A Theist and an Atheist Walk into a Bar . . .

Alvin Plantinga was not your stereotypical jock in high school. Though he played three sports, he was a deep thinker who, by the age of 8, was wrestling with the Calvinist view of total depravity, by 10 was grappling with determinism and predestination, and by 14 had read Plato’s Dialogues.

By the time he finished middle school, Plantinga knew what he wanted to be when he grew up:

A philosopher.

That decision would ultimately bring two unlikely parties to the same table—faith and philosophy. Plantinga, now 84, has arguably played a bigger role than anyone in bridging the two fields. He has shown—through his writing and teaching—that faith is a reasonable, rational, intellectual and, yes, philosophical choice.

For more than 50 years, Plantinga, recent winner of the Templeton Prize, has “made theism—the belief in a divine reality or god—a serious option within academic philosophy.”

Some of Plantinga’s fellow believers were skeptical. So were many philosophers.

“Certain kinds of evangelical Christians thought philosophy was a bad idea,” Plantinga said in a recent interview. “They thought it involved questioning the faith. Lots of people don’t realize that philosophy comes in many varieties.”

“Alvin Plantinga’s intellectual discoveries have initiated novel inquiry into spiritual dimensions,” wrote one philosopher who nominated Plantinga for the Templeton Prize. “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.”

Not irrational or senseless

“What I’ve always wanted to do as a philosopher,” Plantinga said, “is defend a Christian way of thinking about things and argue that to be a Christian is not to be irrational or senseless or silly. It’s certainly not a unanimous view among philosophers that you can reasonably be a Christian; but that’s now one perfectly sensible view in the neighborhood.”

 

“Certain kinds of evangelical Christians thought philosophy was a bad idea. They thought it involved questioning the faith. Lots of people don’t realize that philosophy comes in many varieties.”

— Alvin Plantinga