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Lecture addresses evolution, religion

Laura McCrystal | Monday, April 6, 2009

Darwinism and religion can be compatible despite the perceived conflict between them, Notre Dame philosophy professor Alvin Plantinga said in a lecture Friday.

Many Americans see theistic religion, which includes Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as incompatible with evolution, Plantinga said in his lecture, which was part of “Evolution of Age: Multidisciplinary Reflections on Darwin 150 Years Later,” a conference held Friday and Saturday at Notre Dame.

“It has to do with the thought that God has created human beings in his image,” he said.

People do not see how religion fits into evolution because they hear scientists argue that evolution is unplanned and therefore could not be guided by God, Plantinga said.

Yet Plantinga said it is possible that God guides the random genetic mutations in Darwinism, which would make evolution compatible with religion.

“On the face of it, it appears as if God could cause that process,” he said.

Opposing views of random mutations cause this superficial conflict between evolution and religion, Plantinga said.

The notion that evolution is unplanned depends on how scientists choose to define Darwin’s concept of random mutations, Plantinga said. He said he disagrees with scientists who believe that random mutations require a complete lack of guidance.

“The point is that a mutation … is random just if neither the organism nor its environment contains a mechanism or process or organ that causes adaptive mutations to occur,” he said.

Plantinga said this clarified definition of random mutation would allow for God’s guidance.

“It’s perfectly compatible that these mutations can be random in this sense but also caused by God,” he said. “All I’m asking is whether it’s compatible with evolutionary theory as it stands.”

It is not surprising that Americans are hesitant about teaching evolution in public schools when they are not aware that random mutations could be guided by God, Plantinga said.

“As polls reveal, many Americans have great doubt about evolution,” he said. “I think it’s because we’re regularly told by the experts … that the evolutionary process is unguided.”

Plantinga also said that naturalism, which is an extreme form of atheism, is not necessarily compatible with evolutionary theory.

While it seems contradictory, naturalism is less compatible with evolution than theistic religion, Plantinga said.