An Introduction to the Thought of Alvin Plantinga

May 01, 2017

by William Edgar & Scott Oliphint

Alvin Plantinga was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Raised in the Christian Reformed Church, he has theological roots in the Dutch Reformed tradition. As the son of a philosophy and psychology professor, Plantinga evidenced a knack for and interest in philosophy early on.

Plantinga studied philosophy at Harvard, Calvin College, the University of Michigan, and Yale, earning his PhD from Yale in 1957. Throughout his prolific career, Plantinga spent the majority of his years teaching, first, at Calvin College for nineteen years, then, until his recent retirement, at Notre Dame University. It would not be an overstatement to say that virtually all matters metaphysical and epistemological must address much of Plantinga’s own work. His Nature of Necessity did much to further discussions of modality in metaphysics, and his most recent work in epistemology, the roots of which began early in his career, has stimulated a multitude of developments and critiques in philosophical and theological circles.

In 1980, Time magazine called Alvin Plantinga “the leading Protestant philosopher of God.” Philosophy in the previous generation was dominated almost exclusively by atheists or agnostics. This was, at least in large part, due to the influence of positivism on the philosophical terrain. Plantinga himself notes, “When I left graduate school in 1957 there were few Christian philosophers in the United States, and even fewer Christian philosophers willing to identify themselves as such.” Why was that the case? Primarily because positivism with its “verifiability criterion of meaning” had hegemonic influence, and, as most who look back on that period note, Christians were by and large either jumping on the positivistic bandwagon or running scared of positivism’s conclusions. Plantinga was undaunted by such criticisms.

At Michigan, as earlier on, I was very much interested in the sorts of philosophical attacks mounted against traditional theism—the ancient claim that it was incompatible with the existence of evil, the Freudian claim that it arose out of wish fulfillment, the positivistic claim that talk about God was literally meaningless, the Bultmannian claim that traditional belief in God was an outmoded relic of a prescientific age and the like. These objections (except for evil) seemed to me not only specious but deceptive, deceitful in a way: they paraded themselves as something like discoveries, something we moderns (or at any rate the more perceptive among us) had finally seen, after all those centuries of darkness. All but the first, I thought, were totally question begging if taken as arguments against theism.

Almost from the beginning of his philosophical career, Plantinga had an interest in philosophical theology and apologetics. . . .

. . . .continue reading at Crossway.

William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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