Oral history of British science

Swinburne, Richard (1 of 5). National Life Stories:

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  • Subjects

    Science and Religion

  • Recording date

    2015-12-01, 2015-12-01, 2016-01-07, 2016-02-09, 2016-03-03

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Oxford

  • Interviewees

    Swinburne, Richard, 1934- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Richard Swinburne born Smethwick, Birmingham 26th December, 1934 [but majority of childhood in Colchester]. Comments on life of father, including occupation as school music teacher, then (from c.1946) schools music advisor for Essex County Council, headship of Colchester Technical College. Mentions Lowestoft, Suffolk as location of father's childhood; paternal grandfather's various jobs. Comments on visits to grandparents. [3:17] Brief comments on life of mother, including work as a secretary, childhood in Lowestoft (mentions maternal grandfather's work as optician). [4:09] Comments on limited time spent, as a child, with father (mentions greater closeness to mother); father's focus on his musical interests. Mentions view of parents' marriage. Brief story of visit to organ loft in church in which father played; learning to shoot at father's cadet corps shooting range. [5:38] Comments on visits to outdoor places with mother, including canoeing on river; picnics (mentions financial restrictions of wartime); own play with printing set, reading, keeping of scrapbooks of newspaper articles. [8:30] Brief story of experience of TB aged c.10 involving a long period in bed, then admission to boarding school (prep school then Charterhouse public school). Comments on experience of loneliness during school holidays back in Colchester. [9:52] Description of childhood home in Colchester. Comments on mother's interest in literature; her wish to have gone to university, denied by her father. [11:37] Comments on mother's fulltime work as a secretary during own schooling, to pay private school fees (mentions father's disapproval of private education). [12:26] Interviewer asks question about parents' marriage. [12:37] Comments on nature/extent of mother and father's interest in own development, future career, conduct; limited religious faith of parents; father's leftwing politics and passion for music (the latter not shared by self). Mentions mother's ambition for self to become an academic. [15:10] Comments on father's playing of organ in church, with no interest in the services; mother's view of membership of Church of England as desirable; occasional visits to church with mother. Story of mother's (and father's) negative view of own expressed ambition, at one stage, to become an Anglican priest. Mentions mother's lack of belief in Christian doctrines. [16:46] Comments on own Christian faith, from early childhood onwards. Mentions period of time spent living in Tiptree, near Colchester during childhood. Story of comments made to mother about sight of German planes on way to bomb London. Mentions childhood prayer; attendance of church elementary school in Tiptree [1939-1941]. [19:51] Comments on own feelings about going to boarding school; mother's view of private education as key to success; memory of feeling different from peers at prep school in Felixstowe as recent illness excused self from playing of games. Description of this school, including comments on corporal punishment. [23:11] Comments on mother's view of importance of study of Latin and Greek; view of science at this time. [24:51] Mentions scholarship to Charterhouse School [CS], Godalming, Surrey aged 12.5; mother's arrangement of special classes/tutors before CS. [27:18] Description of CS. Comments on tendency for parents of peers to be more affluent than own, with related story; tendency for ability in games (rather than academic performance) to be valued by boys here; playing of chess. [32:45] Comments on home of school friend visited; father's view of private education; teaching and learning at CS, including own attainment in School Certificate, entry to 'Classics Stream' (mentions regret at discontinuing mathematics). Description of/comments on work in Latin and Greek at this stage. Mentions enjoyment of ancient history; lessons in French and scripture. [42:29] Comments on School Certificate paper in 'General Science'; enjoyment of mathematics. [43:56] Comments on development/expression of own Christian faith at CS; religious content of curriculum including daily religious assembly, chapel services, religious instruction (usually given by one of two chaplains), compulsory Sunday evensong, school instruction for 'confirmation'. Story of own baptism at home in advance of confirmation at school, aged 16. [46:39] Comments on own practice of prayer at CS. [48:04] Comments on variable Christian faith among masters at CS; interest in confirmation instruction. [50:15] Story of winning Open Scholarship to University of Oxford [UO], with choice of Exeter College [EC]. Story of