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Providence and the Problem of Evil by [Swinburne, Richard]
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Providence and the Problem of Evil Kindle Edition

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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The endeavor to take each kind of evil and relate it to some good is more complete than any I have seen in any contemporary work. Especially interesting here is the discussion ... of just how surprisingly valuable our natural disposition to sloth may be. Perhaps the most important novelty of the book, though, consists in its emphasis on the value of being of use. The ramifications that this oft-overlooked value has on theodicy are substantial, and Swinburne does a real service in pointing them out. (The Philosophical Review, vol.110, no.1)

This book, the fourth in a tetralogy on philosophical questions raised by Christianity, is of the quality that readers expect of Swinburne, and will undoubtedly command the same degree of respect and attention as have his earlier works. (The Philosophical Review, vol.110, no.1)

the value of this book should not be underestimated. It provides a philosphically informed, comprehensive theodicy, sensitive to the concerns of Christian tradition, proving that the problem is not so intractable as it may first appear. This book should be required reading for all serious students of apologetics and philosophical theology. (Patrick Richmond, Themelios Vol 25:1)

Swinburne's procedure is to examine one by one the various goods that the world promises, and then to argue, with his customary care and rigour, that none of these goods can logically occur without the possibility of the related evils which in fact we experience. (Church Times)

About the Author

Richard Swinburne has been Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford since 1985; he is a Fellow of the British Academy.

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 814 KB
  • Print Length: 262 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0198237995
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1 edition (27 Aug. 1998)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006HCU58C
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  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #923,502 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Paperback
Swinburne developed in this book a traditional christian theodicy, i.e. an explanation why there is no contradiction between the existence of God and the tremendous amount of Evil in this world.
He described the theological and philosophical concepts neccessary to grasp the christian image of God very concise and easy to understand. This alone makes this book a good read.
But there are also drawbacks:
His assumption that a omniscient God doesn't know the future of sentient agents with free will shatters the whole concept of God's omniscience (to be fair, Swinburne recognizes this to some extent in citing a different view on this topic). But his free will thesis is a building block of his theodicy and runs into the question whether Swinburnes presupposed image of God is compatible with the christian image of God at all.
Furthermore, Swinburne failed in conclusively showing that the Good outweighs the Evil in the world and that it is morally permissible for God to let an individual agent suffer in order to obtain a "greater" Good not connected to this agent.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d077210) out of 5 stars 4 reviews
35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d07b894) out of 5 stars Brilliant effort, but can't get the job done 21 Feb. 2000
By Jason A. Beyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In Providence and the Problem of Evil, Richard Swinburne, one of this century's best Christian apologists, finally gives us a full-length treatment of evil. Swinburne presents us with an explanation of evil that focuses not just on our free will, but on the importance of mutual responsibility as a prerequisite of free will. One place where this stands as a stark improvement over previous accounts is that it does not simply take for granted the value of free will; rather, it places the value of free will within the context of moral responsibility. Admirably, Swinburne attempts to integrate an account of natural evil into his account of moral evil. Natural evil is ultimately the result of a law-governed world, a prerequisite for the operation of morally significant free will. Despite the usual intellectual rigor and vivacity of his work, there are some significant problems which Swinburne has left unresolved. (He had been making revised versions of his works recently; hopefully these will be addressed in a future edition.) First, his account of evil often falls flat in the face of concrete evil, requiring that we see such things as childhood cancer as ultimately a good thing because of the opportunities it affords us to be caring. It rings especially hollow, if not sounding positively perverse, in the face of tremendous evils like the Holocaust. Second, Swinburne does not fully treat a relevant problem raised by J.L. Mackie some 30 years ago--that every opportunity for higher-order good (such as caring, sympathy and the like) are also opportunities for higher-order evil. If Swinburne follows his current strategy, we stand in risk of an infinite regress of higher-order goods. Lastly, Swinburne never recognizes that his treatment of natural evil is really no more than the atheist has to say about the issue with the further complication of God and free will being added to the picture for no clear (or even possible) gain in our understanding. As Swinburne himself in his other works focuses on simplicity as the be-all and end-all of explanation, this final lacuna is greatly regrettable. However, despite its problems, Swinburne's book is an excellent attempt to grapple with a serious issue, and thus is time well spent.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d075678) out of 5 stars Solid Place to Begin, if a Little Incomplete 6 Jan. 2008
By A. Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Being familiar with some of Swinburne's other work, I was expecting first rate scholarship and was not disappointed in that regard. However, the scope of the book is limited and readers should be aware of this. Swinburne does not set out to describe how providence works or how it is administered. Nor does he explicitly consider specific arguments against evil put forth by particular atheologians (such as Mackie, Rowe, or Draper). Rather, Swinburne dedicates this book to depend Christian theism against his own formulation of the problem of evil while providing a great conceptual framework for further work in this area.

