Philosophy and Religion

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 17 January 2022
Friday 25 March 2022
29 September 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA VV56 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics,
BA VV57 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Placement Year),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV5P Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

Have you ever tried to discredit a belief by pointing out its backstory? "You only believe that because you grew up in W!" or "You only believe that because you have traits X, Y, or Z!" Philosophers call this a Genealogical Debunking Argument (GDA), because it aims to undermine some belief by describing its origin. GDAs exert significant influence in the philosophy of religion.

Historically, figures like Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud wielded these arguments to great effect; and today one regularly encounters naturalistic GDAs, e.g., "You only believe in God because have a 'god-shaped hole' in your brain", or "Your belief in God is just a by-product of our evolutionary history." But are these arguments any good? That's the question we will explore in this module.

Module aims

This module will enable the students to:

1. Acquire detailed knowledge of key texts in the history of the philosophy of religion.
2. Develop an understanding of the philosophical issues that arise from religious thought and belief.
3. Develop competence in the crucial philosophical skill of argument reconstruction.
4. Develop competence in writing an essay in the form of a critical comparison.
5. Present complicated ideas to an audience in a succinct and structured way.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will:

1. Have developed the analytic and critical skills required for the close reading of philosophical religious texts.
2. Be capable of reconstructing philosophical or religious arguments in their own words and to produce a constructive critique of such arguments.
3. Have improved their knowledge of how to structure a piece of writing and present it in the most perspicuous manner.
4. Have developed the ability to do some research on their own and to think by themselves, and in particular to build upon/revise any initial views they might have held.
5 .Be sensitive to the positions of others, and capable of communicating their own views in ways that are interesting and accessible to most, ideally to all.

Module information

Erasmus/IP students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy at their home institution.

Learning and teaching methods

There will be one hour of lecture and two hours of seminar each week. Week 21 will be a reading week.


  • Wright, Robert. (no date) 'The Mental Modules that Run Your Life', in Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment: Simon and Schuster., pp.91-104
  • Schoenfield, Miriam. (2020) 'Why do you believe what you do? Run some diagnostics on it', in Aeon.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1888) 'The Antichrist', in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings: Cambridge University Press., pp.4-21
  • Plantinga, Alvin. (2011) 'Defeaters?', in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism: Oxford University Press., pp.129-162
  • van Inwagen, Peter. (2009) 'Explaining Belief in the Supernatural: Some Thoughts on Paul Bloom's 'Religious Belief as an Evolutionary Accident'', in The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion: Oxford University Press., pp.128-138
  • Bloom, Paul. (2009) 'Religious Belief as an Evolutionary Accident', in The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion: Oxford University Press., pp.118-128
  • Xenophanes of Colophon. (2013) 'Fragments', in Xenophanes of Colophon. [570-475 B.C.]: Cambridge University Press., pp.168-170
  • Plantinga, Alvin. (2011) 'Evolutionary Psychology and Scripture Scholarship', in Where the conflict really lies: science, religion, and naturalism, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Thompson, Evan. (2020) 'Is Buddhism True?', in Why I am not a Buddhist: Yale University Press., pp.68-85
  • Jong, Jonathan; Visala, Aku. (2014-12) 'Evolutionary debunking arguments against theism, reconsidered', in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. vol. 76 (3) , pp.243-258
  • Pruss, Alexander. (2020) Is it too risky to do philosophy if there is no God?.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Quizzes TOTAL (2 of 3)    25% 
Coursework   Essay plan  21/02/2022  25% 
Coursework   2000 word essay  30/03/2022  50% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Daniel Watts, email:



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 1217 hours, 55 (4.5%) hours available to students:
1162 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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