Philosophy of Religion

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
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wrong format and wrong starting point Dr. Hall does a great job with this course. He is quite adept at dialectic presentation of arguments. He is clear and even humourous at times and looks (DVD version) like he is truly delivering lectures and engaging his audience. He comes across as a truly learned individual, while at the same time not talking from the top of his ivory tower. Unfortunately, I should have read the description of the course more closely before buying it. Dr. Hall's lectures are all from the ethical monotheistic point of view, which is a non-starter for me - too much "thinking inside the box". Consequently, many lectures just did not resonate with me and actually made me lose patience. My impatience was amplified by the fact that I could not engage in a discussion with the professor. Again, this was an error on my part - I had thought that this course would be well suited for a non-classroom environment but I was wrong. Right from lecture one, I craved interaction with the professor and with other students because I could not agree with the starting premise and some of the content , particularly the lectures on evil - a volcano is NOT evil! It is only evil in a anthropomorphic and anthropocentric view of the world. For those reasons, I gave the course just an average overall rating because I believe that in its current design, that course is not an ideal candidate for a Teaching Company course. Nevertheless, I went through the entire 36 lectures to get a better understanding of the thought processes and arguments of the ethical monotheists. The last few lectures (34,35 and 36) were the most interesting to me. Yes some people could find them somewhat political but I admire Dr. Hall's courage in clearly stating that religious orthodoxy, whether christian, islamic or any other kind, is a very dangerous thing.
Date published: 2011-02-21
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
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What is Philosophy?
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.

33 min
What is Religion?
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.

31 min
What is Philosophy of Religion?
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.

31 min
How is the Word "God" Generally Used?
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.

31 min
How Do Various Theists Use the Word "God"?
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.

30 min
What is Knowledge?
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."

30 min
What Kinds of Evidence Count?
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.

30 min
What Constitutes Good Evidence?
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.

30 min
Why Argue for the Existence of God?
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.

31 min
How Ontological Argument Works
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.

30 min
Why Ontological Argument is Said to Fail
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.

30 min
How Cosmological Argument Works
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.

30 min
Why Cosmological Argument is Said to Fail
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.

31 min
How Teleological Argument Works
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.

30 min
How Teleological Argument Works (continued)
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.

30 min
Why Teleological Argument is Said to Fail
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.

30 min
Divine Encounters Make Argument Unnecessary
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.

30 min
Divine Encounters Require Interpretation
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.

31 min
Why is Evil a Problem?
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.

30 min
Taking Evil Seriously
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.

30 min
Non-Justificatory Theodicies
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).

31 min
Justifying Evil
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.

30 min
Justifying Natural Evil
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.

30 min
Justifying Human Evil
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.

30 min
Evidence is Irrelevant to Faith
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.

31 min
Groundless Faith is Irrelevant to Life
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.

30 min
God is Beyond Human Grasp, But That's O.K.
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.

30 min
Transcendental Talk is "Sound and Fury"
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.

31 min
Discourse in an Intentionalist Paradigm
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.

30 min
Evaluating Paradigms
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.

30 min
Choosing and Changing Paradigms
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.

30 min
Language Games and Theistic Discourse
32: Language Games and Theistic Discourse

This lecture introduces Wittgenstein's notion of "language games" and explores its role in theistic discourse.

30 min
Fabulation—Theism as Story
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.

31 min
Theistic Stories, Morality, and Culture
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.

30 min
Stories, Moral Progress, and Culture Reform
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.

30 min
Conclusions and Signposts
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.

31 min
James Hall

Philosophy is reflecting on why you think what you think, believe what you believe, and do what you do. Anyone can do it. Everyone should.


The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


University of Richmond

About James Hall

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 Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year (2005), and he received the University Distinguished Educator Award (2001). He has written many articles and essays and is the author of three books: Knowledge, Belief and Transcendence; Logic Problems; and Practically Profound: Putting Philosophy to Work in Everyday Life. Professor Hall specializes in 20th-century analytic philosophy, epistemology, logical empiricism, and the philosophy of religion. At Richmond, he was noted for developing cross-disciplinary courses combining physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, and literature with his own field of philosophy.

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