5.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and original contribution to the debate
Swinburne takes the moldy old "primal mover" argument for the existence of God and brilliantly revitalizes it to such an extent that it is nearly unrecognizable. I am an atheist-an open-minded one. If the arguments for God's existence ever become compelling again, I will change camps. This book was so fresh and original that it deserves a second read-which I...
Published on Nov. 9 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven Book of Natural Theology
Swiburne writes clearly and his arguments for God's existence are interesting and suggestive. In the end, though, they come down to the notion that God is the "simplest" explanation for things we observe in the natural world. It was never clear how postulating the existence of something unlike anything else in experience could be a "simple"...
Published on March 3 1999
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and original contribution to the debate,
By A Customer
Swinburne takes the moldy old "primal mover" argument for the existence of God and brilliantly revitalizes it to such an extent that it is nearly unrecognizable. I am an atheist-an open-minded one. If the arguments for God's existence ever become compelling again, I will change camps. This book was so fresh and original that it deserves a second read-which I am doing. I cannot say that I am convinced but I am very intrigued by Swinburne's argument. It is difficult to summarize his long and subtle argument here. Any attempt to do so would do it injustice so keep that in mind. He suggests that God-a simple non-material being-is the best explanation for the totality of the information that we have about the universe and that no other theory explains the universe as simply or completely as the existence of God does. In other words, using the old principle of "Occam's Razor" (the principle that "the simplest (not more complex) solution is often the correct one") God, rather than seeming a holdover from dark, superstitious times, is a very efficient and elegant solution to the reason why the universe exists at all. You will have to read the book to appreciate this in all its interesting details. And it is interesting and very thought provoking. At the very least, it is a very clever and subtle restating of a very old argument. That alone is enough reason to buy this book if you are interested in these issues. At the most, he may be onto something. A second reading is necessary. One complaint: Swinburne tries to simplify his larger volume for this edition. He writes like a typical academic-which means that his prose is often leaden and dry. It appears that he has shortened his work without necessarily making it more elegant in its presentation. I thought of many examples and illustrations he offered which were not as helpful as he must have thought they might be. If you can dig your way through his flat writing style and have some background in this area, this is a must read book.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good intro to Swinburne,
I understand why Swinburne closes this volume with some "dissatisfaction," because it is a very brief distillation and summary of his much more detailed work elsewhere and it does, as he readily admits, invite any number of critical replies he does not have room to address. Nevertheless this volume is a good introduction to his thought.
Be warned: the God of Swinburne's "natural theology" does not quite have all the attributes one expects in the God of traditional theism. His God is not, for example, "eternal" (in the sense "outside of time altogether," though he is "everlasting"), nor (therefore) does He have full foreknowledge of what His creatures will do, nor is He sovereign over moral law.
Swinburne's basic idea is that although no particular argument clinches the case for God, several arguments together render His existence altogether more likely than not. And, according to Swinburne, He provides an explanation for scientific law in the sense that His existence explains why there are such laws at all.
In this work, written as a popular reply to Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, Swinburne boils down his arguments to the bare minimum and aims to present them readably to a popular audience. He does it well, though the interested reader is referred to his other work for details.
He is probably at his least convincing in dealing with theodicy and the problem of evil. But other reviewers have already commented on that, so I'll say no more about it here.
All in all, if you are looking for an introduction to Swinburne's thought, this book is an excellent choice.
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice critique of God,
By A Customer
As an open-minded atheist, I must say this book wasn't bad. It got me thinking...however, I don't think that because of the astonishing complexity of our universe, it necessarily reveals one, immortal God. Swinburne's book was difficult to grasp at times, but I hung in there and didn't worry about some of those parts.
The fact that he says our complex universe essentially purports the theistic God is completely false and incoherent. The universe is compatible with polytheism, deism, and a finite being. The cosmological argument for the theistic God is severely flawed. Anyways, I found Swinburne insightful and wonderful. His exceptional work has been brought to my attention in some senses.
