Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nature versus art

I’ve been meaning to put the debate between Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) metaphysics and “Intelligent Design” (ID) theory aside for a time, but Vincent Torley and Thomas Cudworth have recently raised objections and questions (here, here, and here) to which I would like to respond.  I will have to do so at some length, I’m afraid, because Torley’s first post is itself very long, and because there are many background issues that need to be clarified before Torley’s and Cudworth’s remarks can be addressed.  In this post I will set out the relevant background ideas, and in a second post I will consider Torley’s and Cudworth’s points.  After that I intend to give the subject a rest for a long while – to the chagrin of some readers perhaps, but (I suspect) to the relief of many.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hunter on TLS

Philosopher Graeme Hunter kindly reviews The Last Superstition in the latest issue of Touchstone.  From the review:

Feser is a talented philosopher who can present Christian thought in broad strokes or in fine detail with equal authority. His book is notable for the clarity with which it reassembles the essential elements of Christian philosophy – showing its debt to ancient Greece, its development in the Middle Ages, and its canonical expression in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Feser then uses his expertise in later philosophy to isolate certain interconnected fallacies of thought, from the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and up to the present, fallacies that have insinuated themselves into our thinking, limiting our ability to think clearly about science, truth, God, and the human condition.

You need have no prior knowledge of the history of philosophy to follow Feser’s guided tour, but he takes for granted a reader prepared to go slowly and think things through. The reward for doing so is great. Though I have spent a lifetime teaching and writing about the same matters as this book discusses, I was challenged and instructed on almost every page…

It is rather to Feser’s credit that he sometimes allows himself (and his reader) the simple pleasure of scoffing at the other side…

The reader who begins this book prepared to think will end it thinking much more effectively. He will see the new atheism for the stale, unprofitable confusion it is. At the same time he will accumulate some useful ammunition for the culture wars. Few books reward our labor so richly.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Birthday

I am pleased to announce that my wife Rachel gave birth yesterday to our sixth child, Gwendolyn Marie Feser.  Cigars all around.  Posting may be light for a little while.

Update: Many thanks for the very kind wishes of all my readers.  Here is a pic of Gwendolyn doing her best Alfred Hitchcock impression while held by her sister Gemma:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Triduum

Frank Turek of the radio program CrossExamined informs me that they will be rerunning his recent interview with me this Saturday at 10 am ET and again on Easter at 5 pm ET.  You can listen here.  I wish all my readers a holy Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Those who have not seen them might find of interest my posts from last year on “The Meaning of the Passion” and “The Meaning of the Resurrection.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Uncommon Descent update

My readers should know that Vincent Torley has added a disclaimer to his recent post, apologizing for any misrepresentation of my views contained in the post.  I appreciate this, and I apologize if the tone of my original response to Torley and his fellow ID defenders Jay Richards and Denyse O’Leary (which I have since replaced) was excessively harsh.  Torley has also put up another post, as has Thomas Cudworth.  I will reply to them as soon as I am able.

The God above God

I’m not a big fan of Paul Tillich.  As a philosopher, he was too muddleheaded; as a theologian, too modernist.  But even muddleheaded modernists get a genuine insight now and again.  Tillich arguably did when he spoke of “the God above God,” though he presented it poorly and with an admixture of serious error.

State Cows

I recently got an email from Daniel Andersson of the Swedish band State Cows about their new eponymous album.  It’s terrific – I’ve been playing it for days now.  “State Cows” is an anagram of “West Coast,” and if you dig the Westcoast sound – think Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Michael Franks, or Toto – you’ll dig these guys.  Some samples, courtesy of YouTube: “Lost in a Mind Game,” “New York Town,” “Painting a Picture,” and “Looney Gunman.”  Break out the Cuervo Gold – leave aside the fine Colombian – and give a listen.

(No pretentious pop music analysis this time, sorry – for that, see my earlier posts on Steely Dan, Lady Gaga, Thelonious Monk, and jazz and modern culture more generally.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Uncommonly careless

Some recent remarks made by contributors to the Uncommon Descent blog seriously misrepresent my criticisms of “Intelligent Design” theoryOne of them insinuates that I deny “that it is possible for a living thing to be the product of design”; another claims that I “attack [the] evidence for design in nature”; most bizarrely, a third alleges that I put Thomism “in bondage to atheism.”  In fact I have, of course, never denied that the natural world is designed by God, much less that we can reason from the existence of the world to the existence of God.  (These would be rather strange views to take for someone who has vigorously defended each of Aquinas’s Five Ways.)  As I emphasized in a recent post:

The dispute between Thomism on the one hand and Paley (and ID theory) on the other is not over whether God is in some sense the “designer” of the universe and of living things – both sides agree that He is – but rather over what exactly it means to say that He is, and in particular over the metaphysics of life and of creation.

