Philosophy of Religion

Course No. 4680
Professor James Hall, Ph.D.
University of Richmond
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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 79.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from New subject matter for me Professor Hall does a nice job of presenting a new subject matter (new to me at least)..I was afraid it would be pretty dry, but the Professor does a great job of keeping the subject matter interesting and understandable.
Date published: 2018-06-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insightful and Intriguing This thought-provoking course is mainly focused on answering the question of the existence or non-existence of the Judeo-Christian Islamic god. The goal of the Professor is not to make believers or atheists out ot its listeners. Instead, the Professor wants you to come away with a deeper understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the Abrahamic religious traditions. It was a worthwhile course for me to take after having listened to so many of the religion and theology courses and It would be worth your time.
Date published: 2018-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful and enlightening! This is by far the best introduction to religion and religious criticism I have encountered. And I have been reading on the subject for over 50 years. Prof. Hall has literally changed my mind about several religious ideas. He has a knack for presenting the complex in simple-to-understand terms. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meticulous examination I suppose I should confess to having become biased in this professor's favor early in the course when he said he likes British mysteries. Obviously a man of good taste! I was also impressed by his response yo the arrogant college students who are always proclaiming that a course is irrelevant ("to what?"). And he quoted Perry Mason, the old TV show, in saying that something "assumes facts no in evidence." This is a meticulous examination of the question of belief or nonbelief in God. He concludes that it is, as the Scots say, "not proved." In other words, agnosticism is the most sensible decision. The various points of view are carefully and clearly set out, but he avoids some things (about modal logic, he says "I won't go there). If you are interested in what philosophers are saying about God these days, this is the place to start.
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile Listen A good course for general audiences. Dr. Hall does a great job explaining the various arguments on both sides. He cleared up a few concepts for me that I never fully "got" in my one college philosophy course. I'm not quite sure why so much time is spent on Wittgenstein and the "paradigm" concept (almost the last third of the course). Although relevant, I didn't feel like the deep study was necessary. Perhaps this is an area that modern philosophers are giving a lot of attention? At any rate, it certainly was worth my time and I plan to re-listen in a few years.
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My First "Great Courses" Course This was the first course I listened to. It was a few years ago, and it convinced me to buy other courses from the website. The details: I listened to this on the "audio download" option. The sound quality was fine, and I didn't ever wish that I was watching a screen. I've got sensitive eyes and usually I just want to listen anyhow. Content: I found it very complete. Unlike some reviewers, I appreciated the digressive examples. I also thought that the concepts (probably because of the examples) were clearly explained. Another reviewer said that the Ontological argument wasn't explained well. I thought it was. Thanks to this course, I can explain the Ontological argument to people, although most of the time, those people just walk away from me and say, "I have an appointment. I've got to go. I'm sure St. Anselm is really interesting. See you later." The Professor Presentation was good, too. I liked the style, voice, etc. It was a natural delivery. My one main criticism of the Great Courses is that some of the professors are TOO polished in their delivery. Hall was natural and cool. One other point: I was tiling my floor while I listened to these lectures, and at one point, I became so engrossed that I stopped what I was doing and just listened. Without realizing it, I rested my foot in a bucket of thin-set mortar, which dried as the Professor was discussing Wittgenstein. After the lecture was over, I had to get somebody to chisel me free. So, if you're tiling your floor while you listen to these lectures, be careful and don't make the same mistake I did.
