it. They can be individual and sudden E.g. St Paul on the road to Damascus became a Christian when Jesus appeared to him and asked why he was persecuting Christians.
  • Communal conversions are when multiple people are converted at once
  • Gradual conversions are when it takes time.
  • Mystical experiences are transcendent – beyond normal experience of objects. They can involve intense emotions (ecstatic) and a sense of unity with God or the universe (unitive).
  • Prayer can involve religious experience. St Theresa of Avila was a mystic who had mystical experiences through prayer that occurred in stages of progression she called mansions.
  • 1: humility meditating on sin. 2: practice of prayer & purging imperfections. 3: spending hours in prayer & avoiding minor sins. 4: Prayer becomes passive rather than active. 5: becoming separated from the world & united to God. 6: mystical visions begin, humility is required. 7: spiritual union with God through intellectual vision.
  • A person is influenced by reaching the 7th mansion by becoming ready to suffer for God and have no negative feelings towards those who mistreat them. Detachment from the world, inwardly having love for God.

AO2: The impact of religious experiences upon religious belief and practice.

  • Most religious people do not have religious experiences, so they cannot be that important to religious faith.
  • However, religious experiences happening to an individual can strengthen the faith of the entire community and can bring inspiration to many, e.g. Joan of Arc.
  • Religious practices like the eucharist and baptism can be seen as religious experiences because Jesus can be thought to be literally or spiritually present.
  • However, many would argue that these should not be seen as religious experiences – they are not mystical, visions, conversion or prayer.
  • Ultimately, Christian belief should be based on faith in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Religious experience should not be important.
  • However, arguably the Bible is largely a record of religious experiences. All religious experiences, including those written in the Bible, should be seen as equally important to religious faith.
  • Schleiermacher claimed that religious experiences are the most important core feature of religious belief and practice. He was very influential on Otto. Schleiermacher and Otto are part of the protestant movement to base Christian belief more faith and less on reason, as they were sceptical of the ability of reason to support faith.
  • However, Catholics therefore tend to disagree, claiming that the Church and its teachings are more important to Christian beliefs and practices than religious experience. For example, Teresa of Avila said that Christians should not believe a religious experience if it involves something which goes against the teachings of the Bible.
  • Religious experiences are argued by some protestants to be an important direct line to God, fitting with their theological approach of cutting out and bypassing the middle-man of the Church. Each individual Christian should have their own personal relationship with Jesus and religious experiences can be an important part of that.
  • However, Catholics can point out that there are many famous catholic mystics like St Teresa of Avila. They would argue that the Church is important as a guide even for religious experiences because of the possibility that they are caused the devil in disguise.

AO2: Whether different types of religious experience can be accepted as equally valid in communicating religious teachings and beliefs.

  • Mystical experiences are similar to the effects of drugs or alcohol, suggesting that they could just result from brain abnormalities.
  • However, the same could be said for other types of religious experiences.
  • Conversion is the most valid because its effects on people can be seen in their behaviour.
  • However, the same could be said for other types of religious experience. Mystical experiences and prayer can transform people’s lives.
  • Communal visions or communal conversion experiences are the most valid because they are experienced by multiple people and so cannot just be the result of individual brain abnormalities.
  • However, there are group dynamics which can cause people to share delusions, e.g. belief in witches and aliens.
  • Franks-Davis’ challenges can work against all types of religious experience. There could either be description or subject-related challenges.
  • However, there are cases of each religious experience that have nothing wrong with the description or subject. Davis would reference Swinburne’s principle of testimony that in such cases we have no reason not to accept the experience as evidence.
  • However, Swinburne’s principle of testimony is flawed because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Someone experiencing God is not good enough evidence to justify belief in a creator of the universe.
  • Freud would say none of the types of religious experience are more or less valid – they are all just illusions and delusions caused by the intense fear of death and the desire to be a child.
  • However, arguably Freud can’t explain conversion experiences like St Paul because he already believed in a God and an afterlife, so why would his mind invent a different God if his fear of death and adulthood were already satisfied? So, conversion experiences seem the strongest because they can’t be explained by wishful thinking for a God.

