Even though I love Math and Biology, none of my college classes were all that great. I just sort of came and went. My grades were fine, but I probably learned more from reading books on my own and having discussions with friends than from any textbook or professor. The Political Science and Philosophy students always had the more interesting class discussions.
Which is why I’m jealous that this class is being offered at The Ohio State University this Spring. It sounds awesome: a Philosophy of Religion class team-taught by an atheist and a Christian:
Steven Brown and Wesley Cray, graduate students in philosophy, are scheduled to teach Philosophy 270, Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, together Spring Quarter.
The course approaches arguments for the existence of God. Traditionally, one person teaches Philosophy 270, but Brown and Cray are teaming up to put a new spin on the class.
Brown, a practicing Christian, and Cray, a proclaimed atheist, said they will establish weekly debates during lectures to enhance each side of the argument for a theist’s and atheist’s view on divinity.
“We’re going to try and attack two different questions for this new class,” Brown said. “Cray and I will be asking the students not only if we should believe in God but also if God even exists in the first place.”
Cray said he and Brown strive to provide students with an insightful and logically explicit method to this complex religious argument.
“This is the first time we’ve tried a team-taught version of the course,” Cray said. “Debate-style taught courses are few and far between on campus, and to my knowledge this is the first team debate-style course the philosophy department will have had.”
Can they videotape the lectures and put them online? I’d love to listen…
***Update***: One of the instructors for the class left this comment:
Hi all. I’m one of the instructors for this course, so I thought I’d chime in and provide some additional information that this article left out.
First off, this is a structured class with two instructors, not a quarter-long back-and-forth debate. As such, it’ll follow a pretty standard classroom format. The only difference is that, instead of having one instructor present both sides, we’ll instead take turns leading the lecture. Steve lectures on fine-tuning arguments, I lecture on some responses to fine-tuning, I lecture on the evidential problem of evil, Steve lectures on some responses, and so on and so forth. I kind of find the mental image of this plummeting into Steve and I yelling back and forth to be kind of cute, but highly unrealistic. This isn’t that kind of class, it’s not that kind of “debate,” and neither of us is that kind of person.
Second, it is correct to point out that the course is limited in scope, but we have made no effort to hide that. We’re discussing the existence of the traditional “omni”-God, that which is discussed by religions including, but not limited to, Christianity. This is not at all out of the ordinary for what is typically called a ‘Philosophy of Religion’ class; for those interested in topics in religion outside of our scope, there are plenty of other relevant classes to take.
As for the content of the course, it’s not exactly *all* on the existence of God (which, as some posters have rightly pointed out, is a topic with both a metaphysical and an epistemological component). We’ll also look at debates surrounding evolution and natural selection, the nature of faith, the supposed relationship between God and the “meaning of life,” and others. Throughout, however, our main focus will be on rigorous argumentation (in the philosophical sense – not in the “yelling at each other” sense), as should be the case in any philosophy course.
Videotaping would be nice, but the logistics of it would be a nightmare. Plus, keep in mind that this is a 200-level undergraduate course in which we’re presenting pretty standard material. We don’t really plan on breaking new ground. We’re just trying to put a new spin on the teaching of a pretty standard course.
On a final note, I think it’s kind of a shame that folks are thinking that this will be an easy victory for the atheist (i.e. me). Theism is a surprisingly resilient position, and while the most popular arguments are quite bad, I’ve found that there is a tendency to way too eagerly strawman the arguments that might turn out to be compelling. (Note – I said ‘compelling’, not ‘conclusive’.) And let’s not forget that there are *lots* of bad, often question-begging atheistic arguments out there, as well.