Date published: 2016-08-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fell Short of Expectations (Had Ups and Downs) Pluses: • Lecture 4 & 5’s descriptions of how different religious contexts define “God” (Dynamism, Animism, Polytheism, Pantheism, Henotheism, Deism, Dualism/Bitheism, Monotheism, and Ethical monotheism) and how some individuals (some Buddhists, many agnostics, and all atheists) reject worship at all • Discussions on the various theodicies on the problem of evil were very thought-provoking and the highlight of the course Minuses: • The introductory lectures could have been shrunk: Nine lectures on introducing terms seemed to be overkill (especially those on defining knowledge and evidence) • The definition of the Ontological Argument was not explained clearly • While explaining concepts (the arguments against the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments are examples) the Professor seemed to spend too much time on odd examples/stories and wandering somewhat off topic instead of hammering home the succinct main points of the argument and the relevance of the arguments Too much time seemed to be spent on paradigms and language games; Perhaps I missed the point as to how important or relevant they are to this course discussion but seemed like they should have been discussed in passing or in much less time (the most interesting topic they spurn: religion involving hidden interests---think Freud and Marx---wasn’t explored in depth enough)
Date published: 2016-02-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Excellent Start, Weak Finish The first 28 lectures are all about whether God can be proven to exist or proven to not exist. I thought Hall did an excellent job during these lectures presenting both sides of each proof and, in every case coming to the same conclusion that no, you can't. That is, the various proofs of the existence of God are flawed as are the proofs that God does not exist. Hall's course is an excellent introduction to the various arguments on both sides and to the weaknesses of those arguments. So, for these lectures, nicely done. But, strangely, the last 8 lectures went off to places I could not fathom. I'm just not sure what he was trying to get across or how it related to the rest of the course. Given that this is nearly a quarter of the course, I can only give the course 3 stars. I agree that Hall sometimes (often?) rephrases things several times and that got a bit old when I understood the first explanation. But, I still enjoyed the course enough that I went ahead and bought his other course. I haven't watched it yet, but it's in the queue. Despite my disappointment in the last 8 lectures, I still recommend the course for the first 28.
Date published: 2015-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-08-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-03-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from 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!
Date published: 2013-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Get It. [Audio] An excellent addition to the TC's "Philososophy of ......" applied philosophy courses. I didn't find his explanation of the Ontological argument to be terribly clear - I think Bertrand Russell does a better job of this in his essay "Why I am Not a Christian", but on the whole the course was very steadily and respectfully presented. This course is better than Prof. Hall's Tools of Thinking course, which is on the dry side.
Date published: 2013-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best of the bunch I own most of The Great Courses which have as a topic, the history or philosophy of one or more religions. I held onto this course for quite a while before I actually listened to it, as I had gotten a little weary of courses which, although, advertised as academic in nature, ended up with a "preachy" feel to them. When I finally got around to listening to this one, I could have kicked myself for stalling. Almost immediately I knew I was in for a clear headed, even handed exposition of some of the questions people have been struggling with for ages, without any hidden agenda. Dr. Hall's delivery was calm, yet engaging, without any of the overblown rhetorical flourishes that, in my opinion, detract from some other presentations. I've listened to it twice through, and know that I will go back to it again in the future. Whether you are an atheist, an agnostic like me, or one who is committed to a religious view of life, you will find a great deal to admire and to ponder in this wonderful course.
