Date of Award

Fall 1996

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Prendergast, Thomas

Second Advisor

McNulty, T. M.

Third Advisor

Jones, John


In this dissertation, I consider the arguments of Antony Flew, Kai Nielsen, and Michael Durrant--all of whom deny the possibility of reference to God, and Richard Gale--who denies the possibility of 'direct' reference to God. I argue that the arguments of these four critics are flawed. Flew's, Nielsen's, and Durrant's arguments misfire because (1) they assume, wrongly, that anyone who refers, using a name, must be able to identify that to which they are referring; (2) they conflate the conditions for successful reference simplicter with the conditions for showing or verifying that one has referred successfully; and (3) they fail to separate the epistemological issue of identifying an entity and the metaphysical issue of the conditions for the existence of an entity. Gale's argument also misfires because (1) he overstates what is necessary for a defence of the possibility of direct reference to God and (2) he conflates the conditions for showing others that one has had a veridical perception with the conditions for simply having a veridical perception. However, I argue that the kind of argument advanced by these four critics can be reformulated in such a way that it avoids the problems of the original arguments. After reformulating the I argument, I consider a recent response to the problem given by Paul Helm, a British philosopher of religion. Helm makes some important contributions to an adequate theistic response to the critics, but I contend that (1) he does not articulate the correct relationship between identification and reference, and (2) that his response is overly complicated and rests upon some inessential, and inadequately argued for, assumptions. Finally, I offer my own response to the reformulated objection, and a fortiori, to the four critics, a response which involves arguing that someone can veridically perceive, and hence initially refer, to an entity without being able to identify it by means of genera/species or essential properties, and that alleged disanalogies between veridical sense perceptions and so called theistic perceptions do not, simply as disanalogies, undermine the possibility of perceptions of God. On my view, then, all of the critical arguments examined fail to show the impossibility of reference, or of 'direct' reference, to God.



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