Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Walters on TLS

JD Walters of the blog Unnatural Theology kindly reviews The Last Superstition. (The review is cross-posted at CADRE Comments.) He says some very nice things about it, and puts forward some thoughtful criticisms. I thank him for the compliments, and want to offer here some replies to his objections.

First, Walters takes exception to what he describes as the “very, very abrasive” tone I take in the book toward my opponents, and implies that it would be more appropriate for a Christian to take a softer touch. I concede that the book is often just as abrasive as he says. But while I do describe certain opinions and practices, and even certain specific individuals, in very harsh terms, it is not fair to say that I direct this abuse to people I disagree with in general. (To be sure, Walters does not explicitly say that I do this, but he does seem to me to give that impression.) On the contrary, I make it very clear several times in the book that I am happy to acknowledge that there are secularists and atheists of good will and for whom I have respect. The polemics are directed only at specific people who have themselves either taken an unjustifiably obnoxious and unfair tone toward religious believers, or have defended views so extreme and despicable that no one who is sane and/or morally decent could put them forward. In other words, I aim my fire only at people who have been “asking for it.”

Of course, many readers will object: “Shouldn’t we always separate the opinion from the character of the person advancing it? Couldn’t any view, however outrageous, nevertheless be defended by someone who, because he sincerely holds it, might still be morally admirable, or at least morally blameless?” The answer to both questions is a firm No, and each question is based on a false understanding of moral psychology that flows from the same bad modern philosophical assumptions I attack in the book. I maintain that there are some views that are so evil that no one who is morally upright could possibly uphold them. To take just one, particularly disgusting, example, it is precisely because Peter Singer sincerely believes that bestiality is morally justifiable that we can know that he has a corrupt moral character. For given the correct (classical natural law) approach to morality and moral psychology, no one whose sensibilities are such that he could seriously entertain such an idea could possibly fail to be morally corrupt.

Hence, I maintain that there are certain ideas that cannot be described accurately and objectively unless they, and sometimes even the people who hold them, are described in language that might seem abusive and polemical. (E.g. not to see that someone even seriously considering whether bestiality might be permissible is morally corrupt is not to understand what moral corruption objectively is.) The assumptions that lead modern people to assume otherwise (the so-called “fact/value distinction,” the cult of “authenticity,” etc.) are just false, and themselves morally corrupting. I have said a little more about this elsewhere, and though the topic is not explicitly discussed in The Last Superstition, readers of that book will get a pretty clear idea of why this view follows from a classical natural law approach to morality. Suffice it to say that, from an Aristotelian point of view, moral character is more a matter of having the right dispositions, habits, and sensibilities than it is a matter of having the right opinions.

I also deny that a Christian should always take a softer touch. There is a time and place for that, of course, but there is also a time when a good Christian ought to take the bark off of an opponent, and indeed when it would be immoral not to do so. Everyone acknowledges that harm to, or a threat to, another person’s life, liberty, or possessions can merit harsh retaliation (e.g. imprisonment, and in extreme cases even death). Similarly, someone who spreads calumnies, or corrupts public morals, or in some other way harms others spiritually, can also merit harsh treatment of a verbal and moral sort. Now of course, that someone deserves some punishment or reproof does not always entail that it should be inflicted upon him; there are many cases where mercy is called for. But not always, especially where the public good or the safety of innocents is concerned, and where the offender is unrepentant. This is as true in the spiritual realm as in the material realm. Some ideas are so odious, and some purveyors of those ideas so dangerous and corrupt, that it can be justifiable to expose them to ridicule and contempt, so as to bring infamy upon them and counteract the bad effect they might have on others. And in some cases, I maintain, this might even be morally required of us.

(There is an old book called Liberalism is a Sin by Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany which has a couple of useful chapters on this subject, showing, among other things, how polemical attacks, even against individuals, have always rightly been among the weapons in the arsenal of Christian apologists. See here and here. Be warned that this is not a book likely to cause anything but offense to modern progressive ears!)

Walters also laments my failure to say much in the book about why the God of the philosophers is identical to the God of Christianity (though he does seem to recognize that this was simply beyond the scope of the book, which is concerned almost entirely with natural theology). This is an issue that might be approached from two directions. On the one hand there are those who sympathize with the arguments of natural theology but who reject the move from these philosophical arguments to the God of divine revelation. On the other hand there are certain Christian theologians who are uncomfortable identifying the God of the Bible with the God whose existence is argued for in the classical theistic proofs. Walters’ concern seems to be of the latter sort, given that he emphasizes that “more than one great theologian has doubted whether the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle and God the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jesus can be equated.” I have never understood this latter sort of worry. The classical theistic arguments either work or they do not work. I claim to show in my book that they do work, and thus that the God whose existence they argue for really exists. (Not that Aristotle himself personally got everything right, mind you, but only that the approach of the broad Aristotelian tradition gets you to a correct, if incomplete, account of God’s existence and nature.) Whether Walters agrees with me or not, he at least doesn’t dispute this claim in his review. But in that case, what’s the problem exactly? If the God of the philosophers really exists and if the God of Christianity exists, then it follows that they must be identical, since both the philosophical arguments and divine revelation entail that there is and can only be one God.

To be sure, Walters also appeals to the role “higher biblical criticism” has had in leading some theologians away from identifying the God of the Bible with the God of the philosophers, though he suspects that I “would probably see it as yet another symptom of the modern malaise.” Exactly right. I consider much of modern biblical “scholarship” totally worthless. Bad enough is the false methodological naturalism it simply takes for granted without any serious philosophical argumentation whatsoever. (Bultmann’s famously glib dismissal of supernaturalism as out of place in the “age of the wireless” has long been an object of ridicule among Christian philosophers, and the philosophical acumen of biblical scholars since his time hasn’t gotten any better.) But there is also the ludicrous methodology of boldly reconstructing hypothetical texts, indeed hypothetical texts within hypothetical texts, identifying hypothetical oral traditions and the like underlying these hypothetical texts, reconstructing the theology and ethos of the “communities” who allegedly produced these purported traditions and texts, and then confidently claiming to have discovered on the basis of this set of fantasies what e.g. the historical Jesus (and/or the original “Jesus movement”) “really” believed. What is amazing is not that traditional Christian belief has survived in the face of this “challenge”; what is amazing is that this preposterous pseudo-historical method ever survived the laugh test in the first place. To paraphrase Rowan Atkinson, I wouldn’t trust the average modernist biblical scholar to sit down the right way on a toilet seat.

Anyway, as I’m sure Walters would agree, merely pointing out that some theologians reject any identification of the God of the philosophers with the God of the Bible doesn’t by itself prove anything. The devil is in the details. What is needed is a specific argument showing there to be some incompatibility, and it had better not be an argument that begs the question against the case I make in the book for the existence of the God of the philosophers and the falsity of naturalism.

Regarding the ethics-related material in The Last Superstition, Walters says that he is “skeptical of natural law arguments because of the way they have been used throughout history to legitimize degrading, exploitative conditions for certain classes of people, such as slaves and women.” Two points must be made in response. First of all, and as I note in the book, one must be careful in accusing classical natural law theory of entailing the justifiability of slavery. In fact the sorts of things most people think of when they hear the word “slavery” – chattel slavery, racial slavery, kidnapping, breaking up families, the African slave trade, etc. – are not justifiable on classical natural law theory. Indeed, classical natural law theory condemns these things as immoral even in principle. What it does allow as justifiable in principle is the much less harsh form of servitude involving a prolonged obligation to labor for another as payment of a debt, punishment for a crime, and so forth. And even this has rightly been regarded by modern natural law theorists as too fraught with moral hazard to be justifiable in practice. The common charge that natural law theory would support slavery as it was known in the American context is therefore simply a slander.

