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1 Aims To introduce students to some core topics in the philosophy of religion: the nature of God, arguments for and against the existence of God, the problem of evil, and the relationship between evidence and religious faith.
2 Objectives Students who complete the course satisfactorily will be sufficiently familiar with these debates to assess the arguments on either side, and reach their own conclusions on the matters discussed.
3 Teaching One lecture per week from Week 2 (Thursday 2.15) and a weekly two-hour seminar (groups on Thursday and Friday – check departmental lists for times and places). Please note that lectures begin in Week 2, seminars in Week 3, and that seminars will continue into Week 10. Each seminar will address topics from the previous week’s lecture. Attendance at lectures and seminars is compulsory, as is submission of two pieces of written work.
A three-hour unseen examination at the beginning of the Autumn Term 2008. You will be required to answer three questions from a choice of ten.
5 Procedural requirements for this course
Attendance at and participation in lectures and seminars.
Adequate preparation for seminars by carefully studying the set readings.
Submission of two draft exam answers, one by 5pm on Friday of Week 5 and one by the same time in Week 8. I aim to give written feedback in Weeks 7 and 10.
6 Procedural work For the first deadline write an answer to one of the following sample exam questions:
Can we conceive of a supremely perfect being that lacks existence?
God: eternal or everlasting?
Could God be both omnipotent, and incapable of doing evil?
If God is eternal, does this limit human freedom?
I will release questions for the second piece of procedural work later in the term. Please treat these like real examination questions: revise the topic, and then write the best answer that you can in one hour (but do then add proper references and a bibliography). In these conditions I would expect your answers to be around 700-800 words but don’t aim at a certain length - write what you can in the time. Make sure you answer the question, don’t just tell me everything you know about the topic.
7 Recommended readings
There are a number of useful textbooks and anthologies of readings. This is not an exhaustive list, but the following will all be available at the library in Key Texts or Reference. Abbreviations in brackets help to identify the source of readings listed below:
Clack, B. and Clack B.R. (2001) The Philosophy of Religion (C&C)
Copan, C. and Meister, C. (2008) Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues (C&M)
Craig, W. Lane (2002) Philosophy of Religion, a Reader and Guide (WLC)
Davies, B. (2000) Philosophy of Religion, A Guide and Anthology (BD1)
Davies, B (2003) An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (BD2)
Hick, J (1990) Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (JH)
Mawson, T.J. (2005) Belief in God: an Introduction to Philosophy of Religion (TJM)
Peterson, M et al (1996) Philosophy of Religion, Selected Readings (MP)
The existence of God; teleological/design arguments
The problem of evil
Religious epistemology: belief and evidence
Religious epistemology: religious belief as basic
9 Seminar timetable and readings Many of the seminar readings are contained in Brian Davies. (2000) Philosophy of Religion: A Guide and Anthology Oxford University Press (BD1 in the list above): you should buy this book. Students wanting an additional guide to the subject might consider Davies’ An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion or Copan and Meister Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues. Seminars will be on aspects of the previous week’s lecture topic. Before each seminar you must study the essential readings, and should look over some of the additional readings suggested. If items are not available in Key Texts, please be public-spirited and read them in the library or return them promptly, to give others a chance to see them.
Be prepared to research material beyond these reading lists, but do not try to read everything on a topic; better to read a couple of articles thoughtfully than a lot of items superficially. Aim at depth rather than breadth.
You will find other useful material in general philosophical journals such as Mind, Nous and Philosophical Review, and in specialist journals such as Religious Studies, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Faith and Philosophy. There are also excellent and authoritative articles on many of these topics in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; treat other online sources with caution.
Week 3 Seminar: An omnipotent God? Seminar Readings:
Thomas Morris, ‘A modern discussion of divine omnipotence’ (BD1)
C. Wade Savage, ‘The paradox of the stone’ (course pack)
Other readings from Part IV of BD1, (esp. Aquinas, from Summa Theologiae – also in Part 3 of MP)
Aquinas, from Summa Contra Gentiles Ch.25 (S&M)
George Mavrodes, ‘Some puzzles concerning omnipotence’ (MP, also Philosophical Review 72 (1963))
Thomas Flint and Alfred Freddoso, ‘Maximal power’ (WLC)
T.V. Morris ‘Omnipotence and Omniscience’ (T&G)
Michael Martin, Atheism Chapter 12
Richard Swinburne, ‘Omnipotent’, Chapter 9.of RS
More generally, on the attributes of God and the coherence of theism:
Chapter 2 of BD2.
Charles Taliaferro, ‘The coherence of theism’ (C&M)
William Lane Craig, ‘The coherence of theism’ (in WLC)
Richard Swinburne, ‘God’ (T&G)
‘The divine attributes’ and ‘Revisionary accounts of God’ (C&C, Chapter 2 pt. II, and Chapter 4 pt. I)
Robin Le Poidevin, ‘The impossibility of God?’ (C&M)
Michael Martin, Part II of Cambridge Companion to Atheism (available via the library as an e-book)
Week 4 Seminar: An eternal God? Seminar Readings:
Boethius, from The Consolation of Philosophy (esp. sec. V) (BD1 Ch. 44)
Thomas Aquinas, ‘Why call God eternal? (BD1)
Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘God is “everlasting”, not “eternal”’ (BD1)
Other readings from Part IV of BD1.
