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Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (Point/Counterpoint) Paperback – September 10, 2010
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"Given the stature of its two protagonists, this book will become something of an instant classic, occupying a unique and special place in the literature on this topic, and enjoying wide and long-lasting readership and usefulness as a supplementary text."--Gary Rosenkrantz, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
"This engaging little book treats key issues of chance and design in the science-religion dialogue. It would be appropriate for courses in the philosophy of religion, religion and culture, and science and religion. I would be highly likely to adopt the book in my philosophy of science course because it is brief, clear, and to the point."--Michael L. Peterson, Asbury College
About the Author
Daniel C. Dennett is the Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, University Professor, and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. He is the author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006) and Freedom Evolves (2003).
Alvin Plantinga is John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Essays in the Metaphysics of Modality (OUP, 2003) and Warranted Christian Belief (OUP, 2000).
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The book itself is a reprinting of a debate that Dennett and Plantiga had at a philosophy conference years ago, but it has been updated with a few things they have said since then. Usually, when there are debates about this topic, there is a lot of sarcasm and snark from both sides. I am happy to report that both sides are polite and respectful of one another, even if they disagree and tease each other a little at certain points.
While both of these men are imminent in their field, one thing this book shows from cover to cover is how specialized philosophy has become. It used to be that philosophers were well schooled in all areas of philosophy but specialized in one area. This is no longer the case and it shows. Dennett, being a philosopher of science, knew science very well, but he did not seem to understand the classical arguments for the existence of God or the metaphysics that undergird religion. Plantiga on the other hand seemed to get his scientific ideas from the Discovery Institute, since all he did was quote Michael Behe when making scientific statements. But, he did know the classical arguments and metaphysics of religion quite well.
Plantiga starts the conversation off by saying that science and religion are not incompatible because Christians (he uses the term Christian rather than theist throughout the debate) believe that God has created the natural world and it is very possible that God did so using the evolutionary process. Plantiga goes on to say that the real problem is not between science and religion; it is between science and naturalism. Plantiga defines naturalism as belief that there is no God or anything like God (which would be atheism, not naturalism), and says that if naturalism is true there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties cannot be trustworthy because evolution cares about keeping traits that contribute to survival rather than truth.
Dennett you would think would disagree being on the other side of the debate. But, he opens up by stating that there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, and that one can believe in both and be logically consistent. Where Dennett disagrees is that there is any reason to think that there is a God or that religion works just because it is logically compatible with science. He uses Superman as an example and gives him the traits usually associated with God in classical theism (omniscience, omnipotence, and so on) and says that "Supermanism" is also compatible with evolution, but he sees no reason to believe in either.
Plantiga responded by repeating his argument about naturalism and evolution both being true being a low possibility; Dennett struck back by saying that just because Plantiga could not imagine something did not mean that something wasn't true. This is ultimately where the debate stopped because in the end both sides agreed: Science and Religion do not have an inherent conflict. I found it odd that two people would write a book about something where they were in agreement.
The book itself is only 77 pages, so it can be read in one sitting, and it is not overly technical; both the trained philosopher and the novice can enjoy and learn from it. Also, Dennett and Plantiga are colorful people, so you will laugh at times (or you should at least).
While the book is a match between two heavyweights in the field of philosophy, do not expect Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman here. There is more agreement than disagreement, but overall it is still enjoyable. 3 out of 5 stars.
Instead, the real debate centers on Plantinga's "Evolutionary argument against naturalism" and on questions about the likelihood of theism being true.
My impression is that Plantinga's logic is on the whole more rigorous than Dennett's. However, Plantinga makes a tactical mistake in taking on board unnecessarily the ID arguments of Michael Behe's book "The Edge of Evolution", bringing the debate into an area where Dennett has most scientists on his side.
I enjoyed reading this debate between two top-level philosophers. The book has an excellent index.
Plantinga begins by arguing science and Christianity are compatible, but there is in fact a disagreement between science and religion. Using his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), Plantinga classifies evolution as the science that naturalism (a religion) is incompatible with. Of course, Plantinga maintains we should abandon naturalism, pointing out theism is much more compatible with evolution.
Dennett strikes back, likening theistic belief to a belief in Supermanism or something equally absurd. Trying to outmaneuver Plantinga's EAAN, Dennett attacks the idea that the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties through evolution given naturalism is low.
In the replies to one another that follow these initial statements, the debate is very lively and interesting. It's a fine read, especially for the philosophically minded.
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CITATION: Dennett, D. C. & Plantinga, A.(2011).Read more