Philosophy 240 - Philosophy of Religion - 2005-2006

Professor: William Sweet
Office: 518 Nicholson Tower
Telephone: 867-2341
Office Hours:  M. 3:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.; 8:00-10:00 p.m.; T. 10.15 a.m.-12 p.m.; W. 3:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m., and by arrangement

Information on the course, on assignments and examinations, etc., will be periodically posted on the course web page:

This course aims at providing the student with a philosophical basis for reasoned reflection on religion and religious belief. In the first term, discussion will focus on some traditional questions in the philosophy of religion. In the second term, an examination of a number of recent debates will allow us to apply--and perhaps refine--our answers to the questions raised in the first part of the course.

Course Outline:

Term I:

I. Introduction: What is the philosophy of religion?
            A. Religion and philosophy
            B. Can religion be discussed?

II. Can we know anything about God?
            A. "the philosopher's God" and the believer's God
            B. Aquinas and Geach on omnipotence
            C. Boethius, Aquinas and Pike on omniscience
            D. Aquinas, Anselm and Hartshorne on eternal and immutable being
            E. Mascall on analogy and "goodness" [check the preceding link, or look for the reading on reserve]
                [A useful essay on analogy can be obtained here.]

III. Arguments against monotheism
            A. The problem of evil

IV. Arguments against religion [readings linked to this page]
            A. Feuerbach - God as a projection of the human mind
            B. Freud - Religion as neurosis
            C. Marx - Religion as 'opiate'

Term II:

V. Arguments for God's existence
            A. Aquinas on faith and reason
            B. Paley and Hume - the teleological argument
            C. Aquinas - the cosmological arguments
                1. efficient causality
                2. possible being
            D. Anselm, Gaunilo [and Descartes] - the ontological argument

V. What is the relation between reason and faith?
            A. Aquinas on faith and reason [review]
            B. Pascal and 'the wager'
            C. Clifford and evidentialism
            D. William James and the 'will to believe'
            E. Hendrik Hart and anti-foundationalism [reading on reserve]
            F. Plantinga and "Reformed epistemology"
            G. Kai Nielsen and the parity argument [reading on reserve]
            H. Summary: Argument and proof in religion

VI. What is the function and purpose of religious language?
            A. Flew, Hare and Mitchell: falsifiability and meaning
            B. Hick and eschatological verification
            C. D.Z. Phillips and Wittgensteinian fideism
            D. Kai Nielsen and objections to Wittgensteinian fideism [reading on reserve]
            E. Summary: A descriptive and performative view of religious language

VIII. Summary and Conclusion: What is religious belief?
            What is it to have a religious belief? What does it mean to "believe in" God?

Method of the course and the role of the student:

    The class will have a 'lecture and discussion' format. The professor will introduce a topic with a summary of the relevant arguments or a commentary on a text. This will be followed by questions and discussion of the material by the class as a whole (e.g., points of clarification or criticism and of comparison; comments on the relations between or among different issues).

    Students are expected to have prepared the readings before class, to attend all of the classes and to participate in discussion.

    In conformity with University regulations, students who have more than 3 unjustified absences in a term may be reported to their Dean.

    It is essential in learning how to do philosophy that students be prepared to ask and answer questions in class.


Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3rd. ed., edited by William ROWE and William WAINWRIGHT, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Supplementary readings (placed on reserve in the library - or check for link)

  1. A.N. Prior, "Can Religion be Discussed?"
  2.           Blaise Pascal, "The Philosopher's God" and "The Wager"
  3.           Richard Whately, Historic Doubts Relative To Napoleon Buonaparte
  4. Eric Mascall, "Analogy Theory" 
  5. Ludwig Feuerbach, "God as a Projection of the Human Mind"
  6. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion  
  7. Freudian theory of Religion
  8.           Freudian theory of Religion (from Hick, Philosophy of Religion)
  9. John Hick, "Theology and Verification
  10. R.B. Braithwaite, "An Empiricist's View of Religious Belief" 
  11. Kai Nielsen, God, Scepticism and Modernity (selections)
  12.           Karl Marx, "On Religion"
  13. Russell and Copleston, "The Existence of God"
  14. William Sweet and Hendrik Hart, Anti-foundationalism, Faith and Community

Supplementary texts: (not required, but useful as reference works)
        Religious Belief: The Contemporary Debate, by William Sweet, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publishers, 2003.
        Religion, Science, and Non-Science, by William Sweet, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publishers, 2003.
        Philosophy of Religion
, 4th. ed., by John Hick, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Publ.
        The Future of Religion: Christians on the Brink, by Bob Harvey, Ottawa: Novalis, 2001

Possible essay topics:

(The essays will involve a presentation, discussion and evaluation of the arguments and conclusions of 2 or 3 articles, chosen by the professor. There will also be a limit on the number of people who may write on each topic.)

Method of evaluation:

October quiz or written assignment 10 %
Christmas examination 20 %
Attendance / class notes / quizes on readings 20 % (10% per term)
Major essay (due Tues. January 31) 20 %
Final examination 30 %