PHIL 131: Philosophy of Religion syllabus, FALL 2019 - NEED TO CHANGE DATES

  • Instructor: Scott Merlino, Ph.D., email:
  • Office Hours: Thursdays 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm in 3026 Mendocino Hall, Department of Philosophy
  • Online Course = Internet access required, all text materials, lectures, videos, quizzes online
  • Students MUST use their official university SacLink email account to correspond with the instructor and receive messages from the course and campus administrators.
Sections: 2, 3, 4, 5, 60
  • PHIL 131 - ONLINE ONLY, this class never meets on campus


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.


Course Structure

This is a fully online course delivered via Canvas, the campus Learning Management System (LMS). Online activities include: Lectures in the form of narrated slideshows, videos, readings, discussions, and quizzes. You will need to use the Internet and a campus-supported Web browser e.g., Firefox, Safari, or Chrome.

Students in online courses should be independent, disciplined, self-motivated learners. Online courses are demanding. Notice that there are numerous required activities you must accomplish on your own by specific deadlines. In addition to processing all of the material presented online within the modules, it is important that you stay in touch with me, let me know how it is going via email. Contact me ASAP when any confusion or problem arises - include a screenshot whenever possible.

Tutorials for Canvas. Each short video introduces components of the course that we use.

  1. Canvas Overview:
  2. Discussions:
  3. Quizzes:
  4. Grades:



Required instructional materials are available online in digital form

1. Digital text: Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, by Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rea, 6/e use only this edition - cost not to exceed $25

2. Learning Modules, lecture/slideshows and other required material beyond the assigned text are all within Canvas or online. START HERE with online content:

3. Visit the Blog page where I post weekly commentary on course material and assignments. Find a link to the Blog within each Learning Module in Canvas. It is required reading.


Schedule, arranged by Learning Module

Modules contain and organize course material. Find additional course materials such as lectures, videos, and articles not from the text within each module. It should take you about two weeks to work through the list of things in each module. With the exception of those items marked optional, all items within a module are required, including the Blog page. Page numbers on the Schedule below correspond to readings in the Pojman and Rea text.


MODULE 1: Religion Defined, Its Origins and Philosophical Import - opens January 21, 2019

FIND assigned items and videos within the module in Canvas, there are NO required readings from the course text yet.

Discussion 1 opens January 22, closes February 4

Quiz 1 opens January 28, closes February 11

  • Specific Learning Outcome (SLO) aims for this Modules: 1, 2, 3; General Education Outcome (GEO) aims: A, B - see details on outcome aims at the end of this Syllabus


MODULE 2: Religious Experience - opens February 4

1. Part III: Religious Experience, pages 220-223
2. III.1: Pojman and Rea: Selections of Mystical Experiences, pages 223-224
3. III.2: James: Mysticism, pages 224-241

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 2 opens February 4, closes February 18

Quiz 2 opens February 11, closes February 25

  • SLO aims: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7; GEO aims: A, B


MODULE 3: Miracles - opens February 18

1. Part V: Miracles, pages 402-405
2. V.1: Hume: Against Miracles, pages 406-415
3. V.3: Mackie: Miracles and Testimony, pages 425-432

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 3 opens February 18, closes March 4

Quiz 3 opens February 25, closes March 11

  • SLO aims: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; GEO aims: A, B, C


MODULE 4: The Problem of Evil - opens March 4

1. Part IV: The Problem of Evil, pages 276-278
2. IV.A: Historical and Literary Perspectives, page 278
3. IV.A.1: Hume: The Argument from Evil, pages 279-284
4. IV.A.2: Leibniz: Theodicy: A Defense of Theism, pages 284-290
5. IV.A.3: Dostoevsky: Rebellion, pages 291-297
6. IV.B: Contemporary Formulations, pages 297-298
7. IV.B.2: Rowe: The Inductive Argument from Evil against the Existence of God, pages 307-314
8. IV.C: Replies, pages 327-328
9. IV.C.2: Hick: Evil and Soul-Making, pages 349-353

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 4 opens March 4, closes March 18

Quiz 4 opens March 25, closes April 8

  • SLO aims: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; GEO aims: A, B, C


MODULE 5: Arguments for the existence of God - opens March 25

1. Part II: Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God, page 136
2. II.A: The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God, pages 137-138
3. II.A.1: Anselm and Gaunilo: The Ontological Argument, pages 138-141
4. II.A.2: Kant: A Critique of the Ontological Argument, pages 141-144
5. II.B: The Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God, pages 145-147
6. II.B.1: Aquinas: The Five Ways, pages 147-149
7. II.B.2: Clarke: The Argument from Contingency, pages 149-150
8. II.B.3: Rowe: An Examination of the Cosmological Argument, pages 150-159
9. II.C: The Teleological Argument for the Existence of God, pages 178-181
10. II.C.1: Paley: The Watch and the Watchmaker, pages 181-184
11. II.C.2: Hume: A Critique of the Design Argument, pages 184-190

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 5 opens March 25, closes April 8

Quiz 5 opens April 8, closes April 22

  • SLO aims: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; GEO aims: C, D


MODULE 6: Faith and Reason - opens April 15

1. Part VII: Faith and Reason, pages 492-493
2. VII.A: Pragmatic Justification of Religious Belief, pages 493-495
3. VII.A.1: Pascal: The Wager, pages 496-497
4. VII.A.2: Clifford: The Ethics of Belief, pages 498-502
5. VII.A.3: James: The Will to Believe, pages 502-511
6. Part VIII: Science, Religion, and Evolution, pages 561-562
7. VIII.A: The Relationship Between Science and Religion, pages 562-563
8. VIII.A.1: Dawkins: Is Science A Religion, pages 561-568
9. VIII.A.2: Gould: Non-overlapping Magisteria, pages 568-576

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 6 opens April 15, closes April 29

Discussion 7 opens April 29, closes May 13

Quiz 6 opens May 13, closes May 17

  • SLO aims: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; GEO aims: D


Assignments, Attendance, and Grades
What required assignments are there?