National Service (aged 17.5-19.5) involving learning of Russian in Navy, including observation that others suspected that self and others were being trained to be spies. [59:48] Comments on lack of opportunity to use Russian language until end of Cold War in the 1990s. [1:00:46] Brief comments on theological/political discussions with fellow trainees. Comments on own political outlook at this time, including view that religion was more important than politics. [1:03:15] Comments on extent of reading in theology and philosophy by this point in life; significance of own commitment to Christianity; view that God was calling on self to train to be a priest. [1:04:55] Comments on/story of decisions made in choosing degree subject: PPE (Philosophy, Politics, Economics); structure of UO degree; own specialisation in Philosophy by time of final examination. [1:09:09] Comments on experience of teaching of philosophy at OU, including dominance of 'ordinary language philosophy' [OLP] ("a very strange stage"). Comments on other reaction against perceived misuse of words in earlier philosophy: logical positivism, developed by physicists in 'Vienna circle' and popularised in the UK/English language by AJ Ayer in book 'Language, Truth and Logic' (1936). Further comments on OLP, led a UO by JL Austin [JLA], then Professor of Moral Philosophy. Story of conversation with JLA concerning George Berkeley's phenomenological arguments for immaterialism. Mentions David Hume. [1:17:57] Comments on influence of JLA at OU. [1:19:58] Comments on own tutor in philosophy at UO, Bill Kneale. [1:21:27] Detailed comments on own impression of extent to which philosophy at OU was out of step with tendency, outside UO, for science to be valued as a way of understanding the world. Comments on tendency for lecturers/tutors in philosophy to have had limited training in science. Mentions absence of philosophy of science as a subject at UO at this time. Comments on dismissal of religion by positivists/verificationists and by ordinary language philosophers. Mentions 'philosophy of religion' as special subject in theology, not philosophy. [1:24:38] Mentions own appreciation of instruction in construction of rigorous argument/thought. Comments on impression at this time that own religious faith was "well out of line with a lot of ordinary thinking" (in spite of relatively high church attendance); development of view that rigorous thought/argument of philosophy could be used to assist Christian religion. [1:25:38] Comments on EC chaplain, Eric Kemp; own experience of chapel attendance; relations with Anglican Franciscan Friar (visitor to EC); continuing intention, at this time, to train as an Anglican priest after degree. [1:27:26] Comments on lack of experience of any hostility to own Christian faith at UO; tendency for religion/faith not to feature in philosophical discussions; lack of connection between contemporary science and philosophical treatments of 'free will', determinism, cosmology, cognition. [1:29:43] Comments on reasons for own awareness/interest in work of contemporary science; view church was indifferent to claims of philosophy and science. [1:33:03] Comments on sources of own appreciation of importance of contemporary science, including awareness, as an undergraduate, of own lack of scientific knowledge; lack of influence on self of undergraduates reading science. [1:34:31] Comments on minority of female philosophy students/tutors (mentions Iris Murdoch [IM]); tendency for female philosophers not to be prominent (mentions exception: Elizabeth Anscombe). Comments on IM's classes, involving Marxism, attended as a graduate student. [1:36:39] Comments on student societies joined at UO, including Oxford University Church Union [OUCU] (mentions own presidency in third year). Mentions tendency to work hard; beginnings of relationship that led, in future, to marriage. [1:37:50] Mentions existence at UO of Student Christian Movement [SCM]. Comments on talks on relations between science and religion organised by OUCU and SCM (mentions contributions from OU philosophers Ian Crombie, John Lucas, Basil Mitchell). Comments on the then Professor of the Philosophy of Religion Ian Ramsey. [1:39:34] Comments on two books published at end of undergraduate time at OU on philosophy of religion: 'New Essays in Philosophical Theology' (edited by Anthony Flew [AF] and Alasdair MacIntyre) and 'Faith and Logic' (edited by Basil Mitchell). Mentions occasional question about existence of God in 'General Philosophy' paper in philosophy degree. [1:42:03] Further comments on level of interest in science and philosophy of UO chaplains. Comments on opposition of logical positivists to 'metaphysical questions'; own interest in such big metaphysical questions.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Philosophy Richard Swinburne.

  • Related transcripts

    Richard Swinburne interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

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