One of the main ideas of the analytic schools of philosophy (logical atomism, ordinary language philosophy,...) is that many philosophical problems can be dissolved - as opposed to resolved - upon analysis of the language used to describe the problem, it is realized that there was never a problem to start with, just a complication or misuse created by the way the problem was stated.

It struck me that this might be the case in the believers vs atheists debates. Two examples:

  1. Religious people regularly try to prove God's existence. However the whole point of religion is to have faith in God, i.e. to believe and trust in God without having any positive proof of his existence or actions. Their attempts to prove his existence or his miracles are useless, since that defeats the whole purpose (to believe without proof) of religion in the first place.
  2. Conversely, atheists regularly state that they reject religion because they don't believe in the super-natural. But how is the super-natural any different from the unseen or yet-to-be-discovered natural? A purely logical and empirical person from the ancient era or the middle ages would find electricity and the existence of other galaxies just as hard to swallow as angels and heavens. To say that I don't believe in the supernatural is to say that I don't believe in anything whose existence hasn't been proven yet, a view that even most scientists would find untenable.

So my question is: Has anyone of note attempted to dissolve the problems of philosophy of religion using analytic methods?

  • 2
    I don't believe in anything whose existence hasn't been proven yet I don't see how that is a problem? It just means that "I don't know what all there is and I won't believe it until it is proven", it is just being open minded rather than having a belief without any proof. The difference is between "There could be" and "There is definitely "
    – Ankur
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 8:40
  • @Ankur I think I'm right in saying that athesit don't just not believe in God, they positively believe there is no God, so the analogy with undiscovered 'stuff' would be that say, many years ago, they would believe that there is no radium. Ie.. not allow for its possibility. I'm not 100% sure I'm right there but it seemed to me that's the stance the OP is making in second example Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 8:56
  • I think this is one reason for the invention of analytic philosophy - a middle ground via which this debate can be discussed; after all the Vienna circle wanted to get away from woolly metaphysics - or so I have read; I don't know how that debate in those terms stands now. Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 18:14
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    "However the whole point of religion is to have faith in God without having any positive proof" - this is generally not what religious people mean by "having faith" in the technical sense. I've often seen "faith" defined as the persistence in acknowledging God given that we have already had sufficient evidence. For example, the point of most religious scriptures is to provide testimony, a form of data or evidence. Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 19:57
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    "the whole point of religion is to have faith in God, i.e. to believe and trust in God without having any positive proof of his existence or actions". Eh, no... Christianity has defined faith as a virtue, and shares that with its Abrahamic siblings Judaism and Islam. But it is not the purpose of religion. My personal opinion: the whole "faith is a virtue" thing, is a suspiciously convenient way for the religious authorities to get the congregation to stop asking for proof for the claims made by said authorities, thereby alleviating the need to say "Because we said so".
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 10:18

6 Answers 6


Analytic philosophy has taken quite a few different developments. I'll use some Quine and a little bit of Kuhn in order to show what the expression of "hasn't been proven" might mean in analytic philosophy and how this may answer your question.

According to Quine to exist is to be the value of a bound variable. Variables are bound by quantifiers to form sentences the meaning of which is spent by theories these sentences are part of. As there is no strict border between analytic and synthetic sentences (and theories) all our theories are more or less intertwined with the natural sciences and thereby building our web of belief.

The quality of this whole web -- there may by be competing webs (Kuhn) -- depends on its ability to make forecasts which come true. The relevance of a theory as part of this web depends on the relevance of its sentences to make these forecasts.

Hence, if there is a theory which includes a sentence that involves a bound variable the value of which is such that the name of "God" suits it, then there is evidence for the existence of God. The better the whole web and the more relevant this theory to the web, the better the evidence. "Not been proven" means (almost) no evidence according to this standard.

An analytic reason people don't believe in God is the fact that there is no entity in their web of belief which at the same time would be relevant for forecasts and would be an object the name of "God" suits.

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    How is this a way to dissolve the debate about God's existence? This just explains how a person who accepts a holistic view of theory confirmation might reject God as a scientific hypothesis. I thought the question was, how to dissolve the debate about God's existence.
    – Johannes
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 11:01

Dissolving metaphysical problems, as being meaningless, has been an old ploy of empiricism. It came to fruition especially with the logical positivists. Here is a typical passage from Alfred Ayer's Language, Truth And Logic:

To test whether a sentence expresses a genuine . . . hypothesis, I adopt what may be called a modified verification principle . . . If a putative proposition fails to satisfy this principle, and is not a tautology, then I hold that it is metaphysical, and that, being metaphysical, it is neither true nor false but literally senseless. It will be found that much of what ordinarily passes for philosophy is metaphysical according to this criterion, and. In particular, that it can not be significantly asserted that there is a non-empirical world of values, or that men have immortal souls, or that there is a transcendent God.

