Philosophy of Religion

Course No. 4680
Professor James Hall, Ph.D.
University of Richmond
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Course No. 4680
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Course Overview

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.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

James Hall

About Your Professor

James Hall, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Philosophy of Religion is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 78.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation and content Professor Hall, in this course, was concise, logical, thorough, and easy to listen to and understand. He presents both sides of the argument, and discusses the positive and negative points of each. It was more than worthwhile, it was very enlightening. For a believer, I hope it would begin a carefull examination of his / her beliefs. For a skeptic, it would present fairly the other side of the argument. I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Hall for his efforts here.
Date published: 2011-02-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of detail; maybe too much This course was streeeeetched out to a point that I almost skipped the second half of each lecture. For example, when it came to the proofs of the existance of God, Professor Hall takes a whole lecture for the proof and another whole lecture for why that proof doesn't work. When I studied Philosophy in college I think the entire matter was covered in 1 class. However, this course did remind me of what ontological, cosmological and teleological mean While I found this course long-winded, a friend of mine loved the course. Maybe he hadn't taken the same college course I did.
Date published: 2010-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite course I have listened to 50+ teaching company courses, and this is my favorite. Professor Hall takes a balanced, in-depth, and careful approach to one of the most important intellectual questions: does God exist? His course forever changed how I will ponder that issue.
Date published: 2010-11-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The only course I haven't finished I listen to Teaching Company courses on my 90 min commute most days. In the 15 years since I first bought one, I have listened to and thoroughly enjoyed over 50. This is the only one I haven't finished. I am fascinated by the religion courses despite being an atheist and was looking forward to this one to either give me a way to bolster or challenge my view. It didn't happen. The lectures are not tight and frankly too difficult to follow when commuting. I began to get concerned when there was a summary at the end of each lecture, which still didn't help sorting through the information. Maybe if I could sit still and completely concentrate on the lectures, making notes and stopping them when I needed to sort through the information it would work. But I listen for pleasure as well as edification - these weren't pleasurable (and I didn't feel edified). I am an amateur at philosophy, these required too much knowledge to follow effectively. Maybe when I retire I will try again, but I doubt it!
Date published: 2010-10-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hard to Follow The content was hard to follow. I believe the 36 lectures could have been reduced to 18. I also thought clearer examples could have been used to support arguements.
Date published: 2010-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy of Religion In discussing objections to the cosmological argument for God’s existence, Professor Hall presents Occam’s razor as a requirement to choose the most modest explanation that will serve. Professor Hall points out that we do recognize some events as self caused. For example, a human choice. Why then could not the universe be self caused? Would one need to look beyond the universe for explanation? If one need not do so, the Professor suggests, one might be moving towards the consideration of something such as pantheism. Two points: If one felt one’s obligation was to choose the simplest explanation that would serve, then the Professor’s line of thought, perhaps, couldn’t be followed. A pantheistic concept of God would be much “less” than the traditional theistic concept of God (the supreme being). This is less, now, in the sense of less power, fewer abilities, more limitations, and so on. However, one might feel that a pantheistic concept of God was incredibly more complex than the concept of a supreme being. It would certainly remain a concept that was radically contingent. Which leads to my second point. Though a pantheistic concept of God, perhaps, could be seen as an example of a self caused ultimate reality, it is also a concept that might not satisfy one who’s understanding of truth requires a commitment to the principle of sufficient reason. “Why is God’s power limited in this particular way or to this particular degree? Why is Gods wholeness this particular universe with this particular set of natural laws rather than another?” How might a pantheist answer these questions? In encouraging his listeners to consider lesser concepts of God, Professor Hall humorously suggests, “Well why not a committee?” Again, the persuasiveness of the concept will depend partly on one’s commitments to a particular understanding of modesty and to a particular understanding of the principle of sufficient reason. And one can always go back and read Occam. I’m only this far in the lectures, but let me say that Professor Hall is good company. If you appreciate dry, Midwestern humor or a clear delivery that proceeds at a pace that allows one to think, here’s a teacher one might want to meet.
