PHIL 131: Philosophy of Religion syllabus (Spring 2015 - work in progress)


Course Description

PHIL 131. Philosophy of Religion. Introduction to philosophical theology, the philosophical study of religious assertions, arguments, and beliefs: the existence and nature of God; the rationality of religious belief; the relation of faith to reason; the problem of evil; immortality and resurrection; the possibility of miracles; the meaning of religious language. Includes both traditional and contemporary approaches. 3 units.

This course satisfies GE Area C3, Introduction to the Humanities, by discussing over two thousand years of human history, tradition, culture, and debate about the nature and scope of the religious worldview. What is religion, why are people religious, and what good is it? We focus on typical faith-based and intellectual attitudes, values, and practices from major religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The primary goal is to appreciate, understand, and scrutinize the religious perspective.

All instructional materials available online in digital form, or from the instructor, total cost not to exceed $40.

1. Here is the required main digital text: Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, by Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rea (2008, 5th ed.)

2. Additional required material is all online: Videos, online lectures, PDFs, powerpoints, etc. including other public domain internet texts will be accessible via SaCT for free


Course Structure

This is a fully online course. Online activities include: Lectures, videos, readings, discussions, tests and essay submissions all via SacCT. To access course material in SacCT you will need to use the Internet and a supported Web browser e.g., Firefox, Safari, or Chrome. Consult this FAQ about eLearning at Sacramento State for a general introduction:

Online courses are more demanding than conventional courses. In addition to processing all of the material presented online, the number one most important thing for you to do is to stay in touch with me, let me know how it is going, via email or discussions or both. This new learning environment is new to you and me, so let's work together an make it a success. Notice that there are numerous required activities one must accomplish on one's own by specific deadlines. Students in such courses should be independent, self-disciplined, self-motivated learners with good study skills. Students who have good time management skills will generally do very well in this type of learning environment. Also, take the sample Online Readiness Self-Assessment test available via SaCT to find out how well you are prepared for an online course and learn how to succed in online courses such as this one.

Here is the login page for SacCT: If you have questions about SacCT or need technical help, click on "student resources" on that page for further information.

Important: This syllabus, along with course policies, assignments and due dates, is subject to change. It is the student’s responsibility to check SacCT for corrections or updates. Any changes will be clearly noted in course announcements via SacCT or email. See the schedule below for weekly details, also see the Blog page for this course in SacCT for current events and announcements.


Assignments and their abbreviations used on the schedule and throughout the course

D1 = Discussion Board Assignment #1, thus, D2, D3, D4, and D5 all denote successive assignments, these are threads or posts

J1 = Journal Assignment #1, thus, J2, J3, J4, J5 all denote successive assignments, these are papers or short essays

T1 = Test #1, thus, T1, T2, T3, T4, and T5 all denote successive assignments, these are called Tests in SacCT (accessible via the Course Menu in SacCT)

T7 = Test #7 = The Final Exam = It covers everything and is only available online during Finals Week (accessible via the Course Menu in SacCT)


week date module/topic assignments due read/watch in this order

Module 0: How Do I Work This


Learning Module 1:

Religion Defined, Its Origins & Philosophical Import

D1 due by Friday at noon

(for instruction on How To submit Discussion Board posts and Journal assignments see Module 0 in SacCT)

Text - see the course text unless otherwise noted -

  1. Pojman & Rea: Introduction [in the course text]
  2. Ninian Smart: Introduction to World Religions - Google Books -
  3. Charles Taliaferro: Philosophy of Religion - SEP -
  4. Learning Module 1: Online Lecture (in SacCT)

Video (click on CC for captions)

  1. CUNY: "What is Religion? What is it for?" - video -
cont. Mod. 1 T1 due at 7pm on Monday  

Module 2:

Part II: Religious Experience

D2 due by Friday at noon

J1 due by Friday at midnight

(for instruction on How To submit Discussion Board posts and take online tests see Module 0 in SacCT)


  1. Mark Webb: Religious Experience - SEP -
  2. Pojman & Rea (P&R): Selections of Mystical Experiences [in the text]
  3. C. D. Broad: Argument from Religious Experience - link -
  4. William James: Mysticism
  5. Louis Pojman: A Critique of Arguments for The Validity of Religious Experience
  6. Daniel Gilbert: The Vagaries of Religious Experience - link -
  7. Learning Module 2: Online Lecture (in SacCT)


  1. PBS: "The Buddha" - video -
cont. Mod. 2 T2 due by Friday at midnight  

Module 3:

Part V: Miracles

D3 due by Friday at noon

J2 due by Friday at noon

Q2 due by Friday at midnight


  1. David Hume: Against Miracles
  2. J. L. Mackie: Miracles and Testimony
  3. Richard Swinburne: For the Possibility of Miracles - link -
  4. Timothy McGrew: Miracles - SEP -
  5. Learning Module 3: Online Lecture (in SacCT)


  1. Jonathan Miller's Rough History of Disbelief part 3 of 3
  2. Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion - video -

cont. Mod. 3 T3 due by Friday at midnight  

Module 4:

Part III: The Problem of Evil

D4 due by Friday at noon - date TBA -

Q3 due by Friday at midnight

No journal entry due this week


  1. David Hume: The Argument from Evil
  2. Gottfried Leibniz: Theodicy
  3. John Hick: Evil, Theodicy, and Soul-Making
  4. Edward Madden and Peter Hare: A Critique of Hick's Soul-Making Theodicy
  5. William Rowe: The Inductive Argument from Evil Against The Existence of God
  6. Michael Tooley: The Problem of Evil - SEP -
  7. Learning Module 4: Online Lecture (in SacCT)


  1. William Lane Craig: Handling doubt - video -
  2. William Lane Craig: Do Pain and Suffering Disprove God's Existence? - video -
cont. Mod. 4 T4 due by Friday at midnight  
Spring Break!    
Mar. 30
- Apr. 3

Module 5:

Part I: Arguments for the existence of God

D5 due by Friday at noon - date TBA -

J3 due by Friday at noon


  1. Anselm and Gaunilo: The Ontological Argument
  2. Thomas Aquinas: The Five Ways
  3. Samuel Clarke: The Argument from Contingency
  4. Paul Edwards: A critique of the Cosmological Argument - link -
  5. William Rowe: An examination of the Cosmological Argument
  6. William Paley: The Watch and the Watchmaker
  7. David Hume: A Critique of the Design Argument
  8. Learning Module 5: Online Lecture (in SacCT)


  1. NOVA: Intelligent Design On Trial - video -
  2. Debate: Does Science Refute God? - video -
cont. Mod. 5    
cont. Mod. 5 T5 due by Friday at midnight  

Module 6:

Part VII: Faith and Reason

J4 due by Friday at noon - date TBA -



  1. Blaise Pascal: The Wager
  2. Alan Hájek: Pascal's Wager - SEP -
  3. W. K. Clifford: The Ethics of Belief
  4. Richard Dawkins: Science versus Religion
  5. Sam Harris: An Atheist Manifesto - link -
  6. Learning Module 6: Online Lecture (in SacCT)


  1. Debate: The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion - video -

Apr. 27
- 1 May
cont. Mod. 6    
cont. cont. Mod. 6    
last week of instruction T6 due by Friday at midnight  
finals week Final Exam T7 due by Friday at midnight  


Assignments, Grades and Attendance
What required assignments are there? HAVE NOT YET DECIDED HOW MANY OF EACH

Fourteen assignments occur within the context of Learning Modules presented within SacCT, look for links to them in there. Grades for each submitted effort will appear under My Grades as soon as I process them. All graded work occurs according to the schedule below on this page.

