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Hillsdale College received a grant to host a reading group of Christian ana­lytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Wiki­media Commons | Courtesy

 

Hillsdale College is one of 25 col­leges and uni­ver­sities to receive a $3,000, pri­vately-funded grant for Christian phi­losophy edu­cation.

Inter­ested stu­dents, faculty, and res­i­dents can attend a reading group on Christian ana­lytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga, where they will read his seminal book, “War­ranted Christian Belief.” Stu­dents who want to receive credit for the once-a-week class can reg­ister for it as a Col­le­giate Scholars Program seminar. The grant buys up to 30 books, funds travel expenses for speakers, and pro­vides food and drink.

Plantinga received the Tem­pleton Prize, a $1.4 million award granted to living people who have made con­tri­bu­tions to life’s spir­itual dimension, according to the group’s website. In honor of this award, the John Tem­pleton Foun­dation awarded the Society of Christian Philoso­phers, of which Plantinga was a founding member, $88,000 — enough for 25 grants.

Past recip­ients rep­resent an inter­section of faiths and include activists, monks, and aca­demic philoso­phers.

“In many ways, Plantinga is someone people point to as making it pos­sible to have the renais­sance in Christian phi­losophy we’re enjoying right now,” assistant pro­fessor of phi­losophy Ian Church said. “It really is an exciting time to be doing phi­losophy from a Christian per­spective — there’s a lot of energy, a lot of activity going on that’s in part due to figures like Plantinga.”  

SCP is charged with admin­is­tering this reading group part because Plantinga taught at Calvin College and was an integral part of the phi­losophy department, SCP department assistant Phoebe Landrum said.

“This was just a way the Tem­pleton Foun­dation decided to honor him,” Landrum said.

The SCP required each applying school have a host, a space to meet, the phi­losophy department chair’s sig­nature, and a guar­antee that at least 50 percent of the reading material would be Plantinga’s. At the SCP’s next fall con­ference, members will evaluate the success of the groups based on how grants were allo­cated and on student tes­ti­monies of the group and explo­ration of Plantinga’s research.

This is not the first time Hillsdale has felt Plantinga’s influence, however: the philosopher himself spoke at the college a couple of times, phi­losophy chairman Thomas Burke said in an email.

Burke wrote his second dis­ser­tation on Plantinga’s epis­te­mology. He said Plantinga has developed the most thorough and con­vincing responses to the problem of evil, the most common argument against God’s exis­tence.

“Stu­dents who take this course will dis­cover that ana­lytic phi­losophy pro­vides extremely pow­erful tools with which to defend tra­di­tional philo­sophical and the­o­logical beliefs,” Burke said.

Through con­tem­porary phi­losophy, he added, stu­dents can explore and develop tra­di­tional views of God, man, and sal­vation, strengthen their faith, and give pow­erful rational responses to argu­ments against tra­di­tional faith.

This was not always the case, according to Church. He said early 20th century phi­losophy was extremely hostile to Chris­tianity, forcing many faithful philoso­phers to go under­ground or work at Christian col­leges. The “death” of logical pos­i­tivism, however, opened up the pos­si­bility for Christian philoso­phers like Plantinga to make the case for why Christian belief might be war­ranted and jus­tified.

Plantinga’s approach is careful and method­ological, even “bor­ingly thorough,” Church said, bor­rowing how Plantinga self-described his style, much like Church’s own approach.

Although Church spent part of his doc­toral thesis arguing why Plantinga’s def­i­n­ition of knowledge is wrong, he said he still likes the philosopher’s general picture.

“I resist having anyone that’s sort of too much my philo­sophical hero — I resist sort of hero-worship posi­tions — but if anyone is someone I look to and admire the most, it’s mostly likely someone like Plantinga,” Church said.