Nagel & Plantinga – a lesson for us all

Two people discussing

Alvin Plantinga is an eminent philosopher, and a christian. He recently released a new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism

Thomas Nagel is an eminent philosopher, and an atheist. He recently reviewed Plantinga’s book. Judging by the behaviour on both sides of much discourse between atheists and christians, you might expect him to have been highly critical, perhaps even scornful or nasty.

If so, you would have been pleasantly surprised.

How to review a book

Many reviews tell you a lot about what the reviewer thinks about all sorts of things, but often neglect the fundamental of any review – to tell us what the book is, and isn’t, about. Nagel’s review is a winner on this score, for he explains the contents of the book clearly and fairly.

Being fair-minded

Nagel wins here too. He points out that he disagrees fundamentally with Plantinga about God and religious belief, but acknowledges Plantinga’s skill and understanding. He expresses interest in seeing how Plantinga expresses a belief that Nagel cannot accept, and sets out where Plantinga’s arguments are strong and where they are a challenge to Nagel’s own views. There is no carping criticism, but a keen intellectual interest in what Plantinga has to say.

Shared humanity

Nagel obviously values and respects his shared humanity with Plantinga, even while fundamentally disagreeing with him. He begins his review with a brief reference to the ‘heat’ of the current public debate between atheists and theists, and has clearly chosen a different course. It is a course I would hope to emulate in my own small way, and hopefully many others will feel the same.

Read it and enjoy!

The result is a masterly review, illuminating and a pleasure to read. Whatever your viewpoint, however much or little you are interested in philosophy, this is worth a read.