PHIL 131: Philosophy of Religion syllabus (Spring 2015)


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

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

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. 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.

This online course is demanding. 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.

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, ... D6 all denote successive assignments, these are threads or posts using SacCT

J1 = Journal Assignment #1, and J2 denotes the second, these are papers or short essays submitted in 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 date module/topic assignments due read/watch in this order *

Learning Module 0:

How Do I Work This


Learning Module 1:

Religion Defined, Its Origins & Philosophical Import

D1 due by Friday 30 Jan 2015 at midnight

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

Complete the Learner Responsibility Survey in SacCT by Friday 30 Jan 2015 at midnight

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

  1. Pojman & Rea: Introduction - find in LM1
  2. Ninian Smart: Introduction to World Religions - Google Books -
  3. Chad Meister: Philosophy of Religion - IEP -
  4. Learning Module 1: Online Lecture (in SacCT)

Video (click on CC for captions)

  • 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 see and do in each Learning Module, see the "To Do List" within each for details.

continue LM 1 material

T1 opens on Monday 2 Feb 2015 at 11 am
T1 closes on Friday 6 Feb at midnight


Learning Module 2:

Religious Experience

D2 opens Friday 13 Feb 2015 at noon
D2 due by Friday 20 Feb 2015 at midnight


  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 - video -

cont. LM 2 material T2 opens on Monday 16 Feb 2015 at 11 am
T2 closes on Friday 20 Feb 2015 at midnight

Learning Module 3:


D3 opens Friday 27 Feb 2015 at noon
due by Friday 6 Mar 2015 at midnight

J1 assigned on Monday 23 Feb 2015
J1 due on Friday 6 Mar 2015 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)


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

cont. LM 2 material T3 opens on Monday 2 Mar 2015 at 11 am
T3 closes on Friday 6 Mar 2015 at midnight

Learning Module 4:

The Problem of Evil

D4 opens Friday 13 Mar 2015 at noon
due by Friday 20 Mar 2015 at midnight


  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 -
cont. LM 4 material T4 opens on Monday 16 Mar 2015 at 11 am
T4 closes on Friday 20 Mar 2015 at midnight

Spring Break!    
10 - 12
Mar. 30
- Apr. 17

Learning Module 5:

Arguments for the existence of God

D5 opens Friday 10 Apr 2015 at noon
D5 due by Friday 17 Apr 2015 at midnight


T5 opens on Monday 13 Apr 2015 at 11 am
T5 closes on Friday 17 Apr 2015 at midnight


  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)


13 - 15
Apr. 20
- May 15

Learning Module 6:

Faith and Reason


J2 assigned on Monday 20 Apr 2015
J2 due by Friday 8 May at midnight

D6 opens by Friday 24 Apr 2015 at noon
D6 due by Friday 15 May 2015 at midnight

T6 opens on Monday 11 May 2015 at 11 am
T6 closes on Friday 15 May 2015 at midnight


  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 -
  • McGrath, Hitchens: Poison or Cure? Religious Belief in the Modern World - video -

finals week Final Exam T7 opens on Monday 18 May 2015 at 11 am
T7 closes on Friday 22 May 2015 at midnight


Assignments, Grades and Attendance
What required assignments are there?

FIFTEEN 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.

  1. SEVEN online Tests. Each is worth 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 concepts, passages, and arguments presented by authors and speakers, online, in the text and in the Learning Modules but they also include questions about the content of assigned videos. Do watch videos in their entirety. I model questions after the Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE and LSAT exams. Each test includes also material from previous modules, therefore, all tests are cumulative. You may use your notes, texts, videos, etc. but not each other on these tests. You will be able to see which questions you get wrong after each attempt but I do not reveal answers. You will have up to three attempts at each test if you complete these before their deadline, and only your best score counts as your grade for that test. Once the time limit for any attempt is exceeded, that test attempt will save and submit automatically when time expires. You may only view correct answers for any test after the availability end date, i.e, when the test closes.

    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 peculiar design feature of SacCT, so I will definitely remind you when online tests are open via "Announcements" in SacCT. 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. You will only see these tests 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, 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 T6, with T7 being the Final Exam, which is compehensive.

  2. SIX Discussion Board posts. Each post should not exceed 200 words and is worth a maximum of 10 points, so a total of 60 points are possible. These occur via Discussion Boards specific to each Learning Module in SacCT. Each question or set of questions is designed to provoke thoughtful discussion and respectful debate, so don't hesitate to say what you think, but be considerate of others and their interests. Questions posed in these discussions are based on specific assigned readings or videos, so do answer these precisely and accurately. Your first post in response to the question prompt itself is worth a maximum of 5 points (a 5 would be an A-level response, 4 corresponds to a B-level response, 3 would be a C-level response, etc.). You may then receive an additional 1 point for each thoughtful response/evaluation that you make to at least one other post by a fellow student, up to but not exceeding 5 points, so a total of 10 points is possible for each Discussion Board assignment. Never post any attachments, I cannot open these, so please do not include any in your submissions. These are labeled in the grade book as D1 thru D6. Each Discussion Board is open until its posted deadline, after a deadline passes, it will no longer be available and all student posts get graded. Please be patient, there are over 150 students in the couse, grading will take some time.

    Discussion Board posts are NOT like social media posts. Your posts should be thoughtful, that is, they should demonstrate that you understand and can apply course material to specific issues. All posts must be substantive, not superficial. Give reasons for whatever opinions or critical thoughts you offer. Posts that merely agree or disagree without giving support for specific assertions receive no credit. In all writing for this course, avoid rudeness, bombast, and snark. If you even think you might be misunderstood, then rewrite your post before you send it. All college-level writing standards apply. Precision, grammar, and spelling matter. Use campus resources for students to help you with your writing.

  3. TWO Journal essays, each should not exceed 500 words. Each is worth 25 points, so a total of 50 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, if you do then you receive zero credit. Each essay 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 and J2.

    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. Use MLA or APA standards when citing your references. 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 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 papers that just paraphrase ideas cut-and-pasted from someone else.

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


What happens if you do not complete an assignment (i.e., a discussion post, a journal entry, 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. Please, do not despair, there are many assignments, missing one or two should not affect your overall performance that much. Of course, missing a journal entry has a greater affect, so arrange your life so as to meet your obligations. No assignments can 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 129 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
< 100
to this letter-grade
D -
D +
C -
C +
B -
B +
A -

Extra points: Student evaluations of this course are conducted anonymously, online, in the last few weeks of the semester. As an incentive to participation, all students will receive 5 extra points only if 85% of students complete these online surveys by the last class meeting. You will be notified by emails with specific insructions from the Sac State Online Survey Administrator when these are available and how to complete them. Please submit these, it helps me improve the course.I won't know this until finals week, so wait for me to tell you then. There is no more extra credit, extra credit is extra work, we don' t have time or resources for more work.


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. Re-enrollment will not be permitted.



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 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 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.