Possible Essay Questions for the Second Exam
Philosophy of Religion, Spring 2017

The second exam will be on Tuesday, March 28. The essays will be the main portion of the exam, but there will also be a section of short answers, so please make sure that you are familiar with all the material we covered in class, even that which isn't part of the essays. Please make sure to bring a blue book and your student ID (as you will be putting your ID# and not your name on the exam).

Each of these essays is designed to give you the opportunity to demonstrate to me how well you understand the class material. In order to do this, imagine that you are trying to explain the subject to your intelligent, but ignorant, roommate. That is, state things clearly enough, explaining any technical terminology, offering examples where they are needed for illustration, and expanding on any cryptic or compressed remarks, so that a person not already familiar with the material would understand what you mean. By doing this, you'll show me that you understand what you're talking about. However, since time is limited, don't go off into irrelevant areas or offer information that is not needed to answer the question; don't pad.

In each of the essays below, I give a number of points that I want you to touch upon. However, please do not simply answer them one-by-one, in a disconnected, "bullet-point," manner. Incorporate your discussion of each of the points within a continuous, coherent, flowing essay on the topic. The parts of the essay do not necessarily need to be treated in the order in which I mention them.

To prepare for the exam, work through the answers to the following essay questions. A good way to do philosophy is to talk about it with other people, so studying with others in the class may be useful. Out of the following essay questions, you will have to write on two (either 2 out of three, or 1 each out of two groups of two).

  1. Pascal's Wager. Explain Pascal's argument for believing in God. Along the way, address the following questions: What does Pascal mean when he says that you are forced to wager, and why does he say this? Why does Pascal say that it is impossible to know by reason whether or not God exists and what he is like? Why does Pascal think that 'betting' that God exists is a better bet as far as happiness is concerned? What does Pascal say to the person who replies that he cannot make himself believe that God exists through a decision to do so? Finally, evaluate: do you think Pascal gives good reasons for believing in God, and why or why not?
  2. James vs. Clifford on Belief. Explain Clifford's general reasons for thinking that "it is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence." Then explain how he thinks this is supposed to apply to religious beliefs in particular. James thinks that Clifford's general ethics of belief is incorrect. Explain why. In which cases is it permissible to believe based on our passions, and why? How is this supposed to apply to religious beliefs in particular? With whom do you agree, if either, and why?
  3. The Problem of Evil and the Free Will Defense. Explain how the Problem of Evil is supposed to show that God does not exist, drawing both on the discussion in class and as presented by Philo in Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion. (Make sure you specify what kind of God!) Then explain how the Free Will Defense (as presented by Swinburne) is supposed to provide a theodicy to the Problem of Evil, why the existence of natural evil seems to pose a problem for the Free Will Defense, and how Swinburne tries to handle natural evil. Finally, give your own reasons for why you think that the Free Will Defense either does, or does not, provide a successful theodicy.
  4. Job and evil. Explain what Yahweh says to Job at the end of the Book of Job, and how this might be thought (in the 'Book of Job'/skeptical theism defense we discussed) to provide a basis for circumventing the Problem of Evil. Along the way, explain the difference between inscrutable vs. gratuitous evils and how the 'skeptical theist' attempt to circumvent the problem of evil differs from a theodicy such as Swinburne's. How might a skeptical theist criticize Swinburne? Finally, evaluate: does this defense succeed as a response to the problem of evil, and why or why not?
  • Is death annihilation? Explain the arguments of the Epicureans (as discussed in class) and of Hume for why death is annihilation, the argument of Clarke from God's justice and goodness for why there is an afterlife, and how Hume criticizes that argument. Then do one of the following: (1) Evaluate the Epicurean and Humean arguments, explaining why you find them cogent or not. (2) Evaluate Clarke's argument and Hume's objection to it, explaining which you find more convincing and why. Return to the Philosophy of Religion page.