Customer Reviews: Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism
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on December 21, 2011
Alvin Plantinga is back for his third very resilient attempt at confuting naturalism via the theory of evolution.
From his science vs. religion exposition, Plantinga relaunches his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) in this popular-level volume: "Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism." Much has changed in twenty years, from the non-theistic cast to the bombastic rants of the New Atheists, but the big change is the sundry ways atheists have attacked theism including the philosophically naïve abjuration of Plantinga's EAAN.

As a high-volume reviewer of apologetic books, I am regularly sent books and E-files that I review on Amazon. The prominent and the unknown scholars behind these philosophical and apologetic works claim to defeat non-theism and attempt to argue faithfully for Christian truth.
Some contain arguments that lack precision as they often take too much for granted when approaching sophisticated unbelieving thought. I have not given their contentions much weight, but their apparent unsupported disputations make books like "Where the Conflict Really Lies" that much more gratifying.

Herein, Alvin Plantinga offers insightful analysis that defies many of our presumptions of what science is and how religion relates to it.
Much of the territory Plantinga surveys will be familiar to philosophers, epistemologists, and apologists, yet less theoretically oriented readers are likely to find it assessable and intriguing--and often related with creditable simplicity.
The central proposal of this work is that the true conflict is not between theism and science, but is between naturalism and science.

Some Christian theists, in selected ways, feel a bit troubled by nominated aspects of modern science. Some non-theists believe that as science progresses theism must depart. But this apparent antithesis--between science and religion--is not logically genuine. The real debate is between truth and error as the author utilizes clear argumentation and numerous illustrations that demonstrate pure naturalism lacks the ontic status and conceptual framework to justify the reliability of human reason.

Plantinga, one of the foremost living philosophers and rock climbing partner of Bas van Frassen, not only answers the detractors, he also patiently demonstrates how to appropriately relate scientific truth with religious truth; seeing an unchanging, omniscient, and rational God in both.

The author reveals that the actual problem between theism and science is one of misunderstanding, tacit assumptions, incorrect definitions, and improper applications: "Here we have another important source of the continuing debate between science and religion. This confusion or alleged connection between Darwinism and unguided Darwinism is one of the most important, perhaps the most important, source of continuing conflict between science and religion. If you confuse Darwinism with unguided Darwinism, a confusion Dennett makes and Dawkins encourages, you will see science and religion as in conflict at this point. ... This confusion between Darwinism and unguided Darwinism is a crucial cause of the continuing debate. Darwinism, the scientific theory, is compatible with theism and theistic religion; unguided Darwinism, a consequence of naturalism, is incompatible with theism, but isn't entailed by the scientific theory. It is instead a metaphysical or theological add-on."

Chapter One is an outline of Plantinga's proposal "to look into the alleged conflict between religion and science; most of the alleged conflicts, however, have to do with theism, belief that there is such a person as God, rather than doctrines..." (P. 3). He sketches relevant ideas from Darwin and Dennett, but focuses his metaphysical punctilio on Dawkins as he argues that there is no true conflict between the theory of evolution and theism. He contends that many modern Darwinians mistakenly conflate distinct philosophical notions when they contend that if evolution, then not theism. The author closes this chapter: "The conclusion can be drawn, I think, is that Dawkins gives us no reason whatever to think that current biological science is in conflict with Christian belief. His reasoning was not impressive" (pp. 30-31).

As Plantinga exposes Dawkins' philosophical ineptitude, he quotes him: "All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.... Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind.... It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker" (Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker). At that juncture Plantinga observes: "The subtitle of Dawkins' book: `Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.' Plantinga queries: "Why does Dawkins think natural selection is blind and unguided? Why does he think that "the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design?'" Plantinga exposes Dawkins' non sequitur concerning evolution: "Dawkins utterly fails to show that `the facts of evolution reveal a universe without design;' still the fact that he and others assert his subtitle loudly and slowly, as it were, can be expected to convince many that the biological theory of evolution is in fact incompatible with the theistic belief that the living world has been designed. Another source of the continuing debate, therefore, is the mistaken claim on the part of such writers as Dawkins that the scientific theory implies that the living world and human beings in particular have not been designed and created by God."

The subsequent chapter examines the philosophical flaws of Dennett's rigid naturalism that asserts "the living world with all its beauty and wonder, all of its marvelous and ingenious design, was not created or designed ... but produced by a random ... blind... process" (p. 31). After discussing Dennett's arguments, Plantinga perceives: "The scientific theory of evolution as such is not incompatible with Christian belief; what is incompatible with it is the idea that evolution, natural selection, is `unguided.' But that idea isn't part of evolutionary theory as such; it's instead a metaphysical or theological addition" (p. 63).

Chapter Three discusses a thought-provoking topic: the notion that "many theologians, scientists, and philosophers hold that special divine action in the world--causing a miracle, for example--is incompatible with science." But this claim "together with the hands-off theology to which it gave rise is no doubt popular, but it suffers from a common if unhappy condition: it is wholly mistaken" (p. 91). This is correct inasmuch as "classical science is perfectly consistent with special divine action" (p. 90). If one aims to remain philosophically, ontically, and epistemically accurate one must know that one cannot find a real "conflict between classical science and religion," but they are "perfectly consistent" (p. 90).

