Thursday, April 20, 2017

Critique of Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies, Ch. 5

In Chapter 5, Plantinga discusses the theories of evolutionary psychology and higher biblical criticism and how they relate to the truthfulness of Christianity. He concludes that on some levels both of these leave room for Christianity, on other levels they do seem to contradict Christianity. The author promises to address the import of these contradictions in the next chapter.

This chapter was mainly a quick review of the two fields versus Christian theism. I feel like he treated them fairly enough. However I think there are some important critiques to make.

One of the questions Plantinga asks early in the chapter is, how can it be that intellectual pursuits, such as philosophy and the sciences, aid in evolution? What place do these have in evolutionary adaptation? I might answer that these are phenomenon of the emergence of self-awareness. Primitive self-awareness traits could protect against predators while advanced self-awareness would compel a scientific understanding of the world giving rise to adaptive advances such as medicine.

I think the concept of religion as existential justification is very important and deserved more time in this chapter. Again, the development of self-awareness naturally gives rise to other intellectual pursuits, involving existential questions which give rise to religion and philosophy. The author’s take here is basically the notion of a “god-shaped hole,” which god allowed to come into existence by guiding evolution in the way that he did. But is this so? Did god really create man in his image? Or did man create god in his image?

Of course, as he points out, a natural origin for religion does not, specifically, falsify religion. We are really saying nothing here, either way. However, which is simpler to accept: religion as a purely utilitarian construct, or an elaborate god-shaped hole designed into man through evolution guided by god. You only strive for the latter if you really must defend theism for some reason. Most of the time, though, people go for the simple explanation, the one that we can better understand and explain by means of the available evidence. That’s science.

In any case, any defense of theism in the face of evolutionary psychology begs all the same questions that were “begged” back in Chapter 2: what version of god are we defending: monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, deism? And of course these questions feed back into the argument from pluralism against religion; namely, that the rise of religion among mankind has taken many very different forms, which argues against their factualness. The argument from pluralism actually makes a very strong case for evolutionary psychology against religion. And let’s not forget that the attempt to evade that argument by appeal to generic spirituality makes god meaningless.

So how do we know that the god-shaped hole is supposed to look like it does? Because Christianity says so? Isn’t it easier to subscribe to a utilitarian viewpoint?

How will Plantinga handle the emergence of atheism and agnosticism? Will he admit these are evolutionary adaptations beyond religion? Why shouldn’t they be? Can he defend the god-shaped hole as the terminus of the evolution of religious thought? Will he really chalk up atheism and agnosticism to mistakes of the intellect while arguing that the evolutionary rise of religion is not merely a useful mental deceit?

In the last portion of the chapter he focuses on higher biblical criticism and the contention that much of what is recorded in the bible isn’t necessarily a historical certainty. I just find it a bit interesting that the science of higher criticism would come into question but the science on lower criticism doesn’t. The advent of modern lower textual criticism, specifically since Westcott and Hort, has resulted in a text that is not as full as the text-types that predominated the church for 1500 years. Which is to say that Plantinga’s bible (he quotes from the 1984 NIV, which is based on the UBS 1st and 2nd editions which are modern critical texts) is quite literally missing scripture. At least what the church considered scripture for a very, very, long time. But he is willing to accept the pronouncement of “science” that the “authentic” text was not available to the majority of god’s people for the majority of the Christian era. Yet he presumably posits a “plenary” inspiration that seems rather confusing in light of such a conclusion.

There are a vocal minority of Christians that understand this problem and won’t use any of the modern translations based on modern critical texts. An interesting fact is that there is significant overlap between this community and young-earth creationists. These are people call science into question with amazing consistency.

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