Secondly, Walters’ complaint isn’t really an argument in the first place. He says, for example, that “great care is required in employing natural law arguments, to make sure that they do not simply reinforce or legitimize an unjust or corrupt status quo.” OK, but that just raises the question of how we know what counts as unjust or corrupt in the first place, if we don’t know it through natural law theory itself. And to assert that natural law theory must be wrong because it leads to such-and-such a conclusion that we don’t like is simply to beg this question. From a classical natural law point of view, it isn’t natural law theory that must be judged in terms of modern liberal attitudes about sexual morality, traditional sex roles, etc., but rather those attitudes which must be judged in terms of natural law theory. Simply pointing out that there is a conflict proves precisely nothing if one does not also independently prove (and not simply assume) that modern liberal attitudes are correct.

Walters takes issue with my criticism in the book of the “representationalist” approach to the mind that came to dominate modern philosophy after Descartes, and he cites various empirical considerations in support of the idea that representations of a sort do exist in the brain. But his objection is misplaced, because he fails to take note of the distinction between the objects of the intellect on the one hand (abstract concepts and propositions) and the objects of sensation and imagination on the other (such as mental images and the like). My criticisms of representationalism pertained to the former. Sensation and imagination, which from an Aristotelian point of view are (unlike the intellect) material in nature anyway, no doubt do involve processes in the brain that can be characterized as “representations” of a sort. (I have discussed this issue several times in earlier posts, most recently here.)

Finally, Walters complains that I fail to explain why the Aristotelian approach I favor is superior to “an interpretation of the world in terms of Atman, Brahman, Dharma and Samsara.” It is true that I don’t explicitly address this question, again for reasons of space. But it should be clear why I think the Aristotelian approach is superior. I claim to have shown in the book, through detailed arguments, that the Aristotelico-Thomistic metaphysical picture of the world is correct. If that is true, then since its key elements – classical theism, the existence of distinct individual immortal souls, etc. – are incompatible with the key ideas of Indian philosophy (such as pantheism), it follows that those latter ideas are false.

Some small points: It is Aquinas’s brief summary of the theistic proofs in the Summa Theologiae (rather than in the Summa contra Gentiles, as Walters says) that I say are all that most atheists have bothered to read. And while Walters is right that I have no truck with “Intelligent Design” theory, it is not quite right to claim, as he does, that I advocate an “undiluted evolutionary theory.” As I note in the book, while the standard Darwinian story no doubt contains much that is correct, I reject the view that it can explain every aspect of the biological realm, even in principle. For example (and again, as I make clear in the book) I maintain that it cannot possibly account for the origin of the human intellect, precisely because the intellect is immaterial. On general Aristotelian (not “Intelligent Design”) grounds, I also reject the claim that it can account for the transition from inorganic processes to organic ones, or from non-sentient life to sentient life. But that takes us into issues that go beyond anything I say much about in the book, and which need not be addressed in order to make the case I want to make in the book.

56 comments:

  1. Hi Ed,

    You say,

    To take just one, particularly disgusting, example, it is precisely because Peter Singer sincerely believes that bestiality is morally justifiable that we can know that he has a corrupt moral character. For given the correct (classical natural law) approach to morality and moral psychology, no one whose sensibilities are such that he could seriously entertain such an idea could possibly fail to be morally corrupt.

    Can you explain why this is? That is, can you explain why someone who comes to sincerely believe, after engaging in rational reflection to the best of his abilities, that bestiality is morally justifiable in certain circumstances couldn't possibly fail to be morally corrupt even on a natural law approach? Is engaging in rational reflection to the best of one's abilities and believing what that reflection leads one to believe ever morally corrupt? If so, when?

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  2. Although the distinction between Eastern systems and classical Aristotelian philosophy was urged as a basis for caution, I am unconvinced that Vedic philosophy does not arrive at something very near the Aristotelian synthesis, at least when the notions of "pantheism" are rigidly construed (perhaps but for an undue emphasis on apophasis regarding the divine personhood). Note, for example, the following article from Prof. E.C.G. Sudarshan, an eminent physicist who is also well-versed in Vedic philosophy (and, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my favorite professors in grad school):
    http://wildcard.ph.utexas.edu/~sudarshan/pub/1984_003.pdf

    Coming from Kerala and having studied in Anglican schools there, Dr. Sudarshan is probably informed by Christian views as well, but his views are not alien to his own philosophical tradition. For a Catholic take on the same sort of similarities, I commend Sr. Sara Grant's Toward an Alternative Theology: Confessions of a Non-Dualist Christian, a very short book approaching Indian philosophy from a sympathetic Thomist perspective.

    In my limited experience with Eastern philosophy, whether Vedic or Buddhist (through Merton primarily), I have found that the similarities tend to point exactly in the opposite direction urged by your critic, which is to say that all natural law traditions appear to asymptotically approach the same end no matter what the cultural context of their origin.

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  3. Oops. My link to Dr. Sudarshan's article was cut off. I'll try again with this.

    Alternatively, here is the two-line cut and paste:
    http://wildcard.ph.utexas.edu/
    ~sudarshan/pub/1984_003.pdf

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  4. Hi Doug, good to hear from you.

    Given classical natural law theory, which is informed by an Aristotelian essentialist metaphysics and its associated account of the good (all of which I spell out in detail in The Last Superstition), all our various capacities are objectively ordered toward certain ends, and since these ends determine what is good for us qua human beings, they also thereby determine what it is, objectively, that makes someone a good or bad human being.

    This includes our sensibilities and emotional reactions, which, though they are not infallible, though they do not by themselves determine what ends nature has set for us, and though they have a certain degree of malleability, nevertheless have a very rough and general tendency to move us away from what is contrary to realizing the ends nature has set for us and toward what will fulfill those ends. Like every other aspect of our nature, our emotions and sensibilities thus have their own natural ends.

    Now, if all of this is correct, then it follows that the more one tends to act in a way that not only fails to realize nature's ends for us, but indeed positively frustrates those ends, the more one's character is corrupt. And the more one has come to think and feel in a way that is not only not in line with nature's ends but indeed is positively contrary to those ends, the more one's mind is corrupt. All of this, I maintain, follows from the account of the good inherent in classical, and in particular Aristotelian, metaphysics when applied to human nature. Just as a squirrel which through conditioning or genetic defect has come to prefer sitting in a cage and eating toothpaste to scampering up trees and gathering nuts is a defective squirrel -- indeed a "bad" squirrel in the sense of a bad specimen -- so too (given the classical natural law account of sexuality) someone who has for whatever reason lost our natural horror of sexual contact with animals is to that extent a bad human being, where "bad" here takes on a moral dimension given that human beings, unlike the squirrel, have intellect and free will.

    Of course, depending on circumstances -- genetic defect, bad upbringing, habituated vice, or intellectual error -- there may be grounds for judging that someone is not fully culpable for having such degraded sensibilities. But that is a different question from whether his character is in fact corrupt.

    Furthermore, given that reason itself, like every other aspect of our nature, has its own natural ends (including the pursuit and apprehension of the good), someone whose use of reason has led him into such a bizarre mindset is to that extent irrational. Indeed, it is hard to believe that reasoning leading to such a serious deviation from nature's purposes for us could fail to involve some degree of self-deception.

    Obviously all of this presupposes a lot in the way of metaphysics and value theory (matters which I have, again, spelled out in detail in the book) but hopefully it gives a sense of how and why the classical natural law tradition tends toward the sort of view of moral psychology I have said it does. Given Aristotelian essentialism, the reality of final causes, etc., there is no sense to be made of the view that just _any_ old idea could at least in principle be held by someone who is rational and/or morally spotless. The classical account of practical reason is "thick," and rules out certain things as in principle beyond the pale.

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  5. Hi Ed,

    You're claiming that from merely the fact that Singer believes that bestiality is morally justifiable we can infer that he has a morally corrupt character. Given this, I don't see how the stuff about sensibilities and emotional reactions is relevant, because I don't see how we can infer anything about Singer's sensibilities and emotional reactions from the fact that he has this belief. Also, the stuff about actions seems irrelevant, for it seems that we can't infer anything about Singer's actions from the fact that he has this belief. Remember, the inference was not based on a claim that Singer performs acts of bestiality or that his emotional reactions toward acts of (or even thoughts about acts of) bestiality are not what they should be. The inference was based solely on the claim that Singer has a certain belief.

