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Alvin Plantinga  (b. 1932)  Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame  Web  Amazon  GBS  AV

Now it would be excessively naive to think that contemporary science is religiously and theologically neutral, standing serenely above this battle and wholly irrelevant to it. Perhaps parts of science are like that: mathematics, for example, and perhaps physics, or parts of physics -- although even in these areas there are connections. Other parts are obviously and deeply involved in this battle, and the closer the science in question is to what is distinctively human, the deeper the involvement.    Where Faith and Reason Clash  February 22, 1991  p.15

Since I have dealt with this example elsewhere (in the essays referred to in footnote 3) I can be brief here. Consider the Grand Evolutionary Myth (GEM). According to this story, organic life somehow arose from non-living matter by way of purely natural means and by virtue of the workings of the fundamental regularities of physics and chemistry. Once life began, all the vast profusion of contemporary flora and fauna arose from those early ancestors by way of common descent. The enormous contemporary variety of life arose, basically, through natural selection operating on such sources of genetic variability as random genetic mutation, genetic drift and the like. I call this story a myth not because I do not believe it (although I do not believe it) but because it plays a certain kind of quasi-religious role in contemporary culture. It is a shared way of understanding ourselves at the deep level of religion, a deep interpretation of ourselves to ourselves, a way of telling us why we are here, where we come from, and where we are going.

Now it is certainly possible--epistemically possible, anyway--that GEM is true; it certainly seems that God could have done things in this way. Certain parts of this story, however, are, to say the least, epistemically shaky. For example, we hardly have so much as decent hints as to how life could have arisen from inorganic matter just by way of the regularities known to physics and chemistry. (Darwin found this question deeply troubling;at present the problem is enormously more difficult than it was in Darwin's day, now that some of the stunning complexity of even the simplest forms of life has been revealed). No doubt God could have done things that way if he had chosen to; but at present it looks as if he didn't choose to.

So suppose we separate off this thesis about the origin of life. Suppose we use the term 'evolution' to denote the much weaker claim that all contemporary forms of life are genealogically related. According to this claim, you and the flowers in your garden share common ancestors, though we may have to go back quite a ways to find them. Many contemporary experts and spokespersons--Francisco Ayala, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Gould, William Provine, and Philip Spieth, for example -- unite in declaring that evolution is no mere theory, but established fact. According to them, this story is not just a virtual certainty, but a real certainty. Now why do they think so? Given the spotty character of the evidence--for example, a fossil record displaying sudden appearance and subsequent stasis and few if any genuine examples of macroevolution, no satisfactory account of a mechanism by which the whole process could have happened, and the like -- these claims of certainty seem at best wildly excessive. The answer can be seen, I think, when we realize that what you properly think about these claims of certainty depends in part on how you think about theism. If you reject theism in favor of naturalism, this evolutionary story is the only game in town, the only visible answer to the question: Where did all this enormous variety of flora and fauna come from? How did it all get here? Even if the fossil record is at best spotty and at worst disconfirming, this story is the only answer on offer (from a naturalistic perspective) to these questions.     Methodological Naturalism? Part 1  Origins & Design  May  1997

Now, one reaction to these apparent enormous coincidences is to see them as substantiating the theistic claim that the universe has been created by a personal God and as offering the material for a properly restrained theistic argument. Another is to claim that none of this ought to be seen as requiring explanation: after all, no matter how things had been, it would have been exceedingly improbable that they be that way. Appropriately taken, that is perhaps right; but how is it relevant? We are playing poker; each time I deal I get four aces and one wild card; you get suspicious; I allay your suspicions by pointing out that my getting these cards each time I deal is no less probable than any other equally specific distribution over the relevant number of deals.     Methodological Naturalism? Part 1  Origins & Design  May  1997

Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.    "Darwin, Mind and Meaning"  November 17, 1997  p. 8

Suppose we oversimplify a bit and say that my behavior is a causal product just of my beliefs and desires. Then the problem is that clearly there will be any number of different patterns of belief and desire that would issue in the same action; and among those there will be many in which the beliefs are wildly false. Paul is a prehistoric hominid; the exigencies of survival call for him to display tiger-avoidance behavior. There will be many behaviors that are appropriate: fleeing, for example, or climbing a steep rock face, or crawling into a hole too small to admit the tiger, or leaping into a handy lake. Pick any such appropriately specific behavior B. Paul engages in B, we think, because, sensible fellow that he is, he has an aversion to being eaten and believes that B is a good means of thwarting the tiger's intentions.

