Science & Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies (2012)
Dr. Alvin Plantinga discusses the conflict between evolution/naturalism and religion. Plantinga defines the many different beliefs and tests the compatibilities and incompatibilities of these different views.
Our speaker tonight is Alvin Plantinga. Professor Plantinga was for the years the John A. O’Brien Chair of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and he was my dissertation director at Notre Dame and so it’s great for me to have him here visiting us. He’s currently the William H. Jellema Chair of Philosophy at Calvin College and William Jellema was a, an important, influential and powerful philosophical figure in his time and he was the teacher of both Professors Wolterstorff and Plantinga. As I understand it they met in a class of his. So Dr. Plantinga is right now the William H. Jellema Chair of Philosophy at Calvin College. He’s a past President of the American Philosophical Association, the Society of Christian Philosophers, a member, or fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and he’ll be talking to us tonight about science and religion. Where the conflict really lies. So would you please join me in welcoming Alvin Plantinga.
Thanks very much for that introduction Tom. Tom, Tom was one of my students and it was quite a long time ago but now he says that Nick and I have been among important Christian intellectuals for the last 100 years. [audience laughs] Nick and I are old but we’re not that old. Tom was, as he says one of my, was a student of mine at Notre Dame and even though he thinks I’m over 100 years old on many other points he was much more acute. He was in fact one of the best students I ever had there or anywhere else.
Now I’m a philosopher and I imagine, I imagine not all of you students here are majoring in philosophy. That’s sad, I understand. I realize but probably true. Not nearly everybody is that interested in philosophy and you can sort of see why. I mean if you’re a philosopher you have to, to get interested in philosophy you have to think about some sort of disgusting things. For example, you have to think about being a brain in a vat. You have to imagine if you wanna do epistemology you have to think about that. You have to imagine that you’ve been captured by an advanced race of scientists from Alpha Centauri or some other place, doesn’t matter exactly where. They take you to their home base and remove your brain from your skull and keep it unofficially alive in a vat of nutrients and then they attach, they attach leads to it which go to their Apple computers. [audience laughs] And then they type in what it is they want you to feel and think and experience.
You know, so and if that’s the way things were it would seem just like it does now. So how do you know that isn’t true? Well that’s kind of a disgusting thought. Another disgusting thought that philosophers sometimes get into is solipsism. You’re a solipsist if you think you are the only thing that exists and everything else is just a figment of your imagination all right. There have been solipsists, this hasn’t been a really popular position over the years but Bertrand Russell was a solipsist for awhile.
Of course for anything you pick out Bertrand Russell was that for awhile. He wrote a book in which he advocated solipsism and a certain lady, Ladd-Franklin wrote him a letter and said you know, I think your book is really right. Solipsism is definitely the way to go. I wonder why there weren’t more of us solipsists she said. [audience laughs]
When I was a young professor at Wayne State University, 100 years ago or so. [audience laughs] There was a solipsist there in the medical school. I heard there was solipsists there in the medical school and I thought well, I’d like to see what a real life solipsist looks like so I went to the medical school to meet this guy Dr. So and So, he was at the time a university professor at Wayne State University which meant he could teach any course he wanted to in the whole university. So if he wanted to, I think he was a professor of surgery. If he wanted to teach my course in logic all he had to do was come over the Philosophy department and say, well Plantinga I’m gonna teach logic now you’ll have to try something else, maybe surgery. So that’s the kind of person he was. He was a university professor and a solipsist. So I went to see him and he and I had some you know, chit chat.
We talked a bit and we chatted. We didn’t have a whole lot to say to each other but I thought he was very polite given that I was just a figment of his imagination. [audience laughs] He seemed quite solicitous and the like. Finally you know, after a few minutes I decided time to leave. So as I left one of his younger colleagues took me aside and said, “You know we take very good care “of Dr. So and So because when he goes, we all go.” [audience laughs] So I mean there’s another idea that’s kind of miserable with solipsism. But I’m not gonna talk about solipsism. I’m gonna talk about science and religion, where the conflict really lies.
A lot of people these days think there is a serious conflict between science and religion. People on both sides of several aisles, as a matter of fact. Some Christians are convinced that there is, that science is a danger somehow to the Christian faith. Lots of, some scientists think that Christian belief is a danger to science and a lot of people on both sides think there is that kind of conflict and also that various propositions, statements, scientific claims are inconsistent with various religious claims. Claims made by Christians. So for example some people think that the idea of there being miracles as Christians assert Christ rose from the dead and raised Lazarus from the dead, turned water into wine, many healings, walked on water, et cetera and many others.
Many other Biblical accounts of miracles exist. Lots of Christians think miracles occur in present as well. Some people think the very idea of a miracle is, of a miracle happening is incompatible with science. It’s a matter of breaking or impinging on scientific laws. Laws which are natural laws, laws which are discovered by science. There seems to be a kind of conflict between certain varieties of scientific Scripture scholarship and at least sort of Orthodox traditional Christian belief. There are various other areas too. I mean there is also what people think of as the scientific worldview which is incompatible with Christian belief. There is evolutionary psychology which is a field, a very popular field, one which is booming at the moment which proposes various accounts of say altruism that seem inconsistent with Christian belief but I’m not gonna talk about those. I’m gonna talk instead about evolution.
Whether there is conflict here between Christian belief and evolution and I’ll argue that if you look at the sheet, I’ll argue first that contemporary evolutionary theory is not incompatible with theistic belief and I’ll add, not incompatible with Christian belief. I’ll argue secondly that the main anti-theistic arguments, arguments against God belief in God, the main anti-theistic arguments involving evolution together with other premises also fails. I mean one person might say well evolution just by itself, just by itself it entails that Christian belief is false. The two are just incompatible. Another person might say well that’s not true but if you take Christian belief and evolution and add some other obviously true premises then that whole bunch is inconsistent. So it’s a matter of evolution plus some other obvious premises entailing that Christian belief is false. And the second part I’ll argue that arguments of that sort don’t work either.
And then thirdly, I’m gonna argue that there is a conflict between naturalism and science in particular. Between naturalism and evolution. Where I’m thinking of naturalism as the idea that there isn’t any such person as God or anything like God. So naturalism is you might say, atheism plus or high test atheism. Or atheism on steroids or something like that. If you’re a naturalist you have to be an atheist the way I’m thinking of naturalism but you could be an atheist without rising to the full heights or maybe descending to the full depths of being a naturalist. So you could be an atheist without being a naturalist but if you are a naturalist you have to be an atheist all right. Naturalism is stronger in other words. And my thought is that naturalism, while it’s not as it stands really a religion, at least it’s not obviously a religion. Maybe it’s possible to argue that in some sense it is but it’s not an obvious case of religion like Christianity or Islam or Judaism and the like.
