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Reasoning To Belief: Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism — Part I

This series originally began 5 August 2012. The links to the remainder are below.

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part Interlude, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Part Last.

This begins a series of posts reviewing Ed (if I may call him that; for all I know he goes by the more elegant Edward) Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. (The posts won’t be contiguous.) We’ll also make use of Feser’s Aquinas, his Theory of Mind, and of his paper “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,”1 which contains a tight, crystalline summary of Aquinas’s Five Ways.

Every atheist must read this book. Every atheist who is sincerely committed to his belief, that is. Casual atheists who would rather stick with unproven, but comforting, orthodoxies had best keep away. Because this book will be rough on them. Perhaps, some claim, too rough for a book from a Christian.

It is well to dispense with certain irrelevant matters immediately. Feser gives us a manly Christianity, in muscular language. His words oft have the tone of a teacher who is exasperated by students who have, yet again, not done their homework. The exasperation is justifiable. “Aquinas,” he tells us, “as is well known, always painstakingly considered all opposing arguments, and always made a point of attacking an opponent’s position at it strongest point.” Yet most of Aquinas’s modern-day opponents do not consider him at all. Or they gleefully poke at the remnants of a straw effigy theologians set fire to long ago, all the while congratulating themselves on their brilliance.

This does not compute for Feser, who does not suffer (arrogant) fools well—or at all. This perplexes some readers who undoubtedly expect theists to be soft-spoken, meek, and humble to the point of willing to concede miles to gain an inch. Feser is more of a theological Patton: he is advancing, always advancing, and is not interested in holding on to anything except the enemy’s territory. This stance has startled some reviewers. Typical is the (self-named) Unpublishable Philosopher who ignores the meat of the book and whines about “ad hominems.”

Now if a man, a theist, says, “Richard Dawkins is a jackass and here is a proof showing his attacks on God’s existence fail utterly” and a second man, an atheist, is interested in whether this proof is valid, then it is irrelevant to the proof that the theist calls Dawkins a jackass—unless that statement forms part of the proof. Which in Feser’s book, which is loaded with similar phrases, such statements do not. (Feser nowhere uses the word jackass.)

However, if the atheistic Dawkins fan hears the theist, all that penetrates through to his ossicles is jackass. The word lodges deep in his auditory canal and blocks further entrance: the proof goes unheard, or it is heard but badly distorted. And this is so—it is an empirical and not a philosophical question—whether Dawkins is a jackass. The proof is forgotten and the argument turns to whether the theist is himself a jackass for claiming Dawkins is; or if he is not a jackass, then whether he is a good Christian because (the atheist once read) good Christians don’t call people jackasses, even if their targets demonstrably are jackasses, or about the use of the ad hominem, etc. Then comes the final fallacy which says that because somebody who claims to be a Christian does an unChristian deed, Christianity must be false or unworthy of study. Or that Feser’s book needn’t be taken seriously.

Feser does spend a fraction of his time upbraiding his enemies for not heeding their lessons, and he isn’t shy about publicizing the “F”s he hands out. He says that Dawkins and Dennett are “ignoramuses” because of their “embarrassingly ill-informed dismissals” of proofs of God’s existence. He calls the work of Sam Harris a “disgusting spectacle.” He says that views held by eliminative materialists “are titillating and have, for obvious reasons, an emotional appeal for adolescents of all ages. But from a rational point of view, they are completely worthless; as David Stove once said, at the end of the day their proponents have little more to offer in their defense than ‘shit-eating grins.”

He says that “smugness is half the fun of being a liberal (the other half being the tearing down of everything one’s ancestors, and one’s betters generally, worked so hard to build).” He claims the “New Atheist’s pretense that a religious view of the world can only ever be the result of wishful thinking rather than objective rational argumentation is thereby exposed as a falsehood, the product, if not of willful deception, at least of inexcusable ignorance”. “No doubt”, says Feser, a New Atheist responding to his book will be “sputtering some response” but there is also no doubt that “the response will be superficial, ill-informed, and dogmatic, long on attitude and short on understanding.”

Dawkins’s attempts to counter the Unmoved Mover argument is a “serious lapse in scholarly competence and/or intellectual integrity”. Of the now-dead Hitchens and the other prominent New Atheists he says that one “gets the impression that the bulk of their education in Christian theology consisted of reading Elmer Gantry…supplemented with a viewing of Inherit the Wind“.

Well, gasp. Keep in mind, though, that these are all questions of fact, not metaphysics. If Feser can prove them—I say he can—this is fine. But if not, it does not imply he cannot prove his philosophy.

Warning Note: Many of the arguments to come, especially about the nature of causality, will be unfamiliar to us, and were once to Yours Truly, who was raised in the Scientific Way. If any of my summaries are suspect, defer to the book. It is vastly more probable that I have screwed it up than has Feser.

Warning Prediction: you may think you have discovered a shiny new, never-thought-of-before aha-zinger that guts classical metaphysics, leaving nothing but a greasy spot, but the chance of this is low. Philosophers have been gnawing away at these questions for hundreds to thousands of years. So while you may deliver us an argument which allows you to dismiss classical metaphysics, an argument which none of us here at the humble WMBriggs.com recognize for what it is (stale fish), this does not imply your discovery is unique, persuasive, or valid. The burden is on you to search the authorities, pro and con, and definitively prove your claim.

So today—and today only—let’s argue about whether Feser should or should not have called Dennett an ignoramus, whether Feser’s empirical claims about this or that political question are right or wrong, whether the pugilistic tone had better been left out of the book, etc., etc. Get it out of our system. Get it off your chest. Adopt the ton supérieur and educate us on just what the ad hominem is and why it’s use is discouraged. Because next time we start in on the arguments themselves and we can’t be distracted by irrelevancies.

Update To newcomers unused to our ways: swearing, threats, and other idiotic behavior is not allowed. All comments which are abusive will be summarily censored.

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part Interlude, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Part Last.

—————————————————————————————

1American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 85, no. 2 (2011).

99 thoughts on “Reasoning To Belief: Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism — Part I Leave a comment

  1. “Should” Feser have indulged in name-calling?

    It’s not a practice that I hold in high regard, but I am willing to concede that there is the steak and there is the sizzle.

    To the extent that any controversy surrounding slightly pungent language garners the book (which may be very good work) a wider audience whose members will add constructively to the debate, then I guess that’s the sizzle.

    The risk is that some won’t distinguish between that and the steak, and will consequently miss the main meal entirely. Which may or may not be a loss to the substantive discussion, but could swamp signal in noise (he says, with a jarring mixture of metaphor).

  2. I have little to zero problems with bad manners, if at least there are some interesting ideas being shared or exposed. If there isn’t that, all that remains is the stridentness. Funny that Dawkins et al were admonished for being strident (how dare they), but when a Christian is rude in its comeback, it’s okay because what matters is the juice.

  3. If you call somebody a f-ing retard and proceed to demonstrate they lack mental ability, then I don’t consider it ad-hominem. Maybe bad manners.

  4. Those who argue for the existence of a god have the responsibility for objectively PROVING their case. In the hundreds of thousands of years of belief in such things there has been no such proof produced. Only assertions, threats, the burning of heretic. There are countless references to multiply transliterated sacred and ancient texts written either by psychotic shepherds or frightened, tired old men who feared loosing control over the unwashed and untutored masses. However, not one whit of objective, reproducible, physical evidence of existence of such supernatural creatures.

    As a consequence, I don’t believe. I have nothing to prove and only need to state I don’t believe. I don’t give a fig if this is not new. Present the evidence and the proof and I will consider it. If you want to change my mind, present existent evidence and prove your case. Otherwise, your words are nothing but white noise with neither content nor connection to anything real.

  5. Lionel, no one should try to change your mind. It should be left there for all as an abject lesson.

  6. IMHO, Feser’s sophistry is indefensible. And it is not irrelevant.

    If I were sincerely committed to the rational defense and defensibility of atheism, why would I tolerate such ungentlemanly behavior? I would not. I would be dismissive of the idea that this book, among all the others that call for my attention, will be critically enlightening. Rather, I would consider Feser’s book commonly encountered rhetoric aimed at persuading and motivating theists about some political/social issue or other. Not a book about informing atheists.

