Atheism:  Arguments, Objections, and Responses

Philosophy 192 A, sect. 1

MND 3009

Prof. Matt McCormick

Fall 2008

Office Hours:  W 3:00-4:00, Thurs 2:00-3:00,and by appointment

Office:  MND 3020                      Office phone: 278-7372
email:        Webpage:
Writing Guidelines
Philosophy Department Office:  Mendocino 3032, 278-6424

Catalog DescriptionSeminar:  Atheism:  Arguments, Objections, and Responses.  Examines the arguments, concepts, objections and responses surrounding philosophical atheism.  Addresses atheism in the context of at least four of the following:  evil, miracles, historical evidence for theism, faith, divine hiddenness, theodicies, divine attributes, science, morality, the meaning of life,  agnosticism, and naturalized accounts of belief. 


Prerequisite: 6 units in philosophy or instructor permission. Philosophy of Religion (Phil 131) strongly encouraged.  3 units.


Required Texts:  The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006. ISBN-10: 1591023815, ISBN-13: 978-1591023814.

        Recommended:  The Impossibility of of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. Michael Martin


    There will also be a collection of papers and book excerpts available online, on reserve, or handed out in class.  See weekly plan below for schedule and references.   


An important but sometimes neglected thread in the philosophy of religion has been arguments in favor of atheism.  Many people, philosophers included, believe that such arguments are in principle flawed—the motivation for such an argument are often criticized, and it is argued that since proving a negative claim is so difficult, at most we should be agnostics.  Furthermore, atheists, by recent polling data, are some of the most disliked people in American culture, despite the fact that atheists make up such a tiny fraction of the population.  In the history of philosophy of religion, a series of arguments and criticisms of theistic arguments have been given that provide a philosophical center for this position.  Given that so many people are religious, and that religion plays such a central role in the social, political, economic, and personal decisions they make, it is vital that we better understand a debate that attempts to dislodge theism’s place in our belief structure.  Furthermore, recent legal cases on topics such as religious language in the Pledge of Allegiance, intelligent design, and teaching evolution in schools have made it clear that this topic is of vital importance to American mainstream culture.

Several other topics are relevant to this debate.  Many people see the scientific enterprise as inherently atheistic.  The methods, goals, and results of scientific investigation will in the end result in atheism.  It is also thought that miracles and a body of historical evidence render theism reasonable and atheism unreasonable.  The problem of evil—why would an all powerful, all knowing, and loving God permit evil?—has been the cornerstone of arguments for atheism.  A range of atheistic arguments have been developed along these lines raising questions about the possible purposes of evil, freedom, divine hiddenness, and soul-building. 

In this course we will consider a range of important philosophical contributions on the topic of atheism.  It will also consider a number of responses and criticisms from the theistic camp, and then the range of responses open to the atheist.  We will consider the tension between science and religion.  We will address questions such as:  Does science motivate atheism?  Is religious faith compatible with science?  Can science give us positive evidence for the non-existence of God?  This course will also consider the debate over atheism that has centered on the question of miracles and historical evidence.

The goals of the course:

1)  to better understand the concepts, themes, arguments, and problems surrounding atheistic reasoning.

2)  to better understand the challenges that philosophers have presented to theism.

3)  to better understand the nature of religious belief and its relationship to reason and argument

Student Outcome Goals:  This course has several major goals for students.

1)  To develop the ability to think critically, objectively, and carefully about atheistic and religious claims and issues.  
2)  To familiarize students with the major issues and arguments within the philosophical literature on atheism.  
3)  To develop a number of advanced skills for philosophical analysis.  
4)  To develop students' writing skills, textual analysis skills, and oral discussion/debate skills.

     These goals will be met and assessed with reading assignments, tests, vocabulary assessment, quizzes, paper assignments, class discussions, lectures, and philosophical research.  
    Assignments:  In this course you will write 4 short (3-6 pages) papers.  All papers will be assessed according to the criteria described in the assignment and the Philosophy Department writing guidelines posted at:  There will also be a final exam.  It will include terms, author identification, and a number of essay questions (passed out in advance) that address the various topics and authors from the course.  There will also be a final paper.  (8-12 pages) This paper will require some careful analysis and argumentation concerning one of the concepts, theses, or arguments considered in the course.  Outside research will be accepted but not required.    
    Late Assignments:  Each student may take one extension on a due paper or question set (but not on the final exam) until the next class period.  This is the only extension you will have, so use it wisely.  You do not need to inform me when you choose to take your extension.  All other late assignments will be penalized one letter grade per day (not per class period.)  Assignments turned in after class on the day they are due will be counted late. 
    Missed Assignments:  Be forewarned:  A missed assignment will be entered as a 0 in the grade spreadsheet, and that has a substantial negative impact on your course grade.  Even an F (55 points) has a less damaging effect on your grade.
     Makeup Policy:  There will be no extra credit or make up assignments for any missed work.  The midterm or final exams will not be rescheduled for anyone—plan accordingly.      

