God, Revelation and Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 5

Posted: January 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

“In the early 1920s the Vienna Circle propounded a criterion for verification that recognized as “meaningful” only statements that are either analytic or in principle supportable by observation. All other assertations were considered “nonsensical”—although in some cases perhaps important nonsense.”  Carl F.H. Henry

Logical positivism is the movement Henry describes above.  In many ways, this may be the most dated chapter in Henry’s work for logical positivism is all but dead and was on life support when Henry was writing the chapter in the early to mid-1970’s.  Yet, there is still some wisdom to be culled from Henry analysis.

Logical positivists (or analytical philosophers) argued that any statement that can not be verified is meaningless.  Henry responded that evangelical Christians agree that statements must either be true or false but protested, “How are theological assertions about the invisible transcendent Spirit and other central tenets of the Christian religion to be verified?”  After all, one cannot drag God into a lab.  Thus, logical positivists arbitrarily closed the door on the possibility of divine revelation by insisting on an overly narrow method of verification. 

Henry argues that many Christian thinkers made the mistake of trying to play the logical positivists game.  Some argued that statements about God are verifiable but only at the end of time–such an assertion doesn’t help much at the present!  Others argued that statements about God are verifiable but in a different way that is more amenable to dealing with matters of transcendent truth–namely, internal experience.  Proponents of this view argued that if enough people had the same internal experience then this should count as verified truth.  Yet, as Henry points out, such an appeal doesn’t move the ball forward because how can you ever really know that the internal experience is truly from God and not from some other trait that many humans share such as a love for rollercoasters or whatever?

In the end, logical positivism failed largely because it was unhelpful even to secularists.  For example, it is impossible to follow logical positivism and make universal claims.  The classic example is, “All ravens are black.”  To verify the statement one would have to catch and catalog every single raven on the planet from the past, present and future. 

Henry ends chapter 5 noting that while positivism failed, Christians should heed the call to set forth a “way of knowing” and a means of verifying whether a statement is true or false.  Once we have finished the six volumes of this modern evangelical masterpiece, Henry will set forth just such a method.

  1. […] the weight of the various attacks. Be sure and comeback and, I might add, check out Pastor Matt’s summaries of each chapter of God, Revelation, and […]

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