In part I of the book, Swinburne argues that theism needs a theodicy and constructs an argument from evil to the conclusion that God does not exist (p.13). The argument is of the evidential type--arguing that there exists a certain type of evil which is incompatible with the existence of God. He also takes note of the various types of theodicy that the Christian tradition has utilized in the past. He then spends the next 75 pages--part II--describing various states of affairs which are good, including things like beauty, action, worshipping, being of use to others, etc. Part III of the book is the largest part and contains his extended argument that many of the goods described in part II cannot come about except by allowing some sort of evil. (For example, in order to be of use to others, abilities and talents must vary from person to person.) Much of what he says has been said before, but Swinburne's discussion is exhaustive and contains many interesting points (for example, the usefulness of sloth [156-8]). The final part of the book contains two arguments: first, that God has the right to bring about certain evil states as to allow other greater states, and secondly, that--ultimately--the argument from evil fails and that all evil we see are compatible with the existence of God. For this final portion Swinburne relies on various thought experiments to demonstrate the value of God creating the type of world we have.

Despite all of this however, there are some weak points. First, as I noted the book seems slightly incomplete without a positive account of how God controls/exhibits providence over the world. Second, there are occasional tensions inside the text. Swinburne rejects both God's foreknowledge of future events and God's middle knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom (126-34). But often he describes God as acting on the basis of how people will respond to various things. For example, it is wrong for God to put people in situations where they be "systematically deceived on important matters without their having the possibility of discovering their deception" (139). But given his rejection of middle knowledge, God cannot guarantee such a thing, and so God must work from probabilities--but Swinburne does not discuss these extensively at all. Finally, Swinburne concludes that, in the actual world, "each bad state or possible bad state removed takes away one actual good" (219). But his very general considerations of good and bad states of affairs does not support this conclusion and it is very easy to imagine, in Swinburne's world, a bad state of affair which could be removed by God which would not take away any good state of affair.

Overall, Swinburne's book can function as a solid grounding in theodicy. Perhaps it falters here and there, but it will provide a solid conceptual framework to build upon and modify. It also illustrates that the atheologian has a little more work that he might initially think. Another solid contribution to modern scholarship from Swinburne.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbe41c8) out of 5 stars Swinburnes theodicy 18 Nov. 2005
By John Sinclair - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Swinburne developed in this book a traditional christian theodicy, i.e. an explanation why there is no contradiction between the existence of God and the tremendous amount of Evil in this world.

He described the theological and philosophical concepts neccessary to grasp the christian image of God very concise and easy to understand. This alone makes this book a good read.

But there are also drawbacks:

His assumption that a omniscient God doesn't know the future of sentient agents with free will shatters the whole concept of God's omniscience (to be fair, Swinburne recognizes this to some extent in citing a different view on this topic). But his free will thesis is a building block of his theodicy and runs into the question whether Swinburnes presupposed image of God is compatible with the christian image of God at all.

Furthermore, Swinburne failed in conclusively showing that the Good outweighs the Evil in the world and that it is morally permissible for God to let an individual agent suffer in order to obtain a "greater" Good not connected to this agent.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cf73b4c) out of 5 stars Swinburne Offers a Comprehensive Theodicy 11 Nov. 2008
By Kyle Deming - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In "Providence and the Problem of Evil", the fourth book of his tetralogy on Christian doctrine, philosopher and theologian Richard Swinburne argues that God's existence is compatible with the various types of evil in the world. In this academic treatment of the Problem of Evil, Swinburne attempts to categorize each type of evil and demonstrate that there are potentially justifying reasons why God may permit that kind of evil. He contends that two characteristic human vices- short term thinking and short distance thinking- compel us to view the Problem of Evil as more threatening to rational Christian belief than it really is. Moreover, our culture predisposes us to underestimate the great values of free will and being of use, and to overestimate lesser values like the goodness of mere pleasure.

