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The Existence of God 12: The Argument from History and Miracles


Swinburne doesn’t really provide an argument for the truth of historical miraculous occurrences. He really just provides a framework for evaluating them, to the effect that if they occur, then they increase the likelihood that theism is true. Fair enough. I think that is probably the case, although perhaps there really are better, non-theistic explanations if God is not as simple as Swinburne suggests.

Kindle Notes:

If there is a God, one might well expect him to make his presence known to human beings not merely through the overall pattern of the universe in which he placed them, but by dealing more intimately and personally with them (3703).

Note: What hypotheses can we test that are not already a part of background knowledge?

The reason why the occurrence of these events is disputed is that their occurrence would seem (rightly or wrongly) to be (in a sense that I shall make more precise shortly) a `violation’ of the laws of nature and so an intervention in those laws by a power outside nature, such as God (3719).

Note: Maybe combined with lack of good evidence. Laws have been violated in the past, and those laws were changed due to evidence.

I argued in earlier chapters that God has reason for giving human beings freedom and leaving them to work out their own destiny. But suppose they start to abuse that freedom; suppose they make wrong choices and fail to grow in moral and religious knowledge (in understanding the nature of God and their duties towards their fellows). What will God do? He has reason of concern and compassion to raise up prophets and leaders to announce moral and religious truths and to encourage societies to pursue right paths (3728).

Note: This ‘explanation’ can account for any expected outcome. Hiddenness so as to allow free will. Prophets so as to convince. No outcome will falsify it, which makes it a bad explanation.

God has reason for not giving the leaders manifest `supernatural’ powers to overawe or dragoon societies into doing the right thing-for, if he did, people would see that it was evidently in their self-interest to behave in a morally right way (3731).

Note: Swinburne answers me. There can’t be signs that are too good. They must be ‘just right.’

But although God has reason for bringing these things about, he also has reason for not bringing them about or not bringing them about too automatically in response to human needs (3738).

if atonement was to be made, it would have to be made on behalf of the race by a human being preserved from the worst influences to which humanity was normally subject. But it would not be right of God to single out any ordinary human being to make such a sacrifice. God could insist on the sacrifice of none other but himself. So God has a reason to bring about an incarnation of some kind by himself becoming human in order to make an atonement (3936).

Note: Too many assumptions, as Swinburne acknowledges.

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