In the next chapter the author argues that the new scientific picture, including quantum mechanics, offers "even less of a problem for divine special action than classical science, even though the latter doesn't offer much of a problem" (p. 91). He places contemporary scientific research and discoveries under the bright light of demarcated and precise philosophical insights to demonstrate that "we have found no conflict between Christian or theistic beliefs and current science" (p. 125).

The ensuing essay examines the claims of evolutionary psychology and demonstrates that it lacks the metaphysical capacity to deliver a defeater for Christian theism (pp. 129-160). This in turn leads to the Chapter apropos defeaters. He argues that there seems to be a rational defeater for naturalism even as a basic belief inasmuch as one could "have a certain belief which you formed in the basic way and then you learn one way or another that the belief is wrong. I might look at a mountain goat and I might look at a spot 600 yards away and think, `There's a mountain goat there.' Then as I walk towards it I discover that it's just a patch of snow. I formed the original belief in the basic way; I didn't argue to it, I just looked over that way and thought, `Oh there's a mountain goat.' And then I found out I was wrong. So I have a defeater for it. The defeater in this case was my perception that it's a patch of snow as I got closer to it." Plantinga elucidates: "I argue that Simonian science doesn't give a Christian a defeater for the beliefs with which it is incompatible, because the evidential basis of science is just part of the Christian evidential basis; my point here is that this doesn't imply that a Christian can never get a defeater for one of his religious beliefs" (p. 186). He adds: "I'm claiming more strongly that, at least by implication, that it's not the case that science is not a probabilistic defeater for Christian belief. It's not the case that given the existence of science, that somehow makes Christian belief less probable or in some way undercuts it. So it's not just that there's no logical conflict but also that there's no probabilistic conflict either between science and theism."

The author turns to the controversial issue of the fine-tuning argument (FTA) in the next chapter and contends that "the FTA offers some slight support for theism. It does offer support, but only mild support"(p. 224). Various theists from sundry positions will have strong disinclinations concerning this conclusion. Plantinga at that point opines: "A design argument would proceed with premises and proceed to the conclusion that something or other has been designed. Another way that this could go, though, would be that one could simply perceive design. You form the belief that there is design here in the basic way: you're not arguing to it but you just look at it and find yourself with that belief. Francis Crick for example, who is no friend of theism, says that that everything looks so designed that a biologist has to constantly remind himself, `It's not designed, it's not designed! It just evolved!'"

The following chapter on design and irreducible complexity relates to the preceding essay but yields essential distinctions. Plantinga contends that on the balance "Behe's design discourses do not constitute irrefragable arguments for theism, or even for the proposition that the structures he considers have in fact been designed. Taken not as arguments but as design discourses they fare better, they present us with epistemic situations in which the rational response is design belief--design belief for which there aren't strong defeaters. The proper conclusion to be drawn, I think, is that Behe's design discourses do support theism, although it isn't easy to say how much support they offer" (p. 264).

Chapter Ten offers Plantinga's most recent explication of the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). Prior to his central critique of naturalism he makes the case that "theistic religion gives us a reason to expect our cognitive capacities to match the world in such a way as to make modern science possible" (p. 303).
The claim by the New Atheists that the course of evolution is unguided, deficient of teleology "despite its strident proclamation, is not part of the scientific theory as such; it is instead a metaphysical or theological add-on. On the one hand there is the scientific theory; on the other, the metaphysical add-on, according to which the process is unguided... The second supports naturalism, all right, but is not part of science, and does not deserve the respect properly awarded science. And the confusion of the two--confusing the scientific theory with the result of annexing that add-on to it, ... deserves not respect, but disdain" (p. 309).

Plantinga argues that naturalism is in conflict with evolution as he deems naturalism a "quasi-religion;" this in part means the "real conflict lies not between science and naturalism" (pp. 310-311). From the perspective of theism our cognitive "faculties are indeed for the most part reliable," but "suppose you are a naturalist: you think that there is no such person as God, and that we and our cognitive faculties have been cobbled together by [unguided] natural selection. Can you then sensibly think that our cognitive faculties are for the most part reliable? I say you can't. The basic idea of my argument follows: First, the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given naturalism and evolution, is low. ... If I believe in both naturalism and evolution, I have a defeater for my intuitive assumption that my cognitive faculties are reliable. If I have a defeater for that belief, however, then I have a defeater for any belief I take to be produced by my cognitive faculties. That means that I have a defeater for my belief that naturalism and evolution are true. So my belief that naturalism and evolution are true gives me a defeater for that very belief" (pp. 312-14). He then quotes non-theists Nagel, Stroud, and Churchland in support (p. 315).

"If we came to believe that our capacity for objective theory [true beliefs, e.g.] were the product of natural selection, that would warrant serious skepticism about its results" (Thomas Nagel).

"There is an embarrassing absurdity in [naturalism] that is revealed as soon as the naturalist reflects and acknowledges that he believes his naturalistic theory of the world .... I mean he cannot say it and consistently regard it as true" (Barry Stroud).

