A-level Religious Studies

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1 A-level Religious Studies RST3B Philosophy of Religion Report on the Examination 2060 June 2014 Version: 1.0

2 Further copies of this Report are available from aqa.org.uk Copyright 2014 AQA and its licensors. All rights reserved. AQA retains the copyright on all its publications. However, registered schools/colleges for AQA are permitted to copy material from this booklet for their own internal use, with the following important exception: AQA cannot give permission to schools/colleges to photocopy any material that is acknowledged to a third party even for internal use within the centre.

3 RST3B Philosophy of Religion General Comments This year s cohort produced a good range of responses including some very impressive essays that showed both full understanding of the topics under consideration and very thorough analytical skills. There was a greater attempt to respond to the set question rather than simply reproduce either everything the students had revised or the response to a practice essay based on previous exam questions. The reference to philosophers and their ideas tended to be more focused and relevant. However, there is still a tendency for the students to be unaware of the chronological order of the main philosophers. For example, in Question 01 many students implied that Aquinas directly criticised Descartes ideas as though these two scholars were exact contemporaries. While it is often perfectly acceptable to apply ideas from earlier thinkers to later scholars, students should make it clear that they know that they are doing this. Another aspect that students should keep in mind is the balance of the question. It is quite common for an AO1 question to have two elements, usually in the form: Outline X and explain Y, that are closely related. The mark scheme usually specifies that the student who only produces correct material for the Outline element can gain no more than Level 4, while the student who only produces correct material for the Examine element can gain no more than Level 5. This shows the balance required in the answer. A recommendation is that no more than a third of the essay should be on the Outline element and at least two-thirds on the Examine. Too many students merely produce a simple definition, with possibly a brief example as an Outline. Others give an extremely full presentation of the topic for the Outline and very shallow coverage for the Explain element. In this case they have limited their ability to gain the higher levels. Those who cover both parts of the question in full detail will penalise themselves as they will run out of time to do later questions adequately. Question 1 Ontological argument and the relationship between reason and faith 01 Those students who had a clear understanding of Descartes argument found this a very straightforward question. The criticisms often flowed from the presentation of Descartes idea. The most common criticisms were those of existence not being a predicate and humans not being able to have an accurate understanding of God because of human limitations. Some gave good, accurate ideas of Malcolm and Plantinga in their answers, not recognising that these ideas supported versions of the ontological argument rather than objected to it. However, a number of students could not differentiate between Anselm s version of the ontological argument and that of Descartes. Those who simply put the name Descartes where it should have been Anselm gained themselves no credit. A number of students gave detailed explanations of the criticisms of Gaunilo. Because Gaunilo s thoughts are so closely linked to Anselm s ontological argument, great care had to be used to ensure that any reference to Gaunilo was made relevant to Descartes argument. There were few students who managed to make this link. 3of 6

4 02 This question was based on one of the bullet points in the specification, using the same phrase. However, few students actually addressed the issue of the challenge to disbelief. Many saw this as a way of including the use of the ontological argument to reinforce faith which is strongly linked to Anselm s argument. However, Descartes argument is based on reason and the logic is that, if the reasoning is sound, people have no grounds for rejecting the existence of God or for disbelieving in God. Many students missed this essential aspect of the argument and failed to use their own learning in a focused way. Too many presumed that Descartes had the same attitude towards the argument that Anselm had. The fact that Descartes claimed that he was unfamiliar with Anselm s argument would reinforce the fact that they were not addressing the issue in the same way. Many of the students claimed that Descartes deliberately built on Anselm s argument, which would appear not to be the case, if we accept Descartes disclaimer. Those students who focused on the logic of Descartes argument and the theoretical consequences of it challenging disbelief in God were able to present very carefully thought out arguments on both sides of the issue, reinforcing the debate with clear references to Aquinas, Hume, Kant and Russell amongst others. Question 2 Religious language 03 Students appeared to be comfortable with this question on religious language. Most were able to present clear explanations of both the verification and falsification principles. One weakness with the latter was that a number of the students spent too long writing out the parable of the garden rather than focusing on the central point of the story. This sometimes gave the impression that the students were padding out their essays because that was all they could remember of the topic. The better answers linked in each part of the verification and falsification arguments with religious language as they went through the discussion. There were some who tried to make a general statement about religious language once they had studied the principles, but few were successful at getting any depth with this approach. There were some students who claimed that Ayer had accepted the meaningfulness of religious language using the weak verification approach, which is contrary to Ayer s own statement. Those who included Hick s eschatological verification in this question had failed to recognise the fact that the question was about the challenges to religious language. 04 This question allowed the students to bring in many possible approaches. Hick s eschatological verification, Wittgenstein s language games, the via negative, Hare s and Mitchell s bliks could all play a part in the responses, as well as the belief that the verification principle itself cannot be verified so fails its own test. Students were not expected to include all possible approaches. It is better to go for depth in a few examples than be superficial in many areas. However, a good number of the students failed to do any analysis of the approaches they had chosen. This limited their marks to Level 4. Those who evaluated the usefulness of the alternative ways to use religious language were able to present very strong, often very fluent arguments. 4of 6

