Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Advice on reading Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies

I'm part of a reading group that is now reading Alvin Plantinga's book, Where the Conflict Really Lies; Science, Religion, and Naturalism.  We've made our way through the first three chapters and I've noticed some rather important misunderstandings regarding what Plantinga is trying to achieve.  So I thought I would offer some simple advice, in case others want to try reading it.  The book can be divided into four parts:

The first part is composed of the first six chapters.  In it Plantinga has a rather modest objective:  To demonstrate that there is no conflict or only superficial conflict between Science and Theism.

The second part is composed of chapters 7 and 8, where Plantinga discusses the Fine Tuning and Intelligent Design arguments.  He concludes that "perhaps they offer a certain limited but still non-negligible support for theism." (p.265)  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for either.  If someone were to show that Plantinga was mistaken, and that neither of these types of arguments offers any support for theism, it wouldn't rock his world in the least.

The third part is his major argument in chapter 9, "Deep Concord:  Christian Theism and the Deep Roots of Science."  I consider it to be his best chapter and helps the reader to understand much of what he was trying to achieve in the first six chapters.  In my opinion, Plantinga would have had a much better book if he had simply put this chapter at the beginning, instead of waiting until near the end.

The fourth part is Plantinga's famous (or infamous) Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism (EAAN), in chapter 10.  Much has been written about this argument, both pro and con, and there isn't much I can add to the discussion. (I do think the argument works against strict materialism, and that a person must resort to a non-materialist  Naturalism, such as the atheist Thomas Nagel does, in order to maintain a consistent epistemology.  But that's only if materialism cannot solve the mind-body problem, which I don't think it can).

So my advice is to read Chapter 9 first.  If you are impressed, then you can go back and read the first eight chapters, or continue on to the tenth.  If you're not impressed, then you can put the book back on the shelf in the bookstore, library, or sell it on ebay. 

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