Is Evil Necessary in God’s World? (Richard Swinburne) (Part 1 of 2)

Richard Swinburne is the Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford. He is one of the leading analytic philosophers of religion and his contributions to Christian philosophy has been enormous. His first three books focused on the existence of God: The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason. Other books dealt with issues in philosophical theology, including The Christian God, The Problem of Evil, and The Evolution of the Soul.

Here is how Richard describes the traditional view of what God is like in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It is also the kind of God to which his arguments lead. He states: “God is clearly supposed to be a personal being in the sense of someone with whom we interact. And the person is someone with powers. I’m a person because I can do certain things. God can do certain things but His powers are infinite. So He’s omnipotent, He can do anything. Being a person means that I have certain beliefs about the world. God has beliefs about the world but He has all true beliefs. So He knows everything. He’s omniscient. I can make choices between alternatives. That’s part of what makes me a person. So in that sense, I have a certain amount of freedom but of course, I’m influenced by irrational desires of various kinds and my freedom is limited. He has perfect freedom. He is not influenced by irrational desires or anything outside himself.

So He is a personal being who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly free. Anything lasts for a certain amount of time. I last for a certain amount of time. God lasts for an infinite amount of time and I prefer to construe that in saying He’s everlasting, He exists at all moments of past time, exists now and will exist at all moments of future time.

Though there is another way of construing that in a traditional saying that He exists outside of time. But however you construe this, let’s say He’s eternal. From these characteristics of God, omnipotent, omniscience and perfect freedom and eternity, there follow all the other traditional attributes of God.

For example, God is supposed to be perfectly good. Now given that He is omniscient, He will know what things are good and what things are bad and given that He is perfectly free, He will be not influenced to do anything except what He believes to be good and since He’s omniscient, He will have true beliefs about what is good. Recognizing something is good gives you a reason for doing it, and unless you are deterred by irrational desires, you will do it. So God will be perfectly good because He’s not influenced by irrational desires. He sees what is good and He will do it. God is omnipresent, He is present everywhere. And what that means is He is present by his power’s knowledge.

That’s to say, He’s aware of everything that’s happening everywhere and He can make a difference to everything that’s happening everywhere and it follows from His omnipotence that He has the ability to act at places not indirectly by sending a radio signal there, but directly. And it follows from His omniscience that He knows what’s going on everywhere. So He’s omnipresent. If there is a universe, it follows because He is omnipotent that it only exists because He allows it to exist. He is the creator of any universe there is.”

As to the atheistic charge that postulating an ethereal God just moves the problem up one level. Who created God? Richard answers: ” We do move the problem up. We ask why are there all these tables and chairs and so on? And the answer is because they are made of atoms and molecules. And they are the ultimate constituents. We go behind the visible thing to see what are the invisible things which are the ultimate constituents. And we go back in time to find the causes of things.

So looking for causes and constituencies is what science is all about. And it’s no objection to the existence of God. Even if it were the case that he needed explanation and we couldn’t explain him, it wouldn’t be any objection to postulating him. Because all that time, we are postulating causes when we cannot explain those causes. So who created God? The answer is, of course, given the traditional view of God, is that no one created God. If God has the traditional properties, those include God being omnipotent, that He is able to do everything, if there were something which created God, then something would have happened which God was not responsible for.

But if a being is omnipotent, then everything that happens either he allows it to happen or he brings it about. But if something created him, then something would have happened which he didn’t allow or didn’t bring about. So clearly, if there is a God, that’s the end of the explanatory ladder. If there is a God, then that explains everything. Nothing created God. That is the final terminus of the explanation of the universe. People can ask impossible questions but there is no further explanation.


Is Evil Necessary in God’s World? (Richard Swinburne) (Part 2 of 2)

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