    Now his belief may be the result of bad reasoning. But if he made a sincere attempt to reason as best as he could from the propositions he thinks that he has the most reason to believe, how is he morally corrupt? Perhaps, he's flawed as an entity of his kind in that his ability to reason is so poor, and, perhaps, he's guilty of some intellectual defect, but why think that he is also guilty of a moral defect? Do you think that someone who believes that a squirrel that enjoys sitting in a cage is a "good" squirrel is also morally corrupt in that he too has mistaken beliefs about nature's ends?

    If it turns out that you're mistaken about natures ends, does that mean you're morally corrupt?

    In your post, you said "moral character is more a matter of having the right dispositions, habits, and sensibilities than it is a matter of having the right opinions." But you're saying that Singer is corrupt for having the wrong opinion even though he may have good dispositions, habits, and sensibilities. After all, his belief might simply be the product of being misinformed.

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  6. Feser said: First, Walters takes exception to what he describes as the “very, very abrasive” tone I take in the book toward my opponents, and implies that it would be more appropriate for a Christian to take a softer touch. I concede that the book is often just as abrasive as he says.

    So it looks as if your tone is getting in the way of your arguments, eh, such that you spend a large portion of this post defending your tone. I’ve met people like that on the web and I argue against it, since the goal should be to arrive at the truth, unless, of course you know the whole truth and are impervious to learning anything from those who disagree with your present understandings.

    Feser said: Walters also laments my failure to say much in the book about why the God of the philosophers is identical to the God of Christianity (though he does seem to recognize that this was simply beyond the scope of the book, which is concerned almost entirely with natural theology)….But in that case, what’s the problem exactly? If the God of the philosophers really exists and if the God of Christianity exists, then it follows that they must be identical, since both the philosophical arguments and divine revelation entail that there is and can only be one God.

    Hmmm, such a non-sequitur here is so obviously wrong that one must be blinded by faith to see the connection. I can happily concede a deistic God, but that's a far cry from embracing Catholicism. And even if I concede theism there is not only Christianity to consider, but also Judaism and Islam and the many branches of these respective religions. I say that to move from the god of the philosophers to a specific branch of Christianity is like trying to fly a plane to the moon. It's cannot be done.

    Feser said: I consider much of modern biblical “scholarship” totally worthless. Bad enough is the false methodological naturalism it simply takes for granted without any serious philosophical argumentation whatsoever. What is amazing is not that traditional Christian belief has survived in the face of this “challenge”; what is amazing is that this preposterous pseudo-historical method ever survived the laugh test in the first place. To paraphrase Rowan Atkinson, I wouldn’t trust the average modernist biblical scholar to sit down the right way on a toilet seat.

    Wow! I can only describe your understanding of biblical scholarship to be, well, infantile (sorry). You seem to be a philosopher of note, but the way you describe Biblical “scholarship” tells me you’re just another philosopher who has never done serious work in Biblical studies. Like most Christian philosophers you merely assume the results of conservative Biblical scholars and then make philosophical sense of these results without actually doing the study itself. Biblical studies alone has shown me that Christianity is wildly improbable.

    Feser said: In fact the sorts of things most people think of when they hear the word “slavery” – chattel slavery, racial slavery, kidnapping, breaking up families, the African slave trade, etc. – are not justifiable on classical natural law theory. Indeed, classical natural law theory condemns these things as immoral even in principle. What it does allow as justifiable in principle is the much less harsh form of servitude involving a prolonged obligation to labor for another as payment of a debt, punishment for a crime, and so forth. And even this has rightly been regarded by modern natural law theorists as too fraught with moral hazard to be justifiable in practice. The common charge that natural law theory would support slavery as it was known in the American context is therefore simply a slander.

    You might want to tell your readers why the Catholic Church didn’t condemn modern slavery until 1888 after every industrialized nation had already condemned it, and explain why that God of yours didn't communicate the truth to them such that the church would never sanctify the brutal slavery as it was practiced in the 18th-19th centuries in the first place. Arguing based on hindsight is one thing. Arguing the way you do BEFORE a consensus was reached on the issue is quite another thing entirely.

    By writing your book you have merely taken on easy targets. Try me on for size. I'd love to learn from you where I am wrong, if I am. Readers of my book say I am to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf or what Babe Ruth was to baseball, and that my book does for the 21st century what Thomas Paine and David Fredrick Strauss did for the 18-19th centuries.

    Cheers.

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  7. Professor Feser,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my review. I should have anticipated the kind of defense you give in this post of the abrasive tone of your book, given the kind of psychology you laid out in TLS. And I grant that the people you aim your fire at were really asking for it. It was Dawkins after all who said that anyone who denies evolution is wicked, stupid, insane or all three. No further comment on that issue.

    As for the distinction between the Aristotelian God and the God of the Bible: I may actually have underestimated just how far you were able to get with the arguments you defend in TLS. As I reread it I see that not only do the Thomistic arguments show that God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, etc. but that he is also perfectly good, in fact the source of goodness as well as existence. (Note to Loftus: he also distinguishes between the great monotheistic religions on the basis of the resurrection and other factors; the Thomistic arguments do not prove a deistic god, and if you think they do I'll have to agree with Feser that you don't really understand Thomism).

    I think the perceived discrepancy has more to do with the different descriptions of the character of God that you get in philosophical arguments and in the Bible. In the latter God is often described in terms which would suggest that he changes his mind on occasion and is affected by things that happen in the world. Furthermore his action is in the realm of history. Whereas in philosophical arguments, especially Greek ones, he is portrayed as impassible and timeless. Personally I don't buy the a priori arguments which say that a god which could be proved couldn't possibly be God. I'm more than happy to have a metaphysical demonstration of God. You're right though that I will have to do some more detailed reading of the theologians who actually defend this claim.

    The biblical scholarship issue is too big to get into here, but I stand by my point that not all difficulties with traditional interpretations of some texts derive from an anti-supernatural bias. Sometimes they arise simply from a better understanding of the socio-historical context (for example a story which commentators originally thought was historical might have been understood by original readers as a parable) and sometimes they arise from discrepancies within the text, such as the inconsistent guidelines for sacrifice and worship which Moses gives in Exodus 20:24 (people can worship "in every place where I cause my name to be remembered") and Deuteronomy 12:13-14 (God makes clear that the people should "not offer your burnt offerings at any place you happen to see. But ONLY at the place that the Lord will choose in ONE of your tribes"). These difficulties do not necessarily undermine the divine inspiration of the Bible, but they will rule out certain understandings of inspiration. But let me repeat it is not a failing of your book that you do not discuss these issues. It was just meant to stress that more work would need to be done to present a full-blown case for a specific form of Christianity than you had space for in the book.

    About natural law morality: I happily concede that I don't know very much about it, so I won't press my point until I've done some more reading.

    About representationism: I see your point about the distinction between things known through the intellect and through sensation and imagination. You're saying that abstract concepts and propositions cannot even in principle be thought of as representations embodied in patterns of neural firing. It's certainly plausible, but I guess I'd have to read more on the subject before I concede that fully. Off to your footnotes then!

    As for rival philosophical intuitions, again you would be right to say that the devil is in the details. I'd have to take a closer look at some of the Hindu philosophical systems. CrimsonCatholic may well be right to say that there is something like an Aristotelian view in some of the texts.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to respond to my criticisms, and thanks again for the book itself. Loftus, before you're so sure that the arguments in Feser's book wouldn't affect your case I suggest you read it, if for nothing else than to enhance your understanding of Thomism in all its aspects, not just some of the natural law morality moves you seem to be familiar with.

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  8. Hi again Doug,

    I am assuming that given his position, Singer would say that to the extent that we have feelings of moral revulsion at bestiality, we should fight those feelings -- that is to say, that we should either try to cease feeling revulsion at all (as opposed to indifference) or if we do feel revulsion, should cease attaching any moral significance to it (reinterpreting it as a mere matter of taste). Surely that would follow from his view. And assuming that Singer tries to practice what he preaches, it would follow that Singer himself has ceased to feel, or at least tries not to feel, any moral revulsion at bestiality. If so, though, then he is at least to that extent morally corrupt from the POV of natural law theory.

