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The Existence of God Review

09/22/2011

Richard Swinburne makes a cumulative argument in The Existence of God, claiming that given considerations like the existence and fine-tuning of the universe, objective morality, consciousness, religious experiences and miracles, God is the best explanation for what we observe in the world.

Unfortunately, Swinburne justifies his use of God as an explanation with elaborate, untestable, and unfalsifiable rationalizations. God’s hiddenness is expected, since his clearly revealing himself would make it too easy to follow him, violating free will. And yet prophets, miracles, and answered prayers that reveal God are expected in order to convince us to follow him. Happiness and flourishing are expected, since God wants us to enjoy life and be happy, but we can also expect suffering, from minimal to severe, since God wants to provide us opportunities for self sacrifice, courage, and strength.

The God hypothesis ends up explaining any expected observation, so ultimately, it ends up explaining nothing. Swinburne could avoid this accusation by providing specific observations that would falsify God, but he neglects to do this, leaving a strong impression that he is simply sketching complicated, but unfounded, rationalizations.

There are further problems with foundational concepts in the book, like Swinburne’s ill-defined view of simplicity, and his reliance on moral realism. Both are controversial, and Swinburne leaves them poorly argued for. Since he relies heavily on both assumptions in his argument for God, Swinburne’s thesis is left on very shaky ground.

There are certainly more tightly argued defenses of theism out there, and the unnecessary complexity in Swinburne’s writing leaves many portions nearly incomprehensible. For both skeptics and believers, this book is likely not worth the time and effort needed to trudge through it.

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