Monday, December 05, 2011

Philosopher Interview: Alvin Plantinga

Today’s interview is with Alvin Plantinga, emeritus John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He talks about his background and how he got into philosophy, theistic arguments (for two dozen or so, see here) and some he’d like to see worked on (the argument from evil & the argument from abstract objects), the use of the ontological argument, how he would speak to other about the faith, his view on the use of arguments for convincing others, properly basic belief, the proper function of his A/C, the shift toward theism in philosophy, reading recommendations for up-and-coming philosophers, study and reading habits, character traits for the Christian philosopher, topics he’d like to see Christian philosophers tackle, advice on apologetics, his latest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, and more.

Full Interview MP3 Audio here (45 min)

Some of Platinga’s books include:
God and Other Minds
The Nature of Necessity
God, Freedom, and Evil
Warrant and Proper Function
Warranted Christian Belief
Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism

Subscribe to the Apologetics 315 Interviews podcast here or in iTunes.


  1. LittleGoose December 5, 2011

    What is the difference between Plantinga's reformed epistemology and Presuppositional apologetics? Apparently they are both reformed, but what are the distinctions?

  2. Dante December 7, 2011

    Great interview.

    How about interviewing Edward Feser in your future podcasts?

  3. G. Kyle Essary December 9, 2011

    Hey LittleGoose,
    I think I can answer your question. Reformed theology has historically stood against natural theology. There are a few reasons for this:

    1. Natural reason has been scarred by sin. The phrase you will often hear to describe this is the "noetic effects of sin."
    2. God is so completely "ase" and "other" that the only way we can come to know Him is through revelation. Any natural connection goes beyond the Creator/creature distinction.
    3. Natural theology doesn't get you to the living God. The belief is that since natural theology can only take you so far, a better option for leading people to salvation is the preaching of the Word, because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)

    Thus, all Reformed theology has traditionally been wary of natural theology for those outside of salvation. Once you are saved, natural theology can be used from within the Christian worldview as evidence of the coherence of Christianity, but not within an unredeemed worldview.

    Thus, Plantinga and Presuppositionalists sound very similar because they are both Reformed. Furthermore, both Plantinga and Van Til (who is the modern father of presuppositionalism) studied under the same philosophy professor at Calvin College. Both also come from the Dutch Reformed background and were heavily influenced by Bavinck, Dooyeweerd and others.

    There are some big differences though. Reformed epistemology is different from TAG (the transcendental argument of presuppositionalism):

    1. Reformed epistemology just says that we don't need a belief that goes beyond our belief in God. If God is the source of all things, then it's silly to think we need to justify that belief…it's the most primary justifier. Those who use TAG agree, but it's a basis for TAG and not the argument itself.

    2. Reformed epistemology says that we don't need to have positive arguments to "support" our basic beliefs, but that if there are any undercutting defeaters then we should drop the belief. So, since we belief in God through the work of the Holy Spirit and through the preaching of the Word to our hearts, and since their are no good reasons to reject such a belief, it's is warranted and properly basic.

    3. TAG goes beyond a reformed epistemology to present a positive argument for the truth of Christianity. Van Til wanted to show (and did a pretty good job of it) that even to argue against Christianity, you must first presuppose that Christianity is true. He would use the illustration of a child climbing into her father's lap in order to slap him in the face. Bahnsen said that the argument was the "impossibility of the contrary." Thus, using TAG you attempt to show that by arguing against the Christian faith, people are presupposing the laws of logic, the intelligibility of the universe, the principle of induction, the morality of human arguments, etc., which can only be made sense of not only in a theistic framework, but specifically in the worldview given to Christian's through revelation.

    I've never heard Plantinga use TAG, but instead attacks naturalism through the EAAN and Argument from Proper Function. They have similarities (and to the Argument from Reason at points as well), but are not the same.

    You may be interested in a paper by James Anderson on theistic arguments from Plantinga and Van Til:

    Glenn Peoples (New Zealand Philosopher) did two podcasts on Plantinga and Presuppositionalism here:

  4. pds December 9, 2011

    "Thus, using TAG you attempt to show that by arguing against the Christian faith, people are presupposing the laws of logic, the intelligibility of the universe, the principle of induction, the morality of human arguments, etc., which can only be made sense of not only in a theistic framework, but specifically in the worldview given to Christian's through revelation."

    That last bit is where many of us would want to say that the TAG tries to prove too much. Bahnsen seems to state that if we say that the Bible is NOT the word of God is akin to us denying the law of non-contradiction.

    On the other hand so called reform epistemology makes more modest claims.

    Thanks for the interview Brian!

  5. LittleGoose December 9, 2011


    thanks a lot man, that helps! I had no idea that Van Til and Plantinga had the same philosophy professor. The two systems definitely seem to cross over a lot but everyone always seems to make a distinction between the two. Also, both sides quote John Calvin and I get really confused cause sometimes it seems like they're saying the same thing. So this really helps thanks! I'll definitely check out the article and podcasts!


    I love TAG, it's prob my favorite argument, but I agree with your statement. It always seemed to me that while it really helps in providing rational grounds for the truth claims of Christianity it doesn't seem to do what Bahnsen wants it to do. Then again I'm pretty new to the whole thing lol.

    Maybe someone can help me understand why Bahnsen says that TAG is the ultimate proof for Christianity and not just for theism.

    Thanks again!

  6. thoughtsontheline December 10, 2011

    Thanks for the great interview, Brian! It's always nice to hear the thoughts of such an influential mind.

    I would also like to suggest some potential guests for future interviews.

    James Sinclair and Alexander R. Pruss would be great scholars to get on the "air".

    I'd especially be interested in hearing Alex Pruss discuss his contributions to the Leibnizian argument and also to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. I think he's made some huge contributions to natural theology (among other fields) – although perhaps not well known.

    Thanks again Brian! Keep it up!