Date published: 2010-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I like it I am a professional who is active in the Episcopal Church and have some resonance with Professor Hall who notes his relationshiop with the Episcopal Church. I sense that a problem with abstact courses is that they are absract. In the case of religion I fully appreciate a Professor who clearly takes his stand so that I can listen to his thoughts knowing his stand on the issue. The Scotch veridct of "not proven" is completely acceptable to me within discussions of the potential of a Power that creates universes and the relative arroagance of creatures who can "prove" His existence. Professor Hall seems to take seriously both the arguments for and against and truly involves working with philosophy in this endeavor. I really appreciate his "homely" style and his anecdores. I agree that the "facts" could reduce the number of lectures but "facts" without clinical examples are dry and forgetful. These are. issues of human involvement. There are other Teaching Company courses that are loved that include anecdotes and could be "shoirter" if only facts were given. I work with medical students and have an appreciation that "front line clinical experience" helps to illuminate facts even if those clinical anecdotes take a few minutes more than the textbook "facts"--they relate to the human interraction. I will much longer remember his anecdotes and how they relate to "facts" than I will remember a dry recitation of those facts for the virtue of conciseness. I appreciate the comments on conciseness but I do feel that dealing with issues of this potential magnitude--"how do you deal with the world?"-do not easily give in to conciseness, In short, I appreciate the opportunity of having the opporunity of involving myself in the discussions of an intricate issue that we all, in one way or another, have to face.
Date published: 2010-07-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Only bad Teaching Company experience I've had Plodding and tangential, this course could have been recorded in 12 rather than 36 lectures. Professor Hall seems to be a careful thinker and a caring father, but concision is not his strong suit.
Date published: 2010-07-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Course... While I overall enjoyed this course, it is certainly not one of the best I've had. The shortcomings of this course have been well documented in some of the other reviews, and my view is mostly the same. While I enjoyed the instructor I did think the topic could have been presented in FAR more interesting way. He did have a nack for making the topic... well... rather boring. I thought that there were 3 main issues with this course that caused me to score it as the lowest rated course I've reviewed: 1. The lectures, while well thought out, are very very slow to develop and the pace of the course is at times painfully slow. This course could be covered in half of the lectures without much lost. 2. The instructor wanders off topic randomly and spends time hypothesizing rather simple concepts so the listener can understand... which really isn't necessary and just serves to further slow the pace down. 3. Some of the lectures are simply not needed... I found myself asking out loud a few times during some lectures "What the heck does this have to do with anything"... and promptly skipped the remaining lecture. I had very high expectations for this class... and honestly I feel it could be done much better. I got about 1/3rd the amount of information I thought I would. While I do not regret the course... I do feel it is probably my least favorite of all the ones I've done so far.
Date published: 2010-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from outstanding course this was maybe the best teaching company course I have ever taking (I have been using these courses for the past 10 years virtually everyday while I exercise). Professor Hall has a friendly, honest, and very engaging style of teaching and discusses complicated topics in a very down to earth manner. The subject itself is fascination. Coupled with possibly the best teacher in the teaching company, this is one of its best courses.
Date published: 2010-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from $50 to organize my thinking equipment? Yes, please! This course's purpose, as the professor points out, is to organize your 'thinking equipment' so you can do philosophy to religion. The course succeeds in this respect. The course succeeds also in presentation, though Hall isn't necessarily the best. He reminds me of my Logic professor; if you only went to one class, you might think the professor's boring, but if you stayed in there, she'd (or in this case, he'd) grow on you. Recommended.
Date published: 2009-11-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a "Great Course" I have bought around 10 courses now, and this is by far my least favorite. The instructor talks slow and belabors points so that he fits about 15 minutes worth of material into 30 minutes. If you have no previous exposure to philosophy it might be useful to you, but I would presume, judging from the Teaching company catalog, that most people here are more informed than a typical college freshman. In sum, it seemed like an average philosophy of religion course that you could could get at any decent university and thus does not meet the standard of a "great course."
