No, Professor Plantinga, Non-theism IS A Scientific Implication of Evolution

In a New York Times profile, Alvin Plantinga, a generation’s most prominent Christian philosopher, says a lot of highly disputable things about the supposed rationality of theism and the supposed irrationality of naturalism and atheism. He does this in the process of summarizing some of the theses of his new book on science and religion, Where the Conflict Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. I don’t have the time to blog while I have study guides for my students to finish. So, here’s just one quote from the Plantinga article and a link to a blog post where I have already refuted what he says:

Mr. Plantinga says he accepts the scientific theory of evolution, as all Christians should. Mr. Dennett and his fellow atheists, he argues, are the ones who are misreading Darwin. Their belief that evolution rules out the existence of God — including a God who purposely created human beings through a process of guided evolution — is not a scientific claim, he writes, but “a metaphysical or theological addition.”

No, Plantinga’s wrong. The science of natural selection points to the non-existence of an intelligent creator. 

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Physicalist

    What’s with the “Mr.” when talking about professors with PhD’s? Is there some style convention I’m unaware of in force at NYT?

    (Oh, and on Plantinga: When did he decide to accept evolution? A decade ago he was a card-carrying special creationist.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      The explanation I have heard for their calling PhD’s “Mr.” is that there are too many bogus phd diploma mills in existence that rather than sort out who is credible and who is not they just don’t acknowledge the title of Dr. for anyone accept medical doctors.

    • Physicalist

      OK. I guess I really can’t expect them to use their judgment do decide when it’s appropriate to use what title. But it’s extra grating that they use “Mr.” when no title is required. Why not just say “Plantinga” and “Dennett” the way we normal folk do? [/rant]

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      They use Mr. for everyone, PhD or not. I like it, it’s a respectful tradition.

    • Physicalist

      “6 years of evil graduate school . . . “

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Plantinga has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t understand evolution or natural selection but that doesn’t stop him from writing about them. A couple of years ago at Pharyngula we had a discussion about Plantinga’s ignorance. It was entitled “Alvin Plantinga gives philosophy a bad name.” The majority of commentators were underwhelmed by Plantinga’s muddled thinking.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Oh, and on Plantinga: When did he decide to accept evolution? A decade ago he was a card-carrying special creationist.

    Plantinga is a theistic evolutionist. According to him, God set up evolution and gives it nudges every so often so people and kitties and tapeworms will evolve.

    • Physicalist

      I remember Plantinga defending special creation in a debate with Ernan McMullin — back in the 90s probably. I’ve never really followed his writings on the subject though. Is his theistic evolution stuff more recent?

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    I have to say that I can somewhat agree with him, but I think him glomming on unnecessary phenomena in his explanation puts him in the same company as Richard Feynman:

    The next question was – what makes planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inward. (Richard Feynman, Character Of Physical Law)

    Though somehow, I don’t think Feynman took seriously the proposition of angels moving the planets. (The entire lecture is on youtube and is great)

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    Dr. Evil! I didn’t spend 6 years in evil medical school to be called ‘Mr.”, thank you very much.

    That’s awesome. And as a recently minted PhD called Mr. all the time, it hits home.

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    Note: Plantinga’s new book is not titled “Name Your Link,” though that would be a funny book title for a book on evolution.

    (I probably only caught this because I’ve come close to making this mistake on my own blog.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      D’oh! Thanks. I have a hard time remembering that Amazon recently changed things so you are forced to retype the title manually lest you get “Name Your Link”. It’s a real pain in the neck.

    • Physicalist

      Heh. I assumed (w/o thinking about it) that it was some sort of “missing link” reference by someone.

      Chris: Do you know whether Plantinga’s creationist/evolutionist views have evolved over the years?

    • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

      If Plantinga’s views on evolution have evolved, they’ve evolved very little. He wrote an anti-evolution article in ’91 that you can find online, which was full of standard creationist fare, but which ended up sort of agnostic about evolution. I haven’t heard him use some of those arguments recently, but I’ve never heard him say, “oh yeah I messed up there.” See for example his 2010 reply to Michael Ruse where he gets huffy about Ruse saying he is distrustful of evolution, but doesn’t go back on any of his previous anti-evolution statements and continues to insist evolution is an “idol of the tribe.”

      (Hmmm… I should do a post on this.)

    • Bradm

      Would you mind linking to that 1991 article (or giving the title)? The only article I could find of his from 1991 having to do with evolution was one about his evolutionary argument against naturalism (but he clearly doesn’t argue against evolution in that article). I’ve never taken Plantinga to be against evolution (most of the time he is, as you say, agnostic about it in his arguments), so I’d be interested in reading it.

    • Bradm

      Nevermind, I found it. Here. He says that between the 2 claims:

      1) ” that God has created us in such a way that (a) all of contemporary plants and animals are related by common ancestry, and (b) the mechanism driving evolution is natural selection working on random genetic variation”

      2) “m that God created mankind as well as many kinds of plants and animals separately and specially, in such a way that the thesis of common ancestry is false”

      He thought 2 is more probable given the evidence and “the theistic context.”

  • Michael B.

    His complaint is irrelevant, anyway, given that most atheists usually accept evolution because they’re atheist, and thus unencumbered by the religious dogma that cause many people deny the evidence, and not the other way around.

  • SteveV

    No, Plantinga’s wrong. The science of natural selection points to the non-existence of an intelligent creator.

    Isn’t it more accurate to say:
    ‘natural selection points to the irrelevance of an intelligent creator’?
    If Plantinga accepts evolution by natural selection and that implies acceptance of god’s irrelevance, then everything else is drivel.
    But we already knew that.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      No, it’s not just irrelevance it’s unlikelihood. Read the article I linked to.

    • SteveV

      My inner engineer just can’t be arsed to worry about the likelihood or otherwise of a totally irrelevant entity.
      IOW, if it’s irrelevant then it’s likelihood is – ahhh, ummm, irrelevant.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      True and false are different issues than “relevant to one’s life” or to any one specific process (such as evolution, in this case). It matters whether or not there is a likelihood or not that there is a personal god even if said being was irrelevant to a specific process like evolution.

    • SteveV

      Hmm. I see what you mean. At least, I think I do.
      Perhaps I’m extending ‘irrelevance’ (to natural selection and evolution) too far.
      My I.E. is still grumbling along the lines of “If it’s irrelevant who gives a shit? If god has no affect, then it’s functionally equivalent to not there”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X