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What Textbooks Say about the “Randomness” at the Heart of Darwinian Theory

In response to Alvin Plantinga’s reply to Jay Richards’s review of Where the Conflict Really Lies, an important point needs to be emphasized. Plantinga asks,

Now one question here, and it’s an interesting one, is this: how do we tell precisely what a scientific theory is? How do we tell exactly what the scientific theory of evolution is? There is no axiomatized presentation of the theory emblazoned on the walls of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. Who gets to say what the theory is?

There actually is one way to determine this: Thomas Kuhn (mentioned appropriately by Richards) noted long ago that textbooks serve as pedagogical devises for the perpetuation of normal science. Richards points out that in light of Casey Luskin’s expansive examination, biology textbooks clearly do not define modern evolution in Plantinga’s specific — I’d say idiosyncratic — way. Plantinga fails to address this important point and instead acts as though we can have no real benchmark for defining how the theory of evolution is generally construed and presented. The textbook examples suggested by Richards argue loudly against Plantinga here.

If Plantinga’s questions above are unanswerable or answerable only by applying definitions to suit his thesis, then I really think his effort is called into question, whatever his conclusions may be. Plantinga has decided that modern evolution is whatever he chooses to make it by citing his favored sources. But the textbooks suggest otherwise, and Plantinga’s failure to address this fact is telling.