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Richard Swinburne's argument to the simplicity of God via the infinite


In The Coherence of Theism Richard Swinburne writes that a person cannot be omniscient and perfectly free. In The Existence of God Swinburne writes that God is a person who is omniscient and perfectly free. There is a straightforward reason why the two passages are not in tension, but recognition of this reason raises a problem for Swinburne's argument in The Existence of God (the conclusion of which is that God likely exists). In this paper I present the problem for Swinburne's argument. I then consider two potential responses and suggest that neither succeeds.

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1. Richard Swinburne The Coherence of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). Also note that an agent is perfectly free if ‘nothing in any way causally influences [that agent's] choices’; idem The Existence of God, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 94.

2. Swinburne RichardPrior probabilities in the argument from fine-tuning’, Faith and Philosophy, 22 (2005), 644645.

3. The relevant account of simplicity is given in Swinburne The Existence of God, 54–55.

4. Smith QuentinReview article: Swinburne's explanation of the universe’, Religious Studies, 34 (1998), 93.

5. If Swinburne wishes to argue that relatively maximal power is simple only when logically constrained as opposed to physically constrained, then this argument would need to be given. One problem with proceeding in this direction is that it seems easy enough to come up with logical constraints that leave people at any level of power, though I have not done so in the case of Alexander to ease the exposition.

6. Richard Swinburne The Christian God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 150–158.

7. Swinburne RichardCould there be more than one God?’, Faith and Philosophy, 5 (1988), 225. An interesting footnote from the same paper reads, ‘This [restricted] understanding of omniscience is forced upon us by our understanding of the other predicates. But given the later argument that all the divine properties follow from one natural property of almightiness, it remains the case that the arguments in The Existence of God are arguments to “the simplest kind of person there could be”’ (238). Swinburne seems to recognize, in this quotation, that God's having restricted omniscience presents a problem for the simplicity of God.

8. Also relevant is Swinburne The Christian God, 134, and 150–158.

9. Of course, such a being is logically impossible; however, this does not change the fact that a being is simple on a property only when that property is possessed to an infinite degree.

10. ‘The being’ implies that there is a unique being, g2, though it is possible that the description of g2 would not pick out a unique being. If not, then it should be even easier to argue to the existence of a being meeting the description of g2, which strengthens my argument below.

11. Note that I am only comparing the simplicity of personal explanations; it may be the case that personal explanation has an advantage over scientific explanation, as Swinburne argues in Is There a God? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 38–47.

12. I thank the Editor, an anonymous referee for the journal, Stephanie Fraser, Carl Brownson, and Jane Gwiazda for valuable feedback, comments, and suggestions.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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