This excellent and charitable review by the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel provides an excellent excuse to revisit the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s book Where the Conflict Really Lies, which I read earlier this year.
Plantinga’s subject is the alleged conflict between science and theism. Plantinga’s thesis is that,
there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.
Many people think that science and theism are in conflict. They think that science has proved that theism is false or at least lacks any rational warrant. So, either we accept science and reject theism, or we accept theism and reject science. Plantinga’s apologetic strategy reverses this. He argues that on the contrary science and theism are not only compatible, but that it is science and naturalism that are in conflict.
Plantinga argues for three claims:
(1) Plantinga takes up a number of specific areas of alleged conflict between science and theism, and shows that upon careful examination there is in fact no conflict. In each of the specific areas of alleged conflict, science and theism are shown to be compatible.
(2) Plantinga argues that science and theism are not merely compatible, but in deep concord.
(3) Plantinga argues that there is a conflict between science and naturalism. So, in contrast to science and theism, which are shown to be compatible with one another, science and naturalism are shown to be incompatible.
I will consider each of these three claims in subsequent posts. In the remainder of this post I want to define what Plantinga means by theism and naturalism, and to note something important about what his argument does not even purport to show.
Plantinga defines theism as follows. Theism,
is the thought that there is such a person as God: a personal agent who has created the world and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good.
Naturalism is the denial that theism is true – it is the claim that, “there is no such person as God, or anything like God.”
Note that none of Plantinga’s three claims is the claim that theism is true. Even if Plantinga succeeds in establishing that there is no conflict between science and theism, but rather deep concord between them, and that by contrast there is a conflict between science and naturalism, that will not show that theism is true. Plantinga’s argument is purely negative. He shows that some purported arguments for thinking that theism is false do not work. He does not supply any arguments for thinking that theism is true. The theist is still obliged to provide reasons for thinking that theism is true, and not merely compatible with and in deep concord with science while naturalism by contrast is in conflict with science.