Philosophy Fridays Quotable: Alvin Plantinga, Evolution, and Open-Mindedness


Consider The Grand Evolutionary Myth (GEM). According to this story, organic life somehow arose from nonliving matter by way of purely natural means and by virtue of the workings of the fundamental regularities of physics and chemistry. Once life began, all the vast profusion of contemporary flora and fauna arose from those early ancestors by way of common descent. The enormous contemporary variety of life arose through such processes as natural selection operating on such sources of genetic variability as random genetic mutation, genetic drift and the like. I call this story a myth not because I do not believe it (although I do not believe it) but because it plays a certain kind of quasi-religious role in contemporary culture: it is a shared way of understanding ourselves at the deep level of religion, a deep interpretation of ourselves to ourselves, a way of telling us why we are here, where we come from, and where we are going.

Now it is certainly possible—epistemically possible, anyway, —that GEM is true; God could have done things in this way. Certain parts of this story, however, are to say the least epistemically shaky. For example, we hardly have so much as decent hints as to how life could have arisen from inorganic matter just by way of the regularities known to physics and chemistry. (Darwin found this question deeply troubling; at present the problem is vastly more difficult than it was in Darwin’s day, now that some of the stunning complexity of even the simplest forms of life has been revealed.) No doubt God could have done things that way if he had chosen to; but at present it looks as if he didn’t choose to.

So suppose we separate off this thesis about the origin of life. Suppose we use the term ‘evolution’ to denote the much weaker claim that all contemporary forms of life are genealogically related. According to this claim, you and the flowers in your garden share common ancestors, though we may have to go back quite a ways to find them. (So perhaps herbicide is a sort of fratricide.) Many contemporary experts and spokespersons—Francisco Ayala, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Gould, William Provine, and Philip Spieth, for example—unite in declaring that evolution is no mere theory, but established fact. According to them, this story is not just a virtual certainty, but a real certainty. This is as solid and firmly established, they say, as that the earth is round and revolves around the sun. (All of those I mentioned explicitly make the comparison with that astronomical fact.) Not only is it declared to be wholly certain; if you venture to suggest that it isn’t absolutely certain, if you raise doubts or call it into question, or are less than certain about it, you are likely to be howled down; you will probably be declared an ignorant fundamentalist obscurantist or worse. In fact, this isn’t merely probable ; you have already been so-called: in a recent review in the New York Times , Richard Dawkins, an Oxford biologist of impeccable credentials, claims that “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims nor to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” (Dawkins indulgently adds that “You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked, and ignorance is not a crime . . .”)

Now what is the source of these strident declarations of certainty, these animadversions on the character or sanity of those who think otherwise? Given the spotty character of the evidence—a fossil record displaying sudden appearance and subsequent stasis and few if any genuine examples of macroevolution—these claims of certainty seem at best wildly excessive. From a Christian perspective, evolution isn’t remotely as certain as all that. Take as evidence what the Christian knows as a Christian together with the scientific evidence—the fossil evidence, the experimental evidence, and the like: it is at best absurd exaggeration to say that, relative to that evidence, evolution is as certain as that the earth is round. The theist knows that God created the heavens and the earth and all that they contain; she knows, therefore, that in one way or another God has created all the vast diversity of contemporary plant and animal life. But of course she isn’t thereby committed to any particular way in which God did this. He could have done it by broadly evolutionary means; but on the other hand he could have done it in some totally different way. For example, he could have done it by directly creating certain kinds of creatures—human beings, or bacteria, or for that matter sparrows and houseflies—as many Christians over the centuries have thought. Alternatively, he could have done it the way Augustine suggests: by implanting, seeds, potentialities of various kinds in the world, so that the various kinds of creatures would later arise, although not by way of genealogical interrelatedness. Both of these suggestions are incompatible with the evolutionary story. And given theism and the evidence it is absurd to say that evolution (understood as above) is a rockribbed certainty, so that only a fool or a knave could reject it.