None the less it performs many of the same functions that a religion performs. It answers many of the same ultimate human questions like what is this word really like? What’s most real in the world? What’s the ultimate explanation of the existence, of nature let’s say. How should people live in order to achieve shalom or wellbeing. These, naturalism offers an answer to these questions just as does Christianity and other religions. So you might say it’s a religion by courtesy or given that it’s naturalism, maybe a religion by discourtesy but many of it’s a semi-religion or a quasi-religion and I wanna argue in the third place that naturalism is incompatible with religion. I’m sorry, that naturalism, it’s obviously incompatible with religion. That naturalism is incompatible with evolution. In the sense that you can’t sensibly accept them both. Not in the sense that it’s logically impossible that both be true but rather in a sense that it’s not possible sensibly to believe in both.
All right, that’s the idea. So I say there is a science religion or science quasi-religion conflict all right. But it’s a conflict between naturalism and science, not between theistic religion or Christianity and science. So in the first bit here, Roman number one there. Contemporary evolutionary theory I say is compatible with theistic belief I wanna argue it’s also compatible with Christian belief. Theistic belief of course is the idea that there is such a person as God. An all-powerful, all-knowing holy good person who has created the world. Who loves his creatures and so on. That would be theism. Christianity of course involves theism but is stronger than theism, it says more. Furthermore it says there is, there is a trinity. God isn’t a sort of single entity but there is this trinity. The second person of which the word became flesh and dwelt among us, by virtue of the second person’s incarnation and sacrifice, sacrificial depth, atonement by virtue of this. His resurrection, his death, resurrection.
By virtue of that we human beings can once more be in a right relationship with God. So Christianity goes well beyond mere theism. So we ask what evolution is. I mean the first thing to see is that the term covers a multitude of theses. The New Testament says love covers a multitude of sins. Evolution covers a multitude, maybe not of sins but of theses, of ideas. First the ancient Earth thesis. That the Earth is very old, much older than people thought two or 300 years ago. So it’s maybe four billion years old. Not say, 4000 or 8000 or 400,000 but four billion years old perhaps in that neighborhood. Second, the thesis of descent with modification. Which is the idea that all of the vast variety you find in the living world, in the biosphere, all the animals and plants and so on, mammals and fish and insects of a thousand kinds. I don’t know how many, how many, how many species there are just of beetles.
Now somebody once remarked that God must really like beetles because he made so many of them. Maybe they’re, I don’t know maybe somebody here knows how many species there are but it’s an enormously large number just of beetles. So there’s this enormous variety you find in the living world. In the biosphere and the idea here of descent with modification is that all of this variety arose by virtue of a process of offspring, differing usually in small, insignificant ways from their parents. And then this trickles on and on. You know, so generation, you’ve got generation one and generation two differs a bit from that. Generation three a bit from generation two. Generation four a bit more and so on. So eventually starting from one organism you wind up with this enormous variety of life that we actually do find.
And then connected with that would be the common ancestry thesis which says that if you pick any two living creatures, any two living creatures. Not just any two human beings and trace back their ancestry far enough you will come upon a common ancestor. So if you trace back your ancestry far enough you’ll find a common ancestor with me all right but also with the poison ivy in your backyard. If you trace back and this is easier to imagine with respect to some people than others. [audience laughs] But the thought is basically that all of us are, have common ancestors with poison ivy all right and then finally the fourth thesis that I say is covered by the term evolution is that the principal mechanism driving this process of descent with modification is natural selection. Working on or winnowing, winnowing random genetic mutation. So you probably all know how that’s supposed to go. I mean you’ve got this process of descent with modification.
Well what makes it go that way? What makes it go that way is not, for the most part, not exclusively natural selection but natural selection winnowing genetic mutation. So you’ve got some kind of random genetic mutation. Some kind of genetic variation arises. Sometimes these mutations are lethal. Most often they are just insignificant, don’t do anything one way or the other and sometimes they’re favorable. Well these creatures to whom this favorable mutation accrues will do slightly better in the race for survival and reproduction than their conspecifics and so they have more offspring the idea is. And eventually that mutation will spread through the whole population in which case it can begin, the whole process can begin all over again and that’s the reason, that’s the way, that’s what drives the whole process of descent with modification.
Well now my question is, is Darwinism incompatible with theistic religion? First of all I wanna think of Christianity of course as a theistic religion. And when I think of Christianity, I want to think about what C.S. Lewis calls mere Christianity all right? Which could be something like what’s in common to all the great Christian creeds. The Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed. The Catholic Baltimore Confession. The Heidelberg Catechism, a reformed creed and the Belgian Confession, Luther’s Catechism, what they all have in common, you might say that’s mere Christianity. That’s the mere Christianity that C.S. Lewis was talking about and my question is whether mere Christianity is compatible then with evolution all right.
I know certain varieties of Christian belief are not compatible. That is people who think that the earth for example is very young, young Earth creationists, their particular variety of Christian belief isn’t compatible with the idea that the earth is very old but their particular variety goes well beyond what I’m calling mere Christianity. And it’s about mere Christianity that I’m asking or that this is compatible with evolution. And it looks like it’s compatible with the ancient Earth thesis.
There’s no reason in mere Christianity for thinking that the earth is young. Augustine for example way back in the 5th Century proposed the idea that the earth might be very old and that the days of creation aren’t to be taken as 24 hour days but as long periods of some kind. That’s been a thought lots of Christians have had over the centuries. So also the thesis of descent with modification, Christianity tells us that God has created the living world but it doesn’t necessarily tell us exactly how he did it. Did he do it by virtue of creating a bunch of creatures independently and separately or did he do it by virtue of a process of descent with modification? The latter seems compatible with mere Christianity.
The common ancestry thesis, we could say the same thing. And then we come to Darwinism and you might think that that’s the one that’s not compatible with Christian belief or at least is more, appears to be of less compatible, less likely to be compatible and of course lots of people say that it isn’t compatible with theistic religion. For example the dreaded four horsemen of atheism. You probably all know about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And those of you who are well informed also know about the four horsemen of Notre Dame but in addition there are now the four horsemen of atheism which would be Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens and what’s that other fellow’s name? Harris, right, right.
The four horsemen of atheism all make this claim. Incidentally I’m gonna talk about Dawkins a little bit below. And I think the book I’m gonna talk about, that is to say there’s a passage from that book I’m gonna talk about, I think that book is a good book. “The Blind Watchmaker”, it’s really interesting, well written, a lot to be learned from it even though I think it’s basically completely wrong. [audience laughs] Well that’s possible you know. But his most recent, or one of, I guess it’s his most recent one anyway. A very recent book of his, “The God Delusion” seems to be and that’s the one by virtue of which he’s one of the four horsemen of atheism, that one seems to be not to be a very good book at all.
I would say it’s much more like an ignorance creed than a real contribution to that discussion or as far as that goes any other discussion but we do have these four horsemen of atheism and they all insist that it is a matter of fact science generally and evolution in particular, evolution in particular is incompatible with, even with belief in God, not just with Christianity but with belief in God. Now why would people think this? It has to do with the thesis that God has created human beings in his image. It’s part of Christian belief and also Jewish belief and part of certain kinds of Muslim belief but not part of all kinds. That God has created human beings in his image. We human beings are image-bearers. If you say that God has created us human beings in his image part of what you mean is that God intended that things turn out a certain way. Intended that there be beings of a certain sort.
