Thursday, August 31, 2006

What’s New in Philosophy of Religion

(from Philosophy Now: A Magazine of Ideas)

Daniel Hill describes how the work of Alvin Plantinga has revolutionised Philosophy of Religion.

The way we see the philosophy of religion will depend on the way we see its mother discipline, philosophy itself. Suppose that we think of philosophy as the analysis of abstract and, in some sense, ultimate concepts. One way to define philosophy of religion then would be to say that it is the analysis of the concepts which we encounter in religion(s), just as philosophy of science is the analysis of the concepts which we encounter in science. On the other hand, looking at many of the philosopher of religion's traditional concerns, one could easily see it as really being a branch of metaphysics. Many of the concepts of religion (the concept of God, for instance) are important for the metaphysician to grapple with. After all, if there is a God, then God is a pretty important part of the nature of reality as a whole (see 'Philosophy in a Nutshell'). If there is no God, then God isn't very important at all, but that doesn't mean that it's not important to say why one believes there isn't a God. It might be thought that one good candidate for philosophical analysis would be the concept of religion itself. However, only a few philosophers of religion have devoted time to this. John Hick and D.Z.Phillips have thought about it, but most philosophers of religion turn straight to the Big Concept - the concept of God.

Where Do They Do It?

Nobody doubts that the world's leading centre for this subject is the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, where almost everybody seems to be doing philosophy of religion. Yale University is fairly important, too. In Britain the two main centres are Oxford and King's College London, both of which always have a Professor of Philosophy of Religion (a 'named chair').

Continentals versus Analyticals

Philosophers of religion, like other philosophers, fall into two camps; those influenced by 'continental philosophy' who tend to dominate theology departments, and 'analytical philosophers', who dominate the philosophy departments, at least at the main centres for philosophy of religion. So the analytical philosophers have tended to approach philosophy of religion with the tools for which they are famed: logic, precision, clarity, and careful argumentation. The continentals generally go for the Big Questions of love, life, and death in the less formal and more literary style of their influences. It is important to remember that most philosophers of religion also work in other areas of philosophy.
Catholics and Calvinists
Most philosophers of religion also fall into one of two camps from the religious point of view too: the majority are either Roman Catholics or Reformed Calvinists. (There are a few important exceptions, such as William Alston and Peter van Inwagen, who are both Episcopalians, and Richard Swinburne of Oxford, a member of the Orthodox Church.) Notre Dame itself seems to have cornered the market in philosophy of religion by recruiting both Roman Catholics and Reformed Calvinists.

Big Alvin
Notre Dame's brightest star is Alvin Plantinga, whom everyone agrees to be the current world-leader in the field. He is a product of the analytical school of philosophy and of the Dutch Reformed Church. Hence the Dutch surname; Plantinga himself once quipped that "there is a law-like generalisation that if an American philosopher's name ends in '-a' ... then that philosopher is a graduate of Calvin College". (Calvin College was, when Plantinga wrote, the leading training ground for Reformed Calvinists, but now, like everyone else, they all seem to be going to Notre Dame.) One of Plantinga's most important early works was The Nature of Necessity (1974) which was essentially (if you'll excuse the pun) a treatise on modal logic, but which had some important applications to the philosophy of religion. Plantinga had already begun to explore these applications in his book God and Other Minds (1967) and in its slightly more popular version God, Freedom, and Evil (1974). In these books Plantinga attempts to rebut arguments against belief in God (theism), and to show how belief in God can be justified. Since then Plantinga has broadened his concerns into general epistemology, in other words the study of how we can know things. He has been writing a three volume trilogy on warrant (warrant is 'that which turns true belief into knowledge'). The first two volumes, which appeared in 1993, are Warrant: The Current Debate and Warrant and Proper Function. The third volume, Warrant and Christian Belief, is expected out very soon (in fact, it is overdue), and the academic rumour mill is working overtime with conversations with people who claim to have seen it in manuscript form. The topics on which Plantinga has written have been the most important ones in the philosophy of religion over the past thirty years, important because he has written on them. As a result of his work, the burning question in philosophy of religion today is "What sort of justification, if any, is needed for religious belief?" Let us look at this next.

for the rest of this article, see

Dales Philosophy of Religion Links

If you can't find it here, you either don't need it or it doesn't exist.

The list of philosophers of religion links is a fascinating roll call of some of the finest contemporary American philosophers around. Also included are some great blogs, ranging from "Plato's Beard" to "Certain Doubts."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Metaphysical Song

Metaphysical Song

First principle,
Being’s pure act,
Infinite cause
Of finite fact;

Essential being,
Beyond our sight,
Without which, nothing,
Neither love nor light,

Only through You
Love’s infinite power
Brings into being
Atom and flower.

