In philosophy departments, logical positivism has been ignored, as far as I am aware, for the last few decades. But in the outside world, it has become the de-facto worldview of many materialists. When you boil down the beliefs of the new atheists, you get to the statement that only science can generate reliable knowledge. Since theology is not scientific, it is not worth bothering with.
It’s this return of logic positivism that makes A. J. Ayer’s manifesto Language, Truth and Logic, written in 1936, relevant today. It is the next book I’ve been able to cross off my list of things I should have read ages ago. Ayer’s book is of great value because it is an open-eyed analysis of what logic positivism actually means. It is not just God who gets sucked up by the positivistic vacuum. So to does ethics, other minds, aesthetics and even atheism.
As Ayer says “…in so far as statements of value are significant, they are ordinary ‘scientific’ statements; and that in as in as far as they are not scientific, they are not in the literal sense significant, but simply expressions of emotion which can neither be true or false.” I have yet to see how ethical beliefs can be maintained as true by the new atheist, which is ironic because they spend much of their time labelling things they don’t like as very bad. On what grounds? There might be a non-theistic basis for ethics, but you certainly won’t find it in scientific materialism.
As for atheism, Ayer reminds us, “If the assertion that there is a God is nonsensical, then the atheist’s assertion that there is not a god is equally nonsensical, since it is only a significant proposition that can be significantly contradicted.” This might explain why the argument in chapter four of the God Delusion was laughed at by philosophers of all stripes.
It gets worse for the naïve logical positivists. Ayer admits that we have no reason to believe in other minds except that other people seem to act quite like us. In other word, we are back to the behaviourism that made B. F. Skinner so famous and now so reviled. And, as Alvin Plantinga has often noted, this puts other minds in the same boat as God.
So, Language, Truth and Logic teaches us that new atheist philosophy is incoherent. And that is from the man who wrote the book.
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