Where the Conflict Really Lies – Alvin Plantinga [Feature Review]

“Science vs. Faith?”

A review of

Where the Conflict Really Lies:
Science, Religion, and Naturalism

Alvin Plantinga

Hardback: Oxford University Press, 2011

Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown

[ Read an excerpt from this book … ]

Alvin Plantinga, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, remains one of the preeminent voices in contemporary philosophy of religion.  In 2004–2005, he presented the prestigious Gifford Lectures, which are presented at Scottish universities each year.  Plantinga follows a long line of distinguished scholars, like William James, Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann, and Stanley HauerwasWhere the Conflict Really Lies stems from these lectures.  Similar to Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Plantinga’s main argument is in larger print, while more technical details and additions are in smaller print.

Plantinga summarizes his basic argument: “there is a superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism” (ix).  Plantinga notes that the view that a tension exists between science and religion goes back to the seventeenth century and has been held by both people of faith and secularists.

Plantinga first notes that an alleged conflict exists between evolution and Christian belief, and science with the concept of special divine action.  Here he interacts primarily with the thought of Dawkins and Dennett.  Dawkins argues that natural selection is a “blind watchmaker,” a purposeless process that explains the existence of life.  Dennett similarly argues that evolution, “Darwin’s dangerous idea,” is “Design out of Chaos without aid of Mind” (31).  Dennett only wants reason to be used to determine truth, but as Plantinga shows with the help of William Alston, this is a double standard, for reason cannot prove that things like intuition, perception, or memory are reliable.  Plantinga rejects their arguments for the incompatibility of evolution and Christian faith, though he does argue that the concept of unguided evolution is not science, but a metaphysical add on to science.

Plantinga then discusses studies that show only “25 percent of Americans believe that human beings have descended from ape-like ancestors” (52).  Plantinga argues many Americans reject evolution because the vast majority of them reject naturalism and atheism, and because they associate evolution with naturalists like Dawkins and Dennett, they reject evolution and question science as well.  Plantinga says that these declarations of incompatibility between religion and science are not only bad for religion, but for science as well.

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  1. Thanks to Shaun Brown and ERB for this making this review available.  Very clear presentation of what must have been a challenging read.

  2. Plantinga’s book is primarily directed to atheists (especially naturalists), but has lessons for apologetics as well. Most religious people respect science and all use its findings. Many scientists are religious, some very much so. Both science and religion, however, have limitations which should be mutually respected.

    In my free ebook on comparative mysticism, “the greatest achievement in life,” is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Love, Grace, Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.http://www.peacenext.org/profile/RonKrumpos