Date published: 2013-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mixed feelings from an atheist's POV As a nonbeliever and atheist who has read a decent amount in the philosophy of religion, I was at times pleased and at other times frustrated with Dr. Hall's approach to the subject. He spends several lectures talking about the nature of religion, philosophy, and evidence. I liked that he did this, although it was very basic, because I could see why it would be helpful for someone who was exploring their faith to think objectively about it. He repeatedly emphasizes the need to untangle our religious beliefs from our desire for them to be true. This is a valuable lesson to teach, but he often assumed that his audience was nothing but Christians overly eager to justify their beliefs rationally. I felt a little left out, like he wasn't talking to me at all, and I could imagine it coming off as condescending to a Christian already familiar with the subject. I liked his approach to the arguments for the existence of God, but it seemed like he was only interested in talking about the omni-God of Christianity, and if the argument fell short of proving that, it was useless. He gave a whole lecture devoted to criticisms of each of the main arguments, and while I appreciated this, his tone was still, to my surprise, exclusive of nonbelievers. He continued to act as though we are outsiders to the subject, albeit outsiders who deserve to be taken seriously. His constant refrain about atheists was "We can learn a lot from them." I'm glad he recognizes our contributions to the subject, and is willing to communicate that to a presumed Christian audience, but it is too much to ask that atheists aren't regarded as "other"? At times his compliments are honestly pretty back-handed, assuming, as do many evangelical apologists, that all atheists are Nietzscheans who "deserve to be taken seriously" primarily because "they" threaten to undermine the foundations of morality. He spends a large portion of the course devoted to the problem of evil, naturally, and comes away with his usual verdict of "not proved." I think he took the problem seriously enough, but he seemed so afraid to challenge theism. I wanted him to take off the kid gloves just once, and stop treating atheism as a scary conclusion that we are willing to consider, but trying to avoid at all costs. For what it's worth, I don't think he argued forcefully enough for theism either. Even devoting two lectures to it, he could have done a lot more justice to the teleological argument, for example. But despite my gripes, I can appreciate that he's doing something good for his audience, the vast majority of which, after all, ARE Christians. By talking to his audience as an insider, he can bypass their natural tendency to reject "outsider logic" like many people reflexively do with Bart Ehrman's courses on the New Testament. Still, as a self-confessed Episcopalian agnostic he will probably come off as an outsider to many conservatives. The last section of the course was good for me to get a wider perspective on the philosophy of religion, because it deals primarily with subjects that don't involve me as a nonbeliever. I've read mostly about arguments for and against God, and about the nature of evidence, as I suspect most philosophically minded atheists have. But I was unfamiliar with the details of the debates over the nature of religious language, paradigms, and stories. Several people have said his voice is annoying or dull. I don't think that's the case, although I never found him particularly captivating. It's all subjective anyway, so just listen to a lengthy sample if it's that important to you. But I hope you're willing to judge this course not by the sound of his voice, but by the soundness of his ideas.
Date published: 2012-12-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Like Listening to Paint Dry I am generally very pleased with TTC/TGC courses, but this is the worst one that I have ever suffered through, in two ways. First, waiting out the lecturer's delivery is like listening to paint dry. Although a better course on this subject might have been this long or longer, the substantive content of this particular course could have been covered in 12 or at most 24 lectures. Second, rather than 'Philosophy of Religion', the course should be titled 'How I escaped my fundamentalist upbringing and learned to think for myself'. After some slow but relatively useful background in the first few lectures, Hall announces that by 'religion' he means the religion he grew up with in a fundamentalist Christian household, and he then spends the rest of his lectures debunking the concept of a God that is both omnipotent and omniscient but also (at the same time and in the same sense) personal and anthropomorphic. Now that isn't hard, but so what? (Disclosure: I am a liberal Episcopalian.) i was expecting an historical survey of how philosophy has approached concepts of divinity, or alternatively a serious philosophical analysis of such concepts; but there is little here but naive theodicy. A few lectures about the ontological, cosmological, and teleological proofs of medieval Christian theology are somewhat useful (if slow), but even these are marred by Hall's starting assumption that they fail if they don't prove the existence of the simplistic God that he was raised on. There is nothing in these lectures about Platonism, Stoicism, Neoplatonism, the Trinity, the Incarnation, Maimonides, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, any serious non-Scholastic Christian theology, or any non-Christian conception of God. If you are a fundamentalist Christian then these lectures might challenge your thinking; otherwise they are just a waste of time.