  1. SEVEN online tests, each is worth a maximum of 10 points, so 70 total points are possible. These are multiple-choice tests based on assigned readings, videos, lectures. For the most part, questions focus on understanding passages and arguments presented in the text and the Learning Modules. I model these questions after the Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE and LSAT exams. Each test includes also any material from previous modules, therefore, tests are cumulative. You will have three attempts at each test if you complete these before each deadline, and only your best score counts as your grade for that test. Tests are open officially only during the week of the module upon which it is based, from Monday at 11 am to Friday at midnight, according to the Schedule on this Syllabus. Online tests will not be visible to you until they are open and available. That is, you can take it only if you can see it under "Tests". This is a weird design feature of SacCT which I do not like, so I will definitely remind you when online tests are open via Announcements. Do see the schedule for exact availability, these are firm commitments. What you need to know is that if you see a test in SacCT then you can take it as long as you have not used up your three attempts. Once a test closes, it closes forever. You will only see these test when they are available, so if you cannot see a test, then it is not yet due or you missed it. What you need to know is that if you see a test in SacCT then you can take it as long as you have not used up your three attempts. Once a test closes, it closes forever. Students cannot re-take or make-up any test or paper, absolutely, no exceptions. There isn't time for this and there are plenty of points available so that one can miss a test or two and still do well in the course. These are labeled in the grade book as T1 thru T5.

  2. FIVE discussion board posts, each post should not exceed 200 words and each is worth a maximum of 5 points, so a total of 25 points are possible. These occur via Discussion Boards specific to each Learning Module in SacCT. Each is designed to provoke thoughtful discussion and respectful debate, so don't hesitate to say what you think, but do be considerate of others and their interests. Each post itself is worth a maximum of 4 points (this would be an A-level response) plus an additional 1 point for an thoughtful response/evaluation of at least one other post by a fellow student. I cannot open attachments, so please do not include any in your submissions. These are labeled in the grade book as D1 thru D5.

  3. FIVE journal papers, each should not exceed 500 words, each is worth 25 points, so a total of 125 points for these is possible. These are short argumentative essays you compose and then cut and paste into your Journal for me to evaluate. I cannot open attachments, so please do not include any in your submissions. Each may only be submitted using the "My Journal" tool in SacCT and graded by me using a standardized rubric. These are labeled in the grade book as J1 thru J4. At the beginning of your essay, STATE your thesis precisely. In the text of your essay, give support for your thesis by JUSTIFYING your reasoning from one step to the next. Merely reporting or summarizing what others find or say with regard to the issue will be inadequate. Convince your reader of your conclusion with acceptable, substantiated assumptions and definitions, clear descriptions of facts, etc. Research your position - mere statements of opinion will receive no credit. Also, never quote or plagiarize but do list sources of your research at the end of your paper. URLs are neither sufficient nor necessary - give complete references so that I can find them. Find more about how to write these in the "How Do I Work This" Module 0 in SacCT where I have several tutorial videos on argumentative essay writing.


How are journal papers/essays graded?

For each journal assignment, I will assign a numerical score which corresponds to a letter-grade on my grade-scale. Notice that scores correspond to letter-grades NOT percentages. Below are rough number to letter-grade conversion scales, where an A = excellent, B = good, C = satisfactory, D = unsatisfactory, F = Fail. In general, all written efforts are graded based on on how well you answer specific questions based on material presented in the course. The best pieces of writing will be reason-based, focused, clear, accurate, and precise. The poorest papers will be those reporting opinions without supporting evidence or paraphrasing ideas cut-and-pasted from someone else.

this score on a Journal PAPER corresponds
< 10
to this letter-grade


How do I determine your overall course grade?

Grades are NOT based on percentages, instead grades are based on total points accumulated. I add the scores you earn on all graded work, then assign the final letter-grade based on my grading scale (below). For instance, if someone earns a total of 109 points, then this corresponds to a C on my grading scale. Therefore, one receives a C for the course. Since my overall grading scale is generous and rounding introduces error, I will not round scores up or down. Please keep track of your own grades via SacCT under My Grades.

this total number of
points at the end of the COURSE corresponds
< 70
to this letter-grade
D -
D +
C -
C +
B -
B +
A -

Extra points: Student evaluations of this course are conducted online in the last few weeks of the course. As an incentive to participation in this course improvment exercise, all students will receive 5 extra points only if 85% of students complete these surveys.