If these beings came to be by virtue of some kind of process rather than his just directly creating them, well them he intended that process turn out that way. He intended it and arranged things in such a way that it should turn out that way. He arranged things, he planned that there be beings of our particular kind. It’s not by accident in any sensible sense of accident that there are creatures in his image. He may not have been concerned with, with what, he may not have been that interested in coming up with homo sapiens just as such if what he wanted was that there be image bearers. I mean perhaps it was a matter of indifference to God whether the image-bearers look like us or maybe look more like dolphins. Possibly, maybe so, maybe not.
But I do seem to have a problem here. But he did intend that there be creatures in his image. Where we could think of creatures in his image as creatures who are rational, who are capable of knowledge, knowing something about their world, knowing something about themselves, knowing something about God. And the like, but rational who are also moral, have a moral sense, can discern right from wrong. Can see that certain things, hurting people just for the fun of it for example are dead wrong. Other things, promoting other people’s welfare. Caring for the poor, one’s neighbor and the like are right. So these two things at least and who in the third place are capable of some kind of relationship with God. Not just that they know that there is such a person but are capable of some kind of further relationship. A matter of loving God. A matter of apprehending God’s love for oneself. A matter of, as some people put it, being in a personal relationship with God. A relationship of the sort that holds between persons.
So you might say that, you might say that the image of God, creating creatures in God’s image involves creating creatures like that. What they look like physically may not have much to do with the image of God in that sense but that they have these three properties at least does and if God did create us in his image then he intended that there be creatures in his image. He planned this in advance. As I say, there’s no sensible sense in which it’s accidental then that there be creatures of that sort. Now you might think that this too is compatible with Darwinism. I mean suppose again that God has created everything by virtue of an evolutionary process, he could if he wanted to, cause the right mutations to arise at the right time.
So that he can guide the whole process in the direction of getting the kind of creatures he wanted. He could’ve preserved certain populations from destruction, destruction from a storm or from famine or whatever. So he could’ve guided a process of descent with modification in such a way as to produce creatures in his image. So it looks as if this too is compatible with, I mean Darwinism too is compatible with, say, with mere Christianity. With Christian belief but lots and lots of people insist that a matter of fact this part of it, namely that God. Namely that a certain kind of creature is intended and is such that whatever process produces a creature is aimed at a certain end. That’s what many people say is incompatible with evolution all right? And what is not consistent with Christian belief is the claim that evolution and Darwinism are unguided. That’s what’s not, that’s what’s not compatible.
Unguided Darwinism, the idea that we’ve come to be by virtue of these Darwinian processes. We and the rest of the living world and they been in no way guided or directed or orchestrated by God or anybody else all right? And the fact is though that there’s a whole choir of distinguished experts, all of whom insist that evolution is unguided. So here’s George Gaylord Simpson. A very important evolutionary scientist of the 20th Century. He says, man and then I add, and no doubt woman as well, “Man is the result of a purposeless, “a natural process that did not have him in mind.” I do think we have to add woman as well. I don’t know of anybody who thinks that man was a product of a purposeless process but woman wasn’t.
That might be a possibility for exploration. If you want a career in science you might consider that. You know, I mean what about that hypothesis? What’s to be said for it. Anyway that’s what Simpson says. The idea is that human beings came to be without there being any purpose or without there being some being that had in mind that there should be such creatures. Stephen Jay Gould says, “If the evolutionary tape were to be rewound “and then let go forward again, “the chances are we’d get creatures “of a very different sort.”
The chances are we wouldn’t get creatures like us he says. He says he thinks the chances are maybe that you’d wind up with mostly bacteria because as things stand, bacteria are perhaps the most successful creatures on the face of the earth from his point of view. I mean they’ve last, there have been bacteria for millions and millions of years and they, and in fact there are an enormous number of bacteria. In fact, as I’ve been told, I’m not positive this is right but I’ve been told on good authority that if you put all of the bacteria in the world on one side of a teeter totter, seesaw and all the other living creatures on the other, the bacterial side would go down all right. So in terms of weight they outweigh the rest of the human, the rest of the living world combined. Finally he says, well so that’s what he says.
If the evolutionary tape were to rewound and let go forward again we’d have creatures of a very different sort. But if you think that God has created human beings in his image and that he desired that there be creatures of that sort then there wouldn’t be, then there would be at least creatures of that sort. There might be lots and lots of bacteria but there would also be creatures in God’s image if you rewound that tape. Of course the very idea of rewinding the tape and then letting it go forward again. You know rewinding time, let’s go backwards in time to say a million years ago and then let things go forward again, that idea doesn’t make any sense but I mean you could still, it could still be, you can see what he’s got in mind. Then the next third there is Richard Dawkins, his book, “The Blind Watchmaker”. As I say I think that’s a book very much worth reading. He says all appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.
A true watchmaker has foresight. He designs his springs and cogs and plans their interconnections with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered and which we now know is the explanation. In this kind of literature you will always find this phrase as we now know. People used to be you know, not very informed. They thought this, that and the other but as we now know, that wasn’t true, all right. And which as we now know is the explanation for the existence of apparently purposeful form of all life. Has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all.
If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature it is the blind watchmaker. And that of course is the title of his book, “The Blind Watchemaker” and the subtitle of the book is “Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals “a Universe without Design”. So he’s saying once you see that as a matter of fact, the living world has come to be by way of evolution, you can see, inferring from that that the universe is without design. That there’s no such person as God. Well why does he think that natural selection is blind and unguided? I mean this is quite a claim. That’s the very, the subtitle of the book you know.
The main force of the book. The main thing is opposed to design, that to show us is why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. Well why does he think the evidence of evolution does that? That it reveals a universe without design. Why does he think like that? In his book he does three things, Dawkins does. First he recounts some of the fascinating anatomical details of certain kinds of living creatures and their ways. I remember he talks, one thing he talks about are bats. And how by virtue of their sonar bats have kind of a sonar. They send out soundwaves which come back, which register as in the bat somehow and that way the bat can tell how far away it is from a certain, from some physical object in its neighborhood.
By virtue of this wonderful, amazing ability bats can navigate through a completely dark cave which is full of obstacles, stalagmites hanging down. No, stalactites hanging down and stalagmites coming up, can zip through this at an enormous rate of speed without ever so much as brushing one of those structures. And he recounts that in really fascinating detail. I mean it’s very interesting and when he writes on things of that kind he’s a great writer. And then second he tries to refute arguments for the conclusion that blind, unguided evolution could not have produced certain of the wonders of the living world.
