Philosophy and Religion
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
23 September 2019
Requisites for this module
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)
Should the origin of your belief ever make you think twice about its truth? You might say, "Of course not! What gives me reason to believe P (or not P) is the evidence for (or against) P, not the history of how I came to believe P. To claim otherwise is to commit the genetic fallacy!" Why, then, do Genealogical Debunking Arguments loom large in historical and contemporary critiques of religious belief?
Such arguments, which date back at least to Xenophanes (570-480 BC), attempt to debunk religious beliefs by pointing out their lowly origins (often in some shameful or base aspect of human nature). If all that matters for the rational assessment of our religious beliefs is our evidence for (or against) those beliefs, why do these arguments exert so much influence in the philosophy of religion?
This module will take a close look at these genealogical critiques of religious beliefs, beginning with classic historical examples from Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and others. We will then turn to more recent critical genealogical arguments, especially evolutionary debunking arguments. These latter arguments appeal to evidence from the scientific study of the neurological and psychological underpinnings of religious belief to cast doubt on those beliefs.
Are such Genealogical Debunking Arguments any good? Together we will try to develop sophisticated philosophical answers to this question.
The aims of this module are:
• To introduce students to the key features and uses of Genealogical Debunking Arguments
• To help students improve their ability to enter into serious philosophical conversation both orally and in their written work.
• To help students develop the key philosophical skill of argument reconstruction and to learn how to put it to use in their writing.
• To show students the value of writing workshops for developing their philosophical ideas, and to practice the skills associated with such workshops.
• To help students develop (or improve) their oral presentation skills.
• To help students achieve greater independence as researchers and to develop their authority as writers.
By the end of this module, students should be able to:
• display knowledge of classic texts in the history of philosophy pertaining to Genealogical Debunking Arguments (GDAs);
• display knowledge of current debates in the philosophy of religion pertaining to GDAs;
• explain and critically discuss the central concepts that inform the discussion of GDAs;
• explain and critically assess various formulations of GDAs, and the main lines of response to them.
By the end of the module, students should also have developed a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:
• define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
• seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
• process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
• compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
• write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
• be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
• think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
• maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
• think critically and constructively.
Erasmus/IP students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy at their home institution.
3 hours each week in the autumn term, to cover lecture, seminar and student presentations. Week 8 is a Reading Week. Week 30 (summer term) is a revision session.
- Vavova, Katia. (2018-01) 'Irrelevant Influences', in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. vol. 96 (1) , pp.134-152
- Vavova, Katia. (2014) 'Debunking Evolutionary Debunking', in Oxford studies in metaethics: Volume 9, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.76-101
- Srinivasan, Amia. (2019-07-01) 'VII?—?Genealogy, Epistemology and Worldmaking', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. vol. 119 (2) , pp.127-156
- 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
- Plantinga, Alvin. (2011) 'Evolutionary Psychology and Scripture Scholarship', in Where the conflict really lies: science, religion, and naturalism, New York: Oxford University Press.
- Plantinga, Alvin. (2011) 'Defeaters?', in Where the conflict really lies: science, religion, and naturalism, New York: Oxford University Press.
- 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.
- Inwagen, Peter van. (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.
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
||Reading Quizzes Total
||Autumn Term Essay - 2000 words
||Argument Reconstruction (group work)
||Participation in Early Sessions
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Matt Burch
Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Available via Moodle
Of 38 hours, 36 (94.7%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).
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