  7. All the name calling is so much of a distraction. With both sides talking past each other.

    Dawkins acknowledges he can not be certain there is no supernatural – most atheists are de-facto atheists who are happy to admit to their ultimate agnosticism.

    As with Keynes if the facts change opinions will change, but most atheists are are simply unconvinced that any of the current legends, myths and Holy Books which claim to provide insights into a supernatural entity seemingly obsessed with the dietary and social bonding behaviours of one tiny proportion of the universe.

    Prof Briggs, what makes you a Catholic and not a Greek Orthodox, a Sikh or a Hindu? And what does Aquinas have to say to distinguish between them?

    Cause less causes are all well and good but what makes Yahweh have this characteristic and not, say, the Universe itself.

  8. He says that “smugness is half the fun of being a liberal (the other half being the tearing down of everything one’s ancestors, and one’s betters generally, worked so hard to build).”

    These words might be funny, specially for the conservatives, but they are utterly hollow to anyone seriously interested in the actual issues and questions. They depict, however, a kind of interest from the author to be aggressive and rude against his opposition, rather than contribute to an enlightenment. It’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t “put me off”, as I said earlier, but it does make my eyebrows make that little assymetric line, them saying “I don’t think I’ll learn much with this brute…”

  9. Ok, I’ll give it a go. I’ve ordered the book from Amazon and I’ll see what I make of it. As I’ve already said elsewhere I’m agnostic with atheist leanings.

    I don’t think it’s possible to prove or disprove the existence of God, but I’ve only had a passing interest in philosophy and theology and most of those I’ve talked to were no better versed in it than me.

    It’ll be interesting (to me at any rate) to see if my opinions change…

  10. Dr. Briggs,

    You have identified a drawback in your selected source material. If you prefer a cordial discussion, it is your responsibility to cite the desirable elements, and leave the distracting elements out of your commentary.

    Belief is an educated guess. I am always happy for additional education, with the understanding that, each is entitled the latitude of his own consequent guess.

    V/r.

  11. “then it is irrelevant to the proof that the theist calls Dawkins a jackass”

    I can’t argue with the truth of this statement. But.

    I’m assuming that there are three discrete audiences for the book.

    The first are theists who want some reasoned argument that they can use to deal with New Atheism. The second are those atheists/agnostics who wish to be better informed of the theist point of view. The third are New Atheists who are unreachable, and probably just want to poke fun anyway.

    The first lot aren’t going to mind the abuse, they’re already supporting the home team and Feser is getting in a few sharp jabs in retaliation for offence caused by the rather foul mouthed New Atheists. But, for the uncomitted, will it really strengthen the arguments he’s making?

  12. Chinahand:

    I like your thinking!

    I’ve found that many “atheists” argue against a somewhat simple-minded concept of the Creator — most times I end up agreeing with them: that which they assert does not exist unquestionably doesn’t. Sadly, few of them seem inclined to take the next step and develop a more sophisticated concept of the creator against which to flail.

    What makes a given characteristic that of “Yahweh” and not the universe itself? Well, in the vein of the previous paragraph, the Infinite Creator and Eternal Upholder is not contained within the universe, as a subset or function of the universe, so that particular question has no meaning. All of sub-absolute reality exists *relative* to the Creator. “Yahweh” *is* physical reality (note the distinction between that and saying ‘physical reality is “Yahweh”‘).

    Of this, of course, I would be among the first to claim that there is not, nor could there be, proof — at least not in finite time. But, of course, neither is there proof of the non-existence of the Creator.

    It’s an argument in which no minds will ever be changed based on the merits of either side’s logic. Any discussion that sharpens the wits and expands the thinking is good, but in the end, the more interesting question is: why would any particular person give a darn what an atheist believes, and why would a given atheist give a darn what a theist believes? Is the need to argue it based on deeply-held, subtle doubts?

  13. Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.
    – Eric Hoffer | Politeness and Manners

    I don’t think that William F. Buckley ever felt the need to resort to name calling. Intellectual strength precludes this sort of rude behavior. Best, Cliff

  14. Dr. Feser stated up front that his purpose was to imitate the tone of the writings of the Gnu Atheists, and it seems he has succeeded. Like the Prussian noted by Chesterton, some laugh when they zing but howl when they are zinged. However, the tone sits ill on a discourse on Thomism, which is remorselessly logical and considers always the best arguments against a position. This, in contrast to the modern bent, which is to react emotionally and consider only stawman versions of the opponent.
    + + +

    A zinger is not an ad hominem unless it is given as a reason to reject an argument. The same is true of saying “Metaphysical proposition X must be correct because it was proposed by a famous physicist.”

    If Dawkins is ignorant of the Argument from Motion — if in fact he is unaware of what motus or κινεσις even means in the context — then he is as ignorant of the real man behind the strawman he attacks as most “creation science” types are of evolution. It is not an ad hominem to point this out; esp. if one then presents the actual argument which Dawkins claimed to have refuted.

    + + +
    ancient texts written either by psychotic shepherds or frightened, tired old men who feared loosing control over the unwashed and untutored masses.

    So Plato and Aristotle were psychotic shepherds? Who knew? Certainly they had no “control” over the “unwashed and untutored masses” of the Hellenic world.

    I certainly hope Lionel’s grasp of logic and reason are better than his apparent grasp of history.

    (Or does he think that Aquinas’ arguments are based on Scripture?! If so, he is profoundly ignorant of the very nature of the arguments.)
    + + +

    Cause less causes are all well and good but what makes Yahweh have this characteristic and not, say, the Universe itself.

    Ah, pantheism. This question is based on getting Aristotle’s (and Aquinas’) argument backwards. The argument concludes to an uncaused cause; but further deductions tell us this uncaused cause is purely actual and the universe is in continual kinesis and so must be a compound of potency as well as act.

    This will perhaps be addressed in a later post in the review.

  15. Oh boy! Yet another fun but pointless argument just like the angels/pin study attributed (however incorrectly) to Aquinas. I think Aquinas was just a quantum mechanics guy ahead of his time; forced to shoehorn his ideas to fit the Zeitgeist.

    Should Feser call Dawkins a jackass (or similar) even if Dawkins is demonstrably one? Depends on his audience and purpose. If his intention is conversion then doing so is too much like putting up a sign saying “Pay no attention to the following”. Going out of one’s way to alienate an intended audience is usually counterproductive. It would seem his real intention is to convince the choir to sing.

    I don’t know why Feser needs to imitate the poor actions of others. Surely he doesn’t think the PZ’s in this world are convincing.

    Reading Aquinas might change somebody’s mind. Reading Feser, not likely.

  16. Name calling, while entertaining, is rarely effective at anything other than rallying the troops. Speaking in terms of spiritual philosophy, name callin is then like to rally the wrong types of troops for the task at hand.

    My reading list is already too deep, but I’m looking forward to your further reviews of this text to see if it’s worth adding to the queue!

  17. Pity the fools who can’t take what they dish out. I enjoy a well-crafted insult, even if I am the target. Emphasis on well-crafted. Art is art.

  18. “However, not one whit of objective, reproducible, physical evidence of existence of such supernatural creatures.”

    This is untrue. What jackasses such as yourself hide behind is psychology: arch-types, etc. In other words, you consider yourself to be so utterly pathetic, that should you even think of going looking for God, your ‘sub-conscious’ will toss various hallucinations your way.

    Awwww, poor widdle kiddy-kins!

    To defend this I Am Oh So Very Pathetic stance, you refer to the mutterings of assorted crazy people. Oh, you isa oh so smarties, mr person!

    Hippie Schmuck.

  19. Briggs, dude, methinks you fail to see what the problem is here.

    Ad Hom pretty much states that you ignore the person, and respond to the argument. If you want people to do this, SAY SO SPECIFICALLY: ‘ad hom’ is presented as being logical fallacy – but the problem is that it in the real world, it is not.

    Consider Keynes. The perverted child-raping bastard should have been shot, and buried in a toilet. All records of everything that ‘it’ ever wrote, or said, should be expunged from the world. Burned. Instead, its corpse was venerated, and its words exalted.

