Philosophy 240 (second term) - Philosophy of Religion – 2011-12

Professor: William Sweet
Office: 707 Nicholson Tower
Telephone: 867-2341  / E-mail:
Office Hours:  M 9.15-11.15; Tu 14.15-15; W 9.15-11; Th 10.15-11.15; 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 second term, we examine a number of modern and contemporary discussions in order to help us answer such questions as “Do religion and science contradict?” “What is the relation between reason and faith?” “What is the function and purpose of religious language?” and “What is religious belief?”.

Course Outline (subject to minor modification):
I. Introduction: What is religious belief?

II. What is the relation between reason and faith?
            A. Aquinas on faith and reason [review]
            B. Pascal and 'the wager'   
            C. Whately, Clifford and evidentialism                         
            D. William James and the 'will to believe'
            E. J.H. Newman and ‘real assent’
            F. Plantinga and ‘Reformed epistemology’ / Kai Nielsen and the parity argument

III. Do religion and science contradict?

IV. What is the function and purpose of religious language?
    A. Flew, Hare and Mitchell: falsifiability and meaning
    B. Hick and eschatological verification
    C. Mascall and analogy
    D. D.Z. Phillips, Kai Nielsen, and Wittgensteinian fideism
    E. Summary

V. 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 studying philosophy that students be prepared to ask and answer questions in class.

    St. Francis Xavier University values academic integrity. All forms of academic dishonesty (including plagiarism) are unacceptable. For the university policy on plagiarism, please visit

Email and Office Policy:
I can respond to short messages through email, and I try to check e-mail once a day. I am not, however, able to provide grades or answers about course content by email. Students should make use of my office hours and ask questions in class. Urgent requests (e.g., to meet) are best made by telephone. If I am not in when you call, please call later or drop by.

Laptops and other technologies:

I assume that laptops and other technologies are being employed for the purposes of note taking. If you need to surf the net, text, or engage in other activities, please leave the classroom.  

Textbooks (available at the University “Campus Store”):

•    Coursepack for Philosophy 240
•    Religion, Science, and Non-Science, by William Sweet, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publishers, 2003.

Supplementary texts: (not required, but useful as reference works)
•    Philosophy of Religion, 4th. ed., by John Hick, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Publ.
•    Responses to the Enlightenment: An Exchange on Foundations, Faith, and Community, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012 [with Hendrik Hart].
•    Religious Belief: The Contemporary Debate, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publishers, 2003.
•    Religion and the Challenges of Science, ed. William Sweet, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishers, 2007.
•    God and Argument / Dieu et l’argumentation philosophique, ed. William Sweet, Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 1999.

Method of evaluation:
Attendance / class notes / quizzes on readings 10 %
Written assignment 40 %
Final examination 50 %