Course Grade:  Your final grade will be calculated as follows:

Short papers:  4 @ 12% of total grade each
Wikispaces/Blog contributions:  12%

Final exam: 15% 
Final Paper:  15%

Attend. and Participation            10% of total grade


To calculate your grade during the semester:  
1.  Take all short paper scores and multiply by .1.
2.  Multiply your final exam and final paper scores by .15.

3.  Estimate your class attendance and participation grade:  10 = best, 0=worst.
4.  Estimate scores for any assignments yet to be completed and multiply by the appropriate %.
5.  Add all of those results.  A=100-90, B=89-80, C=79-70, D=69-60, F=59-50.  

    Grading Guidelines:  A detailed explanation of the standards employed in this course to grade assignments and the requirements for different grades can be found at:
    Attendance:  Class attendance is mandatory.  Anyone with 5 or more unexcused absences will receive a 0 for class attendance and participation.  Everyone is expected to come to class prepared, having read the assigned materials, and ready to participate in the class discussions.  Everyone who meets these requirements will receive a full 10% for their class participation grade.  Failure to meet these requirements will result in a proportional reduction of that grade.  
    If there are emergencies that force you to miss class, they may be excused in some rare cases.  You must notify me that you will be missing class before it occurs.  And I will require evidence in order to excuse the absence(s).  
    Being Tardy:  I take roll at the beginning of class and, if necessary, after the break; students who are late will be counted absent and will miss assignments, important information, and as a result, will do poorly in the course.  Three tardies count as an absence.  Students who leave at the break will receive half an absence. 
    Cheating:  No cheating of any sort will be tolerated in this course. All sources in papers must be cited and given appropriate credit.  The author of any information from the Internet must be given credit; using such information without indicating the source is stealing someone else's hard work and is immoral.  Students are allowed to discuss lectures and even assignments with each other, but they must do their own work.  Be cautious of sharing your notes and ideas with someone who did not attend class and did not take notes;  that person has much more to gain than you do.  

Here is the university policy on academic honesty:

The attempt by a student to cheat on an exam or other academic assignment or to engage in plagiarism is a violation of a fundamental principle of academic honesty and integrity and will not be tolerated in the University. Formal procedures exist for dealing with these cases and penalties will be imposed on students who are found guilty of academic dishonesty. In the event of expulsion, suspension or probation, a notation is made on the student’s transcript. Suspension and probation notations remain on the transcript for the life of the suspension/probation. For information, contact the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.


All students will be responsible for reading and following the university honesty, plagiarism, and cheating policies.  They are posted on the web at:

    Intellectual Property Right Policy
.  The development of websites and businesses that buy students' notes and papers and resell them to other students willing to cheat has made this policy necessary:  
    I do not give my permission for any materials presented in my course, including but not limited to lectures, lecture notes, assignments, tests, and handouts, to be sold without my explicit written permission.  Those materials also may not be given, or otherwise transferred by anyone who is not currently enrolled in my course to anyone who is currently enrolled in my course.  Nor can they be given or otherwise transferred to anyone who is currently enrolled in my course to anyone who is not.  They may not be used for any commercial purposes without my explicit written permission.  Their use is to be educational and confined to use in my class.  Anyone who violates these policies is in conflict with university intellectual copyright policy and will be subject to legal action.

Students with Disabilities:  If you have a documented disability and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., please see the instructor early in the semester so that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure your full participation in class. Also, you are encouraged to contact the Services for Students with Disabilities (Lassen Hall) for additional information regarding services that might be available to you.

    Course Schedule:    Here is an outline of the authors and topics in the assigned text that we will be discussing.   Topics and reading assignments are subject to change.  I will make specific reading assignments from these admittedly too long lists of readings. 

Week 1:  Introduction:  Epistemological Routes to Atheism, Concepts, and Issues

Antony Flew:  The Presumption of Atheism.

Findlay, J.N.  "Can God's Existence be Disproved?"  in SacCT Readings folder and here

Week 2:  Introduction Continued.

Martin, Michael. "The Justification of Negative Atheism:  Some Preliminaries," and "The Justification of Positive Atheism:  Some Preliminaries," excerpts from Atheism:  A Philosophical Justification.  Handout. 

