Philosophy of Religion (Summer 2013)

Philosophy of Religion

PHIL 263-01 | ID 30032 | MTWR 7:45-9:55 | Room: Craig-Lee 151 | Summer I 2013

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, after class


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? God can't be wrong. . . . 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.


All the readings for the summer session will be posted on Blackboard [BB]. You don't need to by any books.

There are five optional texts for this course. It would be good to own these cheap editions:

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

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

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

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

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

There is one more optional book that you should buy. It, too, is cheap:

  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.


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 23) 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.

Warm up paper (5) + quizzes (10) + first exam (30) + late-term exam (30) + final exam (30) = 105.

*All of the exams will be posted on Blackboard at least two weeks in advance of the due date. I suggest that you start working on them as we go.

Attendance Policy

If you miss 4 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 8 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 report you to the Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Laptop / Cell Phone Policy

Laptop use is prohibited. The same goes for tablet computers and smart phones. Consider this rehab for Facebook and Instagram addiction. You should print the articles posted on Blackboard and bring them to class. Text messaging is strictly prohibited. Phones should be out of sight, in your bag, pocket, or purse, not on your desk.

Class Schedule

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

*The readings for each class are listed under the date. For the first class, you should read Rowe if you have time. It's optional.

Topic I: The Nature of God

  • Week 1

    • C1 (M: 5/20) Introduction

      • {Optional: Rowe, "The Idea of God" [BB]}

      • {Optional: Van Inwagen, "Introduction" (Ch.1 of Metaphysics) [BB]}

    • C2 (T: 5/21) Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence

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

      • Mavrodes, Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence" [BB]

      • {Optional: Frankfurt, "The Logic of Omnipotence" [BB]}

      • *Pryor, "Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper" [writing folder]

Topic II: Fate and Divine Foreknowledge

    • C3 (W: 5/22) The Free Will Problem

      • Kane, "The Free Will Problem" [BB]

      • {Start reading: Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, start to 3rd chorus (pp. 62-97) [TP]}

    • C4 (R: 5/23) Fate

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

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


  • Week 2

    • XX (M: 5/27) NO CLASS: Memorial Day

    • C5 (T: 5/28) Divine Foreknowledge

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

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

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

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

Topic III: Morality and Religion

    • C6 (W: 5/29) Divine Command Theory

      • Plato, "Euthyphro" [TDS]

    • C7 (R: 5/30) The Karamozov Thesis

      • Wielenberg, "God and Morality" [BB]

Topic IV: Arguments for the Existence of God

  • Week 3

    • C8 (M: 6/3) The Ontological Argument

      • Anselm, "The Ontological Argument" [BB]

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

      • *DUE: FIRST EXAM

    • C9 (T: 6/4) The Cosmological Argument

      • Aquinas, "The Five Ways" [BB]

      • Rowe, "An Examination of the Cosmological Argument" [BB]

    • C10 (W: 6/5) The Teleological Argument

      • Van Inwagen, "What Rational Beings Are There?" (Metaphysics, Ch.8)

      • *Van Inwagen, "The Place of Rational Beings in the World: Design and Purpose" (Metaphysics, Ch.9)

      • {Optional: Hume, Dialogues (parts I-V, pp.1-38) [DCNR] (*part V)}

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

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

Topic V: The Problem of Evil

    • C11 (R: 6/6) Divine Perfection and Evil

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

  • Week 4

    • C12 (M: 6/10) The Problem of Evil

      • Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence" [BB]

    • C13 (T: 6/11) The Problem of Evil

      • Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense" [BB]

      • {Optional: Hick, "Evil and Soulmaking" [BB]}

Topic VI: Immortality and Personal Identity

    • C14 (W: 6/12) Soul Theory

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

    • C15 (R: 6/13) Personality Theory

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

  • Week 5

    • C16 (M: 6/17) Body Theory

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


    • C17 (T: 6/18) The Desirability of Immortality

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

      • {Optional: Borges, "The Immortal" [BB]}

      • {Optional: Smuts, "Immortality and Significance" [BB]}

    • C18 (W: 6/19) The Desirability of Immortality

      • Fischer, "Why Immortality is Not So Bad" [BB]

      • {Optional: Fischer, "Contribution on Martha Nussbaum's The Therapy of Desire" [BB]}

Topic VII: The Meaning of Life

    • C19 (R: 6/20) Death and The Meaning of life

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

  • Week 6

    • C20 (M: 6/24) 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]

    • C21 (T: 6/25) The Meaning of life

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

    • C22 (W: 6/26) God and the Meaning of life

      • Craig, "The Absurdity of Life Without God" [BB]

      • {Optional: Nagel, "The Absurd" [BB]}

    • C23 (R: 6/27) The Meaning of life

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

      • {Optional: Smuts, "The Good Cause Account of the Meaning of Life" [BB]}

*T: 7/2/2012 – DUE: FINAL EXAM