He is by far my favorite xian philosopher. I hope to enjoy some of his other critiques on xianity inasmuch as I enjoyed this one. I think that Richard Dawkins is really awesome. Swinburne didn't do a very good job of refuting Dawkins. There were some obvious gaps in Swinburne's refutations.
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven Book of Natural Theology,
By A Customer
Swiburne writes clearly and his arguments for God's existence are interesting and suggestive. In the end, though, they come down to the notion that God is the "simplest" explanation for things we observe in the natural world. It was never clear how postulating the existence of something unlike anything else in experience could be a "simple" explanation of the world. Maybe it's "simpler" just to take the existence of the world as an unexplained fact, a mystery. The discussion of why God allows pain and suffering is the weakest part of the book and is almost a parody of traditional theodicy. At one point in his discussion of animal suffering, Swinburne argues that forest fires aren't necessarily bad for animals because they give them an opportunity to escape danger, which he regards as a "significant intentional act." Since "significant intentional acts" are goods things, it follows that forest fires could be good for animals. This sounds like a joke but Swinburne was serious. The reader wondering why God allows suffering would be better advised to read the book of Job.
4.0 out of 5 stars A brief case for theism,
By A Customer
In "Is There a God?" Swinburne seeks to provide a less sophisticated version of the case for theism which appears in his classic "The Existence of God" (1979). While accomplishing his task with great brevity, I concur with the previous reviewer that this book may not be accessible to the lay audience. Swinburne's arguments are characteristically erudite and will require considerable attention on the part of readers.
Although this book may not acheive its intended success in the mass market, I consider it an excellent introduction to Swinburne's work. From that standpoint, "Is There a God?" may be used as a primer to his more substantial scholarly writings.
In this present title, Swinburne's first ("God"), third ("The Simplicity of God") and sixth ("Why God Allows Evil") chapters are particularly noteworthy. His two-page epilogue summarizes with great clarity one's responsibilities should theism be true.
--David A. Frenz
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing book.,
I am afraid I must agree with the above reviewers. Swinburne reaches the end of his own book with 'some dissatisfaction.' Readers who have come from any books by Richard Dawkins will feel the same way at the conclusion of 'Is there a God?' For a thrilling read with serious theological implications, read Dawkins. I even preferred the 'Contrarian Theological Afterword' (I think that's the right title) chapter of The Whole Shebang, by Timothy Ferris, to Swinburne's unconvincing presentation. Why are our scientists and science writers leaving our professors of theology in the dust when it comes to writing about God for the lay person? For all that effort, Swinburne might as well have quoted Lear's 'Nothing will come of nothing' as an ultimate argument for the existence of God: no God, no universe. And he would have been as convincing in a lot less space. I can only assume Swinburne's other works reveal his ability.
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a memorable experience....,
I read this book for an undergraduate course on the idea of God paired with Richard Mackie's 'the Miracle of Theism'. In hindsight, that is a better book-- but it is also arguing an easier point... that God and miracles, etc. doesn't exist is an easier debating point than the one left for Swinburne.
Is this a coherent book? Yes. Definately. He argues his point much as a Cambridge man should. Is the point taken, well....
Perhaps this is a better book to buy than my two stars indicates. Buy it and the Mackie. Compare. Then fall into the faith-based existentialist arguments of Kierkagard if you still want logic to prove a God....
3.0 out of 5 stars to difficult or to easy?,
By A Customer
The book of Swinburne is intended for a general public. He has tried to give a not so hard explanation and defense for the existence of God. Although I agree with most things in the book, it is still not always very good. I think the main problem is, that it is a version of his academic book on the existence of God. Swinburne uses in that book a very broad argumentation to prove that the existence of God is more probable than his non-existence.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ...Yes!,
It is entirely possible that I am hopelessly bound to enjoy Swinburne's book. After all, he arrives scientifically at "theistic" conclusions that I already believe in by way of faith alone. At any rate, I tried to distance myself from religious presuppositions and read the book in as "unbiased" a fashion as I could. Swinburne's conclusions seemed to be very REASONABLE. I liked this excerpt, from chapter 4: "It is extraordinary that there should exist anything at all. Surely the most natural state of affairs is simply nothing: no universe, no God, nothing. But there is something. And so many things. Maybe chance could have thrown up the odd electron. But so many particles! Not everything will have an explanation. But the whole progress of science and all other intellectual enquiry demands that we postulate the smallest number of brute facts. If we can explain the many bits of the universe by one simple being which keeps them in existence, we should do so - even if inevitably we cannot explain the existence of that simple being."