Only through You,
Infinite light
Both seen and sight,

Beckoning us—
Alert, awake—
Along the way
That we must take,

Resting in this:
The journey’s true,
First, midst, and last,
Grounded in You.

--Helen Pinkerton, in First Things, April 2006,p. 33

Monday, August 28, 2006

Some Quotes Just for Fun

As you will soon see, I'm a big Simpsons fan...

What can you say about a society that says that God is dead and Elvis is alive? --Irv Kupcil

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. --Frank Lloyd Wright

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.--Socrates, Apology

God's omnipotence means [His] power to do all that is not intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say, "God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it", you have not succeeded in sayinganything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words "God can." It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives -- not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God. --C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

In the absence of any other proof, the thumb would convince me of God's existence. --Isaac Newton

Men became scientific because they expected Law in nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists, this belief has died. It will be interesting to see how long their confidence in this uniformity survives it. --C.S. Lewis

What if we chose the wrong religion? Each week we just make God madder and madder--Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction--Blaise Pascal

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphantMartin Luther King Jr., Accepting Nobel Peace Prize, Dec. 10, 1964

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.--Romans xii. 21.

What if you're a really good person, but you get into a really, really bad fight and your leg gets gangrene and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven? —Bart Simpson

Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakeable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time. --Richard Dawkins, "The Root of All Evil", Channel 4 UK, 2006

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. --Albert Einstein, "Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium", 1941

So, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwaazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified, Ramadan. And now a word from MY god, our sponsors! –Krusty the Clown, The Simpsons

PHL320 Syllabus

Northwest Christian College

PHL 320


Fall, 2006

Beth Bilynskyj, instructor

TTh 1:00-2:15

Description of Course:

As the editors of our textbook (Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach and Basinger) point out, “Philosophy of religion…is not a discipline finding its home within some specific religious tradition. It is an area of genuinely philosophical activity that seeks to be as objective and intellectually rigorous as possible, to analyze the major ideas of religion and theology, to synthesize them into a coherent point of view, and to assess the sorts of reasons that thoughtful people have offered for and against religious belief.”

This course will provide a foundation for some of the basic issues in Western philosophy of religion, and introduce students to some classic and contemporary texts from this tradition. Specifically, we will examine the following topics,

Faith and reason: how are they related? Is it possible for them to exist together?
The theistic God and His attributes: omniscience, omnipotence
--the Homer Simpson Question, “Could
Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that He Himself could not eat it? How can God know everything, and be all powerful, and yet humans be free?
Natural theology or Reformed Epistemology—it there evidence for God’s existence? if not, can belief still be rational?
Classic arguments for the existence of God—Ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral
Religious experience--what does it mean to encounter ultimate reality? What value is subjective experience of God?
The problem of evil –does the existence of evil mean that an all-good, all powerful God doesn’t exist?
Miracles—does this concept make any sense? if so, how?
life after death –does this even make sense? If so, how could it be possible?
religious pluralism and personal faith—do all roads lead to God?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the instructor’s training is from the analytic tradition, (as opposed to the continental tradition) and she is a committed, practicing Christian.

Purpose of Course:

1) To provide a fundamental part of a Christian liberal arts education, integrating NCC’s biblical and Christian studies with rigorous philosophical study.
2) To understand the concepts, arguments and positions in philosophy of religion by reading texts from both classical and contemporary sources.
3) To critically reflect on these concepts, arguments and positions through oral and written assignments.
4) To prepare students for effective and successful roles in ministry, teaching, counseling, science and technology, by giving them an opportunity to reflect on the issues of the philosophy of religion.
Course Objectives:

Upon completing this course, you will be able to:

1) describe some of the central concepts and issues in the philosophy of religion
2) analyze and critically evaluate those concepts, arguments and positions.
3) begin formulating your own answers to key questions about God, faith, reason, evil, human freedom, miracles, personal survival, and religious diversity.

Textbook and Resource material:

(on Reserve) Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 2nd Edition, edited by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach and David Basinger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

NOTE: this text has gone into a third edition, and lost several important papers that are only available in the second edition. As the NCC bookstore does not deal in used books, you will either need to refer to the one on reserve in the Kellenberger Library or secure a copy on your own. If you decide to get your own copy, here are some good resources for used books, in addition to Amazon:

Handouts, library reserve items, online materials, and course blog.

Strongly Suggested:
C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1985).

Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, ed. Louis P. Pojman, (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2003).

William Wainwright, Philosophy of Religion, 2e, (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1998)

William Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, 4e (Belmont: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007).

Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

Reasoned Faith, ed. Eleanore Stump, (Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 1993).

Further online and offline bibliographies will be provided.


Students are invited to check the course blog for syllabus, updates to the course calendar, bibliographies, additional articles, quotes, and to continue conversations outside the classroom.

Instructor Information:

Beth Bilynskyj, M.A. Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, 1979.

