Ayer paragraph 5

b) Do you agree? Justify…

I do agree with Ayer that God must be an ‘object of faith [rather than] one of reason’; it stands to reason that if we knew God existed for definite then our choices whether to believe in him or not would be rather limited, in fact would be no choice at all. However I do not agree that every sentence about God must be robbed of significance because it is about a transcendent being.


Throughout man’s history he has struggled to express the inexpressible through art, literature, music, poetry, rituals and ceremonies. Since man first started to worship gods with burnt offerings, sacrifices, prayers and chanting through to the more illustrious works of Michelangelo and his painting of the Sistine Chapel, or da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper or Handel’s The Messiah or even John Donne’s poetry, it has been clear that some people have seen more than just this realm. And although it is admittedly difficult to express in words the ‘mystical’ inspiration which has come to these various artists it would be ridiculous to dismiss their contributions to human culture as ‘nonsense’ or ‘[in]significant.’ It seems obvious that they have ‘intuited’ something, some ‘mystery’ which may be difficult to describe but the communication of which strikes a chord in many others.


Ayer is trying to limit the validity of human experience to the realm of the phenomenon and dismiss anything which cannot be objectively verified as ‘nonsense’, however it is clear that to a great many people throughout human history the experience of another realm the realm of the numenon is just as real. It may not be fully ‘intelligible to the reason’, it may be difficult or even impossible to verify objectively but to some people it is fully real. He is dismissing ‘intuition’ as irrelevant but probably the vast majority of humans would claim to have had some sort of ‘intuitive’ experiences in their lives. He goes on in his next paragraph to state that ‘the state of mystical intuition is not a genuinely cognitive state and that these ‘experiences’ rather give an indication of the ‘condition of …mind’ of the experients. But to reject everything which in his view does not ‘constitute science’ is short sighted and insufficient in light of the possible evidence.


It seems to me that discussion and investigation of the source of these ‘mystical intuitions’ is a relevant, worthwhile and meaningful occupation for a philosopher! While it may be true that the existence of a God may not be demonstratively proved, Swinburne says:


‘I suggest that the overwhelming testimony of so many millions of people to occasional experiences of God… be taken as tipping the balance in favour of the existence of god.’


On the other hand as Sam Harris observed:


‘We have names for people who have beliefs for which there is no rational justification… [Sometimes] they are called ‘religious’ but they are [more] likely to be called ‘mad’, ‘psychotic’ or ‘delusional.’


Perhaps the final word should go to Richard Dawkins!


‘The argument for personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim one. But it is the least convincing to anyone else.’


From your essays

  1. Mel (b) essentially what (b) wants you to do is to speculate on how different human experience would be / have been if there was no God. This is not to say there necessarily is a God but so many people have been convinced over the millennia that they have affected human history and culture.
    In addition although we may agree with Ayer in principle it is impossible even for an atheist like Dawkins to deny the significance of ‘mystical intuition’ to some people… we may not like the effect it has sometimes had but it is hard to argue that nothing has happened to convince people of a realm beyond this one.
  2. Lizzie – Ayer says theists claim about ‘mystical’ experiences says more about their state of mind than anything else!! (I.e. delusional!!?)
  3. Lizzie – there is no God so anyone who claims to have knowledge of God is talking nonsense (I suppose it’s a bit like the number of Americans who claim to have been abducted by aliens!! We are very sceptical!!) and there is no point discussing something which to him patently obviously doesn’t exist! See 2
  4. Lizzie – when Ayer uses the word ‘transcendent’ firstly he is quoting others secondly he is mocking those people since he doesn’t believe in a transcendental being.
  5. Leah – even though believers might not be able to adequately explain why they still believe in the face of evil and suffering – most of them would claim that they have to believe otherwise there is no reason and they might as well shoot themselves – exaggerating here!!
  6. Nyika – ‘though there may be no direct evidence of God there is plenty of indirect evidence. Much of human history and culture has been influenced by people who have had ‘mystical’ intuitive experiences e.g. St Paul, St Teresa of Avila….. So if God does not exist and mystical experiences are only in the mind how can we account for the masses of people whose lives have been transformed by their belief…
  7. Nyika – it seems only a tautology (logical/obvious) that if something cannot be described then you cannot describe it and to try will only succeed in saying something which is not true.
  8. Harvey – if the claim ‘God exists’ cannot be verified or falsified then it has no meaning. It is as meaningless as to assert that aliens on Jupiter must have metal skin because that is the only way they could survive under the extreme gravity!!
  9. Emma – he is dismissive of mystic and intuition – neither are verifiable, neither are cognitive and the first is a product of a [sick] mind!!
  10. Emma – believers use myth and symbol and metaphor to attempt to define the indefinable – everyone knows they do not mean it literally but to not even try is to deny potentially a whole realm of human experience. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try. Ooh just had a good idea – Lear’s daughter in king Lear, Cordelia, she is asked by her father how much she loves him. Rather than doing as her sisters did and waxing lyrical she simply says as much as salt. He is offended at her seeming lack of enthusiasm. But she was expressing something so deep words didn’t do it justice in a simple yet obvious way. Not meant to be taken literally! (Get it? Good eh?)
  11. Mel – it’s a bit like saying ‘I know what it seems like but it isn’t what you think but you wouldn’t understand so I shan’t say anything.’ (see Emma 10)
  12. Mel – Ayer means the discussion is pointless – it’s like arguing that aliens living on Jupiter would have to be…but they couldn’t be because they don’t exist so the point is pointless!
  13. Mel – my example is my husband once took my favourite mug into the garage. I said please don’t, he said nothing will happen to it, I said just don’t just in case. He said stop worrying then put it on the freezer lid and lifted the lid. Mug fell off, broke. His argument would be there is no point to this discussion. But there was!!         [6 hours out of my life!!]    Hope these help!



  1. http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/05/space-euphoria.html
  2. https://www.cbn.org/media/player/index.aspx?s=/vod/MIA44v4_WS&search=700club&p=10&parent=1&subnav=false
  3. http://www.actsweb.org/articles/article.php?i=17&d=1&c=1&p=1


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