Philosophical Approaches to Religion
Instructions: The exam consists of two sections (A and B). Each section is worth 1/2 of the total grade for the exam. Section A is the "Very Short Answer" section. Answer exactly four questions from Section A. Section B is the "Essay" section. Do exactly one of the essays in Section B. Your exam must:
- be typewritten, double-spaced, in 11- to 12-point font, with one-inch margins
- be printed out and handed in on Monday, November 10 at the beginning of class. Do not submit your exam by email.
- contain your name in the upper right hand corner of each page
- contain page numbers at the bottom of each page
- be stapled together (if you don't have a stapler, it's time to spring for one)
Failure to conform to these rules will hurt your grade.
How I Grade: I will grade your answers on both content and style. As regards style, aim for clarity, precision, succinctness, and directness. Avoid flowery language, polysyllabic words, and long, winding sentences. Instead, just make it completely clear to your audience exactly what you are trying to say. Don't try hard to sound "deep" -- just keep it simple. Also regarding style, I have a very low tolerance for spelling and grammatical mistakes. Use a spell checker and get a good style manual.
As regards content, be sure you answer each question completely, but do not include any content not relevant to your answer. Especially avoid padding your answers with fluff and other BS. This will only hurt your grade on the exam. Do not assume in your writing that I already know about the issues you discuss. Pretend you are writing for a reader who is ignorant of the philosophy of religion.
Cheating: You are free to discuss the material with others in the class; however, the paper you turn in must be your own work. Students turning in near-duplicate answers even to just one question will receive an F on the entire exam and may receive an F for the entire course. I take cheating very seriously.
You shouldn't be quoting very much or at all on this exam, but if you use the words of others, put them in quotes and cite the source. Otherwise, you are plagiarizing. Plagiarism will earn you an F for the whole course.
Late Exam Policy: Your grade will go down one "notch" for every day your exam is late (i.e., an A will go down to an AB, an AB down to a B, etc.). Late exams may be submitted by email.
Guidelines for Section A: Answer exactly four of the five questions below. Keep your answers to Section A as short and succinct as possible. The absolute maximum length allowed for Section A is three pages (though two pages should be plenty).
Regarding formatting, please include the number and name of each question on your exam and please put them in boldface (just as I have done below). Please don't put your entire answer in boldface.
1. Pascal's Wager. In the reading by Pascal, in class, and in Feldman's "Fundamentals of Philosophical Theology," a distinction is made between two different kinds of reasons for believing something: a prudential reason for believing something and an evidential reason for believing something (to use the terms that were used in class). Explain what each of these is. Which kind of reason to believe in God is Pascal's Wager supposed to provide us?
2. Aquinas's Second Way. Our interpretation of Aquinas's "second way" began with the following four premises:
(1) The natural world includes events that occur.
(2) In the natural world, every event has a cause, and no event causes itself.
(3) In the natural world, causes must precede their effects.
(4) In the natural world, there are no infinite cause/effect chains (in either direction).
Aquinas appears to conclude the following from these premises: "Therefore it is necessary to admit a first ... cause."
That is, Aquinas appears to draw the following inference from (1) - (4):
(5x) In the natural world, there is a first cause.
Explain why, far from supporting line (5x), lines (1) - (4) are actually inconsistent with (5x). In other words, explain why lines (1) - (4) entail the denial of (5x).
Next, identify which of Aquinas's premises -- (1), (2), (3), or (4) -- Leibniz would reject. Provide textual support for your answer (that is, supply a quotation by Leibniz that indicates which premise he would not accept).
3. A Leibnizian Principle. Leibniz famously said:
" ... we can find no true or existent fact, no true assertion, without there being a sufficient reason why it is thus and not otherwise, although most of the time these reasons cannot be known to us."
What is the common name now given to the principle Leibniz is stating here? State the principle in your own words. Do you think this principle is true? If so, why? If not, why not?
4. Leibniz's Argument from Sufficient Reason. Our interpretation of Leibniz's Argument from Sufficient Reason contains the following premise:
(3). If there is a reason why the universe exists, then there is something outside the universe that the universe depends upon for its existence.
Whether or not you think this claim is true, give a clear and complete explanation why someone would think it is true. Be sure to mention the two main presuppositions behind the premise.
(Hint: when explaining why a conditional (i.e., an if-then statement) is true, you are not trying to explain why either the antecedent (the "if" part) or the consequent (the "then" part) is true. Rather, you are explaining the connection between these two parts. To explain a conditional, you get to assume that the antecedent is true; your task is to show why the consequent must follow, given this assumption.)
5. Paley's Teleological Argument. It is commonly held that a teleological argument of the kind given by Paley has been refuted by the existence of a certain hypothesis. What is that hypothesis? Explain how its existence makes trouble for Paley's argument.
Guidelines for Section B:
Do only one out of these three essays. The absolute maximum length allowed
for your essay is four pages (though two or three pages should be plenty).
Do not write as if I already know about the topic you choose. Write for
a reader who is intelligent but totally ignorant about your topic. Don't
quote extensively or at all. I want to hear about the topic in your
own words. But if you do use the words of others, be sure to put
them in quotes and cite the source.
6. Leibniz vs. Hume. Present and explain Leibniz's Argument from Sufficient Reason. Then present and evaluate the famous Humean objection to the argument.
Be sure to include all of the necessary steps of Leibniz's argument and to explain each one in detail.
Hume's objection is from the following passage:
“Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts." (Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, p. 27b in reader)
Be sure to say exactly what Hume's claim is and exactly which part of Leibniz's argument Hume is attacking. Be sure to say what your own view on the matter is. I.e., do you think Hume's objection is successful? Why or why not?
7. The Fine-Tuning Argument. Present and explain the Fine-Tuning Argument. Then present what you take to be the strongest objection to that argument. Then evaluate the argument in light of that objection: does the objection really undermine the Fine-Tuning Argument?; or does the Fine-Tuning Argument successfully provide some reason to believe in God?
(Hint: you might find the optional reading by Robin Collins (on the website) useful for this question.)
8. Pascal's Wager. Present and explain Pascal's Wager. (Your presentation must include an explanation of each of the following concepts: utility (or "benefit for an agent"), expected utility, maximizing expected utility, and prudential rationality.) Then present what you take to be the strongest objection to Pascal's argument. Then evaluate the argument in light of that objection: does the objection really undermine Pascal's Wager?; or does Pascal's argument successfully provide some reason to believe in God?