Old Spec Philosophy of Religion AS predictions 2017

Here we go, at last I have caved to pressure after weeks of people asking for predictions for the old spec AS exams – I almost expected people to start knocking on my door and asking me to do this! Sorry about the wait! Yes, they are similar to a certain other blogger’s predictions – we often have similar guesses, because it usually possible to see where there have been gaps in previous years which makes prediction easier. As usual the disclaimer: These are by no means bound to come up and you only have yourself to blame if you only revise these and none of the topics come up!


1 a) Explain the relationship between concepts and phenomena in Plato’s thought

b) ‘Plato’s theory of Forms is unnecessary – the world makes more sense without it’ Discuss


2 a) Explain Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument

b) To what extent was Hume successful in his critique of the cosmological argument?


3 a) Explain how the Bible shows God as craftsman involved with his creation

b) ‘It is impossible for God to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent’ Discuss


4 a) Explain theistic views of evolution

b) To what extent is evolution compatible with theism?


1a has not come up as a question but it is on the spec – I will post more on that. Question 2 I have lots on Hume and cosmolgical argument on the site – see these old posts here and here. God as creator with this emphasis has not come up before. Science and Religion could well come up too.

A Level (A2) Predictions 2017 – OCR Philosophy and Ethics


It’s that time of year again. Let’s see whether we can take a look at the previous questions and take an educated guess about what might come up. The truth is that this has become harder and harder to do. A few years ago there were a few topics that hadn’t come up. Now everything has pretty much come up in previous years. Still, I’ll have a go at predictions. Just remember the usual disclaimer: I am not psychic and I don’t know the future. These are *guesses*! Anything could come up! Please revise all areas, you just may want to have a little look in more depth at these topics. OK, that said here goes:


Religious Experience: ‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss (35) (Click link for essay)

Miracles: ‘Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed’. Discuss. (35)  (Click link for essay)

Attributes of God: ‘God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with human free will.’ Discuss. (35)

Life after Death: ‘Resurrection is more coherent than reincarnation’. Discuss. (35)

Religious Language: To what extent does analysis of the uses and purpose of religious language overcome the criticisms of the logical positivists? (35)


Free Will and Determinism: Critically evaluate theological determinism. (35)

Conscience: How convincing are Newman’s claims that conscience is the voice of God? (35)

Virtue Ethics: ‘Virtue Ethics is the best approach to environmental issues.’ Discuss (35)

Sexual Ethics: Assess the usefulness of religious ethics as an approach to the issues surrounding contraception. (35)

So why have I predicted these ones? Well, in philosophy, the only topics that have never come up as far as I can see are voices in religious experience, Hume’s definition of miracles (different from his criticisms of miracles, which has come up), and the uses and purpose of religious language. Then the other two from life after death and attributes have not come up for a while.

With ethics it was a case of choosing between quite a few options – as far as I can see, no-one apart from Butler has been specified in a question, so there could be a question on any of the other conscience scholars. Also never seen a specific question on predestination which seems odd? The two applied topics have never come up in that combination.

There you go – hope that helps with revision! Now to do ‘predictions’ for AS – a bit pointless really as it is the first year, so literally anything could come up! That hasn’t stopped other people from having a go at it though!

BTW – are you interested in a really useful revision guide for AS? Get mine here: https://rs.pushmepress.com/titles/as-religious-studies-revision-guide-for-ocr-a-level-religious-studies/trade-paperback-uk



A2 OCR Philosophy of Religion Predictions 2016

Well here we are again, with just over a week until the exam, what is likely to come up this year? I have compiled a list with various questions that it might be worth practising, and some of them I provide links to exemplars for those questions. I do this most years, always with the caveat that it is never a good idea to base your revision on just these predictions, but it can’t do any harm to have a good look at them.


1.Miracles questions. Both myself and Peter Baron think the Miracles topic has been under-represented in past years; I think there could be a question on Hume’s understanding of miracles, which there has never been, and at Peped (Peter Baron’s site) they think there could be one on coincidence miracles. My question is:

‘Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed’. Discuss. (35) (exemplar here) (discussion here)

and Peped:

Assess the claim that miracles are simply coincidences given religious significance. (35)

There has apparently never been a question on Holland and coincidence miracles.


2.Religious language. Specifically verification. It hasn’t come up before. Therefore:

Critically assess A J Ayer’s theory of verification. (35) (Exemplar here) (powerpoint here)

(my guess)

or what amounts to something similar:

‘God-talk is meaningless’. Discuss. (35)


3. Religious experience came up twice last year (yes revelation falls under religious experience), but Peter Baron’s site has a great question on this which as he says, has never come up:

‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss. (35)


4. A few from the nature of God/life after death (just for s**ts and giggles):

God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with human free will. Discuss. (35)

Critically assess the belief that God is omnibenevolent. (35). (from Peped)

‘Resurrection is more coherent than reincarnation’. Discuss. (35)


Hume’s criticisms and criticisms of Hume

Hey there AS revisers welcome to my third post of the day! I’ve noticed a lot of traffic to two of my essays on Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument. I also have other posts on this topic which aren’t being viewed so much, so I thought I’d link to them here.