The author notes that a universal defeater is a "defeater for every belief, including that belief, including itself [N&E]. Suppose I believe I've taken a drug that destroys cognitive reliability. If I believe that, then I have a defeater for R in that case and for every belief that I hold including that one. As long as I believe that, I've got a universal defeater. As long as you believe N&E and the probability of R on N&E is low, you have a defeater for everything, any belief you have; including N&E. That means you can't reason your way out of it."

Plantinga further develops his EAAN: "What evolution underwrites is only (at most) that our behavior is reasonably adaptive to the circumstances in which our ancestors found themselves; hence it does not guarantee mostly true or verisimilitudinous beliefs; but there is no particular reason to think they would be: natural selection is interested, not in truth, but in appropriate behavior. ... Indeed, Darwin himself expresses serious doubts along these lines: `With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind?'" (pp. 315-316).
The author then presses: "I want to argue that the naturalist has a powerful reason against [the assumption of cognitive reliability] and should give it up. I don't mean to argue that this natural assumption is false; like everyone else, I believe that our cognitive faculties are, in fact, mostly reliable. What I do mean to argue is that the naturalist--at any rate a naturalist who accepts evolution--is rationally obliged to give up this assumption" (p. 326).

Plantinga makes the following vital distinction a focus: "We are not asking about how things are, but about what things should be like if both evolution and naturalism (construed as including materialism) were true. We are asking about P(R/N&E), not about P(R/the way things actually are). Like everyone else, I believe that our cognitive faculties are for the most part reliable, and that true beliefs are more likely to issue in successful action than false. But that's not the question. The question is what things would be like if N&E were true" (pp. 335-336). This devastates materialistic naturalism as per a powerful defeater for N&E. Christians can, on even unaffirmed evolutionary presuppositions, defeat naturalism with epistemic simplicity. And yes, some devout evolutionary naturalists will declare that they are not persuaded. However, proof is not persuasion and N&E has been given a metaphysical deathblow by the hands of an eminent Christian philosopher. May concrete-minded science buffs as well as new atheist-types be inspired to study philosophy and epistemology as they leave N&E behind.

This is a book that needed to be written; a popular work by a scholar who often writes books that seem to be abstruse to the general reader. It is one of the best books I have read that tackles many of the artificial difficulties between the relationship of science and religion. Plantinga writes in a simple, straightforward manner, yet covers significant issues comprehensively and with reassuring philosophical detail and scholarly research. Lucid, buoyant, and very conversant, this book is the one of the best defenses of theism within Darwinian presuppositions. Since this volume places the assumption of unguided evolution under the scrutiny of rigorous philosophical analysis, it is a must-read for apologists, naturalists, and Christian philosophers; I know of no other volume like this one, and it ought to be compulsory reading in university and seminary courses.
I employ a different apologetic methodology, a dissimilar epistemic emphasis, and I have many theological convictions that diverge from the author's; nevertheless, Plantinga's EAAN is a potent tool when deployed from the Christian Worldview.