744-9343 (home phone; leave message and best time for me to return your call) (probably the best way for us to immediately connect)

Office Hours: TBA

Please feel free to contact me. It is important that we end confusion and answer yourquestions as soon as possible. I also welcome your comments on the content of the course, and/or any suggestions you have to improve the class. Most of all, I want to get to know youand invite you to the Great Conversation which is philosophy, by introducing you to questions and answers about God and our relationship to Him.

NOTE: Yes, I realize I have just used the masculine pronoun here, and that technically, for Christians, God transcends gender (we are made in His image, male and female). But, in order to avoid redundancy and linguistic backflips (like “Godself” ), I will frequently use the masculine pronoun to refer to God.

1) Reading Reports (5 worth 10% each, totaling 50%)

Philosophy has been described as a “great conversation,” so the bulk of our time together will be discussing the day’s assigned readings. Plan to spend at least two hours in preparation for every hour in class. Outlining is an excellent way to master material so you can begin to wonder about it. Those who have not read the material will be unable to contribute profitably to the seminar, and thus weaken the quality of the class as a whole.

In order to ensure you are keeping up with the readings, I will collect “Reading Reports” at various points throughout the term. A reading report will be a 1-2 page legibly written or typed paper
1) outlining at least one main claim and supporting argument from the assigned text.
2) including at least one question or comment of yours, raised by the text.

ALL READING REPORTS ARE DUE AT THE START OF CLASS, over material assigned for that day. Please refer to “Policy on Late Papers and Class Assignments” below, in the section on NCC Academic Policies.

2. Discussion/Participation (20%)

As this is such a small seminar, its success depends upon you. Your class discussion/ participation grade will be calculated by the frequency of your contributions to class discussions, and the quality of your questions, observations and conclusions.

NOTE: Students should be prepared to offer at least one well-thought written question, comment, or criticism about the day’s reading to each session. Students failing to do so will receive a lower reading grade.

NOTE: Should participation and discussion flag as a result of students not having done their readings, I reserve the right to give “pop” quizzes, which will be counted as part of this discussion/participation grade.

3. Attendance (10%)

Absence is the greatest damper for discussion, so you should make every effort not to miss class. Everyone has something to contribute, so your presence is crucial. Being absent from class more than three times leads to significant grade reductions, i.e. A becomes A-, B+ becomes B, etc. Ten or more unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of the course.” Please refer to the NCC attendance policy below.

4. Final (20%)

A review sheet will be handed out on Dec. 7, and Dec. 8 will be set aside as a study day for the final. The final will be proctored by Steve Bilynskyj, as I will be in Oxford, England Dec. 8-14.

Academic Policies:

General undergraduate academic policies can be found starting on page 42 of the Undergraduate Academic Catalog 2006-2007 which is online at The following specific policies are related to this particular course:

Class Attendance.
Students are expected to arrive on time for class. Your participation grade will be affected if you are not in class or are late to class, for whatever reason. Excused absences will be allowed for activities such as serious illness, family or work emergencies, and recognized commitments with the College. The professor will determine the validity of the excuse. The student is responsible for knowing all information presented in the class(es) missed. If there are any problems, please let the professor know BEFORE the class.

Missed Quizzes, Tests, and Exams.
No make-up exams will be allowed except for circumstances granted a legitimate excuse status. In the event that a student cannot take an exam, he/she must contact the professor BEFORE the absence, and the professor will determine whether or not a legitimate excuse is warranted. Final exams are not given before their scheduled time unless permission has been secured from the Vice President for Academic Affairs in advance. In case of serious illness or an extreme family crisis the student should request the professor for an I (incomplete) grade. In such a case, the policy on make-up exams applies.

Late Papers and Class Assignments.
Assignments will be accepted without penalty for circumstances considered a legitimate excuse. Otherwise, they will be lowered according to the following formula:
one day late: A to A-, A- to B+, B+ to B, and so on.
two days late: A to B, B to C, C to D, and so on.
three days late: A to C, B to D, C to F.

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty.
Plagiarism, cheating, and any other form of academic dishonesty are not acceptable and will not be tolerated at NCC. A student reported to have engaged in any one of the above will be subjected to a disciplinary action according to the policy stated in the Undergraduate Academic Catalog.

Disability Services.
If you need special accommodations because of a documented disability whether it is psychiatric, learning, physical or sensory, you must process your request with Ms. Angela Doty, the designated Disability Officer. Contact Ms. Doty through the Student Development Office by phone at 684-7345, by e-mail at:, and/or refer to the Disability Services Handbook (available in the Student Development Office) for the policy and detailed procedures regarding disabilities. Contact should be made prior to the beginning of each semester so that the Disability Officer can make reasonable accommodation for each eligible student.

Welcome to Philosophy of Religion!

We will be a small class this fall, but I am looking forward to getting to know each of you!