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.
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.
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.
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 goodreasons for belief
and action that can be beneficial for everything you do and who you are.
Three required texts:
Thinker's Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, Allen Stairs and
Christopher Bernard, Longman, 2006)
Featured in A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion
·Concepts of God
Pragmatic Reasons for Belief
·The Argument from
·God and Morality
·God and Language
·Life after Death
a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Knopf, 2006. http://www.samharris.org/ A short
book by one of “The New Atheists.”
Philosophy: A Student's Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays, Lewis Vaughn,
A number of articles
and handouts will be distributed
in class and/or online. The topics
of these articles will include:
(if God exists and it’s important that people believe in him, why doesn’t he make himself more obvious?),
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.
bring your materials to class.
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
and identify the
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
essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
c.speak clearly, concisely, and
and scientific literacy is desirable.
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.
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
will be able to use the set
of argument analysis skills below to
and evaluate philosophical arguments
for and against various conclusions concerning religious belief and practice:
whether any presentation (“text”) is
argumentative or not, i.e., whether it
presents an argument or not;
conclusions of argumentative presentations, evaluate
these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct /
the conclusion in clear and precise terms;
premises or reasons in argumentative presentations, evaluate
these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct /
these premises in clear and precise terms;
(if needed) unstated premises in argumentative presentations that are logically essential
of an argument and state them as part
of the argument
in clear and precise terms;
and distinguish factual/empirical/scientific
and moral/philosophical premises in moral arguments;
arguments as (1) logically valid or
invalid (or otherwise
logically cogent) and (2) sound or unsound (or otherwise strong);
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
To succeed in this class, you
must be disciplined: are responsible to understand and meet the requirements
outlined below and discussed in class:
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.
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.
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.
plagiarism or cheating on any
assignment – including any extra credit assignments – will immediately
result in failing the course: no exceptions, no excuses.
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 Turnitin.com
system, with a print out of your submission receipt attached the
assignment (see above for the Course ID and password): 5 points each, 60
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
Final research paper and
presentation, on a topic developed in consultation with the professor and
the philosophy and religion librarian, Mr. Bradley Ost. 20
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.
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.
EXACT READINGS WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN CLASS, THE EMAIL
GROUP AND ON THE BLOG
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!