In honor of the Plantinga article in the NYT today, I'm republishing a post I wrote when he visited SMU last year (2/4/10). I think the talk covered some of the same ground as his new book.
No, God didn't talk at SMU yesterday, but Alvin Plantinga did. He gave a talk called "Science and Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies."
From that title, you'd expect to hear Plantinga concede some tension between science and religion, right? But no. Surprise, surprise, the "religion" that conflicts with science isn't religion--like Christianity, for example. It's naturalism. Christianity is compatible with evolution; naturalism is incompatible with rationally accepting evolution. So: things are not at all what they seem.
A quick observation, before I go on. I don't think Professor Plantinga likes Professor Dawkins very much. Early in the talk, he called The God Delusion "an uninformed screed" and a very bad book (or something to that effect). Quick theory: Dawkins drives people crazy because he makes it look so easy (and so fun) to attack theism. If only he would huff and puff a little more, and admit to being intimidated by the depths of contemporary theology. But no: he treats it as simple-minded nonsense.
Moving right along. Christians have to think that God created humans "in his image," and so can't go along with unguided evolution--Plantinga argued. But why must unguidedness be seen as essential to the theory of evolution? Christians can accept all the main tenets of the theory of evolution, just so long as you don't think unguidedness is one of them (he argued).
About God guiding evolution. I can see why "people of the book" will insist on God having a hand in creating humans, but if you grant him general guidance over the evolution of species, you wind up with a god who both wanted there to be creatures like himself (in some sense), and wanted there to be 380,000 species of beetles. What was that all about?
Anyhow--the major fireworks in the talk were in the final section, where naturalism was revealed to be incompatible with rationally accepting evolution. Note: not incompatible with evolution, but with rationally accepting evolution.
This is an argument Plantinga has made in many places over a long time, and I'm not an expert on it. But this is the idea, in a small nutshell, stripped of technicalities--
Suppose you believe in naturalism (no God, no spooky objects, the laws of nature, etc) and (unguided) evolution. Then you've got to think your own brain is the outcome of natural selection and nothing more. In that's the case, then it's quite possible that your brain is not a very reliable generator of beliefs. Your brain does keep you from falling into ditches, starving to death, and the like, but it could simultaneously be misleading you quite horrendously about reality.
Got that? If you do, then you're going to find yourself with much reduced confidence in your beliefs. In fact, you're going to find yourself without much confidence in naturalism and (unguided) evolution. So there's your conflict between religion and science. Add naturalism (which is a religion) to evolution (the unguided type). Shake. Drink slowly. Find yourself no longer confident of anything, including evolution.
I won't spoil your fun by telling you how I think this argument goes wrong. I'm too busy wondering why God guided evolution toward 380,000 species of beetles.