Philosophy of Religion
Dr. James Hall is the James Thomas Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at the University of Richmond, where he taught for 40 years. He earned his B.A. from Johns Hopkins University, his Master of Theology from Southeastern Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the University of Richmond, Professor Hall was named Omicron Delta Kappa Faculty Member of the Year (2005) and Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year (2005), and he received the University Distinguished Educator Award (2001). He has written many articles and essays and is the author of three books: Knowledge, Belief and Transcendence; Logic Problems; and Practically Profound: Putting Philosophy to Work in Everyday Life. Professor Hall specializes in 20th-century analytic philosophy, epistemology, logical empiricism, and the philosophy of religion. At Richmond, he was noted for developing cross-disciplinary courses combining physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, and literature with his own field of philosophy.
01: What is Philosophy?
We examine philosophy as a practical matter, dispensing with a variety of misconceptions and then focusing on a variety of subjects for, and methods of, inquiry, allowing actual philosophy to be "done" in the lectures to come.
02: What is Religion?
Because there are as many ideas of religion as there are societies—and perhaps even people—we narrow the definition, for the purposes of this course, to "ethical monotheism," the core of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, contrasting it to other ideas and bringing its most salient features into clear relief.
03: What is Philosophy of Religion?
Notions of what philosophy of religion is are as varied as the definitions of religion itself. This lecture narrows the playing field, so that the best way in which philosophical analysis and synthesis can be brought to bear on religious belief and practice can emerge.
04: How is the Word "God" Generally Used?
This lecture examines the presuppositions and implications of the common religious claim that there is or are one or more gods and offers close examination of the word itself and how it is used in a variety of settings.
05: How Do Various Theists Use the Word "God"?
The focus is narrowed from the polyglot of religious contexts explored in Lecture 4 to the use of the word in ethical monotheism, identifying presuppositions, internal logic, and the implications that are woven into this particular way of thinking.
06: What is Knowledge?
To ask what can be known in religious contexts, and especially about the existence of god(s), requires being clear about what it is to know anything at all. We examine a wide array of things one might know, believe-but-not-know, doubt, disbelieve, or flatly deny as we begin an exploration of the traditional understanding of knowledge as "justified true belief."
07: What Kinds of Evidence Count?
If evidence is what makes the difference between mere belief and real knowledge, then it is important to discover what kind(s) of evidence work, as well as what quality of evidence is required for effectiveness in a given setting.
08: What Constitutes Good Evidence?
Even after identifying what kinds of evidence are preferable (e.g., firsthand experience over hearsay, coherent inference over free association), we still need to figure out the characteristics of evidence of a given kind that enable it, in a context, to move us from disbelief to belief, from opinion to solid knowledge.
09: Why Argue for the Existence of God?
This lecture introduces the cosmological, teleological, and ontological patterns of argument, illustrating the function of argument when one is trying to explain everyday events, and enumerating a few caveats to keep in mind when weighing the merits of the theists' arguments.
10: How Ontological Argument Works
Is divine existence entailed by the very concept of godhood? To assert so is to argue ontologically, and this lecture focuses on arguments to that end put forth by both St. Anselm and Descartes—including a brief foray into geometry—to explain how ontological arguments work.
11: Why Ontological Argument is Said to Fail
Several classical lines of argument hold that a priori arguments about matters of fact are generally sterile and that ontological arguments for the existence of God thus fail as well. An examination of these arguments prepares us for possibly more profitable efforts to infer the existence of God from the occurrence and/or nature of the world, rather than the meaning of a concept.
12: How Cosmological Argument Works
We examine the principle of explanation known as "sufficient reason" and its use in basing a case for divine existence on the existence of the world itself—the cosmological argument—as well as its use in everyday settings.
13: Why Cosmological Argument is Said to Fail
What happens when "Ockham's Razor,"a classical principle of philosophical restraint, is applied to sufficient reason and the cosmological arguments for divine existence? This lecture lays the groundwork for the consideration of a more sophisticated "sufficient reason" argument.
14: How Teleological Argument Works
Is divine design apparent in nature itself? St. Paul thought so, as did William Paley. This lecture explores the use of "sufficient reason" arguments to claim that the detailed characteristics of the world and its commonplace events demand the inference of an obviously divine external cause.
15: How Teleological Argument Works (continued)
Some teleological arguments offer God as the best explanation for not only the mere occurrence of the world and its general events, but for the occurrence of works that are special or even miraculous. Granting for the sake of argument that the events in question do occur, this lecture traces from them the inference of divine existence.
16: Why Teleological Argument is Said to Fail
This lecture looks at a number of reasons why skeptics have found the teleological argument wanting, whether for what might be called "explanatory overkill" or for selective bias.
17: Divine Encounters Make Argument Unnecessary
The failure of ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments to make their case for a god is of little concern to many ethical monotheists, who cite historical claims of "direct awareness" of God through "encounters"—a notion fleshed out in terms of both contemporary and historical experiences.
