Swinburne’s Cosmological and Teleological Arguments – Part 4

Richard Swinburne presents his inductive cosmological argument in Chapter 7 of his book The Existence of God (second edition, hereafter: EOG). I plan to start at the beginning of the chapter and go paragraph by paragraph, stopping to comment on each paragraph that includes either support for, or defense of, some part of the cosmological argument (hereafter: TCA).

Paragraph 1 (EOG, p.133)
This paragraph neither supports nor defends a part of TCA.

Paragraph 2 (EOG, p.133-134)
This paragraph clarifies the meaning of the premise of TCA. Clarification or definition of the meanings of words and phrases constitutes conceptual or analytic truths, so this paragraph does not use contingent factual claims to support or defend the premise of TCA.

Paragraph 3 (EOG, p. 134)
In this paragraph Swinburne replies to an objection, and he makes use of contingent factual claims/assumptions to do so. So, this paragraph is clearly relevant to my concern that Swinburne draws upon contingent factual knowledge/beliefs in order to support or defend TCA.

The objection under discussion concerns the fact that our universe is the only universe, or the only one of which we have knowledge:

From time to time various writers have told us that we cannot reach any conclusion about the origin or development of the universe, since it is the only one of which we have knowledge, and rational inquiry can reach conclusions only about objects that belong to kinds…(EOG, p.134)

This is not an objection to the truth of the premise of TCA:

1. A complex physical universe exists (over a period of time).

This premise makes no claim about the “origin or development of the universe”. So, the objection is not against the truth of the premise.

I believe this is an objection to the inference from the premise of TCA to the conclusion of TCA. Since the argument is inductive rather than deductive, it would be misleading to summarize the inference in terms of a conditional claim (i.e. IF a complex physical universe exists, THEN God exists). But we can capture the inductive inference as a warrant claim:

w. The existence of a complex physical universe (over a period of time) increases the probability that God exists (in comparison with circumstances in which one possess only a priori knowledge).

For Swinburne, this inference is based on some thinking about the origin of the universe. If God exists, then it is somewhat likely (i.e. probability = .5) that God would chose to bring about humanly-free agents, and bringing about a complex physical universe (for a period of time) is a necessary condition of bringing about humanly-free agents. Thus, if God exists, then it is somewhat likely (probability is at least .5) that God would bring about a complex physical universe. Furthermore, if there were no God, it would be very unlikely (according to Swinburne) that a complex physical universe would exist (given only a priori background knowledge).

Clearly, Swinburne’s reasoning in support of the inference in TCA involves reasoning about the origin of the universe, and this reasoning is supposed to be correct even if our universe is the ONLY universe that has ever existed. Thus, the reasoning Swinburne uses to support the inference in TCA is reasoning that draws conclusions about the origin of a universe, even if that universe is the only one that has ever existed. Thus, the objection that Swinburne considers in this paragraph can be understood to be an objection against the inference in TCA, and Swinburne’s response to this objection can thus be taken to be a defense of the inference in TCA.

Swinbrune’s reply to this objection makes an appeal to two areas of scientific inquiry:

This objection has the suprising, and to most of these writers unwelcome, consequence, that physical cosmology could not reach justified conclusions about such matters as the size, age, rate of expansion, and density of the universe as a whole (because it is the only one of which we have knowledge); and also that physical anthropology could not reach conclusions about the origin and development of the human race (because, as far as our knowledge goes, it is the only one of its kind). The implausibility of these consequences leads us to doubt the original objection, which is indeed totally misguided. (EOG, p.134)

There is a whole truckload of contingent factual claims/assumptions that Swinburne is drawing upon in the above reply to the objection. Here are a few such contingent factual claims/assumptions:

CF1:Human beings exist.
CF2:Humans have engaged in systematic and scientific study of various topics and phenomena for more than a century.
CF3: One such area of systematic and scientific study is physical cosmology.
CF4: Another such area of systematic and scientific study is physical anthropology.
CF5:Over the history of physical cosmology, humans have been able to arrive at justifiable conclusions about the size, age, rate of expansion, and density of the universe as a whole.
CF6: So far, in the study of physical cosmology, humans have only been able to discern the existence and nature of our physical universe.
CF7: Over the history of physical anthropology, humans have been able to arrive at justifiable conclusions about the origin and development of the human race.
CF8: So far, in the study of physical anthropology, humans have only been able to discern the existence of one animal species that has the power of language and reasoning and which engages in systematic scientific study of the natural world.

Although I have no problem with the truth of these contingent factual claims, we are not allowed to make use of such contingent factual claims in evaluating the inference in TCA. According to Swinburne, the ONLY contingent factual claim that we are to take into consideration is the premise of TCA. But the eight contingent factual claims above go well beyond the claim that there exists a complex physical universe. So, Swinburne’s reply to this objection to the inference in TCA violates his own basic groundrule.

Before we can reject this reply, however, there is one further question to consider: Is it NECESSARY for Swinburne to make all of these contingent factual assumptions in order to adequately respond to the objection to the inference of TCA? Can an adequate response be formulated by using ONLY a priori or analytic truths?

To be continued…

Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? - Part 2
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? - Part 1
Yahweh vs. Thor
J.L. Schellenberg on the Philosophy of Religion

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