AO1: James & Otto

  • William James was a philosopher and a psychologist who claimed that religious experiences occur in different religions and have similar features.
  • James’ criteria:
  • the experience is beyond language and cannot be put into words.
  • The experience is temporary
  • The experience happens to a person, the person doesn’t try and make it happen.
  • Some sort of knowledge or insight is gained
  • Otto’s numinous experiences – awe and wonder and ‘wholly other’.
  • It is an experience of something ‘Wholly other’ – completely different to anything human.
  • The revelation of God is felt emotionally, not rationally.
  • Mysterium – the utter inexplicable indescribable mystery of the experience
  • Tremendum – the awe and fear of being in the presence of an overwhelmingly superior being
  • Fascinans – despite that fear, being strangely drawn to the experience
  • Otto claims Numinous experiences are the core of any religion ‘worthy of the name’.
  • It is fundamental to true religion that individuals should have a sense of a personal encounter with the divine.

AO2: the adequacy of James & Otto

  • James’ characteristics are a useful way to categorise mystical experiences and identifies their different features.
  • However, St Teresa of Avila’s mystical experiences required development and progression, however, which James’ criteria fail to incorporate.
  • James’ empirical approach is too reductionist – mystical experiences cannot be analysed and categorised with a scientific approach.
  • However, James acknowledges and incorporates that with the ‘ineffable’ criteria.
  • Arguably James is better than Otto, because Otto leaves out the idea of unity and oneness. James is right that many Mystics feel unity and at one with the divine or the universe.
  • However, this could show that all mystical experiences cannot be categorised neatly by criteria since they are both right about some experiences and not about others.

AO1: Caroline Franks Davis’ challenges

  • Description-related challenges: critique of the described content of a religious experience.
  • This includes: internal inconsistencies or logical incoherence.
  • Subject-related challenges: critique of the reliability of the person who had the religious experience.
  • This includes: they could be dreaming, mentally ill, on drugs, sleep deprived, hyper-suggestible, etc.
  • Object-related challenges: critique of the claim that God or whatever was experienced really exists, due to having separate evidence that goes against it.
  • This includes: Problem of evil, multiple claims argument or reductionist challenges.

AO2: the adequacy and relative strength of Franks-Davis’ challenges

  • There could either be description or subject-related challenges of a religious experience.
  • However, there are cases of each religious experience that have nothing wrong with the description or subject.
  • Davis would reference Swinburne’s principle of testimony that in such cases we have no reason not to accept the experience as evidence.
  • However, Swinburne’s principle of testimony is flawed because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Someone experiencing God is not good enough evidence to justify belief in a creator of the universe.
  • Multiple claims argument (object challenge). There are religious experiences in all religions, yet all religions can’t be true – so the experiences count against each other.
  • Davis responds that there is a ‘common core’ to religious experiences which justify ‘broad theism’.
  • Reductionist challenges (object challenge). Freud would argue that religious experiences are just delusions caused by people’s neurotic desire to
  • However, Davis responds that reductionist challenges like Freud’s are not conclusive (not proven for certain) nor complete (don’t cover all religious experiences).

Freud & Jung

AO1: Freud

  • Religion as illusion and/or neurosis. Freud tried to explain religious belief and behaviour through scientific processes.
  • Freud thought that for a society to be stable it required that people consciously control (ego) their unconscious instincts (id) which required that society condition them with moral views (super ego).
  • He thought religion was an infantile and overly-repressive method of controlling ourselves
  • He claimed that religious behaviour and ritual was similar to obsessional neurosis, involving repeated actions.
  • Freud theorised that this was a way of controlling repressed impulses
  • The primal horde – ancient society involved an alpha-male who controlled the women and resources. The other men killed the alpha-male, desiring women and resources, but soon started to fight amongst each other and came to realise there was a usefulness in the social order they previously had
  • They began worshiping a totem which represented the alpha-male and the spirit of self-control for the sake of social order. The totem eventually became a God-like figure in their minds.
  • Totemic rituals morphed into the rituals we see in modern religion like Christianity.
  • The Oedipus complex is based on the idea that babies are jealous of the attention the parent of the opposite sex gets from their other parent. This can cause relationship issues throughout life.