Date published: 2009-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is way more than the sum of its parts Dr. Hall has a deep, clear and unique speaking voice -- which is very important to me because I only order audio versions of The Great Courses. The lectures go way beyond religion -- this is about how we think, and how we think about thinking. The professor shows us where the levers and pedals are, and it's up to the student to start using them. I especially enjoyed the lectures on Evidence. Points covered are useful in any argument, even in a court of law. I also liked the notion that 'evidence is irrelevant to faith.' I was intrigued by the argument that 'God transcends logic.' (I find this argument can be applied to many political leaders, too!) This reminded me of trying to compare a 2009 model computer (God) to an old manual typewriter (logic to the Mind of the Time). For those who write, especially for living, the final three lectures on 'Theism As Story' are extremely valuable. Professor Hall puts our attention on 'instructive stories,' which happen to be my personal favorites. Side note: At the end of the course, my personal belief in God was neither shaken nor stirred -- but my brain was, especially the creative parts. There was a ton of stuff in this course that I will use! Hats off to Professor Hall for a first-rate job of combining solid knowledge and skilled entertainment into a singular and delightful eighteen-hour tour de force.
Date published: 2009-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tackling the Big Questions First off, I have to say that I agree with some other reviewers who wrote that there is too much background information here. Had the whole course been more along the lines of the lectures from the middle of the course, then I would have gladly rated it all 5 stars. This course tackles the big questions and does so in an even handed manner, but the truly integral (and most fascinating)lectures are only the middle 15 or so. This course is organized into 3 main components. The first third covers definitional terms including the difference between the disciplines of philosophy, religion, religous philosophy, and philosophy of religion, various definitions of God, and what constitutes valid knowledge. For me, the far more interesting part of this course was the middle third which explored 3 arguments for the existence of God by theists, rebuttals of those arguments by athiests, arguments against the existence of God by athiests, and their rebuttals by theists. The last third of the course purports to answer the question, "If we can't know either way, then what?" but really just explores various philosophical approaches to knowledge including lengthy analyses of Kuhn's notion of paradigm and "language games" as described by Wittgenstein. This part of the course presents frameworks of knowledge by these and other philosophers and then only tangentially ties those frameworks back in to the question of religious knowledge and belief. Besides the first third of the course providing too much basic background information (instead of assuming some passing familiarity with these concepts) and the last third of the course only tangentially relating back to the main question of how can we know there is a God, this was overall very interesting, very lucid, and well done. If you are interested in exploring the "big questions" and how we know what we know about them, then you will like this course as well.
Date published: 2009-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deliberate, Thoughtful Presentation James Hall is clearly very learned in this area. His presentations are thorough and his words deliberately chosen. While he can sometimes sound dry and perhaps to be too deliberate in choosing his words, I found him overall to be both inspiring and humorous. This course is very thought-provoking and worthwhile. If you're looking to come away with a clear sense of whether there is or is not a god, whether one religion should be preferred over another, etc., you will be disappointed. Instead, you will learn how to critically evaluate the tenets and claims of all religions and atheists alike, and gain new insights into your own beliefs and attitudes.
Date published: 2009-06-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much background coverage It could be a 24 even 12 lecture course. Instead of spending hours on issues like what is philosophy, Professor Hall could've gone straight to the heart of the debates like justification of evil. I went reading course guideline instead of listening most lectures. By the way, the guideline needs more details though.
Date published: 2009-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent PHILOSOPHY Course It would be interesting to know the religious standpoint of the reviewers who gave this course 1 star. I suspect their faith may be getting in the way of giving this course the credit it deserves. As Prof. Hall makes plain, this course is not a religious philosophy course, but a philosophy of religion course. If you are looking for a course that starts from a theological basis, looking from that standpoint to figure out why the Lord works in such mysterious ways, I think the TC has other courses more from that perspective. (A word of advice to the 1 star reviewers here: Probably best for you to steer clear of Prof. Ehrman's TC courses!) Prof. Hall's course is a PHILOSOPHY course, using the techniques of philosophy to look at religion, specifically monotheistic religion. It always feels good to have someone confirm your own views on a subject (particularly concerning religion and politics), and frustrating to have them deconstructed. Bear this in my when reading these reviews (including this one!) Prof. Hall is obviously well aware of this, and discloses his perspective in lecture 4. Contrary to some other reviewers, I believe this is appropriate in this situation. I thought the course was very well organized, and delivered with a great deal of charm. That said, Prof. Hall's leisurely pace can be a little frustrating on occasion (though it becomes more of an issue in his Tools of Thinking course), but then again this does give feeling that he is not giving the topic at hand short shrift.
