Philosophy of Religion

Join an esteemed professor of philosophy in exploring the question of divine existence by using the tools of epistemology.


Professor James Hall invites you on a 36-lecture, intellectual journey to explore the questions of divine existence which humankind has debated for centuries. You will find the tools of logic and argument the professor applies in this course offer benefits you can take far beyond the issue of God's existence or the broader subject of religion. Enjoy wrapping your mind around questions for which every potential answer triggers a new set of questions.


James Hall
James Hall

Philosophy is reflecting on why you think what you think, believe what you believe, and do what you do. Anyone can do it. Everyone should.


University of Richmond

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.

By This Professor

What is 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.

33 min
What is Religion?

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.

31 min
What is Philosophy of Religion?

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.

31 min
How is the Word "God" Generally Used?

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.

31 min
How Do Various Theists Use the Word "God"?

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.

30 min
What is Knowledge?

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."

30 min
What Kinds of Evidence Count?

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.

30 min
What Constitutes <em>Good</em> Evidence?

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.

30 min
Why <em>Argue</em> for the Existence of God?

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.

31 min
How Ontological Argument Works

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.

30 min
Why Ontological Argument is Said to Fail

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.

30 min
How Cosmological Argument Works

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.

30 min
Why Cosmological Argument is Said to Fail

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.

31 min
How Teleological Argument Works

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.

30 min
How Teleological Argument Works (continued)

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.

30 min
Why Teleological Argument is Said to Fail

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.

30 min
Divine Encounters Make Argument Unnecessary

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.

30 min
Divine Encounters Require Interpretation

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.

31 min
Why is Evil a Problem?

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.

30 min
Taking Evil Seriously

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.

30 min
Non-Justificatory Theodicies

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).

31 min
Justifying Evil

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.

30 min
Justifying Natural Evil

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.

30 min
Justifying Human Evil

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.

30 min
Evidence is Irrelevant to Faith

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.

31 min
Groundless Faith is Irrelevant to Life

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.

30 min
God is Beyond Human Grasp, But That's O.K.

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.

30 min
Transcendental Talk is "Sound and Fury"

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.

31 min
Discourse in an Intentionalist Paradigm

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 min
Evaluating Paradigms

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.

30 min
Choosing and Changing Paradigms

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.

30 min
Language Games and Theistic Discourse

32: Language Games and Theistic Discourse

This lecture introduces Wittgenstein's notion of "language games" and explores its role in theistic discourse.

30 min
Fabulation—Theism as <em>Story</em>

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.

31 min
Theistic Stories, Morality, and Culture

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.

30 min
Stories, Moral Progress, and Culture Reform

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.

30 min
Conclusions and Signposts

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.

31 min