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By Alvin Plantinga

Dennett's Dangerous Idea, Part 2


One question that naturally occurs to a reader of the book: Why does Dennett think we should accept Darwin's dangerous idea? Concede that it is audacious, revolutionary, antimedieval, quintessentially contemporary, with it, and has that nobly stoical hair-shirt quality Bertrand Russell said he liked in his beliefs: still, why should we believe it? I think Dennett means to attempt an answer to this question (and isn't merely preaching to the naturalistic choir). He repeats several times that believing in an "anthropomorphic" God is childish, or irrational, or anyway nowadays out of the question. What he sees as an anthropomorphic God, furthermore, is precisely what traditional Christians believe in--a God whom we human beings resemble by virtue of being persons, the sorts of beings who are capable of belief and knowledge, who have aims and ends, and who act on their beliefs in such a way as to try to accomplish those aims.

Well, why is this childish? Dennett's answer, as far as I can make it out, is that the traditional arguments for the existence of God don't work. He mentions only one argument, the so-called argument from design: the universe and many of its parts give the appearance of having been designed by an extraordinarily knowledgeable and powerful designer, so probably there is an Intelligent Designer. Dennett thinks Darwinian considerations suffice to dispose of this argument; they show how it could be that all this apparent design in the living world arises without the aid of an Intelligent Designer. Nowadays, however, the most popular version of the argument from design involves the exquisite fine-tuning of the laws or regularities of nature. The fundamental constants of physics--the speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces--must apparently have values that fall within an extremely narrow range for life to be so much as possible. If these values had been even minutely different (if, for ...

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