Date published: 2009-05-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from very disappointing Prof. Hall has a admitted bias toward agnosticism in this course, but that's OK. The course content was pretty thin for a 36-lecture course, and his delivery seemed to display an attitude of patient condescension for his audience. To get a really great course on similar material, "Reason and Faith" is outstanding. I think fundamentalists are largely ignorant of most of the content of this latter course, and that is a shame. I wonder if Prof. Hall falls into the same category.
Date published: 2009-05-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Philosophy of Religion This course was a disappointment to me. The presentation was wordy, repetitious, and tiresome - a 12 lesson course delivered in 36.. Unlike other courses I have done here, this course required an "executive summary" at the end of each lesson to explain what you just heard. What college course have you ever attended where after the professor delivers his lecture and leaves, someone else comes on stage to explain to you what you just heard? Additionally, though the professor occasionally states he's not interested in expressing his personal opinion, the last five lessons but one are nothing but.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Treatise with agnostic overtones... I highly recommend all theological, and philosophical students enjoy these wonderful lectures. I did email the Professor and received a reply. To his credit, this is an excellent presentation with rational inferences but with unnecessary personal biases that detract from the lecture. On the other hand, Professor Hall laboriously challenges the foundation(s) of religion under the scrutiny of several epistemological methodologies thereby leaving the reader much more eager to seek their own truth. I applaud the Professor for challenging the core foundations of one's own existence in this course. This course will lead anyone to seek the virtues of one's nature and allow them to retrospectively analyze their actions. A treatise worth the money...
Date published: 2009-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 34 Great Lectures (out of 36) This is a great course, and I was truly enjoying listening to it. It is well structured, cogent and cohesive in content, and well presented. The instructor does an excellent job of laying out his perspectives and potential biases right up front so the listener (or viewer) can factor them in. Lectures 1 through about 33 are as good as the Teaching Company gets. Challenging but clear. The instructor uses examples deftly to highlight points, and does an excellent job of keeping the listener grounded and oriented in his material. The lion's share of the course was simply top-notch. Unfortunately, when getting to about the 34rd lecture, the instructor veers wildly into politico-theological soap-boxing. By lecture 36 the "good" instructor has returned for an excellent summary. The suspect lectures set up a dichotomy between the "priestly" tradition -- focused on maintaining the status quo -- and the "prophetic" tradition -- innovating -- in ethical monotheism (esp. Judaism, Christianity, Islam). He decries the horrors inflicted by ethical monotheistic religions -- burning heretics and the like -- and associates such reactionary behavior with the priestly. By contrast the prophetic tradition has driven the world to a better place. A political and religious conservative will be roused to ire by this silly simplification. The more liberal could walk away with a wonderful sense of self-righteousness. I was surprised to learn that the US has made practically no progress in its history in dealing with race relations -- far more to go than we've already gone. I was also surprised to learn what wonderful things have been promulgated by atheists and agnostics, while religious luddites regularly burn witches even today. Yes, there was religious persecution of hundreds in the Europe of the Middle Ages. But, let's turn to Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, and Pol Pot among just a few of the non-religious. The instructor pillories established ethical monotheistic religions for what often were fringe behaviors, not stated policy or dogma (e.g. slavery). These deviants are far different from the systematic actions of the godless. Finally, he lays out a litany of modern left-wing tropes as clearly enlightened and self-evidently "right." We poor dimwits just haven't yet reached that stage of enlightenment. But, the prophetic tradition will lead us there. This treatment mars an overall excellent course. It ignores or discounts the wisdom embodied in the more conservative, shall I say priestly traditions. He mentions the dramatic drops in participation among more liberal-leaning denominations, but never confronts the implication -- perhaps perpetual innovation, especially jettisoning hard-learned lessons embodied in tradition, fails to satisfy. As for the horrors of traditional religion, the listener (and instructor) would be well served by reading Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Lecture, or Rev. James Schall's excellent treatment of that lecture of the same name. Far from being impediments to moral and physical progress, the traditional church is often the greatest proponent of creating a better world.