So why that insistence on certainty and the refusal to tolerate any dissent? The answer can be seen, I think, when we realize that what you properly think about these claims of certainty depends in part on how you think about theism. If you reject theism in favor of naturalism, this evolutionary story is the only visible answer to the question, “Where did all this enormous variety of flora and fauna come from? How did it get here?” Even if the fossil record is at best spotty and at worst disconfirming, even if there are anomalies of other sorts, this story is the only answer on offer (from a naturalistic perspective) to these questions; so objections will not be brooked.

A Christian, therefore, has a certain freedom denied her naturalist counterpart: she can follow the evidence where it leads.

On Christian Scholarship, Alvin Plantinga

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Spontaneous, Natural, Physical Resurrection

Oh the universe is full of amazing and wonderful things and very few subjects have been the source of more fiery debates than the topic of evolution. But in all the hubbub of debates about creation, or intelligent design, or cosmological origins one major facet of the Christian faith goes unnoticed: the explanation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Though the evidence for evolution is vast and far reaching and applied to origins, none of the same thinking has been weighed and married to this oft-neglected field.  If we as Christians are failing in our embracing evolutionary models in regard to Creation, we have been woefully neglectful in explaining the resurrection of Jesus Christ in terms of modern science.

In this post, I wish to posit a few possible reasons why the resurrection was not a miracle, but actually quite natural, spontaneous, and purely physical and why the Church must embrace this explanation to prepare for the future, especially in light of the overwhelming amount of data in support of biological evolution.

The proof I can offer is not as nebulous as it may seem. We Christians often supply a few proofs that the resurrection happened so we don’t have to belabor the point. He was seen among witnesses. His grave was indeed empty. His death was sure. And the actual resurrection accounts for the apostolic beliefs.

But this in no way implies that God couldn’t have used spontaneous and natural processes to ensure that this resurrection would happen. We must not allow magic or miracles to discredit the very reasonable faith that we Christians embrace!

First we have to admit that Jesus was fully man so he was limited by the knowledge of his day. He didn’t have a clue how he would live again or even if he would live again. He was under the impression that the “glory” was the process of dying (read the entire book of John) and then he cried about it when he was going to die. That’s not the reaction of a person who knew that they would die and come back.

Second, the disciples were surprised by the resurrection. They didn’t have a clue he would do what he did and that would only make sense if it was in fact spontaneous and natural.

Third, we have perfectly good explanations for a physical, random, non-miraculous resurrection. For example, we know that there are an infinite amount of Earths. Given an infinite amount of Earths, there are an infinite amount of circumstances. Just like our Universe came into being because in an infinite number, the chances of something happening are sure to happen, then the chance of a person dying and coming back from the grave most definitely would happen. In fact, I’d bet in this infinite series of worlds, there’s a good chance that each of us get our chance at resurrecting randomly.

Even if we didn’t posit infinite Christs, we can posit infinite physical universes where the laws of death and life are different.  With science firmly in our grip we can conclude that God used processes—like an infinite multiverse or infinite Christs—to arrive at a natural, spontaneous , physical and non-miraculous resurrection from the dead.

We haven’t even looked at Quantum particles which can be in two quantum states at the same time until observed. So Christ, while observed, w as in an alive state (a binary position of 1) and then he was in a two simultaneous states of dead and alive (0 and 1). If the quantum vacuum can bring something in from nothing, then the chance for Christ going from one binary state to a second one is infinitely possible. Heck, this could be a midichlorian process for all we know.

Fourth, we Christians need to stop being afraid of scientific explanations especially since Science is God’s hands. The very smart people (who incidentally are much smarter than us) have told us that the impossible is just that and if it’s physically possible it’s infinitely more probable than the impossible. We need to stop being unscientific, embrace the sciences which are also God’s revelation, his second Bible as it were, and teach that Christ’s resurrection was natural, spontaneous, physical even if ultimately belonging to God.

In conclusion, we must embrace this lest Science, and the world, moves on in their Copernican revolution leaving us behind mumbling about our magical myths. If we truly want to engage the world and not be relegated to a position of non-importance, we must employ robust scientific thinking with the defense of our faith proving that God is not only reasonable, he is constant. We cannot allow Christianity to become a cult—but this is what will happen if the Church continues to turn its head from scientific explanations!


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