Academic Programs 

Wrestling with the Big Questions: Philosophical Theology   (TH-656)
Fall 2006

This course concentrates on all those really difficult questions that quite often children ask most effectively. What is God like? How do we know God exists? Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? What is faith? What happens after we die? What does it mean when we say the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God? And what is the difference between such assertions of faith and the claim that in my hand is a tomato? As students explore these questions, they learn the basics of logical thinking. At the end of the course students have a sense of the main positions in philosophical theology and are able to articulate their positions on these questions with clarity.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., beginning September 13

Ian Markham
Professor of Theology and Ethics

Contact Information:

(860) 509-9500


Course Syllabus

Topics to be covered:
• The nature of religious language (Logical positivism, Wittgensteinian Fideism, Foundationalism and non-Foundationalism, Realism and Non-Realism)
• The concept of God (Classical, Process, Pantheism, and Goddess theology)
• Relationship between faith and reason
• Arguments for the Existence of God
• The Problem of Evil and Theodicy
• Providence and Miracles
• Life after Death

Rationale for and goals of the course:

This course provides the student with an opportunity to think clearly about the fundamentals of belief; it is a gentle introduction to logical thinking; and it explores the primary topics in philosophy of religion.

Learning Outcomes of the course:

At the end of the course, the student will:

1. Have explored certain questions using a philosophical approach;
2. Grasp and understand the complexity of belief and the range of options amongst philosophers;
3. Have struggled with the primary texts;
4. Be able to articulate his or her own position on these questions.

Method/s of Delivery:

Each session will start with lecture input, followed by a discussion of the set reading for that week.

Method of Assessment:

Book Review (one of the following)

Pamela Sue Anderson, A Feminist Philosophy of Religion: The Rationality and Myths of Religious Belief (Oxford: Blackwell 1997)
Don Cupitt, Taking Leave of God (SCM Press 2001)
Keith Ward, God: A Guide for the Perplexed (Oxford: Oneworld 2002)
Richard Swinburne, Is there a God? (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997)
Ian Markham, Truth and the Reality of God (T&T Clark 1998)

Paper on a topic discussed with the Professor.

The two exercises will evaluate the three learning outcomes.

Session Breakdown

Session one: Thinking clearly: the relationship of faith to reason. (If you get a chance then look at Part Two pp.65-108: but don’t worry if you don’t and don’t worry if you do not understand the readings.)

Session two: Talk about God: the classical solutions, the modern problems, truth, realism, and non-realism (Read Part Seven pp.369-413)

Session three: Concept of God: Perfection, timelessness, and changelessness. Process, creativity, and Goddess theology (Read: pp136-156)

Session four: Omnipotence, omniscience, and freewill (Read: pp.124-135)

Session five: Existence of God: the Ontological Argument (Read pp.165-183)

Session six: Existence of God: the Cosmological Argument and the Design Argument (Read pp.184-240)

Session seven: Existence of God: the Moral Argument and the merits of arguments (Read Moral Argument: pp. 241-246)

Session eight: Providence and Miracles (Read: pp.415-444)

Session nine: Theodicy and the Problem of Evil (Read: pp.249-326)

Session ten: Life after Death and the challenge to decide. (Read: pp.445-495 )

Preliminary reading list

Students must obtain:
Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, Philosophy of Religion, (2nd edition), (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001)

For the paper, students will discuss a topic with the Professor and then will use up to three of the books listed below in that paper:
Alvin Plantinga, God, chance and necessity. (A defense of the Ontological argument)
Ann Loades and Loyal D. Rue, Contemporary classics in philosophy of Religion (This provides a set of readings that cover most of the above topics, almost all written since 1970 to the 1990s).
B. L. Hebblethwaite, The Ocean of Truth. (An accessible text that takes issue with the non-realism of Don Cupitt.)
Beverly Clack and Brian Clack, Philosophy of Religion. A Critical Introduction. (A gentle introduction, with a strong emphasis on the distinctive contribution that feminism can make to these issues. Brian Clack has strong Wittgensteinian sympathies.)
D. Z. Phillips, Faith After Foundationalism. (This Claremont philosopher of religion outlines a radical Wittgensteinian interpretation of religion.)
Don Cupitt, The Sea of Faith. (Modern Christians must move beyond belief in God.)
Grace Jantzen, Becoming Divine. Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion. (The way of thinking explains Jantzen can be very patriarchal. Excellent read.)
J. C. A. Gaskin, The Quest for Eternity. (An Irish agnostic explains why in the end the arguments do not persuade him.)
J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (An atheist who thinks it is a miracle that anyone is still a Christian.)
John Cobb and David Griffin, Process theology. An Introductory Exposition. (Process theology as seen through the eyes of two of its leading advocates.)
John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion. (A classic that touches on almost everything.)
John Hick, Death and Eternal Life. (Hick defends immortality: there are many worlds we will have to go through before arriving at a state ready for heaven.)
John Hick, Philosophy of Religion. (For those confused, this is worth looking at.)
John Hick, Evil and the God of Love. (A great book: sets out the two major approaches to Christian theodicy.)
John Polkinghorne, Science and theology. An Introduction (Almost anything by Polkinghorne is good; a top scientist thinks about faith from a scientific point of view.)
Keith Ward, Holding Fast to God. (Ward doesn’t like non-realism; in this book he explains why.)
Keith Ward, Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (a neat harmony of process and classical thought).
Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil. (This professor from Duke explains why theology shouldn’t try and explain evil.)
Maurice Wiles, God’s Action in the World. (A classic statement why it is difficult to believe in particular divine actions.)
Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenback, David Basinger, Reason and Religious Belief. (Another textbook that has good material on most questions.)
Peter Vardy, The Puzzle of Evil. (A simple introduction to theodicy.)
Peter Vardy, The Puzzle of God (Muddled, then this is the book for you.)
R. Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman (eds.) Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology. (An survey of the main debates and positions. Some of this book is quite technical.)
Richard Gale, On the Nature and Existence of God. (Another philosopher who thinks it all doesn’t make sense.)
Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. Philosophical papers 1 (A beautifully written defense of pragmatism.)
Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason (Swinburne’s third volume in his trilogy: he explains how his faith justified by inductive reasoning makes sense).
Richard Swinburne, Providence and Evil (Swinburne’s own take on these questions)
Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (Does the idea of God make sense? Yes explains Swinburne in this book.)
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (The arguments for the existence of God: the teleological and the argument from religious experience are the two most distinctive ones.)
Sallie McFague, Models of God (why we need to rethink our account of God: process without always recognizing this.)
William Hasker, God, Time and Knowledge (a great book: clear exposition as well as a distinctive position.)
Robert Almeder, Death and Personal Survival (a good discussion of the evidence for personal immortality.)
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (The moral argument is found at the start of this book.)
C. S. Lewis, Miracles (a defense for the rationality of belief in miracles).

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