Logical Positivism was a scientifically oriented philosophical movement that arose in the early part of the twentieth century. Its main assertion was that only statements that could be verified empirically were genuine. All other statements were considered meaningless.
Logical Positivism tried to link philosophy with science. The movement had its roots in the empirical skepticism of David Hume. More directly, though, Logical Positivism arose in the early twentieth century from a group of teachers and students from the University of Vienna. This “Vienna Circle,” as it came to be called, consisted of several scientists who wanted to develop a modern and scientific philosophy that would sweep away many of the problems of metaphysics and religion. Logical Positivism gained ground steadily but it became a major force when A.J. Ayer wrote his Language, Truth, and Logic in 1936. The work launched a major assault on metaphysics, and at its heart Logical Positivism can rightly be regarded as an anti-metaphysical philosophy.
As its chief weapon, Logical Positivists used what has been called the Verification Principle. The Verification Principle is a principle that allegedly distinguishes genuine factual statements from meaningless statements. According to Logical Positivists, the purpose of language is to make statements about the world and to communicate experiences. Essential to Logical Positivism, therefore, was the belief that only empirically verifiable statements were genuine. This philosophy, thus, had a negative perspective toward the metaphysical truths claims of religion and Christianity in particular. For Logical Positivists, many theologians speak of God’s existence, the soul, and immortality as factual matters, but these matters cannot be put to empirical and scientific observation. Thus, any statements about these things are meaningless. In fact, whenever anyone makes factual assertions about matters such as God, the soul, and immortality they are really making meaningless emotional assertions.
Logical Positivism should be distinguished from atheism. Atheism claims that religious assertions about God are false while Logical Positivism, on the other hand, argues that they are meaningless. Logical Positivism was initially well received by those interested in a modern philosophy that was scientifically based. The Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was not associated with the Vienna Circle, shared an approach similar to that of the Logical Positivists. Eventually, though, people began to question Logical Positivism. Since the Verification Principle could not be verified empirically many concluded that Logical Positivism was internally contradictory. After World War II Logical Positivism came under attack and by the late 1960s the movement collapsed.