Alvin Plantinga Wins the Templeton Prize

Alvin Plantinga Wins the Templeton Prize

Dr. Craig discusses the Templeton Prize and reflects on the influence of Alvin Plantinga.


Transcript Alvin Plantinga Wins the Templeton Prize

DR. PLANTINGA: It is hard to say what philosophy is. Somebody (I've forgotten who) defined it as just thinking exceptionally hard.

I’ve been interested in the philosophy of religion like if there is such a person as God, what is God like? What about human beings? Are they really just bodies or are they just souls or are they both souls and body combinations? How can that be? What would a body-soul combination be like? These are just questions that human beings think about or are inclined to think about, I don’t know, just by nature.

I got this phone call one day that said, You are going to get the Templeton prize. It is a prize for progress in religion. I don’t know if I made any progress in religion. I mean, I have since I was two years old maybe. But religion is extremely important to me. It is sort of the center of my world.

One’s Christian commitments in particular – one’s belief in God – ought to be integrated into one’s whole body of belief. It is not just something that is separate like going to church on Sunday might be separate from what you do the rest of the week. Rather it is a central part of your whole intellectual structure. In fact the basis of it, I was thinking. So in that way to be integral is to have the belief in God not separate from your other beliefs but sort of integrated into them and perhaps the basis of them.

I think one of the main characteristics of my work is that I am pretty thorough. Pursuing things a long ways – sort of trying to get as far down and achieve as much depth as possible. Other philosophers who aren’t thorough are hit-and-miss but are very inspiring. I doubt if I am very inspiring. I am just more thorough. But thoroughness is a virtue, too.

J. L. Mackie was a philosopher at Oxford. As for his philosophical objections, the main one was the problem of evil which is a serious question for Christians. If there really is such a person as God why are all these terrible things happening in the world? Things that God presumably disapproves of, maybe things that hurt him or wound him in some ways. Why is that the case? Why would God? If he is all-powerful, he could stop it. If he is all-loving, he would if he knew about them. If he is all-knowledgeable, he would know about them. So why all this evil? That was basically his question. Part of the answer has to do with the fact that God gave human beings free will. Human beings have misused this autonomy and have used it to arrogate to themselves things that didn’t belong to them and to make themselves large in their own eyes and look down on other people and the like. That is what people have, in fact, done.

The existence of evil doesn’t just entail the non-existence of God (not by a long shot). It is certainly possible that there be such a person as God and that his world has somehow fallen into evil and that he permits evil for his own purposes which we may or may not know about.

In Thomas Aquinas you find these proofs for the existence of God. He has got the famous Five Ways. But that is not necessarily the only way to think about it. The first book I wrote was called God and Other Minds. I argued that these arguments for God’s existence aren’t all that strong. Then I looked into the question why we believe in other minds – God and other minds. I believe that I am not the only being with a mind. I figure you’ve got one, too. I don’t know, maybe a few others. Who knows? Why do I believe that? There is no very good argument there either. There is the so-called analogical argument for other minds – a kind of analogy between my behavior and your behavior. Since my behavior is accompanied by a mind, I might think yours is, too. But it is not a very strong argument. It seemed to me that belief in God and belief in other minds was pretty much in the same boat epistemologically speaking. Then I went on to say that belief in other minds is obviously perfectly rational, so, I said, is belief in God.

These questions that philosophers confront have to be re-confronted in every generation. It is not like, Well, we had Plato so we can take everything he said. We can just set that aside. Now we can go onto something else. These questions keep reoccurring and reoccurring in different forms. I just hope there continues to be lots of Christian philosophers. I hope they continue to work seriously at these problems.[1]

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, this is a big prize, and it has been won by Alvin Plantinga. Talk about the Templeton Prize that Alvin Plantinga just won.

DR. CRAIG: Alvin Plantinga has been awarded the 2017 Templeton Prize which amounts to something like 1.4 million dollars. I initially thought that this award was being given for work in science and religion, which is the area of interface that the Templeton Foundation is so dedicated to promoting. But in fact this is an award that is much wider in scope than that. This is a Templeton Prize for one’s contribution to spirituality or religion in the world. When you look at the people that have received it, many of them have had no contribution to make to the dialogue between science and religion. This award has been given to people like Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Mother Teresa, and so forth. Indeed, the definition of religion here is very broad. People like the Dalia Lama, who is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has received this award in the past. So this is an award for contribution to spirituality or religion very broadly conceived. It is interesting that the Templeton Foundation would recognize the work of Alvin Plantinga in the field of philosophy and in the interface of science and theology as making a contribution to religion.

KEVIN HARRIS: The Christianity Today headline here is very encouraging. It says: “Templeton Prize Winner: Alvin Plantinga, Who Proved God’s Not Dead in Academia.”[2] How about that?

DR. CRAIG: That is certainly fair. Plantinga, through his work from the late 1960s on, has helped to spur the renaissance of Christian philosophy in our day. He has not only defended certain arguments for God’s existence such as the ontological argument but also has defended the proper basicality of belief in God – that it is perfectly rational to believe in God (indeed he thinks you can be warranted in believing in God) not on the basis of arguments and evidence but in what he would call a properly basic way. One’s belief in God and the great things of the Gospel can be grounded in the witness of the Holy Spirit to the great truths of the Gospel. Plantinga has championed Christian philosophy and I think helped in large measure to put it back on the map of contemporary philosophy.