AO2: Critique of Freud

  • Freud presents a plausible scientific account of religious belief and practice which makes the supernatural explanation of it an unnecessary hypothesis.
  • However, Freud is unscientific – didn’t do proper experiments, studied a very small sample size of people and a poor cross-section of society. Popper said Freud’s theory was unfalsifiable – not real science because we can’t test whether or not it is false.
  • There is no anthropological evidence for the primal horde
  • No evidence for Oedipus complex.
  • However, arguably Freud is at least somewhat correct that religion has the psychological function of enabling social order. It is full of commands to not do violence and not have sex outside marriage.
  • However, Freud seems wrong to completely reduce religion to a primitive means of social order. It also is important for people’s happiness, meaning and purpose – their spirituality.
  • Jung would disagree with Freud – having a more optimistic view of religion as playing an important role in psychological development.
  • Critiques of Jung apply.

AO1: Jung

  • Jung discovered ideaas and images in patietn’s dreams which could not be traced to their past experiences.
  • Jung saw links between these images to mythical and religious themes.
  • Jung concluded that we have a ‘collective unconscious’ which contains primordial images and themes which structure and provide narrative to our conscious understanding of our life and the world.
  • The persona (the mask we wear)
  • The shadow (suppressed parts of our personality)
  • Anima and animus (our inner attitudes that take on the characteristics of the opposite sex)
  • The self (mid point between consciousness and the unconscious)
  • The God within. God is an expression of the collective unconscious. The self is the God within us, which is why God is presented as a being.
  • Individuation is the process of achieving self-realisation and discovery of our true self.

AO2: Critique of Jung

  • Jung claimed to be an empiricist, basing his theory of archetypes on observation of his patients dreams and visions.
  • However, interpreting dreams and visions is subjective and not scientific.
  • Jung could be defended that his approach of interpreting dreams is no different to the way we interpret many things, such as art and literature and culture. The mind is no different because it is such a mysterious thing that this approach is the best we can currently manage. A perfectly scientific approach is not possible.
  • However, modern psychology has managed to become more rigorously scientific since Jung’s time, arguably making his interpretative approach obsolete.
  • Traditional Christians might argue that Jung’s focus on the self is narcissistic and typical of western secularism with its focus on individualism. True spiritual realisation is achieved by helping others like Jesus did, not through self-absorbed self-discovery. Jung has therefore failed to capture the true essence of Christianity with his overly reductive psychology that is merely expressive of his cultural perspective.
  • However, arguably Christianity is focused on a selfish desire to get into heaven so it’s no better even if it’s correct that Jung’s theory is narcissistic.
  • Freud would disagree with Jung about religion having a potential positive element to it – Freud thought religion was just a childish primitive method of making people control themselves, and was overly-repressive, leading to mental illness.
  • However, critiques of Freud apply.


AO1: definitions of miracles

  • Aquinas defined miracles as: God doing something nature cannot do (E.g. parting the red sea and then , can do but not in that order (resurrection – life after death), or can do but is done without the workings of nature, e.g. miraculous curing of a disease.
  • Hume defined miracles as violations of the law of nature by intention of a deity. E.g. someone being raised from the dead.
  • Holland – contingency miracle. Holland argues that we should understand a miracle as something subjectively interpreted as miraculous within people’s minds.
  • Holland gives the example of a boy stuck on train tracks whose life is saved by the train driver fainting and automatically applying the break. The boy’s mother interprets this event as a miracle. Holland makes no claim as to whether God really did cause the miracle – what makes it a miracle is that it was interpreted to be one (by the mother).
  • Swinburne defines a miracle as a violation of a law of nature (non-repeatable counter-instance to a law of nature) by a God. E.g. Jesus walking on water.
  • The laws of nature cannot explain the event and changing the laws of nature would not help because the event cannot be repeated in other circumstances.