    The reason this is a moral defect is because what makes someone good is (in part) having the right dispositions and habits, and on the assumptions in question Singer will not only not have the right dispositions but will have come to form positively evil ones (e.g. a disposition to fight feelings of moral revulsion at what is objectively evil). That he sincerely reasoned his way into this is irrelevant to his character, even if it is relevant, as I have said, to his culpability. Again, from an Aristotelian point of view, morality is primarily about having the right habits, sensibilities, etc., so that it follows necessarily that someone who lacks these is morally deficient. The extent to which he's blameworthy for having a bad character is a different, though obviously related, question.

    Re: your squirrel example, no, someone who has false beliefs about that is not thereby corrupt, because that belief (unlike the belief about bestiality) has no obvious effect on his own sensibilities, dispositions, and character.

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  9. Mr. Loftus:
    First, I feel compelled to note that your disdain for Dr. Feser's tone appears to be one-sided given your own personal history.

    Second, you broke your own rule in assessing Dr. Feser's grasp of biblical scholarship as "infantile." Again, given your own personal history of having trained in that critical tradition and showing little if any awareness of the valid philosophical critiques against that position, it seems that you are simply begging the question as against Dr. Feser regarding the veracity of such methods and then using that as an excuse to pejoratively label his position as being "infantile" or not "serious."

    Third, Dr. Feser specifically said that he was not making the argument from natural theology to revelation (and would presumably deny the ability to make such an argument). Rather, he said that if the God of the philosophers exists (which can be established by argument) and if the God of Christianity exists (which I would presume to mean that God exists as described in Christian revelation), then no Christian accepting the arguments for the God of the philosophers could possibly deny that they describe the same God. This is because Christian revelation specifies that there is only one entity with the properties of God, and if the God of the philosophers describes the properties of such an entity and if one accepts the Christian revelation as true, then one could not consistently deny that the entity being described is the same. That is not an argument in favor of Christian revelation from the God of the philosophers; rather, it is an argument that one who accepts Christian revelation and who accepts the necessary existence of God should have no difficulty accept (and indeed, must necessarily accept) that they both describe the one God. You are responding to an argument Dr. Feser never made.

    Fourth, your assessment of the condemnation of slavery by the Catholic Church misunderstands the role of the Magisterium within the Church. Ordinarily, there is no need to clarify matters that are already known or knowable as truths of natural law or Catholic faith. It is only when announcing such teachings formally can in some way illuminate these matters for the faithful that Magisterial pronouncements on such matters are made. In the particular case of slavery, there was, as Dr. Feser pointed out, no real need, since it was clear from many students of the natural law that this was obviously impermissible, but even so, slavery had been condemned multiple times. The 1888 condemnation was only delivered after persistent and intransigent resistance to this teaching on the part of a few American bishops.

    Suffice it to say that if your swings on this thread were any indication, the comparisons to Tiger Woods and Babe Ruth seem a trifle exaggerated.

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  10. Loftus writes:

    “By writing your book you have merely taken on easy targets. Try me on for size. I'd love to learn from you where I am wrong, if I am. Readers of my book say I am to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf or what Babe Ruth was to baseball, and that my book does for the 21st century what Thomas Paine and David Fredrick Strauss did for the 18-19th centuries.”

    The utter lack of humility and self awareness necessary to write this last paragraph is nothing short of astonishing.

    You might want to hold off on ordering the t-shirts there, Tiger. I think Ron Burgundy fits you a wee bit better. “I’m kind of a big deal.”

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  11. Hi Ed,

    I am assuming that given his position, Singer would say that to the extent that we have feelings of moral revulsion at bestiality, we should fight those feelings -- that is to say, that we should either try to cease feeling revulsion at all (as opposed to indifference) or if we do feel revulsion, should cease attaching any moral significance to it (reinterpreting it as a mere matter of taste).

    That's not something that you're entitled to assume. Singer is a utilitarian. He thinks that whether one should try to cease having the feeling of moral revulsion towards some act depends, not on whether that act is immoral, but on whether one's trying to cease having that feeling would maximize utility. It may be that in trying to cease having that feeling one would fail to maximize utility.

    And, more generally, I don't see how any belief necessarily correlates with any set of sensibilities or character traits. And, as far as I can tell, the only dispositions that necessarily correlate with the belief, say, that p are these: the disposition to assent to p, the disposition to rely on p as premise in an argument, the disposition to assert p in certain contexts, etc. These dispositions necessarily correlate with belief only because they are constitutive of belief. But I wouldn't think that these are the sorts of dispositions that you would have a problem with even accepting your metaphysics.

    So I'm still not seeing how you can infer that Singer has any problematic sensibilities, dispositions, or character traits merely from the fact that he believes that bestiality is justifiable. This is why I think that you shouldn't go around claiming that people are morally corrupt unless you actually know them as opposed to just knowing some of the things that they believe. Take Huck Finn, for instance. He had some mistaken beliefs about slavery, but, in the end, he seemed to have the right sensibilities and dispositions. I realize that Finn was a complicate character and so this may not be the best example, but you can, I hope, get my drift.

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  12. John Loftus,

    The reason for the length of my comments on the subject of tone is that there is a widespread view that Christians ought always to be meek and mild, etc. I took Walters' remarks as an occasion to criticize this false assumption. It had nothing to do with the tone getting in the way of my arguments. Quite obviously they did not do so in Walters' case, since he mostly focused on my arguments thmselves and even said some very nice things about them.

    Re: the "non sequitur" you refer to, it would be nice of you actually to tell us what it is. My claim is that someone who affirms all of (a) the claim that the God of the philosophers exists, (b) the claim that the Christian God exists, and (c) that there is only one God, is logically committed to saying that the God of the philosophers and the God of Christianity are the same God. Again, where's the non sequitur?

    (Whether the God of the philosophers really is identical to the Christian God is a separate issue, which I alluded to but did not address in my reply to Walters. Please try to read things carefully before responding.)

    Re: biblical studies, I am not "assuming" anything, nor was I trying to give any sort of comprehensive survey of the field. I was simply making the point that it would not do for Walters to appeal to what modernist biblical scholars have said on the topic in question, since their methodological naturalism is precisely (part of) what is at issue. (You describe my understanding as "infantile" without informing us of what exactly is wrong with it. Do you deny that the speculative methods I described are used by a very great many modern biblical scholars? Have you never heard e.g. of J, D, E, P, Q, Q1, Q2, proto-Matthew, proto-Luke, etc. etc.? I assume you have.)

    Re: slavery, once again you simply don't know what you are talking about. The condemnations go back to the 15th century. Take a look e.g. at Joel Panzer's book The Popes and Slavery.

    You say that in my book I take on easy targets, even though on the CADRE Comments blog you wrote that you "just couldn't bear to buy and read" my book. So how do you know what I say in it? Then you have the nerve to invite me to read your own book and show you where you're wrong. Are you for real, buddy?

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  13. Crimson, anyone who will engage me reasonably will be reasoned with politely. You can see that daily on my blog. Anyone can get a bit irate on the web when he is personally attacked as I have been and when someone purposely and repeatedly misrepresents what I am saying. And it's always interesting to me when someone like you links to some such abrasiveness that the history I've had with said person is never linked to. If you don't know of the abrasiveness of Dave Armstrong then I cannot help you. But show me just one time where I was ever abrasive without first being personally attacked or purposely and/or repeatedly being misrepresented. You will never find such a thing...ever, even if you can find some very abrasive things. Christians personally attack me because they think such behavior is justified. It's hard for me not to respond in kind.

    And listen up, I never said I was like Babe Ruth or David Fredrick Strauss, just as Edward Feser never said he was "One of the best contemporary writers on philosophy." Consider the source. If they say it, we'll quote it, right Edward? ;-) Still I know of no philosopher who would say Feser was "One of the best contemporary writers on philosophy," either. However, one philosopher did say I was like Strauss and Paine. In any case, always consider the source, okay?

