10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2010
A complex book looking at the issue of proofs of God's existence very thoroughly. The author rightly rejects a priori deductive proofs of God's existence and non existence as necessarily flawed, and thus the ontological proofs, the 5 ways etc. are all out as pure deductive proofs. But the opening chapters look at the issue of inductive argument, probabilities and the evident truth that the simplest explanation is usually the best in scientific explanation as well as in personal explanation (a concept which itself gets a lot of discussion).
Having laid some solid groundwork, the arguments for God's existence are examined in depth. Swinburne makes some excellent points and answers many criticisms very well. However his argument hinges on the ability to prove that the hypothesis of God is the most probably hypothess, and he does this by settling a value on the probability of God being about 1/2 before bringing in miracles and his principle of credulity. Sceptics will perhaps point out that a desire to achieve a value of 1/2 at this point may colour the values given for probabilities from other arguments. Perhaps the problem of evil, that Swinburne notes "reduces the probability" actually reduces it much more than the author supposes. Thus to set such a probability is somewhat open to challenge.
Having established that probablility, the principle of credulity is brought in to suggest we believe claims to miracles and such like unless there is reason to doubt. A sceptic will reply that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and thus the strong extra jolt given to the probabilities by the influence of miracles on the hypothesis can certainly be quibbled with. Moreover, the argument about the strongest claims to miracles that the author introduces seems to miss the point that weaker and conflicting claims to miraculous support for conflicting notions is itself an argument against the principle of credulity
Ultimately this book is not going to convince an atheist of God's existence I suspect. However, it does have some wonderful insights in it. The arguments about the hidden-ness of God are wonderfully thought through. The realisation that there must be a possibility of agnosticism if we are ever to make choices free of the knowledge of our being watched, as it were, over our shoulders was a new one on me. Many other arguments favoured by atheists are also dealt with thoughtfully and thoroughly.
This review picks a couple of points and simplifies some very thorough arguments, and I would strongly recommend reading the book to understand the arguments more deeply. It would be quite wrong to dismiss this book based on my comments. I don't think it will convince people who are predisposed to reject the thesis, but whatever your opinion of God's existence or non existence, this is a deep and thoughtful analysis that deserves to be carefully considered.
A first class book on the philosophy of religion - but like Keith Ward's book, "Why there almost certainly is a God", I think this ultimately makes the case that belief in God is a thoroughly rational belief, without making an overwhelmingly convincing case that would sway anyone if (we say with a deep say) they just had the wherewithal to understand it!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2012
Richard Swinburne doesn't need to be introduced to those interested in contemporary philosophy of religion. He is - together with Alvin Plantinga - the finest living analytic christian philosopher. He opens this book with a statement that "the book aims to discuss the topic [i.e. whether or not there is a God] in depth and with rigour" and this is just what he does.
Swinburne builds a probabilistic case for theism while rejecting deductive arguments. He treats theism as a quasi-scientific hypotheses. His method is quite simple. After a few introductory chapters, he tries to make some a priori considerations about what is to be expected if there is a God. He then examines various features of the universe (as well as its existance) and shows that these are more to be expected if there is a God than if there is no God. To use the standard symbols, he argues that P(e/h&k)>P(e/~h&k), where P(e/h&k) means probability of e given h and k (e is the evidence that Swinburne considers, h is theism, ~h is "theism is false" and k is previously considered evidence). From this it follows that P(h/e&k)>P(h/k), so each piece of evidence increases the probability of theism. Probability here is to be understood as the degree of confidence to which we can suppose that something is true (so called epistemic probability).
Swinburne also adresses the objection that his arguments could be as well used to show that there are a few minor deities or one deity with great but limited power and wisdom. His refutation of these charges is brilliant (but also controversial).
Swinburne also raises the problem of evil, but his discussion of this issue is - I think - the weakest part of the book. He concludes that evil decreases the probability of theism, but only slightly. His refutation of the argument from hideness against the existance of God is compelling.
In the last chapter of the book, trying to reach some more definite conclusions, Swinburne faces a huge problem - so far he showed that various pieces of evidence he considered are such that each (apart from evil) increases the probability of theism, some moderately and some considerably. But to reach some value, we have to start with something. And what value should we start with? Any value of P(h/k) (intrinsic probability of theism or - as the author says - probability on tautological evidence) seems completely arbitrary and unjustified. Here once again Swinburne comes up with an excellent solution.
It's worth noting that Swinburne's concept of God is not identical with the traditional views on God - He is not a logically necessary being, He exists eternally in time and He doesn't know what a free creature will do (since - according to Swinburne - this is logically impossible; so of course God is nevertheless omniscient). Neither is He the source of moral truths. Readers interested in philosophy of religion will by acquainted with authors positions on these matters. Anyway, it doesn't make much difference to the argument (apart from necessity - if you think God is logically necessary, then a supposition that there is no God is incoherent, so it's obvious that P(e/h&k)>P(e/~h&k) since the latter is zero,if any at all)
So there are some controversial points. Nonetheless, this is probably the strongest argumentation for theism ever written. It is precise and rigurous. And I think the conclusion ("theism is more probable than not") is sound, as long as you accept what the author calls the "principle of simplicity", which seems right (but is far from uncontroversial- Platinga for example doesn't accept it, as fas as I know). But I suppose I would give 5 stars even if I didn't agree with the conclusion - that's because this is one of the most important books in contemporary philosophy of religion, an enormous contribution to natural theology. And its general approach is (or was when published) a novelty in this field. It is a must for anyone seriously pondering the question of the justification of belief in God.
The argument is continued in "Revelation" and in "The Ressurection of God Incarnate".
18 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 2 June 2002
If you have an interest in the philosophy of religion then this may be considered required reading. It defends the position of the Christian theist and aims to justify a belief in God. This is done via novel, inductive reformulations of other arguments. Unfortunately, the arguments are not water-tight, and should not be taken as conclusive proof of God's existence. Overall, a comprehensive account of the state of play in modern, Christian theodicy.