Date published: 2012-12-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from PAINFULLY SLOW, REPETITIVE, BUT HAS ULTIMATE VALUE While the professor has a smooth, deep & authoritative voice that can be easy to listen to, this is a plodding, verbose, extreeemely sloooow-moving course of 36 lectures ~ could easily have been achieved in 24 or fewer. Dr Hall often goes off on tangents with personal ramblings, anecdotes, asides, is sometimes repetitive, and frequently takes disconcertingly looong pauses during which he appears to have lost track. BUT, if you can sift patiently through it all, there's a good bit of knowledge to be gained here. The first lecture "What is philosophy?" could have been presented in just a few minutes: in fact Dr Hall defined philosophy in lecture 3 in one sentence! In the 3rd lecture also, Professor Hall states that he is "an agnostic Episcopalian"! I feel compelled to add that early "philosophical" arguments and discussions the lecturer presents struck me as pure entertainment, just fooling around and playing cutesy-pie with words merely for the sake of doing so, akin to arguing what the meaning of "is" is! Strategically important are the lectures on evidence for and against there being a god: long-winded but helpful. However (apologies if I appear pedantic), I found it incredible that a man of Dr Hall's stature and learning (he was 70 when the lectures were recorded in 2003) used the comparative terms "as complete", "more perfect" and "most perfect". Shame! Incidentally, the Scottish verdict is "not proven", and not "not proved". Overall, for me it was a strain and ordeal to get through all 36 talks. On my DVD player, I can speed up play by 20%: that helped occasionally, voice still intelligible. My suggestion to Great Courses would be to re-do this course, on the basis of no more than 24 half-hour lectures, and using a different professor, perhaps Dr Bart Ehrman. The timeline, glossary, biographical notes and bibliography in the guidebook are particularly excellent ~ especially useful for reference and further study/research.
Date published: 2012-07-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too much personal bias The first half of this course (the first 18-20 lectures) was not too bad. The last 14-16 lectures were worthless. The actual content of the last half of the course would fill maybe one disk (2 lectures). The remainder was really, really bad. I have 6-7 hours of the professor's personal biases and outdated judgmental statements regarding the lack of anything valuable in religion. I don't want to pay to hear any person's ridiculous biases. I can get that from Fox news for free.
Date published: 2012-06-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Competent survey for absolute beginners Professor Hall comes across as an engaging and empathetic person who applies a balanced analysis of this important topic. For those without any prior knowledge at all in this field then i would suggest that it is a good primer; whenever i commence study of an area i know nothing about it i want to start at "a,b,c" level and work my way up to more intellectually complex treatments. I used to allow my ego to say i should skip the very elementary but that meant that basic concepts were assumed by me but which i did not understand properly. But if like me you have some grounding(albeit still limited)then this course is at times far too basic and spends too long on introductory issues. The first half a dozen lectured could easly be treated in 2 lectures for example. I also wanted more detail in the booklet as well as more commentary from the Professor on the texts he cites in the bibliography. A competent course and worthwhile foe the total newbie.
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really Enjoyed This Course This review refers to the CD version of the course, which I would recommend (or the downloaded version—you don’t need the added cost of the video, in my opinion), especially because of a claim I am about to make: I think lecture 30, alone, is worth the price of the entire course. Lecture 30 deals with evaluating paradigms, and the resulting standards that Professor Hall describes for judging any paradigm is so useful that I found myself telling everyone I know they had to listen to this 30-minute lecture (very few did, by the way, and several looked at me quite strangely). My two favorite standards presented during this lecture are as follows: 1. ‘Does it save the appearances? Any theory, any explanation must save the appearances. Theories, even the most inclusive ones, and paradigms must stand or fall with whether or not they provide an explanation or account for what any fool can plainly see, and if the theory and the appearances are at odds, it’s the theory that gives way; the appearances remain—they are trumps.’ 2. ‘Look at the paradigm’s output. Look at the life being lived by those who subscribe to and work within the paradigm: Is it a coherent package for them? A weak paradigm will demonstrate itself in dysfunctional practice.’ Some reviewers have criticized Dr. Hall's thorough, discursive way of presenting this material. My response to that would be, simply, ‘he is a philosopher, and he is doing philosophy in this course.’ Keep in mind that he is also dealing with an extremely controversial subject matter that he wants to present in the even-handed, objective, thoughtful, analytical manner that defines the best of philosophical discourse. No, he is not an orator, and no, he does not present the information in rapid-fire succession, but he is appropriately analytical and very balanced. The one reviewer from San Francisco widely missed the mark in his or her review. In fact, I feel strongly enough about the mischaracterization presented in that review to offer in this paragraph a defense of Dr. Hall and a general disapproval of writing uninformed critiques. Dr. Hall has a mainstream protestant background, yes, but he is also currently (and has been for some time) an agnostic, which he admits more than once during this lecture series. Moreover, I can't see how anyone could listen to the information in this course and draw the conclusion that Professor James Hall is an ‘apologist.’ That review baffled me beyond comprehension, especially considering that Professor Hall cogently refutes each of the three main arguments for the existence of God and effectively exposes the weaknesses and problems with both justificatory and non-justificatory theodicies, to include repudiating the original sin argument offered by true apologists. An apologist, from the actual discipline of apologetics, has a clear conceptual, if not operational, definition in the world of religion and theology, and apologetics is NOT what Dr. Hall is engaged in with these lectures. If people don’t like his presentation style, and some don’t, fine. If people think he should have included more or less information, and some do, fine. And if people disagree with his conclusions or how convincingly he has achieved the course objectives, by all means let the rest of us know, but good grief, to write such an inaccurate review belies the intellectual rigor of what I perceive to be most teaching company customers. To be so wrong about the information in a course really troubles me, and it's not fair to Dr. Hall. My final verdict: This is a well-organized course presented by a well-informed agnostic philosopher who is analytical, courteous, thoughtful, even-handed, reserved, and comprehensive in his treatment of the subject. He does tell some stories to illustrate points, and he does take some time to develop his ideas, but these characteristics are true to his subject matter and his philosophical background. If you get a chance to buy this course on sale, don't pass up the opportunity. It will be well worth your money and time. You may even find yourself listening to it multiple times. I have. Highly Recommend.
Date published: 2012-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Engrossing I found the content of the course to be very interesting, informative, and well organized. Professor Hall's manner of presentation was smooth, relaxed, and inviting. Upon completion of the course I went to The Great Courses web site to look for other courses presented by Professor Hall. I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in taking an intellectual journey that explores the questions of divine existence.
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pointless In response to the person seeing a Christian Evangelical bias, what I heard was completely opposite. The summary I got is more like: disagreeing with a belief is like banging your head against a wall, faith isn't rooted in logic or sense.* He seems to rest his case there. It fascinates me that such different messages can be absorbed from one recording. To cover both sides I'd have liked hearing, "Can you prove god doesn't exist?"** And, "Are religions essentially ethical codes anyway?"** (see footnotes) The professor is genial with a marvelous agreeable voice. If something is to be gained from this series it's to emulate his relaxed, calm, open, yet unwavering manner when dealing with subjects of inflammatory nature. There are better courses available geared directly at improving such skills, but these lectures help in one all too common very uncomfortable situation. * My personal view is that the word God is used to describe what I don't know or understand, it's an actual thing (lots of them) and may include, along with our universe, the impossible (miracles). Do I believe in it? I do know I don't even know everything; so yes, God is many reasons to be humble and open minded.. ** He mentions it's a waste of time to argue such a point, which is a cop out imho *** The tapes on St Augustine state that he converted to Christianity when Bishop Benedict told him as much.
Date published: 2012-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Evenhanded I was somewhat skeptical about purchasing this course after reading some of the views. A few reviewers called professor Hall an apologist, a few reviewers said they had trouble following him, and some people did not like his voice or style of teaching (he uses a lot of stories, some personal stories). Apologist: The reviewer who made this post must not have heard professor Hall say during the first few lectures that he is an agnostic (an episcopalian agnostic). He was raised as a very conservative southern baptist and he has a few degrees from conservative seminaries, but he is far from that now. In fact, his master's thesis that he did at Southeastern Theological Seminary has been removed for their library, purportedly (only a guess) because of his apostasy or rejection of conservative evangelical. Trouble following him: this is philosophy folks. If you are not listening carefully he is difficult to follow as he weaves stories into his lecture. Voice (style of lecturing): His voice is perfect. Low and soothing. Not sure why anyone would complain about that. I enjoy stories and in philosophy that is necessary. What I enjoyed most about his lectures is that they are very organized, he stays on topic, and he is very evenhanded. If you are looking for a scathing crique of religion (like the new atheism, Dawkins and the like) you will not find that with professor Hall. If on the other hand you are a believer trying to confirm your beliefs, you will also be disappointed. He is a very evenhanded agnostic. If you are like me, someone who loves philosophy and more importantly, loves learning, you will be very satisfied with the course. I am more than satisfied with the course. I did a little research before making this post. I found professor Hall's website and read a little bio he has on there. I have also purchased a few of his books.
