What do I think of Alvin Plantinga’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Since this book has been one talked about highly in the modern science debate, which I do enjoy, I figured I should take a look. Alvin Plantinga is one of the biggest names in Christian philosophy today. He has also written some on what he sees going on in the new atheism today so I was eager to see where he would say the real conflict in the science and religion debate lies.
Plantinga starts off with a case that I have been making. He looks at the idea that many atheists will say evolution is true, therefore theism is false. Plantinga is willing to grant evolution for the sake of argument and contends that it could be that God would use an evolutionary process to bring about the creation the way that He wants to.
I find this an important point to stress.
Too often, fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians think the exact same way. If evolution is true, then Christianity is false, and if Christianity is true, then evolution is false. It could be that they’re both true. It could be that they’re both false. There is nothing in one that necessarily contradicts the other. To be sure, some forms of Christianity would face contradictions with evolution and some understandings of evolution would contradict Christianity.
For instance, if you hold evolution is an unguided process, then for the most part, this would go against Christianity, yet the problem with that position is that that position is not known through science. It is a metaphysical idea. Meanwhile, if you hold to a view like young-earth creationism, then you will no doubt find a conflict with evolution.
It’s my stance with Christians that if you are not science-minded, don’t argue evolution. Leave that to those who are science-minded. If you are science-minded and you want to present a scientific argument against evolution, have at it! Now if you are a skeptic who holds to evolution and receives such an argument, it behooves you to really look at it. I contend that if evolution falls, it will fall because it is bad science and will do so when better science shows up.
Plantinga also points out that the theist in fact has the most options at this point. For a naturalist, at this point, evolution is the only game in town. The theist can be open to evolution or he can go with fiat creation if he thinks the evidence warrants that. Neither one will be harmful to his views.
If we instead go with the route of the fundamentalists, we create a false gap between science and religion. When it is asked why so many don’t believe in evolution today in America, it is because for the most part, most people in this country are theists and if it comes down to choosing God who most people would claim to know through a personal experience (Not validating that. Just stating it) and it comes down to choosing God or evolution, the majority of them will choose God. We could argue that they should sit down and weigh out the evidence and make a decision, and I agree they should, but that sword also goes the other way.
If many atheists are taught that belief in Christianity means that they have to give up evolution and then in their eyes be anti-science, then it becomes a no-brainer just as much. If they want to be scientifically-minded people, then they will just have to reject the resurrection. This is why so few that I meet no doubt have really failed to interact with the evidence and in fact taken knee-jerk positions. (Jesus never existed for instance. The sad part is that there are more scientists who hold to a YEC view than there are historians who hold that Jesus never existed. If the atheists see YEC as a joke, they should see Christ-mythicism as a bigger one.)
I contend that too often the evolution debate has been a knee-jerk debate as well based on people thinking that the “plain reading” of a text must be the right one and that Genesis must have been written to address scientific issues. Both of these are modern presuppositions. The problem that we really have is not with what the Bible says, but with the modern thought processes we read into the Bible.
What about miracles? Plantinga again sees no contradiction there as well. It is this idea that we often encounter that if you believe in miracles, you believe in a God who is constantly intervening in the system. While we would say God intervenes, we do not think it is constant. In fact, I consider this to be based on a large misnomer. God is constantly interacting with the system holding it all together. Much of the modern debates assume that if God is doing anything with the creation, it is when He directly acts in the form of a miracle. Other than that, the creation can run just fine on its own, all the while ignoring that it requires God’s upholding of it for it to just exist.
The reason that we recognize miracles is because we do have an organized system. Why is it a virgin birth would be seen as a miracle? Because we know darn well what it takes to make a baby. Why would walking on water be seen as a miracle? Because we know what happens when people try to walk on water. Why would a resurrection be seen as a miracle? Because we know that dead people stay dead.
It has never made sense to me to say that because we live in an era of modern science, we now know miracles don’t happen. Sure, the ancients weren’t as scientific as we are, but did they have to be to know what it takes to make a baby, that people don’t naturally walk on water, and to know that dead people stay dead? Are these recent discoveries since the scientific era?
Plantinga does briefly touch on biblical criticism and I would have liked to have seen more replies to what is going on in that area since too many atheists just read the people that agree with them and go on from there. (I think of Victor Stenger who on Unbelievable? decried people who use just one source and then said for the questions about the Bible, he relies on Bart Ehrman. By all means read Ehrman, but read his critics as well and if you read the NT scholarship that is conservative, then read people like Ehrman as well) This was a part that Plantinga looked to have brought in and then just let drop.
Plantinga goes on to talk about two areas of agreement he sees between Christianity and science. Both of these are in the areas of fine-tuning. One is the intelligent design of the cosmos. Plantinga is a bit more hesitant there, but he does lean to the idea that fine-tuning of the universe if demonstrable, and to some extent I think it is, does fit in well with theism.
The next area would be in the area of the research of Michael Behe with Darwin’s Black Box. Plantinga does think that Behe is on to something here. To go with Behe would not rule out evolution either, but it would point to evolution needing to be guided and he spells out what he thinks would be needed to have a defeater for Behe’s beliefs. Those wanting more on these last two points will need to read the work itself since I don’t discuss the science as science.
The next area of concord that he sees is that science arose in a Christian milleu and this was because the Christians saw themselves in the image of God and that God made a creation that is rational and meant to be understood. Plantinga makes the case that it is incredible that mathematics of a complex nature that we can do would be that which is just what we need to understand the universe.
Finally, he brings out the deep conflict. For this, Plantinga uses his famous evolutionary argument against naturalism where he says you can believe in one or the other, but you will face a problem if you believe in both because you will have a defeater for your belief in naturalism. The argument is an interesting one worthy of consideration.
So this gets us to where the conflict really lies and that is….
Do you really think I’ll spoil it for you? This was a great ending to the book and I recommend instead of my sharing it, that you go read it for yourself.
A downside to the book however is that I did often wish when historical questions came up, like Biblical criticism or the history of science, that a historian had been called on to write those. Also, sometimes, the writing in Plantinga’s book becomes highly technical and thus it will not be as accessible to the layperson. Still, there is plenty here for all readers to consider. I recommend this one for an excellent look at the modern debate between science and religion.