Alvin Carl Plantinga
University of Notre Dame, 2004
Full name Alvin Carl Plantinga
Born November 5, 1932 (1932-11-05) (age 86)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
Notable ideas Reformed epistemology
Free will defense
Modal ontological argument
Proper Function Reliabilism
Evolutionary argument against naturalism

Alvin Carl Plantinga (born 1932) is an American Christian philosopher, currently the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is known for his work in Christian apologetics, epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion, and in particular for applying the methods of analytic philosophy to defend orthodox Christian beliefs. Notably, he has argued that some people can know that God exists as a basic belief, requiring no justification, similar to how people usually claim to know that other minds exist. He has also argued that there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of evil and the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, wholly-good god.[1]

Plantinga is the author of a number of books, including God and Other Minds (1967), The Nature of Necessity (1974), and Warranted Christian Belief (2000). He has delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures three times, and was described by Time magazine in 1980 as "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God."[2]



Plantinga was born on November 15, 1932 in Ann Arbor, Michigan to Cornelius A. Plantinga and Lettie Plantinga. Plantinga's father was a first generation immigrant, born in the Netherlands.[3] His family is originally from the Dutch province of Friesland. Plantinga’s father earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Duke University and a Master's Degree in psychology, and taught several academic subjects at different colleges over the years.[4] One of Plantinga's brothers, Cornelius "Neal" Plantinga, Jr., is a theologian and the current president of Calvin Theological Seminary. Another of his brothers, Leon, is an emeritus professor of musicology at Yale University.[4][5] His brother Terrell worked for CBS News.[6]

In 1955, Plantinga married Kathleen De Boer.[7] Plantinga and his wife have four children: Carl, Jane, Harry, and Ann.[8][9] Both of his sons are professors at Calvin College, Carl in Film Studies[10][11] and Harry in computer science.[12] Harry is also the director of the college's Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Plantinga's older daughter, Jane Plantinga Pauw, is a pastor at Rainier Beach Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Seattle, Washington,[13] and his younger daughter, Ann Kapteyn, is a missionary in Cameroon working for Wycliffe Bible Translators.[citation needed]


At the end of 11th grade, Plantinga's father instructed Plantinga to skip his last year of high school and immediately enroll in college. Plantinga followed his father's advice and in 1949, a few months before his 17th birthday, he enrolled in Jamestown College, in Jamestown, North Dakota.[14] During that same year, his father accepted a teaching job at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In January 1950, Plantinga moved to Grand Rapids with his family and enrolled in Calvin College. During his first semester at Calvin, Plantinga applied for, and was awarded, a scholarship to attend Harvard University.[15] Beginning in the fall of 1950, Plantinga spent two semesters at Harvard. In 1951, during Harvard's spring recess, Plantinga attended a few philosophy classes at Calvin College. He was so impressed with Calvin philosophy professor William Harry Jellema that he returned 1951 to Calvin College to study philosophy under him.[16] In 1954, Plantinga began his graduate studies at the University of Michigan where he studied under William Alston, William Frankena, and Richard Cartwright, among others.[17] A year later, in 1955, he transferred to Yale University where he received his Ph.D. in 1958.[18]

Teaching careerEdit

Plantinga began his career as an instructor in the philosophy department at Yale in 1957, and then in 1958 he became a professor of philosophy at Wayne State University. In 1963, he accepted a teaching job at Calvin College, where he replaced the retiring Jellema.[19] He then spent the next 19 years at Calvin before moving to the University of Notre Dame in 1982.

Awards and honorsEdit

Plantinga served as president of the American Philosophical Association, Western Division, 1981-1982.[20] and as President of the Society of Christian Philosophers 1983-1986.[21]

He has honorary degrees from Glasgow University (1982), Calvin College (1986), North Park College (1994), the Free University of Amsterdam (1995), Brigham Young University (1996), and Valparaiso University (1999).[21]

He was a Guggenheim Fellow, 1971–1972, and elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1975.[21]

In 2006, the University of Notre Dame's Center for Philosophy of Religion renamed its Distinguished Scholar Fellowship as the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship.[22] The fellowship includes an annual lecture by the current Plantinga Fellow.[23]

Philosophical views Edit

Free will defenseEdit

In The Nature of Necessity, Plantinga presents his free will defense to the logical problem of evil. Plantinga's aim is to show that the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good God is not inconsistent with the existence of evil, as many philosophers have argued.

