The Miracle of Creation?

To clarify how Richard Swinburne thinks about the question “Did God create the universe?” I think it might be helpful to consider how Swinburne thinks about the question “Did God raise Jesus from the dead?” In The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Swinburne distinguishes his thinking from that of “a typical New Testament expert”:

To start with, we need to take into account what I shall call ‘the general background evidence’, evidence (the data) about whether or not there is a God able and likely to intervene in human history in a certain kind of way. (ROGI, p.2)

Clearly, if there is an omnipotent God, there is a God able to bring about a miracle such as the resurrection of Jesus. …If the evidence suggests that there is such a God, then it will give some probability to the occurrence of such a miracle insofar as God has reason to bring about such an event. I shall argue that he does have such a reason. (ROGI, p.2)

Swinburne gets fairly specific about God’s reasons (or purposes) for raising Jesus:

Chapter 2 considers reasons which God might have for becoming incarnate, that is, acquiring a human body and a human nature. The relevance of this is brought out in Chapter 3, where I argue that, if he did become incarnate, he would need to live a certain sort of earthly life and God would need to put his signature on that life by culminating it with an event which (if it occurred) would be evidently a miracle—what I shall call a super-miracle, such as the Resurrection. So God has a reason for bringing about the Resurrection if it is the Resurrection of God Incarnate… (ROGI, p.4)

To those who are skeptical about the existence of God and about other religious beliefs, Swinburne appears to have great confidence in conclusions that appear to be rather wild speculations (or heavily biased opinions) about the plans and purposes of God.

But setting that aside for the moment, I think Swinburne has an important insight here, and that he is pointing to a general weakness in the thinking of other theologians and apologists who have argued in defense of the resurrection: In order to show that it is likely that God did X, one needs to show that God has specific plans or purposes such that God’s doing X would be a reasonable way for God to achieve (or partially achieve) those plans or purposes.

I think the same sort of reasoning applies to the claim “God created the universe.” In order to show this to be true or probable, one needs to show not only that there is a God who was able to create this universe, but also to show that this God has certain plans or purposes such that the creation of this universe would achieve (or partially achieve) those plans or purposes.

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05693985638589020492 Mark

    Add to this the claims that so-called skeptical theists make in response to the problem of evil (namely, that we're never in a position to judge with any real confidence what an omnipotent, omniscient being would do in a given situation), and such explanations lose all of their force.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02494141255401096538 uzza

    what?!?
    What kind of lame god have you got that can't do something just for the hell of it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Mark:

    Good point.

    If the bad stuff that happens cannot be understood in terms of God's purposes and plans, then the same is true of the good stuff that happens (e.g. alleged miracles).

    In other words, if we finite humans are unable to determine God's plans and purposes in relation to various evils that occur (such as the recent earthquake), then we should be equally humble and agnostic about inferring God's plans and purposes in relation to various good things that occur.

    Perhpas there is a god, but he/she is evil and allows good things to occur merely as a means to promoting some ultimate evil; it is just that we finite limited human beings are incapable of grasping the complex and subltle plans of the supremely evil one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Uzza said:

    What kind of lame god have you got that can't do something just for the hell of it?
    =======

    Response:

    Q: Where does an 800 pound gorilla sit?
    A: Anywhere he wants to.

    If an omnipotent deity wants to create a universe just for grins and giggles, I'm not going to try to stop him/her.

    If we suppose that there was a deity of the sort advocated by traditional theism, and thus the deity was a perfectly good person, I don't see any reason why such a deity would not do some things just for fun or on a whim. If a good human being can do things on a whim from time to time without being less of a decent person, then so could a supreme being.

    So, it would be a mistake to assume that God, as conceived by traditional theism, can only perform actions that fit in with some grand plan or design.

    However, if this universe was in fact created on a whim by God, without any intention of the universe playing a role in some plan or purpose that flowed from God's goodness and wisdom, then we humans might have no way of rationally inferring the existence of God from the universe.