Some recent arguments for the existence of God, William Lane Craig:

Week 3:  Deductive proofs:  Multiple Property Disproofs

Drange, Theodore.  Incompatible-Properties Arguments:  A Survey

Something from Impossibility

Week 4:  Deductive Proof:  Single Property Disproofs--Omnipotence and Omniscience

Grim, Patrick.  "Impossibility Arguments."  The Cambridge Companion to Atheism.  Handout.

Week 5:  The Problem of Evil: 

Rowe, William, "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism," in The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006.  pg. 250-261.


Wykstra, Stephen. "The Humean Obstacle to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of "Appearance," Int J PhiI Re116: 73-93 (1984).in WebCT readings folder. 


Week 6:  The Problem of Evil continued.

Rowe, William, "Friendly Atheism, Skeptical Theism, and the Problem of Evil," in SacCT folder. 


Allston, William.  "The Inductive Problem of Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition." In WebCT readings folder. Van Inwagen, Peter  “The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence.”  In WebCT readings folder. 

General Background:  The Evidential Problem of Evil:  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Evil, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 

Week 7:  Problem of Evil concluded.


Week 8:  Evidential (Inductive) Arguments for Atheism

Cosmological Arguments Against the Existence of God:

Schick, Theodore, "The Big Bang Argument for the Existence of God," The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006. 30-40.  Also at:  The Big Bang Argument for the Existence of God.

Smith, Quentin, "Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology," The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006. pg.  41-60.  also at:  Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology (1991) by Quentin Smith

Week 9:  Teleological Arguments Against God's Existence

Dawkins, Richard.  "The Improbability of God," The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006.  223-229.

Bayes Theorem Introduction:

An introduction to Bayesian reasoning:

Salmon, Wesley.  "Religion and Science:  A New Look at Hume's Dialogues," The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006.  167-193.

Week 10:  Teleological Arguments continued

Everitt, Nicholas.  "The Argument from Scale," The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006.  111-124.


Stenger, Victor.  "The Anthropic Coincidences:  A Natural Explanation,"  The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006.  125-149.  Also here:


Create your Own Universe:

Week 11:  Arguments from Nonbelief: 

Drange, Theodore.  “The Argument from Non-Belief.” The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006. pg.  341-356. Also at:

Schellenberg, J.L.  "Divine hiddenness justifies atheism,"  The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006. pg.  413-426.

Week 12:  Naturalism, Faith, and Supernaturalism:  Is Faith an Acceptable Route to Belief?

Dawkins, Richard.  “Is Science a Religion?”  Humanist Jan/Feb. 1997. 

Alston, William.  What is Naturalism that We Should Be Mindful of It?

Draper, Paul.  "Natural Selection and the Problem of Evil."

Plantinga, Alvin.  "Naturalism vs. Evolution:  A Religion/Science Conflict?


Week 13:  Naturalism, Faith, and Supernaturalism continued.

Faith:  Antony Flew:  The Parable of the Invisible Gardener

Audi, Robert.  Faith, Belief, and Rationality  Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 5, Philosophy of Religion. (1991), pp. 213-239.  in WebCT readings folder. 

Sam Harris:  Believing the Unbelievable 

excerpt from The End of Faith,

        William Lane Craig:  Video Clip on Faith and Doubt

Week 14:  Atheism, Meaningless Lives and Immorality

Rachels, James. God and Moral Autonomy, in SacCT Readings Folder and here

Byrne, Peter.  Moral Arguments for God's Existence:

Drange, Theodore, “Why Be Moral?”

Week 15:  Atheism, Meaning, and Morality continued:

De Wall, Frans:  Morality and Social Instincts:  Continuity with the Other Primates

Monkeys and Morality:


Stephen Pinker:  The Morality Instinct:


Week 16:  Agnosticism, Evidence, and Rationality

Draper, Paul.  “Seeking But Not Believing:  Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” Divine Hiddenness:  New Essays.  Eds. Howard-Snyder and Moser.  Cambridge University Press, 197-214. 

Graham Oppy defending agnosticism: 


Summary and Review

Final Exam:  Monday, Dec. 15th, 12:45-2:45 in class. 


Wikispaces Discussion Board:


All students are required to make regular, constructive, and considered contributions to our discussion board within Wikispaces.  The address is:


Getting started:  Go to that address.  Create an identity.  In order to get credit for your contributions and so that the rest of the class can identify you, you must use your name as your identity with no spaces.  So mine is:  MattMcCormick.  If your name's already taken, add "Phil131" to the end of it.  Do not use a pseudonym--everyone in class needs to know who is writing and who they are writing to. 


Posting questions, comments, and ideas:  Under the discussion tab, there will be different threads of conversation with questions and comments from Prof. McCormick and other students.  Choose topics and questions that you find interesting and make a post, or ask new questions and start a thread of your own. 