By Mike Robinson,
Author of "Truth, Knowledge, and the Reason for God"
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on May 2, 2013
Alvin Plantinga's book `Where the Conflict Really Lies,' is not an easy read for a layperson. As I read the book, it felt like he was addressing a particular audience. I had difficulty sifting through his arguments without a basic understanding of the context, the authors that he referred to, or the philosophical schools of thought that he was attacking. I also found it difficult to wade through the logic symbols he used to make his case. I did like how he summarized his arguments at the end and beginning of each chapter. The summaries provided a road map through a difficult read.
Summarizing his points, he doesn't feel that religion and science have conflicting positions. Instead, religion and science are both in conflict with the philosophy of naturalism. Naturalism states that only natural laws operate in the universe and nothing exists beyond the natural universe, nor do any supernatural forces effect the natural universe. Naturalism is opposed to supernaturalism. It is an atheistic philosophy.
Many readers may equate naturalism with particular scientific theories such as evolution. Mr. Plantinga attempts to shatter this illusion within his readers mind. Instead, he calls naturalism a philosophical add-on to the theory of evolution. Furthermore, he attempts to show that scientific theories could be compatible with religion as long as the theories demonstrated that the universe was guided by a supernatural force. He then utilizes specific examples from the evolution - creation debate to illustrate his case that evolution could be compatible with religion as long as it demonstrated guidance from the supernatural. He continues with a brief history of science and religion, showing how science was actually born from the Christian religion of the middle ages, continuing to build his case that science and religion could be compatible as long as science bowed down to religion.
Mr. Plantinga feels that the philosophy of naturalism is what is keeping science and religion separate, and furthermore, naturalism is a contradiction within science itself. Again, through specific examples from physics, biology, astronomy, etc. he attempts to demonstrate that science actually proves a created, designed universe if only scientists would open their eyes to see the data in front of them.
I found his argument about mind, knowledge and it's proof against the purposeless, random universe of naturalism particularly compelling. The key question from this argument was, `if knowledge was merely based on adaptive responses to the environment, then how can we trust in the validity, or reliability of knowledge?' Sure, we can trust our adaptive knowledge to a certain extent, but higher orders of knowledge such as philosophy, logic, mathematical equations, etc. could not be trusted if only naturalism guided science. Through this argument he convincingly turns the skepticism inherent within naturalism back on itself and shows that naturalism has no foundation to rest upon. Therefore it cannot be a legitimate guiding force in science, and science would be better off divorcing itself from naturalism. If a reader gets anything out of this book, I hope that they pay particular attention to this argument on knowledge.
Again, this is my interpretation of the book after reading it. Other readers may interpret it a little different, but I feel that the basic theme is an attack on the `fallacy' of naturalism. I also feel that a reader should have a background on the philosophical perspectives of science, religion, and some of the particular authors that Mr. Plantinga quoted, before trying to wade through this book. I hope that background may help a prospective reader appreciate the arguments contained within this book more than I did.
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on March 9, 2012
This book ties together several areas that Plantinga has been writing on and doing lectures on college campuses over the past several years. He goes methodically through the current discussions on quantum mechanics and evolution and discusses the relevance each has for naturalism and theism. The book progresses towards Plantinga's conclusion that naturalism is in conflict with science where he further develops his evolutionary argument against naturalism. The book contains the latest developments in science and many of the footnotes will reveal that the articles and books cited are current within the last decade (for instance, Robin Collins recent formulation for the fine tuning argument in the Blackwell companion to Natural Theology).
What I appreciate most about the book is Plantinga's ability to separate what he believes are the facts from what would make the best argument. He is rather candid in his assessment of probability theory concerning the various fine tuning arguments that may surprise or disappoint some theistic readers but this is a major strength of the book; Plantinga puts forth what he believes are the limits of some of the theistic arguments which makes the book all the more rigorous in its approach. Even for those that disagree, Plantinga's careful approach should provide the reader with ample material to assess their position. In other words, Plantinga does not seek to automatically stack the deck in his favor.
Lastly, a great feature of the book is the separated fonts throughout the books' arguments; the primary material is presented in one font and the more advanced philosophical discussions are in another font so that the reader can decide whether they want to skip ahead or not, thereby easily benefiting readers of various philosophical or scientific levels. I wish more books like this would employ this feature to reach a wider audience. The book is generally easily understood and avoids getting bogged down except for the few times where more concentrated philosophy (mainly in the latter part of the book in the section on the evolutionary argument against naturalism) is used.
Regardless of a person's position on these issues, the book is, in my opinion worthy of 5 stars for it's careful research, well thought out structure, clarity, how it engages the reader, and the level of sophistication from a top-tier philosopher. Even Theists who already generally agree with Plantinga may be challenged by his conclusions on how to approach the fine tuning arguments and intelligent design in biology. There are few negative things to say about this book, which covers a lot of ground and yet can be finished in a reasonably short period of time.
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on February 13, 2012
The book is a fast-paced read and very well argued. I read the whole book in a week. Here are points of interest.

- Some have made blanket statements like "Plantinga supports Michael Behe!" It is worth noting that Plantinga does NOT endorse Behe's argument for intelligent design AS IT is stated in Darwin's Blackbox. Plantinga concludes that it might modestly raise the probability of theism, but that's it. Critics of Behe's argument might concede this much.

- Plantinga DOES employ his idea of Divine Discourse, which makes use of points that Behe has made. However, Plantinga's argument is much more grounded in his epistemology than in anything Behe says in favor of irreducible complexity. Those who are not well-versed in Plantinga's epistemology should take care if they wish to criticize Plantinga's moves at this point. The reason is because their objections have already probably been considered and dealt with, or at least not shown to be decisive, in the literature on Plantinga's epistemology, which has included the rigorous criticisms of epistemologists like Ernest Sosa, Richard Feldman, Laurence BonJour, and so on. Quick attempts at refutation are likely to be ineffective in producing any real progress.

- As someone's whose research specializes in epistemology and philosophy of religion, Plantinga is correct when he points out that Daniel Dennett does not take into account the vast work in religious epistemology by scholars such as Peter van Inwagen, Eleonore Stump, Robert Adams, and so on. He is also right to point out that Dennett's quick dismissal of the design argument should at least have mentioned Richard Swinburne. Popular readers of Dennett might get the impression that there are no serious philosophers who defend religious epistemology or contemporary arguments for God's existence; this is a mistake and rightly called out by Plantinga.

- I found Chapter 4, on Quantum Mechanics, the most difficult to understand, probably largely due to my lack of background knowledge in the area. I found the whole supposed "conflict" to be a nonstarter in the first place.

- Yes, the last chapter does end with another statement of the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), but I think that Plantinga's presentation of EAAN in the book is better than previous ones. In other presentations, the key role that the probability of semantic epiphenomenalism on naturalism/materialism plays is not clearly seen. The presentation in the book puts that front and center, and so I think makes the argument much, much more persuasive.
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The thesis of this book is that the putative conflict between science and faith is a will of the wisp. The real conflict is not between science and faith but between science and a ‘naturalistic’, materialist view of the world. Scientists are not permitted to include theistic beliefs in their accounts of reality; they must adhere to the tenets of what is, in many cases, itself a quasi-religion—a worldview and method which limits the utilization of specific material.