Going all the way back to Darwin of course there were claims to the effect that unguided evolution couldn’t produce this particular structure or that particular organ. One that was popular in that day and which is still popular but at a different level today is the eye. There was a man with the interesting name of St. George Jackson Mivart who was a contemporary of Darwin who argued at considerable length that such a process cannot produce something like an eye because all the parts of the eye are so intimately adjusted to each other and a change in one, even if it might be a change towards what would be a better eye in the long run, a change in one might destroy altogether the function of the eye. So he said he didn’t see how this could happen. He didn’t think it could happen as a matter of fact and Dawkins tries to refute arguments of that sort.
Arguments for the conclusion that blind, unguided evolution could not have produced certain other structures and organs and the like that we find in the living world. That’s the same sort of thing that Michael Behe has done since and thirdly Dawkins makes suggestions as to how these, the eye for example and other organic systems could have developed by unguided evolution. So one thing he does is refute arguments for the claim that they could not have and another thing he does is to suggest ways in which they could have all right. These would be two different things. But now that so far doesn’t show us how the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. That’s not, that doesn’t show us that.
As far as I can make out the form of the main argument in the book for the conclusion that the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design is what you see on the sheet there. The premise of the argument is we know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes. We know of no irrefutable rejections. For all we know it’s possible that all of life has come to be by virtue of unguided Darwinian processes. That’s the premise and the conclusion is, therefore all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.
As far as I can make out that’s the argument of the book but that is actually a lousy argument right? I mean philosophers sometimes give uncogent arguments. I’ve given some to my shame myself but hardly any philosopher ever gives an argument where the distance between premise and conclusion is as absolutely enormous as in this argument. This would be as if I come home to my wife and announce say you know what? President Obama has decided that there should be a medal, a new medal for philosophy. As far as that goes I’d say for chemistry. A new medal for chemistry and he’s making me the first recipient. My wife says oh, you don’t know any chemistry, what makes you think that? And I say, nobody’s proved it impossible. [audience laughs] Well, you can imagine. I mean this is not gonna, this is not going to contribute to proper relationships between husband and wife.
So I say it’s, the main argument here if insofar as there is a main argument is a complete flop. It’s a complete non sequitur, it’s completely and totally incogent. Various people to whom I have said this, other places where I’ve read this talk have suggested well that can’t be what he meant. There must be more to it than that you know and they suggest other possible premises you might add and you’re welcome to try the same thing but as far as I can tell that’s what the argument is. And if it is, then I think the thing to conclude is that Dawkins utterly fails to show that the facts of evolution reveal a universe without design. Utterly fails to do that.
Still, the fact that he and other experts like the other experts I mentioned, Gould and the like, the fact that he and those experts assert his subtitle, assert this thesis loudly and slowly as it were. So if you were talking to say, an inattentive eight-year-old. You’ll repeat, you’ll say what you wanna say loudly and slowly right? Johnny you have to do so and so. Well I mean the fact is that these others, that he and these others assert his subtitle loudly and slowly can be expected to convince many that the biological theory of evolution is in fact, incompatible with a theistic and Christian belief that the living world has been designed.
Okay, I’m gonna skip the next little bit. If you would like to we can talk about that during a question period. What about the fact that the relevant genetic mutations that are said to be random? And go down just a bit further here. So as far as I can see, the claim, the claim that evolution demonstrates that human beings and other living creatures have not been designed, I mean that’s not part or a consequence of the scientific theory of evolution at all. It’s not that the scientific theory of evolution is a theory of unguided evolution. In the sense that the scientific theory says this process is unguided. That’s not part of the scientific theory it seems to me. It’s more like a metaphysical and theological add-on.
It’s something that some people, Dawkins for example and others, Dan Dennett and many others want to add to the theory of evolution. They wanna take the theory as saying that but the fact is as far as I can tell, the scientific theory just as such doesn’t say that. Of course one has to be a little careful. It’s not utterly obvious how you tell precisely what that scientific theory or perhaps any scientific theory says right? I mean it’s not like, it’s not like there is a kind of axiomatic, an axiomatization of the theory of evolution chiseled into the walls of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. It’s not like there is some canonical version of it written down somewhere. Okay that’s the theory of evolution.
What there is are lots of different people saying things that are very similar but sometimes slightly different right? So when I say that the scientific theory as such doesn’t have this consequence but that that’s a metaphysical add-on, that’s not, what shall I say? I mean that’s not in the same neighborhood as two plus two equals four. I say it’s true but it’s not, maybe it’s not utterly obvious and in fact there is a certain amount of confusion in the neighborhood. So for example, Pope John Paul II he seemed favorably disposed towards evolution. Saying, one thing he said was, that it is more than a theory. It’s more than a theory. Cardinal Schonborn on the other hand, Cardinal, a Catholic Cardinal says “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry “might be true. “But evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense, “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation “and natural selection is not.” So he seems to take it that the, that the, that evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense. The neo-Darwinian sense, that is the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is an unguided plan, unplanned process.
So there’s a certain amount of confusion but it seems to me if you think about it, you’d have to conclude that whatever it is that most biologists think here it doesn’t make sense to say of some scientific theory that it has this implication that there’s no such person as God. That doesn’t sound like science, that sounds like metaphysics or anti-theology or something like that. As polls reveal most Americans have grave doubts about the truth of evolution. Many Christians are co
As a corrective, maybe intelligent design or they want evolution taught as a mere theory rather than as a sober truth or they want objections to evolution to be taught along with evolution. Or they want some, they want something about critical thinking inserted into the teaching of evolution. And why do they think that? I mean most Christians don’t say much about other scientific theories, major scientific theories like say, well, the general theory of relativity or quantum mechanics.
Why, well I think one answer is that we Christians are regularly told by the experts, by Dawkins and Dennett, Gould, Iala and others, that current scientific evolutionary theory asserts or implies that the living world is not designed and that the evolutionary process is an unguided process. So for example, the National Association of Biology Teachers until just a few years back, 10 years ago, officially described evolution on their website as quote, an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process. Unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural. And if we’re regularly told by the experts that in fact the theory is a theory of unguided evolution it’s no wonder that many Christians believe that.
You know, if the experts say that’s what it is, it’s natural to think well they oughta know. And further, if Christians do believe that, it’s no wonder they don’t want it to be taught as a sober truth in the public schools because thus understood it’s incompatible with Christian. As far as that goes also Jewish, and perhaps also Muslim belief. I think there are clearer questions of justice here. Is it just to teach in public schools, is it fair to teach in public schools positions that go contrary to the religious beliefs of most of those who pay for those public schools, who support them? Well that’s a whole nother question that we could go into. But I won’t go into it now. I’m gonna skip part two and go to part three.
Naturalism versus evolution. So as I say I want to argue that naturalism and evolution, though they are often thought of as easy bedfellows are in fact uneasy bedfellows. Don’t fit together well at all. Evolution is sometimes thought of as a kind of temple in the whole, I mean, as a pillar in the whole temple of naturalism. And in, I want to argue that that’s not in fact correct. I wanna argue that there is a serious, deep conflict between naturalism and evolution and hence really between naturalism and science. So I’m gonna use the letter N just to abbreviate things, make things a little shorter. The letter N to stand for naturalism, for the thought that naturalism is correct. That the world is, that there is no such person as God or anything like God. I’ll use the letter E to mean the current evolutionary theory.
