The Table Video

Richard Swinburne & Steve L. Porter

Swinburne: On Arguments for God's Existence

Emeritus Nolloth
 Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of 
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Theology, Spiritual Formation, and Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
September 13, 2012

Richard Swinburne discusses how the sum total of various arguments for the existence of God leads him to have faith.


What would be one argument for, lets say, uh, God’s existence, that you find, uh, particularly powerful?

Uh, I believe that arguments stack up, that they’re accumulative, that as for any scientific theory, a bit of evidence makes it marginally probable, a bit more evidence makes it have a significant degree of probability, a bit more evidence makes it more probable than not, and so on. So they stack up, but uh, my starting point and one of the most powerful arguments, is the argument from the orderliness of the universe.

Uh, what I mean by that is that, every particle of matter, every atom, uh, is governed by exactly the same scientific laws, and what that means, if we just take one example of Newton’s law of gravity, it’s not quite accurate we know now, but the basic point remains. Uh, every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle of matter with a force proportional to its mass, multiplied by that of the other particle, divided by the square of their distance apart. And that applies to every atom, everywhere in the universe.

Now, that’s a very stri-, and there are similar generalizations in respect to the three other forces which govern the interaction of material objects. Um, now that’s a very striking thing, that everything should behave in the same matter. The universe way, the universe were thrown up by chance, you would expect somethings to behave one way, some things to behave a different way, some things to behave one way one day, differently the next, but they all always behave in the same way.

Now why is that? Um, if, uh, there was a god, who made us, he has a reason for doing that. And the reason is, um, it’s only if we live in an orderly universe, that we can possibly handle it. That’s to say, um, it’s only if a brick stays on top of another brick and stays there more strongly if it’s held, uh, if you put cement between it, that we can build houses. It’s only if, when you save seeds and water them, they produce plants that you can have food. So, uh, so the, the small scale regularities about uh, particles of matter, uh, it’s consequence of those that there are these large scale regularities. And uh, of course, um, if they didn’t hold, we wouldn’t exist, but there are regularities are such as to produce us.

Uh, so, uh, um, there is a regular, everything in the universe behaves in exactly the same way, but it’s a way that also produces us. Now if there’s a god, he has reason to produce us, because we’re quite good things. Um, and, uh, therefore he has right, a reason to produce a universe out of which we will eventually evolve. And therefore he has reason to produce and orderly universe, uh, such that we can use it to make choices.

Richard: Um, if we want food, uh and prepare to take the trouble, we can save seeds, water them, they will produce it. If we want to hurt people, uh, we can burn down their crops. Um, we, the operation of regularities in the world, allows us to choose which to use in order to make different things. So, um, there is, one can explai- understand, why the universe should be regular and it should be such as to evolve humans. If there is a god. If there isn’t a god, it seems to me, incredibly unlikely that by chance there should have occurred these regularities eventually leading to us.

And what about the objection to that line of thought that would come from, uh, postulating that there’s an infinite number of universes, so it shouldn’t be surprising that one of these would end up being like ours.

Well, you should never postulate more universes unless there is good reason to do so. That is to say, unless you have data, which are best explained by that. So, our only grounds for postulating more universes than this one, would be, if the simplest physical theory of various goings on in this one, would be such as to have the consequence that there would be other universes, for example; some physicists say, “the simplest theory of various matters is to suppose that eventually, uh, long ago, there was a vacuum in space, still is, a special sort of space that sometimes condenses and produces a big bang and that leads to universes and it’s doing it all the time.”

Well, this is a rather shaky theory I think, but it might be true. Uh, but if it is true, uh, what it means, is that, as it were, this larger hole; the multiverse, is it self governed by laws? Um, uh, if it isn’t, we have no reason to suppose there are any other universes. It’s only if it is governed by laws that we can predict there are other universes. If it’s governed by laws then it’s governed by a special sort of laws. It’s governed by laws that throw up universes, um, somewhat like ours, but different from it in certain ways.

Now that might be the case, but then, the problem, if it is a problem that generates the issue, uh, goes one stage higher. Why is our, why is there a multiverse, an ensemble of these universes which has the particular characteristic that it throws up, among other universes, a universe like us, ours, which has the characteristic of producing us? So, um, because there are innumerable logically possible multiverses, which wouldn’t do this. Why is our multiverse like that?

And of course it’s not merely every particle in our universe that has to behave in a regular way, but every particle in all these other universes have to behave in a regular way. So, there’s a lot more regularity in this case, to be, uh, uh, in need of explanation. Maybe this is true, maybe it is like that, but um, it doesn’t make any difference to the force of the argument.

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