Philosophy of Religion

PHI 325, Fall 2006. Adam Elga (follow link for contact information, office hour). Class meetings: Mon, Wed 12:30-1:20, in location: TBA. Precept times: TBA

AI: Matt Strohl

We start with two traditional arguments: that the apparently unnecessary pain in the universe shows that there is no god (the problem of evil), and that the apparent designed nature of the universe shows that there is a god (the argument from design). 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. Next, starting with a discussion Pascal's wager, we assess the extent to which one may reasonably control one's beliefs and desires. Finally, we ask whether the sources of our own beliefs and desires (concerning what is valuable, or what is worth doing) show that life is absurd.

Prerequisite: One previous philosophy course.

Grading: No P/D/F. 20% homework assignments and class, precept participation, 35% midterm paper, 45% final paper.

One of the sessions will be led by Michael Smith.

Midterm paper: due at 4pm on October 27, 2006. Instructions

Final assignment deadlines (all 4pm to preceptor's mailbox):

Special Q&A session: 1:00pm-2:00pm Tuesday, January 9 (second day of reading period) in East Pyne 010.


To access the readings (all available electronically, as linked below), you will need a userid (the userid is "guest") and a password (announced in class). If you would like to preview the readings, please email

Note: In many cases, only a subsection of the linked reading is required. In those cases, the required page range is listed to the right of the reading.

Session outline

Mon Sep 18


The Problem of Evil

Wed Sep 20

Short homework to be handed in to Matt Strohl at the beginning of class: a question about the Rowe article. Ask about the most central matter that you had difficulty understanding, or which you found particularly puzzling. In either case, explain what was giving you the trouble. This needn't be long, but please type it.

Problem set 1 assigned.

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

Mon Sep 25

Homework #1 due.

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

Wed Sep 27

van Inwagen, Peter. The problem of evil, the problem of air, and the problem of silence Sections I-II (pp. 136-152).

Mon Oct 02

Homework #2 due.

Adams, R. M. Must god create the best? Philosophical Review. JL 72; 81: 317-332.

Arguments from Design

Wed Oct 04

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.

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 09

Homework #3 due.

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 11

Roger White. Fine-tuning and multiple universes. Sections 1-3.

Ethics of creation

Mon Oct 16

Homework #4 due.

Wed Oct 18

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

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.

Mon Oct 23

No homework questions this week.

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

Wed Oct 25

Parfit, Derek. Sections 119-122 of Chapter 16: The non-identity problem of Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press, 1984.

Mon Nov 06

Harman, Elizabeth. Can we harm and benefit in creating? Phil. Persp. 18, 2004. Sections 1-3.

Wed Nov 08

Bostrom, Nick and Toby Ord. The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics Sections 1-4 (pp. 656-674).

Mon Nov 13

Homework #5 due.

Kuhse, Helga and Peter Singer. For sometimes letting--and helping--die

Wed Nov 15

Keyserlingk, E.W. Against infanticide

Johnson, Harriet McBryde. Unspeakable conversations, New York Times Magazine, February 16, 2003

Belief at will, desire at will

Mon Nov 20

HW #6 due.

Pascal, Blaise. The Wager. In John Perry and Michael Bratman, eds Introduction to Philosophy, section 233.

Wed Nov 22

Ginet, C. Deciding to Believe. Chapter 4 of Knowledge, Truth, and Duty, edited by Matthias Steup. Section I (pp. 63-67)

Mon Nov 27

Egan, Greg. Quarantine. London : Legend, 1992. pp. 73--75 (first 3 pages of chapter 5). Explanatory note: the selected passage occurs shortly after the narrator, a detective, has been captured by his enemy, BDI. Rather than kill him, BDI installs a "loyalty mod" in his brain -- a device that changes his priorities in ways that the passage reveals.

Egan, Greg. Axiomatic, first three pages. In Axiomatic (Harper Prism, December 1997).

Shoemaker, S. Desiring at will (and at pill): a reply to Millgram pp. 26-29.

Sources of belief

Wed Nov 29

Appiah, K. Chapter 2 of Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. Pages 13-25.

Mon Dec 04

van Inwagen, Peter. "It is Wrong, Always, Everywhere, and for Anyone, to Believe Anything, Upon Insufficient Evidence". Pages 137-143.

Wed Dec 06

Cohen, G. A. Chapter 1: Paradoxes of conviction of If you're an egalitarian, how come you're so rich?. Pages 7-13.

Is life meaningless?

Mon Dec 11

Nagel, Thomas. The Absurd, Journal of Philosophy 1971, 716-27

Wed Dec 13

Guest session leader: Michael Smith

Feinberg, Joel. Absurd self-fulfullment, in his Freedom and Fulfillment: Philosophical Essays. Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 297--330.



Optional background readings

van Inwagen, Peter. The Magnitude, Duration and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy. Philosophical Topics 16:2, Fall 1998

Kuhse, Helga and Peter Singer. Ethical questions raised by the birth of handicapped infants

Parfit, Derek. Chapter 19: The mere addition paradox of Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press, 1984. Selection TBA.

Kuhse, Helga and Peter Singer. Should all seriously disabled infants live?

Sunstein, Cass. Deliberative Trouble? Why Groups Go to Extremes Yale Law Journal 110(1) October 2000. Pages 71-90.

Course mechanics and policies

How to complete the short-answer assignments:

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