Date published: 2009-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from clue to the deep question i am a japanese woman who is a big fan of the teaching company's. if you are patient enough to read my other reviews, you will find that i need some kind of clue to philosophical questions. in this perspective i think this course is great. professor hall not only traces historical facts concerning the existance of god but also gives us a seed for our own thought to this matter. maybe you can say either your own yes or no after studying this course. needless to say, there are some interpretations i can't agrree. but it doesn't matter at all for a person who want to study seriously. this one is a clue.
Date published: 2009-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't believe how good this is Hall's methodical, halting speech bespeaks the careful logic of a person truly committed to the principles of honest inquiry. His progress, as he describes what millions take for granted as the last word and truth concerning the meaning, purpose and reason for our existence is nothing short, for me, of breathtaking. It is like watching a masterpiece being painted, stroke by stroke by someone who is neither mean, disdainful nor short sighted. Like others of his ilk, he carries the listener along on the shoulder as he progresses, clearing the forest for the trees and sharing the view. Wow.
Date published: 2009-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorites This is one of my all-time favorite teaching co courses. His lecturing style is second to none. For someone who is not religious, I did not really expect to enjoy this subject: boy was I surprised! A very entertaining course.
Date published: 2009-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely Engaging Professor Kent does a masterful job of leading us through the basic argument concerning a (or the) fundamental question we humans ask ourselves - "Is there a divine creator and should that creator be worshipped as God." His style of presenting various arguments for the existence of God, followed by corresponding counterarguments provides someone without a philosophy background a clear framework for comprehending the core positions. Engaging to the core.
Date published: 2009-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course A great course, superbly taught. The lectures were a pure pleasure and the sensitive topic fairly and logically presented.
Date published: 2008-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Doing philosophy There are two kinds of philosophy courses: those that are ABOUT philosophy, recounting the thoughts and interrelationships of various philosophers, and those that DO philosophy, inviting the student to wrestle with the ideas themselves. Prof. Hall's course is mostly of the second, doing kind. For example, he doesn't so much review the literature on the theodicy problem as grapple with the theodicy problem himself. I much prefer courses of this second type, but they do suffer from the one-way communication problem inherent in the Teaching Company format. If you don't accept one of Prof. Hall's arguments, or if you simply question something that's said, you can't do it. And so you're likely to feel a bit put off when the lecture proceeds to build on a conclusion you're not sure you can share. Now, Prof. Hall seems to be aware of this, and builds his arguments slowly, trying to anticipate all possible difficulties before proceeding. But this leads to problems of its own--the pace of the course sometimes seems very slow, as Dr. Hall meticulously reviews parts of the problem that seem obvious or that don't really interest you. I found myself wishing I had some control (other than fast forward and rewind) of the flow of the argument, so that I could hear more on the points I thought were critical, and less of the rest. At the end, though I still wished I could engage Prof. Hall more directly, I was glad to have been through his development of the arguments. He is a careful thinker, not given to rhetorical tricks. Even if you're not sure he's ended up in a sensible place, it's a place you'll be glad to have travelled to with him.
Date published: 2008-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well-balanced and thoughtful It's refreshing to find a course on religion in which the professor avoids cramming a particular perspective down the throats of the students. Dr. Hall is a venerable and wise philosopher who presents a balanced, articulate, and thoughtful overview of the mysteries of matter and spirit (consciousness) that make life so interesting. Personally, I find the relativistic view criticized in earlier reviews to be necessary in presenting any subject that ignites passionate opinions based on incompletely considered faith. My only suggestion is that a section be included on the question of whether we'd be better off without religion at all, and if one can develop an individual spiritual perspective based not on theism, but on deism free from the encumbrances of dogma. Thanks, Dr. Hall!
Date published: 2008-11-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Professor Hall made some difficult philosopjical concepts seem very simple but he presented the material too slowly - up tempo please
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I am impressed with the concept of allowing person such as myself to continue learning. I am shocked however, at the biased lectures towards relativism.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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