Chapter 8 of BD2.
Richard Swinburne, ‘Eternal and immutable’, Chapter 12 of RS.
Alan Padgett, ‘God and Timelessness’ (WLC)
Brian Leftow ‘Eternity’ (T&G)
Readings from Part 1 of S&M (esp. Stump and Kretzmann)
Lewis, D. ‘Eternity again: a reply to Stump and Kretzmann’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 15 (1984)
Katherin Rogers, ‘God, time and freedom’ (C&M)
J. R. Lucas (1973) A Treatise on Space and Time
Nelson Pike (1970) God and Timelessness
Week 5 Seminar: the ontological argument Seminar Readings:
Anselm, Gaunilo and Kant - readings from Part III of BD1.
Alvin Plantinga, ‘A contemporary defence of ontological arguments’ (BD1)
Chapter 4 of BD2.
Graham Oppy ‘The ontological argument’ (C&M)
Descartes, excerpts from Meditations 5 and Replies, in Part III of BD1.
‘Arguments for the existence of God’, Chapter 2 (I) of C&C
Norman Malcolm, ’Anselm’s ontological arguments’ Philosophical Review 69 (1960) (also in JH).
Peter Millican ‘The one fatal flaw in Anselm’s argument’ Mind 113 (2004)
Yujin Nagasawa, ‘Millican on the ontological argument’ Mind 116 (2007)
Peter van Inwagen ‘Necessary being: the ontological argument’ (S&M)
Robert Prevost ‘Divine necessity’ (WLC)
Michael Martin ‘The ontological argument’ (in T&G, excerpt from his Atheism)
J.L. Mackie (1983) ‘Ontological arguments’ in The Miracle of Theism (in Key Texts)
Jonathan Barnes (1972) The Ontological Argument
Alvin Plantinga, (1974) The Nature of Necessity (av. via the library as an e-book, and with a relevant excerpt in WLC).
Eleanore Stump, ‘Knowledge, freedom and the problem of evil’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 14 (1983) (p/c in Key Texts)
Moser, P. ‘Natural evil and the free will defence’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 15 (1984) (p/c in Key Texts)
[See also readings on the more general problem of evil in the various anthologies, and reading suggestions for Week 10 regarding divine hiddenness.]
Week 9 Seminar: faith and evidence Seminar readings:
William Clifford, ‘The ethics of belief’ (excerpts in BD1, and other anthologies)
David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Sec. X pt 1 (course pack)
William James, ‘The will to believe’ (course pack, also MP and JH)
Other readings from Part 1 of BD1, esp. Aquinas, Flew.
Chapter 1 of BD2.
Readings from Part 1 of WLC.
Readings from Part 2 of MP.
Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason (av. via the library as an e-book).
Peter van Inwagen ‘It is wrong, everywhere, always and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ (S&M)
Blaise Pascal ‘The wager’ (from Pensees) (S&M)
Ian Hacking ‘The logic of Pascal’s wager’ (WLC)
Soren Kierkegaard ‘Against proofs in religion’ (JH)
John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Part IV.
Stephen Wykstra ‘Towards a sensible evidentialism; the notion of “needing evidence”’ (R&W)
Week 10 Seminar: belief in God as basic belief Seminar readings:
Alvin Plantinga, ‘Religious belief as properly basic’ (BD1)
Norman Kretzmann, ‘Evidence and religious belief’ (BD1)
Readings from Part 1 (esp. Alston) and Part 6 (esp. Plantinga, Hook) of MP.
Nicholas Woltersdorff ‘The reformed tradition’ (Q&T)
William Mann ‘The epistemology of religious experience’ (C&M)
Rene van Woudenberg ‘Reformed epistemology’ (C&M)
Baker, D-P. ‘Plantinga’s reformed epistemology: what’s the question?’ International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 57 (2005). (p/c in Key Texts)
Alvin Plantinga ‘Is belief in God rationally acceptable?’ (WLC) (excerpted from, inter alia ‘Is belief in God properly basic?’, Nous 15 (1981))
— ‘Warranted belief in God’ (S&M)
— ‘On taking belief in God as basic’ (JH)
Philip Quinn ‘Defeating theistic beliefs’ (WLC)
— ‘In search of the foundations of theism’ Faith and Philosophy 2 (1985) (p/c in Key Texts)
Alvin Plantinga ‘The foundations of theism – a reply’ Faith and Philosophy 3 (1986) (p/c in Key Texts)
W. Hasker ’The foundations of theism: scoring the Quinn-Plantinga debate’ Faith and Philosophy 15 (1998) (p/copy in Key Texts)
William Alston ‘Perceiving God’ (S&M)
Willliam Alston ‘Religious experience as a ground of religious belief’ (JH)
Papers from Chapter 5 of P&V.
The topic of ‘divine hiddenness’ is broadly relevant to the discussions about evil, and about whether religious belief requires evidence. There are a number of good treatments of this topic, including:
The symposium in Chapter 2 of P&V.
Daniel Howard-Snyder (ed). Divine Hiddenness : new essays (in Key Texts)
J.L Schellenberg Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (in Key Texts).
‘Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy’ – Benjamin Franklin
Philosophy of Religion: Course Programme and Reading List