for friendship and the history of Vietnam’s antagonism toward China. By the mid-1960s, it was clear that there was no monolithic communist bloc, as the Soviet Union and China had become bitter rivals, even engaging in skirmishes on their common border in 1969. To some degree, this schism relieved American fears that the “loss” of Vietnam would result in falling dominoes and a communist takeover of Asia. Yet Washington was not ready to give up the war in Vietnam, having made it a test case of American credibility as a global power and invested much blood and treasure to secure South Vietnam. Unwilling to admit any errors in the past, Nixon promised to achieve “peace with honor” in the end.
However, they are perhaps not exactly what we perceive by the senses, since this comprehension by the senses is in many instances very obscure and confused; but we must at least admit that all things which I conceive in them clearly and distinctly, that is to say, all things which, speaking generally, are comprehended in the object of pure mathematics, are truly to be recognized as external objects.
Logical positivism promoted an empiricist principle of meaning whichwas deemed lethal for religious belief. The following empiricistprinciple is representative: for a propositional claim (statement) tobe meaningful, it must either be about the bare formal relationsbetween ideas such as those enshrined in mathematics and analyticdefinitions (“A is A,” “triangles arethree-sided”) or there must in principle be perceptualexperience providing evidence of whether the claim is true orfalse. (The stronger version of positivism is that claims about theworld must be verifiable at least in principle). Both the weaker view(with its more open ended reference to evidence) and the strict view(in principle confirmation) delimit meaningful discourse about theworld. Ostensibly factual claims that have no implications for ourempirical experience are empty of content. In line with this form ofpositivism, A. J. Ayer (1910–1989) and others claimed that religiousbeliefs were meaningless. How might one empirically confirm that Godis omnipresent or loving or that Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu? In animportant debate in the 1950s and 1960s, philosophical arguments aboutGod were likened to debates about the existence and habits of anunobservable gardener, based on a parable by John Wisdom in1944–1945. The idea of a gardener who is not just invisible but whoalso cannot be detected by any sensory faculty seemed nonsense. Itseemed like nonsense because they said there was no difference betweenan imperceptible gardener and no gardener at all. Using this gardenanalogy and others crafted with the same design, Antony Flew (see hisessay in Mitchell 1971) made the case that religious claims do notpass the empirical test of meaning. The field of philosophy ofreligion in the 1950s and 1960s was largely an intellectualbattlefield where the debates centered on whether religious beliefswere meaningful or conceptually absurd.