Atheism Syllabus-Fall 2012

Philosophy 192 A, sect. 1

SQU 102, MW 12-1:15

Prof. Matt McCormick

Office Hours: MW 10-11, by appt., and by email.

Office: MND 3020 Office phone: 278-7372

email: Webpage:

Philosophy Department Office: Mendocino 3000, 278-6424

Catalog Description: Seminar: Atheism: Arguments, Objections, and Responses. Examines the arguments, concepts, objections and responses surrounding philosophical atheism. Addresses atheism in the context of at least four of the following: evil, miracles, historical evidence for theism, faith, divine hiddenness, theodicies, divine attributes, science, morality, the meaning of life, agnosticism, and naturalized accounts of belief.

Prerequisite: 6 units in philosophy or instructor permission. Philosophy of Religion (Phil 131) strongly encouraged. 3 units.

Required Texts: The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2006. ISBN-10:1591023815, ISBN-13: 978-1591023814.

Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Daniel Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, Oxford University Press, 2011

Recommended: The Impossibility of of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. Michael Martin

There will also be a collection of papers and book excerpts available online, on reserve, or handed out in class. See weekly plan below for schedule and references.

An important but sometimes neglected thread in the philosophy of religion has been arguments in favor of atheism. Many people, philosophers included, believe that such arguments are in principle flawed—the motivation for such an argument are often criticized, and it is argued that since proving a negative claim is so difficult, at most we should be agnostics. Furthermore, atheists, by recent polling data, are some of the most disliked people in American culture, despite the fact that atheists make up such a tiny fraction of the population. In the history of philosophy of religion, a series of arguments and criticisms of theistic arguments have been given that provide a philosophical center for this position. Given that so many people are religious, and that religion plays such a central role in the social, political, economic, and personal decisions they make, it is vital that we better understand a debate that attempts to dislodge theism’s place in our belief structure. Furthermore, recent legal cases on topics such as religious language in the Pledge of Allegiance, intelligent design, and teaching evolution in schools have made it clear that this topic is of vital importance to American mainstream culture.

Several other topics are relevant to this debate. Many people see the scientific enterprise as inherently atheistic. The methods, goals, and results of scientific investigation will in the end result in atheism. It is also thought that miracles and a body of historical evidence render theism reasonable and atheism unreasonable. The problem of evil—why would an all powerful, all knowing, and loving God permit evil?—has been the cornerstone of arguments for atheism. A range of atheistic arguments have been developed along these lines raising questions about the possible purposes of evil, freedom, divine hiddenness, and soul-building.

In this course we will consider a range of important philosophical contributions on the topic of atheism. It will also consider a number of responses and criticisms from the theistic camp, and then the range of responses open to the atheist. We will consider the tension between science and religion. We will address questions such as: Does science motivate atheism? Is religious faith compatible with science? Can science give us positive evidence for the non-existence of God? This course will also consider the debate over atheism that has centered on the question of miracles and historical evidence.

Course goals:

1) to better understand the concepts, themes, arguments, and problems surrounding atheistic reasoning.

2) to better understand the challenges that philosophers have presented to theism.

3) to better understand the nature of religious belief and its relationship to reason and argument

Student Outcome Goals:

1) To develop the ability to think critically, objectively, and carefully about atheistic and religious claims and issues.

2) To familiarize students with the major issues and arguments within the philosophical literature on atheism.

3) To develop a number of advanced skills for philosophical analysis.

4) To develop students' writing skills, textual analysis skills, and oral discussion/debate skills.

These goals will be met and assessed with reading assignments, tests, vocabulary assessment, quizzes, paper assignments, class discussions, lectures, and philosophical research.

Course Grade: Your final grade will be calculated as follows:

Short papers: 4 @ 12% of total grade each

Google Group Discussions: 8%

Weekend Projects: 12%

Final exam: 12%

Final Paper: 12%

Attend. and Participation: 8% of total grade

Course Policies concerning attendance, missed assignments, cheating, etc.

Course Schedule for weekly reading assignments, weekend projects, exams, etc.

Google Groups Discussions:

All students are required to make regular, constructive, and considered contributions to our discussion board on Google Groups:


Getting Started: Create a Google Account:

1. Go to: If you don't already have an account, create one with the link on the lower right. If you use a pseudonym that is not recognizable as your name, email me to tell me what it is and who you are--I won't be able to give credits for posts from a mystery student named "oNixJUmper3"

2. Once you have an account and you are logged in you can join the group at this address:


3. Posting questions, comments, and ideas: Under "Discussions," there will be different threads of conversation with questions and comments from Prof. McCormick and other students. Choose topics and questions that you find interesting and make a post, or ask new questions and start a thread of your own.

Grading: Students who make frequent, reflective, and helpful posts (at least 15 for the semester) will receive a full 8% for this portion of the grade. Lesser contributions will be graded proportionally lower. Students who neglect the discussion group during the semester and then post a flurry of comments in the final two weeks will be graded proportionately lower. Contributions will be evaluated on the basis of these criteria:

1. How frequently did the student post?

2. How constructive and thoughtful were the student's contributions?

3. To what extent did the student's posts reflect an engagement in the concepts, issues, and philosophical challenges focused on in the course?

4. To what extent did the student's posts reflect his or her familiarity with the assigned readings for the course?

Rules of Engagement:

A. Be polite and respectful of other views.

B. Don't post or email in anger. Reflect on it and cool off before you hit "Send."

C. Take some time to consider what's correct, helpful, or interesting in other people's posts.

D. Give reasons and arguments for conclusions, don't preach.

E. Quoting from the Bible or some other religious document, by itself, typically does not constitute giving an argument that some philosophical and religious claim is true. The question that would need to be addressed first is: why would someone take that claim in the Bible to be true?

