Blog Archive


Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label Richard Swinburne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Swinburne. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why a Beautiful Sunset Argues for God's Existence

Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset or had your breath taken away by a stunning vista? Such experiences leave us with a sense of awe. They also feel a bit hallowed; people are a bit more reverent when taking in the natural beauty of the world. The delicate symmetry of a snowflake or the glistening of a spider's dew-dropped web awakens a sense of beauty in our souls, prompting believers to thank God for His amazing handiwork.

But is that last move valid? Can we infer God simply from something we ourselves find beautiful? Actually, we can.

Last week, I was discussing the various arguments for God's existence with Dr. Robert Stewart and Dr. Sean McDowell. Most Christians who are interested in apologetics are familiar with arguments from the existence of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the reality of moral values and duties. Some have heard the argument from consciousness or the argument from reason. But there is another argument that many people don't hear about and that is the argument from beauty.

What is the argument from beauty? Richard Swinburne explains it this way:
If there is a God there is more reason to expect a basically beautiful world than a basically ugly one. A priori, however, there is no particular reason for expecting a basically beautiful rather than a basically ugly world. In consequence, if the world is beautiful, that fact would be evidence for God's existence.1

The objective nature of the beautiful

I think one of the reasons the argument from beauty isn't more well-known is simply that people don't believe beauty is an objective thing. We've all heard the bromide that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and taken that to mean beauty is completely subjective. Even shows like The Twilight Zone foster the idea. People assume that beauty, since it is enjoyable, is like other enjoyable experiences. And given that everyone has a different view of what counts as enjoyable, then beauty must also be subjective in this same way.

However, the beautiful is different from the merely enjoyable. Roger Scruton upacks the difference:
There is also a sense in which you cannot judge something to be enjoyable at second hand: your own enjoyment is the criterion of sincerity, and when reporting on some object that others find enjoyable the best you can sincerely say is that it is apparently enjoyable, or that it seems to be enjoyable, since others find it so.

However, it is not at all clear that the judgement that something is enjoyable is about it rather than the nature and character of people. Certainly we judge between enjoyable things: it is right to enjoy some things, wrong to enjoy others. But these judgements focus on the state of mind of the subject, rather than a quality in the object. We can say all that we want to say about the rightness and wrongness of our enjoyments without invoking the idea that some things are really enjoyable, others only apparently so.

With beauty matters are otherwise. Here the judgement focuses on the object judged, not the subject who judges. We distinguish true beauty from fake beauty-from kitsch, schmaltz and whimsy. We argue about beauty, and strive to educate our taste. And our judgements of beauty are often supported by critical reasoning, which focuses entirely on the character of the object.2
In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Scruton builds a strong argument for the objective nature of beauty. But it strikes me as obviously part of the human condition that we are built to recognize beauty. That's why no one thinks a rainbow is ugly and why all cultures across time have used color and art to increase the beauty of their surrounding environment. Psychiatrists have noted that distortions of the beautiful can even signal severe mental disorders, as the famous series of cat paintings by Louis Wain demonstrates.

Beauty grounded in God

If beauty is objective, then it reflects a common understanding among all people. The argument from morality says because all people have an inherent understanding of morality; because we can recognize what is good, we can know God exists. The argument from reason states because we can reason towards the true, we can know God exists. The Good and the true are what Scruton calls "ultimate values"—something we pursue for its own sake." He then explains, "Someone who asks, 'Why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning."3

We recognize the beautiful like we recognize the good or we recognize the true. And it is because God exists that we can hold the true, the good, and the beautiful as valuable and objective.


1. Swinburne, Richard. "The Argument from Design." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rae. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1994. 201. Print.
2. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 6-7. Print.
3. Scruton, 2011.2.
Image courtesy JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Morality Must be More than Increasing Happiness

Moral knowledge is something people take for granted. We understand that someone who inflicts pain and torture for recreational purposes is evil. That's why the rapist is so reviled. It shows morality as something objective, not merely a preference to be held. Moral values and duties must be anchored in God to be meaningful.

Yet, people don't like to admit an objective morality means they themselves may be morally culpable for acts they choose. So they try to escape the consequence of objective morality. Some do this by trying to claim that morality isn't objective but relative. This reduces them to state absurd conclusions like rape may be morally justified. Others try to ground objective morality in something other than God. I think those folks don't really have an appreciation for what true morality entails. Still, they offer ideas such as morality is a byproduct of evolutionary survival benefits.