When we look more closely we find that faith is quite commensurate with science. Science, like faith, assumes that there are continuities in our experience. We do not live in a chaotic, haphazard, unpredictable world. The conclusions of Galileo’s falling body experiments would be the same if he conducted them a week earlier or a month later. This divine underwriting of experience was assumed by nearly all of the great scientists of the renaissance and enlightenment.

With Darwin comes an alteration, but only when Darwin is misread. Evolutionary science is fully commensurate with faith. Unguided evolution is not, but unguided evolution is not a part of evolutionary science. It is a metaphysical add-on, something introduced by contemporary atheists.

Real evolutionary science actually conflicts with naturalism. How? A non-teleological evolutionary science fails to account for (and support) human beliefs. Selection may confer an evolutionary advantage but it does not reinforce belief. It simply contributes to the persistence of our gene pool. We may evolve in such a way that we become more ‘fit’ but that does not also mean that we are more ‘right’, that our beliefs are undergirded, confirmed and extended. Science depends upon belief and the confirmability and falsifiability of our beliefs. Unguided evolution cannot account for systematic belief, but theism can.

In the course of examining these issues Plantinga looks at other aspects of contemporary apologetics, e.g. the ‘fine tuning’ argument and the possibility for explaining divine intervention without the disruption of continuity via the use of quantum mechanics. He is very direct and honest in his assessments of these various arguments, even when the chapters end on a limp note. ‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘I would like to be more dramatic and decisive and definitive but I have an obligation to tell what I believe to be the truth.’ His writing ‘voice’ is attractive, engaging and quite entertaining. He utilizes superb examples and interjects comic sidebars and asides.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is its graphic design. The text appears in two founts with the main thrust of the argument in larger type than the detailed arguments which support it. Those arguments can become quite technical. While the overall thrusts of the book will be accessible to all interested readers, the formal demonstrations are complex, with lengthy equations and the application of logic that goes beyond simple syllogisms.

Fundamentally this is an important book on an important subject by an important philosopher of religion. It will repay attention as it summarizes many contemporary issues and arguments.
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on December 23, 2011
This is an excellent book to get a sense of the relation between science and religion in the modern literature. The argumentation in the early sections of the book was not as dense as I was expecting it to be, but this is due primarily to the fact that Plantinga goes to considerable lengths to fully expound the views of the writers he disagrees with. I imagine that some of the concepts and arguments explored in this book will be difficult for those readers who do not have some philosophical training (and by that I mean primarily those who have had more than intro philosophy courses). Yet, for the reader willing to put the time in to understand the ideas at play (and possibly do some side research), the book is an intriguing and provoking work on the conflicts (and concords) between science and religion. Even if you do not, by the end, agree with Plantinga (or agree that Plantinga has successfully established his conclusion), the book should provide good food for thought (even for the most die-hard atheist and/or naturalist).
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on February 3, 2016
Where the Conflict Really Lies is an excellent articulation of some exciting theses around the vast and important issue of science and religion. His arguments are clear, calm, thorough, and most importantly palatable to readers with a diversity of prior perspectives. The writing is technically philosophical at times, but I personally enjoy this style, and Plantinga manages to keep us out of the weeds for most of the book.

In the most useful part of the book, Plantinga has rightly made it very clear that the evolutionary worldview relies on inductive reasoning, and that the strength of induction is arguable. By this I mean that evolutionary biologists, equipped with hundreds of bulletproof examples of evolution in action, take on the perspective that evolution could produce all of the diversity and complexity we see. Just because something could happen, doesn't mean it did. This is something to remember when discussing the value of evolutionary biology for altering a worldview. Personally, I think the reasoning is quite strong, given how many times complexity has been shown to evolve by Darwinian means, and the lack of other good explanations. Really, Darwinism has simply weakened the teleological argument for the existence of God, which used to be very strong.

However, this book deserves four stars mostly on account of clear and accessible treatment. He loses a star for the quality of his arguments, which are very thin the whole way through. Although his support for modern science is strong and clear, which I respect, his treatment of evolutionary biology is at best sloppy (at worst it is disingenuous), and his approach winds up boiling down to "science can't prove God didn't do it" -- a rather pathetic stance.

First, an important argument in the book is that nothing about evolutionary biology precludes the possibility that mutation is guided by God, who puts beneficial mutations where they are needed. His treatment of counterpoint on this topic is too brief to be useful, and betrays anxiety to move away from challenge. He appeals to authority, building arguments around quotes (by eg Elliot Sober & Richard Dawkins), forgoing the opportunity to think creatively. This is a common tactic for Plantinga. Actually, on this point, I think Plantinga is simply mistaken. Random mutation leads to the expectation of no relationship between what mutations would be beneficial and which actually arise. Regardless of whether mutations arise through purely naturalistic or supernatural means, this prediction holds, and evidence falsifies the hypothesis.