Date published: 2012-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended I would recommend this course as an excellent introduction to philosophy and clear thinking even if you aren't particularly interested in religion. Contrary to what other reviewers have claimed, I didn't feel that Professor Hall is pushing for any particular view point. He devotes equal time to all sides of the debate on ethical monotheism and he presents the arguments without prejudice. Some reviews have complained about his anectodes. I found them a nice break from the general intellectual intensity of the course. This is definitely a course that I am going to listen to more than once.
Date published: 2011-12-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from More of a sermon than an intellectual exercise If you're an evangelical Christian looking for an intellectualized affirmation of your religious beliefs, I think you might be satisfied with this series, but even then I was more impressed with Prof. Cary's "Philosophy and Religion in the West," and would recommend that lecture series over this one. The positives first -- the professor is avuncular and articulate and speaks with crisp and resonant diction. If I were driving across an interstate highway through Nebraska, I'd probably let the lectures run simply as calming background noise. Occasionally, his anecdotes even help to illustrate his points. The negatives, however, outweigh the positives. - The whole "course" feels more an extended series of sermons, which already assume the truth of its arguments. Professor Hall is not interested in discussing the philosophy of religion as such, but rather for advocating for Christianity as interpreted through the American Protestant tradition. If one has already subscribed to a Protestant Christian worldview, perhaps there are some insights into historical intellectual arguments made on its behalf. But there is no discussion of eastern religions, or even meaningful discussion of other strains of intellectual thought within Christianity. - He provides far more anecdotes than are necessary to usefully illustrate his points. He comes across as someone terribly fascinated by his own personal reflections. There's all too often a "Foghorn Leghorn" quality to his lectures, which might leave you gritting your teeth while you wait for him to get on with the point. - Finally, I fear Prof. Hall wasn't willing to do the work to accurately convey the philosophical argument he presents on behalf of his Christian apologetics. Hall's use of Frege's arguments for "sense" and "reference," or late Wittgenstein's arguments for "language games," struck me as shallow, and too divorced from their original context to have any explanatory value. I don't think this is because Prof. Hall's _understanding_ of, say, Wittgenstein is shallow. Rather, he's simply more interested in relating his personal anecdotes and reflections than in explaining some of these more difficult philosophical concepts. More time actually exploring these arguments, their strengths, and their weaknesses, would have provided more value to this lecture series.
Date published: 2011-12-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst course ever I have 41 courses from the Teaching Company, 40 of which are excellent. This course is the exception, an incoherent, ill prepared, stream of consciousness with a minimum of substance. A waste of time!
