Book Review: Where the Conflict Really Lies

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

Most people think there is a basic antagonism between faith and science that has to be overcome if one is to be both a theist and a scientific practitioner. Alvin Plantinga [1] says, au contraire. It is in fact the naturalist who has the real problem.

In Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Plantinga carefully works this out over 352 pages. He begins with the areas often thought to be in contradiction, in particular the questions of evolution and miracles, and demonstrates that in neither case is there a logical contradiction or conflict. He then goes on to discuss evolutionary psychology and biblical criticism. Through a discussion of the nature of “defeaters”, Plantinga shows that even in these areas, the sources of conflict are superficial at best and do not “defeat” theistic belief.

The third section of his book is perhaps some of the most delightful where he paints a picture of the concord between theism and science–focusing particularly on the often taken for granted fact that our cognitive abilities and the intellectual tools like mathematics that we have developed to study the world map so well with physical reality. This would just make sense in a theistic explanation of the world but is in fact difficult to explain on naturalistic terms.

And this brings us to the last section where he shows that the contention that evolutionary naturalism is in fact self-defeating, in that it undercuts the basic idea that we can trust our rational processes by showing them a mere artifact of evolutionary processes–unreliable at best for anything other than survival. And so he argues that where the conflict really lies is between science and naturalism.

This book is well worth the effort to work through Plantinga’s careful reasoning about these things and gives the lie to the popular stereotypes that place science and faith at war rather than in concord.


  1. Alvin Plantinga is O’Brien Professor of Philosophy, at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of: Essays on the Metaphysics of ModalityThe Nature of NecessityWarrant and Proper FunctionWarrant: The Current DebateWarranted Christian Belief, and Science and Religion: Are they Compatible? (with Dan Dennett). — Author summary from the Oxford University Press webpage for Where the Conflict Really Lies. Accessed 2/7/2014.  ↩
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Bob Trube

Bob Trube is Senior Area Director for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry team in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania) and leads the ministry to graduate students and faculty at The Ohio State University. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.

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