Alvin Plantinga’s EAAN: Part 1

Alvin Plantinga, who is considered by some to be the world’s greatest living Christian philosopher, has formulated over the years an argument which I think is not only unique, but quite a tour de force if it stands, in other words, if its premises can be defended as true.  It has been dubbed “The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism,” or EAAN for short.  Plantinga published what he claims is (hopefully) his final version of the argument, again, after several revisions over the years, in his book from 2011 “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism.”1 What I hope to achieve in this series is give  sort of introduction to the argument in this first installment, then in subsequent articles lay out and examine the argument itself by looking at a defense of its premises to see if they are more plausible than their negation. The bulk of the material will come from the book already mentioned above as it is the primary source, but I will pull from other resources as needed through the course of the discussion.

What really caught my attention with this argument is what it claims about naturalism and evolution taken together and the prerequisite discussion about science and religion. As a prerequisite, Plantinga tackles the issue of the alleged conflict between science and religion. He offers the following statement:

“There is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.”2

Plantinga here affirms that while it may seem as though there is conflict between science and religion, that at a deeper level they actually support one another and are a great fit for one another. However, science and a worldview known as naturalism, do not fit together at all even though it is widely assumed that they do.  So science and naturalism seem on the surface to work together but there is actually much discord once we dig deeper and that they are a very bad fit for one another.

What I really found valuable is Plantinga’s thoughts on naturalism and looking at it as what he calls a “quasi-religion.” His discussion is found on page 311 of Where the Conflict Really Lies.  He says that the definition of religion is just fuzzy enough around the edges to where we may or may not consider naturalism a religion, but because it seeks to answer some of life’s big questions, that it certainly plays the role of a religion.

Plantinga offers that “naturalism does serve one of the main functions of a religion: it offers a master narrative, it answers deep and important human questions.  Immanuel Kant identified three great human questions: Is there such a person as God? Do we human beings have significant freedom?  And can we human beings expect life after death? Naturalism gives answers to these questions: there is no God, there is no immortality and the case for genuine freedom is at best dicey. Naturalism tells us what reality is ultimately like, where we fit into the universe, how we are related to other creatures, and how it happens that we came to be.  Naturalism is therefore in conflict with the great theistic religions: even if it is not itself a religion, it plays one of the main roles of religion.  Suppose we call it a ‘quasi-religion.'”3

As I was reading this section it dawned on me the commitment people seemingly have to this philosophical view, and it is no wonder they do not let go of it easily, namely because it is very similar to a religion in that sense.  Many naturalists seem to hold on to it with a religious fervor.  I think Plantinga’s observations are correct here.

It is important to note that Plantinga is not offering an argument to show that evolution is false.  He also is not arguing for the falsity of naturalism (even though he does think it is false).  What Plantinga argues for is that the intersection of the two together makes for a defeater that would deem it irrational to believe in them both.  So one could hold to evolution or to naturalism, but believing both of them simultaneously would be irrational.

Plantinga states,

“My quarrel is certainly not with the scientific theory of evolution.  Nor is it an argument for the conclusion that unguided evolution could not produce creatures with reliable belief-producing faculties; I very much doubt that it could, but that it couldn’t is neither a premise nor the conclusion of my argument. Still further, my argument will not be for the conclusion that naturalism is false, although of course I believe that it is.”4

He goes on to tell us what he is actually arguing for,

“What I will argue is that naturalism is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. And the conflict in question is not that they can’t both be true (the conflict is not that there is a contradiction between them); it is rather that one can’t sensibly accept them both.”5

He continues,

“If my argument is cogent, it follows that there is deep and serious conflict between naturalism and evolution, and hence deep conflict between naturalism and science.”6

I hope this wets your appetite to jump in and examine this argument, because this has major consequences if it holds, as almost all naturalists are Darwinian evolutionists, and if true, then those two beliefs aren’t able to be rationally sustained in combination!  Stay tuned in the weeks ahead as we are introduced to  Plantinga’s argument itself and then we will test the truth of its premises!

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