The idea that we and the rest of the living world have come to be by virtue of current evolutionary theory, by the processes mentioned and described in current evolutionary theory. And I’ll use the letter R to mean the proposition that our cognitive faculties are reliable. That sounds like a mouthful but when I speak of cognitive faculties all I mean are things like memory and perception. Memory is a cognitive faculty whereby you know something of what has happened in your vicinity very recently. Perception you can see what goes on in your neighborhood or hear what goes on in your neighborhood or feel what goes on in your neighborhood. So perception is a faculty that enables you to know something about what’s going on in your immediate neighborhood.
Well it doesn’t have to be your immediate neighborhood either. You can see Mount Baldy from here and as far as that goes you can see the moon and you can see stars that are enormous numbers of light years away. But so there are these cognitive faculties we’ve got which produce in us beliefs. So I look off in this direction and a certain belief sort of just wells up in me. The belief that there are a lot of people over people and there’s a window over there and some people sitting on the floor over here and Tom Crisp is here. And Tom Crisp is not nearly 100 years old but I can’t really see that. You can’t exactly see that but I mean I know that anyway. So, so, so there are these cognitive faculties then.
And to say that they are reliable is to say that they produce, what they furnish us with is for the most part true beliefs. Doesn’t have to be that all beliefs are true of course and of course not nearly all human beliefs are true but the idea is that they have to for the most part reveal what they for the most part, the beliefs they produce in us are true. I guess we ordinarily think that. I mean we ordinarily just assume that our cognitive faculties are reliable. I just take it utterly for granted that, that I really do see people here before me.
ou know, I don’t sort of raise the question maybe I’m being deceived, maybe I’m a brain in a vat or something like that. We all just make that assumption. So there is that proposition that our cognitive faculties are reliable. Now the first premise of my argument has got these premises here. The first premise is the proposition that the probability, the conditional probability of R, that our faculties are reliable given that naturalism and evolution are both true, that probability is low. So I speak of conditional probability.
Again that may be an unfamiliar term but it’s certainly something everybody uses and thinks about, is aware of. For it’s the probability of one proposition or claim or state of affairs given that some other one is true right? The probability of some proposition A, given that some other proposition B is true. So you might say, I might say what’s the probability that Mr. A will live to be 70 given that Mr. A is given that, on the condition that. Given that Mr. A is now 35, never gets any exercise but lies around, down upon his couch watching television all the time. Eats nothing but junk food and has grandparents, all of them died by the age of 50. That’s a fairly low probability right? He’s probably not gonna make it to 70. Then you might contrast that with the probability that Mr. B will live to be 70 given Mr. B is now 65, runs 11 miles every day, watches his diet like a hawk, and has grandparents, all of whom lived to be over 100. That’s gonna be a much higher probability right? So you get the idea, the probability of one proposition, in this case, the same proposition given that this other proposition. And one other proposition, the probability is high on the other proposition, other proposition it’s low. So you might say what’s the probability that Jock who lives in, in Glasgow, Scotland is a Mormon? What’s the probability that Jock is a Mormon given that he lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Probably not very high right? Not that many Mormons in Scotland. On the other hand you might say well what’s the probability that Brigham who lives in Salt Lake City [audience laughs] is a Mormon? IE what’s the probability that Brigham is a Mormon given that Brigham lives in Salt Lake? That’s gonna be much higher right? So you get the idea.
So my first premise then is that the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable given that naturalism is true and that we have come to be by virtue of the processes of evolution detailed in contemporary scientific theories, I say that’s low. And I’ll come back to that and argue for that premise down below there. The second premise is that one who accepts N and E, thinks that naturalism and evolution are both true and also sees that one is true has an undefeated defeater for R. So the notion of a defeater, again it’s a familiar notion though you might not know that particular word for it but for example suppose, this is like a kind of classical example. Due to the great 20th Century philosopher Roderick Chisholm. He says imagine I look into a field and I see what I take to be a sheep and I form the belief well, there’s a sheep in this field. Then along comes the owner of the field whom I know to be a responsible man and he says that he doesn’t have any sheep and he doesn’t keep any sheep in the field but there is a, he does a sheep dog that from this distance looks like a sheep.
Well then I’ve got a defeater for my belief that there’s a sheep in the field. Where the defeater for a belief is another belief you acquire such that as long as you’ve got that other belief, you can’t sensibly hold on to the first belief right? Another example, maybe I read in a guidebook, I’m in Aberdeen, Scotland and I read in the guidebook that the University of Aberdeen was founded in 1595. So naturally I form the belief it was founded in 1595. Well then I go to a cocktail party that evening, I don’t know whether people go to cocktail parties in Biola or not but. [audience laughs] But they do go to cocktail parties in Aberdeen.
And I see this guy with a very hangdog look on his face and he’s kind of looking really sad and unhappy and so I you know, ask him what the problem is and he said well, I’m the author of that guidebook and I made a terrible mistake. It was founded in 1495, not in 1595. Then of course I’ve got a defeater for my belief that I had that it was founded in 1595 all right? So you get the idea. Defeaters can themselves be defeated. You can have a defeater defeater. But I’m not gonna go into that now because I’m, I’m running out of time but so I say he’s got an undefeated defeater. A defeater for which there isn’t a defeater. For which there isn’t in turn another defeater. No defeater defeater all right. And so then the next premise one, one who has a defeater for this proposition R, then also has a defeater for any belief that she takes to be produced by her cognitive faculties. So if you’ve got a defeater for the proposition that your cognitive faculties are reliable then you also have a defeater for any proposition that you think is produced by your cognitive faculties.
But of course that’s all of them. Just as if you have a defeater for the proposition that a certain thermometer is reliable then you have a defeater for any belief you’ve got that arises out of the thermometer’s having said the temperature is X. 58 or whatever right? Okay, so A, what is a defeater for R is a defeater for any belief she takes to be produced by her cognitive faculties including N and E itself. That’s one of her beliefs so the form of the argument is that N and E is self defeating. It provides a defeater for itself. It shoots itself in the foot. It’s self referentially inconsistent, you can put this in various ways and therefore it can’t rationally be accepted. All right.
Now in what time remains here, I wanna give an argument for premise one. Which looks to me like the premise that most stands in need of support, an argument. So first I’m gonna take naturalism to include materialism about human beings. If you’re a materialist about human beings you, you don’t think that human beings are immaterial substances like God let’s say. Immaterial substances who are intimately connected with a particular human body, with a particular body. I mean that’s what Agustin and Descartes thought right? They thought a human being is really not a material object at all. An immaterial self or an immaterial ego or substance. A soul which is very closely related to a particular human body. And perceives by virtue of that body’s eyes and ears and the like okay? And feels pain in that body and so on.
