PHIL 131: Philosophy of Religion syllabus, Spring 2017

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 C2, find details on how this is accomplished in each Learning Module at the end of this Syllabus. In general, the course samples over two thousand years of human history, tradition, culture, and debate about the nature and scope of the religious worldview. 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. Philosophy Department General Education Courses listed here.

Instructional materials are available online in digital form, or from the instructor, total cost not to exceed $70.

1. Here is the required digital text: Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, by Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rea, 6/e

2. Additional required material is all online: Videos, online lectures/slideshows, PDFs, powerpoints, etc. including other public domain internet texts will be accessible via the login page for this course for free


Course Structure

This is a fully online course. Get a SacLink account. Online activities include: Lectures in the form of slideshows, 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. Please review this FAQ about eLearning at Sacramento State for a general introduction.

NEW LMS: Canvas - NEED INTRO - 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.

Students in online courses should be self-reliant, independent, self-disciplined, self-motivated learners. People who have good time management skills will generally do very well in this type of learning environment. Take the Learner Responsibility Survey available in 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. In addition to processing all of the material presented online, it is important that you stay in touch with me, let me know how it is going, via email or discussions or both. Notice that there are numerous required activities you must accomplish on your own by specific deadlines.

Important: This syllabus, along with course policies, assignments and due dates, is subject to change. Don't print it, instead use this online version as a reference. 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, ... D7 all denote successive assignments, these are threads or posts using SacCT

T1 = Test #1, thus, T1, ... T7 all denote successive assignments, these are called Tests in SacCT (accessible via the Course Menu in SacCT)

T7 = The Final Exam, which covers everything assigned or presented in the course and is only available online during Finals Week


week start date module/topic assignment deadlines read/watch in this order *
Jan. 23

Learning Module 0:

How Do I Work This


Learning Module 1:

Religion Defined, Its Origins & Philosophical Import

  • Specific Learning Outcome (SLO) aims for these weeks, see details at end of Syllabus: 1, 2, 3

  • General Education Outcome (GEO) aims, see details at end of Syllabus: A, B


D1 opens Monday 23 Jan. at noon
D1 due by Tuesday 7 Feb. at
11 pm

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

Complete the Learner Responsibility Survey in SacCT
by Friday 3 Feb. at
11 pm

Text - look for readings in the course text unless otherwise noted

  1. Pojman & Rea: Introduction - find in LM1
  2. Ninian Smart: The Nature of a Religion & The Nature of Secular Worldviews - find in LM1
  3. Chad Meister: Philosophy of Religion - IEP -
  4. Pew Research Center: Religious Landscape Study - data online -
  5. Learning Module 1: Online Lecture (in SacCT)

Video (click on CC for captions, for each non-captioned video there is a transcription within its module in SacCT)

  • Haught, Dennett, Wilson: What is Religion? What is it for? - video -
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is religion good or bad? - video -
  • Karen Armstrong: What is Religion? - video -

* There is more to do in each Learning Module, see the "To Do List" within each (in SacCT) for details.


Jan. 30

continue LM 1 material

T1 opens on Monday 30 Jan. at 11 am
T1 closes on Tuesday 7 Feb. at
11 pm

Feb. 6

Learning Module 2:

Religious Experience

  • SLO aims: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

  • GEO aims: A, B


Learning Module 2 opens 3 Feb. at noon

D2 opens Friday 3 Feb. at noon
D2 due by Friday 10 Feb. at
11 pm


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


  • The Five Major Religions - video -
  • PBS: The Buddha - find the link to the video within LM2

Feb. 13 cont. LM 2 material T2 opens on Monday 13 Feb. at 11 am
T2 closes on Friday 17 Feb. at 11 pm

Feb. 20

Learning Module 3:


  • SLO aims for these weeks:
    4, 5, 6, 7, 8

  • GEO aims: A, B, C


Learning Module 3 opens 17 Feb. at noon

D3 opens Friday 17 Feb. at noon
due by Friday 24 Feb. at 11 pm


  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)


  • Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic? - video -
  • Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion - video - details -

Feb. 27
cont. LM 3 material T3 opens on Monday 27 Feb. at 11 am
T3 closes on Friday 3 Mar. at 11 pm
Mar. 6

