Philosophy 4320, Fall 2014

The Existence of God


Alexander R. Pruss


Course web page:

Class times: MWF 11:15-12:05 in MH 106

Office hours: MW 10-11:10 or drop-in or by appointment



It is a common idea in our culture that the question of the existence of God is a matter for faith rather than knowledge and rational investigation.  Yet the first chapter of Romans tells us that God’s nature and existence can be known by means of the things he has created, and the history of philosophy includes many sophisticated arguments for the conclusion that God exists or for the conclusion that God doesn’t exist.  We


When we are undecided about an issue, we benefit from seeing the arguments on both sides, so that we can better make up our minds about it.  When we are wrong about something, seeing the arguments on the other side can help us change our minds.  But even when we are right about something, seeing the arguments on both sides can be helpful.  The arguments in favor of the truth we accept strengthen our conviction.  And arguments on both sides help us understand the content of what we believe.



Š         The readings will be online or on hold in the library, and will be announced approximately one week in advance (or more) on the course web page (see above).


Grading and requirements:

Š         You must write fourteen weekly papers during the course of the semester.  Each paper is 1.5-2 double-spaced typed pages long.  The paper must be handed in at the beginning of class.  Be ready to present your paper to the class if asked, so you may want to bring two copies.   

Š         You are required to hand in one paper during the first week of classes and one paper during the second week of classes.

Š         At most one paper may be handed in each week, unless you are catching up after having fallen behind.

Š         It is your responsibility to keep track of how many papers you have done.  There are sixteen weeks during the semester (two of them have only one lecture) and you can skip two of the sixteen weeks.

o       Every paper must contain a numbered argument.  The argument should either be valid—i.e., the conclusion should logically follow from the premises—or else you should explain why it is invalid.

o       The first four papers you hand in must do the following: They need to identify a philosophical argument in one of the readings assigned for the class during which the paper is handed in (if no reading was assigned for that class, you can respond to any of the readings from the preceding two classes, though without overlapping other papers you’ve written), and carefully explain this argument.  This explanation must be entirely in your own words, and must not include any direct quotations.  You must carefully state all the assumptions in the argument, including any that are implicit and not stated by the author, in such a way that a reader who did not read the paper could understand the argument.  You need to carefully and precisely explain what the conclusion of the argument is.  Finally, you need to explain why this argument may be seen as important (so don’t choose an argument where you can’t answer this part)—what larger philosophical issue would we make progress on if the argument were successful.  The focus of the paper is on the argument.

o       Starting with the fifth paper, the paper topics shift to original philosophical argumentation on your part.  These papers must also closely relate to the reading assigned for the class during which the paper is handed in.  The paper can be one of three types.  Please state at the top of your paper which kind you chose that week.

§         Type I: The paper begins by giving a careful summary of one argument in the reading, and then gives an original argumentative attack on the argument, making clear which assumptions or steps in the argument are being questioned and why.  You are not to attack the conclusion of the paper—only the argument itself.  In your objection to the argument, you must explicitly state whether you are objecting to the argument’s validity or to its soundness or whether you agree that it is sound, but are concerned about some other argumentative fault (such as begging the question).

§         Type II: The paper begins by giving a careful summary of one argument in the reading, as in a Type A paper, and then briefly shows an important weakness in the argument.   The paper then modifies the argument in an original way, improving it in such a way that it avoids the weakness.

§         Type III: The paper describes an important conclusion reached by one of the papers in the reading, and produces an original argument directly for or against that conclusion.  If the original argument makes use of claims that some of our reading argued against, you will need to respond to at least some these objections.  In general, a better Type III paper takes up at least one objection to some point in its argument.

Š         If you never fall behind and you exhibit no failure of academic integrity during the semester, I will (a) drop the two lowest-graded papers when calculating your grade, and (b) count your highest-graded paper at double weight.

Š         Class participation is required and counts towards the grade. 



The individual papers will be given grades, either zero (not turned in, cheating, etc.) or between F and A+.  These letter grades will be turned into numbers using the following scale:





























In-between grades will be interpolated.  E.g., B+/B (or, equivalently, B/B+) will yield approximately 88.34.  The numbers will be averaged (taking into account any dropping and double-counting), and a class participation bonus of up to 2% will be added.  Then the number will be turned back to a letter grade, using the rule that the lower cutoff for a grade other than F and A+ is 1.67% below the grade’s value in the upper table.  Thus, an A requires 95%, an A- requires 91.66%, and so on.  There is no A+ at Baylor and anything below 61.66% will be an F.  The cutoffs will be sharp.  Thus, if the cutoff for an A is 95%, then 94.99% is still an A-.


An optional final exam is an option.  If you want to avail yourself of this, please let the instructor know by the last lecture day.


Late papers will be accepted up through December 13, but unless a good excuse is given, each late paper will be discounted by two subdivisions on the above table (e.g., from B to C+, from D to F, or from D- to zero).


Academic integrity:

Credible suspicions of lack of academic integrity will be typically reported to the University for further investigation. 

Plagiarism is one of the most serious of the violations of academic integrity and consists in presenting the work or thought of another as one’s own.  If you are using someone else’s literal words, even if only a short phrase of two or three words, you need to put them in quotation marks (or in the case of a longer quote, in block-quote format which is single-spaced and with every line indented on the left) and give the source.  If you are paraphrasing or merely using someone else’s ideas, you still need to give the source explicitly.  The only exception to the last rule is that you do not need to specifically give the source for ideas that you got in my lecture when writing papers for this course.

Plagiarism is not only immoral but foolish.  My default penalty for a failure in academic integrity is an F in the class.  If you just hand in a mediocre but honest paper you will very likely (though I do not make guarantees) get at least a D on the paper, and anyway there are other papers in the course to pull up your average.  And remember that I’ll drop the lowest two grades if you never fall behind.

However, if you confess to plagiarism before I give you any sign of my suspicions (before I email you asking you for sources, before I ask you to meet with me, etc.), I will let you rewrite the paper and not proceed any further.  (If someone has no sense of shame and uses this as a strategy to get an extension, I may take adverse action.)