Unlike many contemporary Christian theologians, Swinburne argues strongly for the need for a Christian theodicy (defense of God's existence despite the evil in the world). Swinburne has famously advocated the Principle of Credulity- which states that we must accept as true what initially seems to be the case, all things being equal. Therefore, we cannot hide behind ignorance of God's ways to allay the Problem of Evil, because without a theodicy it does seem, on the face of it, that the world is full of unjustified evil.

In the second chapter, Swinburne looks at different strains of theodicy in Christian tradition. He argues that two very important ideas here are the free will defense and the Fall. While he does not take a strong stand concerning original sin, and denies that any subsequent generations can actually be guilty for Adam's sin, he does defend an historical Fall. After his brief treatment of historical theodicies, he lays out a detailed account of the various possible types of good and evil. Among the list of good things are beauty, thought, feeling, action, and worship.

When it comes to explaining the existence of moral evil, Swinburne opts for a traditional free will defense. However, he develops a more detailed account that helps overcome some of the traditional objections. He categorizes four types of free will:

Very Unserious Free Will- Involves the choice between equally good alternatives.

Unserious Free Will- Involves the choice between alternative goods.

Serious Free Will- Involves a choice between good and bad.

Very Serious Free Will- Involves a choice between right and wrong.

He also distinguishes between three types of temptation;

1.) Desire to do a less good action.
2.) Desire to do a bad but not wrong action.
3.) Desire to do a wrong action.

Swinburne argues that, while all types of free will are good things, serious and very serious free will are particularly good. Obviously, the more serious the free will, the more chance that it will be used wrongly for bad. Likewise, overcoming temptation is a good thing. It is good for people to overcome all three types of temptation, but it is particularly good when people overcome a very malicious or a stronger version of temptation. I think that Swinburne's detailed analysis of this issue is right on target, and demonstrates the viability of the free will defense.

Swinburne's Principle of Honesty is another concept of great importance to his theodicy. This principle states that "God has an obligation not to make a world in which agents are systematically deceived on important matters without their having the possibility of discovering their deception." This principle is very important for understanding moral evil, because it implies that God cannot simply give us the illusion that our choices have important consequences when if fact they don't, without violating His character.

The Principle of Honesty also helps us to understand a great deal of natural evil that might be otherwise inexplicable. For example, William Rowe asks what could possibly justify the suffering of a fawn who dies slowly in a forest fire, even though nobody is around and nobody knows about the animal's plight. It seems entirely gratuitous for this animal to suffer in such a way.

However, Swinburne points out that we have a dilemma on our hands if we suppose that the helpless never suffer. If it is true that the helpless never suffer, then we either know that this is true or we don't know that it is true. If we know that it is true, then we will have no motivation to help. Why should we seek to prevent forest fires that kill fawns if we know that God will not allow a helpless fawn to suffer and die in that fire? On the other hand, if we don't know that the helpless don't suffer, then God would be deceiving us on a massive scale (violating the Principle of Honesty).

The Principle of Honesty is thus a very important concept for a full-fledged theodicy. In my article on the Problem of Evil, I pointed out that, for all we know, fawns don't suffer excessively in forest fires unless we know about it. However, I noted that this answer, while technically true, seemed contrived and implausible. I think this is because it violated the Principle of Honesty that Swinburne defends.

After developing his theodicy in detail, Swinburne defends God's right to use the suffering of one for the benefit of another. He argues that it is permissible to use someone for the good of others if, on balance, you are their benefactor, and if they were in no position to make the choice for themselves. The important consideration in this case is whether, on balance, individuals have objectively good values. This brings Swinburne into the final chapter, where he considers the balance of good and evil in the world. While he admits that we must simply make a judgment call concerning this issue, he thinks it is plausible to maintain that life is significantly more good than bad. He notes, in defense of this position, that very few people choose to commit suicide, which is a tacit admission that life is worth living.

Swinburne's writing style can be dry at times, with long, complex sentences. However, his detailed and rather technical treatment of the Problem of Evil offers some great food for thought, and ultimately is a successful attempt to develop a strong theodicy. He does not hide away from the challenge of evil, but rather directly confronts and addresses the problem for Christian theism. At the same time, he raises our awareness of the role that cultural prejudices and the vices of human thought play in our understanding of the problem. While he has certainly not put the issue to rest, Swinburne does offer a strong contribution to the literature in Providence and the Problem of Evil, which I would highly recommend for those readers who can handle Swinburne's detailed treatment.
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