In a truncated form, Plantinga's argument goes something like this: "It is possible that God, even being omnipotent, could not create a world with free creatures who never choose evil. Furthermore, it is possible that God, even being omnibenevolent, would desire to create a world which contains evil if moral goodness requires free moral creatures."[24]

Most contemporary philosophers accept Plantinga's argument,[25] and the problem of evil is now commonly framed in evidential form. This does not involve the claim that God and evil are logically contradictory or inconsistent,[26][27] although some philosophers continue to defend the cogency of the logical problem of evil.[28]

Reformed epistemologyEdit

Plantinga's contributions to the field of epistemology include a contribution to religious epistemology which he dubs "Reformed epistemology." According to Reformed epistemology, belief in God can be rational and justified even without arguments or evidence for the existence of God. More specifically, Plantinga argues that belief in God is properly basic. Plantinga eventually develops a religious externalist epistemology that, if true, explains how belief in God could be justified independently of evidence. His externalist epistemology, called "Proper functionalism," is a form of epistemological reliabilism.

Plantinga develops his view of Reformed epistemology and Proper functionalism in a three volume work on epistemology. In the first book of the trilogy, Warrant: The Current Debate, Plantinga introduces, analyzes, and criticizes 20th century developments in analytic epistemology, particularly the works of Chisholm, BonJour, Alston, Goldman, and others. In the second book, Warrant and Proper Function, he introduces the notion of warrant as an alternative to justification and goes deeper into topics like self-knowledge, memories, perception, and probability. In 2000, the third volume, Warranted Christian Belief, was published. Plantinga applies his theory of warrant to the question of whether or not specifically Christian theistic belief can enjoy warrant. He argues that this is plausible. Notably, the book does not address whether or not Christian theism is true.

Modal ontological argumentEdit

Plantinga has expressed a modal logic version of the ontological argument in which he uses modal logic to develop, in a more rigorous and formal way, Norman Malcolm's and Charles Hartshorne's modal ontological arguments.

Evolutionary argument against naturalismEdit

In Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, he argues that the truth of evolution is an epistemic defeater for naturalism (i.e. if evolution is true, it undermines naturalism). His basic argument is that if evolution and naturalism are both true, human cognitive faculties evolved to produce beliefs that have survival value (maximizing one's success at "feeding, fighting, and reproducing"), not necessarily to produce beliefs that are true. Thus, since human cognitive faculties are tuned to survival rather than truth in the naturalism-cum-evolution model, there is reason to doubt the veracity of the products of those same faculties, including naturalism and evolution themselves. On the other hand, if God created man "in his image" by way of an evolutionary process (or any other means), then Plantinga argues our faculties would probably be reliable.

The argument does not assume any necessary correlation (or uncorrelation) between true beliefs and survival. Making the contrary assumption—that there is in fact a relatively strong correlation between truth and survival—if human belief-forming apparatus evolved giving a survival advantage, then it ought to yield truth since true beliefs confer a survival advantage. Plantinga counters that, while there may be overlap between true beliefs and beliefs that contribute to survival, the two kinds of beliefs are not the same, and he gives the following example with a man named Paul:

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... 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... Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behaviour.[29]

Position on evolution and ChristianityEdit


Plantinga stated his support for Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's comment that "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." Plantinga believes that "Evolution means different things to different people. Some of these things are perfectly consistent with Christian belief, but others are not." and that it is not "simply a matter of chance that rational creatures like us exist".[30]

He suggests that a view that evolution is "a process that is wholly unguided and driven by chance" is "not compatible with Christian belief" and that "God has intentionally created us human beings in His own image. He may have done so by using a process of evolution, but it isn't by chance that we exist."[30]

Plantinga has supported the intelligent design movement (IDM).[31] He was a member of the 'Ad Hoc Origins Committee' that supported Philip E. Johnson's Darwin on Trial (considered to be part of the central canon of the IDM) against palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould's high profile scathing review in Scientific American in 1992,[32] and he provided a back-cover endorsement for the book.[33] He is a member of the (now moribund) pro-intelligent design International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, and has presented at a number of intelligent design conferences.[34]

