This experience is optimized for Internet Explorer version 9 and above.

Please upgrade your browser

Video title

Priority Code

Cancel
Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy of Religion

Professor James Hall Ph.D.
University of Richmond
Course No.  4680
Course No.  4680
Share:
Video or Audio?
While this set works well in both audio and video format, one or more of the courses in this set feature graphics to enhance your learning experience, including illustrations, images of people and event, and on-screen text.
Which Format Should I Choose? Video Download Audio Download DVD CD
Watch or listen immediately with FREE streaming
Available on most courses
Stream using apps on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or Kindle Fire
Available on most courses
Stream to your internet connected PC or laptop
Available on most courses
Download files for offline viewing or listening
Receive DVDs or CDs for your library
Play as many times as you want
Audio formats include Free Streaming
Audio formats include Free Streaming

Course Overview

About This Course

36 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Can humans know whether the claim "God exists" is true or not? If so, how? If not, why not? Questions such as these have perplexed humans since the first moment we were capable of asking them. Now in Philosophy of Religion you can explore the questions of divine existence with the tools of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with what we can know.

In Professor James Hall, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Richmond, you have an unusually qualified teacher. The son of a Baptist minister (who himself later became a university professor), Professor Hall first trained at a seminary before taking his doctorate in philosophy and embarking on a teaching career nearly 40 years ago.

View More

Can humans know whether the claim "God exists" is true or not? If so, how? If not, why not? Questions such as these have perplexed humans since the first moment we were capable of asking them. Now in Philosophy of Religion you can explore the questions of divine existence with the tools of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with what we can know.

In Professor James Hall, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Richmond, you have an unusually qualified teacher. The son of a Baptist minister (who himself later became a university professor), Professor Hall first trained at a seminary before taking his doctorate in philosophy and embarking on a teaching career nearly 40 years ago.

He announces early in the series where he stands on these issues; this is not a course with a hidden agenda, or an exercise in polemic. (And, no, we won't let the cat out of the bag here. The story of Professor Hall's own background and philosophical journey, which he shares with you in Lecture 3, is far too interesting for us to divulge.)

AudioFile magazine's review of this course reports that "[Professor Hall] is amiable, humorous, clear, and interesting, and, thankfully, never pedantic."

Make no mistake about it: This is a rigorous course in the most positive sense of the word. One of the great joys of intellect is using it, and you do so in every lecture.

At the same time, philosophy can sometimes be needlessly abstract, and Professor Hall's ability to avoid this hazard makes this course consistently engaging. For example, he uses a memorable antacid commercial to illustrate the loss of relevance in a non sequitur argument and a classic Garry Trudeau cartoon to illustrate equivocation in language.

Clarity about Tools and Terms

The first eight lectures of the course are foundational. You establish a clear understanding of the terms "philosophy," "religion," "God," and "knowledge."

What Do We Mean When We Say "God"?

Professor Hall narrows the definition of "God" as used in this course to the God of ethical monotheism: the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is a single God deserving of worship. One by one, each characteristic of the God of ethical monotheism is put into place:

Omnipotence: There are no limits on God's powers.

Omniscience: There are no limits on God's knowledge.

Omnipresence: There are no limits of distance or separation that affect God.

Omniperfection: God must be totally without moral flaw.

Aseity: God is not limited by anything external to itself—being, itself, the limit of everything else.

Arguments for God's Existence: Ontology, Cosmology, Teleology, and Divine Encounters

The course then explores the major arguments for the existence of God, testing each with the techniques of philosophical thought.

The Ontological Argument. For this argument, famously advanced by St. Anselm and René Descartes, divine existence is entailed by the very concept of Godhood.

The Cosmological Argument. This argument, famously advanced by St. Thomas Aquinas, holds that the very existence of the world proves the existence of God, without whom there could be no first cause for all of being.

The Teleological Argument. This argument, articulated variously by the psalmist, St. Paul, and William Paley, claims that the magnificent design of the world necessarily implies the existence of a designer. Paley argued that if we walk along a beach and find a clock, we assume that a clockmaker created it.

Divine Encounter. This argument points to individuals who are said to have had direct communication with God. If their reports are true, then the other arguments are a sinful waste of time because we would have direct evidence of God.

The review and testing of these four arguments yields a "Scottish verdict": not proved.

Arguments against God's Existence: The Problem of Evil

After testing the arguments for God's existence, Professor Hall reverses the burden of proof and asks: "Can humans know that God does not exist?"

You study the argument that God cannot exist because nature or wicked humans cause innocents to suffer.

And you learn the replies (theodicies) that the major religious traditions have marshaled:

  • There is no problem of evil because the world is perfect.
  • Evil is simply the absence of good.
  • Apparent evil exists to serve a larger good: God's purposes are inscrutable to us, and evil is only an apparition caused by our ignorance.
  • Evil done by humans is a necessary consequence of free will, and autonomy given us by God. Without the opportunity for evil, there could also be no opportunity for virtue. An associated argument is that demonic forces cause evil (and this, too, may be a consequence of their freedom). In either case, God is not the cause of evil.
  • Those who suffer do so because they are being punished or elevated by suffering.