THIRTEEN graded assignments occur within the Learning Modules presented in Canvas, look for links to them in there. Grades for each submitted effort will appear under 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 quiz 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.

    • SIX QUIZZES, 15 points each. Each quiz has a time limit of 60 minutes, you get THREE attempts within the availability period, only the highest score counts, and you cannot see the correct answers on any quiz until after your last attempt has been submitted and its deadline has passed. Quizzes are based on assigned readings, videos, lecture-slideshows.

      Quiz questions require that you understand concepts, passages, and arguments presented by authors and speakers, from the readings and videos in the Learning Modules. I model questions after the Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE and LSAT exams, so do not expect to find anwers to questions verbatim from the assigned material. All quizzes includes material from previous modules, the final quiz is the most comprehensive. You may use your notes on a quiz, texts, videos, etc. but you must complete and submit them yourself without the help of anyone else - no collusion. Follow the schedule for exact quiz availability, these dates are firm commitments.


  • SEVEN DISCUSSIONS, 5 points each. Each discussion board presents questions designed to provoke critical discussion and respectful debate, so don't hesitate to say what you think but you must give reasons. Participants must first create a thread in order to view other threads in each forum. Email submissions cannot be accepted. Never submit your responses by email or attachment, this makes it impossible for people to comment and for me to grade it with the LMS. Don't quote anybody in your responses, put ideas and answers into your own words. The best answers will show that you learned something from material presented. Be considerate of others and their interests.

    Important Note 1: Questions posed in these discussions test your familiarity with assigned material. You want to show me in your writing that you understand complex ideas and arguments presented in the course. Inaccurate, imprecise, evasive, or off-topic answers are unsatisfactory and receive no credit.

    Important Note 2: There is no partial credit for an incomplete response. You receive 5 points ONLY IF you (a) compose a satisfactory answer to all questions AND (b) respond thoughtfully to at least one post from a fellow student. When you do not complete both tasks then you receive zero credit. You need to check to see that BOTH of your posts appear within the discussion. Do not wait until the last minutes before the deadline to submit and check for your answers. Number your responses to each so that I can see your answers clearly. Please be concise, use no more than 400 words in total.

    Important Note 3: Do not send your responses to my email, they must occur within the Discussion board so that others may comment and I can grade them. No after-deadline responses can be accepted. Never post any attachments, I cannot open these. It is best to draft your answers to questions in a text document, proofread it and save it, then copy and paste it into the Discussion reply box. Each Discussion Board is open until its posted deadline, after a deadline passes, it is no longer available and all student posts are graded. Please be patient, there are 200+ enrolled students.

    Discussion Board posts are designed for student interactions but they are NOT like casual social media posts. Your posts should demonstrate that you understand and can apply course material to specific issues. Give rational reasons for whatever opinions or critical thoughts you offer. Posts that merely agree or disagree without giving support for specific assertions receive no credit. Avoid rudeness. If you even suspect that you might be misunderstood, then rewrite your post before you post it. All college-level writing standards apply. Precision, grammar, and spelling matter. Use campus resources for students to help you with your writing. In your posts, take care to avoid common logical errors such as these reasoning fallacies listed here.


What happens if you do not complete an assignment by its 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. After the deadline I release or discuss answers. There are many assignments, missing one or two should not affect your overall performance that much. Missing multiple tests or discussion boards has a great affect, arrange your life so as to meet your obligations. No assignments can be re-opened, extended or made-up, because the LMS is inflexible, there are too many students and too little time for extra work. It is also unfair to people who submit work by deadline and we must treat people equitably. Multiple versions of assignments and sliding deadlines in such a course as this are not feasible. Course requirements and grading standards must remain the same for everyone. My advice if you miss a deadline: Life happens, let it go. Focus on what assignments remain and continue to do your best.


Attendance = Participation

Attendance is entirely online. Online participation is satisfied by online assignments. 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.


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 94 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 in Canvas.

Grade thresholds are as follows: The number on the left is the total number of points at the end of the course which corresponds to to the letter-grade on the right.

Total points = Course Grade

120+ = A

115-119 = A -

110-114 = B +

105-109 = B

100-104 = B -

95-99 = C +

90-94 = C

85-89 = C -

80-84 = D +

75-79 = D

70-74 = D -

less than 70 = F


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. See especially the definitions of Cheating and Plagiarism.

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 be assigned a failing grade. 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.


Specific Learning Outcome (SLO) aims

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 Outcome (GEO) aims

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 Canvas) 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.


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 announced in Canvas or by email.