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Philosophy of Religion

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Philosophy of Religion

Instructor: David Squires
Office and Hours: Check homepage for location, T 3:30pm-6:30pm or by appointment

Course Description

This is a sample philosophy of religion syllabus.  It concludes with material related to Christian doctrine, but with minor changes to the first three sections it could conclude with a section on eastern religion. It is designed for undergraduate philosophy majors, but could easily be adapted to suit either undergraduate non-majors or graduate students by lowering or raising its difficulty/work load.  The course begins with a consideration of the existence and nature of God according to two important classical theists, Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas, which is then followed by inquiry into two further theistic arguments, one modern, one contemporary.  From there, we investigate questions concerning evil and divine hiddenness, before inquiring into the nature of the human being and the possibility of life after death.  Having considered both God’s nature and that of the human being, we are in a good position to finish the course with an examination of two doctrines central to the Christian religion, the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Upon completion of the course, the student will have made a good start in contemplating the questions and problems of classical and contemporary monotheism, as well as key doctrines peculiar to the Christian faith.

Assignments and Academic Policies

Assignments: there will be three paper assignments over the course of the semester.  The papers are weighted equally (20% each).  Papers are graded for substance (understanding the prompt, answering the prompt, producing good arguments, etc.), as well as for the quality of writing (grammar, usage, organization, style, etc.).  For the sake of fairness, do not exceed the length limit. You should not need to make use of outside sources.  Papers are due at the beginning of class, in hard copy, on the Thursday of the week that they are due.   Late papers will be penalized.

Participation: There are two independent participation assignments each worth 20% of the final grade—viz. 1) Discussion Participation and 2) Reading ‘Participation. Participation points are not free points, so read these two sections below carefully.

Discussion Participation: This participation assignment measures your engagement in terms of philosophical discussion. The best scores will go to students who show a sustained pattern of thoughtful contribution and questioning in class, especially if that contribution demonstrates that you have read the assigned material diligently. This can take the form of asking questions to me or other students, answering questions that I ask you by offering your interpretation of a text, producing or analyzing arguments, comparing different texts, etc. You must bring to class the text we are reading each day. If the assignment is from an electronic text that I distribute, you should print it out and bring it to class.  Class attendance is an essential part of Discussion Participation.  Only university required absences will be excused.  Unexcused absences will result in Discussion Participation penalties.

Reading Participation: This participation assignment measures your engagement with the assigned readings. You are expected to read all of the assigned texts carefully and completely. As few as four times this semester or as many as each class period, I will give you a quiz question(s) that you must answer in a short period of time. Your Reading Participation score will be based on your answers to these quizzes, which will receive standard letter grades. If you’ve done the reading carefully and completely you should not have too difficult a time offering good answers to the questions you’ll be asked. These quizzes are not designed to test philosophical expertise, so much as whether you are doing the readings and understanding them at a basic level.  In general, think of the readings and class participation as an act of citizenship, through which each individual and the collective body is responsible for the class experience.

“The Chain”: The Chain is a string of emails that I’ll send you throughout the semester (chained together so as not to gum up your inbox—hence the name).  Each email in The Chain will have three parts—1) the Afterthought: a brief summary of the latest reading, which should be very handy when it comes time to review ideas before writing a paper, 2) the Forethought: a few guiding comments or questions for the next reading, and 3) a Funny Thought: a place for me to post philosophical memes, videos, articles, and, in all likelihood, pictures of my cat, Alice. If there are readings to be handed out, they will be attached to The Chain.   Reading/viewing the Chain is entirely optional, but reading the attached assignments is not optional. If you find yourself struggling with the readings, consider at least reading the Forethought. Additionally, asking questions about the readings or commenting intelligently on them by replying to the Chain will increase your discussion participation score.