In a limited way, Swinburne's work responds to many ideas postulated in books such as Richard Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker" (1986) and Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" (1988)... books which carry the suggestion that there is no God who is in any way involved in the sustaining of the universe. Swinburne's special field of expertise is in Philosophy of Religion, and as such, he is able to show us that "it is not a rational conclusion to suppose that explanation stops where science does". He presents a convincing argument that theism is the best explanation for the conformity of nature to formula, and the vast, all pervasive temporal order that characterizes the known universe. Why is there a universe AT ALL? Why is there ANY life on earth? HOW is it that discoverable scientific laws operate in the universe? Reading this book will help you to consider that perhaps the best answers to these questions can be offered by someone who allows for the existence of God.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bogus Application of Ockham's Razor,
In the first chapter, Swinburne provides a mostly traditional defination of God: omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc., but "neither male nor female." Having defined his god, he proceeds in chapters two through five to argue that theism, being the simplest ultimate explanation of everything observed, is more likely to be true than materialism. In making this claim, however, he runs into three problems. First, he must construct a jury-rigged definition of what a good theory is. He makes a great deal of simplicity as being the most important virtue of any theory. He must do this because his theistic theory, while being "simple," predicts nothing testable. However, scientists value theories for not only simplicity but also yielding accurate, testable predictions.
Second, Swinburn's theistic theory, although simple in that it postulates only one ultimate cause, cannot replace the materialistic explanations of science and, thus, posits an additional entity. His theism, then, is not an application of Ockham's razor that "entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity." He tries to get around this problem by claiming that materialistic explanations are not "where any rational enquirer will stop" because, "The apparently coincidental cries out for explanation." But his contention is not supported by the evidence, for even the most common occurrences bubble up from and float upon the universal ocean of improbability. For example, the chances of any particular sperm fertilizing any particular egg are almost nil. Nevertheless, sexual reproduction, via millions of sperms and eggs, produces far more individuals than can survive.
This suffering driven by overpopulation brings up the third difficulty in Swinburne's theism--"Why God Allows Evil." He claims that the "theory of ultimate explanation" most likely to be true "is the simplest theory which predicts the observable phenomena," and he adds that "theism provides by far the simplest explanation of all phenomena." Swinburne is certainly wrong here. A theism that postulates an omnipotent, benevolent god neither predicts nor explains evil. Theodicies attempting to justify such a god allowing evil end up asserting that evil is good. Swinburne's attempt does not escape doing the same. He says that "according to the free-will defense, it is the natural possibility of moral evil which is the necessary condition of the great good, not the actual evil itself." But his other statements suggest worse. "I need to want to...see you hurt, if I am to have [a] choice between good and evil. This depravity is itself an evil which is the necessary condition of the greater good." "Being allowed to suffer to make possible a great good is a privilege, even if the privilege is forced upon you." "I am fortunate if the natural possibility of my suffering if you choose to hurt me is the vehicle which makes your choice really matter." There you have it; evil is good in that it make goodness better.
In the last chapter, Swinburne discusses "How the Existence of God Explains Miracles and Religious Experiences." The whole notions, however, of positing God as an ultimate explanation for everything from the universe to consciousness and religious experiences, if it may not be called a "God of the gaps," certainly is open to the charge of being a "God of the limits." In short, Swinburne is a champion of ad hoc hypotheses in defense of theism.
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Is There a God? by Richard Swinburne (Paperback - Feb. 14 2010)
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