    Consider Mann, Hansen, et al. These people are, PROVABLY, hard-core lairs. They lie relentlessly. Given that, it stands to reason that anything they have ever said, are saying, or will say should be COMPLETELY ignored.

    Consider the hippies. They are corrupt. They twist fact, logic, reason. They lie. They deceive. They do with a great pretence of honesty, integrity, etc etc etc. Examples are Romm, Moonbat, etc.

    Now consider someone who gets upset with one or more of the above types of people. And calls them, GASP!, jackasses (or whatever).

    The problem is this: the various hippies (and I certainly include the ‘good manners Christians’ here) DO NOT CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS. They will, with great gladness and joy, equate calling someone jackass, with raping children. They do this, because they are hippies. Because they are corrupt. Because they are lairs.

    Apart from all that, you are assuming that the hippies CARE about being correct. They most certainly do not.

  20. And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, regarding the rumor that I am to be a human sacrifice for the sins of humankind. May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!!!? What are we, living in the fucking Stone Age!!? Blood sacrifice!!!!!? Art thou all fucking insane!!!?

    Listen, brethren, as I tell you something of utmost importance. Stop with the blood sacrifice bullshit. It’s a ridiculous, disgusting, sickening, vile, wicked, evil, irrational bunch of Cro-Magnon donkey shit. And it makes us all look like a bunch of ignorant, deranged lunatics. For fucks sake, stop it!”–Jesus Christ, the Thinking Man’s Gospel.

  21. Lionel Griffith says that “…assertions, threats, the burning of heretic. ”
    The burning of hetetics took place centuries ago, when people were ignorant. Today we know bettet,, much better. OTOH very recently, atheistic politics/states (ie USSR) murderd millions of innocent people in the name of their (atheist) religion.

  22. When someone proclaims atheism to be a religion, you know there was something wrong happening in his central nervous system.

  23. So while you may deliver us an argument which allows you to dismiss classical metaphysics [ … ] The burden is on you to search the authorities, pro and con, and definitively prove your claim.

    A tough assignment — to prove a negative.

    With respect to Feser’s name calling and disrespect for his opponents, I’m reminded of a long line of unsuccessful commedians and self proclaimed philosophers who substitute coarse language for mastery or their argument and the English (or other) language.

  24. Luis: I know atheists who go to atheists meetings each Sunday. They read atheist books by atheists preachers. Its a cosmology at the very least, and when wrapped in ritual It sure starts to look an awful lot like religion.

  25. Luis: I know atheists who go to atheists meetings each Sunday. They read atheist books by atheists preachers. Its a cosmology at the very least, and when wrapped in ritual It sure starts to look an awful lot like religion.

    And I know of a lot of christian priests who raped young boys. Are we to define christianity then as a rapist community? Because that’s the kind of reasoning you are allowing yourself to do here.

  26. Oh I’m sorry was I too rude invoking the incessant raping of toddlers all around the world by the catholic system? Hope not, for two reasons. First, there’s something really disgusting to speak about a system that protected rapist priests throughout the decades that still has the gall to call itself the source of morality (and the irony reaches the Everest when I recall how priests in my country used to say that the russian commies ate children before breakfast! True story! Laugh and cry!). Second, wasn’t that the tone we should be inclined to accept according to Feser’s gospel?

  27. Here are a couple of the vitriolic insults hurled by the Feser:

    ‘The irony is that to anyone who actually knows something about the history and theology of the Western religious tradition for which Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens show so much contempt, their books stand out for their manifest ignorance of that tradition and for the breathtaking shallowness of their philosophical analysis of religious matters. Indeed, as we shall see, these authors do not even so much as understand what the word “faith” itself has actually meant, historically, within the mainstream of that tradition. …. This is perhaps not surprising in the case of either Dawkins – a writer of pop science books who evidently would not know metaphysics from Metamucil – or Vanity Fair boy Hitchens, who probably thinks metaphysics is the sort of thing people like Shirley MacLaine start babbling about when they’ve lost their box office cachet.’

    or

    ‘Like many who are not familiar with philosophical modes of argumentation, Dawkins assumes that Aquinas is engaged in a kind of empirical theorizing, “postulating” God’s existence as a “hypothesis” to “explain” certain pieces of “data.”‘

    If this is what passes for unbridled vitriol, the critics need to get out more often. To point out that people who don’t know metaphysics don’t know metaphysics is hardly an ad hominem. It is not even an insult, since they themselves brag about it. (Feser actually engages Harris and Dennett more seriously, since they are themselves trained in philosophy.) Especially so when he follows up with the arguments themselves.

  28. Luis:

    If atheism isn’t a religion, at least to some, why do so many atheists seem so anxious to win converts? Proselytizing is an activity of many churches (as distinct from “religions” — all too often confused), and many self-professed atheists seem to be engaged in just that. If human existence is pointless and meaningless, as seems to be the logical conclusion under atheism, why do they care?

    Geertz defined religion as a “system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” I’d say that applies to many of the more strident atheists.

    Furthermore, there certainly is a branch of atheism that has appointed a deity; specifically one named Gaia — apparently a personal deity — for whom adherents would sacrifice almost anything (that belongs to someone else). Yet another hallmark of a religion.

    Many atheists persist in their conviction that they possess the indisputable truth, even in the face of one of their high priests having said that atheism can be no more than a belief. Rigid belief in something that is neither proved nor provable is something for which some theists are ridiculed by atheists, but in which many atheists themselves indulge.

    Many churches (systems of dogma) arrogate possession of the “absolute truth”, which would certainly seem to be the attitude of many atheists, who smugly trot out the dogmata reflexively, but seem a little light on their logical and philosophical underpinnings. I am acquainted with Christians like that as well.

    So, while the unqualified statement “atheism is a religion” is perhaps a little too general; modify it with the clause “to some”, and I think there is plenty of evidence to support it.

    It doesn’t seem clear that making such a claim would have much to do with any particular biochemical process.

    By the way, it is important to distinguish between a religion and a church: Roman Catholics are Christians; Christians are not necessarily Roman Catholics (i.e. they could be Greek Orthodox: a different church, but subscribing to much the same dogma). Priests profess (and presumably adhere to) a religion (in the sense of a body of doctrine), but are officials of a church. One may adhere to a particular religion, but be a member of a different church, or no church at all.

    In fact, many draw a sharp distinction between “religion” and “faith”, but I suspect that wouldn’t necessarily interest you.

  29. DAV on 5 August 2012 at 9:36 pm said:

    Oh boy! Yet another fun but pointless argument just like the angels/pin study attributed (however incorrectly) to Aquinas. I think Aquinas was just a quantum mechanics guy ahead of his time; forced to shoehorn his ideas to fit the Zeitgeist.

    Here’s what he actually said:

    Q. 52, a. 3 – “Whether Several Angels Can Be At The Same Time In the Same Place? There are not two angels in the same place. The reason for this is because it is impossible for two complete causes to be immediately the causes of one and the same thing. This is evident in every class of causes. For there is one proximate form of one thing, and there is one proximate mover, although there may be several remote movers. Nor can it be objected that several individuals may row a boat, since no one of them is a perfect mover, because no one man’s strength is sufficient for moving the boat; the fact is rather that all together are as one mover, in so far as their united powers all combine in producing the one movement. Hence, since the angel is said to be in one place by the fact that his power touches the place immediately by way of a perfect container, as was said (Q. 52, a. 1) there can be but one angel in one place.”

    So, Aquinas and Pauli agree: one angel can dance on the head of a pin. Actually, Pauli might argue for two; one spinning clockwise and one spinning counter-clockwise.

    Trying to prove, or disprove, the existence of God is a mug’s game. Any train of logical reasoning will eventually wreck on a paradox. Words, which are required for logic, are simply inadequate and the quicker some people realize that, the better. A pox on all their houses.

  30. Did GOD create the Big Bang or was he created in the universe. Also, why did he wait 13 billion years before he created Adam. Was he busy with other projects?

