Friday, August 31, 2012

Assignments thusfar and for next week:
1. Vaugh, Chs. 1 and 2 on reading philosophy and arguments.
2. Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments:
3. Please start reading the Harris book. Writing assignment: make a (long and detailed) list of the many philosophical issues and questions raised by the book. This list will provide a partial set of topics for deeper investigation later in the course.

I hope and expect that we will get to Harris on Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

NOTES from Monday
Religion =
Religious =

Philosophy =  
                Epistemology = knowledge? What is a reasonable belief?
                Metaphysics = what exists? What is real?
                Value theory: what is good? What makes actions moral and immoral?
Philosophical =
Philosophy of religion = the philosophical examination of religion  = the philosophical examination of religious beliefs and practices
-          Religions and ethics:  if a religion (GOD!!) says that X is wrong, what should we think?
-          Does God (GodS) exist? HOW do you know? Is belief in God reasonable?
o   Does a Holy Spirit exist? Holy spirit =
-          Prayer: is belief that prayer will do something good reasonable?
-          Moral evaluation of various religious practices.
o   Some adherents of some religions do bad stuff. T
o   Therefore, those religions are not true or are irrational for all to believe. Does not follow.
-          Do miracles exist?
-          Different conceptions of God(s)?

What do you mean?
Why think that?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dear Philosophers of Religion,
Here is an article from a philosophy encyclopedia on the "new atheists," of which Sam Harris is one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Martin Luther King Jr. ,‘48


10-10:50 MWF, Sale Hall 107 ; class ID= 5385670, password is philosophy: written work should be submitted through Turnitin and in hardcopy, in class.

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,
Preferred Email: (preferred email);
Telephone: 404-215-2607 office; 404-825-1740 cell
Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours: Monday 2- 4, Friday 1:50 to 2:30 and by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays: please email!

Course blog and syllabus:

Catalogue Description:
Examination of philosophical questions involved in religion and religious beliefs. Prerequisite: PHI 201 or consent of the instructor.

Extended course description:
In a 2007 article published in the American Philosophical Association’s Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, the author claims that:


While religion has been at the center of the African-American experience, substantive philosophical questions and issues about theodicy, the epistemological nature of religious beliefs, and even creationism have been avoided.[1]


The purpose of this course is to ensure that this author is mistaken. We will thereby inquire into the “epistemological nature” of religious beliefs, i.e., seek to understand whether religious beliefs – theistic and Christian beliefs, in particular – are supported by strong evidence, good reasons and sound arguments or not. We will evaluate “theodicies,” attempts to explain what (if anything) might justify an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good being in permitting certain kinds of evil, especially the evils of racism, slavery, lynchings, and discrimination: we will read many African American thinkers who address this issue and evaluate arguments for the view that the existence of evils like these give good reason to believe that God does not exist. We will discuss many other philosophical issues that arise from religious belief and practice, such as the existence of hell, the nature of reason and faith, surviving death, and how we should respond to religious diversity and disagreements, whether religious belief is “important” in various senses, and many other issues. In summary, our concern is whether rationality requires that we be theists, atheists, agnostics or hold some other view about the nature and existence of God(s) or other divine beings.

            Throughout the course our main methods involve (A) getting very clear on what exact claims we are evaluating (e.g., what is meant by ‘God’?) and (B) patiently, carefully and thoroughly finding and evaluating the reasons given for and against the claim in question (as well as the reasons that might be given in response to those reasons). Philosophy courses require questioning assumptions, seeking reasons and evidence and demand intellectual responsibility, i.e., being careful with what you believe because you wish to believe the truth and effectively pursue it, even if this requires changing your own beliefs. This course offers the opportunity to develop these intellectual skills in identifying and evaluating arguments and cultivating an intellectually virtuous outlook based in the requirement for good reasons for belief and action that can be beneficial for everything you do and who you are.

Three required texts:
  1. A Thinker's Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, Allen Stairs and Christopher Bernard, Longman, 2006)
Topics Featured in A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion
·         Concepts of God
·         The Design Argument
·         The Cosmological Argument
·         The Ontological Argument
·         Miracles
·         Religious Experience
·         Reformed Epistemology
·         Faith and Pragmatic Reasons for Belief
·         The Argument from Evil
·         God and Morality
·         Religious Diversity
·         God and Language
·         Life after Death
  1. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Knopf, 2006. A short book by one of “The New Atheists.”
  2. Writing Philosophy: A Student's Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays, Lewis Vaughn, Oxford, 2005

  1. A number of articles and handouts will be distributed in class and/or online. The topics of these articles will include:
o   Divine Hiddenness (if God exists and it’s important that people believe in him, why doesn’t he make himself more obvious?),
o   the Problem of Hell (if God exists and is all loving, could he send anyone to Hell?), religious pluralism (What should we think of people whose religious beliefs differ from our’s? Can their beliefs be true or rational? Can they be mistaken? Should recognition of their beliefs give us reason to lose confidence in our beliefs?) and more readings on the Problem of Evil (If God exists, then why is there so much evil? Does the existence of so much evil – undeserved, unjust pain and suffering, etc.) give some reason to think there is not a God?) and more, including some writings on African and African-American philosophy of religion.

