Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alvin Plantinga on Science and Religion (Part 2)

[continued from here]

Broader Analysis

Evolution and Naturalism

We continue with an analysis of Plantinga's portrayal of the main argument of the Evolutionary Atheists. As mentioned, Plantinga takes their main argument to be as follows:

1) We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.


2) All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes

The form of premise 1 is known as the chance-of-the-gaps argument. To the extant that it is held by evolutionists, Plantinga's argument is certainly valid against them. However, is that what most of them are actually arguing for? I would suggest not. Rather, I would suggest that a better form of their argument against theism is more like the following:

P1) The "God hypothesis" is contrary to the scientific method
P2) Origins can be explained by the scientific method


IC1) Origins does not need God, and whatever God is out there has nothing to do with origins
P3) If there is a God, He must be involved in origins.


C) There is no God.

Premises P1 and P3 are not contended. Nobody does science expecting God to miraculously create ex nihilo something or act in some event to alter one's experiment, although God could do so. Certainly, a God who is not involved in origins is a lesser "god" not worthy of worship, and evolutionists by definition accept premise P2. Thus, it seems that evolutionists should embrace atheism, not necessarily of "god" in general, but certainly of the God of the Bible who is very much involved in origins.

While I have no wish to defend Richard Dawkins, whom Plantinga is arguing against, it is my opinion that Plantinga misses Dawkins' argument altogether. Dawkins is not arguing that evolution must be unguided because he couldn't see any reason why it is guided. Rather, Dawkins is arguing that various natural features of organisms could be produced by naturalistic evolutionary processes. Whether Dawkins is convincing or correct is not the issue here. Dawkins is proceeding on the same naturalistic processes that underlines evolution in an attempt to solve what he sees as a scientific problem. Plantinga's portrayal of Dawkins' argument therefore is not fair to him or any of the evolutionary atheists.

The main issue of the evolutionary process being guided or unguided in an evolutionary framework can only be discussed through positing that there is another layer of working in evolution, of God tinkering behind the scenes as it were so that everything would happen as He desires to, yet while being purely naturalistic in the process. Thus, it is a modification of premise P2 to the following:

P2') Origins can be explained by the scientific method, but not exhaustively.

Plantinga however is trying to beat the evolutionist atheists in their own game, and it is not possible. In light of a more realistic argument for atheism from evolutionary theory, Plantinga's prima facie argument against naturalism falls short. In fact, I must say that it is disappointing that Plantinga did not deal with the scientific method. The scientific method(s) by its very nature exclude God from consideration. Such a methodological naturalism is not necessarily bad; imagine if we are to expect different miracles to happen in every experiment! Christian scientists do not do science assuming God is directly acting on their experiments, but rather God acts through providence in science. By failing to differentiate between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, Plantinga fails to see why evolution tends towards naturalism.

The only way to embrace evolution and not be a philosophical naturalist is to embrace a two-tier view of explaining origins, one by science and one by God - the hallmark of theistic evolution. Failure to embrace a two-tiered explanation means that one must necessarily be committed to naturalism as a philosophy.

Plantinga's main argument that the conflict is not between science and religion, but rather between naturalism and science, is therefore in error. Whereas in the previous section we look at the "religion" side, here when we look into the "science" side Plantinga is also in error. Certainly Plantinga is right in stating that naturalism with evolution is self-defeating, but proving that evolutionary naturalism is fundamentally illogical does not prove that naturalism is fundamentally at odds with evolution. It just proves that one or the other or both are wrong.

Science and Evolution

Lastly, we move forward to Plantinga's view of science and evolution. It is extremely regrettable that Plantinga equates the two fundamentally without even stating why he does so. That many people regard evolution as sure scientific fact is true. Whether evolution and science are equatable however is not up for majority vote, but rather is to be determined by proper enquiry into the subject matter. Given that there are scientists who self-consciously do science in opposition to evolution, it displays Plantinga's ignorance of the issue, or more possibly it shows his blind acceptance of the dogmatic pronouncements of the evolutionist majority that scientists who deny evolution are not true scientists.

The issue of origins deals with what is termed as origins science, in which many unknowns are present and can only be assumed. For example, whereas in operation science we can personally see and/or control the processes, origins science merely accept uniformitarianism, which is impossible to be proven given that the processes are not laboratory controlled processes. For example, how does one prove that the erosion rate of rivers are on average the same now as they were hundreds of years ago?

Origins science deals with history, and history by definition is not repeatable. One can re-enact and hypothesize what one thinks had happened, but one has no means of knowing what actually was the case by means of pure scientific processes.

Plantinga's equation of science and evolution is therefore in error. One can very well embrace science while rejecting evolution as being unscientific. All theories of origins are unverifiable, though to some extant falsifiable.


Plantinga's argument is that contemporary evolutionary theory is not incompatible with theistic belief, but rather naturalism is incompatible with evolution. I have analyzed Plantinga's arguments and show that they fall short of what they promise. Evolutionary theory with its methodological naturalism tends towards philosophical naturalism because of the nature of the subject matter of origins. Evolutionary theory cannot be fitted in with biblical Christianity and we should repudiate the entire idea of "mere Christianity." Plantinga has only proved that naturalism is irrational, but not that evolutionary theory does not lead towards naturalism no matter how irrational naturalism may be. So do science and religion clash? No, they don't. But evolution and Christianity do clash, and Plantinga fails in his case to prove that they don't

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