One of the more popular ways to try and hold to an objective morality while dismissing God comes in the form of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that increasing happiness and diminishing suffering is the measure of what's good. There are many problems with utilitarianism, but one particular problem is its definition is too narrow to identify all questions generally agreed as moral questions as being truly questions about morality. Richard Swinburne makes this point well:
For some, a belief about moral worth is simply a belief about which actions are important to do. But that use would allow the narcissist, who thinks that is important that he promote his own happiness, to have a moral view, and so it would fail to bring out the distinction which most of us make among the considerations by which we judge the worth of actions, and which I argued to have such importance. For others, a belief about moral worth is a belief about the importance of actions in virtue of their universalizable properties of a certain kind—e.g. those concerned with sex or (more widely) those concerned with the promotion of happiness or unhappiness of other people. On the latter account it would be a moral view that men ought to feed the starving; but not a moral view that men ought to worship God, or that artists who can paint great pictures ought to do so even if those pictures will be seen only by themselves. If you use 'moral' in this limited sense, you can say without contradiction 'I think that religion is more important than morality'; but on my preferred use it would be self-contradictory to assert of anything describable in universal terms that it was more important than morality. A man's morality is (with the qualification that it be not centred on self or any other particular individual) what he believes most important. My grounds for preferring my use are that so many men's beliefs about which actions are important to do are supported or opposed both on grounds which concern the happiness and unhappiness of other people and also on other grounds (e.g. whether the action shows due loyalty, pays honour to whom honour is due, involves keeping a promise or telling the truth), that confining the term to the narrower use would obscure the overlap of grounds of the different kinds in leading to beliefs about overall worth.1
Swinburne is arguing for a view of morality that is objective and prescriptive; moral values and duties are real "oughts" to which all of humanity are beholden. If something like telling the truth is valuable in itself, then morality must be larger than simply adding to the happiness of an individual or individuals. If morality is only about increasing happiness, it begs the question of whether honor has any real meaning since one can bestow false honor on another to make him or her happy. But there is something not quite right with honoring a coward alongside a hero after the battle. And the weighing of the rightness or wrongness of an action identifies it as a moral question, one that defining morality as increasing happiness alone cannot solve.


1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 223-224.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Talking Wrong and Testimony as Trustworthy

When I was a kid, I listened to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy album. Martin told a joke there about a dirty trick to play on a three year old kid:

In the clip, Martin explains "Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents. So, if you have a three-year-old kid and you want to play a dirty trick on him, whenever you're around him you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand: "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"1

Martin's joke is funny, but it actually highlights an interesting point about the nature of being reasonable. Kids DO believe others will talk with them in a way that's trustworthy. They believe parents will give them a basically truthful concept of the world, that they will be honest in using words and filling them with proper meaning, and that, dad jokes excepted, people are not trying to intentionally mislead them.

We shouldn't think of children as being unreasonable in trusting the statements of others even with no evidence. One of the reasons that dad's tall tales work on kids is because dad is generally otherwise trustworthy. Those tall tales leverage the child's inexperience and their reasonable trust of authority.

The Principle of Testimony

However, children are not the only ones to whom it would be considered reasonable to hold to the general trustworthiness of others. All people must operate on this principle in order to have a world that makes any sense at all. Yesterday, I highlighted one of the fundamental principles of knowledge, the Principle of Credulity, which Richard Swinburne defined. Along with that one, Swinburne also offers the Principle of Trustworthiness. Swinburne defines this as "individuals ought to believe the reports of others about how things seemed to them, and so (given the principle of credulity) that things were as they report—in the absence of counter-evidence. That is, other things being equal, the reports of others are probably true."2

Swinburne goes on to clarify that one would never be able to understand another person if one were to believe they were playing Steve Martin's dirty trick on them. How could we? Even if they used proper words but communicated false ideas half the time, it would be impossible to know if and when they truly meant anything. That would make all of their statements untrustworthy and therefore meaningless.

Swinburne does say that experience can teach us that "certain persons or persons in certain circumstances are not to be trusted."3 That's why I can no longer get away with pulling dad jokes on my kids; they recognize when I've planted my tongue in my cheek. Now, they just roll their eyes and continue the conversation.

The Trustworthy Testimony of the Gospels

The principle of testimony also applies when reading ancient historical writings. While people can always be biased (should we believe the campaign slogans of politicians even today?), for the most part an ancient source can be held as truthful. Take Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Craig Keener notes that the dominant view of Luke's writings by scholars today is that they are historical in nature. Keener quotes the Anchor Bible Dictionary in stating, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious, and to most scholars, compelling."4 Keener then points out that when compiling the different genres suggested for Luke's writings, "history appears five times as often as novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel."5 In other words, Luke is hoping to convey what he believes is historical reality. That means one should approach Luke as someone trying to tell the truth and measure his trustworthiness in what we can measure.

In speaking with atheists, though, they don't take this approach with the Gospel accounts. Because they classify them as "religious writings," they hold all of them to be untrustworthy unless the opposite can be proven. That's simply backwards and it causes the same effect: they won't really be able to weigh the evidence the Gospel accounts offer because they refuse to understand them to begin with. In their eyes, Luke may as well have written "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Such a position shows it is those atheists who are the ones being unreasonable.


