Monday, September 25, 2017

Plantinga's Prestigious Prize

Alvin Plantinga is not a well-known name among the broader public, but his is one of the best known and most respected names among contemporary Christian philosophers. Yesterday (Sept. 24) he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize at The Field Museum in Chicago.
Who Is Plantinga?
Alvin Plantinga is an American philosopher whose main work is in the philosophy of religion and epistemology. He served as president of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 1983 to 1986.
The son of first-generation immigrants from the Netherlands, Plantinga was born in 1932. He graduated from Calvin College, where his father was then teaching, and then after completing his Ph.D. at Yale University, his teaching career was mostly at Calvin College and the University of Notre Dame.
Plantinga’s most influential books are God and Other Minds (1967), and a trilogy of books on epistemology, culminating in Warranted Christian Belief (2000). The later was revised for a wider audience and published as Knowledge and Christian Belief in 2016.
Also, Alvin Plantinga is the title of a book published in 2007 by Cambridge University in their “Contemporary Philosophy in Focus” series. 
Meeting Plantinga
The Society of Christian Philosophers organized a conference on the campus of Peking University in the fall of 1994. I was able to fly from Fukuoka, Japan, to Beijing (about a 4½ hour flight) and attend that stimulating meeting.
There were several top Christian philosophers from the U.S. there, but it was Plantinga whom I most wanted to hear—and I was not disappointed in what I heard at the meetings and in the personal chat I had with him while walking across the spacious campus of Peking University, the premier university in China.
That academic meeting, which fruitfully focused on dialogue between the Christian philosophers from the U.S. and the Chinese philosophers who taught at Peking University and were atheists, was led by Plantinga. I was impressed by his brilliant mind, his respect for the Chinese scholars, and his deep and reasoned Christian faith.
Plantinga’s Prize
John Templeton was a financial investment whiz and a philanthropist. According to the Templeton Prize website (see here), Templeton (1912-2008) “started his Wall Street career in 1938 and went on to create some of the world's largest and most successful international investment funds.”
After becoming a wealthy man, in 1972 Templeton “established the world's largest annual award given to an individual, the Templeton Prize, which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
The first Templeton Prize was awarded to Mother Teresa, and a wide variety of religious practitioners and academics have received the prestigious, and lucrative, prize in the succeeding years. (This year Plantinga received $1,400,000 as the recipient of the Templeton Prize.)
Some “liberals” have been critical of some choices for the Templeton Prize, such as Billy Graham in 1982 and especially Charles Colson in 1993 and Bill Bright in 1996. But most recipients have not been conservative Christians; for example, the Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama in 2012 and to Desmond Tutu in 2013.
(For those of you who have the time and interest, I recommend opening the Templeton Prize website, here, and following the links to the various articles and videos found there.)

I am grateful to Alvin Plantinga for the significant contributions he has made to critical thinking as a Christian philosopher. His being chosen as this year’s recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize accentuates the fact that Christians can, indeed, be deep, cogent thinkers. 


  1. Interesting `Blog` for me and brought back pleasant memories when I was a Financial Planner, and used the Templeton Fund in my Practice.

    I also remember when Billy Graham, Bill Bright and Charles Colson received this Prestigious award. I am a trained counselor for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, worked for Dr. Bright and Campus Crusade International and am a volunteer for Charles Colson`s prison Ministry.
    I mention this Not to brag, but because I feel privileged that GOD allowed me to be associated with these Great men of GOD and still support them through our Ministry.
    Thanks Leroy for another excellent `Blog`!

    1. Thanks, John Tim, for your comments. You are probably the only reader of my blog who has used the Templeton Fund and have had a close connection with three of the recipients of the Templeton Prize.

      I am grateful that the Lord has used you in so many fruitful ways.

  2. Here are comments sent this morning by Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments about Alvin Plantinga.

    "Although I have not read his works, I have seen Plantinga's name in philosophical works and it is clear that he is very much respected.

    "If I had known, I might have tried to attend the ceremony at the Field Museum."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Eric. It would have been interesting to see the awarding ceremony. I don't know if it is always at The Field Museum or why it was there this year. Maybe you can go next year, if it is in Chicago.

      If you were going to read something by Plantinga, perhaps his most recent book, "Knowledge and Christian Belief" (2016), would be the place to start. It presents many of his main ideas with less technical detail than his earlier books.

  3. Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas shares these thoughtful comments:

    "As usual, another great article. Thank you for calling our attention to Plantinga. Those of us who live in Western defined 'secular' world owe so much to him.

    "Plantinga (philosophy) makes me think of William James (psychology) who made the case for experiential religion in the inhospitable material positivist (material determinism) Harvard environment in his day. Interestingly, the Indian understanding of secularism includes religions, including theistic ideas. Definitely a concept conflict worth exploring (Western versus Indic secularisms).

    "I was quite busy last week and failed to thank you for that excellent piece. I even ordered Zahnd’s new book "Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God." I found myself also applying the same Rorschach test to religions, especially new religions. For example, examining the Chinese reaction to the future looking Buddhist sect of Falun Gong, and new interpretation of Dharma, through discourse analysis approach the principle communications platforms (foreign media, Chinese media, scholarly discourse, human rights, etc.) the Rorschach test helps explain the different reactions people have to new religious expression. Of course, since the new Buddhist sect does not follow the traditional Buddhist’s approach this puts Falun Gong in a bad light with the government, as a socialist-capitalist country, seeking to maintain control in a globalized world, hence the suppression of it. It is of interest to me how people view 'new religions,' something I have been studying for some time. Your piece came at a timely moment!"

  4. Thinking Friend Tim Laffoon sent the following comments by email after having difficulty posting them directly here (for any of you who have trouble posting directly, email is always an option):

    "I have very little formal background in philosophy and therefore not really qualified to comment on a professional philosopher of whom I do not know.

    "However, the Templeton Prizes are quite well known, and a good use of Sir John Templeton’s wealth. I admire several of the recipients – the Dalai Lama, St Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Bill Bright (for leadership in prayer & fasting, not his American business model evangelism), Chuck Colson, Paul Davies, Michael Novak, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn."