Welcome to



Spring 2006




Upon completion of this course students should be able to:

1.      Define philosophical terms central to the study of Philosophy of Religion.

2.      Demonstrate a clear understanding of the different concepts of God outlined in the class, and of the implications of these for our understanding of God’s interaction with the world. (For example, the student should be able to explain how the God of the Cosmological Argument is different from the God of Christianity.)

3.      Explain key arguments of selected scholars concerning existence and non-existence of God, faith and reason, and theodicy.

4.      Assess the arguments of scholars in each of the areas studied.




Disabled students: West Valley College makes reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. College materials will be available in alternate formats (Braille, audio, electronic format, or large print) upon request. Please contact the Disability and Educational Support Program at (408) 741-2010 (voice) or (408) 741-2658 (TTY) for assistance.


All Students: FREE TUTORING for this class is available on campus.




1.      Louis Pojman, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (Thomson/Wadsworth)

The WVC bookstore generally orders only the most recent editions of textbooks.  The most recent edition of this text is the fourth.  You may use any edition. Online vendors such as Amazon or ABE books offer the first, second, and third editions of this book for significantly lower prices.


If you order online, be sure to get Pojman’s Philosophy of Religion anthology. (Pojman wrote another text called simply Philosophy of Religion, which will NOT work for this class.)


2.      Class handouts and online readings (free) as noted in the Schedule below. 





Week of                                Topic                                   Readings     

Jan 30                        What is philosophy?                               What Is Philosophy?

                                 Philosophical Branches

                                 Metaphysics and Epistemology

                                 Subjectivity and Objectivity         Subjective/Objective Reading

                                 Philosophy of religion

                                 (“natural a/theology”),

                                    Theology, Religious Studies

                                 Abrahamic religions             Comparing Eastern and Western Religions

                                 The Western God



Feb 6                         Methods of Philosophy

                                 Logic tools                                                Logic Pretest

                                                                                    Consistency and Validity (Tutorial 1)

                    Open concepts      Open and Closed Concepts and the Continuum Fallacy

                                 Wholes and parts        The Fallacies of Composition and Division



Feb 13                        Divine attributes


                                 Divine omnipotence                                   IV.C (all)

                                 Must the Western God obey laws of logic?    Short essay assignment


                                 God and time                                            Intro to IV.A.1


                                 What does “P knows X” mean?                               Intro to IV.B.1

                                 What does “God knows everything” mean?

                                 Knowledge and embodiment  


                                 The free will debate                                   Free Will and Determinism

                                 Divine omniscience and human

                                   freedom                                                 IV.B.1 (Augustine)

                                 Can God create a world in which humans

                                   have free will and always choose good?



Feb 20 – Mar  6           Traditional args for God

                                 (natural theology) and counterarguments


                                 Cosmological argument                             I.A.1, I.A.2, I.A.3


                                 Teleological argument                                I.B (all)


                                 Ontological argument                                 I.C.1 and I.C.2



Mar 13                       Does religious experience justify belief?                             


                                 Descriptions of mystical experiences                       II.1

                                 William James                                           II.2

                                 Sigmund Freud                                          II.3

                                 Pojman’s critique                                       II.5

                                 The “God gene”                From Winston’s The Story of God



Mar 20                       Immortality                          


                                 Substance dualism                                    VI.1 (Plato)

                                                                                                Notes on Descartes

                                 Other views of personhood                         Philosophy of Mind notes


                                 Personal identity in an afterlife                               VI.2

                                                                                                Notes on Perry 1

                                                                                                Notes on Perry 2



Apr 3                         Atheist arguments

                                 The problem of evil                                   Dostoevsky

                                                                                                III.5 (Mackie)

                                                                                                Notes on Mackie

                                                                                                III.3 (Hick)

                                                                                                III.4 (Madden and Hare)


                                 Other atheist analyses of religion                Feyerabend, Marx



Apr 10                        Faith and Reason


                                 Foundationalism/Evidentialism                    VII.A.1 (Flew et al)

                                                          Notes on Flew, Hare, and Mitchell

                                   Flew: no evidence possible

                                   Hare: What counts as evidence?

                                   Mitchell: faith as maintaining relationship


                                 Plantinga: Who’s irrational?        Theism, Atheism, and Rationality



Apr 17                        Rejecting foundationalism/evidentialism:

                                   Pragmatic justifications                            VII.B1, VII.B.3

                                   Fideism                                                  VII.C.1, VII.c.2



Apr 24                        Rejecting foundationalism/evidentialism

                                   Religious belief as properly basic              VII.C.3 (Malcolm)

                                                                                                VII.D.2 (Plantinga



May 1                         Religious pluralism

                                   Is there one true religion?                        IX.1 (Hick)

                                                                                                IX.2 (Plantinga)

                                                                                                IX.5 (Runzo)



May 8                         Catch-up



May 15                       DEAD WEEK



May 22                       Final Exam Week





My office hours in Spring 2006 are Monday and Wednesday 9:30 to 10:50 AM, and Tuesday 12:30 to 1:30 PM. No appointment is needed for office hours. If you want to see me at some other time, please make an appointment.