Learning Module 4:

The Problem of Evil

  • SLO aims for these weeks:
    4, 5, 6, 7, 8

  • GEO aims: A, B, C


Learning Module 4 opens 3 Mar. at noon

D4 opens Friday 4 Mar. at noon
due by Friday 10 Mar. at 11 pm


  1. David Hume: The Argument from Evil
  2. Gottfried Leibniz: Theodicy
  3. John Hick: Evil 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)


  • William Lane Craig: Do Pain and Suffering Disprove God's Existence? - video -
  • Craig and Harris: Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? - video - transcript -
Mar. 13 cont. LM 4 material T4 opens on Monday 13 Mar. at 11 am
T4 closes on Friday 17 Mar. at 11 pm

Mar. 20-24 Spring Recess    
10 - 13

Mar. 27

Learning Module 5:

Arguments for the existence of God

  • SLO aims for these weeks:
    4, 5, 6, 7, 8

  • GEO aims: C, D


Learning Module 5 opens 17 Mar. at noon

D5 opens Friday 31 Mar. at noon
D5 due by Friday 7 Apr. at 11 pm


T5 opens on Monday 17 Apr. at 11 am
T5 closes on Friday 21 Apr. at
11 pm


  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
  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)


  • NOVA: Intelligent Design On Trial - find the link to the video within LM5
  • McGrath, Hitchens: Poison or Cure? Religious Belief in the Modern World - video -

      D6 opens Friday 21 Apr. at noon
D6 due by Friday 28 Apr. at 11 pm
14 - 16
Apr. 24

Learning Module 6:

Faith and Reason

  • SLO aims for these weeks:
    4, 5, 6, 7, 8

  • GEO aims: D

Learning Module 6 opens 21 Apr. at noon

D7 opens by Friday 28 Apr. at noon
D7 due by Friday 5 May at 11 pm

T6 opens on Monday 8 May at 11 am
T6 closes on Friday 12 May at
11 pm


  1. Blaise Pascal: The Wager
  2. Paul Saka: Pascal's Wager about God - IEP -
  3. W. K. Clifford: The Ethics of Belief
  4. Richard Dawkins: Is Science a Religion?
  5. Sam Harris: An Atheist Manifesto - link -
  6. Learning Module 6: Online Lecture (in SacCT)


  • Sam Harris: Believing the Unbelievable - video -

finals week Final Exam T7 opens on Monday 15 May 2017 at 8 am
T7 closes on Thursday 18 May 2017 at 11 pm


Assignments, Grades and Attendance
What required assignments are there?

FOURTEEN graded 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 on this page. Once an assignment closes, it closes forever. Students cannot re-take or make-up any test or discussion, absolutely, no exceptions. There isn't time for this and there are plenty of points available so that one can miss an assignment or two and still do well in the course.


What happens if you do not complete an assignment (i.e., a discussion post or test) by its posted deadline?

If you miss a deadline, then you have missed the opportunity to earn whatever points were available for that assignment. Look at the Schedule, notice that you will have had plenty of time to complete each assignment by its deadline.You will not be able to post anything after its deadline. I cannot grade assignments until after deadlines pass. There are many assignments, missing one or two should not affect your overall performance that much. Of course, missing multiple tests or discussion boards has a great affect, so arrange your life so as to meet your obligations. No assignments will be extended or made-up, because there are too many students and too little time for make-up work. This is non-negotiable. It is also unfair to people who submit work by deadline, and your instructor must treat everyone equally. Multiple versions of assignments and sliding deadlines in such a course as this are not feasible. My advice if you miss a deadline: Life happens, let it go. Focus on what assignments remain and continue to do your best.


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 you earn a total of 109 points, then you receive 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
< 85
135 +
to this letter-grade
D -
D +
C -
C +
B -
B +
A -



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 a Discussion Board question-prompt for a Learning Module, then you do not earn the possible points available to those who do. There are no penalties here, only missed opportunities. There are no class meetings on campus.