If you’re a materialist you think that’s not true. That’s not, it’s not the case that a human being is an immaterial self or substance or soul, that has a body and you also don’t think that a human being is kind of a bipartite substance that has both the immaterial part and a material part. You think that a human being just is a material object through and through. Maybe what you are is your brain, maybe what you are is your whole body, that’s what you are. Or maybe your brain or maybe part of your brain, the left half let’s say. Or the right half. Or maybe some other process in your brain but in any event, you are a material object. You’re made of, you were made all the way through of flesh and bone and blood. You’re made of molecules and atoms. You are not in any way immaterial.
So I’m saying this, take naturalism to include that. Most naturalists, in fact all the naturalists I know are in fact materialists. So I want to include materialism in naturalism and then ask yourself, well from this point of view what sort of thing would a belief be? So suppose you think there are beliefs as I do. I mean there’s a belief that I’ve got that seven plus five equals 12 and lots of other beliefs. What would a belief be? Well about the only thing you can think of, the only plausible candidate would be that a belief would be something like an event or structure composed of neurons somewhere in your nervous system. Maybe in your brain right? That’s what a belief would have to be.
So if you think about it from that point of view, a belief would have a certain degree of weight. It would occupy a certain place in your nervous system. It could be spread out a certain way but still it would occupy a certain place. It would be in this general neighborhood rather than say two miles in that direction. That’s what sort of thing a belief would have to be. So here’s the argument for premise one then and I apologize for the fact that this argument is sort of complicated and somewhat hard to get one’s mind around. So all I ask is do your best.
All right, and I should also admit not everybody I’ve met agrees with this argument oddly enough but, but I think it’s correct. So instead of thinking about ourselves let’s think about a population of creatures on some distant planet in some other universe maybe. One of those other universes that the people who like the multiverse idea talk about and suppose that N and E holds for them. So these people, their universe is a naturalistic one. No God, nothing like God. And furthermore they’ve come to be by virtue of evolutionary processes. Now what we can assume about these creatures, so what we know about them is that N and E holds for them. We can assume that their behavior is adaptive. Here they are, they’ve survived and they’ve come to be by virtue of natural selection. Their behavior is adaptive, conducive to survival and reproduction. This behavior is caused furthermore by processes in their brains, this behavior is caused by what we could call the underlying neurology. I mean if you say well I’d trace back, the causal chain, that issues in my arm raising, early ideas would be a signal sent from my brain perhaps along a certain chain of neurons, an efferent nerve, a nerve or more than one nerve. All the way down to a certain muscle which causes that muscle to contract and up goes my arm all right. So what causes it? Well this underlying neurology, these processes in their brains. So we could say this neurology is also adaptive all right. Still further, this neurology causes their beliefs.
So this person believes let’s say that all men are mortal or seven plus five equals 12 and what underlies that, or what, what causes that or determines that would be a certain set of, a certain arrangement of the neurons in their brains. A certain neurology, a certain set of neurological properties. But now here’s the crux, as far as that adaptive behavior is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether those beliefs are true or false. I mean you might think of the belief now as a kind of process or structure that has two kinds of properties. Neurophysiological properties, like well it’s sending such and such a signal and it’s got so many neurons in it. It’s connected with these other structures, on one hand but it’s also got a content.
It’s gotta be the belief that P, for some particular proposition P. Maybe the proposition that their lunch was a tavern, a saloon where the Metropolitan Opera House now stands in New York City, it’s gotta have that content and the point is, it really doesn’t matter as far as adaptive behavior is concerned what that content is. What matters is only that that neurology function in a certain way. What matters is only that this belief structure has got these particular neurological properties. It doesn’t matter what the content is. So it doesn’t matter therefore whether these creatures’ beliefs are mostly true or mostly false or 50/50.
All that we know about them is they’ve survived and reproduced. But as far as that goes, and so we know that their behavior has been adaptive but it doesn’t matter for adaptive behavior. It’s not necessary for adaptive behavior that the content of their beliefs be true. So take any particular belief on the part on one of these creatures, what’s the probability that that belief is true? Well as far as we know it could be true, it could be false. We’d have to say the probability is something like a half all right. But then the probability that their cognitive faculties are reliable, that’s gonna be very low.
If you have let’s say 100 independent beliefs and the probability with respect to each one of them that it’s true is a half then the probability that say three quarters of your beliefs are true and maybe three quarters would be what you need for reliability, that’s gonna be very low. That’ll be something one out of a million or so all right. Okay, so what we’ve gotta say then is that the probability of R with respect to N and E for them is really low but the same goes for us. If naturalism and evolution held for us then the probability of R with respect to that, that would be really low. Okay, well I’ll stop there right.
Well I thank our speaker. [audience applauds] So we have some time for a Q&A but before that, I wanna say a couple things. One is if you’re interested in this topic of how to think about evolution and its compatibility with Christian belief you might be interested in a debate that the Apologetics Department here at Biola is hosting on Monday night. And I believe flyers have been passed out or are being passed out that it will explain the wheres and the whens but it’s this coming Monday evening. Secondly I should apologize to Professors Plantinga and Wolterstorff for accusing them of being 100 years old. That’s no way to welcome your mentor and teacher to campus. Now let’s see, the Q&A time will work like this. If you’re sort of in this vicinity I’m gonna run, just raise your hand I will run to you with a microphone if you used to watch that Jerry Springer show. I think it’ll be like that. But as I understand it there’s a mic stand that’s being set up somewhere in the back. Is that right? Can anyone correct that if it’s not right? It’s not looking right.
It’s not a yes.
Oh okay and where is that?
Oh, okay. All right. If only I knew what I’m supposed to do with this. Is the thought that I’ll be double barreled? Oh okay. All right, well. So I think we’re set. So if you have a question, I would be happy to hand you a mic, okay.
Man: Thanks for coming tonight. I’m gonna do my best to formulate this right but as you’ve defended this argument over the last 100 years or so, one of the examples you use which seems obviously plausible is the idea of it’s really easy to come up with false beliefs that can produce adaptive behavior like thinking that the, thinking that the best way to pet lions because they’re so pretty is by running away from them even though it’s obviously a false belief. I wonder, it becomes less obvious to me the idea that entire systems of our cognitive faculties could consistently produce unreliable beliefs and also be adaptive at the same time. Like our memory or perception. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that.
Right everybody understand the question? So in a previous incarnation of this argument I pointed out that false beliefs can, under our normal common sense assumptions can issue an adaptive behavior. It happens quite often you know. I mean for example, if you, I might think I’m really a pretty good fellow and people like me. Now that might be completely false but my believing it is gonna be adaptive right? If I really realize nobody likes me you know, everybody thinks that I’m a terrible guy that would be very, that would be very bad. It might lead to my becoming depressed and sick and so on. So false beliefs can often produce true adaptive behavior. But now here’s the important point. When I said that I was assuming that the relationship between our beliefs and our behavior is what we ordinarily take it to be. We ordinarily take it that our behavior is produced by our beliefs by virtue of the content of the belief. So I mean why is it that I will get up and walk over to the refrigerator and open it up? Well I want a beer and I believe there’s a beer in there and it’s, you explain my doing that by virtue of saying oh he’s got a belief with a certain content. Namely there’s a beer in the refrigerator right? But on materialism, that explanation, that way of explaining things doesn’t work. Given if materialism about human beings is true, then it’s by virtue of those neurophysiological properties, by virtue of those properties that I behave in a certain way. It’s by virtue of them, the belief causes the behavior by virtue of those neurological properties. But not by virtue of its content. It doesn’t matter what the content is, had the content been something very different, and the neurological properties the same you would still have had the very same issue with respect to behavior and the same causal issue with respect to behavior, right.
