November 6, 2009

Orthodox Philosopher Richard Swinburne on the Existence of God (Video)

Richard G. Swinburne (born December 26, 1934) is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Over the last 50 years Swinburne has been a very influential proponent of natural theology, that is, philosophical arguments for the existence of God. His philosophical contributions are primarily in philosophy of religion and philosophy of science. He aroused much discussion with his early work in the philosophy of religion, a trilogy of books consisting of The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason.

A member of the Eastern Orthodox Church through conversion, he is noted as one of the foremost Christian apologists, arguing in his many articles and books that faith in Christianity is rational and coherent in a rigorous philosophical sense. While he presents many arguments to advance the belief that God exists, he argues that God is a being whose existence is not logically necessary (see modal logic), but metaphysically necessary in a way he defines in his The Christian God. Other subjects on which Swinburne writes include personal identity (in which he espouses a view based on the concept of a soul), and epistemic justification.

Though he is most well-known for his vigorous rational defense of Christian intellectual commitments, he also has a theory of the nature of passionate faith which is developed in his book Faith and Reason.

According to an interview Swinburne did with Foma magazine, he converted from the Church of England to the Greek Orthodox Church around 1996:

"I don’t think I changed my beliefs in any significant way. I always believed in the Apostolic succession: that the Church has to have its authority dating back to the Apostles, and the general teaching of the Orthodox Church on the saints and the prayers for the departed and so on, these things I have always believed."

Since his retirement from the Nolloth Chair in 2002, most of Swinburne’s work has been devoted to producing second editions (largely rewritten and updated) of previous works: The Existence of God (2004), Faith and Reason (2005) and now Revelation (forthcoming).

Swinburne's Categories

Swinburne formulated five categories into which all religious experiences fall:

* Public - a believer 'sees God's hand at work', whereas other explanations are cited (e.g., looking at a beautiful sunset).
* Public - an unusual event that breaches natural law (e.g., walking on water).
* Private - describable using normal language (e.g., Jacob's vision of a ladder).
* Private - indescribable using normal language, usually a mystical experience (e.g., "White did not cease to be white, nor black cease to be black, but black became white and white became black.").
* Private - a non-specific, general feeling of God working in one's life.

Swinburne also coined two principles for the assessment of religious experiences:

Principle of Credulity - with the absence of any reason to disbelieve it, one should accept what appears to be true (e.g., if one sees someone walking on water, one should believe that it is occurring, unless one is under the influence of a hallucinogen).

Principle of Testimony - with the absence of any reason to disbelieve them, one should accept that eye-witnesses or believers are telling the truth when they testify about religious experiences.

(cf. Wikipedia - Richard Swinburne)