There have been other serious misrepresentations from the Uncommon Descent camp as well, which I have addressed here and here.  Irritation at this pattern of misrepresentations led me yesterday to post a fairly harsh response.  Vincent Torley, one of the writers to whom I was responding, assures me that he did not intend to misrepresent my views.  I will take him at his word, and I have removed my response of yesterday.  But it does seem to me that Torley and other Uncommon Descent contributors are sometimes culpably negligent in their mischaracterizations of their opponents’ views, even if no malice is intended.  And I think that this should be clear to anyone who has actually carefully read what I’ve written.  I will leave it at that.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A reprint is not a reply

Some of my readers seem to think that Jay Richards’ recent series of posts over at Evolution News and Views (here and here) constitute a reply to my recent post about Richards.  But in fact Richards has merely been reprinting, in several installments, the very essay of his that I was criticizing in my post!  He is, quite literally, just repeating himself without actually responding to my objections.  Moreover, Richards himself says in the first of his posts that that is all he is doing.  The brief introductory material he adds there mainly just summarizes some of the claims he makes in his essay – claims I already answered in my original post – without adding anything new. 

(Actually, there is one new tidbit there: Richards informs us that he “agree[s] with Duns Scotus' critique of what he took to be Thomas' view of [analogical predication].”  Readers of my original post on Richards will note the irony.) 

So, in answer to any readers who might be wondering whether I’m going to reply to Richards’ “latest”: I already did reply! You should be asking him when he’s going to reply to me.  (When he does, I guess I can just reprint my original post about him and people will think it’s a reply…)

Friday, April 15, 2011

A further thought on the “one god further” objection

We’ve been beating up on the “one god further” objection to theism.  Here’s another way to look at the problem with it.  The objection, you’ll recall, goes like this:

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

Suppose I go along with the gag.  Why do I dismiss all other gods?
Well, in part because there is ample reason to think they do not exist.  But also – and far more importantly – because even if they did exist, they would all in various respects be less than ultimate and thus would not be truly divine and worthy of worship.  So, for example, if the gods of Olympus existed, we would expect to find them living atop Mount Olympus, and they don’t.  But even if they did exist – suppose they return to Olympus when no one is looking, or reside in some other dimension as in the Marvel Comics version of the Olympian gods – they would all in various respects manifest limitations and defects that show them to be mere creatures like us, even if more grand creatures than we are.  Hence, as we know from mythology, they are all supposed to suffer myriad limitations on their power, and to be motivated by various petty concerns.  They come into existence, just as we do.  They can be startled when the face of the guy they’re about to kiss comes peeling off to reveal a leering skull.  (Just check out Aphrodite – also known as Venus – on that comic book cover up above!  You’d think the skeleton hands would have been a clue that something was up with this dude…)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The “one god further” objection

A reader calls attention to Bill Vallicella’s reply to what might be called the “one god further” objection to theism.  Bill sums up the objection as follows:

The idea, I take it, is that all gods are on a par, and so, given that everyone is an atheist with respect to some gods, one may as well make a clean sweep and be an atheist with respect to all gods. You don't believe in Zeus or in a celestial teapot. Then why do you believe in the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob?

Or as the Common Sense Atheism blog used to proclaim proudly on its masthead:

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

I see that that blog has now removed this one-liner, which is perhaps a sign that intellectual progress is possible even among New Atheist types.  Because while your average “Internet Infidel” seems to regard the “one god further” objection as devastatingly clever, it is in fact embarrassingly inept, a sign of the extreme decadence into which secularist “thought” has fallen in the Age of Dawkins.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Descartes’ “trademark” argument

Descartes presents three arguments for God’s existence in the Meditations: a version of the ontological argument; the “preservation” argument, which is an eccentric variation on the idea of God as First Cause; and the “trademark” argument.  Each of these is problematic, though each is also more interesting and defensible than it is usually given credit for.  I have said something about ontological arguments in a couple of recent posts (here and here), and I might have something to say about the “preservation” argument in a future post.  For now let’s consider the “trademark” argument – probably the most maligned of the three.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Deadly unserious

Catholic bishops are obliged to convey the authentic teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals.  The modern, secular, liberal world utterly despises that teaching, and its hostility has only increased in the decades since the Fathers of Vatican II hoped that some common ground might be found on the basis of which the Church and the world could cooperate.  A bishop can deal with this situation in one of two ways.  He can damn the torpedoes and press on at full speed, Athanasius contra mundum.   Or he can temporize.  We have seen how the temporizing strategy played out during last year’s debate over health care.  It is manifest in many other areas too, such as the debate over capital punishment, as current events in Illinois and Arizona illustrate.