  31. Fester must be correct as the consensus of all leading monotheistic believers definately supports his conclusions.

  32. I also believe that GOD is a betting deity as he supports the goals of many Brazilian, etc, Roman Catholic Football players who give him thanks after they score. He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere!

  33. Did Thomas Aquinas have to use ad hominum arguments as well as insults to argue his case? I thought that circular arguments were sufficient.

  34. Dear blessedAssurance, can you tell me which part of Jesus’s teachingis that you find repugnant

  35. Cary on 7 August 2012 at 3:46 am said:

    Did Thomas Aquinas have to use ad hominum arguments as well as insults to argue his case? I thought that circular arguments were sufficient.

    As far as I can remember, he didn’t use ad hominem. His basic logical error is remarkably similar to that committed by AGW alarmists.

    Aquinas: “I have five things I can’t explain any other way so God must exist.”

    Alarmists: “The climate does things I can’t explain any other way so it must be CO2.”

  36. “Every atheist must read this book. Every atheist who is sincerely committed to his belief”

    I don’t believe in any gods, demons, angels or any of the other superstitious notions that Feser endorses. But I’m not fully committed. I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.

    I’ve read the book. Anybody with a rudimentary critical thinking tool kit will easily cut through Feser’s sophistical jargon and realize he has nothing but long refuted boilerplate apologetics.

    But I agree. Every atheist should read the book.

  37. “I don’t think that William F. Buckley ever felt the need to resort to name calling. Intellectual strength precludes this sort of rude behavior.”

    Cliff, I understand what you are saying, but choosing William F Buckley as your example was a poor decision. See Buckley vs. Vidal at the ’68 Democrat Convention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYymnxoQnf8

  38. Su Dongpo (a great poet) mediated with a Zen Master at Jinshan Temple. While supposedly experiencing the relaxation of his mind and body, he asked the Master: “Zen Master, how does my mediation posture look?”

    “It looks solemnly, just like the one of a real Buddha,“ replied peacefully the Master. Su was delighted by the comment.

    “How do you like my mine?” ask the Master.

    Su contemptuously said, “You have an ill-formed posture, and it looks shitty.”

    Zen Master smiled at him and went back to his mediation.

    Su Dongpo thought that he had scores a win over the well-respected Zen Master because he had trashed and silenced the Master.

    Later that day, he triumphantly bragged about his victory to his sister, “I won today….”

    His sister asked, “My dear Brother, how on earth did you win over a Zen master?”

    Su couldn’t contain his excitement and described the event with a wide grim.

    “Brother! You have lost! Zen Master has a heart of a Buddha, so he sees you as a Buddha. Your mind is sh**, so you see him as sh**!”

    Su Dongpo was stunned, and realized that he didn’t know what Zen was about and what the purpose of meditation was.

    —-

  39. Rob,

    Why would you want someone to read this book if you believe it’s nothing but “long refuted boilerplate apologetics”?!

    Feser’s whole endeavor is to make the case that the dismissal of classical theism is MUCH more difficult than modern philosophy assumes, specifically the scientistic world view. If you’ve really read the book, I’m rather surprised you’d suggest that Feser is making the case for “gods, demons, angels or…other superstitious notions”.

    This book is polemical, and aimed at those heartily engaged in the conversation. If you want to understand why, see this blogpost: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/08/briggs-on-tls-and-tone.html#more

  40. !Great Whiffling Jabberwocks! Mother of Pearl! Tinkerty -Tonk!
    One more word: Chesterton. He makes Dawkins look like, well, in the interests of civilized discourse , a w—-per—–. d…ssel …..

  41. I must demur on ” How many angels Can dance on The Head of Pin” . the theologically correct answer is ” All of them”

  42. The scientific method requires that hypothesis or theory have falsifiable claims that are either supported or disproved. Any one claim that is disproved results in the hypothesis or theory being invalid as it stands. Religion and the concept of God has no way to be falsified or proved, so are not scientific. In fact, they are nothing but opinions of specific people. You can go in circles all you want, on opinions, but I choose to stay off that merry-go-round.

  43. I’s alao objective to say that Dawkins, having the free will he would deny, chooses to be a j…….( junior philospher)

  44. Actually Buckley, quite rightly, got off a legendary elocution on Gore Vidal which I’ll leave as an exercise of the reader

  45. Scientists may wish to guard against dogma at a time when the most advanced physice is proving that Some-thing comes from No-thing. Godel taught us as early as 1931 that in the most advanced mathematics, the highest levels our mind can conceive, there are things we can never prove to be true. A little intellectual arrogance among not-that-bright people with degees can go light years, though most of us may never see them, Thankfully.
    My own MD, Phd is in Neurosciences. I Used to study over Fermi’s old Lab at The University of chicago.

  46. JTC,

    Because atheists, like everyone, ought to read books that challenge their beliefs. Feser’s arguments are feeble, but his book is not as idiotic as something by a Lee Strobel.

    Feser, being a good compliant Catholic, certainly believes in angels and demons. Otherwise, the teaching of The Church would be wrong. And that can’t be true, can it?

  47. Luis,
    For the sake of a discussion I would find more interesting, I will observe that there is a difference between saying atheism is a religion and describing something as an atheist religion.

  48. Leonard Weinstein,

    Wonderful! But, say, is your theory that theories have to be falsifiable itself falsifiable? Or is it a metaphysical (or philosophically) deduced, non-empirical theory? (Like mathematics.)

  49. I’d say deduced. Mathematics may be a useful tool in the real world but it shouldn’t be confused with it. The same for any other philosophy.

  50. Proofs of Mathematical theorem and the one of God’s existence? I fail to see the connection.

    Surely you are not talking about the fact that some philosophers believe that mathematics (God) is a wonderful creation of man.

    Since God’s existence has a not been proved or disproved, let’s look at a similar example in mathematics. Goldbach’s conjecture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldbach's_conjecture):

    Every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes.

    It’s has not been proved mathematically but there is abundant evidence that it’s true. Yet, it’s well-known to be an unsolved problem. So what is the analogy between the proofs of mathematical theorems and God’s existence?

    “If A then B.” The conclusion of B is a logical consequence of the premise A. I’d love to see a logical proof of God’s existence.

  51. @Big Mike:

    If atheism isn’t a religion, at least to some, why do so many atheists seem so anxious to win converts?

    I’m sorry, I fail to see the millions of atheists ringing the bells of the christian houses so they can know the atheist gospel. Am I to take you even remotely seriously? Atheists would as much like others to stop believing in notorious superstitions as would any regular guy would want to his neighbour stop believing in the moon hoax. That is, some but not that much.

    Geertz defined religion as a “system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” I’d say that applies to many of the more strident atheists.

    What a crackpottery definition. Even still, I fail to see such “symbolic” system in atheism. At the most, the most strident atheists paint themselves as heretics. Which can hardly be called a system symbol. I mean, what the hell.

    Furthermore, there certainly is a branch of atheism that has appointed a deity; specifically one named Gaia

    You do not need to be an atheist to be a Gaia believer, although you will probably need to stop being a full-blown christian. However, if you believe in Gaia as a goddess, I’d have a really bad time calling you an atheist, by any standards of english language. Hippies of this sort are pretty common, and I’ll have none of their religion as well.

    Many atheists persist in their conviction that they possess the indisputable truth, even in the face of one of their high priests having said that atheism can be no more than a belief.

    It’s quite easy to be smug when you are confronted with people who believe in a blood sacrifice by an alledged god 2000 years ago is enough to compensate your sins and take you to paradise. Having said that, the arrogance of having the absolute truth in their hands is nothing more than being all too human. Just look at most christians like mr. Briggs, always confidently insisting in the “indisputable” truth that there is an absolute truth and a way to reach it.

    Rigid belief in something that is neither proved nor provable is something for which some theists are ridiculed by atheists, but in which many atheists themselves indulge.

    The claim that the christian mythology is true (with all its details) and the claim that it isn’t is not symmetrical. Sorry.

    So, while the unqualified statement “atheism is a religion” is perhaps a little too general; modify it with the clause “to some”, and I think there is plenty of evidence to support it.

