Philosophy of Religion


Course Materials (click on title)


1)  Course Description and Requirements

2)  Course Syllabus of Readings

3)   Cosmic and Human Evolution

4)  Review Questions for the Midterm and Final Exams



Course Description and Requirements

Philosophy of Religion
Phil. 350-01 Fall 2005 Dr. Glen T. Martin, Prof.

       Philosophy is literally "the love of wisdom." It is the attempt to use reason (as well as all the other resources available to us, from science to personal experience to human history) in order to understand human life and the world. Traditionally there have been three main kinds of philosophical questions: epistemology (what is the nature of human knowledge?), metaphysics (what is ultimately real?) and ethics (what is morally right or wrong and how should I live my life?). All these questions clearly bear on our attempt to understand religion.
        Religion has been a major force in human life throughout recorded time. But what is religion? Is it merely superstition and unconscious wish fulfillment? (Freud) Is it resentment of life and an attempt to escape life? (Nietzsche) Is it a reflection of human alienation and lack of fulfillment in this life? (Marx). Or is it an authentic relationship with the living God? (Tillich). Philosophy of religion is the attempt to use reason (as well as all the other resources available to us) to understand the nature of religion. It looks at the question of whether God exists, and whether or not we can prove that God exists. It looks at religious language, and attempts to understand religious language in relation to other kinds of language, for example, scientific language. It looks at the many dimensions of religious life: issues of faith, of doubt, of mystical experiences, of revelation, of miracles, etc.
        In this course, we will use as a framework a book by John Hick that attempts to put forth a comprehensive philosophy of religion that includes all the world's great religions. Throughout the book, Hick raises many issues fundamental to the philosophy of religion. Our other three books present three original writings that express fundamentally differing ways to understand religion. First, there is Wittgenstein's view of "the logic of religion," that has been called a "faith only" view. Secondly, there is the view of the great Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, which can be called a "participation" understanding of religion. Finally, there is Cosmos and Theos by Errol Harris, a philosopher who believes religion can be based on contemporary science and human reason. Between these four books, it is hoped that together we will increase our understanding of religion itself, the contemporary debate about the nature of religion, and perhaps something of the mystery and majesty of our human situation.

(1) John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion
(2) Cyril Barrett, ed., Wittgenstein - Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology
and Religious Belief.
(3) F. Forrester Church, ed., The Essential Tillich.
(4) Errol E. Harris, Cosmos and Theos.

        The grade in the course is based a total of 100 points itemized below. Hence 90-100 points at the end of the semester = A, 80-89 = B, 70-79 = C, 60-69 = D, 59 and below = F.
        You will need at least 2 hours of study and reading time for every hour of class, that is, at least 6 hours per week.
        (1) Two written exams, each worth a possible 30 points. The first exam is on Friday, Oct. 7 (and will cover everything from the first week of class), and the second is the final exam during exam week, Dec. 12-18.
        (2) A non-graded, typewritten journal thoughtfully reflecting on the reading assignments and issues under discussion. 

        This should be a minimum of three typewritten pages every time it is due: (1) Sept 9, (2) Sept 23, (3) Oct. 14,   (4) Nov. 4,    (5) Nov.30 (a total of at least 15 pages by the end of the semester), worth a possible 20 points.

        (3) Participation (summarizing the previous class, asking questions, raising related points, handing in short writing assignments, etc.) earns up to 15 points over the duration of the semester. It is both a matter of how frequently you participate in class and the quality of the participation.
        (4) Good attendance earns up to 5 points. If you miss a class for a good reason let me know immediately (or ahead of time) for an excused absence. (0 unexcused absences = 5 points. 1 unexcused absence = 4 points, 2-3 = 3 points, 4-5 = 2 points, 6-7 = 1 point, 8 or more unexcused absences constitutes failure in the course.) Medical excuses are not necessary except for missing exams or before and after breaks.

OFFICE HOURS. My office hours in Howe 203 are MWF 12:30-12:50 and 2-2:50 p.m. If these times do not fit your schedule, please make an appointment for another time. My office phone is 831-5897.

Be well, Learn well, Get involved in your own education!