The early Ludwig Wittgenstein started from the assumption of the possibility of a perfect language, rather than from empiricist premises, but he reached similar conclusions. Here, from the Tractatus:

6.53 The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science— i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy— and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person— he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy— this method would be the only strictly correct one.

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    It seems like a lot of materialistic or physicalist philosophers have vigorously tried to dissolve the concept of ANY Deity. And philosophy seems to be monopolised by matrialist and atheistic sentiments. Someone who argues for a logical approach to the concept of a Deity is quickly sequestered to a religious website or a religious part of a bookstore or library....
    – 201044
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 11:10

I don't know if this is the answer your looking for, but it reminds me of a story about a theologian named Herbert McCabe who would debate atheists publicly. The atheist in question would explain why he didn't believe in God, and afterwards, McCabe would say "I completely agree with you." He would then go on to explain that the way the atheist defined and thought of "God" was different than how McCabe (and many other theologians) thought about God, and he attempted to show that there need not be a conflict given a different notion of God.

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    While not an answer to the OP's question, this is a really good point in general. A lot of what people reject are specific conceptions of God. Other conceptions may have no evidence for them (or may be vacuously true) but they aren't as easily dismissed in principle. So those who reject God as "the old man in the sky" may at least be open to the possibility of a non-personal God, etc...
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 15:40

One does not have to go as far as logical positivists or even to atheists to find "analytical dissolutions" of the problems of philosophy and religion.

In his Third Antinomy, I believe, and elsewhere, Kant demonstrates that logic or "analytical" methods cannot prove the existence of God nor the opposite. He in effect "dissolves" the problem as a suitable object of dialectic.

Of course, Kant himself did believe in God as a "necessary postulate" of practical reason and moral behavior. He simply placed the whole problem outside of analytical methods.


Regarding 2., this has been addressed by Bertrand Russell in his famous orbiting teapot thought experiment.

You appear to argue that we should believe in the existence of Russell's teapot because we can't disprove its existence. This is a logical fallacy known as "shifting the burden of proof".

Bertrand Russell is often regarded as being the founder of analytic philosophy. Thus, I guess this answers your question.

Still, regarding the "a view that even most scientists would find untenable" part, according Karl Popper's epistemology falsifiability is a necessary criterion for any scientific theory. Thus, you are claiming that most scientists would knowingly support some form of pseudo-science. This might be true, although you should definitely provide some evidence supporting this claim. (Remember this "burden of proof" thing?) But even if this is the case, this is nothing more than an argument from authority, and a poor one at that as you claim we should trust scientists when they support unscientific theories.


Q = the past historical events that had happened or unfold

P = something/somebody who had predicted these events would happen

If and only If

P implies Q and Q implies P , P《》Q

Truth table:

  • P - Q - P 《》 Q

  • True -True -True (Logical)

  • True -False -False (Not logical)
  • False -True -False (Not Logical)
  • False -False -True ( Logical )

We will rule out the False P 《》Q statements as illogical statements.

And look at the True P 《》Q statements.

Put it in description, we will find these two True logical statements as:

  1. If and only if "the events predicted did not unfold in human history", then the "something of somebody had falsely predicted the future events."

  2. If and only if " the events predicted took place in human history, then that means that the "something and somebody must have correctly predicted it."


If it does not exist, there is NO SUCH EARTHLY THING OR PERSON as the above because there is no subject can be referred to for this action of making predictions.

But, there is ! It is discovered that there is a bible that reveals the above characteristic.

The question is, if there exists such a book called the "bible" that contains many such fulfilled prophecies..

Then how can this "something or someone" does not exist ??

That contradicts our very statement above.

This gives us a clue to the existence of God.

  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE! While I am certainly sympathetic to this sort of argument, (1) it could be more concise (eg, you don't need to define the notion of iff) (2) this post could be written more clearly, (3) you are attempting to prove God's existence, not "dissolve" it as the OP asked. Good answers on this site usually cite one or more canonical philosophers. Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 19:08

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