If there was one intellectual development in living memory that separates the “grandparent” from the “parent” generation of British theology, it was the rise of logical positivism and analytical philosophy. A fairly homogeneous educated class, largely shaped through a few major universities, received a massive assault from within those universities not just on its philosophy but on its beliefs, ethics and worldview. “But how can you prove . . . ?” “But what do you really mean by. . .” were the reigning questions, and the conclusion of the inquiry was usually that your meaning had no empirical basis and did not make sense. The assault was made by a confident army of elite intellectuals, who appropriated the prestige of modern science and offered a rational rigor that might provide a place (however confined) to stand amidst world wars and huge changes in every area of life.
The story is far more complicated than that, yet it is vital to understand how, in the middle two quarters of the 20th century, a drastically reductionist way of thinking became the bottom line against which everything was measured.