    If this universe is actually just a little joke, a divine pun if you will, then since our primary information about the creator is his creation, we might only be justified in inferring the existence of a supreme comic, and not justified in inferring the existence of a supremely good and supremely wise person.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley:

    I’d say that the only god-concept worth thinking about is that of a personal being who is perfect in all respects, to our best understanding of personal perfection. It is simply a waste of time to worry about a god who creates on a whim or for fun a world where sentient beings suffer, or, say, about Zeus who lusted after human maidens, or about the sometimes mean and vain “biblical” god, or about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for they are all god-concepts obviously far removed from perfection. Epistemically speaking, theism stands or falls on the claim that our whole experience of life is just as one should expect if it were created by a perfect personal being, God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said:

    I’d say that the only god-concept worth thinking about is that of a personal being who is perfect in all respects…
    ===========

    Response:

    Belief in Zeus or other finite and imperfect deities is not a live option for me. So, I agree that the focus should be on the God of traditional theism, who has long been conceived of as a perfect person.

    However, in order to understand this concept of God, we need to see what it implies and what it does not imply. Thinking about alternative less-than-perfect deities is a useful, if not necessary, way to gain clarity about the concept of God as a perfect person.

    The meaning of a concept can and should be clarified by means of comparison and contrast with other related concepts.

    If this universe can be understood as the product of a supremely evil deity, for example, that would raise questions about the logical (or epistemic) relationship between our beliefs about the observable features of this universe and the existence of a perfectly good and perfectly wise deity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13173136227783184296 solomon

    God create the universe & anything with a purpose, not just for grins & giggles.Thats why he outlined a set of rules for human to follow as the universe has adhere to his systems.If the sun & moon does'nt follow the systems there will be chaos & the end of the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13173136227783184296 solomon

    God create the universe and anything with a purpose, not for fun sake or for grins or giggles.Thats why he outlined a whole set of rules to be followed by humans as the universe has follows its systems.If the sun , moon does'nt follow the systems or gods rules,there will be chaos, the end of the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Solomon said:

    "God create the universe and anything with a purpose, not for fun sake or for grins or giggles. Thats why he outlined a whole set of rules to be followed by humans as the universe has follows its systems."

    This inference is illogical. What does the existence of laws of physics and existence of rules for human behavior have to do with the reason why God created this universe?

    If the creator of the universe imposed rules requiring humans to be cruel and unjust towards each other or towards other living creatures, then that would show that the creator was cruel and unjust.

    But in this discussion we are assuming, for the sake of argument, that the creator was a perfectly good person, so in this context the particulars of physics and ethics don't tell us anything about the creator's moral goodness or badness (that is already determined by the assumption we are making).

    Setting up laws of physics can be viewed as analogous to creating the design of a machine or creating a computer program. But a machine could be created just for grins and giggles, and so can a computer program. The fact that a machine or computer program has a complex or rule-bound nature tells us nothing about what motivated the person who created the machine or program to create it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Solomon's logical error has inspired in me an argument for the opposite conclusion.

    Why might one think that the creator or a complex machine or computer program had a deep or serious purpose, as opposed to doing this just for fun?

    One obvious reason is that creating a complex machine or computer program takes a good deal of time and effort. It might require doing some research, and staying up late several nights, and sacrificing time that could have been expended on frivolous pleasures and entertainment (watching a movie, reading a detective story, going for a walk, having an ice cream sunday, listening to music, etc).

    If someone spends a significant amount of time and invests a significant amount of work and effort at creating X, and if someone sacrifices doing other pleasant activities in favor of spending time creating X, then (it might be inferred) that person probably has a deep or serious purpose for creating X, as opposed to simply creating X for the fun of it.

    But wait a minute. God is all-powerful and all-knowing. So, God never has to read or study something in order to successfully create an X. Furthermore, God never sleeps and needs no sleeep, so God can never "stay up late" or "give up sleep" as part of an effort to create an X. In fact, since God is all-powerful, creating an X (even when X is a complex universe involving various laws of physics) this requires no real effort on God's part. If God created this universe, then he didn't have to strain at it, he didn't break a sweat, nor did he give up even one hour of sleep. An all-powerful and all-knowing deity can simply will the universe to pop into existence, and this would happen instantly, with no time or effort required on God's part.

    So, creating this universe would be easier for God to do, than for a brilliant computer programmer to create the simplest of programs, or for the best engineer who ever lived to create the simplest of machines. In short, it appears to me to be impossible for God to create the universe and to do so in a way that would show he had a deep or serious purpose in doing so.

    If everything is super easy for God to do, then creating this universe would be a super easy thing for God to do, and thus it is unclear how or even whether we can determine that God had a ddep and serious purpose for creating this universe (granting, for the sake of argument, that this universe was created by God).


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