This is the second part of my critique of Alvin Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies”.
I will cover Chapter 2, in which Plantinga attempts to answer some arguments from Daniel Dennett, Paul Draper, and Philip Kitcher.
The author states that natural selection doesn’t prove that evolution was unguided, in response to an argument from Dennett. Again, Plantinga hasn’t spilled enough ink yet in this book on natural selection for me to believe he really gets what natural selection actually is. Later in the chapter he claims that natural selection does not “cut” against theism. I think it is important, for the thoroughness of my response, make clear what natural selection actually is, in comparison that what the author thinks it is.
Natural selection is simply this, that individuals that are best adapted to their environment, as measured by the metric of physical survival rates, get to pass on their specific traits. Not only is natural selection “natural” in the sense that the forces of nature make the selection, but it is natural in that the natural qualities of an organism, to be successful in this game, must be most advantageous in relation to the environment.
To claim that natural selection operates on any other basis than physical survival rates entails the requirement that not only must the organism be specially guided to a certain form, but that the environment around the organism be guided to a complementary form that ensures the survival of the divinely customized organism in question. God intervening in natural selection results in a “butterfly effect” on such a scale as to require that god to intervene in virtually EVERY element of the physical universe.
The above suggests an additional interesting argument against theistic evolution. Given that god would be required to superintend nearly every aspect of evolution, wouldn’t god find it easier to simply create it all, ex nihilo, literal Genesis 1 style? Why would god choose the former?
Suffice it to say that any natural selection, both in its etymology and its full definition, exclude “super”-natural mechanisms. It’s not divine-selection, hybrid-selection, or any other type of selection than natural selection. Plantinga just isn’t providing a strong argument for any other understanding of natural selection.
Also, where is the physical evidence that god intervened in natural selection? How do we detect such interventions? So then I can say, that unguided evolution proceeding by natural laws that we can observe today, is as legitimate of an explanation and likely more, then guided evolution proceeding by a divine hand we cannot detect in physical phenomena.
If science isn’t paying attention to the possibility of guided evolution it is because the proposed “force” cannot be identified and observed as a physical manifestation, like various laws and other natural processes.
Plantinga makes a huge assumption by assuming that god, if he existed, would even care about the development and creation of the world. What if our universe is nothing more than an untended splotch of mold or fungi in god’s backyard. If god took the time to pay attention he would perhaps be likely to wipe us out entirely. That is all to say that god and unguided evolution can go together very well.
As a matter of fact, the Epicureans of old believed just this: an uninvolved god, and a universe that organized itself into being. Why can’t we take that route?
So the author ignores deism, probably because it cuts his necessary ties between god and evolution, which he uses to argue for guided evolution.
And yet, he answers the argument against religion from pluralism by resorting to generic spirituality. In his reply to Kitcher, Plantinga notices the argument that the existence of many religions is argument against them all. It’s the same argument that is made in reply to Pascal’s wager, the concept that you ought to believe in god to avoid the chance of going to hell. It’s all well and good until you ask the question of WHICH religion offers true salvation.
The counter-response is generic theism: you just need to believe in “A” god or have some sort of spirituality. Plantinga makes sort of the same argument, that some sort of spirituality is a reality in spite of differences in religion.
But as soon as you run from the force of the pluralism argument by resorting to generic spirituality, you are left with a meaningless god. As soon as you start making claims about how god intervenes in our universe and relates to man you start making religious claims that are at variance with other religions. And so then you are forced back into the pluralism argument. But if you don’t make any claims about how god works, of what use is god, since we can’t claim to know anything useful about him? All theists have a religion, whether it is organized or not.
Plantinga’s tunnel-vision about what god must be also means he doesn’t consider polytheism. It is an interesting thought to consider how polytheistic evolution might work.
What about pantheism? Perhaps the elemental gods of the universe organized themselves through evolution into physical forms we know today.
In fact, the creation legends from around the world involve very many different conceptions of god.
Why in the world would science want to get mixed up in all of this?
The author also creates a sharp divide between mind and matter without justification. He appeals to the difficulty in understanding how mindful life can arise from non-mindful life quite often. But why is it so difficult? What if the mind is simply the result of organized neurological phenomena in the brain? What if natural selection favored the beings who had the best capability of organizing this neurological phenomena and so brought into existence a more advanced brain state that we now call the mind?
Isn’t it nothing less than the disintegration of this organization that is responsible for mental disorder? We generally treat mental disorder through a combination of cognitive therapy (reorganization of thinking) and psychiatric medications (reorganization of neurological phenomena). As a matter of fact, many Christians distrust psychology and psychiatry as so much psycho-babble because it directly contradicts the traditional Christian thinking that it is sin that plagues the soul and spirit. A whole cottage industry of nouthetic counseling exists as an alternative for these kinds of people.
If people think Darwin started something dangerous to Christianity, they haven’t seen anything until they’ve truly considered what Freud started.
(Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer argued, what if the mind and body are simply different ends of the continuum of human will?)
His answer to Dennett is two fold. First, that merely arguing the possibility of something doesn’t rule out the alternative (same issue as with Dawkins). Second, that Dennett’s attempt to claim that god does not exist, fails. I’ll simply say that his problem with the possibility argument of both Dawkins and Dennett rests in his low estimation of the probability of a Darwinian chain of descent under unguided natural selection, and his low estimation is based on his misunderstanding of the relationship of natural selection and deep time. With a proper understanding of these, the probability of unguided natural selection is much more compelling than Plantinga allows. Nor do we need to disprove god to argue against guided natural selection. We simply need to show that god’s character and purposes are not necessarily compatible with the idea.
We’ll look at these things in chapter 8 where he picks up his arguments against Dawkins and Dennett again.
Plantinga spends some time arguing that faith and reason can coexist. Supposedly, he would not propose that faith should contradict reason. However regarding evolution, the problem is one of simplicity. Evolution can be explained without god, so why add god? If reason alone provides a coherent explanation for something, why add anything else? If I ordered lunch at a restaurant, I could suppose that god superintended its preparation, to ensure that everything was made a certain way and ended up a certain way on my plate. Usually, however, I take the view that the characteristics of my meal are simply the product of human effort and skill.
The author argues that belief, with no support from reason, is rational. The reason he gives is that the components of human reason (intuition, memory, and perception) are not required to prove each other before we can accept them. The problem with that argument is that intuition, memory, and perception are all based on physical experience. We argue that the belief in little green men that hide in the refrigerator and disappear when you open the door is irrational, because there is no way to observe it. We criticize many ideas as conspiracy theories because of the claim that an unobserved person or group is guiding world events and calling the shots. In the same vein, if you propose something by faith, there is no requirement to accept it if it is not backed up by observation. Reason takes observation and extends it to logical conclusions that can be reached only with what is given by physical experience. Anyone who has been made to construct proofs in geometry will understand this process.