First here is a powerpoint on Hume, Mackie and Anscombe’s criticisms of the argument.

And here is a link to a page on the fallacy of composition from a Thomistic viewpoint.

Ok, good luck revising!

What is a self-authenticating religious experience?

Looking at the 2014 examination predictions over on Philosophical Investigations I was interested to see the question ‘”Religious experiences are self-authenticating.” Discuss’. The word ‘self-authenticating’ doesn’t occur in the spec itself, nor is it an obvious element of James’ argument, so what does it mean?

The classical arguments for God’s existence have all faced major challenges from what might be called evidentialism. This is the position that a belief can only be justified in proportion to the available evidence for it. Contemporary debates about whether it is possible to know God revolve around the question of whether evidentialism should apply to religious beliefs.

The usual form the evidentialist argument takes when it comes to religious experience is that because of the private, subjective nature of religious experience combined with lack of publicly agreed evidence for a God, no experience of God is sufficient to establish proof of God, and indeed the experience is more likely to be a delusion.

Various solutions have been proposed to get around this challenge. Philosophers such as Swinburne, Alston and Plantinga have developed variations on what might be called a ‘self-authentication’ account of religious experience, whereby a purported experience of God is itself enough to justify believing in God on the basis of it. For instance, Plantinga calls religious beliefs ‘properly basic’. In other words they can act as the axioms of a belief system (they can be foundational to that belief system).

So to claim that an experience is self-authenticating is to deny that there is any point to external tests of its veridicality. Does this work? Alston has pointed out that religious believers themselves do not do this – they have actually consistently sought out external tests to verify them. For instance, within the Catholic tradition, a highly developed system of tests to distinguish between real experiences of God and false or delusional experiences (coming from the Devil) can be found.

Nonetheless, within religious traditions, Alston claims a certain degree of self-authentication occurs. This can be compared to the wine-tasting community. Once you learn the rules of wine-tasting you can begin to know what is being talked about, but before this you would not be able to fully enter into the experience and might criticise the language of the wine tasters as fanciful. Equally, a mystical tradition has its own set of ‘doxastic practices’ (Alston’s phrase), which authenticate the experiences which happen within it.

This sounds to me a bit like Wittgenstein’s language games, that you can’t criticise the mystical language game from outside of it. Is this just another form of fideism then?

Don’t forget to check out my posts on Rudolf Otto here and here , for more discussion on the nature of a self-authenticating experience. Otto and James to some extent based their arguments on this concept, which goes back to Schleiermacher.


Explain Descartes’ understanding of existence as a perfection which God cannot lack (25)

Essay Plan:

Start with: Descartes’ method of doubt by which he tries to establish foundations beyond doubt upon which to build knowledge.

In his book Meditations, arrives at one certainty – that he is a thinking being (as he could be deceived about what he is thinking, but not about that he is thinking). Asks if there is anything else he can be certain of.

Decides that he can form clear and distinct impressions of mathematical objects and numbers, but these things exist in some sense independently of his mind.  He can “draw the idea of something from my thought”.

Explain the method he uses to do this, which is to meditate upon the essence of something, ie. what makes it what it is. With a triangle this is that its internal angles add up to 180 degrees.

This truth about triangles exists in his mind clearly and distinctly, and he argues that he can be certain of it.

How does he do this? From the preceding thought experiment he found out that the one thing he could be certain of was that he was a thinking thing, but that he might be deceived about having a body etc.

Therefore, he argues, things of the mind are more certain than physical things.

They are much more clearly and distinctly known than that of the body.

One such idea is the idea of God that Descartes finds in his mind. He says:

1. I have an idea of God, a perfect being.

2. There must be as much reality or perfection in the cause of any thing as in the effect.

a. This applies not only to the existence of ideas, but also to the reality of what they represent. Not only must the existence of the idea be explained, but also what it represents.

3. The idea of God represents something so perfect that I could not have been the cause of this idea.

Therefore, God must exist as the only possible cause of the perfection found in my idea of Him.

So far, this is all background to get you as far as Descartes’ idea of God in the mind. If you understand how he arrives at that, then you will be better equipped to answer a part b question.

Descartes then uses his version of the ontological argument –  the idea of God can be said to exist in reality, because existence is a perfection God cannot lack.

