Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Following Up The Last Superstition

More Feser on the New Atheism.

45 comments:

Jesse Parrish said...

I'll second this criticism. I'll add that there are many things about the New Atheism that I like, and that as a popular movement it is relatively meritorious. But that is no excuse for the anti-intellectualism. In fairness, I might add that the Courtier's Reply and other dismissals are somewhat understandable, as there is little else to say to those usually left-leaning critics who insist on a God `that transcends existence'. But obviously, this does not excuse proliferating a crude caricature of Aquinas' argument.

Anonymous said...

as a popular movement it is relatively meritorious

But that is no excuse for the anti-intellectualism.

Hear hear!

Also, Al-Qaeda are a decent bunch aside from the terrorism and rabble-rousing.

Anonymous said...

Reading Feser's page today and then McDonald's, it's literally absurd the way the discussion of God's existence has degenerated into snarky insular camps that function mostly as sophomoric insult generators. I see your "Courtier's Reply" and raise you a "Meyers Shuffle!"

I remember when I was in high school reading the debates of Chesterton and Shaw. And now we've come to this.

Anonymous said...

I see your "Courtier's Reply" and raise you a "Meyers Shuffle!"

Because Feser and Myers are really on the same plane, right? Please. Feser is a philosopher who has praised numerous atheists as fair and fair-minded, even in their unbelief. Myers is an outgunned windbag whose main claim to fame is running a blog where he bitches a lot.

(He certainly has almost nothing to show ofr himself, purely as a scientist.)

Leonhard said...

As far as I am aware, Ed Feser doesn't consider naturalism or anything similar a 'reasonable position', so I have a hard time imganing why he would some atheists reasonable. I would love an example if you could dig one out.

And I don't think calling something a Courtier response is nescessarily bad. The idea is that you've refuted an argument given by your opponent, who then proceeds to list an arm length of obscure philosophers. Since you havn't answered them, you havn't answered the argument. Its just moving the goal post, because whether or not you've answered their arguments is irrelevant to whether you've answered your opponent. Can it be abused, sure, but thats another red herring, i ;)

I think Feser gives The New Atheists a fair critique for unfairly representing the typical arguments for God. It doesn't help the case against God to knock down strawmans of the arguments.

B. Prokop said...

"who then proceeds to list an arm's length of obscure philosophers"

Plato, Aristotle, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Lewis...

"Obscure Philosophers" ?!?!?

One Brow said...

There's also the point that Aquinas, etc., didn't just fade into obscurity. Their positions were actively discussed, debated, and found wanting, to the point where the majority of theists today don't use their arguments. When Myers, et. al., respond to an argument, they are responing to what the masses believe, because they are trying to convert the masses.

Aquinian metaphysics has been shown to be a poor model of the world in several different ways, historically. Why shoud Myers, et. al., feel the need to respond to every outdated argument simply because a few people hold on to it?

Thomas said...

"As far as I am aware, Ed Feser doesn't consider naturalism or anything similar a 'reasonable position', so I have a hard time imganing why he would some atheists reasonable. I would love an example if you could dig one out."

From Feser´s recent blog post:

"The polemics are directed at them [new atheists], not at atheists in general (and I have made in clear many times that there are atheists for whom I have great respect -- J. L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, J. J. C. Smart, and Howard Sobel are a few examples)."

He says this all the time in his blog. He thinks that there are good arguments for the claim that naturalism is false, but that doesn´t mean that all naturalists are thus unreasonable. Only the Coyne-Dawkins-Myers -type atheists are.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to equate Feser and McDonald. I'm just referring to the sad fact that the conversation is degenerating from serious debate to the exchanging of snarky made-up internet slogans.

For the record, I don't think people of Feser's pedigree should be wasting any time whatsoever with people like McDonald.

Anonymous said...

One Brow:

I think the point is that Dawkins did refer to the arguments of Aquinas and severely misrepresented/misunderstood them.

finney said...

I think there's a better critique of Breaking The Spell than merely that Dennett doesn't treat the cosmological arguments well. He spends all of 2 pages going through them.

What I'd point out if I were Feser is that in Dennett's philosophical worldview, God plays the same explanatory and fictional role roles as intentional states Take Breaking the Spell and compare it to The Intentional Stance, and you wonder if Dennett did this on purpose or is just a dunce.

1. Intentional states cannot be discerned via the physical stance. Neither can God.

2. Intentional states can only be discerned by imputing them to the world. This is Dennett's theory for how people came to believe in God.