AO2: the adequacy and compatibility of different definitions of miracles

  • Holland’s view of a miracle leaves out the criteria that miracles are done by a God and occur in objective reality. Arguably essential beliefs in Christianity require those criteria, however, for example to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • However, arguably we simply can’t know what God does since he is beyond our understanding, so it is best to simply stick with what we can and do know regarding miracles, which is that they are interpreted subjectively within human minds, and not comment on whether they are done in reality by God.
  • If miracles are just interpreted within our minds, then they can be criticised in the same way religious experiences are – as potentially just hallucinations caused by physiological abnormalities like drugs, alcohol, fasting, sleep deprivation.
  • However, if we are defining a religious experience like Holland does – then he isn’t saying or commenting on whether it really happens in reality at all. In that case, it’s irrelevant whether it was a hallucination or not – what makes it a miracle is that it is interpreted as one.
  • Arguably Hume, Swinburne and Aquinas’ definition – that miracles happen in reality and are done by God – best fits with the Biblical presentation of miracles.
  • Nonetheless, we could view the Bible liberally or subjectively, or as requiring demythologisation (Bultmann)
  • Criticisms of liberal Christianity and Bultmann apply (that they are too subjective and lead to infinite interpretations)

AO1 & AO2: Hume’s critique of the evidence for miracles and Swinburne’s responses.

  • Hume’s argument from evidence & probability. If someone thinks they have seen a miracle – they should realise that it is more likely that they made a mistake than that they really saw a miracle.
  • However, Swinburne’s responds that Hume assumes that the only evidence for miracles is the testimony of witnesses. There could be physical evidence of miracles happening, such as medical miracles. This could make the likelihood of a miracle happening greater than a mistake having been made by a witness.
  • However, arguably there never has been proper physical evidence for a miracle, however.


  • Hume on the low quality of testimony for miracles. Hume claims that miracles tend to come from ignorant and barbarous nations and that there are no miracles witnessed by multiple people of good sense, education, integrity and reputation. People have a psychological desire to believe in unusual wonderous things like miracles.
  • However, Swinburne responds with the principle of testimony and credulity. If you experience a miracle yourself (credulity) or someone tells you they have (testimony) then you should take that as evidence for the miracle happening, unless you have a reason not to. You can’t dismiss evidence or testimony for no reason, that would be irrational. So if you can point out that there is good evidence to doubt someone’s testimony, like they are a known liar, then you can dismiss it. However if there is no such evidence against their testimony then you have no reason to not accept it.
  • However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Even if testimony could be evidence for miracles, it’s not enough to justify belief that they were caused by a God. Perhaps they were caused by aliens! That explanation is equally justified.
  • Hume’s multiple claims argument. Miracle stories happen in all religions. They cannot all be true and there are lots of religions. Viewing testimony for a miracle as evidence therefore creates far more evidence against it than it has going for it – in the form of the evidence for miracles in the many other religions.
  • Swinburne responds that “most” miracles don’t actually conflict with the miracles of other religions. For example, there are no protestant miracles that directly contradict the catholic belief in transubstantiation during the eucharist.
  • However, if miracles are taken as being caused by a particular God, then surely a miracle supposed to be done by a particular God(s) must conflict with any miracle in a different religion since that would be supposed to have been caused by a different God(s).

