Ayer paragraph 1 helpful hints for answering question

a) Clarify / examine the argument and / or interpretation in the passage. [24]

First summarise in your own words what the overall message of the passage is e.g.

In paragraph one Ayer is suggesting that philosophers generally agree that the existence of a transcendent God, the god of Classical Theism, cannot be ‘demonstratively proved’ and that therefore any statements about this kind of God possess no ‘literal significance.’ [Obviously there is more that can be said even in this summary.]

Do drop in the odd direct quote from the passage see ‘….’

Then explain any concepts which need explaining to a non-specialist e.g.

Classical theism
Arguments from the regularity of nature (teleological arguments) HP Owen notes ‘…the sense of God’s reality can be produced by the contemplation of beauty and order in nature.’ Isaac Newton agreed and so have plenty of scientists down the ages been convinced of the existence of God from the evidence in nature…
God is a metaphysical term…

Use quotes.

Also explain his claims e.g.

  • Philosophers generally admit…
  • No way of proving
  • Not even probable
  • Cannot be true or false
  • Religious language is meaningless…who says…Wittgenstein Religious Language Games
  • No literal significance
  • Bertrand Russell ‘deception is constantly practised with success.’ (Pinched from Donovan!)


Then put or explain that there may be other viewpoints e.g.

Not all philosophers…what about theists and other religious people? Examples of religious philosophers and modern religious thinkers like John Polkinghorne, John Hick, Richard Swinburne, FC Copleston… just because Dawkins is such a popular and frequent contributor to media debates about these issues doesn’t make his view the only one!

Some would argue that God’s existence is an empirical hypothesis… e.g. those who have had religious experiences such as St Teresa of Avila who said
‘…it is wholly impossible for me to doubt that I have been in God and God in me.‘ For her it was a wholly empirical experience if not verifiable…

Cumulative weight of evidence of arguments for God’s existence… Swinburne…

Lots of assertions are made which cannot be empirically verified ‘I love John’ ‘he loves me’ ‘that is an ugly piece of art.’ Doesn’t mean they are necessarily meaningless.

Meaningless to whom?


You can also begin by putting his opinion in a context e.g.

Ayer was one of the Logical positivists, Vienna Circle, 1920s -30’s; they believed… verification…

types of language…


b) Do you agree with the ideas expressed? Justify your point of view and discuss its implications for understanding religious and human experience. [16]

In my opinion… talk about the existence of God is meaningful. Not just for the believer but also for the non-believer. Religion is a worldwide phenomenon it would be short-sighted to ignore the fact that many people are affected, live their lives by and meaningfully practice a religion.

For example… Gandhi…mother Teresa…Martin Luther King (plus possibly some Biblical or other religious examples)

I take the point that perhaps we can come to no universally agreed upon conclusions as to the exact nature of what ever God we might be investigating but it cannot be pointless to try. Swinburne called God ‘transcategorical’… but as humans we live and grow by learning more about our environment and the world which we inhabit.

I agree that religion has had as many detrimental effects as positive ones e.g…. list a few of each… people / events / art / literature etc

However any phenomena which has had such an effect and impact on society must be subject to investigation and to do that we must talk about it…


Do fling in the philosophers names particularly Swinburne, Russell, Dawkins and some of the more important experients e.g. St Teresa etc.

Find some good quotes that will do for all uses and learn them.

Good Dawkins quotes

Matt Ridley: ‘most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance which drives them on.’ Dawkins: Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious.’

‘those people who leap from personal bafflement at a natural phenomenon straight to a hasty invocation of the supernatural are no better than the fools who see a conjuror bending a spoon and leap to the conclusion that it is ‘paranormal.’ ‘

Against the anthropic principle: ‘it follows from the fact of our existence that the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise… ‘ in other words if they weren’t it wouldn’t and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Just because it is ‘very improbable’ doesn’t mean impossible.

‘in George Bernard Shaw’s words: ‘the fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.’

‘if neuro-scientists find a ‘god-centre’ in the brain… will still want to understand the natural selection pressure that favoured it.’

Hitler and Stalin may well have been atheists but that wasn’t why they perpetrated their evil deeds. In fact Dawkins argues Hitler lived a Catholic until he died. ‘In 1923 Hitler’s speech in Munich said: ‘…rescue our country from the Jew who is ruining it…we want to prevent our Germany from suffering as Another did the death upon the Cross.’ In other words the extermination of the Jews was justified in his mind. Even Martin Luther famous protestant reformed was a virulent Anti-Semite.’

Dawkins is not a fundamentalist scientist because if evidence came along that evolution was not true he would abandon it. He knows what it would take to change his mind. His objection to religious fundamentalism is that it ‘saps the intellect and subverts science.’

He gives the example of Kurt Wise a promising and respected geologist and palaeontologist who had a crisis of faith as a result of a fundamentalist upbringing and realising that he could not reconcile evolution and the Bible chose to reject evolution.

Quoting from the Glasgow Herald an article by Muriel Gray regarding the London Bombings: ‘Everyone is being blamed from the obvious duo Bush and Blair…[but] the cause of all this misery, mayhem, violence terror and ignorance is religion itself.’ Bertrand Russell said: ‘Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.’ And Voltaire: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’