Philosophy 383                                                                                                                                  MWF 1:25-2:15
Philosophical Approaches to Religion                                                                                                 Bartlett 206
Fall 2003


Chris Heathwood
Office: Bartlett 361
Office Hours: Monday, 2:15-3:15 and by appointment
Email: heathwood @

Course Description
In this course we will engage in a philosophical study of some of the central doctrines of the mainstream Western theistic religions (i.e., the various Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths). We will spend most, perhaps even all, of the semester on the most important of these doctrines: the belief that God exists. Our study of this claim will focus on three questions: (1) What is the nature of God?; (2) Are there any reasons for believing that God exists?; and (3) Are there any reasons for believing that God does not exist?

Our investigation of (1) will give rise to some interesting puzzles surrounding the concept of God. We will focus on puzzles concerning omnipotence and on the dilemma of freedom and foreknowledge. To attempt to answer (2) is to attempt to understand and evaluate arguments for the existence of God. We will focus on three kinds of such argument: the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the ontological argument. Our inquiry into (3) will center on the greatest challenge to theism: the problem of evil.

If time permits, we might take a look at another important doctrine of the Abrahamic religions: the belief in “life after death.” This topic raises such questions as, What would human persons have to be like in order to survive their death?, Would they have to have some sort of non-physical aspect to their nature (e.g., a soul)?, Or is life after death possible even if persons just are their bodies?

We will approach these topics mainly by way of the writings of some important philosophers, both classic and contemporary. The goal will be careful formulation and critical evaluation of the ideas and arguments of these philosophers.
This is a course in the philosophy of religion. It is not a course in comparative religion, or in the history of religion, or in the psychology of religion, or in apologetics/theology/religious philosophy.

This is a very challenging course. Much of the reading is difficult and must be read slowly and repeatedly if it is to be understood. Many of the ideas and arguments presented in lecture and in the readings are unfamiliar, difficult, and technical. On the exams, you will be expected to think deeply and write very clearly and precisely about the issues. If you are looking for a blow-off course, look elsewhere.

One course in philosophy.

Course Website
The course website, which you should check regularly, can be found here:


There is also a link to it from the “Links” page on the Philosophy Department website.

There is a course packet, which is available at Campus Design & Copy, 403 Student Union, (413) 545-2271. Unfortunately, the packet does not contain all of the required readings (due to copyright issues). Most of the remaining readings will be put on electronic reserve with the library. To access these readings go here:

Then click on "FOR COURSE READINGS, CLICK HERE!!!". Then select "Philosophy" from the "Select a Department" menu and click "Go". Then click on PHIL383. Then type our password, 'phil383' (all lowercase), in the field and click "Accept".

Any required readings not in the packet or on reserve will be made available on the course website, on the Readings page.

Lectures: You must attend class regularly, taking detailed notes, asking questions (if you have any), and contributing to class discussions (if you have anything to contribute). Some questions on the exams will be in reference to material discussed only in lecture and not in any reading. Although you will not officially be graded on attendance, note-taking, and participation, you will do poorly on the exams (and in general get a lot less out of the course) if you don’t do these things. Furthermore, I am much more likely to “bump up” a borderline grade to the higher grade if I see that a student has attended class regularly, taken good notes, asked questions (either in or outside of class), participated in class, and generally put a lot of effort into the course.

Readings: You must complete each reading assignment on time and be prepared to discuss it in class. Most students will have to read each article at least twice to get a good understanding of it. Although you will not officially be graded on how well and carefully you read the articles, you will do poorly on the exams (and in general get a lot less out of the course) if you don’t put a lot of effort into the readings.

Internet: You must have an email account and regular access to the internet, and you must check your email and the course website frequently. If you don’t, you might miss crucial information about course content, assigned readings, or exams.

Exams: There will be three take-home exams: a short “midterm” early in the semester, a longer “midterm” later in the semester, and a final exam at the end of the semester. The bulk of each exam is a set of essay questions. Each exam will also contain a set of True-False, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, and/or Short Answer questions.

Your final grade for the course is determined by your performance on the three exams, as follows:
                                                             Short Midterm        20%
                                                             Longer Midterm     40%
                                                             Final                       40%
I will grade your answers to the essay questions on both content and style. As regards style, aim for the following stylistic virtues: 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. 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 paper with “fluff” and other BS. They will get you nowhere in philosophy and will hurt your grade in this course.

Passing off another’s ideas or writings as your own is plagiarism. It is very easy to catch and will not be tolerated in this course. Plagiarists will receive an automatic ‘F’ for the course and may be subject to expulsion from the university.