The inherent problems of religious language 


  • Religious language would include sacred texts and religious statements, including everyday ones like ‘God be with you’ but also key religious declarations like the council of Nicaea.
  • The issue of understanding. ‘God’ is supposedly an infinite, transcendent and timeless being. These are not qualities we have experience of, nor can we really have any proper understanding of them.
  • Normally, we don’t think that someone can meaningfully talk about something that they do not understand. Yet, if we do not understand God, there is a problem regarding how we can meaningfully talk about God.
  • The issue of subjective interpretation. Religious language in texts or speech can have multiple interpretations, so there is no shared understanding taken from religious language. This creates a problem for the possibility of it having a fixed objective definite meaning.
  • The issue of the requirement of shared experiences. If you aren’t religious or are from a different religion, then you are not going to have the same experiences that the religious language in question requires in order to understand.
  • You need to be part of a religion and experience what it’s like to be part of it, to truly understand the religious language in it.
  • This means religious language is not inclusive nor accessible nor objective.
  • Ayer and Flew’s issues. Ayer & Flew think the problems of religious language cannot be solved – they add their own problems – that religious language is unverifiable (Ayer) or unfalsifiable (Flew).

AO2: Evaluation of the inherent problems of religious language

  • Ayer and Flew think the problems of religious language cannot be solved – they add their own problems – that religious language is unverifiable (Ayer) or unfalsifiable (Flew).
  • However, criticisms of Ayer & Flew apply.


  • The various theories of religious language from theologians attempt to show how religious language can be meaningful despite these problem. They try and theorize about how religious language can be meaningful and valid by getting over these issues.


  • Aquinas’ analogy – religious language can meaningfully talk about a God that is beyond understanding if religious language is analogical. I.e. we are not saying exactly what God ‘is’, we are saying what he is ‘like’. E.g. we are saying that God has a quality of love that is analogous to human love, but proportionally greater.
  • However, criticisms of Aquinas on analogy apply.
  • Tillich on symbolic language attempts to solve the problems of religious language by side-stepping the issue that we can’t understand God and therefore can’t meaningfully describe God.


  • Tillich thinks religious language does not function to literally describe or refer to a thing – but to point to it, participate in it, and open our souls to higher spiritual levels of reality.
  • In other words, symbolic language doesn’t describe God – it connects our souls to God.
  • This solves the problem of our not being able to describe God. Symbolic language doesn’t try and do that.
  • However, criticisms of symbolic language apply.


  • Myth as a theory of religious language was invented by Bultmann.
  • He argued that we should not take religious language in the Bible literally since it goes against science and modern audiences cannot accept that without meaningless blind faith.
  • He claims that we should ‘demythologize’ the language in the Bible.
  • This involves deciphering the deeper truth that the bible stories are trying to convey.
  • g. if Jesus heals someone – that’s a story telling us about how God loves us and cares about our suffering.
  • This solves the problems of religious language by turning it into moral messages that modern scientific audiences can understand.


  • Language games – Wittgenstein thought we should understand religious language as expressing participation in a social game – a language game.
  • Religious language has meaning within the religious language game.
  • Understood in this way, it isn’t an attempt to cognitively describe objective reality – so it’s not trying to talk about something we cannot understand. So, there is no problem for religious language.
  • However, criticisms of Wittgenstein apply.


AO1: Verificationism

  • Ayer was a logical positivist who argued for the verification principle, that for language to be meaningful it must be analytic (true by definition) or empirically verifiable.
  • Language is empirically verifiable if we know how to find out whether it is true or false. This includes things that we can’t verify now but at least know how to verify in principle. E.g. ‘there are mountains on the far side of the moon’. In Ayer’s time they had not seen the dark side of the moon, but they knew in principle how they could verify what was there.
  • For Ayer, verification is ‘weak’ verification – when we have evidence that points to something probably being true or false. We can never have ‘strong’ verification, where we can absolutely prove for certain whether something is true or false. Ayer is an empiricist who accepts that knowledge is at best probabilistic.
  • The idea is that for words to be meaningful, they must be about something in reality, otherwise you aren’t talking about reality.
  • ‘God’ is a metaphysical term about something beyond the empirical world. There is no way to verify it, therefore it and all religious language is meaningless.
  • Ayer says he’s not even an atheist. An atheist says they do not believe in God – but that is still to use the word ‘God’ as if it had meaning. So Ayer says we can’t even do that.