    Bah. Some people are righteous bastards. So what? What does that even mean for atheism and atheists? Atheists are people, therefore many of them will be terrible people. Oh the surprise! Come on.

    In fact, many draw a sharp distinction between “religion” and “faith”, but I suspect that wouldn’t necessarily interest you.

    If there’s such a distinction, then why call atheism a religion with the argument that their constituency is “filled with faith” and so on? Clearly that particular argument falls then. What is left, then? A nomenclature? Come on.

  52. Most philosophers — or, at any rate, very many — profess to be able to prove, by a priori metaphysical reasoning, such things as the fundamental dogmas of religion, the essential rationality of the universe, the illusoriness of matter, the unreality of all evil, and so on. There can be no doubt that the hope of finding reason to believe such theses as these has been the chief inspiration of many life-long students of philosophy. This hope, I believe, is vain.

    ~Bertrand Russell

  53. @Jonathan D

    For the sake of a discussion I would find more interesting, I will observe that there is a difference between saying atheism is a religion and describing something as an atheist religion.

    I’d have 100 times less problems with this way of speaking, yes, and there’s the Gaia example, with a caveat.

    Pretty much these religions start being atheistic (as a way to deny previous religions) but then they “start over” a new one. Like, say, Gaia. And at that moment, I cannot call them atheistic anymore. Do you see where I am going at? Atheism is a very specific state of mind where you do not really have any gods or religion. To substitute Jesus for Gaia (or any other sort) is not atheism.

    If you are speaking about the assertiveness of the “strident ones” amongst atheism, well, that’s hardly a “religion”. That’s merely the observation that there are people with strong opinions. Is that now called “religion”? Come on.

  54. ‘Like many who are not familiar with philosophical modes of argumentation, Dawkins assumes that Aquinas is engaged in a kind of empirical theorizing, “postulating” God’s existence as a “hypothesis” to “explain” certain pieces of “data.”‘

    Translation: “Now these atheist morons are so stupid they cannot see they must use a circular argument to prove God’s existence and similar questions! They insist on trying to base their cases on observations, how ridiculous!!”

    Really, if this sort of sophistry is now passed as “philosophy”, we should close every philosophy department as of yesterday.

  55. Briggs on 7 August 2012 at 11:32 pm said:

    Leonard Weinstein,

    Wonderful! But, say, is your theory that theories have to be falsifiable itself falsifiable? Or is it a metaphysical (or philosophically) deduced, non-empirical theory? (Like mathematics.)

    That depends on the theory. It also depends on what you want to do with the theory.

    If the theory is, “Swans are invariably white”, a single black swan falsifies the theory. That’s required for the language to be consistent and for logic to work.

    On the other hand, falsifiability may be a matter of practical necessity.

    Falsifiability is an important concept within the creation–evolution controversy, where proponents of both sides claim that Popper developed falsifiability to denote ideas as unscientific or pseudoscientific and use it to make arguments against the views of the respective other side. The question of what can and cannot be legitimately called science is of major importance in this debate because the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits teaching of religion in public schools. Falsifiability has even been used in court decisions in this context as a key deciding factor to distinguish genuine science from the religious. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

  56. I find it very amusing when Briggs uses sheer blatant relativism when trying to demolish the stuff he doesn’t like, while using sheer blatant absolutism to assert his favorite things he just loves. Well, I guess we are all like that to a certain degree.

  57. When someone proclaims atheism to be a religion, you know there was something wrong happening in his central nervous system.

    Do you think the same about those who claim ‘0’ is a number?

    I find it very amusing when Briggs uses sheer blatant relativism when trying to demolish the stuff he doesn’t like, while using sheer blatant absolutism to assert his favorite things he just loves. Well, I guess we are all like that to a certain degree.

    It’s called arguing from your opponents’ point of view. i.e. “If we assume you are correct, then…” Of course, since he has an absolutism view, he would argue his position from an absolutist one. That you have to have this explained to you is rather disappointing. (or are you so consistent with relativism that you can’t even comprehend someone temporarily adopting a different position for the sake of argument?)

  58. commieBob
    Aquinas: “I have five things I can’t explain any other way so God must exist.”

    YOS
    Really, when Dr. Feser pointed out that many critics do not understand the nature of a metaphysical argument, you did not have to leap in and immediately prove him right.
    + + +

    Rob
    I’ve read the book. Anybody with a rudimentary critical thinking tool kit will easily cut through Feser’s sophistical jargon and realize he has nothing but long refuted boilerplate apologetics.

    YOS
    Would it not be far more convincing if you could actually provide such a refutation? That would be like providing empirical evidence of a claim, something you apparently claim to admire.
    + + +

    Leonard Weinstein
    The scientific method requires that hypothesis or theory have falsifiable claims that are either supported or disproved. Any one claim that is disproved results in the hypothesis or theory being invalid as it stands.

    YOS
    If that were the case, heliocentrism, Darwinian natural selection, and Maxwell’s electromagnetism were all falsified at birth. There must be something more to it than Popper’s efforts to undermine scientific certainty. But what if one is not proposing hypotheses or theories?
    + + +

    JH
    Proofs of Mathematical theorem and the one of God’s existence? I fail to see the connection.

    YOS
    Evidently.
    + + +

    Luis Dias
    I fail to see the millions of atheists ringing the bells of the christian houses so they can know the atheist gospel.

    YOS
    They don’t have to do retail when they can use the government to do wholesale.
    + + +

    JH
    Bertrand Russell

    YOS
    So, pace Russell, “there can be no doubt” that the hope of finding reason to believe such theses as “the essential rationality of the universe” is a “vain” hope? So much for natural science.

    Is it always a consequence of atheism that one winds up denying the plain evidence and subverting the very thing one claims to worship?
    + + +

    Luis Dias
    Translation: “Now these atheist morons are so stupid they cannot see they must use a circular argument to prove God’s existence and similar questions! They insist on trying to base their cases on observations, how ridiculous!!”

    YOS
    Oddly enough, we mathematicians also do not base our cases on observations. Go figure. Observation is good for natural science, and it may also provide illustrative matter or even starting points for reasoning, but neither metaphysics nor mathematics are observational in the sense that natural science is.

    Also the claim of “circular argument” would be more convincing if you could provide illustrative examples rather than wild, unsupported kerygmas of belief.

  59. “Oddly enough, we mathematicians also do not base our cases on observations. Go figure. Observation is good for natural science, and it may also provide illustrative matter or even starting points for reasoning, but neither metaphysics nor mathematics are observational in the sense that natural science is. ”

    Precisely the reason why mathematics applies to the real world only through analogy. Mathematical truths are real world truths only as long as the analogy holds.

    Proving God through metaphysical argument does little to prove the reality of God’s existence.

  60. Leonard Weinstein
    The scientific method requires that hypothesis or theory have falsifiable claims that are either supported or disproved. Any one claim that is disproved results in the hypothesis or theory being invalid as it stands.

    YOS
    If that were the case, heliocentrism, Darwinian natural selection, and Maxwell’s electromagnetism were all falsified at birth.

    Oh? How were they falsified at birth? Did they fly into the face of counter examples? Scientific theories only have to be potentially falsifiable through observation.

    The testing of predictions is a way to invalidate a theory of the real world. Failure to invalidate allows only the presumption of truth. A theory that doesn’t allow for invalidation through testing is worthless.

  61. Rob,

    Ah, no doubt one should read to expand their understanding and test their assumptions. No argument there. I only meant it seems odd that you’d recommend something that you judge to have such little value.

    Lets not conflate the issue, the point of the book is not to prove that angels and demons exist, nor is it to prove the infallibility of Catholic dogma. Offering philosophical arguments for theism, i.e. natural theology, is a purely rational exercise and is conducted separately from revealed religion. One issue at a time, if you please.

  62. YOS,
    Is it always a consequence of atheism that one winds up denying the plain evidence and subverting the very thing one claims to worship?
    I don’t know. As far as I know, the kind of atheism I grew up with cares nothing about the existence of God, but about how to become a person of virtue based on Confucius teaching.

    Do you mind telling me more about “the plain evidence” and the connection that I fail to see? Repeating what I say is not very helpful. I won’t claim that I am smart, but I am very educable.