Non-participating students will be dropped from the course within the first three weeks. This course has strict participation and activity requirements, including engagement with the course material on a weekly basis. Students MUST:

1. Login to the course at least once each week during the first three weeks of semester, AND

2. Submit an answer to the first Discussion Board topic by the end of the first two weeks of semester.

If you do not do both of these, then you will be considered to have abandoned the course and may be administratively dropped by the instructor.



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. To apply for SSWD services, start here:

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 here. Students may work together on essays 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.

Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and will not be tolerated in this class. Always use quotation marks and a footnote citation to indicate sentences or passages you borrow from another author. Assignments in which plagiarism is found will at the least be graded at 0 (not just an F). ALL incidents of plagiarism will be reported both to the Department Chair and to the Judicial Officer in the Office of Student Affairs for possible further administrative sanction.


READ this FAQ about eLearning

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.


Specific 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 interpret and analyze philosophical articles on religious topics, and must participate regularly in online discussions wherein they will produce cogent answers to questions about specific issues in response to essay question prompts. All written efforts will be judged for clarity, accuracy, and competence. The best answers will demonstrate an understanding of material presented in the course and apply philosophical concepts and methods. Quotations or statements of mere agreement or disagreement without giving rational reasons are unsatisfactory.


General Education Area C2 Learning Outcomes: Humanities: Literature, Philosophy, Languages Other than English

GE learning objectives associated with C2 focus on the human condition. Here I provide examples of how GE content and writing requirements are met. As can be seen by reviewing the Schedule on the Syllabus, seven biweekly discussions based on instructor prompts about specific issues, and seven biweekly, comprehensive online tests, are designed to both promote and assess student learning outcomes. By the end of the course, students completing C2 requirements in this should be able to:

A. Demonstrate knowledge of the conventions and methods of the study of the humanities

At the outset of the course, students survey and examine several major religious traditions and varieties of religious experience. They learn to compare and contrast religion and ideology from the perspective of religious studies scholars and philosophers of religion. For example, students develop a conceptual understanding of the origins and nature of religion and religious experience in Learning Modules 1 and 2 by watching videos, perusing course texts, and watching online lectures. In the first online discussion assignment (via SacCT) students present and defend their own reasoned opinion about whether it really matters to society or culture whether any religious claims are true. In the second discussion students distinguish religious feelings from mystical experiences and present an argument either for or against the notion that such experiences are good evidence of actual contact with the divine. Students answer these questions in light of assigned readings and online lectures.

B. Investigate, describe, and analyze the roles and effects of human culture and understanding in the development of human societies

In weeks 3 through 8 course material and the instructor present historical, theological, and philosophical answers to these questions: What is religion, why are people religious, and what good is it? In the third online discussion assignment students present and defend their own answers to the question, What do miracles, if real, prove, in your reasoned opinion? That is, what implications, if real, do they have for human existence?

C. Compare and analyze various conceptions of humankind

In each Learning Module of the course, we examine critically specific religious assertions and arguments about nature and our place in it. Human interests, human beliefs and cultural practices, are the primary focus of much religious fervor and behavior. People are the alleged paragons of divine creation, the subjects of miraculous events, but also the bearers of much pain and suffering, or evil. In weeks 5 through 8, we discuss how traditional and modern views about miracles and evil influence greatly our judgments about the nature of the cosmos and our place in it. In weeks 9 through 11 Students examine the major historical proofs for the existence of God and important conceptual criticisms. In the fourth and fifth discussion board assignments, students answer and criticize each others views on (a) whether it is practical or rational to attempt to prove God's existence, and (b) whether pain and suffering might conceivably disprove God's existence.

D. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the historical development of cultures and civilizations, including their animating ideas and values

In the history of humankind, religious values express and inform moral values, and religious conviction motivates behavior, for better or worse. Lectures, videos, and readings throughout the course probe the relation between faith and reason, religion and science. The implications of each for the other are the subjects of weeks 12 through 15. In the last two Learning Modules we discuss how and to what extent faith is (or is not) rational, and how people can be righteous or compassionate without religious education. In the last two discussion board posts, in Learning Modules 6 and 7, students examine critically whether (a) one can be a good person or do good deeds without being religious, and (b) whether religion alone justifies moral behavior.