Second, his claim that naturalism and science are at odds (a unique and very bold claim) is predicated on the assumption that human cognitive faculties are reliable, but evolution (the science part) would not produce such excellent abilities. This assertion is so far from checkmate as to be embarrassing, betraying a sense of desperation. Human cognition is incredibly complex. Nevertheless, dozens of excellent hypotheses exist for how evolution could lead to it (for example, the cognitive values of social intelligence). Unequivocal support for any hypothesis is unlikely to come about soon, or ever, but that really is weak ground on which to claim evolution is unlikely to have produced cognition.

I recommend this book to anybody, but be sure not to take Plantinga's word. His arguments border on sophistry and demonstrate the typically theological confirmation bias you'd expect from a person of faith. Nevertheless, it's great view into what the world's leading theologian can muster on the topic of science and religion.
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on November 7, 2015
alight. not great but not bad either.
-1 star for calvinism and for not mentioning dembski and design filter.
i don't know if it's just me, and i in fact can be wrong on this, and if so correct me please, but there's small irony i found. if naturalism does not guarantee true beliefs, which is fine with me as i am not naturalist, can calvinism guarantee them? if God predestined some people to hell before the beginning of time, then they can not NOT have false beliefs which will inevitably lend them in hell. I am not arguing with Plantinga's version of Calvinism as I don't know about his views specifically, but if you take Piper and his "7 point Calvinism" (search the web), sure enough he believes in double predestination. Perhaps God does not predestine beliefs in Calvinism (I don't know "what" exactly God predestines in Calvinism), I don't know, but that thought of possible irony did occur to me. oh well

To his credit, evolutionary argument against naturalism is Plsntinga's addition to the debate between theists and naturalists.

Like I said, Dembski (and his "design filter") is worth mentioning, and i'm surprised he wasn't. And Calvinism with its double predestination is pretty depressing, defeatist view of human futility. I'd rather not hear that word in the book as it certainly was not book on Calvinism, and there is really no reason to mention it, apart from the fact that the Plantinga holds to it.
Other than that he surveyed some of the alleged reasons for why would science have a conflict with Christian religion, and found them wanting. Then concluded that due to the "Evolutionary argument against naturalism" the real conflict is between naturalism and science.
bottom line, worth reading/listening to.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon September 25, 2015
Alvin Carl Plantinga (born 1932) is a Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, who formerly taught philosophy at Calvin College. He has written many books such as God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God,God, Freedom, and Evil,Warranted Christian Belief,Warrant: The Current Debate,Warrant and Proper Function,Knowledge and Christian Belief, etc. A collection of his writings is found in The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader.

He wrote in the Preface of this 2011 book, “My overall claim in this book: there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism… If my thesis is right, therefore… then there is a science/religion (or science/quasi-religion) conflict, all right, but it isn’t between science and theistic religion: it’s between science and naturalism.” (Pg. ix-x)

He adds, “What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is UNDIRECTED, unguided, unorchestrated by God… I argue that it is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that tour cognitive faculties are reliable. It is improbable that they provide us with a suitable preponderance of true belief over false. But then [for] a naturalist who accepts current evolutionary theory … ALL of her beliefs have been produced by her faculties---including, naturally enough, her belief in naturalism and evolution. That belief, therefore---the conjunction of naturalism and evolution---is one that she can’t rationally accept.” (Pg. xii, xiv)

He points out, “A… source of conflict has to do with the … claim that God has created human beings IN HIS IMAGE. This requires that god INTENDED to create creatures of a certain kind---rational creatures with a moral sense and the capacity to know and love him---and then acted in such a way as to accomplish this intention. This claim is clearly consistent with evolution… as conservative theologians have pointed out as far back as 1871. Thus, for example, Charles Hodge, the distinguished Princeton theologian… For example, God could have caused the right mutations to arise at the right time; he could have preserved populations from perils of various sorts, and so on; and in this way he could have seen to it that there come to be creatures of the kind he intends… What is NOT consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that this process of evolution is UNGUIDED… yet precisely this claim is made by a large number of contemporary scientists and philosophers who write on this topic.” (Pg. 11-12)

He goes on: “God would have achieved the results he wanted by causing the right mutations to arise at the right times, letting natural selection do the rest. Another possibility: Thomas Huxley… suggested that God could have arranged initial conditions in such a way that the results he wanted would be forthcoming…. [Richard] Dawkins’s claim, of course, is that there is no such intelligent agent guiding the process; ‘the evidence of evolution,’ he says, ‘reveals a universe without design.’ What makes him think this is true? How does he propose to argue for this claim? Not, naturally enough, by … even arguing that the processes involved in those transitions were not in fact overseen or guided by such an agent… Instead, he tries to show that is it POSSIBLE that unguided natural selection should have produced all these wonders; it COULD BE that they have all come to be just by virtue of unguided natural selection.” (Pg. 16-17)

He critiques Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin's Dangerous Idea: “I’m sorry to say this is about as bad as philosophy … gets; … Dennett’s way of carrying on is an insulting expression of disdain for those who do serious work in this area… (Or perhaps it shows where blind allegiance to ideology can lead.) The question is whether there is a source of rational religious belief going beyond perception, memory, a priori intuition, induction, et cetera. This question has been widely discussed and debated for the last forty years, ever since Dennett was in graduate school. He airily ignores this lively and long lasting research project; instead he just tells absurd stories… whatever the reason, Dennett’s ventures into the epistemology of religious belief do not inspire confidence. First of all… contemporary philosophers HAVE come up with perfectly sensible defenses of the idea that there can be sources of knowledge in addition to reason… Naturally these defenses might be mistaken; but to show that they are requires more than a silly story and an airy wave of the hand.” (Pg. 45-46)