  63. JTC, rationalizing, though not the same as logic reasoning, is an awesome human quality though. ^_^

  64. Hey, Briggs. The only way to talk to this level of scientist. ie somebody who thinks The Scientific Method comes from Mount Sinai, or maybe Westchester,is as a man who never was. Reporting from Rapid City, South Dakota…..

  65. @Luis:
    “The claim that the christian mythology is true (with all its details) and the claim that it isn’t is not symmetrical. Sorry.”

    Oh, I see the problem here. You equate God and Christian “mythology”, which I see as being similar to equating chemistry with phlogiston theory, and rejecting chemistry as a consequence. Specifically: some “explanations” are workable for certain purposes, given the knowledge of the time, but are only very, very rough approximations of reality.

    I would theoretically argue for the existence of a creator (if I didn’t believe such an exercise largely futile — those who would see it do, those who won’t, don’t), but that doesn’t mean I uncritically subscribe to all the cultural baggage of various churches that many people conflate with the religion itself.

    As I said to Chinahand, above:

    “I’ve found that many “atheists” argue against a somewhat simple-minded concept of the Creator — most times I end up agreeing with them: that which they assert does not exist unquestionably doesn’t. Sadly, few of them seem inclined to take the next step and develop a more sophisticated concept of the creator against which to flail.”

    In my view, you are torching straw men. What kind of gratification does that provide? Arguing against the world (or all of reality, however you choose to interpret it) having been literally created in 6 days is about as enlightening as disproving the Easter Bunny.

    You seem like a deep thinker; why don’t you find a more modern concept of the Creator to debunk, rather than plowing the the same old ground with the same old arguments?

    My 6th grade debating teacher taught the principle behind this little mental exercise: Describe a Creator in whose existence you could believe (you may have to overcome your reflexes, but surely, as a sincere seeker of truth, you can do it). Next, construct the argument against it, and convince yourself of the soundness of that argument. Then, repeat the exercise.

    Perhaps if you try hard enough, you will find your smugness misguided.

  66. Nate,

    Do you think the same about those who claim ’0′ is a number?

    I think the same about those who tell me that baldness is an hairstyle.

    It’s called arguing from your opponents’ point of view.

    No, I stand by what I said. Call it a more general assessment I make from Briggs’ inputs, and it’s something that pervades his writings. What made me cringe was when he relativized “what is healthy” right after absolutizing beauty in music and other arts, some while ago.

    They don’t have to do retail when they can use the government to do wholesale.

    Just like when Bush senior told americans that atheists shouldn’t be considered americans?

    Or when Bush junior told us that he had His insight over the war on Iraq?

    Really amazing atheistic brainwashing happening right there my man.

  67. I think the same about those who tell me that baldness is an hairstyle.

    It is per the character customization of millions of video games.

    Of course, the distinction isn’t hard for programmers since in our languages, there is a difference between ‘0’ and [ ] (aka “null”). I think it’s up to the atheists to make the case that 2 minus 2 does not result in a number.

    No, I stand by what I said. Call it a more general assessment I make from Briggs’ inputs, and it’s something that pervades his writings. What made me cringe was when he relativized “what is healthy” right after absolutizing beauty in music and other arts, some while ago.

    Then you should make that clearer as the specific comment you were referring to was exactly a case I was pointing out.

    Of course, without understanding your exact context, it could also be a difference between government policies and philosophies. After all, while a great many people believe that there are absolutes in philosophical senses (such as music, art, morality, even health), they have no faith in the government to accurately determine those absolutes, thus want a relativist government with varying degrees. (not that I’m saying that is the case of our host, just that the inability to grasp the difference is a sign of poor thinking)

    Just like when Bush senior told americans that atheists shouldn’t be considered americans?

    I know this wasn’t in response to me, but I’m genuinely curious as to the citation on this (as I was probably too young to notice anything of the sort at the time).

  68. Interestingly enough, I found Feser through this blog. I was doing some research on the science of spanking when I found Briggs writing about it. I found a link to Feser’s blog. I started reading his blog and found myself confused. I had thought, somewhat through my education but mostly through popular caricature, that the belief in God was mostly of a matter of interpretation. I saw Feser’s book on the new atheists and figured it was worth a go.

    I read it and was astounded. My moment of clarity during Feser’s explanation of Plato when I cried out “Plato was a genius!” Finally, so much of what I believed suddenly made sense. Part of the problem was that my introduction to Plato was through Francis Shaefer. Looking back, I can now understand what Shaefer was talking about, but at the time it didn’t make any sense. Feser made it make sense.

    Then he went on to Aristotle, who showed that some of Plato didn’t make sense, and I had to read it a few times, but eventually got it. Then Feser spent much of his time on Aquinas and attacking the New Atheists from that perspective, using the voice of the New Atheists. Coming from a Protestant background I lamented that we are not often taught this. Even if Aquinas is wrong on some counts, my contention he is far more right than he is wrong and so much could be gained if we all talked about God in what could be called the classically theist perspective.

    Which brings me to David Bentley Hart. I recently read his work “The Experience of God” and I would not have been able to understand it as well without Feser’s work, The New Superstition. Reading through the comments on this post I have to come to the conclusion that Hart is right: when atheists argue against Christians concerning God, we aren’t even talking about the same thing.

    Reading Feser opened up the world of philosophy and a way of thinking that is annoyingly strong (at least to other people I talk to). In some ways, the classically theist position is so strong, we have to be careful when wielding it as it is easily misunderstood nowadays. As Kreeft is fond of saying, we need to define our terms. It often seems that the more antagonistic the atheist is, the less they are actually talking about “God”, in the Christian/Jewish/theist sense.

    The current state of discource is impoverished because of this divergence. Feser’s book is a great starting point if one wishes to acquire the intellectual wealth of the classically theist position.

  69. Just noticed that all except one comment are from postings a few years ago.

    For an atheist it’s not a question about whether God exists or not, it’s questions about a primary fact of two very different universes – one which they say exists, the other which they say doesn’t. A religious person is more likely to accept as valid the different questions at this level of factualness about the exact same universe. For a God believer, it’s legitimate to ask about the existence of God, and end up with either a correct or erroneous result. For an atheist, the question itself is an demonstration of ignorance, and is never possible to be answered in the positive.

  70. Catholic moral theology, history, Tradition and even Reason itself, all teach us that it is sometimes morally laudable to light such people on fire or to otherwise relieve them of their mortal coil; so arguing over whether a mere piffle of rhetoric is licit or commendable, is already confusingly absurd.

  71. Also: I see some saying that “rudeness” is not becoming in a man of intellectual strength. Such persons must not be well read. Some of the best and brightest are the very rudest, when rebuking fools in their folly. God Himself had nothing but insult and exasperation for the intelligentsia of His time and place of Incarnation. Indeed, the sane, intelligent man of today can almost only have one attitude towards modernity and its intellectual pretensions – and it’s a damned rude one. Never before have folk who know so little, been so sure of their opinions. Is it morally right to hold one’s ire? I know two things for sure: our perfect Lord did not hold His at all times; also, there is no virtue in your virginity if you are too inept to mount a seduction, or if none care to deflower you… any half-wit can pretend that his politeness is intellectual restraint, when really it is mere, deflective self-flattery and passive-aggression.

  72. II Timothy 1:7.
    This need to act in a ‘manly’ way on this topic is understandable given the approach taken by, in previous years, ‘New Atheists’ who have mocked and stolen the show. They have done so in the belief that science supports the atheist side. A point which the religious side still lets them take with their eyes open, being drawn out on a non truth rather than simply stating the obvious category problem with that view.

    According to Dr John Lennox though, “New New Atheists” such as he meets in lower key college settings were rather embarrassed by the way some of the Atheists behaved and see the obvious ills of even attempting to set about being active in destroying people’s faith which is what underpins and drives the movement. They do believe they are heroic.

    THAT is where the defence should be focussed.. .. The goodness of the existence of faith. If the example is set by those who think people should be set on fire you’re on a losing wicket and will fail historically as that approach always has.