Tom: Take two about Q&A, so there’s a mic now that’s been set up here. And if you’re right in this vicinity and you wanna get in line behind this mic, what I’ll do is then I’ll run around to this area over here and this area over here and I’ll just go back and forth between the wings and the standup mic here. So if you’re sitting right around here here’s a standup mic for you.
Man: Hi Dr. Plantinga, thank you for coming. I have a question on section one of tonight’s lecture. In terms of evolution, among Christian philosophers and the Christian philosophy community, is evolution the current consensus among Christian philosophers in the Christian philosophy community, thank you.
No, I don’t think it is. I think there are Christian philosophers who reject the notion of evolution. There are Christian philosophers who are, some young earth creationists. So you couldn’t say it’s a consensus. My guess is it’s a majority opinion but it’s not a consensus, right.
Man: In your lecture you argued that evolution isn’t incompatible with theistic belief. But do you think that evolution really is the state of affairs? That we came through today and if that is also the case, what does that do with the historical Adam and the implications of that? Is that clear enough?
Yeah, I mean well I argued that evolution is compatible with what I call mere Christianity right? And you might ask well now what about Adam and Eve? What does mere Christianity say about Adam and Eve. I don’t think mere Christianity says that Adam and Eve lived 4000 years ago or 6000 years ago or any particular number of years ago. You might wonder exactly what mere Christianity does say about Adam and Eve and I guess I’m inclined to think it says more or less that there really was a historical Adam and a historical Eve and that Adam and Eve fell into sin and by virtue of their fallen sin, the human race was somehow corrupted, so that human beings since have suffered from being in this sinful, sinful condition.
But I think that’s compatible with evolutionary theory. I mean evolutionary theory doesn’t say anything about this one way or the other. It’s not that evolutionary theorists say well there really was this Adam and Eve. What they do say is that at some point you know, I don’t know just how many tens of thousands of years ago there was a kind of bottleneck. A relatively small number of creatures in the line leading to homo sapiens. Us people nowadays and it’s perfectly compatible with evolutionary theory that God selected a pair of these creatures who weren’t yet really human beings, who weren’t yet created in his image and treated them in some special way whereby they now were in God’s image. And they were in a situation where as a matter of fact they were confronted with a choice between obeyed God and listening on God’s side and disobeying and they disobeyed. That’s, there’s no incompatibility there and it’s not particularly implausible as far as I can see. So I don’t, I guess I’m inclined to think mere Christianity does include the idea that Adam and Eve were historical creatures. I mean you know, Paul says in the New Testament for example that as through one man, sin entered the world and hence death. So through one man all shall be saved and so on. But I don’t think there’s any incompatibility there.
Tom: At the mic stand.
Man: I was, if I understood your conclusion it’s not so much that we can come up with, honestly come up with false beliefs. Just from a naturalistic argument, there’s no justification to have any opinion at all.
Any opinion. From their position.
To have no opinion on anything. If what they’re saying is true.
That’s what I’m, well I mean, I don’t think we can avoid having opinions but what we should think if we really accept N and E what we should think is that the probability that our faculties are reliable is very low. It’s very small. We’ll have a defeater for any belief we’ve got including that very belief. So what you have is a kind of universal defeater that defeats everything including itself. This is not a happy condition to be in. [audience laughs]
Man: Hi, so, so I guess I’m, if you don’t mind, can I take a stab at filling in the gaps in Dawkins’ argument.
Okay. Well let’s look at this. Say we look at the scientific evidence and see that there’s nothing that suggests that the process is guided and we see no empirical evidence that suggests that this process is guided. You might think that then the rational thing to do in this case is to just not believe that the process is guided. So I mean this is different than saying that it reveals that the process is guided. It’s a little bit more of a tentative claim but you might say that our epistemic position is one where we just ought not believe that it’s guided.
Well perhaps yeah. I mean but if that’s what he thinks, then what he should have subtitled, his subtitle should not be, “How the Evidence of Evolution Reveals “a Universe without Design”. But something like this, how the evidence of evolution reveals that it’s not justifiable to believe that the universe is designed. That’s not gonna make quite as snappy a subtitle.
But it’s also, it’s also a completely different claim. I mean it’s one thing to claim that you shouldn’t believe P and a totally different thing to claim not P right? I shouldn’t believe that the number of, total number of stars is odd. But that doesn’t mean I should believe that it isn’t odd ’cause I could say the same thing about that. I shouldn’t believe, I shouldn’t believe the total number is even. Because I don’t know you know. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t believe that it isn’t even. It’s an enormously different thing to say you shouldn’t believe P or there’s no good reason to believe P on one hand and not P on the other hand.
Man: Can I have a followup or?
Sure. What if the situation is like the, and forgive me if my history of science is off or whatnot. Like the debate between the Aristotelians and the Newtonians. Where the Aristotelians wanted to advocate some kind of teleological force in things. So apples fall because they want to be on the ground or something. And Newtonians come and said no you can explain this in terms of inertia and mass and so forth. You don’t need to suppose that there is a you know, some kind of teleological force in things. Would that comparison be relevant? That sure, I mean it could be that there is some teleological force and we just you know, we, it’s more complicated than we initially thought or something but, but. The Aristotelians could make that response but it seems like that might be a stretch. That might violate Occam’s Razor or something. It’s just more elegant to suppose that there is no.
Well consider Occam’s Razor. Not Roccam’s Azor but Occam’s Razor. It says you shouldn’t multiply hypotheses beyond necessity. So it’s really a warning about accepting certain things right? So what Occam’s Razor should tell us then in this context if there is no evidence for design which of course is a contentious claim. If there is no evidence for design, Occam’s Razor perhaps should tell us, don’t believe that there is design. But it doesn’t tell us, believe that there isn’t design. That’s going beyond, that’s also something that should be cut out by Occam’s Razor right? If you’re not gonna believe things beyond necessity here, beyond your evidence so to speak. Then right, you shouldn’t believe that the universe is designed but you also shouldn’t believe that it isn’t designed. So I think the big thing to see here in this particular context is something that people don’t always see. Mainly the gigantic difference between saying that you shouldn’t believe P or there’s no evidence for P on the one hand. Or science doesn’t say P on the one hand and on the other hand saying not P. Or science says not P, right.
Okay. At the stand.