            Always bring your materials to class.

Prerequisites: Introduction to Philosophy, or a previous philosophy course, is a prerequisite for this course, but is not essential. Students will benefit most from the course when they enter it with the abilities to:
a.       read critically and identify the structure and components of an argumentative essay or passage, i.e., the conclusion(s), the premises(s) or supporting elements, and so forth;
b.      write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
c.       speak clearly, concisely, and grammatically.
·         Basic mathematical and scientific literacy is desirable.
·         Familiarity with commons reasons given for and against religious belief, including belief that God exists, belief that particular religions are true (e.g., that Christianity is true, that Islam is correct) is desirable, since we will build on any previous understanding.
·         Intellectual and moral virtues, such as curiosity, patience, and openness to the possibility of error and the need for change, are desirable as well.

Objectives: Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to use the set of argument analysis skills below to identify and evaluate philosophical arguments for and against various conclusions concerning religious belief and practice:
a.       identify whether any presentation (“text”) is argumentative or not, i.e., whether it presents an argument or not;
b.      identify conclusions of argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate the conclusion in clear and precise terms; 
c.       identify stated premises or reasons in argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate these premises in clear and precise terms; 
d.      identify (if needed) unstated premises in argumentative presentations that are logically essential to the structure of an argument and state them as part of the argument in clear and precise terms;
e.       identify and distinguish factual/empirical/scientific and moral/philosophical premises in moral arguments;
f.       evaluate arguments as (1) logically valid or invalid (or otherwise logically cogent) and (2) sound or unsound (or otherwise strong);
g.       identify and explain reasons given to think an argument is sound, reasons to think it is unsound, and responses to these reasons: that is, to explain the dialect of discussion.

Students will be able to accurately explain historically influential philosophical positions and arguments and common arguments for and against them, in light of their implications, explanatory power and theoretical virtues and vices.

To succeed in this class, you must be disciplined: are responsible to understand and meet the requirements outlined below and discussed in class:
  • Attendance: Always come to class, as Morehouse College policy requires. Sign the role sheet: if it is not passed to you, then you need to find it. An absence is excused only if you get the instructor an official Morehouse excuse in writing that he can keep.
  • Punctuality: Come to class on time. Lateness will be penalized on your final grade.
  • Preparation: Bring all your books, handouts and other materials – including materials that you must print off from the internet – and have them out on your desk and ready to discuss at the beginning of class.
    • Students who do not bring their materials may be asked to leave, as they are not prepared for class.
  • Doing the Reading: For every hour spent in class, spend at least two hours doing the reading and writing outlines, paraphrases &/or summaries of the readings. 
  • Preparation for engaged, production discussion, not passive lectures:  
    • Morehouse College is a liberal arts college, not a university. Classes are small and thus we are able to discuss issues and arguments and have a more interactive learning environment. The instructor, therefore, will rarely “lecture” in any traditional sense, since lecturing encourages student passivity, disengagement, and not doing the reading.
    • For a critique of the educational value of lecturing see, “To Lecture or Not to Lecture, an Age-Old Question” at
  • Honesty: Any plagiarism or cheating on any assignment – including any extra credit assignments – will immediately result in failing the course: no exceptions, no excuses.
  •  “Help me help you”:
    • The instructor should be informed of medical, family, or other problems that necessitate missing class or that interfere with your work. In addition, students are encouraged to visit with the instructor during his office hours if they are having difficulty reading or understanding the materials presented in class. If you ever have any questions about anything, please just ask!

Assignments and grading:

  • 12 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, usually due Monday at the time of class in hardcopy – no work will be accepted late -- and submitted to the system, with a print out of your submission receipt attached the assignment (see above for the Course ID and password): 5 points each, 60 points total.
  • 2 Quizzes: In class. 20 points each, 40 points total.
  • 2 Argumentative essays (approx 5 pages), including rough drafts, peer and instructor review and revisions: 20 points each, 40 points total.
  • 1 small group project and class presentation. Groups of three students will create a webpage or blog (e.g., on Google pages, blogger or some other online forum) concerning some issue in philosophy of religion and some of the arguments concerning that issue, and present this page to the class (and the planet, via the internet). 20 points.
  • Final research paper and presentation, on a topic developed in consultation with the professor and the philosophy and religion librarian, Mr. Bradley Ost. 20 points.
  • Attendance and participation is required. Each unexcused absence after 4 will result in a 2% reduction from students overall grade. Unexcused tardiness will result in 1% reduction.
  • EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENTS. There likely will be many extra credit opportunities, including this assignment related to finding your “calling” through your career(s):

Note: A syllabus is not a contract, but rather a guide to course procedures. The instructor reserves the right to alter the course requirements and/or assignments based on new materials, class discussions, or other legitimate pedagogical objectives.

Your first assignments are to get the books, sign up for the email groups and to start reading the Vaughn and Harris books. The Harris book is really brief. Google him!

[1] Stephen Ferguson, II, “Teaching Hurricane Katrina: Understanding Divine Racism and Theodicy,” Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, Fall 2007, Volume 07, Number 1, at