    It doesn’t help the cause one bit to behave like a brute, if that is what you argue Ed does in so many words, it does as Dav said up above.

    Atheists often don’t understand the position of a theist and that is not always their fault. In the same way many Christians do not understand the position of their fellow Christians so they imagine all sorts of convenient rubbish.

    Each debater wants to own the definitions and the fight is over where the match is to be held and whose idea it was, whose game it is. So the definitions should be very clear, home and away arguments need to be clearly de-marked.
    So much of what you see is a chaotic mess of accusation and false dismantling of non represented arguments.

    At least if a Theist rightly wants to be able to set out his stall so they must allow the Atheist the same dignity and not pretend to insist they argue their case from the start point offered by the Theist.

    What I’ve seen lately not elsewhere, but here is a switch from the Atheists behaving badly to the Theists behaving very badly.

    My theory for the reason for this is the political times right now. Politics is a reason to be upset and fearful or concerned about the state of things around the world.

    Brutishness and manliness is more effective in worldly, material things.
    If a result and not just a Catharsis is the goal in religious debate.
    See II Timothy 1:7.

  73. You know, if reason could establish the existence of God, then there would be many more believers than there are. I assert that you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. All you can do is to show that the existence of God (and the Trinity) is altogether consonant with what we know about the world both from science and from other sources. As St. Augustine would maintain, it is grace –let me upper case that–Grace that brings faith, or perhaps I should say, it is allowing our will to let Grace have its way that enables faith.

  74. Huh? Grace is a shove in the back that propels one to make the kierkegaardian leap into the abyss of the unknowable??
    Quite apart from what Feser and his sycophants might like to allude or imply, Faith (capital “F”) must be a reasonable (moral and/or intellectual) conviction. An unreasonable belief is definitively superstition.

    This promises to be a wonderful parade of sycophants of scientism riding on Feser’s train.

  75. Bob Kurland:

    You say, “You know, if reason could establish the existence of God, then there would be many more believers than there are.”

    But, there once were. A vast majority (a near unanimity, in fact) of all educated men held that the existence of God was well-established. These men — some of them much, much smarter than anyone you or I know, today — held their views to be supported by proofs from natural reason.

    The problem is that proofs require premises, and broad acceptance of a proof requires those premises to be broadly understood and accepted.

    Because our population today is 99% metaphysically illiterate (the Christians no less than the atheists), the relevant premises are not broadly understood and accepted. And, because they are not, the proofs which derive from them are not broadly accepted, either.

    So when you take a modern increase in atheism (has it reached 10% yet?) to be evidence of the non-existence of good proofs for God, I take a different view. I think it is evidence of our population today being almost completely ignorant of the premises upon which the proofs would rest.

    Feser shows that the proofs of the existence of God follow naturally from such premises as…

    Premise 1: There are two categories of being: that which is contingent, and that which is not contingent (or “necessary”). The former category includes the objects of our daily experience: They need not have existed, and have not always existed, even if they exist now. To call them contingent means to say that they are the kind of thing which has the possibility of not existing, somewhere, somewhen. The opposite category, called “necessary” beings, are just those beings which cannot possibly NOT be. There might be one such being, or none, or several. But whether or not there are any necessary beings, our first premise is that beings are either necessary or contingent: There are no other categories.

    Premise 2 (really a definition): When a thing is changed, that change is not random or unrelated to the thing being changed, but represents a potentiality which was already in the thing being changed. For example, a rubber ball can be changed into a puddle of sticky goo, by melting. But it cannot be changed into an armadillo. One way to state this is that the ball has a potential to be changed into goo, by melting; but it has no potential to become an armadillo. If some flame or electric heater comes along and melts the ball, we say that the heat-source has “actualized” the potential which already existed in the ball: That which was merely “potential” in the ball became “actual.”

    Premise 3: Things change in our universe. But when something (thing A) is changed, it is always changed by something else (thing B); as when a muscle (B) pulls on a bone (A) to allow a dog to lift its leg. Even when we say that the muscle changes itself (e.g. it “contracts”), or that the dog changes itself (e.g. it lifts its “own” leg), we can see that the entire muscle doesn’t spontaneously change, nor does the entire leg spontaneously lift. Instead, it is some part of the muscle (signals in the nerves) which alters the other parts (muscle fibers); or, some part of the dog (the muscle) moves another (the bone). To use the terms defined in Premise 2, we say that a “potential” in the thing being changed (A) was “actualized” by some other thing (B) acting upon it.

    …and various others.

    When these and other premises are properly understood and red herrings (e.g. quantum indeterminacy as an objection to Item 2) are discarded, these premises are accepted. They are accepted, because the alternative requires us to adopt various radical skepticisms like occasionalism or solipsism, under which science and reason are utterly invalidated. (You can avoid the relevant premises, but only by making yourself into a lunatic…or else, a hypocrite, who goes around living his life sensibly in spite of denying all the ideas that make it sensible.)

    So, accepting the relevant premises is just a matter of adopting rules for thinking clearly and consistently about what is real. This branch of logical thinking is called “metaphysics.”

    What Feser shows is that most people never realize that God exists simply because nobody has called their attention to the relevant premises in metaphysics, or their implications. But Feser shows that (a.) the premises ought to be accepted; and, (b.) they imply the existence of God, not as a probabilistic hypothesis (as in a courtroom) but in a strict-logical-proof kind of way (as in geometry).

    So, when you say, “I assert that you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God,” you are saying something which sounds, by Christian standards, heretical. (You seem to be contradicting St. Paul, for example.)

    But I don’t think you’re trying to be a heresiarch! I think you just have never encountered the relevant premises, because our whole civilization has rejected metaphysical reasoning as part of basic education. And because we’ve done that, most folk are ignorant of the premises from which God can be seen to exist.

    Teach every toddler how to think clearly about reality, and the logical necessity of God will become 90%+ accepted by all educated men.

  76. Faith is a temperamental or emotional state resulting from the unknown. Nobody escapes this state. The God question is no different.

    It takes heart to believe something in order to study or discover. So even for the person studying the flat underside of an armadillo and comparing it with all the others, he’s following some point of faith of the truth or not of a thing.
    Maybe that all armadillos are:
    “slightly rippled with a flat underside.”

    It doesn’t have to be complex. Theories can be necessarily complex but this is still not a measure of value or truth.

    Of course reason is not what divides Theists and Atheists. The highest scientific prizes and engineering achievements are accomplished by people of both types.

    Similarly good people make up both sides.

    My ‘Auntie” who isn’t an Aunt has now come into some major problem that has to do with severe chronic pain and given these only intellectual discussions I am reminded of how she let her own hand bleed to holding me on a bike as a child. She is a lovely lady, a devout Catholic, well, how you count that…but forcing us to Irish dancing was surely one proof, staunch left wing!
    People don’t fit into neat groups always.

    All the children in our street played together my closest friends, one a Hindu, a Jew, Protestants and Catholics all played together. Children don’t know they are different and the reason is because they are not, in this predicament.

    One of several dearest to me is an Atheist without an apparent cure.

    As for sectarian rows deliberately set and should there be real harm ever triggered by this sort of thing again, as in Ireland, people will be asked to choose as in the film Sophie’s Choice. Yet, it does appear to be comping and from a source which never experienced the trouble before in real time. That’s ignorant.

    Atheists possess grace. They can be wise, honourable and beautiful and truthful in any combination.

    “Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved…”

    “Believe and you will find your way.”

    It’s a very small step but people make it into a huge abyss.

  77. @Bob Kurland:

    “You know, if reason could establish the existence of God, then there would be many more believers than there are.”

    What do you mean by “believe” here? Believe the mere proposition “God exists” or “believe” in the sense of leading the sort of life that God wants you to?

    “I assert that you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.”

    Since this is only an assertion, no refutation is needed. I will however add that this position, while popular, is certainly not universal and at odds with the entire classical theological tradition. As an example I will cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church, part I, sect. I, chapt. I:

    “31 Created in God’s image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These “ways” of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.”

    “All you can do is to show that the existence of God (and the Trinity)”

    The existence of God can be shown, the Trinity is revealed dogma.

