Alvin Plantinga (Christian Analytic Philosopher)

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Albert Plantinga receives the Templeton Prize. Image source.

Alvin Plantinga (born 1932, Ann Arbor, Michigan) is an American analytic philosopher. He studied philosophy at Harvard, Calvin College, the University of Michigan, and Yale, earning his PhD from Yale in 1957 (1). He was a former president of the Society of Christian Philosophers (1983-1986), the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame (retired in 2010), and is now, as of 2018, the current holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College.

Plantinga is an influential philosopher as suggested by his inclusion in the top 50 philosophers in America. He has contributed to several fields in philosophy including epistemology, philosophy of religion, logic, and justification. In 2017 he was awarded the Templeton Prize, an award given to an individual who “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works” (2). He joins a rather prestigious list of Templeton Prize winners alongside the likes of Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, and Desmond Tutu.

Plantinga is arguably the leading Christian philosopher (perhaps alongside the likes of William Lane Craig) and has spent over 50 years of his life defending the reasonableness of theism (3). He is known for his defense of freewill, his expression of a modal logic version of the ontological argument, and his defense of the existence of God by showing that no logical inconsistency exists between an all-powerful and all-loving God and the existence of evil in the world. He has also proposed what is known as reformed epistemology, which argues that God exists as a properly basic belief that requires no argument.

Plantinga has also explored the relationship between religion and evolution which has led him to be critical of atheism and philosophical naturalism. In his evolutionary argument against naturalism, Plantinga argues that believing in philosophical naturalism and evolution simultaneously is self-defeating. On the naturalist’s view of purely naturalistic, unguided evolution the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties is incredibly low. The argument essentially argues that if evolution is true then it undermines philosophical naturalism. Theologically, Plantinga believes that God could have used Darwinian evolution to create human beings and that our cognitive faculties would be reliable. He particularly opposes the view of unguided evolution which suggests that “neither God nor any other person has taken a hand in guiding, directing or orchestrating the course of evolution” (4).

Plantinga has spent decades articulating his theological and philosophical views and the relationships between theology, philosophy, and science. God and Other Minds (1967) explores the rationality of belief, and in which Plantinga argues that belief in God is like belief in other minds. Neither God nor belief in minds (other than one’s own) can be demonstrated to exist conclusively although both are fundamentally rational to believe in. The book examines arguments for God and against God, and has been credited as one of the most influential books in contemporary philosophy of religion. Plantinga penned a trilogy on epistemology which included Warrant: The Current Debate (1993), Warrant and proper function (1993), and Warranted Christian Belief (2000). The final work of the trilogy, Warranted Christian Belief, examines the role of warrant in theistic belief, and attempts to answer questions of whether or not it is rational, reasonable, justifiable, and warranted to accept Christian belief. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011) explores the compatibility of science and religion. Plantinga argues that the conflict between science and theistic religion is superficial, and that at a deeper level they are in fact compatible. He examines where this conflict is typically believed to exist, namely in evolution, evolutionary psychology, analysis of scripture, and scientific study of religion. He responds to the claims made by notable atheist intellectuals such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins that theistic belief and evolution cannot co-exist.

References

1. Oliphint, K. & Edgar, W. 2017. An Introduction to the Thought of Alvin Plantinga. Available.

2. University of Notre Dame. Alvin Plantinga: 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate. Available

3. Christianity Today. 2017. How Alvin Plantinga Paved the Way for Christian Philosophy’s Comeback. Available.

4. Barash, D. 2010. Evolution, Shibboleths, and Philosophers. Available.

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