    I'll not defend my use of the word "infantile" if Feser won't defend the quote from someone who says Biblical scholars don't know enough to sit on the right side of the toilet.

    And I am no expert on Catholic theology or history, so I appreciate learning from you and anyone else. But it still doesn't reconcile why Catholics didn't understand why slavery was wrong if God cared for them to know that it was. The justification used to defend the Church remind me of the justifications inerrantists use to justify the Bible. They're made of the same cloth.

    In any case, no one can say all that they know. There is no way in a short few paragraphs that I can discuss the various objections you might have to what I write. So you can conclude I haven't even thought of them. Go ahead if you want to do so. But it's not the case. I've made my case. I think it devastates your belief system to the core, even if I don't understand everything and am surely wrong about some things.

    And Jay Watts, self-depreciating humility is a Christian virtue I don't have to worry about. Call me arrogant all you want to do. It doesn't touch my arguments.

    Cheers.

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  14. Professor Feser, I think you've made yourself clear, and I think I understand what you're doing in your book. But I think I would surely still disagree with you even if I would learn from reading it.

    Yes, I am a real person typing these very letters. Thanks for your skepticism. Now apply that to the beliefs you were brought up with and which you now defend. One of my arguments is that you are not a believer because of the arguments you express in your book. You believed and then, like St. Anselm, you seek understanding. I want people to take a good hard look at why they came to believe in the first place, since an overwhelming number of people simply believe what they were raised in.

    And no, don't say this is a genetic fallacy or self-defeating or circular, either. As I said, I know the objections and I deal decisively with them.

    Cheers.

    Here's hoping for a new friend, you, even if we disagree. People matter the most to me. Even when Blogging I try to remember that I'm dealng with real people.

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  15. Hi Doug,

    That's all fair enough in the abstract, but surely a utilitarian who thinks it worthwhile publicly to defend the in principle legitimacy of bestiality would also think that undermining our moral revulsion at bestiality would maximize utility. After all, if we get rid of this revulsion no one loses (on Singer's view, anyway) while if we maintain it fans of bestiality will suffer from being ridiculed, will be discriminated against, etc.

    The Huck Finn example is a good one. I should emphasize that moral corruption is a matter of degree, which is why I've used the qualifier "is 'to that extent' morally corrupt." Someone whose character is bad in one respect may still have many good character traits overall, and those good traits may not only outweigh the bad ones but even serve to help him overcome the bad ones, as in the Finn example. So when I say that someone who thinks that such-and-such a practice condemned by natural law is OK is "to that extent morally corrupt," I do not mean that he is necessarily a total scumbag who should be shunned, etc.

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  16. Mr. Loftus,

    You missed my point. I did not call you arrogant. I called you deluded.

    But hey, if you think arrogant fits you better go ahead.

    I am under no obligation to engage every argument I have good reason to believe to be mistaken. I was truly impressed that you were quoting opinions about yourself that obviously elevated you to an unreasonably high stratum of accomplishment. Most people might pause a moment before embracing themselves as the greatest practitioner in their field of all time, but someone said it about you and you were ready to put out the press releases.

    That was what I found interesting and that is what I commented on.
    Cheers

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  17. John Loftus,

    You seem to assume that I have never considered the case against belief in God. In fact I was once a convinced atheist myself, for a good many years and for exactly the sorts of reasons that seem to have led you to abandon Christianity. What led me away from atheism was reason, not blind faith. In particular, it was (largely) a serious study of the Aristotelico-Thomistic tradition that did it, a study that began when I was in grad school but only got seriously going afterward. Please consider the possibility that, like my younger self, you've made a mistake in thinking that it is the atheist who has reason on his side, and have barely scratched the surface of what the case for theism has historically actually involved.

    Anyway, I appreciate your friendly reply and am happy to reciprocate...

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  18. Jay, no, I'm no expert on most topics I write about. It's just that I am a specialist in the Big Picture. Someone has to have a wide range of knowledge in a great many fields of study to be able to see the forest over the trees. There are many Christians like Feser who are literally beating the door down to answer Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. Now I'm waiting in the wings. Dinesh D'Souza read my book and promised a review of it, but didn't do it. The last I heard from him he said that it "contained a lot of new thoughtful material I hadn't considered before." Silence is the appropriate response when you cannot respond. Let him deny this all he wants to, but then ask him when he's going to review it, too.

    John F. Haught is another one who answered the four horsemen. I did a somewhat detailed review of his book which I'm linking to here. Notice that I'm actually linking to Haught's response to my review after I had already written it. Notice I let him have the last word. Notice also how he complimented me for my friendly tone. To read my review you'll simply have to click on the previous parts linked there.

    And I did have a discussion with another Catholic which is linked to here.

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  19. Professor Feser,

    Please don't waste your time 'taking on' Loftus. All he desires is self-promotion, desperately wanting to move beyond the modest internet-atheist ghetto he's in. Whatever points of substance he's ever made have always been made better, elsewhere, by (frankly) more worthy targets - usually decades or centuries before him to boot.

    Besides, that self-endorsement of 'the readers of my blog think I'm pretty hot stuff' establishes the guy as too much of a walking, breathing farce to waste electric ink on.

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  20. Professor Feser: In fact I was once a convinced atheist myself, for a good many years and for exactly the sorts of reasons that seem to have led you to abandon Christianity.

    Very interesting.

    You've got me hooked. But you'd agree that you are an exception to the rule. I'm asking people to explain the rule. Why do an overwhelming number of people adopt and defend the religious beliefs they were raised in and why is religious deiveristy spread around the globe into separate geographical areas?

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  21. Ahhh, I see one of my stalkers has arrived. You see, I have them. They follow my steps. They taunt me.

    They say you can tell how famous a person is by how many stalkers he has. Well I have some.

    Woooo Hoooo!

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  22. Stalkers? John, I can't go to a single theist blog of note without you, Steven Carr, or one of the other handful of evangelical atheists popping in and demanding attention be paid to themselves. This is the first time I've bothered to write a reply, and I'm doing so only because I enjoyed Ed's book, think it's going to take off well, and would rather not see someone so shameless and annoying benefit from it.

    Naturally, Ed can do as he pleases. I'm just throwing in my two cents as an admirer - he has worthier targets available.

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  23. Anon, the reason I'm here is because I visit CADRE Comments from time to time, and I always read what JD Walters writes when I see it. He wrote about Professor Feser's book so I came here to see more of what it's about.

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  24. John, I can only report what experience has demonstrated - that whenever a blog seems to be heating up, particularly a theistic one, there you are - boosting your book, demanding attention. And when you actually do get it (such as over on The Beginning of Wisdom), your main reply is to say 'You're wrong, read my book. Everyone, read my book. My book deals with all of this, you misunderstand my book, you haven't read my book. Read my book.' I have never, not once, seen you show up merely to comment - even critically - without boosting your book, issuing challenges that revolve around buying and reading your book, etc.

    You're after attention, self-promotion, almost exclusively. Whenever anyone actually argues with you, you inevitably get rolled - and the response is, surprise, 'Buy and read my book and you'll understand why you're wrong and also why it's too complicated to explain here but I have enough time to boost my book non-stop'. You're not the new Thomas Paine. You're just the Matthew Lesko of internet atheists.

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  25. Well, Ed, here's your proof (if you needed it) that Loftus hasn't read your book:

    "Thanks for your skepticism. Now apply that to the beliefs you were brought up with and which you now defend. One of my arguments is that you are not a believer because of the arguments you express in your book. You believed and then, like St. Anselm, you seek understanding. I want people to take a good hard look at why they came to believe in the first place, since an overwhelming number of people simply believe what they were raised in."

    Hey, genius: Dr. Feser used to be a convinced atheist, just like you. He was converted to theism, and then to Catholicism, purely on the basis of philosophical arguments. He makes all of this clear in his book.

    As for me, I was raised with no religious beliefs whatsoever, although I was never an atheist. I was also converted to Christianity, and finally to Catholicism, largely through philosophical and historical arguments.