He says, “[Philip] Kitcher ] apparently thinks that given evolution, Christians and other theists would have to suppose that the point of the entire process was the production of our species; but why think a thing like that? According to the Bible (Gen 1:20-26), when God created the living world, he declared it to be good; he did not add that it was good because it would lead to human beings. There is nothing in Christian thought to suggest that God created animals in order that human beings might come to be, or that the only value of nonhuman animal creation lies in their relation to humans.” (Pg. 57

He argues, “classical science doesn’t assert or include Laplacean determinism. The laws don’t tell us how things always go; they tell us how they go when the relevant system is causally closed, subject to no outside causal influence. In classical science, therefore, there is no objection to special divine action… to get such an objection, we must add that the universe is causally closed, which is not itself part of classical science. Accordingly classical science is perfectly consistent with special divine action, including miracles… we have only conflict between religion… and a particular metaphysics according to which the universe is causally closed.” (Pg. 90)

He suggests, “if Christian belief is true, the warrant for belief in special divine action doesn’t come from … current science or indeed any science at all; these beliefs have their own independent source of warrant. This means that in case of conflict between Christian belief and current science, it isn’t automatically current science that has more warrant or positive epistemic status; perhaps the warrant enjoyed by Christian belief is great than that enjoyed by the conflicting scientific belief.” (Pg. 120)

Commenting on David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, he says, “This sounds a bit as if he thinks of Calvinism as a project or activity that people undertake in order to achieve a common set of goals… In fact it is doubtful that Calvinism, or Roman Catholicism, or Christianity or for that matter Judaism or Islam are (wholly) intentional activities in that way at all… What is the purpose or aim of being a Calvinist? What is the purpose or aim of believing in God?... believing in God… typically doesn’t have any purpose at all. It isn’t that you believe in God… in order to achieve some end or other. You might as well ask me what my purpose or aim is in believing that I live in Michigan or that 7+5=12… they are not undertaken in order to achieve some end of other.” (Pg. 146)

After discussing the suggested “fine-tuning” of the universe, he notes, “it doesn’t seem at all improbable that God would want to create life, both human life and life of other sorts; and if he wanted to create human life in a universe at all like ours, he would have been obliged to fine-tune the constants. On the other hand, on the atheistic hypothesis according to which these constants have their values by chance… it is exceedingly improbable that they would have been fine-tuned for life… given theism, fine-tuning is not at all improbable; given atheism, it is; therefore theism is to be preferred to atheism.” (Pg. 199) He adds, “The right conclusion, I think is that the FTA [fine-tuning argument] offers some slight support for theism… but only mild support. Granted: this is not a very exciting conclusion… It does, however, have the virtue of being correct.” (Pg. 224)

He admits that “[Michael] Behe’s argument ] … is by no means airtight. Behe has not demonstrated that there are irreducibly complex systems such that it is impossible or even monumentally improbable that they have evolved in a Darwinian fashion---although he has certainly provided Darwinians with a highly significant challenge. We have some of the same problems as with the fine-tuning argument… we don’t have a good way to ascertain the probability of these irreducibly complex systems, given the Chance hypothesis, and we also don’t have a good way to evaluate the probability of these phenomena, given an intelligent designer.” (Pg. 231-232) Nevertheless, he states, “Behe’s design discourses are in fact rather successful: his account of the structures he describes certainly do produce the impression of design.” (Pg. 259) He concludes, “Behe’s design discourses do support theism, although it isn’t easy to say how much support they offer.” (Pg. 264)

He asserts, “bare LOGICAL POSSIBILITY is not enough: it is logically possible that the horse, say, sprang into being from the unicellular level… in one magnificent leap. What the Darwinian has to show… is an unguided evolutionary path which is not PROHIBITIVELY IMPROBABLE. Have the Darwinians actually accomplished this? Have they shown, for example, that it is not prohibitively improbable that the mammalian eye has developed in this way from a light sensitive spot? They have NOT shown this. The typical procedure… is to point to the various sorts of eyes displayed by living things, lining them up in a series of apparently increasing adaptive complexity, with the mammalian eye at the top of the series. But that of course doesn’t actually show that it is biologically possible… that later members of the series developed by Darwinian means from earlier members.” (Pg. 254-255)

He points out, “The scientific theory of evolution … is entirely compatible with the thought that God has guided and orchestrated the course of evolution… in such a way as to achieve the ends he intends… On the other hand… there is the claim that the course of evolution is not directed or guided or orchestrated by anyone; it displays no teleology; it is blind and unforeseeing… This claim, however, despite its strident proclamation, is no part of the scientific theory as such; it is instead a metaphysical or theological add-on… the scientific theory … deserves the respect properly accorded to a pillar of science… And the confusion of the two… deserves not respect, but disdain.” (Pg. 308-309)

