Science and religion: are they compatible? by wppalmer []
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Science and religion : are they compatible?

by D C Dennett; Alvin Plantinga

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Science and religion: are they compatible?   (2015-04-15)

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by wppalmer

Review of Science and religion: are they compatible? by Daniel C, Dennett, D. C. & Alvin Plantinga.

CITATION: Dennett, D. C. & Plantinga, A.(2011). Science and religion: are they compatible? (Point/Counterpoint series). New York: Oxford University Press.

Comments: Dr W. P. Palmer.

The book is just 82 page long and is a debate between two well-known scholars (philosophers) on whether science and religion are compatible. The arguments are those which were presented in a debate at the 2009 American Philosophical Association Central Division Conference. In the debate, Alvin Plantinga makes the case that science and religion are compatible whilst Daniel C. Dennett, as an atheist, puts the case for incompatibility. However the argument soon shifts with both Plantinga and Dennett accepting that science and religion are compatible, but with Dennett considering the probability of compatibility to be very low.

The starting arguments relate to evolution. Most readers want an answer to the question ‘Does holding a standard scientific view of evolution (if there is one) logically conflict with holding a religious (Christian) belief?’ Plantinga does make the point that he considers that there are three main evolutionary arguments against religion (page 7). These are (i) that the concept of evolution can replace the concept of a designer (ii) that evolution is a process that is so wasteful and cruel that it is not one that a loving God would use and (iii) that the concept of unguided evolution is more probable than guided evolution as unguided evolution is a simpler explanation (Ockham’s Razor). Having stated the evolutionary arguments against religion, Plantinga then goes on to counter each of these arguments in turn. Different readers will evaluate the validity of the counter-arguments differently. My own view that he did not present a good enough case opposing the second evolutionary argument against religion. He does, however, make the good general point that academic argument is unlikely to convince anyone of the truth of religion.

Dennett then had his turn to argue against the existence of God. He gives away what might have been expected to be a strong line of defence and agrees that ‘contemporary evolutionary theory is compatible with theistic belief’ (p. 26), but then chips away at the argument by exploring definitions. Dennett uses less space in the book than Plantinga. Each of them has a second chance to improve on their arguments with a final chapter each, but in the end, unsurprisingly neither argument defeats the other. After reading this book, Christians will remain Christians and atheists will remain atheists. I was not convinced that either side deployed the most cogent arguments to support their case.


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