    Here's what your spoutings seem to indicate to me, Mr. Loftus (although I could be totally wrong, since I don't know you from Adam): I suspect that you were raised on a childish, narrow and probably heretical version of Christianity, but saw through it in your teens or early twenties (this usually happens around the time the male sex drive really kicks in), when you had your "grand epiphany" that your childhood beliefs were, well, childish. Never having known any other kind of religious faith, you now assume that all Christians must have followed the same path you did.

    Buddy, I know you won't listen, but I'm going to clue you in anyway, out of charity. You are so far over your head and out of your league when dealing with Christians like Dr. Feser that you can't even imagine what a fool you sound like. If you're willing to stay around and learn something about the real Christian tradition, great! But don't delude yourself that you've got much of anything to teach anybody here, OK?

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  26. Mr. Loftus:
    I picked the example of Dave Armstrong because I was familiar with that situation, and in my opinion, he had not done the very thing of which you accused him, which was to be abrasive or insulting to you first.

    I note that you seem to have imputed your own previous Evangelical Christianity to Catholic belief in ways that are frequently inaccurate based on unshared assumptions (particularly with regard to divine revelation and Church authority, as indictaed by your position on slavery). I also note that many of the favorable remarks you have on your website from Christians are from Evangelicals, and what might seem like impressive criticisms from their perspective might be entirely missing "the core," to use your term, of the Catholic position, about which you yourself admit to knowing little. Certainly, speaking as a former secularist myself, there is no way that I would have ever become Christian if it required me to accept the belief on Evangelical premises, yet clearly that did not hold for Catholicism. And that leaves aside that there are many Evangelicals who have different reasons for their own beliefs, and you appear to deal with only a small subset identifiable with your own previous beliefs. It seems inordinately prideful to assume that what convinced you was what convinced every Christian, but perhaps that doesn't trouble you.

    In any case, I consider Dr. Feser an able defender of the position, and his reasons are similar to mine. Therefore, I will leave any further discussions with you to him, trusting that he would do as well on behalf of my position as I would.

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  27. Well, okay anon, I can think of no better response to you than playing into your hand.

    Read my book!

    Sheesh.

    So, I'm called arrogant, deluded and I'm a self-promoter. How does any of this dispute the arguments in my book?

    Since I cannot simply post my book online for free (it's no longer mine to do so), I did write a summary of it and posted it on the Internet Infidels site. I thought that by doing so Christian people could get a good sense of the 428 pages it contained. But then a Christian philosopher ignorantly argued against that summary as if it was my case itself. I looked at what he wrote and found a good case in how not to argue against me. [We're friends now] So I've concluded that nothing short of reading the whole book is good enough. People who have read it think it's good. I cannot post even large sections of it or a summary of it without being misunderstood. What else am I supposed to do?

    Oh, I know. I'm supposed to shut up right, or keep it down. Why?

    Well, I'm outta here for now. I can only deal with so much. I'm unsubscribing from this thread. I have to do so. I have more important things to discuss with more respectful people, and I'm not referring to Professor Feser or some others. Just the ones above.

    More are probably coming.

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  28. It's very probable that some of the atheists who were raised as Christians came out of non-Catholic, even anti-Catholic traditions. Many of them seem to have never given Catholicism (or Eastern Orthodoxy, for that matter) a serious look. I have a friend who was raised fundamentalist/Pentecostal as I was, but who has rejected Christianity for a sort of benign deism; he's never really given Catholicism a look, and as I'm an Orthodox, it's been a challenge for me to get him to look there as well.

    In other words, some of these atheists go straight from fundamentalist or Evangelical Protestantism to skepticism because they find the arguments in those particular traditions wanting. Well, so did I, but then a dozen or so years later I found myself becoming Orthodox, something I never would have predicted. Numerous folks have made a similar journey and ended up in Rome.

    My advice to such skeptics, and potential skeptics, is to look at both Catholicism and Orthodoxy before you chuck Christianity altogether. Reading Dr. Feser's book is a good starting point, IMO.

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  29. John, I haven't said word one about the content of your book - other than to passively mention that whatever arguments of substance are made in it are made more forcefully elsewhere. I've pointed out that you are concerned almost exclusively with self-promotion - your "challenges" always revolve around buying your book, your "defenses" always revolve around telling people to buy your book, and if someone refuses to pay you any attention you drum on about how they must be afraid of you because otherwise they would - wait for it - buy and talk about your book. Despite you walking in here clearly ignorant of Feser's own book.

    In short, I'm calling you out as being pretty annoying, and clearly concerned first and foremost with attention to your book rather than anything resembling substantial debate and discussion. I've gotten tired of seeing this act play out on every interesting blog around. I've also gotten tired of your excuse that you can't actually provide substantial debate or responses beyond 'Buy my book' because you just don't have the time (time is one thing you seem to have in abundance), your view is one of a 'Big Picture' and thus necessitates a book (then why invite people to review it? Inevitably your response will be 'they are wrong, buy my book, I can't explain why' so it's a meaningless exchange), or even lamer (I've seen you drop out of arguments rapidly and repeatedly - apply your Dinesh D'Souza evaluation to that behavior if you want to remain consistent.)

    Besides - considering you're more than willing to concede the reasonableness of the case for God (of at least the Deist variety), you've already sacrificed a good 90% of the ground the New Atheists desperately need to hold onto just to be taken seriously. Though if it makes you feel better, I'd agree with your implied summation of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris as lightweights.

    Oh, and for what it's worth, The Last Superstition is great stuff. Originally I was turned off by Ed's language, but frankly his defense here convinced me that he was justified in that as well.

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  30. "your "challenges" always revolve around buying your book, your "defenses" always revolve around telling people to buy your book, and if someone refuses to pay you any attention you drum on about how they must be afraid of you because otherwise they would - wait for it - buy and talk about your book"

    Sums it up. Yet another Evangelical Christian self-promoter turned Evangelical Atheist self-promoter ('cause atheism's selling better at the moment, I guess). They're a dime a dozen these days, and always sound like used car salesmen to me. At least this one seems to have had enough of a survival instinct to sense that he was badly over-matched here and so beat a hasty retreat. Good riddance.

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  31. I heard Loftus on the Gene Cook show a few years ago, and I have to say I have never heard a weaker defense of atheism. If Loftus is to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf, etc., atheism is in very bad shape.

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  32. I thought I'd take another look today to see.

    Just compare what these non-credentialed hacks say who have never read the whole case in my book and compare it to what credentialed people say who have read it, okay?

    Let's say I'm no David Strauss or Thomas Paine, which I'll happily concede is the case. But what is there about my book that philosophy professor Dr. John Beversluis would say that about me? Why would both Christian philosophers and secular ones all say some great things about it? [Professor Feser, do you have any philosophers on the opposite side of the fence recommending your book?]

    I challenge these naysayers to get my book in the library and read it. Then let's see. I know of devout thinking Christians who have walked away from their faith after reading just one book--mine! [Professor Feser, do you know of any skeptics who have embraced Christianity just from reading your book?]

    I'll make a challenge to Professor Feser, too. Show me yours and I'll show you mine. Let's trade books and review them on our Blogs.

    I'm willing.

    Are you?

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  33. What did I say? Loftus has the soul of a used car salesman - the Cal Worthington of atheist apologetics. (BTW, I haven't been on the West Coast in many years - is old Cal still around?)

    Thank God this guy isn't out there representing Christ to the world anymore.

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  34. Per my comment above, I was wondering, Mr. Loftus, if you examined Catholic or Orthodox Christianity to any extent before you abandoned your former faith. If you didn't, how valid, really, can your critique of Christianity be? Criticisms of Protestantism do not necessarily extend to either the RCC or the EOC. This is a summary of what Crimson Catholic was saying in his post above, but you didn't respond.

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  35. Okay, Rob, in the midst of things yesterday when I threw up my hands at the accusations and ad hominems I didn't answer that reasonable question.

