Alvin Plantinga, professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, recently received the Templeton Prize in Religion, which “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
He thus joins the ranks of a quite disparate and distinguished group. Mother (now Saint) Teresa, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are previous winners.
What makes Plantinga so extraordinary, however, is that he isn’t supposed to exist.
He isn’t, that is, according to the New Atheists and their ilk: biologist and blowhard Richard Dawkins, yes, but perhaps especially philosopher Daniel Dennett, who awards to himself and fellow atheists the title of “brights,” leaving religious believers, of course, in the dark.
The not-so-New Atheists carry on, in fact, a tradition at least as old as the more radically unbelieving wings of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and of the ancient Cynics long before that. That tradition is to see themselves as the paragons of rationality while religious believers are viewed as pathetically combining intellectual density and psychological neediness to the psychotic extent of believing in Things That Aren’t There: God as Easter Bunny, perhaps, or Flying Spaghetti Monster.
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