Use the example of rivers not being able to exist without banks – they logically have to go together. Triangles have to have three internal angles. God necessarily exists because he has all perfections (that’s what we mean by God) therefore God must have existence, as that is a perfection.

To explain this further talk about God’s essence including existence. Descartes tries to show that it is impossible for God not to exist.


Explain Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument

a) Explain Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument. [25]


Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument are found in his book Dialogues on Natural Religion. In them Philo, Demea and Cleanthes discuss arguments for the existence of God. Hume was a sceptic and therefore doubtful about the claims of religion. The sceptic in the Dialogues called Philo has therefore been assumed to be putting forward Hume’s views.

The cosmological argument rests on certain principles of causation. In particular that any existent thing must have a cause or reason for its existence (this is what Leibniz points to in his principle of sufficient reason), and that there cannot be more in the effect than there is in the cause. Hume challenges these assumptions in his Dialogues.

There are three main categories of criticism that Hume makes of the argument. Firstly he has general concerns about the way it is structured, and believes that this structure is fallacious, secondly he has more specific concerns related to causation and finally he raises challenges to do with the concepts of contingency and necessity.

Hume’s challenges to the structure of the cosmological argument directly question the validity of the assumption that existent things need causes or reasons for their existence. Hume says that just because each of the elements of the ‘chain’ has a cause, it doesn’t follow that the chain itself needs a cause. He gives the example of a collection of twenty particles – if an explanation is found for each particle individually he says it would be wrong to then seek an explanation for the whole collection, because you have already explained it by explaining each particle. This is called the fallacy of composition, and was later memorably put by Russell that just because every man has a mother, it doesn’t mean that there is a mother of the human race.

Hume also says that people say the ‘whole’ needs a cause, but that the uniting of the parts into a whole is performed by an ‘arbitrary act of the mind’, in other words, what we call a ‘whole’ is only our own name for something that doesn’t actually exist ‘out there’. Eg. when we unite several counties into one kingdom, this has no influence on the nature of things, it is simply a human perception. So to look for a cause of this whole (arbitrarily defined by us) would seem to be mistaken. Modern physics would seem to provide some support for this – with the view of ‘pocket universes’ which exist within larger ones – to look for a ‘whole’ gets very difficult in this view.

Hume says that it is not inconceivable that the world had no cause, or just always existed – he says “it is neither intuitively or demonstratively certain” that every object that begins to exist owes its existence to a cause. He also says that like causes produce like effects – this seems to be true in the case of parent rabbits producing baby rabbits, for example, so as many things in the universe seem to be the offspring of two parents, why should we assume that there is one male ‘parent’ of the universe – wouldn’t it make more sense to postulate a male and female creator God?

Hume also has some challenges to the notion of causation, which the cosmological argument relies heavily on. In the Dialogues Demea puts forward an analogy of a house needing an architect – likewise the existence of an ordered universe requires a divine architect. Philo attacks this by saying that we while we experience houses coming from architects, we have no parallel experience with regard to the universe:

“When two species of objects have always been observed to be conjoined together, I can infer, by custom, the existence of one, where-ever I see the existence of the other… But how this argument can have place, where the objects, as in the present case, are … without parallel…may be difficult to explain.”

So we have had experience of houses coming from architects but no experience of the origins of universes, so we are in no position to talk about them. Hume had developed a theory of causation that was based on our epistemological limits as human beings – to talk about the origin of the universe is to go beyond the scope of human understanding and observation, as it is impossibly remote and unavailable to us. The empirical method is based on the ability to make observations to explain the causes of things. This is only possible for particular effects in the universe.

This is related to another problem that he identified with the notion of causation – that it is a ‘habit of mind’ rather than something that exists independently ‘within’ the object. He gives the example of a billiard ball hitting another – all we can observe is that the motion of one ball follows the motion of the other ball – we link the two in our minds and say that one causes the other to move, but there is no evidence of a link. Therefore, to base an argument on causation would be foolish, as we could never be sure that causation is anything other than a psychological effect. In fact it would be even more foolish in the case of the universe, because lacking past experience of formation of universes, we haven’t even got anything to base our ‘habit of mind’ on.

Finally Hume attacks the idea of a necessary being –  these challenges relate specifically to Aquinas’ third way, as it relies on the notions of contingency and necessity.

Hume wonders if those qualities that make God’s non-existence impossible – couldn’t they belong to the universe itself? In other words why posit a necessary being rather than a necessary universe?

There is a deeper problem with the idea of a necessary being too. Any being that exists can also not exist, and there is no contradiction implied in conceiving its non-existence, but this is exactly what would have to be the case, if its existence were necessary. So the term ‘necessary being’ makes no sense a posteriori – any being claimed to exist may or may not exist. In Hume’s own words “All existential propositions are synthetic.”