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Alvin Plantinga

Providential Evolution

Not unguided.

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All of this seems dubious. First, the freedom God bestows on us human beings involves our being able to consider alternatives and then choose which one we'll pursue. It also and crucially involves responsibility: if we choose what we can or should see to be a wrong alternative, exalting self over God, for example, we are then guilty and in sin. But nothing like this is true of that electron; it doesn't choose anything; there is no way in which it is morally responsible for what it does; and it can't fall into sin. Unpredictability and indeterminism don't anywhere nearly entail freedom. Second, it seems clear that it is good that there be free creatures like us: freedom is part of what it is to be in God's image. But being undetermined in the way the electron is doesn't constitute an element in God's image. And third, it's hard to see how God is off the hook for the evolution of the Black Plague, if his reason for knowingly choosing to create a world with black plague was just to have a world with unpredictability and indeterminism. Containing free creatures is a good-making feature of a world; but what is specially good about creatures who are undetermined but not free?

In conclusion: this book raises some crucially important questions, questions that will only become more pressing, questions we Christians can't afford to ignore.

1. Towards a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist (Harvard Univ. Press, 1988), p. 98.

Alvin Plantinga is John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author most recently of Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford Univ. Press).

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