Monday, July 21, 2008

A quick, but decisive, refutation

I spend a decent amount of time flipping through the OUP-UK and OUP-USA sites looking longingly at forthcoming philosophy titles. This one caught my eye:

Was Jesus God?
Richard Swinburne

Writing clearly and powerfully, Swinburne argues that it is probable that the main Christian doctrines about the nature of God and his actions in the world are true. In virtue of his omnipotence and perfect goodness, the author shows, God must be a Trinity, live a human life in order to share our suffering, and found a church which would enable him to tell all humans about this. It is also quite probable that he would provide his human life as atonement for our wrongdoing, teach us how we should live, and tell us his plans for our future after death. Among founders of religions, Jesus uniquely satisfies the requirement of living the sort of human life which God would need to have lived. But to give us adequate reason to believe that Jesus was God, God would need to put his "signature" on the life of Jesus by an act which he alone could do--raise him from the dead. And there is adequate historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

Funny, but I thought a handful of people died before this church was founded. I'm sure the story in the book is more subtle, but the story on the book looks most unpromising.


Brandon said...

That is indeed rather funny. I suppose (but doubt) that he could have a sort of Kantian view; Kant held that the church was a sort of project of reason deriving moral postulates. But that's very unlikely.

Alastair Norcross said...

Interesting (and hilarious). When Swinburne visited Syracuse for a semester while I was a grad student there (late 80's I think) he presented a paper about the doctrine of the trinity (among other things). I have what seems like a clear recollection of Peter van Inwagen actually shouting at Swinburne that he (Swinburne) was a heretic (yes, he used that word) for not believing in the trinity. Perhaps he has been force to recant by the use of thumbscrews, comfy chairs, pillows, etc.
It never ceases to amaze me what crazy views that lot (van Inwagen, Swinburne, Plantinga, the Adams family, etc.) have the gall to put into print. My two favorite examples are, of course, both from van Inwagen. The hilarious 'body-snatcher' theory of resurrection, and his infamous theodicy, in which he suggests as the best answer to the problem of natural evil that humans before the fall had a sixth sense allowing them to get out of the way of natural disasters.

Anonymous said...

Clayton -- I've read the post here several times, and I'm still not sure what you're getting at.

What exactly are you saying -- the fact that people died before the church was founded means what? And how does this fact - whether it is a fact, since I'm not very sure what you're asserting - damage what RS says?

What am I missing here?

Clayton said...

Hey Anon,
It looks like this constitutes an inconsistent triad:

(1) Christianity is true.
(2) God found a church which would enable him to tell all humans about this.
(3) Some humans died before any church could tell them about Christianity.

As I'd expect RS to accept (1) and acknowledge (3), (2) seems an odd thing to argue for.

Timmo said...


The only thing that follows from your triad is:

(4) Some humans died before God founded a church which could tell them about (1).

What's the alleged contradiction here?

Clayton said...

Isn't your (4) incompatible with my (2)?
(2) God founded a church which would enable him to tell all humans about this.

I suppose I could add that God can't tell the dead people much of anything with his church, but at some point the logical analysis is sucking the marrow from the funny bone, so to speak.

Timmo said...


I overlooked the 'all,' but, even still, only if you think that 'all' is a really important will there be any kind of contradiction. In ordinary speech, we restrict quantifiers all the time. Suppose at a party I say:

"Awww, man. There's no beer. Let's go to the store; there's beer there."

Would it be appropriate to shout "Contradiction!"? I think the point of saying that God founded a Church to spread the gospel to all people is that the goal of the Church is to be universal salvation, including all peoples (not just the Jews).

Clayton said...


Maybe it's important to point out that I thought that this was amusing. I didn't think this was a serious refutation of RS' views.

Of course, part of what is amusing is that you'd hope RS would have a paragraph or two about why it's really, really important for God to have gotten the message out to His children but done such a piss poor job at it.

Jordan said...

"In virtue of his omnipotence and perfect goodness... God MUST..."

I find it entirely fascinating that the doctrine of the Trinity, the Atonement, and potential 'gospel'-spreading effectiveness of the Church is something that can be deduced from Gods' infinite power and goodness.