He suggests, “Now it is not clear that naturalism, as it stands, is a religion… But naturalism does serve one of the main functions of a religion: it offers a master narrative, it answers deep and important human questions… Naturalism [says] … there is no God, there is no immortality, and the case for genuine freedom is at best dicey. Naturalism tells us what reality is ultimately like, where we fit into the universe, how we are related to other creatures, and how it happens that we came to be. Naturalism is therefore in competition with the great theistic religions… Suppose we call it a ‘quasi-religion.’ … the truth is that there is a science-religion conflict, all right, but it is between science and naturalism, not science and theistic religion.” (Pg. 310-311)

He argues, “The basic idea of my argument could be put (a bit crudely) as follows: … the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given naturalism and evolution, is low… if naturalism and evolution were both true, our cognitive faculties would very likely not be reliable… So my belief that naturalism and evolution are true… shoots itself in the foot and is self-referentially incoherent; therefore I cannot rationally accept it.” (Pg. 314) But he presents the obvious counter-argument using zebras as an example: “If this structure isn’t properly correlated with the presence of predators, the zebra won’t be long for this world… And don’t those mechanisms have to be accurate, reliable, if the zebra is to survive?” He replies, “We can include these indicators under the rubric ‘cognitive faculties.’ The important point to see here, however, is that indication of this sort does not require BELIEF. In particular, it does not require belief having to do with the state of affairs indicated; indeed it is entirely compatible with belief INCONSISTENT with state of affairs.” (Pg. 328)

There are many critiques of evolutionary theory by Christians (of various sorts) out there; Plantinga’s is perhaps distinguished by his greater level of philosophical argumentation in his analysis of the arguments. His book will interest most studying evolutionary theory and its critiques.
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on April 28, 2012
This is the first time I have read Plantinga, and I must say that he does keep it classy. He served Dawkins with some fresh scones and hot tea from a china teakettle that had been orbiting the sun for some time now. And he kept his pinky raised the entire time.

First of all, I confess I am something of a dilettante when it comes to philosophy, and so I am writing this review from the perspective of one who has not sat through formal logic, probability theory, or even philosophy 101. My background is in the biological sciences. The question is whether or not the philosophical lay person can pick up this book and get something out of it. My conclusion is that they can. Plantinga's material is not overly difficult to understand, and he uses a smaller font to delineate the more technical bits, in case a reader wants to avoid the work and simply get to the point. I found that I could understand the technical arguments without too much difficulty. So don't be intimidated, I think anyone with a serious interest in the topic can learn from this book.

Next, I would like to respond to some reviewers below. James R. mentions that the "Fine Tuning" argument developed by Plantinga has been discredited by Stenger's book on the same subject. I think that is a very strong statement to make in the current "highly charged" environment where we all know that everyone has an agenda. See the following review excerpt commenting on Stenger's book..."Whether before or after you purchase this highly flawed book, do a search for the on-line version of physicist Luke A. Barnes' ARXIV paper, "The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life" (December 21, 2011). This is a devastating critique of Stenger's book. These days Stenger is less of a serious scientist, and more of a freethinker on a relentless quest to undermine theism. He mainly flies low on the academic radar, releasing a barrage of popular level works aimed at religious apologists."... I think we can all agree that it is not a given that Plantinga has been taken down on this point when physicists do not agree on that subject. My personal opinion is that the multiverse argument is actually a "god of the gaps" argument for the naturalist, because sure, there could be an infinite number of infinite universes, and I could be sitting on a magical pink unicorn right now. The argument for the multiverse is purely metaphysical. And that is okay, as long as we admit that it is so. I hope we all can see that the "god of the gaps" can be invoked by anyone, even naturalists. And Plantinga's point is NOT that "fine tuning disproves E&N" but that "fine tuning creates different probabilities which are better explained by T" when given a probabilistic treatment.

Responding to Christopher H. below, I was tickled by the title of his review, given that he himself is an ex-philosophy student and not a scientist. I was even more tickled when I clicked on his reviews to discover that he is on a relentless mission as an Atheist to finally disabuse himself of all vestigial remnants of theistic thinking. Of course I respect that, as I am sure he is hoping that he believes a true belief that conforms to reality. His main beef with Plantinga is that this book mention's Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument. He seems to infer that any time "Behe" is mentioned, the author must be trying to discredit methodological naturalism. I certainly did not come away with that impression by reading this book, and in fact, Plantinga rather pointedly refrains from sharing his personal beliefs regarding evolution. (Though I am suspecting that he is in the BioLogos camp, along with Francis Collins, which would mean that he fully accepts methodological naturalism)

Finally, the reason that I purchased this book is that I have long felt that the Christian community is "barking up the wrong tree" when it comes to a certain anti-science mindset. In fact, I was thinking that his title referred to "where the conflict really lies" between science and theism--and that is an epistemological/metaphysical conflict, ie: philosophic naturalism. However, Plantinga's title actually refers to his own, somewhat different thesis concerning "where the conflict really lies"--and he shows that the conflict really lies between naturalism and science. Even better. Q.E.D.
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