Attendance = Participation

Attendance is entirely online. This means that if you fail to complete an assignment online by its deadline, then you have missed the chance for whatever points that assignment offers. For instance, say you do not post an answer to the Discussion Board question-prompt for Learning Module 1, then you do not earn the possible 5 points available to those who do it well. There are no penalties here, only missed opportunities. There are no class meetings on campus.



Services to CSUS Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability and require accommodations such as the use of assistive technology, you need to provide me with your official documentation from Services to Students with Disabilities (SSWD), which is in Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955. Please discuss accommodation needs with me ASAP during my office hours or by appt. early in the semester so that we may make a plan to help you out.

SSWD at Sacramento State offers a wide range of support services and accommodations for students in order to ensure students with disabilities have equal access and opportunity to pursue their educational goals. The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 defines an assistive technology device in the following way: “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))

If you are registered with SSWD and require the use of the Campus Testing Center in 2302 Lassen Hall, then for any test, you will need to complete a Testing with Accommodations Instruction Form to give to your instructor, so that we can make a testing schedule.


CSUS Policies and Procedures Regarding Academic Honesty

Review all academic responsibilities, definitions, sanctions and rights described herein. Students may work together on homework but each student must submit their own answers on each of their tests. Sharing or copying answers on tests is cheating, which is dishonest and violates campus codes of conduct.


READ this FAQ about eLearning at Sac State

This course consists entirely of online instruction (texts, lectures, handouts, videos) and activities (discussions, assignments, evaluations) most of which occurs in or via SacCT/Blackboard. For example, in this course, students will use university or personal computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones as tools to access course content. On a regular basis students complete online-only learning activities such as reading assigned texts via a commercial portal such as a textbook publisher’s website, viewing a video online, or submitting a graded writing assignments or tests in SacCT, so you are required the use the Internet and SacCT/Blackboard. Sometimes your instructor will provide content from relevant online course material outside of Sacramento State.


Learning Outcome objectives for students in this course and how they are accomplished

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. DEFINE basic philosophical and religious terms used in the course. E.g., We examine and apply Ninian Smart’s description of religion throughout the course, including but not limited to our discussions of the social, mythical, doctrinal, and ethical dimensions of Western and non-Western religions.

  2. PRESENT a diversity of biological, historical, ethnic, and cultural influences on religious belief and practice. E.g. We contrast naturalistic and divine origin theories of religious ideas, values, and principles and draw their philosophical implications for a variety of traditional societal and genders roles.

  3. THINK less subjectively and more critically about religious beliefs and issues and their implications for tradition and culture. E.g., Many people believe that one cannot be a good person without being religious or believing in God. Students examine the case for and against this view as presented in recent video debates on this issue.

  4. UNDERSTAND broadly the nature and importance of religion and more specifically the philosophical issues and controversies that religious experiences and practice engender. E.g., Students will consider how to interpret mystical experiences and to what extent these support religious and scientific worldviews.

  5. DISTINGUISH various philosophical concepts and theories about the nature and acceptability of religious claims and whether or not such claims are reconcilable with a scientific worldview. E.g., What role, if any, does evidence play in the forming and justifying of any belief about gods or cosmic design or miracles? Are religion and science ever incompatible?

  6. APPLY philosophical methods to religious dilemmas in professional and personal life. E.g., Does faith alone justify belief in God or can the existence of God be demonstrated by reason or experience? Should we ever believe religious descriptions and moral assertions based on divine revelation or natural theology? Can theism and atheism co-exist in a secular society? Shall we raise our children with (or without) religious education?

  7. ENGAGE in cogent and respectful discussion about religious ideas and values, e.g., Suppose we presume that “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Doesn’t this imply that faith and reason are hostile to each other? Is faith independent of reason, or shall we proportion belief to the strength of evidence? Does faith alone justify belief in God or can the existence of God be demonstrated by reason or experience?

  8. DEVELOP analytical writing skills. I.e., Students will learn how to read critically and analyze philosophical articles on religious topics, participate regularly in online discussions about these, and also produce cogent analytical essays about specific issues in response to essay question prompts.