PHI 325 Philosophy of Religion

God, Bioethics, and Theological Deadlocks

Handouts | Course outline | Course mechanics

Note: the 2006 course guide incorrectly listed this page, which is a 2003 version of PHI 325. The page for the Fall 2006 version is here.

Fall 2003
Professor: Adam Elga.
TA: Su Kim <>, office 110 Marx, office hour 3:30-4:30 Thursdays
Meeting time: MW 11-12 + Precept (see below for details)
Meeting place: McCosh 2

We will consider the argument from design, the problem of evil, and the problem of Hell. We then consider various questions in creation ethics (e.g., what sort of genetic modifications to one's offspring are justifiable) in the light of the theological arguments we have discussed so far. Finally, we will apply recent psychological research to the question: why is theological disagreement so often intractable?

Prerequisite: One previous philosophy course.

Precepts: Precept assignments and meeting times/places will be mailed to you. Contact <> with any questions about precept scheduling. Note that several precepts are now full. We apologize in advance to anyone whose schedules we cannot accommodate.

Grading: No P/D/F. (Note that the printed course guide incorrectly lists the course as allowing P/D/F.) 40% homework assignments and class, precept participation, 25% midterm paper, 35% final paper.Paper grading standards.

Reading/Writing Assignments: Midterm paper (due October 24), term paper (due on Dean's Date), and short-answer assignments (due weekly).
Short-answer assignments (named by due date).

Guest Lectures: Guest lecture/discussions by/with Elizabeth Harman (NYU Philosophy), Emily Pronin (Princeton Psychology), Roger White (NYU Philosophy), Peter Singer (Princeton Center for Human Values)

Course Outline


Mon Sep 15

The Problem of Evil

Wed Sep 17:
Rowe, W.L. (1979) "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism", American Philosophical Quarterly 16: 335-41.

Mon Sep 22, Wed Sep 24:
Peter van Inwagen, `The Magnitude, Duration and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy. Philosophical Topics 16:2, Fall 1998

Mon Sep 29:
Schlesinger, G. "The Problem of Evil and the problem of suffering". American Philosophical Quarterly 1:3, July 1964.

Wed Oct 1:
Ted Sider. "Hell and Vagueness" Faith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 58-68. (You may omit the section of the article on epistemicism [pp 8-11].)

Mon Oct 6, Wed Oct 8:
Adams, R. M.. "Must god create the best?" Philosophical Review. JL 72; 81: 317-332.

Arguments from Design

Mon Oct 13:
Paley, William. "The watch and the watchmaker". Chapter I.B.1 (pp. 48-52) of Louis P. Pojman, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 4th ed. Wadsworth, 2003.

Wed Oct 15:
Hume, David. "A critique of the design argument". Chapter I.B.2 (pp. 52-58) of Louis P. Pojman, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 4th ed. Wadsworth, 2003.

Mon Oct 20:
Swinburne, Richard. "The argument from design". Chapter I.B.3 (pp. 59-68) of Louis P. Pojman, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 4th ed. Wadsworth, 2003.

Wed Oct 22:
Roger White. "Fine-tuning and multiple universes"

Ethics of creation

Mon Nov 3 , Wed Nov 5:
Parfit, Derek. Sections 119-122 of Chapter 16 ("The non-identity problem") of Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press, 1984.

Mon Nov 10:
Parfit, Derek. Sections 123-127 of Chapter 16 ("The non-identity problem") of Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press, 1984.

Wed Nov 12, Mon Nov 17:
Lee Silver. "The Virtual Child" and "The Designer Child". Chapters 17-18 (pp. 199-239) of Remaking Eden. Avon; (October 1998).

For those interested: a high-profile case of the use of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (the case of Lisa and Jack Nash).

Wed Nov 19
M Spriggs. Lesbian couple create a child who is deaf like them J Med Ethics 2002 28: 283.

N Levy. Deafness, culture, and choice J Med Ethics 2002 28: 284-285.

[optional] Julian Savulescu. "Deaf lesbians, 'designer disability,' and the future of medicine". BMJ 2002;325:771-773 ( 5 October )

[Optional] K W Anstey. Are attempts to have impaired children justifiable? J Med Ethics 2002 28: 286-288.

We will also start discussing the Plantinga article.


Mon Nov 24:
Plantinga, Alvin. "Pluralism: a defense of religious exclusivism". In Quinn, Philip L. and Kevin Meeker, eds.The philosophical challenge of religious diversity (Oxford: OUP, 2000), pp. 172-183. (pp. 183-192 are optional).

Wed Nov 26:
Van Inwagen, Peter. "'It is Wrong, Always, Everywhere, and for Anyone, to Believe Anything, Upon Insufficient Evidence'" in Jordan and Howard-Snyder (eds.) Faith, Freedom, and Rationality (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), pp.137-154.

Mon Dec 1, Wed Dec 3:
Pronin, E., Puccio, C., & Ross, L. (2002). Understanding misunderstanding: Social psychological perspectives. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment. New York: Cambridge University Press.)

[Optional] Emily Pronin, Thomas Gilovich, Lee Ross. Objectivity in the Eye of the Beholder: Divergent Perceptions of Bias in Self versus Others. Psychological Review, in press.

Mon Dec 8:
Thomas Kelly. "The epistemic significance of disagreement". Read the statement of the "No independent weight view" (9-10), the discussion of "The Appeal to Symmetry" (14-20), and Kelly's "positive argument for the No Independent Weight View" (20-26).

Wed Dec 10
Topic to be announced.


Readings are drawn from:

  • Various articles available on the web (linked from this page).
  • Articles on electronic reserve. You can access the ereserves through the library's electronic reserve page. You'll need the course userid (phi325) and course password [supplied in class] to log in. You also may need to download some special software; see the help page for details.

Course mechanics and policies

Reading/Writing Assignments

One short paper, one term paper, and weekly short-answer assignments (generally to be handed in at the beginning of lecture on Mondays).

How to complete the short-answer assignments:

  • Length. Most questions can be answered in a short paragraph, but this is just a rough guide. If you're confident you can nail it in two sentences, go for it. If it takes more to get clear, so be it. But all else equal, shorter is better.
  • Correctness. For most (though not all) of the questions, there is a right answer, or something specific we are looking for.
  • Late homework accepted only with a very good reason. (Example of a very good reason: extreme medical excuse with written documentation. Examples of not very good reasons: computer foul-ups, other commitments.)
  • Please type your answers, and include your name and which precept you are in at the top.
  • You may (and are encouraged to) discuss the homework questions with others. But (1) write up your answers completely on your own, and (2) if you do discuss the homework with others, say who you discussed it with at the top of your homework.
  • If you are asked for the strongest argument for a claim, or the best objection to a claim, then give what you take to be the strongest or best argument. In some cases, you will need to think up your own argument (if you have an argument that you think is stronger than one in the text, or if the text does not contain an argument of the sort requested). Note that you needn't yourself find the argument or objection convincing, in order for you to count it as the strongest argument or objection. If you think there are many arguments of equal strength, choose one. Often when grading these questions we judge whether you have come up with a strong enough argument or objection. It is not always the case that we have one particular argument in mind.
  • These will be graded on a coarse scale: "check", "+", or "-".

Missing class or precept: If you miss a lecture or a precept, it is your responsibility to find out from another student what happened and to get copies of notes and handouts. After doing that, if you have questions about what was covered, please do meet with me or your preceptor to discuss them.

Adam Elga | | Princeton University
Last modified: Fri Sep 3 14:30:45 EDT 2004