3. Intentional states don't actually exist but are useful to the extent they allow a believer a way to form predictions. In Dennett's view, a thermostat may be said to have an intentional state. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), Dennett treats the concept of God much less favorably.

Blue Devil Knight said...

finney that is funny. It is no coincidence: for Dennett God is a projection of the intentional stance beyond credible limits.

I agree with anonymous that Feser doesn't exactly move the conversation forward, but effectively has published an internet diatribe.

I wonder how much the quality of our writing outside of blogs is being influenced by blog scat. I know since I've been writing less at blogs, my writing has improved, and even my thinking.

It's like the difference between blitz chess and slow chess. The former makes you sort of stupid in chess.

B. Prokop said...

BDK:

Your mention of blitz chess reminded me of something I learned during my last trip to New Zealand, where they play a form of golf in which speed counts for more than the number of strokes. In other words, if one player makes a hole in two minutes using 30 strokes, he actually gets a higher score than another player who makes the same hole in three minutes with 5 strokes!

Giordano Sagredo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BenYachov said...

>I agree with anonymous that Feser doesn't exactly move the conversation forward, but effectively has published an internet diatribe.


I disagree with you old friend based on the evidence.

McDonald is backpedaling & a young Atheist named dguller is taking him to task over at his own blog for misrepresenting Feser. While at the same time disagreeing with Feser on many points.

It's beautiful to see.

BenYachov said...

>I might add that the Courtier's Reply and other dismissals are somewhat understandable,

Against hardcore Fideists I agree it's usefull but in practice it's used against Theistic Rationalists anti-fideists by lazy persons(like Myers) who believe in a their one size fits all polemic against religion at all costs.

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
I think the point is that Dawkins did refer to the arguments of Aquinas and severely misrepresented/misunderstood them.

No doubt. I don't think Dawkins is any more interested in an accurate portrayal of Aquinas than in an accurate protrayal of solipsism.

Bobcat said...

One Brow, the fact that many philosophers found and find Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God wanting doesn't tell us much. First, there is almost no argument for anything that the majority of philosophers don't find wanting. The real question, then, is whether Aquinas's arguments are good arguments even if you don't find them convincing. Second, the majority of philosophers now and in the modern era really didn't know all that much about Aquinas's arguments. This isn't meant to be a jab; it's just that there's too much philosophy out there for most philosophers to know much of it. You'd be surprised how much philosophers take each other's words for things. (And yes, I'm a professional philosopher.)

B. Prokop said...

"[Aquinas's] positions were actively discussed, debated, and found wanting".

The man capable of finding ANYTHING that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote "wanting" has yet to be born.

One Brow said...

Bobcat,

I acknowledge that, as a strictly philosophical postion, Aquinas' arguments have an internal consistency and from that perspective are not particularly more problematic than other positons. It's when you try to apply the model of the world created by Aquinas to actual reality that the deficiencies of Aquains' model become apparent.

B. Prokop said...
The man capable of finding ANYTHING that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote "wanting" has yet to be born.

Aquinas' metaphysics forms a bad model for reality, and this has been known for centuries, from what I can tell. IF youmean they are not wanting from a formal perspective, I have no problem with that.

BenYachov said...

Bob don't get suckered in by One Brow. His charges against Aquinas at best are ambiguous and at worst incoherent mush.

Here is how it will go down.

If you ask him to define what he means by "reality" he will give you a standard empiricist answer. Then he will deny he is an empiricist. He will claim he accepts realism but he will ignore universals in any discussion you have with him. He will make a bunch of nominalist arguments while denying he is a nominalist. He will claim conceptionalism but still ignore universals. He will deny he holds any of these views but jump between them in mid argument.

Round and round you will go & threw a host of rabbit holes he will lead you till you don't know what the hell he is talking about.

Be advised "Aquinas' metaphysics forms a bad model for reality" is not a statement that has any objective meaning. It's meaning can change from moment to moment if you choose to dispute it.

Don't get suckered by him.

BenYachov said...

The whole point of metaphysics is to debate "What is reality" via philosophical argument.

Claiming Bob don't get suckered in by One Brow. His charges against Aquinas at best are ambiguous and at worst incoherent mush.

Here is how it will go down.

If you ask him to define what he means by "reality" he will give you a standard empiricist answer. Then he will deny he is an empiricist. He will claim he accepts realism but he will ignore universals in any discussion you have with him. He will make a bunch of nominalist arguments while denying he is a nominalist. He will claim conceptionalism but still ignore universals. He will deny he holds any of these views but jump between them in mid argument.