Selected works by PlantingaEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. Quinn, Philip L. "Plantinga, Alvin" in Honderich, Ted (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  2. "Modernizing the Case for God", Time, April 5th, 1980
  3. "Self-profile", p. 3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Self-profile", p. 6.
  5. Yale Department of Music - Emeritus Faculty
  6. "Self-profile", p. 7.
  7. "Self-profile", p. 14.
  8. "Introduction: Alvin Plantinga, God's Philosopher" in Alvin Plantinga, Deane-Peter Baker ed., (New York: Cambridge University Press), 2007, p. 5.
  9. "Alvin Plantinga," Well-Known Dutch-Americans at The New Netherland Institute website. Retrieved November 6, 2007
  10. "Carl Plantinga Bio"
  11. "Carl Plantinga Bibliography"
  12. "CCEL Questions and Answers". Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  13. "Jane Plantinga Pauw"
  14. "Self-profile", pp. 7-8.
  15. "Self-profile", p. 8.
  16. "Self-profile", pp. 9-16.
  17. "Self-profile", p. 16.
  18. "Self-profile", pp. 21-22.
  19. "Self-profile", p. 30.
  20. List of APA Presidents
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 New Netherland Institute PLANTINGA, ALVIN
  22. Past News and Events, Center for Philosophy of Religion, University of Notre Dame
  23. Plantinga Fellow Lecture
  24. Meister 2009, p. 133
  25. "Most philosophers have agreed that the free will defense has defeated the logical problem of evil. [...] Because of [Plantinga's argument], it is now widely accepted that the logical problem of evil has been sufficiently rebutted." Meister 2009, p. 134
  26. Meister 2009, pp. 134-135
  27. Trakakis, Nick The Evidential Problem of Evil. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  28. J.L. Mackie wrote: "[H]ow could there be logically contingent states of affairs, prior to the creation and existence of any created beings with free will, which an omnipotent god would have to accept and put up with? This suggestion is simply incoherent. Indeed, by bringing in the notion of individual essences which determine—presumably non-causally—how Curly Smith, Satan, and the rest of us would choose freely or would act in each hypothetical situation, Plantinga has not rescued the free will defence but made its weaknesses all too clear." Mackie 1982, p. 174.
  29. Plantinga, Alvin Warrant and Proper Function, (New York: Oxford University Press), 1993. pp. 225-226 (ISBN 978-0-19-507864-0).
  30. 30.0 30.1 Plantinga Discusses Evolution and Christianity July 18, 2005
  31. Forrest & Gross 2004, p. 18
  32. Unintelligent design, Mark Perakh, p144
  33. Forrest & Gross 2004, pp. 156, 191, 212, 269


Further readingEdit

  • Ferrer, Francisco S. Conesa, Dios Y el Mal, La Defensa del Teísmo Frente al problema del mal según Alvin Plantinga, Pamplona: University of Navarre Press, forthcoming.
  • Beilby, James (ed) Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York & London, 2002.
  • Kvanvig, Jonathan (ed), Warrant in Contemporary Epistemology: Essays in Honor of Plantinga's Theory of Knowledge, Savage, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996.
  • Claramunt, Enrique R. Moros, Modalidad y esencia: La metaphysica de Alvin Plantinga Pamplona: University of Navarre Press, 1996.
  • McLeod, Mark S., Rationality and Theistic Belief: An Essay on Reformed Epistemology (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion), Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.
  • Linda Zagzebski (ed.), Rational Faith, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993.
  • Sennett, James, Modality, Probability, and Rationality: A Critical Examination of Alvin Plantinga's Philosophy, New York: P. Lang, 1992.
  • Hoitenga, Dewey, From Plato to Plantinga: an Introduction to Reformed Epistemology, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.
  • Parsons, Keith M., God and the Burden of Proof: Plantinga, Swinburne, and the Analytic Defense of Theism, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1989.
  • Tomberlin, James E., and Peter van Inwagen (eds) Alvin Plantinga, Profiles Volume 5, D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Boston & Lancaster, 1985.

Books about PlantingaEdit

External linksEdit


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