Natural Enemies?

'Where the Conflict Really Lies'

Where the Conflict Really Lies
Science, Religion, and Naturalism
Alvin Plantinga
Oxford University Press, $27.95, 376 pp.

The scientific discoveries of the past four centuries are the most significant intellectual achievement in human history. We have come to understand the deep structure of the universe, and used this understanding to improve the quality of human life in previously unthinkable ways. Moreover, we have eliminated the need for supernatural explanations of natural phenomena, and shown that many of the miracles postulated by past generations are incompatible with the laws that govern the physical universe. After the arrival of science, the only place for religion is in the minds of the simple-minded.

So goes a popular story about science and religion, which seems to leave the would-be believer forced to choose between two options. The first is to adopt a position of hostility toward science, or at least those portions of scientific knowledge that threaten religious belief most directly. The second is to conclude that, since science isn’t about to go away, then any religion that remains must be mostly insubstantial, shorn of commitment to a personal God who intervenes in the course of history. Either way, the consequences of the science-religion dialectic are generally thought to be zero-sum, always favoring one side at the expense of the other. Different people choose differently, but everybody has to choose.

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About the Author

John Schwenkler is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.