The Table Video

Alvin Plantinga

Plantinga on Christian Scholarship

John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame
May 17, 2012

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga discusses how his views on Christian academics have evolved over the span of his philosophical career. He talks through his own approaches to the big questions of existence from a distinctively Christian perspective.


We had a seminar, earlier in the term, with the two of you, and some of our other fellows, from the Center for Christian Thought. And Al you said in conversation once or twice, that if you were to write your now classic piece “Advice to Christian Philosophers” today, you would write it a bit differently than you did back in 1984. And so I wondered if you can share with us some about how you might do it differently, and also maybe if you could think some about how the advice might extend to Christian scholars more broadly than just to the community of your philosophers.

Right, well I reread it after you emailed me about this sort of thing, and actually I couldn’t find much I would disagree with. [Laughing loudly] It seemed to me to be pretty sound. It sounds a bit defensive in parts…

Pardon me what?

Defensive, defensive. “The Christian scholar has got a perfect right to her own projects in this that or other thing”, I said “perfect right” maybe a little bit too often. And also something I should’ve added was, I mean I think what I said in there was that Christian philosophers should carry on with integrality, and with boldness, and they have their own projects, they don’t just have to do things exactly as they’re done in the philosophical academy generally, they’ve got their own project, their own way of doing things. I didn’t mean at all to suggest by that Christian Scholars, Christian Philosophers have their own standards of excellence or rigorous which are lower than the ones we found in academy generally, I maybe should have emphasized that a bit, that was not part of the deal at all. But I still believe practically just everything I said in there, I do think that’s quite true, Christian philosophers do have their own projects, they should look at the kinds of problems philosophers have talked and thought about from the very beginning, questions like what is knowledge, and how should we think about abstract objects and do human beings have free will, what is it to be a human being. They should look at these questions and look at them from a specific Christian perspective, it’s not that first they have to prove that the Christian perspective is correct by employing premises acceptable to everybody whether Christians or not, you know, they’ve got, as I said, and now I will say it again, a perfect right to start from, from a Christian understanding of the world and then to address these questions from that point of view and make interpretations and so on from that perspective, and I guess I do think the same thing holds for Christian scholars more generally, not just philosophers but other scholars, I really hesitate to give advice to people in other disciplines, its sort of above my paid rates, saying much about things outside of philosophy, just staying, doing philosophy properly is hard enough without trying to give directions to the rest of the academic world. So I wouldn’t think of it as advice but more like suggestions that somebody might like to think about, and again I’d say the same sort of thing there, Christian scholars generally in subjects like psychology or physics or at least the interpretation of physical theories, quantum mechanics and the like, or economics or anthropology or many other areas, and some of these areas, how one understands a given phenomenon will differ as to where you start from, as to what kind of broad perspective you look at the matter from, or what context its set in. So if you think about psychology, nowadays maybe something like evolutionary psychology and its various forms and manifestations is if not the orthodoxy of the subject, very close to being the orthodoxy of the subject, and here the whole effort is to understand distinctive human traits and properties such as our humor, our love of stories, our behavior with members of our family, our morality, and our religion itself, to understand all of this from the point of view of how it all began back there on the plains of Serengeti, and how this particular trait arose either because it was itself adaptive, contributed to survival and reproduction or survival through reproductive age it might say on the one hand, or else it’s associated with some such trait. And this gets repeated, the same sort of framework gets repeated or applied to practically all important human traits, you can find evolutionary psychological analyzes of all the property I was just mentioning, and others as well. Well it seems to me a Christian shouldn’t just, a Christian psychologist shouldn’t just be, I mean I suggest, I wanna suggest, I don’t wanna sound normative, I suggest a Christian psychologist might think about maybe not joining in on this venture at all, but instead looking at the same traits, love for example, how should we think about love, or hostility, how should we think about hostility, not from the point of view of some story about how this originated back there on the plains of Serengeti, but how it fits in with our being created in gods image and how it fits in with our having fallen, and the like of that, and this would be one kind of example. Another kind of example, and then I would stop, but if you think about quantum mechanics and physics that say interpretations of quantum mechanics, some interpretations of quantum mechanics don’t fit well with Christian belief at all, the so called many worlds interpretation, like this isn’t the place to go into detail what that amounts to, but that many worlds interpretation sort of makes hash out of the whole notion of incarnation. Well it seems to me a Christian physicists has a real reason in that point alone, for rejecting that kind of interpretation of quantum mechanics, and I can give a lots more examples, but I won’t. [upbeat music]

Biola University offers a variety of biblically centered degree programs, ranging from business, to ministry, to the arts and sciences, visit to find out how Biola could make a difference in your life.

About the Author