Course Syllabus of Readings

Weeks One to Three:   The evolution of the universe, the earth, and human beings on the earth (handout). What are the implications for philosophy of religion?
        Readings: John Hick, Part One: Phenomenological - Chapter 1 (Introduction), Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.
Week Four:   The logic of religious belief versus the logic of factual belief.
       Readings: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures on Religious Belief. What are the traditional discussions about the use of language with respect to discussing questions of God and religion? Are these issues still relevant today? What are the implications of this distinction with regard to the "existential" dimension of human life?
Weeks Five to Seven: John Hick, Part Three: Epistemological - Chapters 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13.
Weeks Eight and Nine: The Essential Tillich. Tillich, Parts I and II, chapters One to Seven. What is faith, according to Tillich? What are the dynamics of symbols and how is faith related to its symbols? How does Tillich's thought bear on the issues raised by Hick and Wittgenstein?
       Tillich, Parts III-V, chapters Eight through Seventeen. For Tillich, what is "the Protestant Principle"? How does this go right to the heart of authentic religion in the modern world? How is religion related to culture? How are human beings related to the "Eternal Now"? In what sense is "love stronger than death"?
       Tillich, Parts VI-VIII, chapters Eighteen through Twenty-eight. What are Tillich's concepts of "estrangement," "sin," and "the personal character of the experience of the Holy"? In what ways does the does Tillich develop an alternative philosophy of religion to that of Wittgenstein? What are their areas of similarity and difference?
Weeks Ten and Eleven: Hick, Part Four, Religious Pluralism - Chapters 14, 15, and 16.
Weeks Twelve and Thirteen: Errol E. Harris, Cosmos and Theos, Chapters 7 through 11.   What are the issues behind the four traditional proofs for God's existence examined in these chapters: the Ontological argument, the Cosmological argument, the Teleological argument and the Moral argument? Compare Harris' approach to these arguments with the approaches of Wittgenstein and Tillich.
Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen: John Hick, Part Five: Criteriological, Chapters 17 to 20.
       Sum up the course: What do these approaches to the philosophy of religion tell us about our situation as human beings? What do they tell us about religion and our possible relationship with the ground of all existence and value?






1) The primal explosion - the big bang - the genesis of time, space, matter and energy - when?

A All the energy that would ever exist in the entire course of time erupted as a single quantum B a singular gift B existence.@ (Swimme and Berry, The Universe Story, Harper-Collins, 1992, p. 17)

2) A million years later the primal fireball has cooled and expanded enough for more stable particles to scatter and begin the process of cosmic organization filling the unfolding of space and time. Stars, galaxies, galaxy systems - perhaps a hundred billion galaxies (A island universes@ ), each composed of a billion stars.

3) Several generations of stars have come and gone, increasing the complexity and the wealth of heavy elements available for subsequent generations of stars and for the evolution of life: the sun and solar system are born - when? In the 20th century, astrophysicists proposed the A cosmic anthropic principle.@ What is this principle?


1) The life process emerges on earth in the first one celled anaerobic organisms - when? Then aerobic organisms, then multicellular organisms in the oceans 600 million years ago. These multiply onto the as yet barren continents.

2) Mammals arise 200 million years ago and the earth swarms with innumerable life forms occupying billions of differing habitats. An immense creative journey intimately linked to the process of cosmogenesis itself.

3) Hominids arise 4 million years ago - creatures standing erect with hands free to use as tools. And then humans arise - when? - the free hands now make tools, tame fire, begin an immense creative journey called human existence.


1) The longest mode of human consciousness B The Age of Primal Oneness B direct participation in the vast unconsciousness of nature B the originary immediacy of nature itself, without self-consciousness, for perhaps two million years.

2) 35-40,000 years ago B the power of picturing B the Age of Magic B the capacity for forming images in the seemingly evidenced in those very ancient cave paintings, found worldwide that begin in this period. In these cave paintings the first signs of the emerging split between subject and object that will lead to self-consciousness.

3) 10-12,000 years ago B the mythological relation to the cosmos and the living earth B the Age of Mythology B resulting from the invention of agriculture at this time. People begin living in Neolithic villages all over the planet. Later the great cities and River Valley Civilizations arise - 3-6,000 years ago - in mythic consciousness. Personal, empathic response to the phenomena of nature. Address nature as a A thou.@

4) 8-2nd century BCE B the A Axis Period in Human History@ B a few philosophers and religious thinkers all over the planet begin to challenge the mythological consciousness and establish a new consciousness: based on abstract thinking, philosophical reasoning, universal principles, and scientific investigation - The Age of Philosophy, Critical Reason, and Science. Human history had begun - the elaboration and development of this new mode of consciousness. The beginning of a systematic distinction between subjectivity and objectivity that became fundamental for the next 2000 years.

5) How was this done in Ancient thought? How was this done in Medieval thought? How was this done in Modern thought? In the 20th century, some thinkers (such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Samuel Alexander, Henri Bergson, and Errol E. Harris) have proposed the principle of A emergent evolution.@ What is this principle?

6) Today: encompassing of the abstract and scientific mode of consciousness by a larger awareness B holistic and ecological. Swimme and Berry call the former the A Technozoic@ and the latter the A Ecozoic@ (p.15). A new era in human awareness may be emerging, enlarging reason and abstract thought to a new sense of value and wholeness B an era that realizes the integrity and unity of nature and humanity living on planet Earth. We may call it The Age of Integration and Wholeness.


4)  Review Questions for the Midterm and Final Exams


1) Explain what John Hick means, in his book An Interpretation of Religion, by the A Soteriological Character of Post-Axial Religion.@ According to Hick, what happened during the Axial Period and how did it determine the nature of post-Axial religion? (There is no need to go into the specifics of each religion described by Hick, but rather on a general level, how were all the great world religions transformed during this period?)

