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September 24, 2017

Address by Heather Templeton Dill

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Good evening.  I am Heather Templeton Dill, the president of the John Templeton Foundation.  On behalf of the Trustees of the John Templeton Foundation, I’m so happy to welcome all of you, especially members of the Plantinga family, to the Templeton Prize Ceremony honoring our 2017 Laureate, Dr. Alvin Plantinga.

Sir John Templeton created the Templeton Prize in 1972 long before he established the Templeton Foundation.  He was concerned that many of his friends and colleagues thought religion was uninteresting and old-fashioned, even obsolete. Sir John’s experience was different; based on his work with the United Presbyterian Church Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations and his involvement with Princeton Theological Seminary, Sir John observed “marvelous new things going on in religion.”  

He envisioned that the Prize would identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit” – those who devote their talents to expanding our understanding of faith, God, human purpose, and the spiritual dimension of human existence. Indeed, the first name for the Templeton Prize was the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

The Prize has been awarded to religious figures, humanitarians, scientists, and philosophers. It recognizes those who have demonstrated that deep human relationships, a profound grasp of the findings of science, and a rich understanding of spiritual reality are all essential to human flourishing.

Over his career spanning more than 50 years, first at Calvin College and then at the University of Notre Dame, Alvin Plantinga has recognized that religious beliefs or arguments based on religious principles need not conflict with serious philosophical work.  Rather, his life, his work, and his career demonstrate that perspectives rooted in religious faith can make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy.

When Plantinga began teaching in the late 1950s, it looked as if religion had become an obsolete notion in the academy. And indeed, while Dr. Plantinga appreciated the rigor of the philosophical discourse at Wayne State University, where he took his first teaching position, he found it a challenging environment for a philosopher who believed in the tenets of the Christian faith.

But Dr. Plantinga had learned from Dr. Harry Jellema as an undergraduate at Calvin College that “there is no such thing as a religiously neutral intellectual endeavor,” and so he dedicated his career to exploring questions about the rationality of belief in God, the problem of evil, the nature of necessity and more. He did not shy away from approaching these questions from deeply Christian roots; rather he embraced his own religious tradition even as he pursued his philosophical work with rigor and thoroughness.

Over time, Dr. Plantinga’s work was transformative; there is space now for religious belief within the discipline of philosophy and in philosophical argumentation. This is true not only for those who subscribe to the Christian tradition; serious students of philosophy from all of the major faith traditions point to Dr. Plantinga’s work as the inspiration for their own work in philosophy.

Indeed, university philosophy departments around the world now include hundreds of professors who bring their religious commitments to bear on their work, including Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers.

This, my friends, is progress in religion.

This evening I’m especially pleased to introduce three scholars on whom the influence of Alvin Plantinga has been profound. We will hear from each of them in the course of the program, and in lieu of elaborate introductions when they come forward to speak, I’d like to tell you a bit about each one now. I know you will welcome them warmly and be encouraged by their insights on Alvin Plantinga’s legacy and the state of the philosophy of religion as seen by members of different religious traditions.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, America’s first accredited Muslim liberal arts college. A philosopher, theologian, public intellectual, and widely sought after speaker, he is, according to The New Yorker, “perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world.” A convert to Islam at the young age of 17, Dr. Yusuf is on the list of the 500 Most Influential Muslims; he advises Islamic study centers, leaders and heads of states across the globe, and his influence on a generation of Islamic scholars has been transformative.

Dr. Yoram Hazony is co-founder of the Shalem Center and president of the Herzl Institute, a research institute in Jerusalem that fosters Jewish thought and culture. He has written a number of books in the area of philosophy, theology, political theory and intellectual history including his widely read and discussed Cambridge University Press monograph, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. He has appeared in the popular media here in the United States and he is a member of the Israel Council for Higher Education’s commission that reviews the General studies and Liberal Arts programs in Israel’s universities and colleges.

and Dr. Meghan Sullivan, one of the most notable Catholic philosophers of her generation, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame who was recently promoted to full professor. Among many other duties at Notre Dame, she teaches the popular undergraduate course “God and the Good Life.” Dr. Sullivan has published in both scholarly journals and popular journals, and like Sir John Templeton, Dr. Sullivan was a Rhodes Scholar.

I am also delighted that Lord Brian Griffiths traveled all the way to Chicago from the UK to present the prize to Dr. Plantinga. As you see in your program booklet, Lord Griffiths has served in the Thatcher administration and in other political posts; he has taught finance, and provided leadership at the City University Business School. He currently serves in various postiions at Goldman Sachs and is a member of the House of Lords. Since 2012, Lord Griffiths has joined my father or me on stage to present the Templeton Prize. He is here this evening to do just that and to also share some perspective on the man who established the Templeton Prize so many years ago.

Tonight, we will be treated to performances from the Calvin College Alumni Choir, and from Dr. Leon Plantinga, professor emeritus of music at Yale University – and Alvin Plantinga’s brother.

I want to extend our special gratitude to Danielle Kosanovich and all of the staff here at The Field Museum who have been so gracious and helpful in making this celebration such a special event.

Again, thank you all for joining us this evening to celebrate and honor Dr. Plantinga. You will be inspired.