Round and round you will go & threw a host of rabbit holes he will lead you till you don't know what the hell he is talking about.

Be advised "Aquinas' metaphysics forms a bad model for reality" begs the question.

Is One Brow going to offer an alternative philosophy he believes corresponds to "reality"? No he will not.

Don't say I didn't warn you?

BenYachov said...

How did I post that twice & mix two posts?

SHIT!

Victor Reppert said...

I think the Courtier's Reply can be effective in certain contexts. Let's take the Emperor's Clothes case. If I someone says that the emperor has clothes on even though he appears naked, and he runs through a long list of different types of invisible fabric that he's wearing, of course, that doesn't cut any ice. If, for some reason, he has an argument for why, in spite of the fact that the emperor appears naked, he nonetheless really does have clothing on, and is attempting to offer an explanation as to why this might be, then at the very least you've got to get the argument right. Granted, you could use a G. E. Moore type response, (it's evident to the senses that the king is naked, and that is more evident than any reason we might have for thinking he is clothed), but what you can't do a straw man the argument in defense of the emperor's clothes.

For example, if I don't believe that angels exist, it seems to me that I can hold that belief without knowing a lot of angelology, or being able to distinguish between different types of angels, etc., if I have good reason to believe that there aren't any angels. However, if someone has an argument for the existence of angels, then I can't use this as an excuse to misrepresent the argument. I have to get it right, if I am to be credited with actually refuting it. I can't get away with presenting a cosmological argument that says "Everything's got to have a cause, so the universe has to have one, too."

Similarly, if I am defending an argument from evil for atheism, then I had better know what the theistic responses are and get them right. Otherwise, I'm just straw-manning.

B. Prokop said...

Don't worry, Ben. No chance of me getting rolled on this one. The brute fact is, ANYONE on this website trying to take on Aquinas would be like my local middle school football team going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, only with even less chance of scoring!

One Brow said...

Dr. Reppert,

I responded to your blog post.



Ben Yachov,

While it is certainly kind of you to save other people the mental toil of forming their own opinions about me, you need have no fear B. Prokop will attempt to engage me in a discussion.

Papalinton said...

"For the record, I don't think people of Feser's pedigree ...."

Pedigree? Feser? Feser is a Catholic apologist, first and foremost. Any philosophical pretense comes a distant second. Apologists are a dime a dozen.

Have you read Feser's article here? It is an indulgent surly little swipe at those that dare to question the superstition and mysticism that guides his worldview. Indeed the tenor of the piece does little more than display his impotence to deliver the theological knockdown he so desperately wants. He knows defending the indefensible is a null endeavour and that christianity as we know it is evolving, just like every other culturally dependent variable, in the attempt to maintain some semblance of relevance in today's community.

Defending the embers of Catholic tradition is synonymous with the end of a species line. Unless it can develop radical strategies for change to match the requirements for survival [a Darwinian evolutionary concept I understand] it is bound to be consigned to the dustbin of history, just a history itself informs us of the innumerable other religions of past times. As a comment on the falsity of relying on longevity as a measure of truth, I might add the Egyptian religious phenomenon lasted some 2.5 -3000 years before it finally faded away.

Anonymous said...

"Feser is a Catholic apologist, first and foremost. Any philosophical pretense comes a distant second. Apologists are a dime a dozen."

And you are an atheist apologist, so nyah, nyah. For you, "any philosophical pretense comes a distant second.," and people like you are "a dime a dozen."



(oh and btw, Feser by his own admission is an ex-atheist who in his post-graduate years came to theism purely via philosophical argumentation, and eventually to Catholic Christianity. Egg on your face?)

B. Prokop said...

"the embers of Catholic tradition"???

Embers? Papalinton, you need to come to Sunday morning Mass at my church, Saint Paul's in Ellicott City, Maryland. We're standing room only in this 170 year old church (That's OLD for the good ol' USA.), and hardly anyone's in a hurry to leave after Mass. The singing is loud, everyone participates, and the sermons are inspiring. All age groups are well represented, and there is a thriving Youth Group that has activities on week nights. (Is that one word or two?) And us Old Farts meet on Saturday mornings for coffee and to hear speakers. I myself have just attended the first session of a newly-offered Latin class, which has about 20 people in it. And St. Paul's is expanding as we speak, building a new Evangelization Center next to the church.

