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“Where the Conflict Really Lies?” – Philosophy


The book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga, explores various questions on the three broad areas of life. The author borrows heavily from previous works to bring up a provocative argument that atheism conflicts with science while theism does not. The book is written for anybody with an interest in science and religion. I think the book is subjective, and thus it is upon the reader to decide whether to believe its contents or not.

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Scientific knowledge has enriched human beings with the knowledge that has shrunk the possible residual sphere of deities to the very minimal. Religions respond by arguing that omnipotent deities still exist in places where science cannot detect. For many years, the religionists’ responses have been the doctrine of religious outliers, which is now the theists’ majority as shown by being a central theme in this book. The author teaches at the Notre Dame University, and he is one of the leading philosophers in the field of religion. Therefore, he is qualified to write on such issues. This paper is a review of the book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, by Alvin Plantinga.


The book consists of four parts. In part one, which deals with biology, the author asserts that evolution is a misguided view, thus making it conflict with theism. The author adds that the available evidence leads to the mediocre conclusion that unguided evolution is possible. He thinks that the theistic and naturalistic accounts are very similar. Besides, he argues that some features of human existence like religion and morality occur under theism as opposed to naturalism, but he does not defend such assertions. He discusses Paul Draper’s arguments of evolution.

This aspect neglects his major claims that in the history of evolution, suffering is explained better using naturalism than theism. In part one of the book, Plantinga’s view on divine action and physics is prefaced by odd complaints regarding the divine action project. The complaints are unusual because he ends up being close to many positions of divine action members, despite complaining about the incoherence of their concerns. The author defends the view that general and special divine actions are consistent with the contemporary understanding of physical laws. He also holds that God operates at the quantum level at which He causes the wave function to collapse in various ways.

In the part two of the book, the author asserts that science and theism conflict in the methodological naturalism, which is an extra commitment to science. For both evolutionary psychology and biblical criticism, the scientific theories contradict when anti-theistic assumptions are included, or when theistic assumptions are omitted. If theism is assumed as true, scientific theories cannot conflict with theism. The author thinks that any belief cannot be assumed as true. He includes a specific view on Imago Dei in the Christian’s evidence base and omits the view that the earth has corners. The view of the Imago Dei is a legitimate reading from the Biblical Old Testament, while the view on the earth is not.

In part three of the book, the author examines theism from a cosmological fine-tuning and biological complexity. The fine-tuning discussion opens with the premise that life evolves when the conditions are favorable. According the author, there is a wide range of those conditions and the universe is favorable for life. The fine-tuning argument concludes that theism is the best way to explain the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. The author also concludes that arguments presented in fine-tuning somewhat provide only moderate support for theism.

He also claims that biological complexity supports theism. At this point, the author suggests that design arguments could be regarded as perceptions because we do not infer designs, but rather perceive them. In any case, the author makes little biological and cosmological observations. Besides, he discovers unity between science and Christianity in all scientific investigations. He claims that theism provides to science all the assumptions it needs to take off. These claims can be found elsewhere, and thus they are not novel claims.

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In part four, the author presents an evolutionary argument against naturalism. He argues that while science requires trust in cognitive and perception, naturalism does not give any reason to do so. Cognitive and perception evolved by unguided evolution, and thus they should generate beliefs that increase fitness instead of those that track truths. Naturalism cannot give the assumptions required to do science, as opposed to theism. According to Plantinga, a naturalist argument is not correct, although he does not prove this assertion (320). He only concludes that naturalism and science do not agree.


Plantinga’s arguments are difficult to adjudicate, and thus they end in a stalemate. First is the assertion that evolution could be guided. The author asserts that the biological theory does not support the idea that evolution occurs arbitrarily. He also feels that this aspect has not been proved, and thus it unscientific. Arguing that God always works mysteriously does not defend the directed evolution. In addition, the author claims that there could be a possibility that God planned, superintended, and guided evolution, but this assertion lacks credible evidence.

According to Plantinga, an evidence base entails a set of beliefs used in conducting an inquiry (171). The author further says that a believer has a wider evidence base from which to judge issues as compared to a naturalist. One of the beliefs in the atheist evidence base is that world and God created its inhabitants. In this belief, Jesus Christ was the incarnate Son of God, who was resurrected, and similarly humans will be resurrected. The belief extends further to assert that the entire creation will be redeemed one day. However, a naturalist does not hold these set of beliefs. Therefore, a naturalist can sensibly question what guarantees those beliefs. A realistic base of evidence should have guaranteed or warranted beliefs and not only opinions.

At this point, the author could say that there are other ways to justify this issue in addition to the natural scientific findings. For instance, he could read the Gospel from the Bible and use the life history of Jesus Christ. However, since a naturalist has nothing to do with biblical teachings, s/he cannot use this as evidence, and thus the author does not have convincing information on this issue. Plantinga could use the aspects of the naturalists’ base of evidence to argue that theism is more prudent as compared to other ideologies. The author could extend his argument further that theism fits better between nature and the success of science than it does to naturalism. However, naturalists have to agree with those conclusions because they have responses to each of the claims that Plantinga puts across.

In a different dimension, Plantinga could be of the view that perception can bring about non-contentious explanations. It is very difficult to see what to make of this claim, but Plantinga may argue that perceptual experience results in guaranteed beliefs, which are not illative in design. However, what will Plantinga say to someone who is of a different view, in this case, a naturalist? On one side, Plantinga tends to imply that those who do not believe in design struggle to ignore what is right before their eyesight (265). However, on the other side, he quotes a letter written by one of the friends of Darwin. This letter talks about a conversation involving Charles Darwin where he said that sometimes he perceived the grounds for design, but in other instances, he could not. In this case, it is not clear if he deliberately decided not to see the reality.

There is a possible line of defense for the perception argument. Plantinga feels that human beings have the sense of divinity, which John Calvin believed all humans possessed (271). He holds that this sense of divinity does not function properly in some human beings. In addition to this feature, wisdom involves a common cognitive operation. From this assertion, one can reason that it is irrational to deny the divinity. The outstanding challenge for this reasoning is that a naturalist would decline the suggestion that s/he acknowledges divinity congenitally.

This assertion holds because a naturalist does not think that there is anything divine to perceive. Plantinga cannot do anything to convince such a person. Despite these criticisms, the book presents very interesting thoughts, which are valid to be read by atheists, naturalists or any other group because it considers difficult and contentious issues. I hereby encourage other readers to read the book.

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Works Cited

Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

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