AO2: Evaluation of Verificationism

  • The verification principle cannot itself be verified, nor does it seem true by definition.
  • However, Ayer responds that the verification principle is not a statement but a tool that can be used to separate empirical from non-empirical statements.
  • Ayer is criticised for having an overly restrictive theory of meaning, making history meaningless because we can’t verify it.
  • However, Ayer responds that statements about history can be weakly verified, meaning we can find evidence to suggest it is probably true, e.g. archeological evidence.
  • However, some argue this leaves room for God to be weakly verified through the evidence of design (teleological argument) and causation (cosmological argument) in the world.
  • Hare’s bliks criticises Ayer because Hare thinks religious language is a meaningful non-cognitive expression of attitude. It’s not a failed unverifiable attempt to describe reality because it’s not an attempt to describe reality at all – just an expression of attitude.
  • However, most religious people would reject Hare’s theory because they think that they are expressing cognitive beliefs about reality when they use religious language.
  • Wittgenstein’s language games criticises Ayer because Wittgenstein argues that religious language is a meaningful non-cognitive expression of participation in a language game. It’s not a failed unverifiable attempt to describe reality because it’s not an attempt to describe reality at all – just an expression of participation in a social game.
  • However, most religious people would reject Wittgenstein’s theory because they think that they are expressing cognitive beliefs about reality when they use religious language.


AO1: Falsificationism

  • Popper invented Falsificationism, the view that science/empiricism works through falsification not verification. Scientists don’t just look for evidence for their theory, they look for evidence against their theory.
  • For a belief to be truly scientific, it must be falsifiable, meaning we must be able to imagine how it could be false.
  • Flew applied this to religious language, pointing out that religious people cannot imagine what evidence could prove their belief in God false.
  • All our beliefs about reality could be false, so if there is a belief that cannot be false then it cannot be about reality.
  • Religious language therefore fails to have cognitive meaning – it fails to say anything about reality and is therefore meaningless.
  • The parable of the gardener illustrates the way that religious people just alter their definition of God to avoid making it possible to test whether it is true or false.
  • God ‘dies a death of a thousand qualifications’ – the word loses all meaning because it is not about reality.

AO2: Falsificationism

  • The falsification principle cannot be falsified, so it is meaningless by its own criteria.
  • However, Popper avoided this problem by not making the principle about language.
  • However, Flew therefore fails because he does make it about language
  • Mitchell argues that Flew unfairly characterises religious belief as irrationally blind to counter-evidence, whereas religious people often actually do admit that the problem of evil is evidence against their belief in God.
  • However, this is not enough to make their belief falsifiable. Admitting counter-evidence to your belief is not enough to make their belief falsifiable – for that it is required that they be able to imagine what evidence would prove their belief false.
  • Hare’s bliks criticises Flew because Hare thinks religious language is a meaningful non-cognitive expression of attitude. It’s not a failed unfalsifiable attempt to describe reality because it’s not an attempt to describe reality at all – just an expression of attitude.
  • However, most religious people would reject Hare’s theory because they think that they are expressing cognitive beliefs about reality when they use religious language.
  • Wittgenstein’s language games criticises Flew because Wittgenstein argues that religious language is a meaningful non-cognitive expression of participation in a language game. It’s not a failed unfalsifiable attempt to describe reality because it’s not an attempt to describe reality at all – just an expression of participation in a social game.
  • However, most religious people would reject Wittgenstein’s theory because they think that they are expressing cognitive beliefs about reality when they use religious language.

