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.