My office is Music 4 (in the Music Department, near the campus theater). My office phone number is 408-741-2549. You can leave a voice message at this number. If you want me to get back to you, be sure to indicate how and when I can contact you. If you do not specify a time (within regular business hours, please), I will return your call during my next office hour.


My e-mail address is sandy_lafave@yahoo.com


I will NOT return calls or email for information that is available in this syllabus.



Attendance is required. If you are late and miss roll, you are counted absent. If you are counted absent for more than five class meetings, the maximum grade you can receive is D, regardless of your grades on assignments. Exceptions to this policy require documentation of extreme emergency.


I make important announcements and give handouts at the beginning of the class session. Announcements are not repeated — either in or out of class — for the benefit of latecomers.

Persistent lateness, talking in class, sleeping in class, leaving early, etc., show disrespect for me and also for your classmates. Your grade is also likely to be affected. For example, I am far less inclined to award the higher grade on a “borderline” answer if the student has been frequently late, absent, or disruptive, on grounds that such a student is simply less likely to have produced the better answer.


All students are expected to know the rules regarding plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious violation of the academic code. It is cause for expulsion in many schools. Ignorance is not an excuse. Other teachers may not enforce the rules; that is also NOT an excuse. If you are unclearwhat constitutes plagiarism, educate yourself! Look closely at all the eye-opening examples here. Students are often surprised to learn that what they consider standard practice is actually plagiarism.


Any direct quote or close paraphrase without proper citation — any use of anybody else’s words without giving proper credit — is plagiarism. In addition to the usual kinds of plagiarism (stealing sentences, paragraphs, papers, etc. from books or journals or web sites), it is also plagiarism to “answer” an essay question by cutting and pasting sentences from the study guide for this class. Remember I wrote the study guide. If you cut and paste from the study guide, you are plagiarizing my own sentences back to me. I will notice.


Any student who violates the academic code (e.g., by cheating or plagiarism) will, at minimum, receive a final course grade of F. This rule is rigidly enforced.


According to the catalog, instructors may drop students “... when accumulated hours of absences exceed ten percent of the total number of hours the class meets during the semester.” I may exercise this option. But the main responsibility lies with you. If you want to drop the class, it is YOUR responsibility to do so.


The last day to drop with a W is usually about one month before the end of the semester. Check the Schedule of Classes for the exact date.





Two exams, one worth 15%, the other worth 20%

Term Paper (20%)

Final Exam, worth 25%


Important deadlines:

Last day to get CR/NCR option

March 15

Last day to drop with "W"

See official schedule of classes

Term paper due

Last day of class


Term papers must be argumentative essays, 10 pages minimum, typed double-spaced. You may write a standard prose essay or a dialog.

The page count refers to pages of text. Cover sheet, works cited, etc. do not count as text. Illustrations, cartoons, pictures, etc. do not count as text.

If your paper comes out too short, it is probably not detailed enough.

If your paper comes out longer than the minimum required, that’s not a problem: please continue to double-space and use a normal font size.

The term paper gives you an opportunity to explore more advanced and technical problems in the philosophy of religion than we have time to consider in the mainstream class.

The following topics (among others) are acceptable:

1.      Using the readings in Pojman section I.A, critically analyze the kalām cosmological argument

2.      Critically analyze the arguments of Pike and Plantinga in Pojman section IV.C on omniscience and human freedom.

3.      Using the reading in Pojman I.C.3, clearly explain Norman Malcolm’s defense of the ontological argument.

4.      Using the readings in Pojman IX, describe Plantinga’s defense of religious exclusivism and the counterarguments and modifications offered by Hick and Basinger.

5.      What is Swinburne’s response to Hume on miracles? In your own words, give Hume’s arguments against miracles. Critically analyze Hume’s arguments against miracles, and also critically analyze Swinburne’s attempts to refute Hume. 

6.      Recent work in the biology of the brain seems to demonstrate a biological or evolutionary basis for religion.  Read one or more books listed here, and critically analyze the arguments.  Do such works constitute a naturalistic foundation for the claim that, e.g., women are more religious than men?  Book-smart people are less religious than others?

7.      Swinburne attempts to prove that there are reasonable inductive arguments for the existence of God. State (paraphrase in your own words, as much as possible) Swinburne’s arguments for God and critically analyze them .

