In Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga maintains that any apparent conflict between science and classical Christian theism is superficial at best, and that the real conflict lies between science and the “quasi-religion” of naturalism. In fact, because there is evidence of biological and cosmological “fine-tuning,” he claims, science may even provide evidence that God exists. In this review Richard M. Smith critiques what Plantinga has to say about three main topics: design arguments that purport to show a deep concord between science and theism, scientific challenges to theism from biological evolution and divine action in the world, and Plantinga’s frontal assault on naturalism—that thinking would be impossible and cognition would be unreliable if naturalism were true.
Plantinga rejects J. L. Mackie’s argument that theism is logically inconsistent in a series of famous papers collected in his The Nature of Necessity. In one paper entitled “God Evil, and the Metaphysics of Freedom,” Plantinga argues convincingly that it is possible that God cannot create every logically possible world and thus, contra Mackie, God cannot always eliminate evil. Though conceding Plantinga’s point, James Still nevertheless concludes that given God’s ultimate goodness and omnipotence and the existence of evil, it is rational to reject the existence of God.
A family of theistic arguments contends that the human ability to reason is to be expected under theism, but is surprising under metaphysical naturalism, and thus provides evidence favoring theism over naturalism. One common line of argument is that unguided evolution favors traits that aid in survival and reproduction, rather than traits conducive to discovering the truth. Thus, evolutionary naturalism provides us with no reason to expect our cognitive faculties to be reliable, whereas theism does provide us with reason to believe that God would have created human beings with cognitive faculties aimed at discovering the truth. Several naturalists have responded with arguments that there is in fact significant survival and reproductive value in having accurate cognitive faculties, but in this paper Aron Lucas takes a different tact. Namely, Lucas argues that even if the general fact that human beings can reason favors theism over naturalism, nevertheless the more specific fact that human reasoning suffers from a variety of cognitive biases favors naturalism over theism. If this is right, then arguments from reason can only be deemed successful by understating the full extent of our knowledge concerning human reasoning, thereby committing what Paul Draper has called the fallacy of understated evidence. After fully outlining the available data concerning human reasoning, Lucas concludes that the existence of human cognitive biases does not merely neutralize the evidential significance of the human ability to reason, but in fact overpowers it, tipping the scales in favor of naturalism (all else held equal).
Quentin Smith argues that the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive is an evil natural law and that the obtaining of this law is sufficient evidence that God does not exist.
In this paper Arnold T. Guminski examines the modal ontological argument based upon possible worlds semantics expounded by Alvin Plantinga and further developed and defended by William Lane Craig. In section A Guminski discloses the flawed underlying assumptions of this Plantinga modal ontological argument (PMOA). In section B he defends the “anti – Plantinga modal ontological argument – argument” (or anti-PMOA-argument) by showing that a maximally great being is not broadly logically possible. In section C Guminski shows that the anti-PMOA-argument is amply confirmed since the procedure used to construct the PMOA plausibly allows the construction of arguments relevantly similar to the PMOA, but inconsistent with it. Section D explains why that which is broadly logically possible/necessary ought to be distinguished from that which is metaphysically possible/necessary. Section E considers the plausibility of premise 1 of the PMOA according to the writings of other scholars.
A popular response to the problem of evil contends that there is a necessary connection between free will and the existence of moral (or human-caused) evil. Alvin Plantinga, for instance, has advanced a concept of “transworld depravity”–essentially the idea that in any possible world where a given person has substantial free will, that person will necessarily commit at least one immoral act. In criticizing Plantinga’s notion of transworld depravity, Clement Dore offers an alternative solution. But Weisberger argues that Dore’s solution also fails because the existence of free will in no way necessitates either the human capacity to act wrongly or the excessive amount of moral evil we actually find in the world. Weisberger concludes that the free will defense utterly fails to undermine the argument from evil.
In the closing chapter of Warrant and Proper Function Alvin Plantinga claims that the combination of naturalism and evolutionary theory is epistemologically self-defeating. As Robbins points out, however, Plantinga’s argument only applies those who hold a “generically Cartesian” picture of the mind, not to those who hold a “generically pragmatist” view of mind. What Plantinga has shown to be self-defeating, if anything, is the generically Cartesian view of our minds. While generic Cartesianism generates the problem of knowledge of the external world, the generically pragmatist view of mind dissolves it.
“It is my purpose to explore some of the problems concerning the relation between divine creation and creaturely freedom by criticizing various versions of the Free Will Defense.”
In The Miracle of Theism and elsewhere John L. Mackie argued that the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil, as God could have created persons who always freely choose the good. Alvin Plantinga responded with his famous Free Will Defense, in which he claimed that, under certain conditions, it was impossible for God to create a world containing no evil whatsoever. In this refutation, Raymond D. Bradley notes that these conditions–such as actualizing a world containing significantly free creatures or one in which all of God’s creatures suffer from “transworld depravity”–were entirely up to God, in that he could have refrained from creating such a world. Since in virtue of his omniscience any such God would have known the consequences of creating the world that he did, he would bear command responsibility for all the evils that resulted from his creation–if he only existed in the first place. In other words, a morally perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient God does not now, and never did, exist.
In Tower of Babel, Robert T. Pennock faults the new creationists for failing to realize that science is committed–not to ontological naturalism (the view that only natural processes or events exist)–but rather to methodological naturalism (a position which, although it does not deny the possibility of the existence of the supernatural, assumes for the sake of inquiry that it does not exist). Martin considers how one can reject ontological naturalism while justifying methodological naturalism as an appropriate stance in the context of science.