1. Martin, Steve. A Wild and Crazy Guy. Rhino/Warner Bros., 1978. CD.
2. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 13.
3. Swinburne, 1986, 13.
4. "Luke-Acts." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 406. Print. As quoted in Craig S Keener's Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 91. Print.
5. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print. 91.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Belief without Evidence is Crucial for Knowledge

Being a reasonable person is a great goal; no one wants to be thought of as foolish or gullible. But does being reasonable mean one needs to have reasons for all of one's beliefs? I've run onto many people who would answer "Yes" to that question. I mean, even the word "reasonable" contains the root of "reason!" How could one be reasonable without having reasons for one's beliefs?

This kind of thinking is prevalent in the online conversations I have with atheists. I recently offers one in this example. But not only is my interlocutor unreasonable in asking for evidence for what would be rather benign claims (like a person's academic achievements in casual conversation), he is wrong about what constitutes reasonable belief at all.

Principle of Credulity

In the introduction of his book The Evolution of the Soul, Philosopher Richard Swinburne lays out some key principles we all use in our reasoning. The first is the Principle of Credulity. Swinburne defines it as "in the absence of counter-evidence probably things are as they seem to be."1 This principle holds that we should basically trust what our senses tell us. While sometimes our sense can be wrong, we trust them to tell us true things about the world, for that's simply how we observe the world. As Swinburne points out:
Without this principle, there can be no knowledge at all. If you cannot suppose thigs are as they seem to be unless further evidence is brought forward—e.g. that in the past in certain respects things were as they seemed to be, the question will arise as to why you should suppose the latter evidence to be reliable. If ‘it seems to be' is good enough evidence in the latter case, it ought to be good reason to start with. And if ‘it seems to be' is not good enough reason in the latter case, we are embarked on an infinite regress and no claim to believe anything with justification will be correct.2
This is the key point in when debating with a person who will only accept something based on evidence or that evidence only counts if it is scientifically testable.

What Counts as Evidence?

Take a claim like the one Paul made in 1 Cor. 15:5-7 that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, then all of the apostles, then to James, and then to five hundred people, and lastly to Paul himself. Paul is offering evidence in the form of eyewitness testimony, both his own and of others. If one discounts that as evidence, by what criteria are they doing so? If it is because eyewitnesses can get things wrong, then why ever allow them in courts? What about scientist who base all of their research on visual observation of events or instruments. Doesn't it follow that their eyes could deceive them as well?

The objector might claim, "My problem with that testimony is we simply don't observe people rising from the dead!" But that objection really begs the question, as Swinburne notes. If observation cannot be trusted, why should we trust the observation that people don't rise from the dead?  Maybe they have in the past and we missed it!

If you press for evidence before you believe anything, you will never reach a starting point. There is always the question of "What is the evidence that backs up the evidence you're presenting? Why should I believe that to be true?" It becomes as Swinburne said an infinite regress, where one can never justify anything at all.

In the next post, I highlight another of these principles, one that states why in the absence of any evidence to the contrary testimony specifically should be believed. Stay tuned.


1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 11.
2. Swinburne, 1986. 12.
Image courtesy jon crel and licensed via the Cretive Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Science Cannot Ignore Where Consciousness Comes From

"The physiologist studies the development of the first cell of each new human baby into a full-grown adult. The evolutionary biologist studies the forces which have formed the genetic structure of such a first cell. But relatively seldom do either of these scientists point out that their descriptions and explanations cover only the evolution of the physical characteristics of man, and that they give no account of the evolution of the most important characteristics of man-the characteristics of his conscious life, his feelings and desires, hopes and beliefs, those characteristics in virtue of his possession of which we treat men, and think that we ought to treat men, as totally different from machines. Most philosophers of the past four centuries have been well aware of the difference between the conscious life of a man and goings-on in his body. but their views have relatively seldom made any significant difference to the writing and teaching of biologists and physiologists.

"Scientists have tended to regard the life of conscious experience as peripheral, not central to understanding man. But there is so much and so rich human experience, and experience which is apparently continuous and is causally efficacious that this attitude will not do. His life of experience has to be taken seriously if we are to understand man."
—Richard Swineburne The Evolution of the Soul.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007.3.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

God is making an impact in philosophy

In April of 1966, Time magazine ran one of its most talked about covers of all time. It didn't include a photograph or hint at lasciviousness. Instead, it was a plain black cover with a red border and three simple words emblazoned on the cover in the form of a question: "Is God Dead?"

Nearly 50 years later, we can confidently say that God is not dead. He's very much alive and not only in evangelical churches across North America, South America, Africa, and beyond, but also in certain halls of academia where most had assumed he was all but extinct. God is alive and well in philosophy departments.

Below is a great, short clip by Oxford University professor of philosophy Vince Vitale telling s just how much theists are impacting this hugely influential discipline today.

Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X