But clearly this avoidance behavior could be a result of a thousand other belief-desire combinations: indefinitely many other belief-desire systems fit B equally well... Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely that the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief... Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it. Or perhaps the confuses running toward it with running away from it, believing of the action that is really running away from it, that it is running towards it; or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a regularly reoccurring illusion, and hoping to keep his weight down, has formed the resolution to run a mile at top speed whenever presented with such an illusion; or perhaps he thinks he is about to take part in a sixteen-hundred-meter race, wants to win, and believes the appearance of the tiger is the starting signal; or perhaps . . . . Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behavior where the beliefs are mostly false. Indeed, even if we fix desire, there will still be any number of systems of belief that will produce a given bit of behavior: perhaps Paul does not want to be eaten, but (a) thinks the best way to avoid being eaten it to run toward the tiger, and (b) mistakenly believes that he is running toward it when in fact he is running away.    The Analytic Theist  1998  p. 82-3   see also: Darwin

Ruse here proposes three properties that he says are by definition characteristic of any bit of science: that bit deals with things that (a) are repeatable, (b) are merely natural, and (c) are governed by natural law. But take repeatability, and consider this passage from the article by Andrei Linde referred to in footnote 32 (see O & D 18:1, p. 27). Speaking of the Big Bang, he says, "One might think it very difficult to extract useful and reliable information from the unique experiment carried out about 10,000,000,000 years ago. According to Linde, the Big Bang is unique and therefore, presumably, unrepeatable -- at any rate it might turn out to be unrepeatable. If so, would we be obliged to conclude that contemporary cosmological inquiries into the nature of the Big Bang and into the early development of the universe are not really part of science?     Methodological Naturalism? Part 2  Origins & Design  January  1998

It is hard to see how anything like a reasonably serious dispute about what is and isn't science could be settled just by appealing to a definition. One thinks this would work only if the original query were really a verbal question -- a question like: Is the English word 'science' properly applicable to a hypothesis that makes reference to God? But that wasn't the question. The question is instead: Could a hypothesis that makes reference to God be part of science? That question can't be answered just by citing a definition.     Methodological Naturalism? Part 2  January  1998 

But even if it were true by definition that a scientific hypothesis could involve no reference to God, nothing of much interest would follow. The Augustines and Kuypers of this world would then be obliged to concede that they had made a mistake: but the mistake would be no more than a verbal mistake. They would have to concede that they can't properly use the term 'science' in stating their view or asking their question; they would have to use some other term, such as 'sience' (pronounced like 'science'); the definition of 'sience' results from that of 'science' by deleting from the latter the clause proscribing hypotheses that include reference to God (i.e., by removing from the definition of 'science' Ruse seems to be endorsing, the clause according to which science deals only with what is natural). Their mistake would not be in what they proposed to say, but rather in how they proposed to say it.    Methodological Naturalism? Part 2  January  1998 

Of course the argument form 

If X were true, it would be inconvenient for science; therefore, X is false 

is at best moderately compelling. We aren’t just given that the Lord has arranged the universe for the comfort and convenience of the National Academy of Science. To think otherwise is to be like the drunk who insisted on looking for his lost car keys under the streetlight, on the grounds that the light was better there. (In fact it would go the drunk one better: it would be to insist that because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light.)     Warranted Christian Belief (2000) p. 406

If you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused -- as most of the world’s people believe -- you won’t be able to reach that truth scientifically.

Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with false conclusions.    Whether ID is Science  Science and Theology News  March 7  2006

Here there is much to say, but I'll say only a bit of it. First, suppose we land on an alien planet orbiting a distant star and discover machine-like objects that look and work just like tractors; our leader says "there must be intelligent beings on this planet who built those tractors." A first-year philosophy student on our expedition objects: "Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are." No doubt we'd tell him that a little learning is a dangerous thing and advise him to take the next rocket ship home and enroll in another philosophy course or two. For of course it is perfectly sensible, in that context, to explain the existence of those tractors in terms of intelligent life, even though (as we can concede for the moment) that intelligent life would have to be at least as complex as the tractors. The point is we aren't trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity, and we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general; we are only trying to explain one particular manifestation of it (those tractors). And (unless you are trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity) it is perfectly proper to explain one manifestation of organized complexity in terms of another. Similarly, in invoking God as the original creator of life, we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general, but only a particular kind of it, i.e., terrestrial life. So even if (contrary to fact, as I see it) God himself displays organized complexity, we would be perfectly sensible in explaining the existence of terrestrial life in terms of divine activity.    The Dawkins Confusion  Christianity Today  March 2007

Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God. Of course the same goes for any other view; on any view explanations come to an end. The materialist or physicalist, for example, doesn't have an explanation for the existence of elementary particles: they just are.     The Dawkins Confusion  Christianity Today  March 2007

Toward the end of the book, Dawkins endorses a certain limited skepticism. Since we have been cobbled together by (unguided) evolution, it is unlikely, he thinks, that our view of the world is overall accurate; natural selection is interested in adaptive behavior, not in true belief. But Dawkins fails to plumb the real depths of the skeptical implications of the view that we have come to be by way of unguided evolution. We can see this as follows. Like most naturalists, Dawkins is a materialist about human beings: human persons are material objects; they are not immaterial selves or souls or substances joined to a body, and they don't contain any immaterial substance as a part. From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?

