Atheist vs. Christian Smackdown in the New York Review of Books!


OK, so I lied. It’s no such thing. In fact, this review is a measured, intelligent analysis of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s work on the compatibility of science and faith—by Thomas Nagel, a self-described atheist.

There’s no condescension. No strawmen. No cheap shots. Nagle takes Plantinga seriously, and does his best to offer an honest representation of his thought—both its strengths and weaknesses.

Plantinga’s religion is the real thing, not just an intellectual deism that gives God nothing to do in the world. He himself is an evangelical Protestant, but he conducts his argument with respect to a version of Christianity that is the “rough intersection of the great Christian creeds”—ranging from the Apostle’s Creed to the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles—according to which God is a person who not only created and maintains the universe and its laws, but also intervenes specially in the world, with the miracles related in the Bible and in other ways. It is of great interest to be presented with a lucid and sophisticated account of how someone who holds these beliefs understands them to harmonize with and indeed to provide crucial support for the methods and results of the natural sciences.

What the fig? The last thing in the world I want is civil, adult discourse on matters of ultimate importance. I want cant and misrepresentations and oversimplifications and don’t forget our friend ad hominem! O the glories of ad hominem and his crazy second cousin reductio ad Hitlerum!

If this kind of scholarly, honest, even humble inquiry persists between atheists and Christians I AM OUT OF BUSINESS!

I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do with something like this?

The interest of this book, especially for secular readers, is its presentation from the inside of the point of view of a philosophically subtle and scientifically informed theist—an outlook with which many of them will not be familiar. Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly—in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.

I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes. But even those who cannot accept the theist alternative should admit that Plantinga’s criticisms of naturalism are directed at the deepest problem with that view—how it 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.

Oh come off it, Nagel! You know you’re dying to take some potshots! Miracles? What is he, 10? When do we introduce the Easter bunny? And all that rubbish about creeds—dogma is the death of free inquiry! [crickets] Nothing?


I implore you: If you enjoy this blog, you will e-mail the New York Review of Books and tell the editors to knock it off! We’ve come to expect so much less from them! Let them live down to our expectations! We want bile, venom, spleen! We want association confused with causation, false dichotomies, false continuums, special pleading!

We want this guy!



6 thoughts on “Atheist vs. Christian Smackdown in the New York Review of Books!

  1. I ran to the library to check out “Where the Conflict Really Lies” after reading this review. The book is reasonably short, carefully reasoned and accessible to a lay audience. And make no mistake: while Plantinga’s tone is not polemical, his critique of the New Athiests is devastating, showing repeatedly how guys like Sam Harris fail to engage the best arguments of their opponents. It seems to me that Plantinga doesn’t go quite as far as I would like in defending a scripture-based worldview, but that may not be his purpose in this specific argument, and I haven’t finished the book! Highly recommended.

    Also, I think Anthony may owe people on his own side of the discussion a little more credit for our intelligence and civility, this coming from an LCMS troglodyte who attends a small and unfashionable church. Our minds may be a bit more open than they first appear.


  2. Gene Wilder was born in Milwaukee, and went to high school about a mile from the church most of my children attend. So, someone other than Paul Ryan has come out of Wisconsin and attracted your attention.

    (Small victories from the hinterland)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s