5 Question 3 Body, soul and personal identity 05 Many students tackled this question well. They presented good knowledge about the materialist approaches, being able to present clear distinctions between the hard and the soft materialist thoughts. However, it must be said that the attitudes of Dawkins and Ryle were presented much more clearly and accurately than those of soft materialist, or even of the other approaches. Once hard materialist had been covered, there was a distinct tendency to focus on the existence of the soul after death rather than to include information about the existence and role of the soul in the living body. Most students covered Plato s ideas but some spent too long on tangential elements like the analogy of the cave and the realm of the Forms. Many students included reference to Descartes views on the mind / soul and its link to the body via the pineal gland, though the presentation of the ideas was not always as clear as other aspects of the answers. A number tried to include the role of the soul in both Hindu and Buddhist thought but often confused the ideas, with only the best showing how the Buddhist idea of anatta actually was against the idea of a soul in the generally-understood use of the term. 06 Many students used this question to focus on the existence of the soul outside the body, particularly after death. While there is some relevance in this material and in the use of material relating to near-death experiences, it only covers one aspect of the title. Fewer students examined the part of the statement that read: we are simply our physical bodies. Only the strongest students brought out issues relating to how much the individual is just a physical being. Only a few students mentioned details like the difference between a living body and a corpse. Equally the use of mental and dream experiences could have been included to examine what there is that makes a person a whole being. The evaluation of scholarly opinion, notably comments on Dawkins and Ryle, tended to be better on this question than on the other AO2 questions. Question 4 The problem of evil 07 There were two aspects of this question. The first being, outline of the concepts of natural and moral evil, which produced many poor responses. Most were limited to presenting a brief definition of each term with an example or two. Some moved straight onto how natural and moral evil are part of the problem of evil, which was the second part. However, to present an outline of natural and moral evil there should have been some presentation of ideas about the source and role of natural and moral evil, eg Augustine s ideas about the Fall, the free-will defence, and so on. The larger part of the essay should be about process thought and how it responds to the problem of evil. Most students fell into one of two camps here: they either had a very clear knowledge and understanding of process thought or they had a very superficial understanding, enough to present the basic facts but not enough to be able to examine the ideas underlying this approach. Some students were saved by the fact that some of the marks were given over to the ideas of natural and moral evil. The impression gained by some was that if process thought had been the whole focus of the essay, it would have been disastrous for some students. The entire content of this unit in the specification should be studied because any part of it can appear in the examination. 5of 6

6 08 This question allowed students to either examine in depth the strengths and weaknesses of process thought in the light of the problem of evil, or to contrast it with other theodicies. However, there had to be a substantial amount written about process thought: it was not sufficient to basically ignore process thought and to compare the other theodicies. Some students simply presented each of the theodicies in turn, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each, without any form of contrast being made. Really good answers looked at the strengths and weaknesses of process thought and for each point compared it to similar points in other theodicies. Overall, the examination allowed the students to show what they had learned and understood. No part of the examination was esoteric or beyond the skills of a reasonably well educated 18-year old and the paper differentiated effectively between the students. Mark Ranges and Award of Grades Grade boundaries and cumulative percentage grades are available on the Results Statistics page of the AQA Website. Converting Marks into UMS marks Convert raw marks into Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) marks by using the link below. UMS conversion calculator 6of 6

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