Analogical language 


  • Aquinas argued that God is beyond our understanding so we cannot say what he is.
  • However, we can say what he is like by using analogical language.
  • God created us in his image and likeness so our qualities are analogous to God.
  • The analogy of attribution is that we can attribute qualities to a creator that are analogous to those of its creation.
  • The analogy of proportion is that beings can have a quality to a degree that is proportional to their being. God as the greatest being would have a quality to a greater degree than a human
  • So, we can say that God has qualities of love, power and knowledge that are analogous to human qualities of love, power and knowledge but proportionally greater.
  • Religious language can therefore be meaningful if it is understood analogically
  • Ramsey claims that in human experiences, ‘disclosure’ occurs – where we become aware of something divine – like a religious experience.
  • We have a very limited understanding of the divine however, so the problem arises in how to meaningfully express what has been disclosed.
  • We can use ‘models’ – things we are already familiar with in everyday life, and add ‘qualifiers’ to them – a word or phrase which shows that we are attempting to use the model to talk about something beyond things we are familiar with – like the divine.
  • g. we have a sense of ‘good’ and disclosure might tell us that God is good, but we need to add the qualifier ‘infinitely’ to get ‘God is infinitely good’.
  • We can’t really understand what infinite goodness is, but qualifying this model allows us to indicate that we are trying to talk about something that has been disclosed to us but that we cannot fully understand.
  • This is an appropriate way to talk about our experiences of God, despite not being able to understand what God is.

AO2: Evaluation of analogy

  • The accuracy problem: analogies are only meaningful if we know both things, e.g. ‘water behaves like electricity’. We do not know what God is, so analogies with God are meaningless.
  • However, all we need to know is that God created us in his likeness to know that God has qualities which are analogous with ours but proportionally greater. We don’t know what those qualities are, but we know that they are analogous to ours.
  • Arguably analogy is not how religious people tend to actually talk, so the theory fails to capture the true meaning of religious language, especially the emotional and spiritual element of it.
  • However, Aquinas has shown a defensible way to talk meaningfully about God which avoids the trap of talking about something beyond our understanding.
  • Ayer and Flew would say that analogies are unverifiable or unfalsifiable
  • However, Ayer and Flew’s theories have their own issues. 


AO1: Tillich & Randall

  • Tillich claimed that most religious language functioned symbolically.
  • When looking at a crucifix, a Christian might feel intensely that it means something to them.
  • A crucifix is an object however, not words. The meaning it produces is not like words which have a literal meaning, therefore. It’s meaning is symbolic.
  • Tillich’s insight is that when people speak or hear religious language, the effect on their mind is just like looking at a crucifix. It’s meaning functions symbolically.
  • Symbols function by pointing to something beyond themselves that they participate in and open up dimensions of our soul to higher spiritual levels of reality.
  • The meaning of religious language is not therefore to describe what God is, which is impossible, but to connect our minds and souls to God.
  • Randall developed his own theory of symbolic language which was much more explicitly non-cognitive than Tillich’s.
  • Randall likens religious language to music, art and poetry – which affect us spiritually and emotionally.
  • Symbols do not symbolise something external, but arouse emotions, motivate actions, stimulate cooperative action, bind communities together and communicate aspects of experience that cannot be expressed literally. 

AO2: Evaluation of symbolic language

  • Symbols change their meaning over time and become stale through overuse. For example, does the crucifix have the same symbolic meaning as the cross did during early Christianity? Arguably not.
  • However, Tillich responds that we could do cultural archaeology – to try and discover what the meaning of symbols were to the early Christians.
  • However, that seems difficult, perhaps impossible to do precisely.
  • Alston argues that religious language cannot be only symbolic but must in large part be more factual. For example, religious views about salvation and getting to heaven and hell must be taken as factual statements, not symbolic.
  • However, Tillich and Randell arguably do succeed in capturing how much of religious language actually functions for most religious people. It does seem to involve this emotional and spiritual element and connection to higher spiritual levels of reality.
  • Ayer and Flew would say that symbolic meaning is unverifiable or unfalsifiable
  • However, Ayer and Flew’s theories have their own issues.
  • Aquinas would reject symbolic language because for him we can successfully talk about God in a factual sense so long as we understand our language about God to be analogical.
  • Criticisms of Aquinas apply. Plus, most religious people probably do not imagine their language about God to be analogical – arguably Tillich and Randell capture their meaning better.
  • Nonetheless, there does seem to be at least some factual element to religious language for most religious people. It can’t be only symbolic.


