Friday, September 28, 2012

Fides et Ratio

Photograph of Alvin Plantinga: Jonathunder
In his review of Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism (“A Philosopher Defends Religion," The New York Review of Books, 9/22/12), Thomas Nagel deals with the work of “a distinguished analytic philosopher known for his contributions to metaphysics and the theory of knowledge” who is also “an evangelical Protestant.” Nagel quotes Plantinga as saying, “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” Nagel is viewing Plantinga from an opposing perspective. Aquinas talked about reason and faith, but someone like Nagel would find it difficult to argue that faith is what produces something as beautiful as reason, as a theist like Plantinga might argue. “My instinctively atheistic perspective implies that if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, the mostly likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith.” But Nagel is curiously generous. John Searle once argued that the two great as yet unanswered questions are free will and quanta. And while Nagel is not about to be quietly complicit in the face of Plantinga’s sacral universe where everything is explained by God, he does lay down arms when it comes to the question of consciousness and how naturalism “can account for the appearance, through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry, of conscious beings like ourselves, capable of discovering those laws and understanding the universe that they govern.” Atheists like Nagel and Dawkins inherit the legacy of Max Weber’s disenchantment, in which all observation is earthbound. But there is a wistfulness in Nagel’s generous appraisal of Plantinga’s work, as if the intrinsic enchantment of nature, made total disenchantment itself a subject for the skeptic’s eye.

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