What Philosopher Alvin Plantinga Said About “Fundamentalism”

Alvin_PlantingaI found this Plantinga quote at a Patheos blog called “Evangelion.”

We must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.
 
Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: 2000),  245.

Alvin Plantinga Wins the Templeton Prize

Alvin_PlantingaThe Calvin College and Notre Dame philosopher has won the $1.4 million dollar award.  Here is a taste of Chris Herlinger’s report at Religion News Service:

American scholar Alvin Plantinga, a pioneering advocate for theism, or belief in God, as a serious philosophical position within academic circles, was named the winner of the 2017 Templeton Prize.

Plantinga, 84, a retired professor at the University of Notre Dame, won the award for revolutionizing “the way we think,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, which awards the annual prize.

“Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work, but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy,” Dill said Tuesday (April 25) in an online announcement of this year’s award.

Because of Plantinga’s influence, it is no longer unusual for philosophy professors to bring their religious commitments to bear on their work, whether they be Buddhist, Jewish or Muslim, the Templeton Foundation’s statement said.

Until Plantinga, many philosophers viewed theistic belief as logically incompatible with the reality of evil.

Countering that, Plantinga, whose own religious tradition is Dutch Christian Reformed, argued that, “in a world with free creatures, God cannot determine their behavior, so even an omnipotent God might not be able to create a world where all creatures will always freely choose to do good,” the announcement said.

Plantinga’s landmark 1974 “God, Freedom, and Evil” is now “almost universally recognized as having laid to rest the logical problem of evil against theism,” the foundation noted.

In a statement, Plantinga, who taught at the University of Notre Dame for 18 years until retiring in 2010, struck a modest note, saying that if his work played a role in transforming the field of philosophy, he “would be very pleased.”

Read the rest here.

Christianity Today covers the story here with references to Plantinga’s contribution to the “evangelical mind.”

Other winners of the Templeton Prize have included Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Charles Taylor, John Polkinghorne, Bill Bright, Michael Novak, Charles Colson, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Billy Graham, and Mother Theresa.

 

Calvin’s Beatles

Calvin gang

l to r: Wolterstorff, Marsden, Mouw, Plantinga  Cartoon credit: Jack Harkema

Four of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last generation once taught together at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  They are philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, historian George Marsden, and theologian/philosopher Richard Mouw.

Plantinga taught at Calvin from 1963 to 1982 and spent the rest of his career at the University of Notre Dame.

Wolterstorff taught at Calvin from 1959 to 1989 and at Yale University from 1989-2001.

Marsden taught at Calvin from 1965 to 1986, Duke Divinity School from 1986 to 1992, and finished his career at the University of Notre Dame (1992-2008).

Mouw taught a Calvin for seventeen years and then moved to Fuller Theological Seminary, where he was eventually elected president.