No embers here, just live coals.

Papalinton said...

"The brute fact is, ANYONE on this website trying to take on Aquinas would be like my local middle school football team going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, only with even less chance of scoring!"

Sorry, Bob, i can't let this pass through to the catcher.

By this statement you are inferring that Aquinas will never be found wanting. Aquinas has been dead for almost 1,000 years! It simply is astounding to think that the scholarship of this man represents the absolute pinnacle of christian thought and scholarship, on science, on cosmology, on the universe, on homo sapiens; a pinnacle that can never be surpassed let alone matched ever.

Do christians, does Feser, have any idea or inkling, or any appreciation of the incredulous and/or absurd nature of making such declaration? If this is the case, what have christians been doing for the last thousand years of scholarship? It's not like humanity has just marched on the spot for the last 1000 years, marking time. This would be an egregious and ridiculous strategy and an outrageous course of action for maintaining ' the Tradition', at any cost, as the vatican so clearly advocates.

If by their very own admission, christians think Aquinas is the best one could hope for, the best humanity will ever achieve in this line of reasoning, then I would suggest theists like Feser live in a universe best characterized as living inside a soap bubble, drifting in infinity.

And unbeknown to him, and christians generally, all he needs to do is gently place the tip of his finger against the wall of that bubble to experience, understand and appreciate the 'real' world.

Christendom is truly the last superstition.

Papalinton said...

"(oh and btw, Feser by his own admission is an ex-atheist who in his post-graduate years came to theism purely via philosophical argumentation, and eventually to Catholic Christianity. Egg on your face?)"

Wrong call. Egg on his face.

Papalinton said...

Bob
".. We're standing room only .." says more about the size of the building rather than the growth of the congregation.

Cheers

B. Prokop said...

There are many things that Aquinas and I don't agree on, but I know very well that were we ever to go at it mano-a-mano, I would leave the field bleeding and limping (figuratively). He simply outclasses you, me, and anyone else I can think of.

Eric said...

The Courtier's Reply (CP) only makes a lick of sense if we can all see that the emperor is naked, for then any discussion of imaginary fabrics is moot. But then, that's the point: atheists (i.e. those who can clearly see that the emperor is naked) who criticize other atheists for not considering serious theology and serious philosophical arguments for god's existence and attributes aren't making much sense. At least, that's how the CP was originally utilized. It's meaning has since morphed into one similar to what Leonhard expressed, viz. responding to a request for reasons to think the emperor is clothed with a list of authors and texts. However, it takes little reflection to see that this interpretation makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the story of the naked emperor. And, for obvious reasons, it's patently silly for an atheist to employ the CP against a theist, for they do not agree that the emperor is naked in the first place! So, as so often happens, a once clear and sharply expressed idea has turned to mush at best, and to a conversation stopping insult at worst. (Indeed, visit Pharyngula some time and, in a discussion with people who know little philosophy and less theology -- they're not hard to find there -- refer them to some author or work that can clarify the issues you're debating better than an extemporaneous blog comment post, and you'll be hit with a plethora of sneering shouts of "Courtier's Reply! Courtier's reply!")

BenYachov said...

Feser is not a Catholic Apologist he is a philosopher.

Karl Keating, Dave Armstrong, sometimes Mark Shea and Patrick Madrid are Apologists.

Geez Paps can't you get anything right?

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
(oh and btw, Feser by his own admission is an ex-atheist ...

Another one? It seems every other apologist is an ex-atheist, although for many, their atheism was more a rebellion than a reasoned choice,

BenYachov said...

One Brow you are very disingenuous. You read the TLS so you know fully well Feser was once an Atheist.

So acting surprised (i.e.Another one? It seems every other apologist is an ex-atheist) is bullshit on your part.

BenYachov said...

BTW a more reasoned response would have been

"Yes I know he was once an Atheist? So what? Loftus was once a Christian? David Brock was once a Conservative? People change their minds all the time. Some based on reason other rebellion. Who falls into which catagory I decline to say".

Just trying to help you out.

One Brow said...

BenYachov said...
You read the TLS so you know fully well Feser was once an Atheist.

It's been two years, and that's hardly the focus of the book.

BTW a more reasoned response would have been ...

Thank you for the verbose version.

Matthew G said...

"As far as I am aware, Ed Feser doesn't consider naturalism or anything similar a 'reasonable position', so I have a hard time imganing why he would some atheists reasonable."