From a theistic point of view, we'd expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge. But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope. The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he'd have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It's as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.     The Dawkins Confusion  Christianity Today  March 2007

The God Delusion ... that one seems to me not to be a very good book at all. I would say it's much more like an ignorant screed than a real contribution to that discussion, or as far as that goes, any other discussion.     Where the Conflict Really Lies  Feb 2 2012  20.00

John Polkinghorne  (b. 1930)  Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge  Web  Amazon  GBS  AV

Only in the media, and in the popular and polemical scientific writing, does there persist the myth of the light of pure scientific truth confronting the darkness of obscurantist religious error. Indeed, when one reads writers like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, one sees that nowadays the danger of a facile triumphalism is very much a problem for the secular academy rather than the Christian Church. 

You can't just stare at the world; you have to view it from a chosen point of view. Choosing the point of view involves an intellectual daring in betting that things might be this way. This means that in science, experiment and theory, fact and interpretation, are always mixed up with each other.    Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity  (2001)  p.5

Fundamental to the discussion to which both books are seeking to contribute is the relationship between faith and reason. Too often the two have been pitted against each other, as if they were in necessary contradiction. Religious faith is not a matter of the unquestioning acceptance of unmotivated belief, demanded of us by some overriding authority. Quite the contrary. Faith is a commitment to a form of motivated belief, differing only from scientific reason in the nature of the subject of that belief and the kind of motivations appropriate to it... No progress will be made in the debate about religious belief unless participants are prepared to recognize that the issue of truth is as important to religion as it is to science. Dawkins invokes Bertrand Russell’s parable of the teapot irrationally claimed to be in unobserved orbit in the solar system. Of course there are no grounds for belief in this piece of celestial crockery, but there are grounds offered for religious belief, though admittedly different people evaluate their persuasiveness differently. Religion does not have access to absolute proof of its beliefs but, on careful analysis, nor does science.    The truth in religion  October 30 2007

People who tell you that 'Science tells you everything you need to know about the world' or 'Science tells you that religion is all wrong' or 'Science tells you there is no God', those people aren't telling you scientific things. They are saying metaphysical things and they have to defend their positions from metaphysical reasons.     Expelled  April 18 2008  57.22


Pope Benedict XVI  (b.1927)  Web  GBS

A mere "first cause" which is effective only in nature and never reveals itself to humans, which abandons humans -- has to abandon them -- to a realm completely beyond its own sphere of influence, such a first cause is no longer God but a scientific hypothesis. On the other hand, a God who has nothing to do with the rationality of creation, but is effective only in the inner world of piety, is also no longer God; he becomes devoid of reality and ultimately meaningless.    In the Beginning (1990) p.85

Only if the Redeemer is also Creator can he really be Redeemer. That is why the question of what we do is decided by the ground of what we are. We can win the future only if we do not lose creation.    In the Beginning (1990) p.100

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.    Inaugural Address  April 24, 2005

From the Enlightenment on, science, at least in part, has applied itself to seeking an explanation of the world in which God would be unnecessary. And if this were so, he would also become unnecessary in our lives. But whenever the attempt seemed to be nearing success - inevitably it would become clear: something is missing from the equation! When God is subtracted, something doesn't add up for man, the world, the whole vast universe. So we end up with two alternatives. What came first? Creative Reason, the Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason. The latter, however, would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless. As Christians, we say: I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth -- I believe in the Creator Spirit. We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason.    Mass in Regensburg  September 12, 2006

To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).

To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos.     Universe Does Not Originate From Chaos  October 31 2008

Pope John Paul II  (1920 – 2005)  Web  GBS

Can science also benefit from this interchange? It would seem that it should. For science develops best when its concepts and conclusions are integrated into the broader human culture and its concerns for ultimate meaning and value. Scientists cannot, therefore, hold themselves entirely aloof from the sorts of issues dealt with by philosophers and theologians. By devoting to these issues something of the energy and care they give to their research in science, they can help others realize more fully the human potentialities of their discoveries. They can also come to appreciate for themselves that these discoveries cannot be a genuine substitute for knowledge of the truly ultimate. Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.    Letter to George Coyne  June 1, 1988

see also: Catholic Church  2  3

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