F. Be prepared to change your mind if there are good grounds for it.

Google Docs: the Weekend Projects and the papers for the class must be submitted in an online word processor called Google Docs. This program stores your work on the web and allows you to share it with others (me).

1. After you have established a Google account, you can go to this page to access other services.

2. Under "My Products" there should be a link to "Docs"

3. Click on the link to open Google's online word processor.

4. To open a new document, click on "Create New" in the upper left corner, then click on "Document."

5. Type your work and edit it in the window that opens.

6. Give it a title by clicking on "Untitled" in the upper left, and renaming it.

You will create one document for this course. It should be named last name Atheism.

e.g. McCormick Religion

I will track when the projects and papers were completed with the Revision History function in Google Docs. Any changes made to the documents made after the due date and time will be recorded there and be treated as late work according to the late policies on the Office Hours and Course Policies page.

As each project is due, open the document and add the project for that week so that the document will contain all of them at the end of the semester. Each project will have a section heading in boldlisted in the assignments.

7. Save the document with the "Save" button in the upper right.

8. Also on the upper right is a "Share" button. Click on it, then click on "Invite People." Be sure the"as collaborators" radio button is filled. If you don't share it with me as a collaborator, I cannot grade your work.

9. In the box that comes up, enter my email address:

10. Click: Invite Collaborators

11. Be sure to put your name on the document and in the message to me with your assignments.

12. Send it (bottom right), and be sure to send a copy to yourself for backup.

13. Explore the other functions in the Google docs program.

14. If you prefer to write your work in another program, do so, and then cut and paste it into Google Docs.

If you do upload a document, be sure to re-title your essay according to step 6 and follow the rest of the steps. Also be sure that the formatting has been preserved.

Here are a couple of videos explaining how Google Docs works:

Weekend Projects

For most weeks in the semester, there will be an outside project to complete.during the semester we will not meet in the classroom. It will be an addition to your Google Doc, and it will be due before class begins. These projects involve doing online readings, quizzes, surveys, or studying videos, and then completing some sort of writing assignment about them. Consult the class schedule for details on each weekend's project.

A dumping space for links to related materials:

Believing in God is Immoral--Nammour Symposium 2007: Believing in God is Immoral (PowerPoint 2003 version)

Believing in God is Immoral (PowerPoint 2007 version)

Merrihew-Adams, Robert. “Must God Create the Best?”

Russell, Bertrand. Why I am Not a Christian.

Martin, Michael. Atheism: A Philosophical Justification.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation.

Dennett, Daniel. Breaking the Spell.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.

The Impossibility of God. Eds. Martin and Monier

The Improbability of God. Eds. Martin and Monier.

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Ed. Martin.

Rowe, William L., ed. God and the Problem of Evil

Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. Daniel Howard-Snyder, Paul Moser, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Van Ingwagen, Peter “The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence”

Daniel Howard-Snyder, Bergman, and Rowe: “An Exchange on the Problem of Evil”

Schellenberg. JL “Stalemate and Strategy: Rethinking the Evidential Problem of Evil” Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason

Draper, Paul. “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists”

Marilyn McCord Adams. “The Problem of Hell: A Problem of Evil for Christians”

McCloskey, H.J. “God and Evil,” In Critiques of God, Prometheus, 1976. And in the Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 10, April 1960. 97-114.

What's wrong with ID, Sober's%20wrong%20with%20id%20qrb%202007.pdf


Hitchens on God and Morality

Sam Harris: An Atheist Manifesto:

Jacques Maritain, "On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism," a critique of atheism for being internally inconsistent

George Smith. The Scope of Atheism

Richard Dawkins on religion as a meme:

The God Delusion, first chapter:

New Yorker Review of Hitchens:

George Carlin:,772,Religion,George-Carlin

Are we dualists by nature: Psychologist Paul Bloom


Penn and Teller on Near Death Experiences:

Naturalizing Religion: Stephen Pinker on evolutionary psychology and religion:

Daniel Dennett, excerpt from Breaking the Spell.

Alston, William. God and Direct Realism:

A series of interviews with famous atheists by Jonathan Miller:

Smith, Quentin. “An Atheological Argument From Evil Natural Laws.”

"The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism." Ikeda, Michael and Bill Jefferys,The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2006. pg. 150-166. Also at:

Souls and the Afterlife: McCormick, "Against the Immortality of the Soul" On the web at:

“Is Science Killing the Soul?” A debate between Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker.

Nagel, Ernest. “Malicious Philosophies of Science,” Sovereign Reason. In Critiques of God, Prometheus

Daniel Howard-Snyder. “God, Evil, and Suffering.” Reason for the Hope Within,evil,andsuffering.pdf

Rowe, William. "Religious Experience and the Principle of Credulity," Int J Phil Re113:85-92 (1982) 0020-7047/82/0132-.0085 $01.20.

Rowe, William. "Friendly Atheism, Skeptical Theism, and the Problem of Evil," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (2006) 59:79–92

Rowe, William. Evil and the Theistic Hypothesis: A Response to Wykstra" Int J Phil Re116:95-1 O0 (1984).

Howard-Snyder, Daniel and Paul Moser, Introduction, Divine Hiddenness: New Essays.

Draper, Paul. “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists”

Stenger's Website:

Do Mystics See God? Evan Fales: