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The Existence of God 6: The Explanatory Power of Theism


For some reason I found this chapter to be a little frustrating. I just felt like Swinburne was engaging in motivated reasoning. He keeps on making these leaps that don’t sound quite right, and I am struggling to pinpoint what is bothering me. I am also struggling with the idea that I am judging too hastily, and that I should have a reason to think he is wrong, expressly delineated, before I get annoyed. How do I approach this?

Well, let’s just point out some leaps. First, he assumes God must be morally good, without defining good. He just assumes it is in line with our intuitions. Next, he assumes that all the things we as humans find good just so happens to be good in God’s eyes as well! How convenient. If we feel like it is good for conscious beings to exist, it must be so. But what makes that good? Why would that universe be better than one with God? He assumes it is good that God have companionship, but why? It seems he is simply pumping our own intuitions of wanting companionship. God thinks like you, indeed.

Kindle Notes:

libertarian free will, that is, the freedom to choose whether or not to bring about some effect (such as e), where the totality of causes that influence him (making it harder or easier for him to make a particular choice) do not totally determine how he will choose (1530).

Among states of affairs that it is not logically possible for God to bring about is that humans always freely do what is good, when they have the free will at the moment of choice to choose between good and evil independently of the causes influencing them (1532).

Note: What if he adds influences that make it vanishingly unlikely that evil will be chosen. Does this lessen free will? Are they free insofar as they are uninfluenced, or is it all or nothing?

Our understanding of what is good and bad is very limited. Some actions may be good or bad because of intrinsic qualities that they possess to which we as morally imperfect beings are totally insensitive. Some actions may be good or bad because of consequences that they have but of which we, as beings of very limited knowledge and intelligence, have not the slightest notion. Yet clearly most of us have some understanding of moral values. When we judge that it is good for us to feed the starving and help the weak, wrong to tell lies and break promises (all of this at any rate under normal circumstances), we make true moral judgements (1537).

Note: How do we know? What if I judge God’s actions to be evil? That’s when they make the argument that we can’t know what’s really good. Special pleading.

I conclude that it is not, for conceptual reasons, plausible to suppose that there could be a best or equal best of all possible worlds that God could create, and in consequence God could not in creating a world be doing a best or equal best action.4 But it is highly implausible to suppose that merely for that reason a God would not have created anything at all (1563).

Note: Why not?

And they may also have libertarian free will of different degrees of freedom. Free will is a matter of degree; agents can be totally immune from non-rational influences, as is God, or subject to influences (desires) of different strengths deterring them from the pursuit of the good (1593).

Note: So free will is not all or nothing. But how can something be objectively rational, independent of desires? Didn’t Hume refute that idea? God would have to, at his foundation, have some desire that is a reason for action.

A solitary God would be a bad state of affairs (1607).

Note: Why? Aren’t we anthropomorphizing a little too much? It sounds like this theologian is simply taking his own desires and extrapolating them to the infinite. He assumes way too much, like people assuming robots would want their freedom if they got smart enough.

The goodness of significant free choice is, I hope, evident. We think it a good gift to our own children that they choose their own path in life for good or ill (1612).

Note: Not if they become mass murderers. Autonomy is good up to a point. Then other considerations overcome it.

God, there will be rational beings other than a single divine person is 1 (1665).

Note: This conclusion is built on very shaky foundations. Really looks like Swinburne started with the conclusion, then grasped for reasons why it might be so.

God will make himself known to creatures capable of loving him, except in so far as that will curtail their freedom (1779).

Note: I’ll look forward to the reasoning on this one.

we do have some idea of what kinds of world God is likely to create and hence an idea of how P(e; I h & k) will differ for different (1796).

Note: The inference of God’s desires was based on his ‘goodness’ which was not even defined. Instead, it was basically assumed that what we feel intuitively is good must be good objectively. Big assumption. I would argue that since the ‘goodness’ of an act would depend on the desires of conscious beings, we could only infer what God would do if we knew his desires beforehand. We can’t simply deduce the desires that would motivate his actions.

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