Show

Concept of God

Week of: 
December 9, 2007
What is it: 

What does "God" mean?  Is God a concrete thing like a chair or a human; or is it an abstract thing, like love or goodness?  Is there something that all concepts of God have in common, some feature that all cultures attribute to God?  Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford, joins John and Ken to explore the many ways in which people across the world conceive of the divine.

Listening Notes: 

Ken and John begin this episode by establishing the motivation for a show dedicated to the “Concept of God”. They argue that before a debate about the existence of God can begin, one needs to understand what properties such a God would have to possess. Such an understanding would make intelligible what it means to be God. In particular, they question whether God has to be a person, and what the implications of this are. To help them, guest Richard Swinburne explains that the simplest explanation of a world that has physical laws is that they are brought about by a personal being. To Richard, this gives us certain reasons to expect our existence in the world. 

After discussing how God is conceptualized, the conversation focuses on the powers ascribed to God. Richard encourages Ken and John to think about the Old Testament and the powerful and sometimes mean qualities attributed to God as metaphoric. John questions him as to how a philosopher can make sense of a person who is also all-powerful and all knowing—two concepts not normally ascribable to any person. Ken challenges Richard to explicate what it means to have both good and evil in persons, and whether this reflects an imperfection on God's part and a question to his all-powerful abilities. In addition, Ken, John, and Richard discuss how a finite mind can try to understand an infinite concept like God. 

Once the powers ascribed to God were debated, Ken asks whether the good in the world is good in lieu of God liking it, or whether God likes it because there is some intrinsic goodness to it. Richard replies that the basic tenets of what is good exist independently of the will of God, but Ken expresses his concern, because this places something (the good) above God. 

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (SEEK TO 00:04:14): Zoe Corneli goes to a Buddhist temple in the center of San Francisco. Here she learns that Buddhists don't believe in God as creator of world, but rather believe in a world that exists and is tied to the person perceiving the world. How one determines what is good and bad depends on someone's intentions. 
  • The Sixty Second Philosopher Ian Shoales (SEEK TO 00:48:44): In just sixty seconds, Ian Shoales brings us through different takes on the existence of God, and explores the certainty in belief from Satanists to atheists to brights.

Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford

Related Resources: 

Books by Guest Richard Swinbunre

Other Resources

  • Vergote, Antoine et al.  "Concept of God and Parental Images."  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 8, No. 1. (Spring, 1969), pp. 79-87.  (Note: subscription to JSTOR required.)

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