  78. @grodgues: as your quote from the Catechism says, “not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of ‘converging and convincing arguments’.”

    I will indeed agree about converging and convincing arguments, to those who allow the Grace given by the Holy Spirit to have effect. Indeed, my sense of “proof” is that of a logical or mathematical proof. And even if that proof is sound, if one does not agree with the assumptions, one is not convinced. And in that sense, “natural sciences” can not be based on “proof” either. The natural sciences rely on empirical demonstration of whether, within specified error limits, mathematical or quasi-mathematical laws operate.

  79. How many of you have actually READ THE BOOK? If you want to argue the content you are obligated to read it.

    Right now the E version of the book is $11.49. I bought it way back when it was bargain priced at $10.00. It is well worth the price whether you agree with the author or not.

  80. No Bob, rest assured I know exactly what you meant. You’ve made an assumption though, again, about my thoughts.

    Originally I had a sentence at the top of my *comment* (in anticipation of this) to state that you are, in my view, correct (saints weren’t mentioned) but that I don’t expect you to agree with the next part of my comment. I took it out. Really, I’m not wanting a debate on something like this.
    These matters are not complex intellectual matters. They are complex emotional and spiritual matters. These discussions will fall short except of course amongst men, in particular, who wish to discuss theology.

    These are matters of the human spirit and the Holy Spirit, if someone is a Christian. Was essentially my position but my point was and is about Christians being similar to non Christians in many more ways than some would like to admit…that is not aimed at you either, Bob. It is an observation.

  81. …and I’ve just seen this is from an article in The American….Catholic Quarterly.
    Different world.

  82. Good points, R. C.

    To take some of the conjecture out of the “debate”… the First Vatican Council found it necessary to define as dogma what has always been believed by the faithful (indeed by all thoughtful men of good conscience) to counter the upsurge of rationalism that was proposing all the specious doubts and “objections” that are still with us. The Council said: “If anyone shall say that the existence of God cannot be known with certainty by the light of natural reason alone, let him be anathema”. (Colloquially, anathema means dead wrong and not one of us). Such certainty can be arrived at intellectually and morally with subliminal (shall we say, intuitive) logical deduction from the observation of the operations of the natural world. Such certain conclusions are the necessity of an Ultimate (First) Cause with a Purpose (Final Cause) and the existence of Good and Evil (for there to exist contingent goods there must be an Ultimate Source of Good). I suspect that most readers of this blog will be incensed by the implication that philosophy is not the exclusive preserve of academics weaving word webs for the adulation of their peers.

    A contingent existence is anything that depends for its existence, formation and operation on some preexistence. For example, a stone is not a stone without the material and process that makes up a stone; a stone cannot create itself, it must have anterior cause(s). Anything that changes or is changeable (“movement”) is contingent and cannot be eternal because any “movement” requires something to cause the changes, ultimately, an uncaused First Cause.

    It’s all pretty elementary and well within the intuitive grasp of any intellect that is not ideologically committed to some kind of pantheism or relativistic autonomy.

    Reasoning (and even logical reasoning) is not a sure-fire path to truth; it may be just the rationalisation of some prejudice magnifying some originally assumed error. As perspicaciously stated above, any valid and effective reasoning depends on valid premises and effective logical method.

    Valid premises and method must be based on, and subject to, certainly known (self evident) truths.

    A self evident truth is a statement or proposition where the only alternative to which is its contrary and which contrary is self-contradictory and thus absurd. Some primordial examples of which are: “Things exist”; “I exist”; “A thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist”; “An effect cannot be greater than its cause(s)”.
    Where method is concerned the “law of non contradiction” and its corollaries and derivatives reign supreme in logic. The Scholastic Method developed by good ole Uncle Tom is the prime example of a valid method of logical (philosophical, scientific) investigation.

    Tom is not infallible. I contend that some (very few) of his conclusions are based on minor premises that, according to the pragmatic knowledge he had at the time, led to some deficient conclusions… but his method was impeccable.

    I will contend that this “reasoning to belief” is rationalising Faith and Reason to coincide with scientistic “Evolution” ideology.

    Anyhow, let the tournament begin!

  83. @Bob Kurland:

    “I will indeed agree about converging and convincing arguments, to those who allow the Grace given by the Holy Spirit to have effect.”

    Is there a reason why you have left out the part “which allow us to attain certainty about the truth” of the Catechism quote?

    “Indeed, my sense of “proof” is that of a logical or mathematical proof. And even if that proof is sound, if one does not agree with the assumptions, one is not convinced. And in that sense, “natural sciences” can not be based on “proof” either.”

    Ok, so your sense of “proof” is vacuous since there is no instance of it. Not even the proposition “nothing can be proved” admits of proof, so presumably you believe it due to what is commonly called a leap of faith. There are other problems (e.g. there are many reasons why people are unconvinced that have nothing to do with the strength of the arguments themselves, so whether people are “convinced” or not is irrelevant for their evaluation), but once again, there is really nothing that needs refutation.

  84. @Oldavid:

    “Tom is not infallible.”

    Has anyone claimed this? St. Thomas is commonly viewed as the quintessencial example of a Catholic theologian. Any Catholic with even a smidge of knowledge, the most ardent Thomist, will give you a ready example of where St. Thomas is in error (and in dogmatic theology no less!).

  85. @grodrigues. It’s evident you don’t understand a word of what I’m saying, so there’s no point in any further discussion with you. If you can’t make distinctions between mathematical and logical proof, rational belief, inductive reasoning, then there is no common universe of discourse for us.

  86. @Bob Kurland:

    “It’s evident you don’t understand a word of what I’m saying, so there’s no point in any further discussion with you”

    Fair enough, but I did make point about what you did not say, and made a valid argument about what follows from what you did say; I did not just blurt out “Hey Bob, it is evident do not even know the Catechism!”

  87. @grodrigues:
    “Has anyone claimed this?”
    (That Tom is infallible).

    To begin with, let me say that I admire the perspicacity of your observations and comments.

    I was taking a shot at specious arguments that quote (usually out of context) authorities alluding or implying that the question is settled by that name-drop. Mostly such sophists are careful not to make direct claims that can be challenged, relying instead on innuendo to exalt their position.

    @grodrigues:
    “Ok, so your sense of “proof” is vacuous since there is no instance of it. Not even the proposition “nothing can be proved” admits of proof, so presumably you believe it due to what is commonly called a leap of faith. There are other problems (e.g. there are many reasons why people are unconvinced that have nothing to do with the strength of the arguments themselves, so whether people are “convinced” or not is irrelevant for their evaluation), but once again, there is really nothing that needs refutation.”

    Excellent! well said! I could take lessons from you but I’m already too old.

  88. @ Aurelius Moner:

    “Catholic moral theology, history, Tradition and even Reason itself, all teach us that it is sometimes morally laudable to light such people on fire or to otherwise relieve them of their mortal coil;”

    Justifications for torture and murder based on theism. Is it necessary for me to add anything here?

  89. Justifications for torture and murder based on atheism are much more contemporary and well documented. Think France and the Reign of Terror, and the many Communist mass murders of Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, to name just a few of the most well known.

    Of course, history is much easier to “reinterpret” or reinvent the farther back in the mists of time it is staged. Even now it is your beloved God-haters who are staging riots wrecking the serenity and property of ordinary people just trying to go about their ordinary business.

  90. @ Oldavid:

    “Justifications for torture and murder based on atheism are much more contemporary and well documented. Think France and the Reign of Terror, and the many Communist mass murders of Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, to name just a few of the most well known.

    These are not justifications for torture and murder based on atheism. Communist murders are based on Communism, not atheism and I’ve literally never heard of anyone using atheism as a justification for torture and murder.

    “Even now it is your beloved God-haters who are staging riots wrecking the serenity and property of ordinary people”

    Atheists don’t “hate god”, that doesn’t even make sense – how can we hate something we don’t believe in? I’m not clear which riots you’re talking about but I’d like to see what evidence you’re using that any rioting has been specifically based on atheism?

    Have you read the Bible? Non-believers are threatened with eternal torture and god murders everyone in the entire world except Noah and his family, not to mention almost every animal.

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