    People have said that when fundies leave the faith they don't know anything else but to reject religion altogether. That was definitely NOT true with me. As I said I studied with the liberals at Marquette University. I was raised a Catholic, too. I studied with Daniel MaGuire, Marc Greisbach (who was the past president of the American Catholic Philosopphical Society, if I remember correctly) and Father O'Keefe (an amazing man). I read their works, plenty of them. My process of becoming an atheist took roughly 12 years. I went down the slippery slope of denying evangelicalism, to embracing liberalism, and then existentialism, deism and agnosticism before finally landing as an atheist. I'm and agnostic atheist, by the way.

    I've studied enough of Catholic theology and liberal theology to reject it. No, I'm no scholar with regard to it (am I supposed to be before I cdan legitimately reject something?). But the method I use in my book debunks all religious claims equally. That's why Eddie Tabash, the ever passionate defender of church and state issues as CFI's chair of Constitutional issues and a Jew, is buying up multiple copies of my book to give to Jews in hopes they'll see the implicantions for their faith too. As with the Jews, so also with Catholics. The method I use debunks all religions.

    [PS don't tell me that as an agnostic atheist I have adopted a religion too. My position is one of last regard after having eliminated the alternatives, and I'm not so sure about what I can affirm, anyway, even if I have complete confidence in what I deny].

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  36. As I said I studied with the liberals at Marquette University. I was raised a Catholic, too. I studied with Daniel MaGuire, Marc Greisbach (who was the past president of the American Catholic Philosopphical Society, if I remember correctly) and Father O'Keefe (an amazing man). I read their works, plenty of them.
    ...
    I've studied enough of Catholic theology and liberal theology to reject it. No, I'm no scholar with regard to it (am I supposed to be before I cdan legitimately reject something?). But the method I use in my book debunks all religious claims equally.


    Well, it would be a lot easier to accept that claim if we had something to go on, since none of that really shows that you actually understood what these people were saying (and in Maguire's case, it's not clear that his opinion would be persuasive anyway). Also, as concerning the statement regarding "all religions," you favorably commented on Barbara Forrest's essay, which frankly struck me as vapid. It just seems presumptuous to demand anyone to look at your work when you haven't actually demonstrated your ability as a worthy opponent. Of course, if you were just using this as a way to make money, then this would be consistent behavior, in which case you're just trying to goad a free endorsement out of Dr. Feser by simply agreeing to engage you. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but if that isn't your motivation, you sure do some off that way.

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  37. "My process of becoming an atheist took roughly 12 years. I went down the slippery slope of denying evangelicalism, to embracing liberalism, and then existentialism, deism and agnosticism before finally landing as an atheist."

    Interesting. I started on the same slippery slope as you (rejecting evangelicalism) but stopped to look at Catholicism and Orthodoxy before moving on to liberalism, mainly by reading large amounts of church history and historical theology. And it was there that I found the rebuttal of both evangelicalism and liberalism. It might have been advantageous for you to have done the same.

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  38. Rob, liberals have the most effective critiques of evangelicalism, but evangelicals have the most effective critiques of liberalism. I agree with both of their criticisms aimed at each other.

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  39. Oh, and Rob, I'd sure like to know what histories of the church you read but the ones I read showed me that Christianity was a many splintered thing from the beginning which lucked itself into political power (with Constantine), killed people, hunted witches, burned heretics, plundered nations, fabricated documents, silenced critics, hindered science, defended molester and rapist priests, and so on and so on. Their theology changed as well. There wasn't even a consensus until somewhere around 600-800 AD that God created ex nihilo.

    Listen, you can say there was progressive revelation going on and that the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth all you want to. But this history is little more than the history of errors of an organization that learned her lessons as the rest of mankind did, through trial and error. The evidence is overwhelmingly against this branch of faith. It is not reflective of a divine institution at all, and no distinctions within the church make much sense of it. As I said they remind me of inerrantists who attempt to defend the Bible from error. I maintain that if the church was seriously wrong when it comes to these things then I have no reason to trust her when she speaks today.

    Calvinists use all kinds of gerrymandering distinctions to make their theology palatable, too. I took a class on Calvinism from a leading Calvinist evangelical thinker, so I know enough about that theology to reject it. Have you ever discussed Calvinism with a Calvinist, that God can both sovereignly decree people to hell and yet maintain we deserve to go there such that God is still good? Do you know how many “wills” the Calvinist God has? Sovereign, secretive, permissive, directive, and who knows how many others? Doesn’t it sound to you like there are so many mental gymnastics going on that you cannot believe they rationally accept it? But they do. Well, that’s exactly what I think about the defenses of the Catholic Church. Listen, if 300 hundred years of witch hunts doesn’t qualify as a serious wrong that was not condemned by the Magisterium then I have nothing to say to you but study Calvinism.

    This merely means to me that smart people can defend most anything they came to believe based on non-intelligent reasons. Whole religious communities must be wrong because there are many of them and they can't all be right.

    Rearranging chairs on the Church ship called the titanic won’t cut it. It’s sinking. It’s time to abandon it. The reasoning of the Inerrantists, the Calvinists, and the Catholics are pretty much the same.

    Take my outsider test sometime. Then you'll know exactly what I mean.

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  40. Crimson, it's easy to say I don't understand something when you're looking for it and when I can't say all that I know. Anyway, I must stay away. I must. Don't read it. I don't care, really. I don't need your 50 cents, anyway. And I certainly don't need another recommendation for my book from Professor Feser. I already have a slew of them from both sides of the fence. I was giving you a heads up. Christian believers are dropping out of the fold because there are no educated Christian responses to it yet. That's okay with me if it’s okay with you.

    I mainly want to see the reactions of the very Christian apologists who are gleefully lining up to answer the four horsemen. Will they line up so cheerfully to deal with mine? I also want to learn from them [*gasp*] but I can't learn from them if they don't deal with it.

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  41. Yes, John. There's no way you can learn from anyone else unless they buy and talk about your book. And you have little need to buy the books of others. Why, you could just tell Feser was just defending what he always believed (it's not as if Feser used to be a committed atheist, right?) and Aquinas wrote maybe 3-4 pages defending his thoughts of God (you heard it from a source you trust, after all.)

    No, to teach John Loftus you must buy his book and talk about it.

    Nevermind that your book has been read, reviewed, and thoroughly panned/exposed as weak by multiple sources you successfully managed to bother or plead with enough. Of course, then you assure everyone reading those reviews/criticisms that none of said criticisms work. And how can you prove that? Well, they have to buy your book and read it of course!

    Again, John: You are the Matthew Lesko of internet atheists. You are marginally good at self-promotion and little else - and even that's due only to tenacity. Your insistence that no one has successfully dealt with your book - either in 'Big Picture' format or on the specifics - is almost as good as a creationist assertion that 'No one has yet won our website's 10k prize for providing actual evidence of evolution.' Precisely, it's little more than an advertising gimmick.

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  42. "Christian believers are dropping out of the fold because there are no educated Christian responses to it yet."

    Oh, no! Quick, we all have to buy John's book and refute it! Oh, the humanity!

    John, I've led atheists to faith with my unpublished apologetics material. So I guess you'd better get on your horse to save those poor atheists from becoming religious and screwing everything up! You'll have to show up at one of my classes, seminars, or private conversations to refute me!

    Unbelievers have become believers and believers have fallen from the faith since the beginning. Just because someone who said they were a Christian read your book and said it made them lose their faith proves very much less than you would like it to, I'm afraid. I highly doubt your book is the skeptical atomic-bomb that you make it out to be, especially since I've heard some of your arguments on the "Unbelievable?" podcasts. It sounded a lot like warmed-over Bart Ehrman and that sort of thing.

    But when you say, "there are no educated Christian responses to it yet", if you mean that nobody's published a book yet refuting your book, that's probably true. It's also probably true that most Christian scholars (let alone the average Joe) have never heard of you, though you certainly seem determined to change that through your shameless name-dropping and other tactics. People write books against Dawkins because his was a best-seller and needed a response. That's sort of how it works.