Grading:  Students who make frequent, reflective, and helpful posts (at least 12 for the semester) will receive a full 10% for this portion of the grade.  Lesser contributions will be graded proportionally lower.  Contributions will be evaluated on the basis of these criteria:

  1. How frequently did the student post?

  2. How constructive and thoughtful were the student's contributions?

  3. To what extent did the student's posts reflect an engagement in the concepts, issues, and philosophical challenges focused on in the course?

  4. To what extent did the student's posts reflect his or her familiarity with the assigned readings for the course?

Rules of Engagement:

1.  If you wrote it while mad, don't press send. 

2.  Try to be charitable and understand the point the other person is making. 

3.  No personal attacks, insults, or low blows. 

4.  Be willing to change your mind or admit that you were mistaken. 



A Problem for the Problem of Evil Atheist:  Nothing Makes You Happy

Miracles Disprove the Existence of God

Against the Immortality of the Soul

The Paradox of Divine Agency


McCormick's Book Project:  Atheism:  Proving the Negative chapter drafts:

The Epistemology of Atheism

No Brain, No Soul, No God

Atheism and Miracles


Believing in God is Immoral--Nammour Symposium 2007:  Believing in God is Immoral  (PowerPoint 2003 version)

Believing in God is Immoral  (PowerPoint 2007 version)




Merrihew-Adams, Robert.  “Must God Create the Best?”

Russell, Bertrand.  Why I am Not a Christian.

Martin, Michael.  Atheism:  A Philosophical Justification.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith,   Letter to a Christian Nation.

Dennett, Daniel.  Breaking the Spell.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. 

The Impossibility of God.  Eds. Martin and Monier

The Improbability of God.  Eds. Martin and Monier.

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism.  Ed. Martin. 

Rowe, William L., ed.  God and the Problem of Evil

Divine Hiddenness:  New Essays.  Daniel Howard-Snyder, Paul Moser, eds.  Cambridge University Press, 2001. 

Van Ingwagen, Peter  “The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence”

Daniel Howard-Snyder, Bergman, and Rowe:  “An Exchange on the Problem of Evil”

Schellenberg.  JL  “Stalemate and Strategy:  Rethinking the Evidential Problem of Evil”  Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason

Draper, Paul.  “Pain and Pleasure:  An Evidential Problem for Theists”

Marilyn McCord Adams.  “The Problem of Hell:  A Problem of Evil for Christians”

McCloskey, H.J.  “God and Evil,”  In Critiques of God, Prometheus, 1976.  And in the Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 10, April 1960.  97-114.




What's wrong with ID, Sober's%20wrong%20with%20id%20qrb%202007.pdf



Hitchens on God and Morality

Sam Harris:  An Atheist Manifesto:

Jacques Maritain, "On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism,"  a critique of atheism for being internally inconsistent

George Smith.  The Scope of Atheism

Richard Dawkins on religion as a meme:

The God Delusion, first chapter:

New Yorker Review of Hitchens:

George Carlin:,772,Religion,George-Carlin

Are we dualists by nature:  Psychologist Paul Bloom


Penn and Teller on Near Death Experiences:

Naturalizing Religion:  Stephen Pinker on evolutionary psychology and religion:

Daniel Dennett, excerpt from Breaking the Spell. 

Alston, William.    God and Direct Realism:

A series of interviews with famous atheists by Jonathan Miller:

Smith, Quentin.  “An Atheological Argument From Evil Natural Laws.” 

"The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism."  Ikeda, Michael and Bill Jefferys,The Improbability of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Press, 2006. pg. 150-166.  Also at:

Souls and the Afterlife:  McCormick, "Against the Immortality of the Soul" On the web at:

“Is Science Killing the Soul?”  A debate between Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker.

Nagel, Ernest.  “Malicious Philosophies of Science,” Sovereign Reason.  In Critiques of God, Prometheus 

Daniel Howard-Snyder.  “God, Evil, and Suffering.”  Reason for the Hope Within,evil,andsuffering.pdf

Rowe, William.  "Religious Experience and the Principle of Credulity," Int J Phil Re113:85-92 (1982) 0020-7047/82/0132-.0085 $01.20. 

Rowe, William.   "Friendly Atheism, Skeptical Theism, and the Problem of Evil," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (2006) 59:79–92 

Rowe, William.  Evil and the Theistic Hypothesis:  A Response to Wykstra" Int J Phil Re116:95-1 O0 (1984). 

Howard-Snyder, Daniel and Paul Moser, Introduction, Divine Hiddenness:  New Essays.

Draper, Paul.  “Pain and Pleasure:  An Evidential Problem for Theists”

Stenger's Website:

Do Mystics See God?  Evan Fales: