I now have Alvin Plantinga's new book in my hands. Here are some notes on the preface. Since I agree with almost everything in the preface, the following batch of notes will be interpretive but not critical. Words and phrases enclosed in double quotation marks are Plantinga's ipsissima verba.
1. Plantinga is concerned with the relations among monotheistic religion, natural science, and naturalism. His main thesis is that there is "superficial conflict but deep concord" between natural science and monotheistic religion but "superficial concord but deep conflict" between science and naturalism.
2. The great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) affirm the existence of "such a person as God." Naturalism is a worldview that entails the nonexistence of such a person. "Naturalism is stronger than atheism." (p. ix) Naturalism entails atheism, but atheism does not entail naturalism. One can be an atheist without being a naturalist. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart is an example. (My example, not Plantinga's.) But one cannot be a naturalist without being an atheist. This is perhaps obvious, which is why Plantinga doesn't explain it. Roughly, a naturalist holds that the whole of reality (or perhaps only the whole of concrete reality) is exhausted by the space-time system and its contents. No one who holds this can hold that there is such a person as God, God being a purely spiritual agent.
To put it my own way, theistic religion and naturalism could not both be true, but they could both be false. This makes them logical contraries, not contradictories. Their being the former suffices to put them in real conflict. For many of us this is what the ultimate worldview choice comes down to.
3. Plantinga rightly points out that while naturalism is not a religion, it is a worldview that is like a religion. So it can be properly called a quasi-religion. (p. x) This is because it plays many of the same roles that a religion plays. It provides answers to the Big Questions: Does God exist? Can we survive our bodily deaths? How should we live?
I would add that there are religious worldviews and anti-religious worldviews, but that natural science is not a worldview. Science is not in the business of supplying worldview needs: needs for meaning, purpose, guidance, norms and values. Science cannot put religion out of business, as I argue here, though perhaps in some ways that Plantinga would not endorse.
4. Given that naturalism is a quasi-religion, there is a sense in which there is a genuine science vs. religion conflict, namely, a conflict between science and the quasi-religion, naturalism. Very clever!
5. Plantinga's claim that "there is no serious conflict between science and religion" puts him at odds with what I call the Dawkins Gang and what Plantinga calls the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Plantinga, who never fails us when it comes to wit and style, suggests that the atheism of these four "is adolescent rebellion carried on by other means" (p. xi) that doesn't rise to the level of the the old atheism of Bertrand Russell and John Mackie. "We may perhaps hope that the new atheism is but a temporary blemish on the face of serious conversation in this crucial area." That is indeed the hope of all right-thinking and serious people, whether theists or atheists.
6. Plantinga fully appreciates that modern natural science is a magnficent thing, "the most striking and impressive intellectual phenomenon of the last half millenium." (p. xi) This has led some to the mistake of thinking that science is the ultimate court of appeal when it comes to the fixation of belief. But this can't be right for two reasons. First, science gives us no help in the areas where we most need enlightenment: religion, politics, and morals, for example. (p. xii) There are worldview needs, after all, and science cannot supply them. "Second, science contradicts itself, both over time and at the same time." (p. xii) Indeed it does. But no one, least of all Plantinga, takes that as an argument against science as open-ended inquiry. A question to ruminate on: Should not religion also be thought of as open-ended and subject to correction?
7. I would say that if there is demonstrable conflict between a religious belief and a well-established finding of current natural science, then the religious belief must give way. Plantinga commits himself to something rather less ringing: if there were such a conflict, then "initially, at least, it would cast doubt on those religious beliefs inconsistent with current science."(p. xii). But he doesn't think there is any conflict between "Christian belief and science, while there is conflict between naturalism and science."
8. One apparent conflict is between evolution and religion, another between miracles and science. Plantinga will argue that these conflicts are merely apparent. Theistic religion does not conflict with evolution but with a "philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific theory of evolution: the claim that it is undirected . . . ." (p. xii) As for miracles, Plantinga says he will show that they do not violate the causal closure of the physical domain and the various conservation laws that govern it. "Any system in which a divine miracle occurs . . . would not be causally closed; hence such a system is not addressed by those laws." (p. xiii) That sounds a bit fishy, but we shall have to see how Plantinga develops the argument.
9. As for the "deep concord" between theistic thinking and science, it is rooted in the imago Dei. If God has created us in his image, then he has created us with the power to understand ourselves and our world. This implies that he he has created us and our world "in such a way that there is a match between our cognitive powers and the world." (p. xiv) I would put it like this: both the intelligibility of the world and our intelligence have a common ground in God. This common ground or source secures both the objectivity of truth and the possibility of our knowing some of it, and thereby the possibility of successful science.
10. But when it comes to naturalism and science, there is "deep and serious conflict." Naturalism entails materialism about the human mind. It entails that we are just complex physical systems. If so, then Plantinga will argue that "it is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable." If this can be shown, then the conjunction of naturalism and evolution is not rationally acceptable. "Hence naturalism and evolution are in serious conflict: one can't rationally accept them both." (p. xiv)