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  43. Look, I'm only telling you what others have said about my book. Yes, I'm arrogant. Yes, I'm a promoter. Big deal. Who cares. My book is being used in Christian colleges and in secular ones for classes on atheism. I guess you dispute the professors of those classes even though you've never read it. Okay, I guess. But now let me chime in. I am doing extensive work in putting out an anthology of anti-Christian readings. I think I know of nearly all of them specifically geared against Christianity and I'll say that I have never seen such a powerful case agains the faith you espouse in all of my readings.

    I'm sure you'll dispute this even though you've never read what I have or my book, and because you don't like me. I don't care. It is what it is.

    I'm leaving this thread for good.

    Bring on more ad hominems if you want to and if it makes you feel good. I'm used to it by now. At least you don't have the power to burn me at the stake anymore. With my book you'll have less of it.

    Cheers.

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  44. Well, John is leaving the thread for good again, which means he'll probably be back tomorrow so long as the thread is still active (Translation: He thinks there are people reading it and who he can talk into buying or talking about his book.)

    And again, John, you aren't getting it. It's not that you engage in self-promotion. It's that self-promotion is quite clearly all you care about to the exclusion of all else. As I said, I've quietly sat by and watched you show up on site after site, and the gimmick is the same. If you're not hawking your book, you're engaged in bizarre campaigns against people who you think would hurt the sales of your book. In the end nothing BUT the book matters. It's not the self-promotion, it's the lack of anything else of substance.

    As for the power of your anthology - given your history, you wouldn't know a powerful argument if it stormed up and bit you. Meanwhile, Feser's book not only exposes the arguments of the 'New Atheism' as malarkey (that's been done more than once by now), but goes a step further and actually undercuts the modern secularist mindset altogether.

    Look at it this way: Maybe it will turn into additional book sales for you! Atheism is going to need even more desperate defense than it does now as the arguments from The Last Superstition spread. Lucky for you, many atheists tend not to care about those defenses being intellectually rigorous. ;)

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  45. I'll give Loftus credit for this....he's certainly the biggest blow-heart in the history of atheism.

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  46. "It [the Catholic Church] is not reflective of a divine institution at all"

    Aw, why did you guys have to chase Loftus away so soon? I, for one, am on pins and needles to learn how someone who claims there is no such thing as the divine also seems to believe that he has standards by which to judge what a "divine institution" would or would not look like. I wanted him to explain where he gets these standards from, what they are based on, and why anyone should think they are good and legitimate standards, as opposed to those of, say, Pope Benedict.

    "I'm and agnostic atheist, by the way."

    Whatever the hell that's supposed to be. Anything like an atheist agnostic?

    "This merely means to me that smart people can defend most anything they came to believe based on non-intelligent reasons."

    And you would appear to be living proof of that statement. (Hey, look, John - I implied that you were smart! Another blurb for your book!)

    "Their theology changed as well."

    Oh, NO! Has anybody told Cardinal Newman about this???

    "Liberals have the most effective critiques of evangelicalism, but evangelicals have the most effective critiques of liberalism. I agree with both of their criticisms aimed at each other."

    I'll bet you could teach a thing or two about logic to some of those superstitious old witch-burners like Thomas Aquinas, couldn't you?

    "It’s sinking. It’s time to abandon it."

    I couldn't agree more! (Er - you WERE talking about the post-modern secular West, right?)

    "At least you don't have the power to burn me at the stake anymore."

    More's the pity. But don't be too sure of that, John - traditional values are making a big comeback in the Church. BWA-HA-HA-HAAA!!!

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  47. Oh, and by the way, John - next time I'm in Angola I'll stop by the Mad Dog and buy you a drink if you're around! ;-)

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  48. Um...what did you all think of my review?

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  49. JD,

    I thought your review was good. Ultimately I have to side with Ed in the justification of the language he used - but I think there's a difference between justifying the language (which he can do) and noting the effect. I have a low opinion of Dawkins et al, but I still had trouble with the language out of instinct - and I think others will have that reaction at first as well.

    The concerns you highlight about the move from God of the Philosophers to Christian God is worth more investigation (though to be fair, Ed wasn't writing a defense of Christianity so much as a very important aspect of traditional Christian thought), though in the same vein I thought the comments about biblical criticism were misplaced - yes, Ed's book certainly has relevance to Christianity, but I think expecting him to say much at all about that is particularly out of place.

    I would agree with your summation of the power/importance of Ed's book. This is not just a mere refutation of the New Atheists on their terms. It's an attack on the playing field itself, and provides a new way of approaching the world, science, and common philosophical issues. Also, your writing was overall pleasant and thoughtful to read.

    As someone else on CADRE said - keep writing reviews.

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  50. I haven't read Loftus' book, but a critical review of his book may be read here:

    http://sophiesladder.com/WordPress/?p=301

    Another comment on Loftus' book is here (as complement, I suppose)

    http://sophiesladder.com/WordPress/?p=322

    I'm not a Christian, but I found Dr.Feser's book The Last Superstition very good and interesting. And I hope to read his other books on philosophy too.

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  51. "Well, that’s exactly what I think about the defenses of the Catholic Church. Listen, if 300 hundred years of witch hunts doesn’t qualify as a serious wrong that was not condemned by the Magisterium then I have nothing to say to you but study Calvinism."

    I did study Calvinism, at the same time I was reading church history. I read scads of Reformed books and articles. Calvinism has a strong logical pull that I found appealing, but I ended up rejecting it for some of the same reasons that you did.

    I'm not Catholic, but as far as the witch hunts and such things go, surely you're intelligent enough to realize that doxa and praxis don't always jibe with each other? It's happened in every era of church life since day one, not through any fault of the doxa, but but because men are fallen and don't always live it out.

    Church life has been a mixture of good and bad since the beginning, and always will be, because humans themselves are a mixture of good and bad. So what's the issue?

    "The reasoning of the Inerrantists, the Calvinists, and the Catholics are pretty much the same."

    The fact that you can make a rather ridiculous statement like this strongly indicates to me that your book is probably not worth reading.

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  52. Crimson, it's easy to say I don't understand something when you're looking for it and when I can't say all that I know.

    What I would have wanted to see is some indication that you had read something other than the pop history works by people like Ehrman (which I do consider to be careless work in terms of scholarly rigor). Having read plenty of good and bad work, I know what careful scholarship looks like, and it seems to me that you are a poor judge if your endorsement of Ehrman and Forrest and the "Jesus Tomb" work is any indication. Next you'll probably mention Elaine Pagels. As far as I can tell, you are simply one more member of an impressive array of con men attempting to make money of sensationalistic pseudo-scholarship, and plenty of bad and/or dishonest professors will jump on that gravy train with you.

    I'm a firm believer in parsimony in explanations. The easiest explanation for you, for example, is that careful scholarship is boring and difficult to understand, and sensationalist pseudo-scholarship tells an attractive story and appeals to inordinate curiosity about lurid subject matter. Thus, the latter will always make more money, and there will always be smart (but often lazy or unqualified) people looking to turn a buck off of the opportunity. To put it another way, "follow the money" is usually a pretty good heuristic, and it sure seems to provide a parsimonious explanation in this case.

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  53. In my favorites! Great site! I'll be reading you later!

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  54. “skeptical of natural law arguments because of the way they have been used throughout history to legitimize degrading, exploitative conditions for certain classes of people, such as slaves and women.”

    Ah jus' knew old Locke and Co still had a few redeeming qualities.

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  55. As a quasi-Randian, I might be that mentally challenged philosophical cousin of yours who is always a bit of an embarrassment at the family gathering, but Aristotle nonetheless is tops for me and that alone makes me interested in challenging myself with your book.

    I mean, a professional philosopher? Giving Aristotle validity!? I'm interested!

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  56. Can some respond to Loftus' claim that the early Church was splintered until Constantine? I have heard this said by a lot of anti-Catholic Protestants - they think that the early Church was a lot like how Protestantism it is today, and it wasn't until that evil Constantine that the Catholic Church came into existence.

    Catholics dismiss this and offer several arguments against this, but I have not seen a *comprehensive* dismantling of this view and a *comprehensive* construction of the Catholic view.

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