In this paper Luke Tracey advances a logical argument from evil against the existence of God conceived of as a perfect being. Framing the argument in terms of considerations raised by the most famous critic of the logical argument from evil, Alvin Plantinga, Tracey focuses on defending the only really controversial premise of the argument before rebutting four general objections, two to the crucial premise of the argument and two to the argument itself. Tracey finds these objections inadequate for rejecting his logical argument from evil and concludes that perfect-being theism is untenable.
In addition to evidential and logical arguments for atheism, there is a lesser-known third kind of argument. Modal arguments for atheism conclude that atheism is necessarily true on the basis of a mere possibility claim. In this paper Ryan Stringer considers how modal arguments for atheism contribute to the philosophical defense of atheism, concluding that modal arguments for atheism either (a) positively support atheism or (b) at least undermine modal arguments for theism.
Graham Oppy provides a “general ground” for rejecting all modal theistic arguments, arguments for the existence of God which make use of the premise that God is a being who exists in every possible world, focusing on the arguments of Alvin Plantinga and Brian Leftow for illustrative purposes.
Naturalism vs. Evolution: A Religion/Science Conflict? (Great Debate) (2007) by Alvin Plantinga
In this chapter, Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism entails that our beliefs cannot affect our behavior, but natural selection only selects for beneficial behaviors. Consequently, natural selection cannot select for beneficial beliefs on naturalism, and thus the probability that human beings have evolved reliable cognitive faculties is low or inscrutable if evolution has occurred without supernatural guidance. Evolutionary naturalism, then, is “self-defeating” in the sense that if it were true, we would have no good grounds to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and thus no good grounds to believe that evolutionary naturalism is true. Moreover, because our cognitive faculties are reliable, evolution actually provides evidence that naturalism is false–and thus there is a “religion/science conflict” between the quasi-religion of evolutionary naturalism and the science of evolution.
Draper criticizes Alvin Plantinga’s argument that since unplanned evolution is not likely to produce trustworthy cognitive faculties, evolutionary naturalists cannot rationally believe anything–including naturalism itself. Draper contends that this argument rests on a crucial but faulty inference from the premise that the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable given unplanned evolution is low or inscrutable. The conclusion that evolutionary naturalists cannot rationally believe in unplanned evolution does not follow from this “probability thesis.” If the thesis were amended to claim that the probability of reliable cognitive faculties given unplanned evolution is low (as opposed to “low or inscrutable”), then it would follow that naturalists cannot trust their cognitive faculties; but this amended thesis is demonstrably false, and thus Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism fails.
Paul Draper’s critique of the evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) alleges that it does not follow from the probability thesis that evolutionary naturalists cannot rationally believe in unplanned evolution, but that this conclusion does follow from the amended but demonstrably false thesis that the probability of reliable cognitive faculties given unplanned evolution is low. Though Plantinga disputes that the probability thesis does not entail this conclusion, he does not take up that argument here. Rather, he aims to show (contra Draper) that the probability of reliable cognitive faculties given unplanned evolution is indeed low, given that evolution selects only for “indicators,” not full-fledged beliefs. If evolutionary naturalism is true, then both true and false belief content will yield equally adaptive behavior, and thus natural selection will not select for true belief content over false belief content; but then naturalism is indeed self-defeating in the sense that naturalists cannot trust the cognitive faculties that lead them to believe that naturalism is true.
Plantinga’s Probability Arguments Against Naturalism and Evolution (1997) by Branden Fitelson and Elliott Sober (Off Site PDF)
In Chapter 12 of Warrant and Proper Function, Alvin Plantinga constructs two arguments against naturalistic evolution. Both arguments hinge on the idea that naturalistic evolution cannot account for the reliability of human cognitive faculties. Fitelson and Sober contend that Plantinga’s arguments contain serious errors.
Philosopher of science and zoologist Michael Ruse answers the question posed in the title his book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? in the affirmative. Ruse argues that a conflict only arises from a literal reading of Genesis. If Christianity actually depended upon such a literal reading, Ruse concedes, the resulting conflict with science would simply be all the worse for Christianity; but, pace Alvin Plantinga, Christianity does not depend upon such antiquated literalism. Although Ruse thinks that conflict can be avoided by merely adopting methodological naturalism without conflating it with the metaphysical variety, Parsons has his doubts, particularly when it comes to the issue of design. Parsons notes, for instance, that a loving Creator could’ve done much better than create us through a process that depends upon the vast waste, pain, and ugliness of natural selection, and that apparent design has increasingly given way to naturalistic explanations in biology–forcing theists to look for other gaps for God to fill.
Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief is the capstone to the latest stage in his views on the intellectual credibility of theism in general, and Christian theism in particular. While Plantinga’s stature in the community of Christian philosophers alone makes gaining familiarity with this text a good idea for contemporary analytic philosophers of religion, its vigorous, innovative defense of specifically Christian theism and daring suggestions for renovating the landscape of analytic philosophy of religion merit serious consideration. I aim to provide a useful introduction to the book’s contents and critique some of its main claims.
Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (1986) [ Index ] by Keith M. Parsons
This thesis examines various attempts to construe theism as an explanatory hypothesis and to defend it with arguments similar to those employed in the confirmation of scientific hypotheses. It is the aim of this work to show that such a construal fails to confirm theism and in actuality leads to its disconfirmation.
In Chapter Four of Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis, Keith Parsons defends the dictum that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence as part of a general critique of miracle claims which aims to defend naturalism as a rational operating philosophy against potential defeaters. In this defense of miracle claims Don McIntosh argues, first, that for any unknown the burden of proof falls equally upon naturalists and supernaturalists; second, to repudiate all miracle claims in one fell swoop with a mere presumption of naturalism renders naturalism unfalsifiable and unscientific; and third, estimating the prior probability of miracles introduces an element of subjectivity that makes any general probabilistic argument against them suspect. These points leave open the possibility of confirming specific miracle claims on the basis of historical evidence and eyewitness testimony.