Alvin Plantinga and theistic personalism

indexAlvin Plantinga (b. 1932) is an American philosopher whose work sits within the school of analytic philosophy. He is best known for his work in Christian apologetics. Plantinga’s father was a philosophy teacher, and encouraged him to leave high school a year early and enroll in college. Plantinga would go on to study at Calvin College, Harvard and eventually Yale, receiving his PhD there in 1958.

There will be two posts on Plantinga’s free will defense and his ontological argument following this one, but first it is important to understand how Plantinga’s view of God differs radically from classical and medieval philosophers such as Aristotle and Aquinas.

If one reads Aquinas’s Five Ways or Anselm’s ontological argument, it becomes apparent that classically understood God is always a type of reality that is absolute and fundamental, and necessarily the source of all things non-absolute and non-fundamental. That is to say God does not depend on anything for His existence, and could not in principle do so. He is not composed of parts that require an explanation for their composition and He does not participate in forms that are over Him.

In modern times, there has arisen a new way of conceiving of God – this movement has been labelled “theistic personalism”. Personalist because these thinkers generally start their inquiry in anthropomorphic terms: that God is a person just as human beings are persons, with a will and powers and so forth. However, unlike human beings God has these powers maximally. God is not absolute and fundamental, but rather He is the best that anyone can be given the limitations on Him, whether they be physical laws or forms or etc.

Of course, where one stands in regards to this issue has far-reaching implications when one thinks through controversies such as divine simplicity, the relationship of God’s intellect and will, the aseity of God and so on.

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