Curious about Plantinga's book "Where the Conflict Really Lies"

Has anyone here read or have thoughts on Alvin Plantinga’s book “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism”? Plantinga argues that the alleged gap between science and religion is greatly overstated, and instead makes the case that the larger gap is between science and (metaphysical) naturalism. For some, that is a feisty proposition, but my thoughts already lean in this direction. If you’ve read it, did you like the book, is it worthwhile, or is it aimed more at someone who is convinced science and theology are at odds? Does it get much into the related question of methodological naturalism? Thanks! :slight_smile:


Great to see you here @LTBaxter. Before I dive in, I thought you might want to see this relevant exchange first.


The contention is between those who say "science’ proves genesis wrong or God non existent or the evidence of God is not in nature.
yes there is a great fight about truth and proof.

I read it back in 2012 (and didn’t review it online, so rely on memory).

He does indeed show the non-conflict of religion and science, for example showing that science has no grounds for denying the possibility of miracles.

More significantly, he demonstrates that materialism is actually a very weak foundation for science, including as one instance a tightly worked analytical version of the argument that naturalistic evolution would be extremely unlikely to produce a mind capable of giving true answers to scientific questions.

A good read, if at times couched in analytic philosophy speak.

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Hey! Right on!

It was actually my confronting the irrelevance of consciousness that forced me to acceot the cosmic source of all awareness: God!

Thanks for the feedback, all. I will keep it on my wishlist rather than rush out to get it or to remove it. I don’t speak analytic philosophy :slight_smile:

I must admit that as I have started to rub shoulders often with philosophers I’ve been surprised at how vehemently they insist that the definition of science is a philosophical question up to them to answer or how harshly some of them condemn MN. Both of these convictions tend to get a major eyeroll from my scientific colleagues.

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I know you work with some of them too!

@LTBaxter what do you think drives this? I can’t think of a parallel, where one field just up and decides to claim total authority over another in this way. Is this just their ID bias coming through?

@Philosurfer had some helpful insight from me. Apparently this is just on sect of philosophy, with strong ties to Plantinga and others, and they are not deeply engaged outside their camp. There is a larger discussion I’ve seen unfolded between philosophers and scientists that has been more productive, and less contentious.

I really can’t give a good rationale. But I’ll share how Wikipedia explains it at the top of their entry on Philosophy of Science –

“Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science.” (emphasis mine)

The definition of what is or is not science is called the demarcation problem, and since it involves epistemology and questions about science, it is a problem that cannot be answered by science. (This is the rationale I have been told several times.) Seems to me more of a question for the practioners and experts in science to decide as it is their methods after all :slight_smile:

Of course, they don’t just intervene with the broad category of science. There are researchers in the field of Philosophy of Medicine, Philosophy of Psychology, and Philosophy of Physics where they grapple with the metaphysics of cosmology and the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

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From my point of view, as a scientist, I find this rationale absurd. I understand you are not making it, but perhaps we make some progress by parsing out precisely why it is absurd.

Who writes the definitions of philosophy? Philosophers. So here, we see philosophers appealing to a philosopher’s definition of philosophy so to have authority to overrule what scientists think about science. This is just absurd.

Perhaps we should create new scientific field which studies philosophers. This “science of philosophy” would concern itself with what qualifies as philosophy. So, therefore, when the demarcation problem arises in philosophy, we should know it is problem that cannot be answered by philosophers. The scientists, therefore, are really required to make sense of what is and isn’t philosophy.

Absurd right? That is the argument.

I think a better approach might be to understand both philosophy and science as different communities of discourse. Each has different scopes, histories, language, methodology, and more. They have autonomy to define their own community how they like, and constructive dialogue requires respecting those boundaries and this autonomy. We don’t have agree with other fields, but we can’t just declare our selves rulers of other community we are not actually a part of.

A discourse community is a group of people who share a set of discourses, understood as basic values and assumptions, and ways of communicating about those goals. Linguist John Swales defined discourse communities as “groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals”.[1]

A discourse community:

  1. has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.
  2. has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
  3. uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.
  4. utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
  5. in addition to owning genres, it has acquired some specific lexis.
  6. has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.

James Porter defined the discourse community as: “a local and temporary constraining system, defined by a body of texts (or more generally, practices) that are unified by a common focus. A discourse community is a textual system with stated and unstated conventions, a vital history, mechanisms for wielding power, institutional hierarchies, vested interests, and so on.”[2]

This definition comes from sociologists and seems to be very helpful.

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