on May 5, 2002
Swinburne would surely affirm Bishop Butler's famous declaration that "probability is the very guide of life." This sentiment is present throughout his work but it is developed most fully and explicitly in _Faith and Reason_. Swinburne maintains that there is no tension between faith and reason, defining faith simply as "a matter of pursuing the goals of religion on certain assumptions believed to be more probable than rival assumptions." This may sound sterile, but, for better or worse, it is thoroughly Swinburnean. The book is probably the best modern attempt to lay out a "rationalistic" account of religious faith, according to which faith is a matter of weighing probabilities and making decisions in light of them. This is required reading for anyone who would fully understand the contours of Swinburne's thought.
Swinburne begins by laying out a theory of rational belief, then applies it to the case of religious belief. Throughout the book, Swinburne does what he does best: make distinctions. For example, in Chapter 2 he distinguishes no less than five kinds of rationality, and in Chapter 4 he analyzes the rational and volitional components of faith and relates each to pragmatist theories of faith. His discussions of both faith and reason are often illuminating, even when his account of how they relate to each other is unsatisfying. Swinburne considers the positions of such figures as Aquinas, Luther, Pascal, James, and Newman in some detail, but is dismissive of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. I think the book suffers from its failure to consider Kierkegaard's view that uncertainty is not just acceptable, as Swinburne admits, but is the very hallmark of faith. It would have been stronger had he tried to account for the intuition behind this view within his framework.
I do not know of any wholly satisfactory treatment of the relationship between faith and reason. Swinburne's book is valuable, not only for the position it defends, but also for its clear and precise elucidation of the issues at stake. I recommend reading this book in conjunction with Scott MacDonald's paper "Christian Faith" in the volume _Reasoned Faith_, edited by Eleanore Stump, and possibly James Kellenbarger's "Three Models of Faith" in _Contemporary Perspectives in Religious Epistemology, edited by Geivett and Sweetman. Etienne Gilson's _Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages_ is also an excellent treatment of three medieval approaches to the issue that still have application today.