Looks like you got that wrong. On one of his more recent posts, he commented that a reasonable person might think that theism is false - and the example he gives is Feser himself when he used to be an atheist.

Matthew G said...

"John Loftus was a christian once".

Another one? It seems every apologist for atheism is an ex-christian, although for many, their atheism is more a rebellion than a reasoned choice.

Oh the magic of switching a few words.

Eric said...

Eric MacDonald (whose blog is 'A Choice in Dying') and I once discussed Alister McGrath's status as a former atheist. He claimed that McGrath couldn't have been a serious atheist, since he converted to Christianity within a few years of his eighteenth birthday. I pointed out that McGrath, having studied science in depth at a top prep school, and having been accepted to Oxford, wasn't exactly your average teenager, and that his former atheism was probably at least as serious as that of the guy with only a high school education who reads Dawkins at the age of forty and then declares himself an atheist. I also pointed out that Dawkins claims to have abandoned Christianity at the age of fifteen, and Hitchens at the age of nine!

And on this blog, in a post titled "Did C.S. Lewis Take the Outsider Test?" we've seen atheists reject the notion that Lewis was once a serious atheist, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary.

If former Christians become atheists, that's no problem, for they've just used their reason to discern the fact that Christianity (or whatever) is false (so the story goes), but when former atheists become theists, the New Atheist types have a problem: how doe we explain this, especially if the claim is that the move to theism from atheism was largely on intellectual grounds? Since so many New Atheists (on the internet, anyway) are committed to the notion that there's *absolutely no reason* to conclude that god exists, they have to explain this psychologically, or they have to claim that the theist is lying about having been an atheist.

Interesting, isn't it? The supposedly intolerant and dogmatic Christian has no problem (in general) conceding that someone can, on rational grounds, move from theism to atheism (say, because of reflection on the problem of evil), while the supposedly tolerant and open minded atheists cannot brook the possibility that an atheist could move on rational grounds to theism.

One Brow said...

Matthew G said...
Oh the magic of switching a few words.

Yes, I think calling the decisions adults have made after years of contemplation the equivalent of a teenage rebellion is indeed magic. It's one of the most common Christian magics.

Eric said...

"Yes, I think calling the decisions adults have made after years of contemplation the equivalent of a teenage rebellion is indeed magic. It's one of the most common Christian magics."

Onebrow, Feser made the move from atheism to theism while in a top grad school after studying philosophers like Frege.

McGrath made the move while studying chemistry at Oxford after having done more serious work in science in his prep school than many do today in college.

Lewis made the move while in his thirties as a professor at Oxford.

So, what's the upshot? Let's not pretend that teenagers etc. are alike, and that adults etc. are alike. I think it's safe to conclude that McGrath's, Feser's and Lewis's move from atheism to theism was minimally as seriously informed, intellectually, as the high school grad who reads Dawkins in his forties and abandons his faith. Indeed, that's greatly understating the case. Years of reflection might not mean much if they're largely uninformed and solitary. Lewis, Feser and McGrath, however, were not only far better informed than the forty year old sort I referenced above, and almost certainly more intelligent, but they were in the company of many other top scholars and students when they made their moves. Let's not discount these rather important factors, and belittle such moves as 'Christian magic,' especially when you seem to be doing so on what appears to be rather ignorant grounds.

One Brow said...

Eric said...
Onebrow, Feser made the move from atheism to theism while in a top grad school after studying philosophers like Frege.

So, in his mid-20s he moved from a position he had adopted as a teenager, assuming his academic carerr was not delayed compared to many. This disputes what I have said in what fashion?

I think it's safe to conclude that McGrath's, Feser's and Lewis's move from atheism to theism was minimally as seriously informed, intellectually, as the high school grad who reads Dawkins in his forties and abandons his faith.

I don't recall indicating otherwise. It's the most typical thing in the world to abandon a positon adopted in teen-age rebellion/wimple-mindedness, after reflection. In fact, that was my point. My objection was to Matthes G.'s categorization of atheistic "apologists" as determniing their beliefs based on rebellion, without regard to age.

Let's not discount these rather important factors, and belittle such moves as 'Christian magic,' especially when you seem to be doing so on what appears to be rather ignorant grounds.

Since I was belittling Matthew G.'s comments, and made this clear by quoting the very author comment to which I was replying, I will take your suggestion about my apparent ignorance for all the value your apparent reading skills have imbued it with.