Why is There "Something" Rather than "Nothing"? - Richard Swinburne | Closer to Truth

Why is There "Something" Rather than "Nothing"? - Richard Swinburne

Richard Swinburne - Philosophy of Religion

Richard Swinburne

Richard Swinburne is a Fellow of the British Academy. He is Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford.

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Richard
Swinburne

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Oxford University

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Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Richard, when we think of why there is anything, it is a natural human inclination to really think deeply about it. To think there is nothing more astonishing, nothing, than there is something. That nothing would have been the most logical possibility.

Richard Swinburne:

I share that intuition. It is extremely puzzling.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Where do we go from here?

Richard Swinburne:

Well, all explanation consists in trying to find something simple and ultimate from which everything, on which everything else depends. And I think that that simple and ultimate which we can get to by rational inference is God. But it's not logically necessary that there should be a God. The supposition there is no God contains no contradiction. Nor is it the case, as Derek Parfit and some others have suggested, that there is a God because it's good there should be a God. And the good necessarily comes into existence. This principle of explaining the existence of something because it's good, not because some good person designed it, but because it's good in itself, is a principle which we do not recognize in other fields as a kind of explanation at all. We explain things in, by science, in scientific way by laws and initial conditions, or by the actions of persons in virtue of their purposes. But never in any other field do we explain something happening because it's good to happen. We only explain it because somebody who wanted to do something good brought it about. So, to bring this in as, it's not something we recognize as a way of explaining things. And to bring this in just for the universe itself, seems to be utterly out of sync with all the other ways we explain things. And therefore, no reason at all for adopting it. Food never appears on the table because it's good there should be food on the table. It appears on the table because someone put it there. So, there is no explanation of why there is a God. And it would be theologically problematic, as it were, if you were to say, well as a matter of fact, it's logically necessary that there's a God, because that would mean that the existence of God depended on some principle of logic which was somehow superior to God. If God explains everything else, then He wouldn't be God if there was an explanation of his existence. And He is the ultimate truth, which we have, that's how it is. We can't go further than that.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So how do you deal with principles of logic, mathematics, the so-called platonic objects that exist, universals, all of these things that seem to have a quasi-existence independent of anything else. Even if there were nothing.

Richard Swinburne:

Yes, I don't think, I think a lot of philosophers, particularly more recent philosophers, have given a status to these things that they don't really have as it were. But there are philosophers who have said, well, as well as our world is really a possible world which is almost a real world, somewhere else, in which things happen. Not so. Principles of logic are, in my view, rules for which human sentences makes sense. They are principles governing human sentences. They are not eternal truths and clearly, if you are to have a language, you've got to have rules about what a sentence means and these rules will carry consequences about which sentences mean nothing. And therefore, talk of possible worlds is just talk about which combinations of sentences are consistent with each other. So, they're all truths about human language, they don't exist apart from humans. Some recent philosophers, to start with, John Leslie, and following him, Derek Parfit, have argued that maybe things come into existence because it's good that they should come into existence. But this is a principle which, a principle explaining the existence of things, which has no parallel at all in our explaining other things in the universe.

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View TranscriptHide TranscriptDownload Transcript (PDF)Select All and Copy To Clipboard
Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

When we think of why there is anything, it is a natural human inclination, if you really think deeply about it; to think there is nothing more astonishing, nothing, than there is something. That nothing would have been the most logical possibility.

Richard Swinburne:

I share that intuition. It is extremely puzzling.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Where do we go from here?

Richard Swinburne:

Well, all explanation consists in trying to find something simple and ultimate from which everything, on which everything else depends. And I think that that simple and ultimate which we can get to by rational inference is God. But it's not logically necessary that there should be a God. The supposition there is no God contains no contradiction. Nor is it the case that there is a God because it's good that there should be a God. And the good necessarily comes into existence. This principle of explaining the existence of something because it's good, not because some good person designed it, but because it's good in itself, is a principle which we do not recognize in other fields as a kind of explanation at all. We explain things in, by science, in scientific way by laws, and initial conditions, or by the actions of persons in virtue of their purposes. So, there is no explanation of why there is a God. And it would be theologically problematic, as it were, if you were to say, well as a matter of fact, it's logically necessary that there's a God, because that would mean that the existence of God depended on some principle of logic which was somehow superior to God. If God explains everything else, then he wouldn't be God if there was an explanation of his existence. And he's the ultimate truth, which we have, that's how it is. We can't go further than that.