Date published: 2011-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I've worn it out I have owned this course for years and have worn out the CDs from carrying them around to listen to while walking (I have the old-style cardboard sleeve packaging, which does a terrible job of protecting the CDs if you carry them around alot - the new style plastic containers are much better; it is disappointing that The Teaching Company wants $10 per 6 CD sleeve ($30 for this course) to upgrade the packaging). I will wait till it is on sale and replace the whole set. I've probably listened to the whole course about 10 times. While I agree with some of the other comments which find fault with Professor Hall's endless anecdotes, and with the fundamentally ethical monotheistic viewpoint, I nonetheless feel compelled to defend him. The anecdotal approach is sytlistic and while occasionally irritating, it's not that bad - and it does set a very conversational, easy-going style for difficult material. And the professor is completely upfront near the start about his ethical monotheistic roots, and the reasons (the limitations of his background) that he therefore structures the course and its points as he does. Given this full disclosure, and the fact that I would like to believe that one can see outside one's box and be rational about it, I have no problem with this. As I understand the focus of any sort of philosophy, who has the best chance of doing this but a philosopher ? Finally, for what it's worth, it should be noted that at the end of the course (spoiler alert), Professor Hall professes to being an agnostic. I think his closing line, which I love, says it all: he wishes religious folks of all stripes would proclaim "I believe", rather than "I know". For me, the first three foundational lectures are perhaps the best, and go beyond the course - what is philosophy, what is religion, and then what is philosophy *of* religion. These give insights on *any* philosophical project (as philosophers of all stripes love to call each others' work). His review of many other approachs (history of religion, religious philosophy, etc) and how they differ from philosophy of religion are fascinating. Professor Hall also traces how the appropriate scope of "philosophy" might seem to have shrunk tremendously over the last two millenia - from *all* knowledge, including what we today call science, to today, where specialization has removed so many subject areas that once were in the scope of philosophy - but then goes on to show how there remains plenty of work for philosophy - primarily in giving us the tools to think about questions, consider what should count as evidence in support of a position, etc. This is neatly summarized when he quotes someone who said philosophy is about asking the questions of a child with the mind of a lawyer. Of course, one of the most, if not *the* most, vexing problems for ethical monotheism, as Professor Hall duly notes and covers in several lectures, is the problem of evil. Another reviewer found fault with the very idea of evil, as anthropomorphic and anthrocentric - "volcanos are not evil" absent such myopia. An interesting angle worth thinking about. But I would say, what can we as humans possibly do in our thinking and conceptualizing which could not be accused of these ? I think the important thing is to recognize this, and temper our positions accordingly when necessary. I don't think it a valid basis for wholesale condemnation of the philosophy of religion project. As for the other parts of the course, I have nothing to add to other reviews - they do their job and are quite worth listening to. If you google Professor Hall you can find a copy of a commencement speech he gave at his university in the early 2000's about "education" and what it means. An excellent speech in my opinion, which made me even more impressed with his erudition and strength of convictions. I would also highly recommend The Teaching Company's complementary Philosophy of Science course, though it is incredibly dense and difficult material in comparison with this or any other course from The Teacing Company or elsewhere.
Date published: 2011-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this course! Okay, I'm not unbiased here. This is the area that interests me most, and I looked forward very eagerly to getting and listening to this course, but I was not at all disappointed. Prof. Hall brings a passion to the subject matter that brings it to life. A poorer lecturer would have been a huge disappointment to me, in view of my intense interest in the subject matter. I studied philosophy at a university with a very highly regarded philosophy department (albeit almost 40 years ago), and I can honestly say that the content and presentation of this course matched anything I saw there. If you're interested in religion at any level, buy it!
Date published: 2011-06-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow Moving, but Decent Overall It's hard to rate this course, because some of it was great, and some was repetitive and a little boring. First, the positives: 1. Professor Hall speaks well and goes into good detail on his topics. He gave nice explanations of the "arguments" for God. 2. The information is presented well and is easy to understand. Now, the negatives: 1. The course is slow moving because it repeats a lot of information. Sometimes this was good (in the sense of reminding listeners where we are and keeping us up to speed), but by and large, it is a little annoying. I found myself checking my iPod numerous times in order to make sure I hadn't accidentally played a lecture I had already heard. 2. The course could have been done in 24 lectures instead of 36. Professor Hall LOVES his "Scottish Verdicts" (where the outcome is still inconclusive). He says that phrase many times, and his discussions generally end without strong conclusions (nice if you want to think more about things, but it makes you wish there were just a few more conclusions made). Overall, I did enjoy the course and the professor, but it was a "tough it out" situation at times.
Date published: 2011-04-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unfocused The title seemed interesting enough however the actual lectures were a disappointment. I found them long winded and unfocused. The lectures seemed rambling at times with way too many anecdotes. At first the stories seemed entertaining but after a multitude of them they became irritating and distracting. I found myself constantly having to be reminded of the point of each particular story. Unfortunately, a "weak link" in a strong category.
Date published: 2011-03-25
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