Re: Alvin Plantinga's paper

Keith B Miller (
Sat, 16 Jan 1999 21:53:04 -0600

I do not now have the time or energy for an extended rebuttal to
Plantinga's argument. I will just state that if we must avoid teaching
subject matter that will offend or challenge the religious views of a group
of citizens, then we will end up teaching nothing. There is hardly
anything of substance within our modern educational curriculum that did not
at some time have strong philosophical or religious opposition from some
group. Should I stop teaching geology because there are young Earth
creationists in my classes?

I find it interesting that Christians who would otherwise deplore
relativism, suddenly sound very relativistic when it comes to the issue of
evolutionary history. One of the basic assumptions of science is that
there is a real objective reality that we are seeking to understand.
Furthermore, because of the self-correcting nature of science, our
conceptions of the physical universe more closely approach that reality
over time. Unlike some, I do not think we are anywhere near the "end of
science," but who can legitimately claim that our present theories of the
universe are farther from reality than those of say 200 years ago? If
that was the case, we should all immediately abandon the scientific

Evolutionary theory is a central organizing theory for much of the sciences
today. To avoid its teaching as part of a science curriculum is
indefensible. How can our students be prepared to engage scientific
questions as informed citizens, let alone pursue careers in science, if we
fail to introduce them to fundamental scientific concepts in the schools?
How can Christians engage and transform the university, if they are
unwilling to even understand one of its fundamental intellectual concepts?

As many have stated in many ways before, what is needed is a clear
presentation in the classroom of what the scientific enterprise is. We
need to make clear the self-imposed limitations of the methodologies of
science. Science can make no claim to be the sole possessor of truth.
Science is only one way of knowing, and its understandings of the universe
should always be held tentatively. Our understandings of the universe are
continually evolving, always subject to new discoveries and insights.
Evolution should not be taught as a static accomplished fact, but as a
continually and dynamically changing conception of the physical mechanisms
for the history of life on our planet.

Plantinga states near the end of his paper that evolution should be taught
"conditionally." But no scientific statement is "unconditional." Science
can by its nature make no statement of absolute fact. Even the statement
"the Sun revolves around the Earth" is not a statement of absolute fact,
but a theoretical understanding of the solar system which is held with
great confidence. Scientific statements represent the whole broad spectrum
of levels of confidence from nearly unquestioned levels of confidence to
highly speculative ideas. Different scientists will hold the same theory
at different confidence levels.

My point here is, in the end, I don't think Plantiga's paper really can be
used to proscribe the teaching of any subject matter. Rather what is
really being requested is a committment that science should be taught
properly and well, a goal that I believe we all share. Furthermore,
science should not claim for itself more authority than it actually has,
and any identification of science with philosophical naturalism should be
vigorously refuted.

I will continue to teach evolutionary theories as well-supported, and
highly fruitful theories with great explanatory and predictive power.


Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506