Hi Dr. Plantinga. Thank you so much for coming here. You’re a blessing for us to be here, to hear the meeting. And as a Christian who tries to integrate what we can learn from nature and Scripture, I’m wondering if you might a few calls on Genesis, 2:7 says and the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And man became a living being. And that could maybe think about that and I could think well through you know, there might be room within that verse to talk about a process. But I’m given to think in just sort of a natural sense of reading it when it says his nostrils, the breath of life that that indicates possession. So it actually would be say God forming dust and then breathing into it. And that might exclude some of the space we might wanna talk about that would allow for a process, a long process after which man might come to that and as Christians we wanna look to Genesis and use it to form patterns for our thinking. We do that with ethical considerations or gender considerations et cetera. And so, might you comment a little bit about how we read the text in consideration of your viewpoint.
Right, [coughs] of course the big question here is how to read early Genesis right Now I’ve been talking about mere Christianity and mere Christianity doesn’t tell us the answer to those questions. I mean you’ve got the story of the Garden of Eden, you’ve got a talking snake and you’ve got a, well you’ve got a garden. You’ve got a tree that Adam and Eve are told not to eat the fruit of and other trees that they’re allowed to. How much of, how should we read that whole discourse? What’s the right model for that discourse? Should we think of that as sober history, the way we think of what comes later, starting maybe with the 11th chapter and Abraham and so on. Abraham was called by God to go from Ur of the Chaldees to somewhere else and the like. It’s pretty clear there that, that kind of, that that kind of writing is supposed to be understood as history. There are also on the other hand, there are parables that Jesus tells where clearly the details of the parables are not to be understood in that way. So for example the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Lazarus is in hell, the rich man is, I’m sorry, in heaven. The rich man is in hell and they are hollering back and forth between heaven and hell. Well, I mean I don’t think that parable is designed to teach us that sort of thing. That it’s actually possible to holler back and forth between heaven and hell. So the question is how do we understand early Genesis and Christians have thought about that for centuries.
As I say Augustine and many of the early church fathers thought about these things at some length and it’s just not part of mere Christianity to say one way, to think about it one way as opposed to others. So I mean it’s clear, much of what’s being taught is clear. Namely God created us human beings and human beings have fallen in some way into this dreadful condition from which they need salvation and then later on in the Bible, the way of salvation is made clearer. But it’s not, but it’s not clear that those parts of the story, there being a snake for example. Or God forming human, forming a man out of the dust of the earth, it’s not clear that that’s to be taken that way. It’s not clear that what’s meant there was really was dust you know. Maybe not loam and maybe not clay but dust.
And God somehow took this dust and made a human being out of it and then breathed the breath of life into this human being’s mouth. It’s not clear that that’s the way it’s to be understood. And I’m not myself here proposing one way of understanding it as opposed to another though I’m inclined not to take all those parts literally. I’m not proposing that one way or the other. All I’m really saying is, I’m talking about mere Christianity and the question which way to take the first couple of chapters there isn’t settled, isn’t part of mere Christianity.
Okay well we’ve got time for one or two more.
Man: Dr. Plantinga, it just if you had a room with 100 of the most brilliant philosophers in the world, studied, intelligent and 50 of them are theists and 50 of them are not theists and they all have brilliant minds and brilliant arguments for why they’re a theist and why they’re not a theist. From your experience and from your ruminations, do you see some reason why some brilliant people fall on the side of theism and others just as brilliant come out on the side of non-theistic?
No, I don’t really know what the answer to that is. I mean it’s like asking why is it that there are lots of Christians in this country, in the United States. Say California, why is it that lots of people are Christians and others aren’t? Apart from what you might think about the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, coming to some of them and not to others. Or apart from, it’s coming to all of them but some rejecting it and not others. Apart from that I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t know what the explanation is. But I think the point here is that being a Christian or not being a Christian is not intimately connected with how smart you are. You got all these smart philosophers and they’ve got all these arguments and so on. It’s not by virtue of arguments typically. So I would say that a person is a Christian or isn’t one in the first place. It’s something that lies deeper in some way than argument. It’s, it’s not that well you’ve got all these, you look around the world and you say, yeah, it looks very much like there is such a person as God so I believe that. And you look around some more and you say, well there’s this book that comes from ancient times and yeah, I guess there probably is such a person as God and furthermore, the rest of the Christian story is true. It’s not by virtue of anything like that at all. As far as what it feels like from the inside, it’s more like it just seems right. You know if you say to me why do you believe that Jesus is in fact the Savior of mankind, why do you believe the main lines of the Christian story? I can’t come up with any good arguments really. Some people think they can and maybe some people can but I can’t. And it’s not because of any such argument that I believe it. It just seems right. When I think about it, when I read the Bible, when I pray. These things seem right and, that’s really all I can say from the inside as to why it is that I would accept them.
Tom: Okay, how about last question from the gentleman at the mic?
Hi, I also have a question on the first section of the lecture. You have argued that evolution is compatible with mere Christianity and I tend to agree with that but where I struggle with is it seems like a tenet of mere Christianity would be that the evil in the world and the pain and the suffering in the world stems from sin. And so it seems to me like the story of evolution involves you know, hundreds and millions of years of you know this brutal cycle of competition and pain and death. And I just struggle reconciling that with you know, the image of the world being fallen and then being restored to the time when the lion and the lamb were laid down and that’ll be like you know, how creation was intended. So I just wondered if you, if you had any thoughts on that question?
Well I think that’s a really good question to which I don’t know a really good answer. One answer that, so the suggestion is well death has come into the world by virtue of human sin. Human sin, but the evolutionary story tells us that there was death in the world before there were human beings. Long before there were human beings. There was death and there was predation and there was animal suffering and the like. When you look at the whole world, the whole history of the world, it looks sort of like the Parable of the Terrors that Jesus tells and it looks like a really good thing that’s been spoiled by an enemy. But many of that, your question is, well then how could all that death be due to human beings when, when it happened long before there were human beings. Now William Dempski proposes the following, I don’t know what you think about it. Sounds a bit far fetched to me. He said it is really by virtue of human sin that there was death in the world before there were human beings because God knew in advance how human beings were going to behave and for whatever connection he saw or made between human sin and the death and predation in the natural world, he just instituted that a long time before it actually happened. He knew it was going to happen. So he behaved accordingly. That’s one possibility. Another possibility is that it’s by virtue of sin but not by virtue of human sin that our world has been corrupted. Our natural world, going back to before there were human beings. C.S. Lewis proposes what seems to me to be a perfectly sensible idea though one that in many quarters is greeted with sort of angry ridicule. Namely that long before human beings fell, Satan and his cohorts fell and God allowed them a substantial part in the whole history of our part of the world, of our earth. He suggests, C.S. Lewis does, that that’s the way it is on Earth but maybe not on Perlandria for example or some other, some other planet. Other part of the world but in any event that seems to me to be a more sensible suggestion than Dempski’s but both seem to me to be at least possible.
Tom: Okay well that is all the time we have. So please join me in thanking our speaker. [audience applauds]
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