18: Divine Encounters Require Interpretation
Continuing to assume the good faith of those who claim to have experienced divine encounters, this lecture focuses on a two-step line of rebuttal to the notion that direct, non-inferential knowledge of divine existence occurs in such encounters.
19: Why is Evil a Problem?
The occurrence of evil in the world has long been a basis for dismissing teleological arguments as inconclusive. But the presence of evil has another implication as well, not as grounds for rebutting teleological arguments for theism, but as grounds for affirming dysteleological arguments for atheism.
20: Taking Evil Seriously
We continue to examine why evil constitutes such a problem for ethical monotheists, grouping into categories the arguments about evil that are said to lead to the conclusion that no god exists, and laying the groundwork for the rebuttals to those arguments that will be presented in the next four lectures.
21: Non-Justificatory Theodicies
Rebuttals to the argument from evil are called theodicies. Most try to justify the evils that occur. This lecture explores the more radical notion that no justification is required, either because no evils occur, or because those that do occur don't have anything to do with God or are logically unavoidable (and, hence, nobody's fault).
22: Justifying Evil
Theodicies that attempt to justify evils usually do so by claiming that they are necessary for the fulfillment of one or another greater good. This lecture lays the foundation for this line of argument, which will be further examined in the next two lectures in terms of both "natural" and "human" evils.
23: Justifying Natural Evil
Clearly, bad things happen in this world, often with no discernible human involvement, lack of involvement, intention, or negligence. These "natural evils" provide ammunition for those who say the world's designer (if it has one) cannot be deserving of worship. This lecture examines four of the theodicies used to rebut such arguments.
24: Justifying Human Evil
The most widely cited theodicy for human evil (and, many claim, the most effective) relies on the idea that the possibility of such evil is a necessary precondition for human freedom and autonomy, which are of such great value that they balance out whatever evils their occurrence requires. Explaining and appraising this theodicy is the primary target of this lecture.
25: Evidence is Irrelevant to Faith
Does faith allow one to move beyond evidence and arguments? Are evidence and arguments, in fact, impediments to faith? This lecture examines several classical approaches to this line of thinking, with a preliminary look at a postmodern version that suggests religious faith constitutes its own paradigm, immune from external applications of evidence and argument.
26: Groundless Faith is Irrelevant to Life
We explore the way the notion of relevance works, showing that if the events that occur are irrelevant to the truth value of a claim, than the truth value of that claim is also irrelevant to the events that occur—a reciprocal relationship with important implications for the questions raised in this course.
27: God is Beyond Human Grasp, But That's O.K.
The most radical disconnect between divine existence and the rules of ordinary cognition is voiced in the claim that god transcends the world and everything in it. This lecture explores three notions of transcendence and the implications each of them carries for knowing whether God exists and, if so, knowing God.
28: Transcendental Talk is "Sound and Fury"
This lecture considers the implications of the "verificationist" contention (by Logical Positivists and others) that talk of God is vacuous because claims of a truly transcendent God can be neither proved nor disproved, as well as what such verificationism might have overlooked.
29: Discourse in an Intentionalist Paradigm
An introduction to paradigms and how they work prepares us to compare the paradigms with which ethical monotheism and natural science operate and consider how their respective inclusion and exclusion of intentionality as a category of understanding separates them.
30: Evaluating Paradigms
If a paradigm is important in coming to grips with the world, it is important to use one that works. This lecture explores the criteria for assessing paradigms and then offers examples of how those criteria can be used to assess some sample paradigms in concrete applications.
31: Choosing and Changing Paradigms
There is no doubt that paradigm shifts occur, but there are several possible answers to the question of "how?" This lecture looks at whether one's paradigm can be "chosen"—an important issue that speaks to intentionality.
32: Language Games and Theistic Discourse
This lecture introduces Wittgenstein's notion of "language games" and explores its role in theistic discourse.
33: Fabulation—Theism as Story
This lecture begins an analysis of religious discourse as fabulation: the telling of stories—myths, parables, fables, etc.—for a purpose; laying out the conditions for purposeful storytelling in everyday settings; drawing on familiar stories for examination; and examining religious discourse itself as purposeful storytelling.
34: Theistic Stories, Morality, and Culture
We examine the hypothesis that the primary functions of ethical monotheists' stories are to identify, give weight to, and motivate moral behavior, as well as to underwrite the core culture of their societies. We also consider the counterhypothesis—that such stories, in fact, have a far different result.
35: Stories, Moral Progress, and Culture Reform
The priestly and prophetic dimensions of ethical monotheism and its stories are added to the mix identified in the previous lecture, with interesting implications for the debate.
36: Conclusions and Signposts
This lecture summarizes the philosophical reasoning undertaken through the previous lectures—and the conclusions this reasoning supports—and suggests some issues that invite continued philosophical reflection.