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Philosophy of Religion

      Philosophy 255: Philosophy of Religion
Spring 2007
TTh 1:00-2:50 PM
Morse-Ingersoll 108

Professor: Matt Tedesco
          Phone: 363-2146

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11-12, Fridays 12-1, and by appointment
          Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210

Textbook: Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (4th ed.), edited by Louis P. Pojman (Wadsworth, 2003)

The Class:

The purpose of this course is to critically examine a range of philosophical questions that emerge from long-standing theological traditions, particularly those of the West. Throughout the semester, we will address such topics as the existence of God, the problem of evil, the possibility of miracles and life after death, the relationship between God and morality, the attributes of God, and the relationship between faith and reason. As a philosophy class, our emphasis will be on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments. Beyond gaining a familiarity with some of the core literature in the philosophy of religion, students should expect to develop their analytic and evaluative skills through both in-class discussion and a range of writing assignments. Please note that this class is not a survey of world religions or the history of religion. For classes taking up those matters, youll need to look elsewhere.


Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:


You will write two papers in this class, each approximately 1500-2000 words in length and worth 2/7 of your overall class grade. The first will be due on February 22nd, and the second on April 10th. Details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses.


I will, in special circumstances, allow the two assigned papers to be replaced with one significant research paper of 3000-4500 words in length. This option is intended primarily (though not exclusively) for advanced philosophy majors, particularly those who are interested in graduate studies in philosophy. For a student to take this option, they will have to demonstrate to me (ordinarily by a conversation early in the semester) that they are capable of successfully completing a project of this size and detail.


There will be a final exam this semester, worth 2/7 of your overall class grade, administered on May 4th at 9AM (our assigned time during finals week). This exam will be an in-class, closed-book writing exam, and it will be cumulative. Anything discussed in class or assigned as class reading is fair game for a question topic. Note that these two will largely, but not entirely, overlap.


You will be responsible for sending reaction e-mails to me throughout the semester. These e-mails should be at least two substantial paragraphs in length. The first paragraph should briefly summarize what you take to be the thesis, main point, or purpose of the reading being discussed. The second paragraph and beyond should contain your reaction to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your reaction e-mails will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. There are two important limitations to keep in mind: first, the e-mails must be received before the class in which we cover the reading you discuss, and second, you can turn in no more than one per week. If you turn in fourteen (one for each week, excluding the last) satisfactorily, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not turned in, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in thirteen earns an A-, twelve a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Thursday class; any reaction e-mails sent afterwards will count for the next week.

Youll need to adhere to three rules in formatting your reaction e-mails. First, the subject of your e-mails should include both the number of the reaction and the name of the philosopher or philosophers to whom youll be responding (e.g., Reaction 1: Descartes). Second, dont send any attachments; your reaction e-mail should be the text of the e-mail itself. And third, dont include other business (questions about assignments, requests for a meeting, etc.) in your reaction e-mails; send all of that stuff as a separate correspondence.


The final component of your overall class grade encompasses several different elements, including (but not limited to) class participation and classroom behavior in general. This component is unique in that, unlike the other components, it is subjective. Attendance, first of all, is mandatory, and students with excessive absences will be penalized, where excessive absences are understood as those over and above the equivalent of one weeks worth of class time. In accordance with Beloit College policy, I expect everyone to come to class, and I furthermore expect everyone who comes to class to be alert and ready to participate. Participation also is mandatory. Though this requirement is most commonly met by making positive contributions to in-class discussion, it may also be met through e-mail communication or office visits that demonstrate a serious engagement with class material beyond the assigned reaction e-mails. Elements of class activity that may negatively impact your grade include disruptive behavior (e.g., engaging in side-conversations with others, ringing cell phones) or visibly obvious detachment from the class (e.g., reading outside material such as the newspaper or work for other classes, sleeping). Exceptionally strong class activity may raise your overall grade by one-third (e.g., if your final grade is a B, it may be raised to a B-plus), while poor class activity may lower your overall grade by at least one-third (e.g., from B to B-minus or lower).

If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.


What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. Reading assignments should be completed before the class that theyre assigned. Note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.

If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate LSSC documentation to me early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met.

1/16:       Class introductions

Arguments for the Existence of God
1/18:       Aquinas, The Five Ways (3-5)
               Clarke, The Argument from Contingency (5-6)
                Rowe, An Examination of the Cosmological Argument (15-24)
1/23:       Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (24-29)
1/25:       Draper, A Critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (42-47)

1/30:       Paley, The Watch and the Watchmaker (50-52)
                Hume, A Critique of the Design Argument (52-58)

2/1:         Anselm, The Ontological Argument (70-72)
                Kant, A Critique of the Ontological Argument (73-76)
2/6:         Malcolm, Anselms Two Ontological Arguments (76-86)

2/8:         Selections of Mystical Experiences (92-93)
                Broad, The Argument from Religious Experience (113-120)
                Pojman, A Critique of the Argument from Religious Experience (121-129)

The Problem of Evil
2/13:       Hume, The Argument from Evil (141-146)
2/15:       Hick, Evil and Soul-Making (152-156)
                Madden & Hare, A Critique of Hicks Theodicy (156-159)
2/20:       Mackie, Evil and Omnipotence (160-167)
2/22:       Plantinga, The Free Will Defense (167-186)
                PAPER ONE DUE
2/27:       Rowe, The Inductive Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God (186-193)
3/1:         Draper, Evolution and the Problem of Evil (193-205)
3/6:         SPRING BREAK
3/8:         SPRING BREAK

Faith and Reason
3/13:       Scriven, The Presumption of Atheism (344-352)
3/15:       Malcolm, The Groundlessness of Belief (391-399)
3/20:       Martin, A Critique of Fideism (399-403)
3/22:       Plantinga, Religious Belief Without Evidence (414-428)
3/27:       Martin, A Critique of Plantingas Religious Epistemology (429-436)

Miscellaneous Issues
3/29:       Pike, Gods Foreknowledge and Human Free Will are Incompatible (235-245)
4/3:         Plantinga, Gods Foreknowledge and Human Free Will are Compatible (245-249)

4/5:         Aquinas, Is Gods Power Limited? (251-253)
                Mavrodes, Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence (253-255)
                Frankfurt, The Logic of Omnipotence (255-256)

4/10:       Hick, Religious Pluralism and Ultimate Reality (499-507)
                Basinger, Hicks Religious Pluralism and Reformed Epistemology: A Middle Ground (521-528)
                PAPER TWO DUE

4/17:       Plato, Morality and Religion (549-550)

4/19:       Hume, Against Miracles (261-269)

4/24:       Russell, The Finality of Death (314-316)
4/26:       Olen, Personal Identity and Life After Death (323-333)

5/1:         Class wrap-up
5/4:         FINAL EXAM