Review: Is there a God?

Book Review

-Review by: Pabitra M. Bhandari

Richard Swinburne, Is there a God? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Richard Swinburne is regarded as one of the most distinguished philosophers of religion. He teaches Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford University and was previously a Philosophy professor at Keele University. He has written several books on the philosophy of religions in general, as well as the philosophy of Christianity in particular. In this book, "Is There a God?" he used an argument against the existence of God to prove that there is God. He philosophically explained/reasoned scientific formulas to present his case for God's existence.

"Is there a God?" provides a powerful response to contemporary doubts about God's existence. Scientists inform the public that there is no evidence of God's existence. They reasoned following their investigations into humanity, nature, and the universe. But Swinburne made his argument in this way: using the criteria (data) of historians, scientists, and detectives, we find the view that there is a God who explains everything we see, not just a narrow range of data on which all of the aforementioned disciplines focus. Swinburne believes that "the very criteria that scientists use to reach their own theories lead us to a creator God who sustains everything in existence."  

He begins his arguments by clarifying the concept of "God" as claimed by theists. He not only describes various attributes of God, but he also explains what the concepts mean. For example, he introduces God as a person and then explains, more logically, that God has individual power, purposes, and beliefs. Similarly, he establishes that there is a God who is essentially eternally omnipotent, omniscient, and completely free. Then he asks why we should believe them. Swinburne now employs the same criteria that scientists, historians, and others use when presenting theories about the causes of what they observe. At this point, he abandons the concept of God and proceeds with the explanation.

The world is made up of objects called substances, which have the ability to cause events. And such events are described in human terms. Events are explained in two ways: inanimate causation and intentional causation. The first explanation is based on powers and liabilities and is known as inanimate explanation, while the second is based on beliefs and purposes and is known as intentional or personal explanation. Physics and Chemistry provide inanimate explanations, whereas history, psychology, and sociology provide personal explanations. Swinburne is not satisfied with various explanations; rather, he seeks the justification of the explanation and the criteria for determining whether the explanation (theory) is true or false. He presented four criteria for evaluating the explanation (theory) of an observed event.The first is, "it leads us to expect many and varied events which we observe;" i.e., the explanation should explain the event in various instances.What is proposed is simple," "it fits in the background knowledge," which means the theory should work in neighboring areas; and finally, "we would not expect to find these events," which means it should be relevant to the entire system. Only if all four criteria are met with an explanation can the sentence be considered true. After providing only the criteria for explaining events, the author proceeded to explain God, which is extremely simple to explain. 

He continues to argue and express his views on the explanation. Not everything has an explanation; to explain something, we must rely on others, and there appear to be three possibilities for ultimate explanations: materialism, humanism, and theism. His position is that materialism only provides inanimate explanations that fail to address personal issues, which can be explained by humanism, but it fails to explain existence and operation. Swinburne goes on to discuss theism, which seeks to explain the very existence and operation of matter. As a result, he contends that theism is the most complete explanation. Following this, the author attempts to demonstrate how the evidence works rather than how it is proven. He is interested in how the world explains the world and its order, rather than how it demonstrates God's existence.  

The failure of science, history, humanism, and psychology to explain the nature and reason for the existence of the world, animals, humans, evil, and so on is explained by the concept of "God Exists." The author began by discussing the nature of the universe: there are many particles that combine to form the universe; naturally, there should be nothing, but there is. Things are made up of a certain number of these small particles (neutrons, protons, and electrons) and exhibit predictable behavior. Certain types of regular behaviors in things and in the world are caused by the composition of a specific number of particles. And these regularities can be observed, and science develops rules and laws.  Because there are regularities Science can predict that it will rain, that the day will be sunny, that plants will grow, and so on, but it cannot explain why the universe has regularities. This can be explained by theism. Because the Omnipotent God exists, he has ability to make everything regular. The regularities are found in human and animal bodies, not in the universe or the physical world itself. He also points out that the chance would never produce such a beautiful organization. Humans, bodies, and the animal kingdom all have order and regularities that allow them to survive. Swinburne does not argue in this chapter that because there is order in the universe, God exists; nor does he argue that because the universe exists, God exists; rather, he argues that only "God exists" can explain the universe's orderliness and existence.

In the following chapter, he moved on to the human being itself. Humans are more than just bodies; they are conscious of things that electrons, protons, and neutrons cannot produce. It differs from the body and is also known as the soul. Darwin's evolutionary theory cannot account for this. Humans possess both inanimate and mental properties. He eats, walks, and talks, which are inanimate, but he also experiences happiness, pain, and grief, which cannot be explained inanimately. As a result, he concludes that there is a mental or immaterial component in man known as the soul. Swinburne pointed out that science cannot explain anything about immaterial things, so theism was proposed as an explanation. God, being omnipotent, is capable of joining soul and body, and he has good reason to do so. Humans differ from other animals and living things in that they have an immaterial soul, which can only be explained by theism, or the belief that "God exists."

Swinburne explained everything with the claim "God exists". But the presence of evil is problematic. Everyone agrees that evil exists in the universe, whether it is natural or moral. Swinburne argued that natural evil stems from man's free and responsible choice, which causes evil to himself and others. In terms of natural evil, he argued that it operates by first providing humans with choices in order to inform them of the consequences of their evil actions, rather than giving them the freedom to choose more options. Finally, he concludes his argument by claiming that God is justified in bringing about evils in order to make good possible.

The issue of miracles, which are seen as violations of natural laws, must also be explained. There is historical evidence for the occurrence of violations of natural laws, which serve as indirect evidence for God's existence. Swinburne is able to present the probability of God's existence by explaining all of the events from a theistic standpoint.

Overall, the book presents a good argument for why theism is the best explanation, but it falls short of answering the question posed in the title, "Is there a God?" The entire book focused on the idea that "God exists" is preferable to "God does not exist." The arguments he used to demonstrate the usefulness of "God's existence" are similar to the classic arguments for God's existence, namely the Teleological Argument. Thomas Aquinas began by claiming that because there is order in the universe, God exists; however, in this book, Swinburne argues that "God exists" explains the orderly universe better than science. Another title discusses the human being and its soul. His argument against the issue is similar to other theodicy; for example, his argument against moral evil connects with human free will as Augustine's theodicy, and his argument against natural theodicy is also similar to Iranean theodicy, in that God may use evil for his good purpose. Because the author appears to be very neutral in his religious beliefs (especially in this book), he is having difficulty convincing the reader of the existence of evil. The historicity of violations of natural laws is used as proof of God's existence, which appears illogical.

Finally, the book appears to be very useful in speaking out against the attack on scientism. However, in this postmodern era, more people argue that there are multiple ways to reach God, and pluralism is the main opponent. And the author did not address any issues concerning knowing God. The author appears to be defending himself against theism and pluralism. The author's discussion of God appears to be more abstract than personal. He appears to be presenting an argument for the "existence of God," the concept of God as found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but this book is insufficient to explain the point of convergence of their beliefs, namely monotheism. To create an orderly universe, as he explains in this book, there is no need for only one God; many gods can work for this universe. The book also fails to describe personal/relational experiences with God. The book appears to be pointing toward agnosticism, "the possibility of God's existence". The book can be used to make an argument against atheism. However, after reading his book, one has to agree with his assertion that theism can explain everything in the universe.

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