Philosophy of Religion Assignments, Spring 2015


For 4/23. Reading: Alvin Plantinga's defense of religious exclusivism. Papers (Porter, Robertson, Smith)

Plantinga raises, and then responds to, a number of intellectual and moral criticisms of 'exclusivism.' Explain and evaluate one of his responses.


For 4/21. Reading: selections on inclusivism by the Dalai Lama and Karl Rahner. Papers (Brian Payne, David Payne)

  1. In what sense are all major world religions in agreement, according to the Dalai Lama? In what sense aren't they? Does this seem right to you, and why or why not?
  2. In what sense may a Christian also be a Buddhist, according to the Dalai Lama? In what sense can't he be? Does this seem right to you, and why or why not?
  3. Explain and comment on what the Dalai Lama has to say about the attitude he takes towards followers of other religions and why, or what he says about the way in which other religions can help towards attaining liberation.
  4. According to Rahner, in what sense is there salvation outside of Christianity? In what sense isn't there? Why does he think this? Explain and evaluate his position.
  5. What is an "anonymous Christian," according to Rahner, and why does he suppose that they exist? Evaluate what he says.

For 4/16. Read Hick on religious pluralism. Papers (Mamaril, Murphy)

  1. How can competing religions, with apparently inconsistent claims, all be true? Explain and evaluate what Hick says.
  2. What is the relationship between different religious traditions, according to Hick? Explain and evaluate.
  3. What is wrong with Rahner's 'inclucivism'? Explain and evaluate.

For 4/14. Read Nagel, "Death." Papers (Jassem, Lovell):

  1. Explain and evaluate one of Nagel's criticisms of the Epicurean argument.
  2. Explain and evaluate one of Nagel's positive reasons for thinking death is bad.
  3. If death is bad for the person who has died, *when* is it bad? Explain and evaluate what Nagel says about this.

For 4/9.

Read Lucretius on the fear of death, and Epicurus on the fear of death, as well as this brief summary of the Epicurean arguments.

Paper (India Lewis and Justin Lewis)

  1. Set out and evaluate, in your own words, one of the Epicurean arguments on why death is 'nothing to us,' and why we should not fear it.

For 4/7. Re-read Clarke and Hume, and play Staying Alive, the personal identity game. Post your results on the bulletin board. Paper (Hobson): explain and evaluate one of the arguments of either Clarke or Hume on whether there is an afterlife, or one of Hume's arguments about why the traditional notions of heaven and hell are dubious.


For 3/26. Reading: "Karma and Evil," and Wendy Doniger's "Karma in Hindu thought." Paper (Goli, Hagley)


For 3/24. Reading: selections from the Book of Job. Paper (Collier, Davenport):


For 3/12. Read Swinburne on why God allows evil. No reading response paper due.


For 3/10. Read David Hume, "The maimed and abortive children of nature." Papers (Chambers, Cole):

Explain and evaluate one of the arguments that Philo gives for why this world is not the product of an all-powerful, loving, and wise god.


For 3/5. William James, "The Will to Believe." Papers (Bell, Burnett.)

  1. How does James criticize Pascal? Do you find this criticism convincing? Why, or why not?
  2. James says that our passions may decide what to believe in the case of living forced, and momentous choices. What does this mean? Do you agree?
  3. James says that there two commandments when it comes to forming opinions: We must know the truth; and we must avoid error. Which is more important, according to James? How does this relate to its being permissible to 'will to believe'? Evaluate.
  4. How can we 'will to believe' in the case of religious belief, in particular, and why is it permissible to do so? Evaluate.

For 3/3. Reading, Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief." Papers, (Smith, Adams)

  1. Clifford gives several arguments for his conclusion that "It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence." Explain and evaluate one of his argument.
  2. Explain Clifford's analogy of the ship-builder and how it is supposed to apply to the case of belief. Do you think this analogy works? Why, or why not?
  3. Clifford believes that there are no cases of purely private and harmless unjustified beliefs. Explain and evaluate his reasons for this claim.
  4. Imagine that religious belief, by its nature, can't have evidence (this is the sort of thing that Pascal says). What would Clifford say about religious belief in this case? Is he right?

For 2/26. Reading, Pascal, the wager. Papers (Joshua Porter, Ben Robertson):

  1. What does Pascal mean when he says that you are forced to wager? Why does he say this? Do you agree?
  2. Why does Pascal say that it is impossible to know by reason whether or not God exists and what he is like? Evaluate.
  3. Why does Pascal think that 'betting' that God exists is a better bet as far as happiness is concerned? Explain and evaluate his reasons.
  4. What does Pascal say to the person who replies that he cannot make himself believe that God exists through a decision to do so? Evaluate.

For 2/24. Reading: Alan Rhoda, "Generic open theism and some varieties thereof". This paper mostly just describes what open theism is, but think about the positons sketched in this paper and their plausibility. Papers (Joseph Murphy, Brian Payne):

  1. Evaluate the strength of any one of the 4 core commitments of the open theist, as sketched by Rhoda. For instance:
  2. In what sense does God change, according to the open theist? In what sense doesn't he? Evaluate.
  3. Briefly describe and evaluate one of the three versions of open theism Rhoda sketches. Alternatively, say which of the three versions you think is the strongest, and why.