AO1: Bultmann

  • The resurrection stories contain supernatural elements which make them mythological and thus unbelievable for modern scientifically-minded audiences.
  • The resurrection is thus not historically valid.
  • A literal approach is just blind faith and ignoring of science, so that is invalid.
  • The best approach is demythologising – interpreting the deeper truth the myths are trying to convey.
  • Presenting the bible stories as their deeper truths will allow modern audiences to understand the Bible properly
  • The demythologised deeper truth of the resurrection is that it is about the raising of the early church and the spread of Jesus’ teachings through preaching. This enables the resurrection within people who hear it, in the sense of inviting them to a moral life.

AO2: Evaluation of Bultmann & Myth

  • Subjectivity issue: Aren’t the ‘deep truth’ Myths intend to convey down to interpretation and therefore subjective? How could we ever know we had ascertained the ‘true’ meaning?
  • However, it’s still better to try and figure out the deeper meaning than just take them literally and ignore science which is ‘blind faith’, as Bultmann says.
  • Many parts of the bible seem to be literal – e.g saying Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Nor does the bible anywhere say you shouldn’t take it literally. So is there really biblical support for this view?
  • However, Bultmann responds that parts of the bible are myth, whereas other parts are literal.
  • However, how then do we know exactly which parts are which?
  • Ayer and Flew would say that mythical meaning is unverifiable or unfalsifiable
  • However, Ayer and Flew’s theories have their own issues.

language games

AO1: Wittgenstein

  • Wittgenstein in his early life had a theory similar to Ayer and Flew – that the meaning of words worked by referring to, or ‘picturing’ things in the physical world.
  • However, later in his life Wittgenstein to a significant degree changed his mind – and claimed that actually words get their meaning by referring to or connecting to the social reality.
  • The social reality is composed of different social games that we play.
  • ‘Game’ is meant in a broad sense of an activity with multiple people governed by rules.
  • The various social interactions we are involved in – family, friends, work, hobbies – all involve ways of talking that follow rules.
  • These rules are often unwritten and unconscious and are constantly changing. We typically learn them by being inducted into a social environment. E.g. you learned how to behave and talk during assembly by noticing that everyone was quiet in it and would get told off for making noise.
  • The meaning of words is not in referring to something in the world, but in its use in a social context.
  • Religion is its own type of social game. Religious language is meaningful as a non-cognitive expression of participation in a religious language game, by people who know the rules and can therefore play the game. People who have been socially inducted into a religion.
  • Science is a different language game with different rules. Religious language is only meaningless within the scientific language game.

AO2: Evaluation of Wittgenstein

  • Most religious people would not accept that the meaning of religious language was purely to express participation in a social game. It might be partly that, but many would claim that they intend to express cognitive belief about reality – that God exists.
  • However, the religious understanding of ‘reality’ is arguably not a scientific one. They make feel that they are expressing beliefs about reality, but it is the religious understanding of reality within the religious language game that they are referring to.


  • Some religious scientists think that God’s existence has scientific evidence for it, e.g. Polkinghorne & Francis Collins. It looks like religious and scientific meaning is not as separate as Wittgenstein claimed, suggesting religious language could actually be cognitive.
  • However, most scientists would reject supposed scientific evidence for God as actually unscientific. So arguably it is not a link between the religious and scientific language games, but just the religious language game.


  • Aquinas would reject language games because Aquinas argues that religious language can express meaningful belief in God by analogy. It isn’t just expressing participating in a language game.
  • Criticisms of Aquinas apply