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.