Alvin Plantinga

American Christian philosopher

Alvin Carl Plantinga (born November 15, 1932) is an American philosopher and holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College. He is known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics and Christian apologetics.

Plantinga in 2009


  • Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.
  • Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief. (Of course we must postulate other changes in Paul's ways of reasoning, including how he changes belief in response to experience, to maintain coherence.) Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it. Or perhaps he confuses running toward it with running away from it, believing of the action that is really running away from it, that it is running toward it; or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a regularly occurring illusion, and, hoping to keep his weight down, has formed the resolution to run a mile at top speed whenever confronted with such an illusion; or perhaps he thinks he is about to take part in a sixteen-hundred-meter race, wants to win, and thinks the appearance of the tiger is the starting signal; or perhaps. . . . Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behaviour.
  • To show that there are natural processes that produce religious belief does nothing, so far, to discredit it; perhaps God designed us in such a way that it is by virtue of those processes that we come to have knowledge of him.
  • At present and especially in academia, there is widespread doubt and agnosticism with respect to the very existence of God. But if we don't know that there is such a person as God, we don't know the first thing (the most important thing) about ourselves, each other and our world. This is because (from the point of view of the model) the most important truths about us and them, is that we have been created by the Lord, and utterly depend upon him for our continued existence. We don't know what our happiness consists in, and we don't know how to achieve it. We don't know that we have been created in the image of God, and we don't grasp the significance of such characteristically human phenomena as love, humor, adventure, science, art, music, philosophy, history, and so on.
  • Aquinas believes that human beings (even in our earthly condition here below) can have knowledge, scientific knowledge of God's existence, as well as knowledge that he has such attributes as simplicity, eternità, immateriality, immutability, and the line. In Summa Theologiae Aquinas sets out his famous Five Ways or five proofs of God's existence: in Summa Contra Gentiles he sets out the proof from motion in much greater detail; and in each case he follows these alleged demonstrations with alleged demonstrations that God possesses the attributes just mentioned. So natural knowledge of God is possible. [...] So most of those who believe in God do so on faith. Fundamentally, for Aquinas, to accept a proposition on faith is to accept it on God's authority; faith is a manner of "believing God" (ST, IIa, IIae, ii, 2) "for that which is above reason we believe only because God has revealed it" (SCG, I, 9).
    • The Analytic Theist: An Alving Plantinga Reader, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998. ISBN 9780802842299. Ch. "Reason and Belief in God: Reformed Epistemology, pp. 125-126
  • I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, 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'.
  • Well, I don't think there are any methodological conflicts either. As for those social conflicts, those aren't conflicts—in my opinion—between science and religion. They're conflicts between Christians and atheists or Christians and secularists: Christians want to do things one way, secularists want to do things another way. But that's not a science/religion conflict at all. You might as well say it's a science/secularism conflict. In each case, each group wants to do science and then use it in a certain way.
  • Like I say, you gotta have a PhD in engineering just to use your thermostat. And that seems over the top to me. [...] It’s not real nice, you know. If you live in Arizona, you get used to it, but we don’t. And it’s right after a really cold, kind of wet, spring. So we weren’t really up for that at all. [...] You know, there are worse things. I mean, if it were like, say, ten below zero, that would be worse.

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