Summary: Papers count for 60% of your grade (20% each), discussion participation for 20%, reading participation for 20%. Rubric: A: 93%, A-: 90%, B+: 87%, B: 83%, B-: 80%, C+: 77%, C: 73%, C-: 70%, D+: 67%, D: 63%, D-: 60%

Disabilities: The university’s policies regarding disabilities can be found at: Information concerning Sara Bea Disability Services can be found at:

Academic Integrity: Don’t Cheat! This includes plagiarism of any variety, including having others do your work for you or merely syntactically or terminologically altering the work of others (e.g. plugging in a few different words into a paragraph written by someone else).  Any instances of cheating discovered will be dealt with swiftly according to university policy.

Laptop and Mobile Device Policy: Laptops and Mobile devices should not be used during class.  The results are in: scientific studies show that screens mean less glean.  Science giveth the iPhone X Plus and science taketh it away!


Classical Theism: The Existence and Nature of God

Week 1: Introduction; The Ontological Argument and a Critic
Class 1 (m/dd) Introduction to the course
Class 2 (m/dd) St. Anslem: Proslogion, Gaunilo: Pro Insipiente

Week 2: A Primer to Reading St. Thomas, The Five Ways; Divine Simplicity and Perfection
Class 3 (m/dd) St. Thomas: De Principiis Naturae, Summa Theologica Q. 2
Class 4 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q. 3 & Q. 4

Week 3: Divine Goodness & Infinity; Divine Immutability & Eternity
Class 5 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q.5 – Q.7
Class 6 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q.8 – Q.10

Week 4: The Names of God; an Argument Against Divine Simplicity
Class 7 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q.13
Class 8 (m/dd) R. T. Mullins: “Simply Impossible: A Case Against Divine Simplicity”*

Other Arguments for the Existence of God

Week 5: Modern and Contemporary Arguments
Class 9 (m/dd) William Paley: “The Watch and the Watchmaker”
Class 10 (m/dd) J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig: “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

Evil and Divine Hiddenness

Week 6: The Logical Problem of Evil, The Free Will Defense; Evil and Flourishing
Class 11 (m/dd) J. L. Mackie: “Evil and Omnipotence,” Alvin Plantinga “The Free Will Defense (sect. 4-6)
Class 12 (m/dd) Eleonore Stump: “The Problem of Evil and the Desires of the Heart”
First Paper Due (m/dd)

Week 7: Divine Hiddenness
Class 13 (m/dd) J. L. Schellenberg: “Divine Hiddenness Justifies Atheism”
Class 14 (m/dd) Michael Murray, “Deus Absconditus,” Laura Garcia: “St. John of the Cross and the Necessity of Divine Hiddenness”

Week 8: Divine Hiddenness Cont.
Class 15 (m/dd) Marilyn McCord Adams: “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God”
Class 16 (m/dd) Laura Ekstrom: “Suffering as Religious Experience”

Human Nature and Life After Death

Week 9: Plato’s Phaedo
Class 17 (m/dd) Plato: Phaedo 57a-77a
Class 18 (m/dd) Plato: Phaedo 77a-118a
Mid-Term Break

Week 10:St. Thomas On Human Nature
Class 19 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q.75
Class 20 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q. 76

Week 11: Life After Death
Class 21 (m/dd) Jeffrey Olen, “Personal Identity and Life After Death”
Class 22 (m/dd) Bertrand Russell: “The Finality of Death”

Trinity and Incarnation

Week 12: The Trinity
Class 23 (m/dd) Boethius: De Trinitate; St. Augustine: De Trinitate Book 9
Class 24 (m/dd) St. Thomas: Summa Theologica Q. 27 & 29
Second Paper Due (m/dd)

Week 13: The Trinity Cont.
Class 25 (m/dd) J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig: “The Trinity”
Class 26 (m/dd) Daniel Howard-Snyder: “Trinity Monotheism”

Week 14: The Incarnation
Class 27(m/dd) St. Athanasius: Excerpts from On the Incarnation of the Word
Class 28 (m/dd) St. Gregory of Nazianzus: The Third Theological Oration – On the Son

Week 15: The Incarnation Cont.
Class 29 (m/dd) Craig Evans: “Jesus’ Self-Designation ‘The Son of Man’ and the Recognition of His Divinity,” Oliver Crisp: “Divine Kenosis”
Final paper due: (by 5pm on the day of the final in hard copy in my Malloy mailbox)