Oral history of British science

Swinburne, Richard (3 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

    Further brief comments on radio debate between Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston mentioned in previous track. Comments on lack of Christian 'role models' in own life story. Discussion of influence on self of film of TS Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' and poetry of GK Chesterton. Further comments on private nature of development of own Christianity. [5:15] Brief comments on view that own awareness of a "modern scientific worldview" did not contradict/counter own Christian faith. [6:39] Comments on relations with mother during degree and National Service; less frequent contact following marriage/move to Leeds, then Hull. Mentions mother's concern about own serious commitment to religion. [Section of track 3 between 8:37-8:42 closed for thirty years until 13 December 2046] Comments on relations with father at this time [Section of track 3 between 9:16-9:28 closed for thirty years until 13 December 2046], wife's relations with own mother. [9:28] Comments on tendency not discuss intimate/emotional concerns with mother at this time, in spite of her willingness to do so; continuation of mother's negative view of own committed Christianity. Mentions mother's interest in Eastern religions. [11:28] Comments on concern with 'coherence' of Christian theological system in book COT. [13:27] Comments on role of others in commenting on drafts of chapters of own books, including philosopher JL Mackie [JM] (mentions JM's book 'The Miracle of Theism' which responded to own), discussion group in department at UOH, Hugh Mellor. [19:46] Comments on writing of book EOG applying 'confirmation theory' to test probability of the hypothesis 'there is a God', including description (with example of simple graph) of tendency for science to favour simplest of infinite number of theories explaining a set of data, role of Bayesian statistics/probability calculus, kinds of evidence for God (existence of regular universe, evolution of conscious human beings), argument that theism is the simplest theory explaining these observations. [28:07] Story of role of Wilde Lectureship in [Natural and Comparative Religion], 1975-1978 in writing of EOG. [19:22] Comments on counter-arguments to own in EOG, including refutation of its characterisation of theory formation in science, disagreement with argument that hypothesis of God is simple, difficulty of pain/suffering as evidence against God's existence. Mentions concern with the latter in EOG, developed more thoroughly in later book 'Providence and the Problem of Evil' [1998]. [32:12] Comments on tendency for scientists not to attend own Wilde lectures; writing of book FAR concerned with definition of 'faith', including distinction between 'belief that' and 'belief in' certain propositions. Mentions tendency for FAR to be less read/discussed than the first two books in the trilogy. [39:09] Comments on lack of involvement in public debates on existence of God until the 1990s; tendency in 1970s and 1980s for own books to be discussed by philosophers; reasons for increased involvement in public debates from 1990s, including availability of funding and success of own 'popular' book summarising arguments especially of EOG: 'Is There a God' [ITAG], 1996. [41:22] Brief comments on relations with Donald MacKay [DMK] at UOK. Comments on relations with colleagues in own department. Mentions wife's view of university parties. [47:10] Further comments on relations with DMK, including possible circumstances of meeting (including observation that appointment of self as professor of philosophy may have been a notable change from atheist predecessor Anthony Flew [AF]), DMK's "evangelical bible Christianity", view of DMK's work in neuroscience including his arguments concerning inability to publically test predictability of human behaviour. Detailed description of DMK's work with 'split-brain' patients (mentions work of Roger Sperry). Mentions own later work on relations between mind and body; difference between own high church and DMK's evangelical Christianity. Discussion of this distinction. Mentions lack of memory of discussion with DMK of his involvement in the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship; formation of group 'Christian Philosophers' in late 1970s (mentions founding role of Basil Mitchell), now the 'British Society for the Philosophy of Religion'. [59:47] Comments on DMK's view of God 'upholding' the universe; limits to DMK's influence on own book 'The Evolution of the Soul' [EOS] [1986]. [1:01:22] Comments on churchgoing during time at UOK, including tendency for congregation in parish church in Madeley (village moved to in 1979) not to be aware of own career; description of own prayer as tending to be 'dry'; view that God has answered prayers concerning aspects of own work. [1:08:12] Comments on influence on own work of developments in science since the 1960s, including work in neuroscience on 'free will' and work in cosmology on theories of 'fine tuning' and 'multiverse'; reasons for not being concerned with developments in evolutionary biology; own reading in science, including difficultly of some content in physics/cosmology; important role of relations/conversations with scientists in own college (Oriel) at UO [from 1985] (mentions mathematician Bill Perry and physicist Pedro Ferreira). [1:21:01] Comments on invitation to give Gifford Lectures, University of Aberdeen [1982-1984]; decision to focus in these on the nature of human beings, with arguments for 'substance dualism' [SD] leading to books including EOS [1986] and more recent 'Mind, Brain and Free Will [2013]. [1:25:26] Comments on reason for titling book 'The Evolution of the Soul', now considered by self to be misleading (as suggests the book involves a naturalistic account of the development of 'the soul'); structure/content of EOS. [1:27:50] Comments on extent to which EOS is an argument against 'mind-brain identity theory' (mentions work of Jack Smart and UT Place)/'physicalism' that regards thoughts/feelings as brain events; "compromise view" of 'property dualism' involving two kinds of properties (for example electrical impulses and thoughts) in a single physical object (the brain); own argument that humans consist of two parts: soul (mental properties) and body (physical properties); tendency for these distinctions to be argued over by psychologists rather than by neuroscientists. [1:31:22] Comments on reasons for moving from post at UOK to post as Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of Christian Religion [NPPCR], UO, in 1985; application process for this post. [1:35:10] Story of move from Keele to Oxford, coincident with separation from wife. Comments on decision to 'live in' Oriel College [OC].[1:37:42] Brief comments on daughters' education, higher education, careers. [1:39:17] Comments on academic duties as NPPCR, involving graduate teaching (including creation of MPhil course in 'philosophical theology' modelled on BPhil in philosophy). Mentions membership of faculties of theology and philosophy. [1:43:22] Comments on relations with other Fellows of OC, including nature/extent of discussion of religion; tendency at this time (and at other times of life) to focus on work; experience of time to research and write in this and previous posts; time spent not working: walking, running, watching "undemanding" television programmes, college social life, "reading undemanding books". Further comments on television programmes watched (mentions comedies 'Blackadder' and 'Yes Minister'); reasons for watching emotionally undemanding television.

  • 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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