Notes from Philosophy 240 (2012-13 - second term)

What follows are the generally unedited and uncorrected student notes of the class. It may provide a guide for what was covered in class. Caveat lector.

January 11, 2013 - Alex Louli

 Can religion be discussed?





Jan 15th/13 - Laura Butler


Can Religion Be Discussed?                                                                        

Recap: There are four responses to the question above. The Fidiest view and the view of the Logical Empiricist were discussed last class. . . .


            1) The Fidiest: There is no way to argue, demonstrate, or prove anything in religion. Nothing concrete can ever be proven about god through religious statements.

            [The UFO Analogy – people who see ‘flying saucers’ cannot clearly describe exactly what it is they saw. There is no language available that can fully encompass the idea of an alien spaceship, so they take the next best thing and compare it to a saucer]

            Although Fidiests have religious beliefs, they believe in discussing religion only as a way to deepen their own understanding and potentially open up others to the idea of God. Fidiests believe it is impossible to speak coherently about God and Religion, because there are no words to describe them.


            2) The Logical Empiricist: Believes that religion cannot be discussed. Statements about religion aren’t meaningful because they are neither truths or Reason nor Fact.

            Truths of reason are true by definition: “all beagles are canines.” Experience itself cannot actually prove truths of reason (it’s impossible to watch every human die before coming to the conclusion that humans are mortal). These truths are necessarily true, but they tell us nothing about existence. Truths of reason are just related concepts. For example, “all Do-Dos are birds” is a true and reasonable statement, but Do-Dos do not currently exist.          

            Truths of fact are statements that can be substantiated through word-of-mouth, experience, an internet search, ext. They can either be true or false, and are sometimes true at one time and false at another. For example “Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada” is a true fact, but it will likely be false ten years down the road.

            The Logical empiricist believes that religious statements are not statements of fact or reason. “God exists” as a statement of reason, amounts to saying: “if God exists, he exists” (because statements of reason are just related concepts). As a Fact, you would have to take “God exists” as either true or false, meaning, (clearly) that God might exist, but he also might not exist. Therefore, there is no way to say anything meaningful about God in the view of the Logical Empiricist.


            3) The Psychoanalyst: (Freudian perspective) believes that religion can be discussed meaningfully. Freud: “If religion is meaningless, then why do intelligent, civilized beings insist of believing in it?” Psychoanalysts concede that religion is full of meaning, but believe that the meaning is disguised. What does “God exists” actually mean? What is God?

            Thor, Zeus, Hera, and any number of deities ‘exist’ but how? And do they really exist? Zeus and Hera may have been real people at some point, but they were not Gods. Likely, the Gods were just powerful, important, or influential people in our ancestor’s lives. Over time their exploits turned into stories and became legendary, causing people to paint them as Gods with supernatural powers and cool patron animals. Likely, the Gods (who are similar to people) were just regular – if influential – people.

            [The example of Saint Sophia: In Istanbul, a mosque (which used to be a church) portrays the Saint Sophia. Sophia didn’t actually exist as a person, but her name means wisdom. The concept of WIDSDOM was anthropomorphised and a saint was born.]

            Psychoanalysts believe that religion and gods are nothing more than concepts, or reflections of a civilization’s culture and traditions. Deities are just an anthropomorphised form of culture and tradition while ‘sin’ is likely whatever goes against these values. There is no God hanging out in the sky.

            With this perspective in mind, psychoanalysts put for the question of why our ancestors would believe in Gods to begin with. There are many answers. Perhaps the threat of punishment caused children to respect a civilization’s culture, maybe people liked the idea of evil being punished, maybe people like to think that their lives (which may or may not be terrible) are meaningful because some all-powerful being is responsible for a divine plan. Security, explanation, direction, hope, consolation, and any number of other reasons could factor in to our ancestors belief in deities.

            Psychoanalysts say that perhaps there was a place for religion in the past, where many questions were unanswerable. Now, we know that if we want to water our crops we use an irrigation system rather than performing a rain dance. We are not children anymore. In the Psychoanalyst view there is no longer any reason to believe religion or deities exist. To Psychoanalysts, religion is not a truth, it is an illusion. Religious beliefs can be meaningfully discussed, but they are largely false.


            4) The Philosophical Theist: (Characteristic of Catholisism, some streams of Judaism, and the middle-ages version of Islam). Philosophical theists believe that religion can be discussed meaningfully. In fact, they hold that sometimes religious statements can even be proven. More on this next time. . . .



January 16th 2013 Emily Payne

*** Short review of the positions held by the Fideist, Logical Empiricist, and Psychoanalyst discussed in the previous class***

Philosophical Theist:

-        *Representative of the Catholic Christian & certain evangelical/ fundamentalist Protestant traditions

-        The philosophical Theist says that meaningful statements of religious belief can be made.

-        *Religion can be discussed; its statements are genuine statements, which can be known to be true, independent of revelation

-        These statements can be argued using only philosophical tools:

o   Reasoning/ Logic

o   Observation

-        Can know God exists without believing in Him

o   Believing in someone is not the same as believing the existence of that person

-        *Human reason, without appeal to religion can establish some religious beliefs

-        Believes religious beliefs can be proved

o   If the Philosophical Theist can prove just one religious belief, then the other positions must be false

-        * Paul- Romans 1:20 àwhen one considers the works of God in the world, his eternal power and divinity are manifest”


Do Religion and Science Conflict?

-        We see examples where the two appear to conflict

-        Monkey Trial; a teacher was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school. This was a banded subject because it conflicted with some students’ religious beliefs.

-        Galileo; an early pioneer in astronomy.

o   At the time people held a geocentric view; that the earth was the center of the universe

o   Galileo’s research led him to believe that it was the sun, not the earth at the center. This is a heliocentric view.

o   Galileo was put on trial for this and found guilty. He had to take back his heliocentric view.

-        Example Case: Bones found in Lakota

o   The US has decided to make replicas of the bones kept in achieves and museums in order to return the bones to their burial site.

o   There was controversy over where a skeleton found in Black Hill, Lakota should be returned.

§  According to anthropologists, the bones were traced back to a tribe in Texas.

§  The people of Lakota say that the bones belong to Black Hill (where they were found) because their people have always been there since ‘the beginning of time’.

o   Conflict presented in this case:

§  Psychological Conflict:

·       * Threatening the believer’s confidence in, or reliance on, his or her religious tradition.

·       Not to do with “what is true”

·       The Lakota people believe that their people have always lived in the same place. If they believed what the anthropologists are saying, it would cause psychological damage/ stress

§  Sociological Conflict:

·       * Between religious institutions and scientific institutions

·       * Not necessarily a matter of ‘what is true’ but of power, and who or what is to hold that power over others.

·       * The results of a scientific investigation or the increased dominance of a scientific world view erodes confidence in a society’s religious institutions and it’s authority

§  Logical Conflict

·       * That there is something in the description and/or the values reflected in one that is logically incompatible with that of the other.


 * à Indicates notes taken directly from Dr. Sweet’s notes

Jan 18th --  Katelyn Gaetz

How is there a logical conflict?

-Science enables us to determine that certain religious beliefs are false

-Ussher- Took the old testament and stated that if he could read it he would know how old the earth is. He found out that Moses was 900 years old when he died. After adding up all of the events that took place in the testament he concluded the earth was six thousand years old.


A) Science:

-Says Ussher was false

-Fossils that have been found show that the world is much older than six thousand years

-Science has proved that the earth is around four billion years old

-This leads to conflict with many religions

-Scientists stated: "Give us some time and we an show all religions are false"


Richard Dawkins:

-Stated that if you do not believe in evolution you are stupid and ignorant

-He stated that science pretty much settles the story of creation and that science refutes religious belief


B) Scientific Method

-Is said to be a more reliable way for uncovering the truth

-A scientist must be able to have a theory that can be replicated by others and be directed to the same outcome

-An example used in class was: Is cold fusion possible?

-First answer: I am a physicist, and have done many tests, and those tests have been able to be replicated by others

-Second answer: I had a dream last night that it could work


-The second answer would not be useful when trying to explain this theory to others


C) Science has served to erode or raise "grave impediments" to religious belief, as well as to some of the practices associated with such belief.

-The more we know about science the less we need to know about religion

-Before science people did not understand why it rained, so they used religious stories that would give them the comfort and stop wondering.

-Some people are preoccupied by death, some people want eternal life, because they could not bare not being with their families, or knowing they will never exist again.

-Science has made extending lives more possible with drugs, fixing infections, altering genes, etc.

-People liked religion because it gave them a longer life, it made them have a sense of security knowing they will live on in the after life.

-Culture has also eroded religion, this is due to many circumstances. Many religious people called God as their father, and he is one to take care of them. But in some cultures today fathers could have a bad tag to some families. This could be due to growing up in a abusive home. Or another example if a couple is trying to get pregnant and fails to do so, the woman could go to a local sperm bank. When the baby is born the father is really not the babies biological one. This has caused many problems and makes the religious notion less valuable.


D) Science implies standard and values opposed to such belief. EG. instrumental rationality.

-Certain experience change people.

-People are taught as children many religious aspects such as scriptures, and rules. They were told to believe them or else.

-Science is not like that.

-Science is science, its in personable.

-Science has no dogmas, science is up for challenges

-But that is not true about religion.

Instrumental rationality: Science aims to help us control the world, interested in using our knowledge to change the world.