8.      State and critically analyze the arguments of Davis and McCann on God and time.

If you would like to write your term paper on a different topic, please check with me. In general, it is NOT acceptable to write a term paper for this class on topics already covered in class, e.g., you could not simply summarize standard arguments for or against the existence of God. It is also not acceptable to write a paper for this class that is outside philosophy of religion, e.g., a paper summarizing the beliefs of Buddhists, or a paper about Bible scholarship, or a paper on the religious aspects of abortion or some other ethical issue.


Please do not ask me “what I want” on written assignments until you have carefully read this section and the section Key to Paper Comments .

All take-home essays (including, of course, the term paper) must be typed double-spaced. Worry if any essay comes out too short. Each essay exam answer should be at least 2-3 typewritten pages long (500 words). That is the minimum required. Page counts here refer to pages of text. Cover sheets, works cited, illustrations, samples of advertisements, pictures, cartoons, or other visual aids do not count as text.

On all essays, I will be looking for the following 3 elements:

1. Clear statement of relevant arguments and counter- arguments

2. Demonstrated familiarity with techniques and vocabulary of argument analysis

3. Competent English skills

Clear statement of relevant arguments and counter-arguments

One primary purpose of essays for this class is to clearly state the main arguments and counter-arguments. Do not merely summarize class notes. Do not vent your unanalyzed personal feelings or relate your autobiography — although you can certainly argue for positions that accord with your personal feelings.

Demonstrating familiarity with assigned readings means, at minimum, naming all the relevant assigned authors and giving them credit for the arguments they gave. The more precisely and accurately you state and analyze someone's argument, the better.

Demonstrated familiarity with techniques and vocabulary of argument analysis.

Essays should also demonstrate familiarity with the techniques and vocabulary of argument analysis. In other words, you must appropriately analyze and critique the arguments and counterarguments in the reading, using, for example, the Critical Thinking Checklist. You must note and explain logical and factual errors and obvious fallacies. The dialog format (like DR) is always acceptable for essays in this class.

I assign essays so you can demonstrate skill and clarity in marshaling, presenting, and criticizing arguments. You are not expected to present original arguments or break any new ground. You are not required to “state your own personal views.” Please do not feel compelled to make one author or position come out “the winner”; the issues we will be discussing are often complicated, and every contributor may say at least some worthwhile things.

Competent English skills

All assignments must demonstrate competent English writing skills, though these count somewhat less than clear presentation and analysis. You get up to 9 obvious technical errors (#1-20) per assignment with no penalty. However, if there are more than 20 obvious grammar or spelling errors, your grade will be lowered one letter; more than 40 errors, two letters; more than 60 errors, three letters, etc. Each instance of a misspelling counts as one error.

To see just how detailed the scrutiny of your work in this class will be, look at the sample graded papers.


Please be especially about the following:

Click for

It is your job to edit and proofread your papers.



IMPORTANT: Precise, careful writing is extremely important in philosophy, where we discuss complex subjects and draw fine distinctions. I expect you to write your essays in complete sentences using standard English. Sloppy writing (careless spelling, grammar, punctuation) detracts from content. If your essays contain more than three obvious errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation per essay, I will subtract points.


Remember the rules regarding plagiarism, please! You will have no more than twenty minutes total to spend on each quiz. So if it's hard for you to write good essays "on the fly," you are welcome to compose your essay answers in advance and cut and paste essays you have written into your quiz. DO NOT cut and paste essay answers from the study guide or other course materials (which I wrote), or from any other source, except materials you have written yourself. It is OK to include direct quotes in your essay answers, as long as every quote is properly cited, and your essay consists primarily of your own words. Ignorance about plagiarism is not an excuse. If you are at all uncertain about what plagiarism is, I advise you to educate yourself immediately.


Each student must write his or her own essay answers; philosophy is not done in groups, so the "group work" model is not allowed. You may, of course, work with other students in the composition of your essay answers, and online students are welcome to post possible essay answers in the Discussions area for other students to critique.


On fill-in answers, misspellings of philosophers' names or vocabulary words count as errors.


You can use whatever accessory materials you like while doing the quizzes; i.e., quizzes for this class are open-book, open-note. However, you get no more than twenty minutes.


Because of the flexibility built in to the quiz system (see below), quizzes must be taken on the appointed day; in other words, there are no make-ups. Furthermore, I give no extra-credit assignments.


Credit/No Credit Option

This class can be taken for credit/no credit. This means that if you get an A, B, or C, you get a final grade of CR and 3 units; otherwise, you get NCR and no units. You must declare your intention to take the class with the CR/NCR option during the first two weeks of class. Please let me know in writing (email is OK) no later than March 15, 2006.


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