Online Course Details
Meeting ID 885 8572 5253 | Passcode 815512
There is probably no God
If there is no God, then perhaps Christians should just ‘stop worrying and enjoy their lives’, as one memorable humanist campaign suggested. So are there any good arguments to support belief in God? If so, what do these arguments have to do with the reasons that actually motivate people of faith? This session asks whether it is rational to believe in God – and what it might mean to be ‘rational’ in the first place.
We don’t need God
Many influential thinkers have argued that morality does not depend on religion in the way that some religious people claim it does. But many influential philosophers have concluded that certain moral commitments do depend on belief in God in crucial ways, even if in practice many of the people committed to these ideals don’t believe in God themselves. What should we make of this? Can we be ‘good without God’?
There is nothing beyond death
Even if God exists, it doesn’t follow that there is any life beyond or after death for humans. How could we be what and who we are without a body? And since our bodies die and decompose, doesn’t that mean the end for us, as well? In this session we ask how we should understand Christian belief about ‘the life of the world to come’, and what kind of sense it makes.
Miracles don’t happen
The Christian story seems to be based on miracles of one kind or another: the parting of the Red Sea; the virgin birth; the resurrection. But the whole scientific world view is based on the assumption that the world is governed by natural laws that don’t admit of exceptions. Doesn’t that mean that Christianity is unscientific, somehow? In this session we explore what scientifically informed people can or should make of the miraculous.
What about suffering?
Perhaps the most serious objection to Christian belief is the problem of suffering. Not only is the world full of intense suffering for human and non-human animals, that suffering seems to be distributed unfairly. Can such a world really have been created by a good God? In this final session we ask how and why we are led to ask these kinds of question, and whether any satisfying responses are available.
In this course we take a hard look at some of the most difficult questions that are asked of the Christian faith, so as to think about it more clearly, explain it more persuasively and defend it more effectively. For example, there seem to be some bad reasons to believe in God, but are there any really good reasons? And even if there are some good reasons to support belief in God, aren’t there also lots of reasons not to believe? What about the thought that belief in God is irrelevant to the most important things in our lives, anyway? Can’t people be ‘good without God’? Shouldn’t we focus our concerns on the problems of this world, rather than worrying about the ‘life of the world to come’? Why bother trying to resolve questions that lie beyond the limits of our understanding?
In each week of the course we take a look at one problematic question or an objection to Christian belief, and see what kinds of response might usefully be put forward in response. We will consider a range of writings from some vocal opponents of Christian belief, as well as responses from Christian thinkers who have engaged thoughtfully with these perspectives. The aim is not to memorise a series of handy arguments that could be pulled out in an argument with those outside the faith, but to come to a clearer, deeper, more honest and convincing account of our own beliefs.
- ‘Ways to God’ from Aquinas by Brian Davies
Questions for reflection and preparation
1. What, for you, seems like the biggest obstacle to belief in God?
2. How, for you, does the question ‘what do I mean by the word “God”?’ connect to the question ‘Why should I believe in God?’
In addition to the audio recordings for this week, it will help to look at the short presentation of William Lane-Craig’s version of ‘the moral argument’ here
From there, you could listen to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s critique of these kinds of argument, available here
In addition to the audio recording for this week, please watch/listen to the interview and video below, which introduce some important arguments against physicalism/materialism:
- Philip Goff on philosophy bites: https://philosophybites.com/consciousness/
- Summary of Frank Jackson’s ‘knowledge argument’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGYmiQkah4o
To begin to think about this topic, please listen to the episode of BBC’s In our time on miracles, which explores some of the history of the idea, and the significance of the miraculous in different religious traditions. Available here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00dkh78
Stuart graduated with a degree in Literature and Theology from the University of Hull in 2000. From 2003-9 he studied Philosophical Theology part-time at the University of Nottingham, whilst continuing to work in the third sector with vulnerably-housed or homeless people, and young asylum seekers (as well as pulling pints in a pub). He was Lecturer at York St John University for almost a decade, before moving to London Jesuit Centre in 2021. He now lives in South East London, and spends as much time as he can in the woods.