KEVIN HARRIS: This article mentions you, Bill. It cites you as one of the cover stories that talk about Alvin’s work and this renaissance of philosophy. The 2008 cover story.

DR. CRAIG: Right. I remember that now. That was on the revival of arguments for the existence of God. I talked about contemporary proponents of the cosmological, the teleological, the moral, and the ontological arguments for God’s existence – all of which I’ve defended in published and debate scenarios but also which have been defended by quite a number of Christian philosophers in our day.

KEVIN HARRIS: Do you know what Dr. Plantinga is doing these days? He is retired. Is he still writing and speaking?

DR. CRAIG: He is retired. He is 84 years old now. I do not think that he is active philosophically. That is my impression at least. But I haven’t spoken with him personally in a number of years. When I heard this press release, I did send him congratulations via email for which he thanked me. But I haven’t had any extended conversations with him about whether or not he is philosophically active at his age.

KEVIN HARRIS: Do you have a recommendation of where the layman ought to begin when reading Plantinga? Because we talk about him an awful lot, but a lot of people have not read him.

DR. CRAIG: He is my philosophical lodestar. I have sought to model my life as a Christian philosopher on both his example personally as well as his advice as to how Christians ought to do philosophy.[3] He is a tremendous figure. I think it is a great privilege to have been alive and working in this field during the time that Alvin Plantinga is around. It is so exciting to be in the field of Christian philosophy during the time that Plantinga is alive and working as opposed to, say, back in the thirties and the forties during the dark days of logical positivism and verificationism.

If laypeople wanted to access Plantinga’s work, probably his little book God, Freedom, and Evil would be the best place to start. This is about the only popular level book that Alvin Plantinga has ever written. Robert Adams once said to me, I don’t think Al Plantinga is capable of writing a popular level book! Because he is so academic and so careful in his scholarship. But God, Freedom, and Evil is on a semi-popular level at least and would introduce you to Plantinga’s work on the problem of evil and the free will defense as well as the ontological argument.

He then wrote a little pamphlet called The Twin Pillars of Christian Scholarship which is very good as well and would introduce you to his vision of what Christian philosophy is all about. Beyond that, I think probably his very large book, Warranted Christian Belief, is one that the determined layman would find accessible. It is very long, but it is written in such a way that I think the layperson could understand it if he simply has the patience to work through a book of several hundred pages. I have heard through the grapevine that Plantinga is going to produce a popular level version of that book. That would be very welcome for Christian laypeople.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, because you really do have to stick with it – that book. When he is talking about warrant, he is taking about epistemology, isn't he? Whether you are warranted in holding a view.

DR. CRAIG: He distinguishes between justification and warrant. Justification basically means, Am I within my rational rights in believing something? He thinks that it is relatively easy to show that Christians are justified in what they believe in the sense that they are within their rational rights in believing as they do. But that doesn't mean that what they believe is true. He would also say that many Muslims would be justified in believing in Islam given what they know. They are within their rights in believing this. Indeed, what he calls “voodoo epistemologists” could be within their rights in believing as they do, but they don't know the truth of what they believe. In order to have knowledge you need to have warrant. Warrant would be that quality that if accumulated in a certain amount turns a rational belief into knowledge. Plantinga in this book tries to explain how it is that Christian belief is warranted – that we are not merely rational in believing in God and the great truths of the Gospel, but we actually know them to be true.

KEVIN HARRIS: I tell you, there are not many Alvin Plantinga videos on YouTube relatively.

DR. CRAIG: Isn't that interesting? I never thought of that before, but most of his life as a professional philosopher would have been involved in giving papers at academic conferences or scholarly presentations to departments of philosophy at various universities where he is invited to speak. And these wouldn't have been videoed and put up on YouTube. That is a very recent phenomenon that Alvin Plantinga probably hasn't participated in that much. Perhaps a Veritas Forum here or there on a campus might capture a video of him.

KEVIN HARRIS: Start with those. That might be a good starting point as well. In every one of them, in that deep voice of his, talks about going out for football coach at Notre Dame. So you have to wade through that in the beginning – he tells the same joke every time. He speaks to New York University. They are there, but surprisingly very few if you are in the habit of kind of beginning through YouTube.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and unfortunately a great many young people are in the habit of beginning with videos rather than with print materials – with books and articles.[4] For Plantinga, the majority of his corpus is in print materials, not in video form.

KEVIN HARRIS: I know you join as you've expressed to Alvin Plantinga himself congratulations to him from all of us.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, well done I want to say! He has been such an example and a model to all of us in this field. I do think that the Templeton Foundation is quite right in saying that these are not contributions simply to academia, but he has made a significant contribution to religion in our world. Christianity today is more robust and deeper because of the work and influence of Alvin Plantinga. So his work will continue to reverberate for decades if not centuries, I think, in promoting the cause of the Kingdom of God.[5]



[1] 5:07

[2] See http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/templeton-prize-alvin-plantinga-philosophy-gods-not-dead.html (accessed June 20, 2017).

[3] 10:02

[4] 15:05

[5] Total Running Time: 16:21 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)