God(s) (Spring 2011) - Syllabus

God(s): The Philosophy of Religion

PHIL 263-03 | ID 21304 | TR 10:00-11:50 | Room: Clarke 210 | Spring 2011

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | asmuts@ric.edu | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12:00-1:50 T


Is there a God? Does the amount of evil in the world give us reason to think that God doesn't exist? Millions of children suffer from painful diseases and malnutrition. Does this give us reason to think that God must not love humanity after all? Or, perhaps, that God isn't all powerful? If God is all powerful, can he create a stone so heavy that he cannot move it? If God knows everything, he knows everything that we will do. But how can we be morally responsible for our actions if God knows what we will do before we do it? Does morality depend on God? If God doesn't exist, is everything permitted? If there is no afterlife, do we have reason to be moral? Is immortality even conceivable? Can you survive the death of your body? It likely depends on what is it that makes you, you. Are you a soul or just a sack of meat and bones? Is immortality the greatest reward, or would we become hopelessly bored in heaven? What is the meaning of life? Does a meaningful existence require God?

These are some of the questions we will explore in this class. Rather than study the variety of religions found across the globe, in the philosophy of religion we ask questions about important religious claims. Our principal concerns are neither sociological nor historical, they are philosophical. This course explores a broad array of important issues including the nature of morality, personal identity, immortality, free will, and the meaning of life.


There are seven required texts for this course:

  1. Charles Taliaferro and Paul J. Griffiths (Eds). Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. Blackwell, 3003. ISBN-10: 0631214712. [PR]

  2. Sophocles. Theban Plays. Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff (trans). Hackett, 2003. ISBN-10: 0872205851. [TP]

  3. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Trans. Andrew George. Penguin Classics, 2003. ISBN 0140449191. [EG]

  4. Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates, 3rd edition. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Rev. John M. Cooper. Hackett, 2000. ISBN 0872205541. [TDS]

  5. The Bhagavad-Gita. Trans. Barbara Stoller Miller. Bantam Books, 1986 (latest edition 2004). ISBN 0553213652. [BG]

  6. John Perry. A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality. Hackett, 1978. ISBN: 0915144530. [DPII]

  7. David Hume. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, (Second Edition). Hackett, 1998. ISBN-10: 0872204022. [DCNR]

There is one optional book:

  1. Andrew Lawrence Roberts. The Thinking Student's Guide to College: 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education. University Of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN-10: 0226721159.

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 26) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (25%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (35%).

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically effect your attendance.)

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Outside research is not forbidden, but none of the assignments ask for sources outside the assigned readings. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I will also request that you be expelled from the college.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

Topic I: The Nature of God

  • Week 1

    • C1 (T: 1/25) Introduction

      • Rowe, "The Idea of God" [BB]

    • C2 (R: 1/27) The Nature of God

      • Aquinas, "Is God's Power Limited" [BB]

  • Week 2

    • C3 (T: 2/1) Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence

      • Mavrodes, Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence" [BB]

      • Frankfurt, "The Logic of Omnipotence" [BB]

Topic II: Fate and Divine Foreknowledge

    • C4 (R: 2/3) Fate

      • Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, Beginning up to 3rd chorus (pp. 62-97) [TP]

  • Week 3

    • C5 (T: 2/8) Fate

      • Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 3rd chorus to end (pp. 97-124) [TP]

      • {Optional: Lucian, "Zeus Cross Examined" [BB]}

    • C6 (R: 2/10) Divine Foreknowledge

      • Augustine, "Divine Foreknowledge, Evil, and the Free" [BB]

      • Kane, "Divine Foreknowledge, and Free Will" [BB]

  • Week 4

    • C7 (T: 2/15) Divine Foreknowledge

      • Pike, "Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action" [BB]

      • {Optional: Taylor, "Fate" [BB]}

Topic III: Morality and Religion

    • C8 (R: 2/17) Divine Command Theory

      • Plato, "Euthyphro" [TDS]

  • Week 5

    • C9 (T: 2/22) The Karamozov Thesis

      • Wielenberg, "God and Morality" [BB]

    • C10 (R: 2/24) Morality without God

      • Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong, "A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist" [BB]

Topic IV: Arguments for the Existence of God

  • Week 6

    • C11 (T: 3/1) The Ontological Argument

      • Anselm, "The Ontological Argument" [BB]

      • Kant, "A Critique of the Ontological Argument" [BB]

    • C12 (R: 3/3) The Cosmological Argument

      • Aquinas, "The Five Ways" [BB]

  • Week 7

    • C13 (T: 3/8) The Teleological Argument

      • Hume, Dialogues (parts I-V, pp.1-38) [DCNR]

    • C14 (R: 3/10) The Teleological Argument

      • Hume, Dialogues (parts VI-IX, pp.39-57) [DCNR]

      • {Optional: Collins, "A Scientific Argument for the Existence of God" [BB]}

  • Week 8 SPRING BREAK (3/14-3/18)

Topic V: The Problem of Evil

  • Week 9

    • C15 (T: 3/22) Divine Perfection

      • Hume, Dialogues (parts X-XII, pp.58-87) [DCNR]

    • C16 (R: 3/24) The Problem of Evil

      • Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence" [BB]

  • Week 10

    • C17 (T: 3/9) The Problem of Evil

      • Midgley, "The Problem of Natural Evil" [PR]

      • Hick, "Evil and Soulmaking" [BB]

    • C18 (R: 3/31) Redemptive Suffering

      • Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God" [PR]

      • {Optional: Wolterstorff, "Suffering Love" [BB] (pp.211-218,224-230)}

Topic VI: Immortality

  • Week 11

    • C19 (T: 4/5) Soul Theory

      • Bhagavad-Gita, 1st and 2nd Teaching (pp. 23-42)

      • Perry, A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (night 1) [DPII]

    • CXX (R: 4/7) NO CLASS

  • Week 12

    • C20 (T: 4/12) Personality Theory

      • Perry, A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (night 2) [DPII]

    • C21 (R: 4/14) Body Theory

      • Perry, A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (night 3) [DPII]

      • Borges, "The Immortal" [BB]

  • Week 13

    • C22 (T: 4/19) The Desirability of Immortality

      • Williams, " The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality" [BB]

Topic VII: The Meaning of Life

    • C23 (R: 4/21) Death and The Meaning of life

      • The Epic of Gilgamesh, tablets I-VI (pp. 1-54) [EG]

  • Week 14

    • C24 (T: 4/26) Death and The Meaning of life

      • The Epic of Gilgamesh, tablets VII-XII (pp. 54-100) [EG]

      • Freud, “Our Attitude Towards Death” (p.289) [BB]

    • C25 (R: 4/28) The Meaning of life

      • Taylor, "The Meaning of Life" [BB]

  • Week 15

    • C26 (T: 5/3) The Meaning of life

      • Nagel, "The Absurd" [BB]

    • C27 (R: 5/5) The Meaning of life

      • Wielenberg, "God and the Meaning of Life" [BB]