2) Hick argues that Post-Axial religion took on both a A cosmic optimism@ (Chapter 4) and an orientation to A salvation/liberation as human transformation@ (Chapter 3). Explain what he means by each of these features of the modern world religions, and, in general, how these features apply to all the main world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism).

3) In Chapters 8, 9, and 10, Hick proceeds from a discussion of A natural meaning and experience@ to A ethical meaning and experience@ to A religious meaning and experience.@ Trace his argument through these three chapters. What is he arguing? How is the argument developed? What is his thesis regarding religion?

4) In Chapter 11, Hick distinguishes between religious realism and non-realism and develops an argument for religious realism. In Chapter 13, he argues for A the rationality of religious belief.@ It is rational to be a religious realist, he argues, and hold religious beliefs that are realist in character. Explain his arguments in these two chapters.

5) In his A Lectures on Religious Belief@ given during the late 1930s and early 40s, Wittgenstein develops a distinction between A the logic of religious belief@ and A the logic of factual or scientific belief.@ Explain his arguments in relation to this distinction. Based on these lectures, give a general account of Wittgenstein= s A philosophy of religion.@

6) In Martin= s article on A The Religious Nature of Wittgenstein= s Later Philosophy,@ discuss the ways in which Wittgenstein himself can be said to hold a A religious@ view of life. According to Martin, what was Wittgenstein trying to do in his later philosophy with respect to A our human situation@ ? Describe Wittgenstein= s A philosophy of religion@ in relation to the entire project of his later philosophy as this is given in the article.

7) Chapter 2 of The Essential Tillich consists of some of Tillich= s key writings on A faith.@ What is faith for Tillich? How is it centered? What is its source in human life? How can we say it is found in A authentic@ and A inauthentic forms@ in human life? How is it related to the holy? To doubt? To the A community@ ?

8) Discuss Tillich= s philosophy of religion in terms of his ideas about A symbols@ (what they are, how they function), his ideas about A depth@ in human life, and his ideas about A participation.@ Secondly, how do the concepts that form part of what he calls the A Protestant Principle@ (the Second Commandment, the Prophets, and the Cross of Christ) function within his philosophy of religion?



1) In The Essential Tillich, Paul Tillich speaks of "the meaning of religion as living in the dimension of depth" as opposed to "particular expressions of one's ultimate concern" (p. 2). Discuss "the dimension of depth" in relation to Tillich's philosophy of religion. What is it? How does it become "lost" or found? What role does it play in authentic religion?

2) Throughout The Essential Tillich there are passages that reflect on "God." Discuss Tillich's idea of God. What is "the inner tension in the idea of God"? (p. 11) What does it mean to say that "God is a symbol" (p. 51) What does it mean to speak of the "God beyond God" in which theism is transcended? (pp. 187-193), etc.

3) Throughout The Essential Tillich there is discussion of sin, estrangement, guilt and the corresponding salvation or redemption offered by authentic religion and by Christianity (for example, Chapters 18 and 19). Discuss Tillich's notion of sin, guilt and estrangement, on the one hand, and salvation on the other.

4)  Chapter 14, of Hick's An Interpretation of Religion, presents his "pluralistic hypothesis" in terms of a Kantian model distinguishing between phenomenal and noumenal aspects of the world.   What is this hypothesis and how does Hick derive it from the Kantian model?

5)  In Chapter 15, Hick discusses "the Personae of the Real."   What is his thesis and what are some of his primary examples?  For Hick, what is the ontological status of the divine personae?

6)  In Chapter 16, Hick discusses "the Impersonae of the Real."   What is his thesis and what are some of his primary examples?   How does Hick interpret mystical experience?

7)  Discuss Harris' Chapter 8 of Cosmos and Theos on "The Ontological Argument." What was its classic formulation with St. Anselm? How was it defended by Descartes and others? How was it criticized by Kant and others? How and why does Harris view it as valid?

8) Discuss Harris' Chapter 9 on "The Cosmological Argument." What were its classic formulations by St. Thomas Aquinas? How did Leibniz and Clarke add to the argument? How was it criticized by Kant? How and why does Harris consider it valid?

9) Discuss Harris' Chapter 10 on "The Teleological Argument." What were its classic formulations by St. Thomas Aquinas? How was it criticized by Hume and Kant? How was it defended by Paley and C. E. Raven? How and why does Harris find it valid?

10) Discuss Harris' Chapter 11 on "The Moral Argument." What was its classic formulation by Kant? How was it restated by A. E. Taylor? How and why does Harris find it valid?

11)  In Chapter 13, Harris discusses the symbolism of Christianity in the light of the most fundamental principles of contemporary physics.  What is his interpretation in terms of the concepts of "the Logos," "the Light of the World," "the Incarnation," "the Son of God," and the "Quicunque Vult" (of being one substance with the Father)?


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