This portion of the course also invites a hung jury. Atheism is no more an obvious candidate for knowledge than theism is.

Tipping over the Chessboard: Faith and Transcendence

You also study approaches that dispense with logical or empirical "proof" of God.

  • Two lectures explore religious agnosticism: faith without (or against) evidence. You examine the arguments that proof is irrelevant to faith (and the argument that the demand for proof is a barrier to faith) and their consequences.
  • You also explore transcendentalist claims that God transcends the world and everything in it, and the consequences of this argument.

Playing a Different Game: Causes versus Intentions

Logical and empirical explanations, in general, search for causes and effects. A "caused effect" is not "free" to happen and, therefore, does not have "motives" or "intentions."

But religious discourse is profoundly concerned with intentions as an explanation of life and the world.

You examine two other approaches to understanding religious claims:

  • Paradigms. Three lectures examine religious claims and stories as part of a form of life operating under an alternative paradigm that includes intentionality as one of its basic categories of description and explanation.
  • Language Games. Four lectures examine religious claims and stories as moves in one or another, possibly nondescriptive, language games, especially a game that consists of stories-told-for-a-purpose. These are stories that are not to be assessed as true or false, but as functional or dysfunctional, in terms of their life impact.

In the last lecture, you retrace the conceptual problems in ethical monotheism that urged its philosophical examination in the first place and the discoveries along the way that have led to characterizing it as we have. But, given that philosophy is an ongoing reflective enterprise, the very last point is an invitation to all who have worked through this series to carry on the reflection themselves.

View Less
36 Lectures
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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." x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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). x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 32
    Language Games and Theistic Discourse
    This lecture introduces Wittgenstein's notion of "language games" and explores its role in theistic discourse. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

Your professor

James Hall
Ph.D. James Hall
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.
View More information About This Professor
Also By This Professor
View All Courses By This Professor

Reviews

Rated 3.8 out of 5 by 61 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Flawed, But Worthwhile I found professor Hall to be an engaging speaker. Also, I enjoyed his frequent digressions and anecdotes, although I suppose that this is a personal preference. I recommend this course for individuals who don't have much background in philosophy and/or theology. For someone with more background, the last 10 or 12 lectures are still worthwhile. He is at his strongest, and most novel, when discussing from a Wittgenstein perspective. I think that if a credible case is going to be made for religious belief, it will be on this philosophical ground. Unfortunately, I don’t think that he made his case here. Maybe he didn’t try to make it because of his agnosticism. This is truly a shame (and I say this as an agnostic/atheist), and I fault him for this. He should have followed his line of thought and made a real argument for religion and not a lame utilitarian justification, which was his final intellectual refuge. With all of the shortcomings of this course I still gave it 5 stars. He does come very close to a serious case for religious belief, based on linguistic philosophy. I think that this is worth 5 stars. August 5, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by Really too bad Prof Hall is not only obviously very knowledgeable, he seems like a really nice guy, so I regret having to rate his course so low, but I have no choice. First and foremost, this course took waay to long for the information contained therein. It could have and should have been shortened by at least 20%. Prof. Hall has some interesting digressions, but they simply are not worth it: his grandmother's beliefs, anecdotes of the possible supernatural, stories told in excruciating detail, etc. Second, he occasionally lapses from critical thinking into "that just not seem reasonable to me," suddenly abandoning objectivity in favor of personal opinion. Thirdly, and what I found most upsetting, was that after laying out, meticulously, the possible approaches to proving the existence of God, and an excellent examination of the pros and cons of theistic and atheistic arguments, the last few lectures suddenly make a right-angle turn, he abandons the stated purpose of the lectures, and he begins discussing "soft," uncritical aspects of religion, "story-telling," far from what was promised at the outset. May 3, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Unbelievably Tedious This course is unbelievably tedious. Professor Hall obviously knows his material, but he never seems to get to his points. Again and again he says, “now I’m just going to spend a few minutes on X”, talks for 20 minutes, and then returns to his introductory point in the last few minutes. And on top of his interminable spinning out of examples, his delivery style is slow and lifeless. Avoid this course or anything by Hall. March 4, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by tedious Professor Hall's information, as far as it went, was good, but in 36 lectures he could have either covered more ground or gone much deeper. A lot of time was wasted on personal anecdotes and repetitions. It's only the second course of all the Teaching Company series I have (a lot of them!) that I just couldn't finish. Such a fascinating subject, but such a boring delivery! April 20, 2013
2 3 next>>

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought

Some courses include Free digital streaming.

Enjoy instantly on your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.