“Alvin Plantinga on Paul Draper’s evolutionary atheology: implications of theism’s noncontingency” (DOI) 10.1007/s11153-012-9361-6

My article with the above name will appear in an upcoming issue of The International Journal of Philosophy of Religion, and has just been made available online to anyone with access to an institution with a SpringerLink license.  Here is the abstract taken from SpringerLink (http://www.springerlink.com/content/237w067637655738/):

In his recently published Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism 2011 Alvin Plantinga criticises Paul Draper’s evolutionary argument against theism as part of a larger project to show that evolution poses no threat to Christian belief. Plantinga focuses upon Draper’s probabilistic claim that the facts of evolution are much more probable on naturalism than on theism, and with regard to that claim makes two specific points. First, Draper’s probabilistic claim contradicts theism’s necessary falsehood; unless Draper wishes to acknowledge that theism is necessarily true, his claim commits him to theism’s contingency and so sets him at odds with a mainstream that sees God’s existence as decidedly noncontingent. Second, Plantinga argues that Draper’s probabilistic claim is, even if true, overwhelmed by counterclaims about facts that are more likely on theism than naturalism. I argue this critique of Draper depends upon a serious error, and that Plantinga overlooks the full implications of his own presuppositions. Correcting these shortcomings shows that Plantinga’s own probabilistic-apologetics (e.g., the ‘Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’) requires theism’s contingency no less than does Draper’s atheology.             

The “serious error” to which the abstract refers is the claim, made on page 50 of Plantinga’s book, that “the probability of a contingent proposition on a necessary falsehood is 1”.  Rather, the correct result for the probability of any proposition (contingency or otherwise) against a contradiction is “undefined”.  My paper shows how this correction, combined with an assumption Plantinga seemed keen to make in his argument against Draper (viz. the noncontingency of theism), decisively undermines his two-point case against Draper’s evolutionary atheology.

After submitting the paper I was spurred by an anonymous reviewer (for the 2012 meeting of the CPA) to ask Professor Plantinga why he had made this mistake.  I am grateful to Professor Plantinga for kindly taking the time to answer my questions (his reason for the mistake, by coincidence, was the speculative reason I offer in my paper).  His final email pointed out that in the second stage of his case against Draper (the ‘overwhelm with counterclaims’ stage) he was granting theism’s contingency.  Just before beginning that stage, Plantinga writes:  “Draper is of course assuming that theism is contingent; hence his argument won’t be relevant if theism is noncontingent.  But let’s set this limitation aside and look at his interesting argument” (pp.50-51).

While writing my paper I had not realized that the text just quoted meant that theism’s contingency was being granted in what followed (while I think it is a possible meaning, I did not then and frankly still do not think it is the obvious meaning).  But given Plantinga’s clarification of what he meant, this hypothetical presumption defuses the argument of my second section, an argument which uses the assumption of theism’s noncontingency against Plantinga’s counterclaims, an argument which clearly won’t work if theism is being presumed contingent. 

Unfortunately, neither Plantinga’s clarification, nor the afterword I wrote in response (along with other revisions, some substantial), could make it into the published version of the paper.  I also regret that other interesting items suggested to me after I had submitted the paper were unable to make it in (and here I am thinking specifically of Felipe Leon’s suggestion that the assumption of theism’s noncontingency may not be so widespread among the community of thinking theists as Plantinga suggests, and Keith Parsons’ reminder that Richard Swinburne defends logically contingent theism).  I hope to turn the afterword (at least parts of it) into a future paper.


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