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Alvin Plantinga

John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

Alvin Plantinga was born 15 November 1932 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father, Cornelius, was then a philosophy graduate student at the University of Michigan. When Cornelius graduated with a Ph.D. from Duke University, the family lived on a relatively low income until he secured a teaching job in Huron, Michigan, in 1941.

After a few years in Huron, Cornelius took a job Jamestown College in North Dakota. Alvin attended high school there and developed a keen interest in sports. The school’s curriculum was poor, and before Alvin moved into his senior year, his father insisted his son attend the college to advance his education. Plantinga enrolled at Jamestown College in the fall, 1949. Cornelius was offered a job in the philosophy department at Calvin College and, reluctantly, on his father’s “advice” Alvin enrolled in studies there in 1950.

In his first term at Calvin, Alvin applied to Harvard University and, much to his surprise, he was awarded a healthy scholarship and began study there in the fall of 1950. He returned to Calvin during spring recess following his second semester at Harvard, and attended lectures by William Harry Jellema. Jellema made an impression on him that was so great that Plantinga returned to Calvin to study with him. He would never regret this decision. Philosophy at Calvin (under the influence of Harry Jellema and Henry Stob) emphasised studying the history of philosophy. A certain amount of Plantinga’s higher education, therefore, centred around the study of the key figures from Plato to Kant. However, there was a further primary directive, to study the history of philosophy as an arena where ‘divergent religious visions competed for human allegiance’. Plantinga’s education, therefore, took on a further seriousness in light of this framework.

Over the years Plantinga’s career has flourished and continues to flourish. He has had professorships at Wayne State University (1958–1963), Calvin University (1963–1982) and the University of Notre Dame (1982–2002). He has been visiting professor at a number of first-rate universities: Harvard (1964–1965), Chicago (1967), Michigan (1967), Boston (1969), Indiana (1970), UCLA (1972), Syracuse (1978) and Arizona (1980). Among the lectures he has been invited to give, of particular note are that he was Suarez Lecturer, Fordham University (1986); Gifford Lecturer, University of Aberdeen (1987); Wilde Lecturer, Oxford University (1988); and (for a second time) Gifford Lecturer, University of St. Andrews (2005). He was Guggenheim Fellow (1971–1972) and has been Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1975. Plantinga has also been awarded honorary degrees from (among other establishments) the University of Glasgow (1982), Calvin College (1986) and the Free University of Amsterdam (1995). His publications include Faith and Philosophy(1964), The Ontological Argument (1965), God and Other Minds (1967), The Nature of Necessity (1974), God, Freedom and Evil (1974), Does God Have a Nature? (1980), Faith and Rationality (1983), The Twin Pillars of Christian Scholarship (1990), Warrant: The Current Debate (1993), Warrant and the Proper Function (1993), The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (1998), Warranted Christian Belief (2000) and Essays in the Metaphysics of Modality (2003).

  • Jon Cameron, University of Aberdeen