Sunday, September 16, 2012

Science and Christian faith

Thomas Nagel, a philosophy professor at NYU and an atheist, provides a balanced and interesting review of Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism:
.... One of the things atheists tend to believe is that modern science is on their side, whereas theism is in conflict with science: that, for example, belief in miracles is inconsistent with the scientific conception of natural law; faith as a basis of belief is inconsistent with the scientific conception of knowledge; belief that God created man in his own image is inconsistent with scientific explanations provided by the theory of evolution. In his absorbing new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished analytic philosopher known for his contributions to metaphysics and theory of knowledge as well as to the philosophy of religion, turns this alleged opposition on its head. His overall claim is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” By naturalism he means the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God. ....

Plantinga discusses many topics in the course of the book, but his most important claims are epistemological. He holds, first, that the theistic conception of the relation between God, the natural world, and ourselves makes it reasonable for us to regard our perceptual and rational faculties as reliable. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the scientific theories they allow us to create do describe reality. He holds, second, that the naturalistic conception of the world, and of ourselves as products of unguided Darwinian evolution, makes it unreasonable for us to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and therefore unreasonable to believe any theories they may lead us to form, including the theory of evolution. In other words, belief in naturalism combined with belief in evolution is self-defeating. However, Plantinga thinks we can reasonably believe that we are the products of evolution provided that we also believe, contrary to naturalism, that the process was in some way guided by God. ....

Most of Plantinga’s book is taken up with systematic discussion... [of] specific claims about how science conflicts with, or supports, religion. He addresses Richard Dawkins’s claim that evolution reveals a world without design; Michael Behe’s claim that on the contrary it reveals the working of intelligent design; the claim that the laws of physics are incompatible with miracles; the claim of evolutionary and social psychologists that the functional explanation of moral and religious beliefs shows that there are no objective moral or religious truths; the idea that historical biblical criticism makes it unreasonable to regard the Bible as the word of God; and the idea that the fine-tuning of the basic physical constants, whose precise values make life possible, is evidence of a creator. He touches on the problem of evil, and though he offers possible responses, he also remarks, “Suppose God does have a good reason for permitting sin and evil, pain and suffering: why think we would be the first to know what it is?” .... [more]
A Philosopher Defends Religion by Thomas Nagel | The New York Review of Books