For 2/12. Read Lynne Rudder Baker, "Why Christians should not be libertarians: an Augustinian challenge." Papers (Lovell, Mamaril):

  1. Baker argues that adopting a compatibilist view of the freedom of the will makes it easy to solve the problems of foreknowledge and freedom and divine providence. Explain and evaluate her reasons for thinking this.
  2. Baker argues that "there is no role for libertarian construals of free will in the scheme of salvation." Explain and evaluate her reasons for thinking this.
  3. Baker argues that not all sin need be a matter of will. Explain and evaluate her reasons for thinking this.
  4. Some people believe that that without libertarian free will, we would be just puppets. Explain and evaluate Baker's reasons for thinking that this is false.
  5. Explain and evaluate Baker's arguments in favor of universalism.

For 2/10. Readings: Aquinas on God's knowledge, and Pike on Divine Omniscience and voluntary actions. Papers (Jassem, Justin Lewis):

  1. Aquinas claims that future events (such as our actions) occur in he way they do because God knows that they will occur in that way, not vice-versa. Explain and evaluate Aquinas' argument for this.
  2. If God's knowledge is a cause of our actions, does that threaten our freedom? Say what you believe and why.
  3. Why does Pike think that the doctrine that God is "outside of time" doesn't solve the problem of foreknowledge and freedom? Explain and evaluate his argument.
  4. Why does Pike think that if an essentially omniscient being like God knows what I am going to do, then I am unable to do anything other than what God foresaw I was going to do? Explain and evaluate Pike's argument.

For 2/5. Reading: Boethius on God's foreknowledge and human freedom. Papers:

  1. Explain and evaluate the initial argument Boethius gives for the incompatibility of omniscience and human freedom.
  2. Boethius gives a number of unsavory consequences if humans do not have freedom because of God's foreknowledge. Explain why he thinks these consequences follow, and whether you agree with him that they do.
  3. What mistake does the initial argument for the incompatibility of omniscience and human freedom make regarding the nature of necessity? Do you agree that it makes this mistake?
  4. What is the relationship between God and time, according to Boethius? How is this supposed to help make foreknowledge and freedom compatible? Do you agree that it does?
  5. According to Boethius, can we evade God's providence? Evaluate his position.

For 2/3. Reading, Sartre, "The Humanism of Existentialism." papers:

  1. Sartre claims that, for humans, Existence precedes essence." What does he mean by this? Do you agree, and why or why not?
  2. Sartre claims that if God does not exist, this has a large impact on ethics. Explain and evaluate his reasons for thinking this.
  3. (Slight variant on the above.) Some thinkers believe that we can base ethics on reason and human nature, and so God's non-existence makes little difference to ethics. Why does Sartre disagree with such thinkers? Do you think Sartre is right, and why?
  4. Explain what Sartre means by 'forlornness.' Do you agree with him that humans are 'forlorn'?
  5. How does Sartre respond to eh charge that existentialism makes choice arbitrary? Do you think that this response is adequate?

1/29. Continue Aquinas on law: human law:

Paper as below. But our topic will be the relationship between human law and natural law.


1/27. Reading: Aquinas on law.

NOTE: Each 'article' in the Summa Theologica addresses a question, like "Does God exist?". It start with a series of objections to the position Aquinas himself wants to argue for, i.e., arguments for the opposite side of the issue. Then Aquinas gives a choice quotation, an argument for his own answer, and then replies to the objections with which he started. See this page for more detail; scroll down to "How to Read the Summa."

Papers: In your own words, lay out one of the objections that Aquinas considers and his reply to it. Do you find his reply convincing? Why, or why not? (Alternative: simply analyze one of Aquinas' main arguments in the sections that start with "I answer that...") This is obviously pretty wide open, and feel free to choose what you wish. We will spend the most time looking at Q94 on natural law: in particular, how all humans share in the natural law and how the natural law directs us all to what is good.


For 1/22. Read Phillip Quinn, "God and Morality." Papers.

  1. Quinn gives four "legs" in support of the Divine Command Theory. Explain and evaluate one of them. Does it actually support DCT? (Note, any of the 4 is fine, but we will concentrate more on "legs" 3 and 4.
  2. Quinn discusses four "arrows" (i.e. objections) against the DCT and claims that none of them decisively refute it. Explain and evaluate one of them. Is Quinn right? Why, or why not? (Note: we will spend more time on "arrows" 1 and 4.)

For 1/20. Read this summary of the Euthyphro objection to the divine command theory plus Gottfried Leibniz against the divine command theory. Papers (choose one)

  1. According to the Euthyphro objection, as explained by Taber, accepting the Divine Command Theory makes morality arbitrary. Explain why this is supposed to be so. Do you agree that the DCT has this consequence, if it is true? Why or why not?
  2. Taber claims (in his exposition of the Euthyphro objection) that it is "theologically sound" to say that torturing children is wrong and God would never will us to do anything wrong but that saying this involves abandoning the DCT. Explain why Taber thinks these things, and evaluate his arguments for them.
  3. Leibniz argues that asserting that goodness is dependent upon God's will would actually undermine God's perfection. Explain and evaluate his argument for this.
  4. Explain and evaluate what Leibniz has to say about the relationship between God's will and God's understanding.


For 1/15. Read William Paley's defense of the Divine Command Theory. No reading response papers, but some questions to think about below: please post a question or comment to the bulletin board.

  1. According to Paley, why are we obligated to obey God's commands? (Make sure that you connect this with what Paley says about what obligates people generally.) Do you accept this explanation? Why, or why not?
  2. Paley believes that moral obligations must be based upon commands--in particular, upon God's commands. Why does he think this? Do you agree? Why, or why not?
  3. How does Paley distinguish between prudence and duty? Do you accept the way he distinguishes between them? Why, or why not?


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