-Science is about power and control


E) Stephen Jay Gould's View

-he was a famous palaeontologist

-he was also very religious

-Realm of fact: Deals with fact, replication

-Religion deals with the realm of meaning

-Science is what you can show and test

-Science and Religion are consistent with one another, they do not overlap but their is obviously conflict between them

-When religion starts to tell you about fact is when they begin to overlap, and this cannot happen.

-Conflicts arise when science tells about religion and vice versa

-The point of Stephen Jay Gould is that you only get problems when people go out of their own territory. When people start to combine science and religion to explain things is when problems start to occur.


Jan 23  /
Mariann Peters


Does reason contradict faith? Aquinas would say no: he believed that science could support faith rather than contradict it.

Always keep this question in mind: What is the author’s view on the relation between reason and faith?


When reading, always ask yourself what assumptions are being made by the author.


Response to Conflict…

1)      Even if it is true that some scientific & religious beliefs conflict, it is far from obvious that they ALL conflict.

2)      So what if there is conflict? The presence of conflict does not give a proper indication of which is right and which is wrong.  Also, science is not a “thing”: there is not one science, just as there isn’t one religion.

3)      There is not only a plurality of religions, but a plurality of views of religion. There is also a plurality of views in regards to science.

4)      Challenge the assumptions—science & religion are, in fact, very distict.



The Compatibility of Science & Religion…

Compatibility is a rather vague term

The 2 ways that science & religion can be seen:

Mutually Supportive                         or                           Radically Distinct (incommensurable)


Some of Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God (such as his argument of design) gives evidence that Aquinas believed science and religion to be mutually supportive.  God is seen as rational, so creation is, therefore, rational and ordered.

Religion, especially Christianity, lies at the historical origin of the modern scientific ‘project’.

Scientists held that it was thereby open & accessible to rational, law-seeking investigation.

History is linear and not circular or arbitrarily subject to the whims of gods. Therefore, it is susceptible to not only religious but ALSO scientific progress.




Feb. 19 / Thomas Wadden

Essay now due on March 8th at 5pm


            Thomas Aquinas – Relationship between reason and faith

            Pascal – Wager, Conversion


Can religion be discussed?

4 positions-

Religion cannot be proven – Fideism

Is meaningless – Religious  _____

Religious beliefs can be talked about but they must have meaning - Psychoanalyst

No religious belief contradicts reason – Logical Empiricist?


Is there a conflict between religion and science?

Compatibility in that religion provides support for science or vice versa.

Or religion is compatible with science in that there is no contradiction, incommensurable. Cannot be compared, do two different things

If science is indeed completely different from religion the argument that there can be empirical evidence for religion is lost.



Relationship between faith and reason-

Truth is objective. Reason can provide sufficient evidence for religious belief.

Foundationalism – A belief or a system of belief can be derived from self-evident statement or statements and using a purely deductive logical method.

Reason is enough to arrive at certain conclusions.

CH3 What sorts of things can be rationally demonstrated?

Aquinas thinks that the existence of god can be demonstrated but he says that firstly we have to start with some assumptions:

n  There are different ways in which one may come to know that something is true.

n  Knowledge of a thing is sometimes limited by the level of understanding in the a knower.

·       Depends on ones ability to comprehend the object under discussion

Some religious beliefs can be proven “demonstratively” by natural reason while others cannot.

He says that God can be proven through reason but cannot prove that God is three persons in one.


CH 4 What is the relation between faith and reason?

Some things knowable by faith can be known by reason

So why need faith? To explain that which cannot be explained by reason.

IF this was left solely up to reason there would be few people that would know of the existence of God.

Aquinas says that there are three “awkward” reasons for this.

The first is that few possess the physical disposition to come to this conclusion ( in terms of intellect or work ethic)

Second – it may take a while to come to this conclusion even for those who possess the drive or mind.

Third – As clever as one thinks he is sometimes that is not that case. Humans make mistakes.


CH 5/6 What about things that natural reason cannot establish or prove?


 March 5th 2013    Jahmari Bennett

•    What`s the exact relation between faith and  reason?

•    Aquinas` understanding of faith
1.    Believing ``in``
2.    Some beliefs can be proven (existence of God) only ONE God can be proven.
3.    Faith or religious belief states factual, cognitive, and descriptive in describing the world. Things that human beings can know.
4.    These facts are expressed through proposition statements were religious belief (a matter of intellect and will) could either be true or false.
5.    Believes some of these articles of faith can be demonstrated by human reason alone.

•    Pascal`s understanding of faith (not convinced)
1.    You must wager if God exist.
2.    If you refuse to bet then you’re betting against.
•    `` so made I can’t believe`` Pascal would answer, act as you believe and belief will happen
•    Humans desire or fear of infinite loss

1.    Can you prove these beliefs in human form?
2.    Are we betting too much? Is there a risk?
3.    Is it wrong to wager on God?
4.    What kind of God is Pascal talking about?