Richard Swinburne

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Richard Swinburne
Swinburne.jpg
Born (1934-12-26) 26 December 1934 (age 79)
Smethwick, Staffordshire, England
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, theology
Influences
Influenced

Richard G. Swinburne (/ˈswɪnbərn/; born 26 December 1934) is a British philosopher of religion. He is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Over the last 50 years Swinburne has been an influential proponent of philosophical arguments for the existence of God. His philosophical contributions are primarily in the philosophy of religion and philosophy of science. He aroused much discussion with his early work in the philosophy of religion, a trilogy of books consisting of The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason.

Academic career[edit]

Swinburne received an Open Scholarship to study classics at Exeter College, Oxford, but in fact graduated with a first class BA in philosophy, politics, & economics. Swinburne has held various professorships through his career in academia. From 1972 to 1985 he taught at Keele University. During part of this time, he gave the Gifford lectures at Aberdeen from 1982 to 1984, resulting in the book The Evolution of the Soul. From 1985 until his retirement in 2002 he was Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford (his successor in this chair is Brian Leftow). He has continued to publish regularly since his retirement.

Swinburne has been a very active author throughout his career, producing a major book every two to three years. His books are primarily very technical works of academic philosophy, but he has written at the popular level as well. Of the non-technical works, his Is There a God? (1996), summarizing for a non-specialist audience many of his arguments for the existence of God and plausibility in the belief of that existence, is probably the most popular, and is available in translation in 22 languages.

Christian apologetics[edit]

A member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is noted as one of the foremost Christian apologists, arguing in his many articles and books that faith in Christianity is rational and coherent in a rigorous philosophical sense. William Hasker writes that his "tetralogy on Christian doctrine, together with his earlier trilogy on the philosophy of theism, is one of the most important apologetic projects of recent times."[1] While Swinburne presents many arguments to advance the belief that God exists, he argues that God is a being whose existence is not logically necessary (see modal logic), but metaphysically necessary in a way he defines in his The Christian God. Other subjects on which Swinburne writes include personal identity (in which he espouses a view based on the concept of a soul), and epistemic justification. He has written in defense of Cartesian dualism and libertarian free will.[2]

Though he is best known for his vigorous rational defense of Christian intellectual commitments, he also has a theory of the nature of passionate faith which is developed in his book Faith and Reason.

According to an interview Swinburne did with Foma magazine, he converted from the Church of England to the Greek Orthodox Church around 1996:

I don’t think I changed my beliefs in any significant way. I always believed in the Apostolic succession: that the Church has to have its authority dating back to the Apostles, and the general teaching of the Orthodox Church on the saints and the prayers for the departed and so on, these things I have always believed.[3]

Swinburne's philosophical method reflects the influence of Thomas Aquinas. He admits that he draws from Aquinas a systematic approach to philosophical theology. Swinburne, like Aquinas, moves from basic philosophical issues (for example, the question of the possibility that God may exist in Swinburne's The Coherence of Theism), to more specific Christian beliefs (for example, the claim in Swinburne's Revelation that God has communicated to human beings propositionally in Jesus Christ).

Swinburne moves in his writing program from the philosophical to the theological, building his case rigorously. Swinburne relies on his previous arguments as he defends particular Christian beliefs. Swinburne has attempted to reassert classical Christian beliefs with an apologetic method that he believes is compatible with contemporary science. That method relies heavily on inductive logic, seeking to show that his Christian beliefs fit best with the evidence.

Religious experience[edit]

Swinburne's categories[edit]

Swinburne formulated five categories into which all religious experiences fall:

  • Public - a believer 'sees God's hand at work', whereas other explanations are cited (e.g., looking at a beautiful sunset).
  • Public - an unusual event that breaches natural law (e.g., walking on water).
  • Private - describable using normal language (e.g., Jacob's vision of a ladder).
  • Private - indescribable using normal language, usually a mystical experience (e.g., "White did not cease to be white, nor black cease to be black, but black became white and white became black.").
  • Private - a non-specific, general feeling of God working in one's life.

Swinburne also coined two principles for the assessment of religious experiences:

  • Principle of Credulity - with the absence of any reason to disbelieve it, one should accept what appears to be true (e.g., if one sees someone walking on water, one should believe that it is occurring)
  • Principle of Testimony - with the absence of any reason to disbelieve them, one should accept that eyewitnesses or believers are telling the truth when they testify about religious experiences.

Major books[edit]

  • Space and Time, 1968
  • The Concept of Miracle, 1970,
  • The Coherence of Theism, 1977 (part 1 of his trilogy on Theism)
  • The Existence of God, 1979 (new edition 2004). (part 2 of his trilogy on Theism)
  • Faith and Reason, 1981 (new edition 2005). (part 3 of his trilogy on Theism)
  • The Evolution of the Soul, 1986, ISBN 0-19-823698-0. (1997 edition online)
  • Miracles, 1989
  • Responsibility and Atonement, 1989 (part 1 of his tetralogy on Christian Doctrines)
  • Revelation, 1991 (part 2 of his tetralogy on Christian Doctrines)
  • The Christian God, 1994 (part 3 of his tetralogy on Christian Doctrines)
  • Is There a God?, 1996, ISBN 0-19-823545-3
  • Simplicity as Evidence of Truth, The Aquinas Lecture, 1997
  • Providence and the Problem of Evil, 1998 (part 4 of his tetralogy on Christian Doctrines)
  • Epistemic Justification, 2001
  • The Resurrection of God Incarnate, 2003
  • Was Jesus God?, 2008
  • Free Will and Modern Science, Ed. 2011, ISBN 978-0197264898
  • Mind, Brain, and Free Will, 2013

Spiritual autobiography[edit]

  • Richard Swinburne, "The Vocation of a Natural Theologian," in Philosophers Who Believe, Kelly James Clark, ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp. 179–202.

Critical assessment[edit]

  • Brown, Colin. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Exeter: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1984. 180-4.
  • Chartier, Gary. "Richard Swinburne." Blackwell Companion to the Theologians. 2 vols. Ed. Ian Markham. Oxford: Blackwell 2009. 2: 467-74.
  • Hick, John. "The religious ambiguity of the universe" (part 2 of) An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven: Yale University Press 1989). This section offers a critique of Swinburne's probability theorem regarding the existence of God.
  • Hick, John. "Salvation Through the Blood of Jesus" (a chapter in) The Metaphor of God Incarnate, (London: SCM 1993). This chapter includes a revised version of an academic article response to and critique of Swinburne's defense of the atonement in his book of that name.
  • Parks, D. Mark. "Expecting the Christian Revelation: An Analysis and Critique of Richard Swinburne's Philosophical Defense of Propositional Revelation." PhD dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary 1995.
  • Parsons, Keith M. God and the Burden of Proof: Plantinga, Swinburne, and the Analytic Defense of Theism. Buffalo: Prometheus 1989.
  • Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks. Cambridge: CUP 1995.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ William Hasker, "Is Christianity Probable? Swinburne's Apologetic Programme," Religious Studies 38 (2002), 253.
  2. ^ Mind, Brain, and Free Will, 2013,
  3. ^ http://www.foma.ru/article/index.php?news=2368&sphrase_id=899158

Sources[edit]

  • Vardy, Peter (1990). The Puzzle of God. Collins Sons and Co. pp. 99–106. 

External links[edit]