WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, PA. – Alvin Plantinga, an American scholar whose rigorous writings over a half century have made theism – the belief in a divine reality or god – a serious option within academic philosophy, was announced today as the 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate.
Plantinga’s pioneering work began in the late 1950s, a time when academic philosophers generally rejected religiously informed philosophy. In his early books, however, Plantinga considered a variety of arguments for the existence of God in ways that put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.
Plantinga’s 1984 paper, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” challenged Christian philosophers to let their religious commitments shape their academic agenda and to pursue rigorous work based on a specifically Christian philosophical vision. At the same time, he was developing an account of knowledge, most fully expressed in the “Warrant Trilogy” published by Oxford University Press (1993 and 2000), making the case that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs. These arguments have now influenced three generations of professional philosophers.
Indeed, more than 50 years after this remarkable journey began, university philosophy departments around the world now include thousands of professors who bring their religious commitments to bear on their work, including Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers.
“Sometimes ideas come along that revolutionize the way we think, and those who create such breakthrough discoveries are the people we honor with the Templeton Prize,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, which awards the 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.”
The Templeton Prize, valued at £1.1 million (about $1.4 million or €1.3 million), is one of the world’s largest annual awards given to an individual and honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. The announcement was made online at www.templetonprize.org today by the Foundation, based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
Established in 1972 by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind. The Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and emergence to creativity, forgiveness, and free will.
“Sir John founded the Templeton Prize long before he created the John Templeton Foundation,” says Dill. “He realized that many of his friends and colleagues thought of religion as uninteresting and old-fashioned, or even obsolete. He wanted to honor people who were responsible for, in his words, the ‘marvelous new things going on in religion.’ The Prize was designed to help them become more well known, not so much for their own benefit, but for the benefit of people who might be inspired by them.”
Plantinga, 84, is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught for 28 years until retiring in 2010. Prior to that, he was a professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1963 to 1982.
“I am honored to receive the Templeton Prize,” Plantinga said. “The field of philosophy has transformed over the course of my career. If my work played a role in this transformation, I would be very pleased. I hope the news of the Prize will encourage young philosophers, especially those who bring Christian and theistic perspectives to bear on their work, towards greater creativity, integrity, and boldness.”
One philosopher who nominated Plantinga for the Prize wrote: “Alvin Plantinga’s intellectual discoveries have initiated novel inquiry into spiritual dimensions. His precise and carefully developed insights have opened up intellectual-spiritual space. In the 1950s there was not a single published defense of religious belief by a prominent philosopher; by the 1990s there were literally hundreds of books and articles… defending and developing the spiritual dimension. The difference between 1950 and 1990 is, quite simply, Alvin Plantinga.”
An early landmark in Plantinga’s career was his “free will defense” against the so-called “argument from evil,” the most widely cited argument against theistic belief, which posits that the existence of
both God and evil are logically incompatible. Plantinga counters 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. Its final version in God, Freedom, and Evil (1974) is now almost universally recognized as having laid to rest the logical problem of evil against theism.
Plantinga further stoked controversy with his 1984 article, “Reason and Belief in God,” which disputes the “Classical Foundationalist account of knowledge” according to which beliefs are justified if and only if they can be justified by a chain of reasoning terminating in various types of self-evident beliefs. Plantinga contends that the set of foundational beliefs, what he calls “properly basic beliefs,” are much broader and include belief in the existence of God.
That article became the launching point for his magnum opus, the “Warrant Trilogy,” an examination of theistic belief, larger questions of knowledge and rational belief, and the notion of warrant, which he defines as that which distinguishes knowledge from true belief. Warrant: The Current Debate and Warrant and Proper Function were published in 1993. In 2000, his Warranted Christian Belief looked at the role of warrant in theistic belief and whether it is rational, reasonable, justifiable, and warranted to accept Christian belief. Many consider it among the twentieth century’s most important philosophical treatises on religious belief.
As his international reputation grew in the 1980s, Plantinga became increasingly sought out for international speaking engagements. He has given more than 250 public lectures, including more than 30 named lectureships, throughout the United States and Europe as well as in China, Iran, Israel, and Russia.
Plantinga’s publications since 2000 have largely focused on the relationship – and compatibility – of scientific and religious belief. His positions draw upon his “Evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN),” formulated in 1993 and restated in Knowledge of God (2008). In contrast to the common claim that evolution is incompatible with theism, the EAAN asserts that evolution is incompatible with naturalism, the philosophical view that denies the existence of any spiritual reality. In 2011 he continued that line of reasoning in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, boldly asserting that the conflict is not between science and religion but between theism and naturalism – theism supports science while naturalism undermines it.
Alvin Plantinga joins a group of 46 Prize recipients, including Mother Teresa, who received the inaugural award in 1973, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1983), and philosopher Charles Taylor (2007). The 2016 Laureate was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, who has spent decades bringing spiritual insight to the public conversation. He was preceded in 2015 by Canadian philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, the international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers. Czech priest and philosopher Tomáš Halík was awarded the Prize in 2014, Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2013, and the Dalai Lama in 2012.
Alvin Plantinga will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize in a public ceremony at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, on September 24, where speakers will include Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, Yoram Hazony of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem, and Meghan Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame.