Saturday, January 25, 2014

Estranged notions


Strange Notions is a website devoted to discussion between Catholics and atheists and operated by Brandon Vogt.  It’s a worthwhile enterprise.  When he was getting the website started, Brandon kindly invited me to contribute to it, and also asked if he could reprint old posts from my blog.  I told him I had no time to contribute new articles but that it was fine with me if he wanted to reprint older pieces as long as they were not edited without my permission.  I have not kept a close eye on the site, but it seems that quite a few old blog posts of mine have been reprinted.  I hope some of Brandon’s readers find them useful, but I have to say that a glance at the site’s comboxes makes me wonder whether allowing such reprints was after all a good idea.  Certainly it has a downside.

Blogging, especially for a personal blog like mine, is a very different kind of writing than the sort one does for a book, a journal article, or a general audience magazine (whether print or online).  Blog posts are typically written in an ad hoc way.  They are often commentaries on the controversy du jour, direct replies to an article or blog post that recently appeared at some other site, responses to reader comments or questions, or reflections spawned by what the blogger happens to have been reading or thinking about lately.  The style of a blog post is informal and more intimate than that of a book or article, and more likely to reflect the author “with his hair down” than those other sorts of writing typically do.  It also reflects the interests, background knowledge, and attitudes of the blog’s regular readership.  The author knows that he can address certain issues, casually refer to certain other writers or ideas, and make certain jokes or offhand political remarks that would not be appropriate in other kinds of writing, because most of his readers, including the ones who don’t necessarily agree with him, already know “where’s he’s coming from.” 

The tone and content of a particular blog post are inevitably going to reflect the circumstances under which it was written.  If a blogger is replying to something a reasonable and polite critic has said, the tone is likelier to be gentlemanly.  If he is replying instead to a nasty and unreasonable person, the tone is likelier to be hard-edged.  If he is commenting on a matter of academic controversy, there might be a casual use of technical terminology or references to writers and ideas with which the average reader will be unfamiliar, whereas on more general topics a blog post might be more accessible to the non-specialist.  But in most cases, a blog post is simply not going to be written the way an article for a general audience would be, especially if the writer happens to be an academic. 

In short, context is crucial and has to be kept in mind if one is to give a fair reading of what a blogger has written.  It is hard enough to get even some of the regular readers of one’s own blog to keep this in mind.  I can hardly ever say anything about God, the soul, or natural law without some atheist reader complaining that I have not, in the particular blog post he happens to have bothered reading, proved the existence of God or the soul or the soundness of the natural law approach to ethics -- as if I ought to be expected to start from first principles and repeat everything I’ve already written elsewhere every single time I write a blog post on those subjects.  (And of course if I do go on at greater length about these matters, the same readers will accuse me of being too long-winded.)  It is also impossible to write about political matters without a contingent of crackpots, whether of the right or of the left, reading all sorts of ridiculous things into what one has said.  (A recent example here.) 

Naturally, the context of a post is even more likely to be ignored when it is reprinted years later at a very different website.  A case in point is provided by the post I wrote about a year and a half ago on my conversion from theism to atheism and then back again to theism.  It is currently being reprinted at Strange Notions, broken up (as the original was not) into three parts.  Quite understandably, some of the Strange Notions readers seem baffled by it.  Who are all these academic philosophical writers I refer to?  Why do I refer to them rather than just state the actual arguments for theism that I think are compelling?  Why don’t I say much about Catholicism, specifically?  Why the emphasis on philosophy to the exclusion of other aspects of religion?  Who do I think I am to suppose Strange Notions readers would want to read a three part piece on all this stuff? 

Those would be fair questions to raise about an article written for a non-academic website devoted to presenting Catholic apologetics to atheists.  But the article was not written for that website, and it was not my idea to reprint it there.  It was written for the personal blog of an academic philosopher, for readers not all of whom are Catholics but many or even most of whom have some acquaintance with and interest in academic philosophy, who are already familiar with the arguments I have given for theism in various books and articles but who are interested in knowing more of the details of how, intellectually speaking, I made a transition from atheism to theism.  I don’t know how useful the piece would be to general readers who aren’t coming from that sort of background -- if it is useful to any of them, great -- but I wasn’t writing it for them and it shouldn’t be judged as if I had been. 

I notice also that some Strange Notions readers are bothered by the polemical tone of some of the other posts of mine reprinted there, or by the fact that I don’t address this or that issue related to the subjects I discuss in the various posts.  Here too it has to be kept in mind that none of the posts were written as general purpose apologetics pieces in the first place, nor were any of them written for that site or reprinted there at my suggestion.  Some of them originally appeared in the middle of extended exchanges with other bloggers, and have been ripped from that original context.  For example, the post on the cosmological argument that Strange Notions has reprinted was written years ago in the middle of an ongoing exchange with Jerry Coyne and a couple of other New Atheist type bloggers, all of whom were gratuitously condescending and nasty.  My response to them was, accordingly, hard edged.  But removed from that original context and presented as if it were a general purpose stand alone article about the cosmological argument -- which is the impression given by the Strange Notions reprint -- that piece is bound to come off as needlessly aggressive and inappropriate for a website advertised (as Strange Notions is) as devoted to “charitable” discussion.  Had I written it for that site, or for an audience of fair-minded atheists (and I have always acknowledged that there are many such atheists) the tone would have been very different.  Strange Notions readers should also be aware that the criticisms some of them raise against that post were ones I answered years ago in a couple of follow up posts, here and here.

(As my longtime readers know, I maintain that polemics are sometimes -- by no means always, but sometimes -- appropriate and even called for, and I have given philosophical and theological reasons for this claim.  Readers interested in those reasons are directed here, here, here, here, and here.)

Another post reprinted at Strange Notions, which deals with the Catholic understanding of tradition, was written years ago as part of an exchange philosopher Dale Tuggy and I were having over the doctrine of the Trinity.  It was not in any way meant as a complete or stand alone treatment of the subject.  But the unwary reader might get the opposite impression given that it was taken from context and reprinted at a general purpose apologetics site.  Similar remarks could be made about some of the other posts of mine reprinted there.

Again, I hope at least some Strange Notions readers, whether theist or atheist, find the material useful.  If Brandon wants to keep reprinting my old stuff, I certainly appreciate his interest and he is free to do so if he thinks it conducive to the mission of his site.  But I would urge his readers to keep in mind the original context of the posts.  Estranged from that context, some notions are bound to seem stranger than they really are. 

75 comments:

itascriptaest said...

Well I must say I am surprised you deigned to stop by my small blog. The main point of my post (in which by the way, I praise a lot of your work) was to critique what I inferred to be your view of the essential compatibility between Classical Liberalism and Thomism on certain issues. If that is a "ridiculous" reading into your views, well then I am awfully sorry for misrepresenting your views.

Anonymous said...

Worthwhile post & good points. Strange Notions is a bit disappointing. It could use some more philosophically versed Catholic posters.

Scott said...

@itascriptaest:

"The main point of my post (in which by the way, I praise a lot of your work) was to critique what I inferred to be your view of the essential compatibility between Classical Liberalism and Thomism on certain issues."

Here's the entire content of your post:

In a commentary on Thomas Nagel’s recent Foreword to Robert Nozick’s Anarchy State and Utopia Ed Feser offers some commentary on economics. Feser notes that the science of economics is a “very messy” subject. The influence of the Hayekian notion of a ”spontaneous order” on Feser is most conspicuously apparent here. The complexity of economics leads Feser to discount concepts like a “just wage” as non-serious “self-righteous posturing.” Yet while Feser discounts Distributists and various other leftist positions as simplistic, he goes on to claim that poverty does not exist in the First World. Where poverty does exist it is mainly because of social problems like “fatherlessness” to use the example Feser uses. Feser’s view is summed up most aptly by a quote I will borrow from “the Ochlophobist“- “There are a hell of a lot of working people with their backs against walls these days. But they have microwaves and Cricket phones, so it’s all good.” Never-mind the fact either that a lot of the cushions that soften the most deleterious effects of the market were only won after decades of pitched battles fought against the brutal opposition of capitalists, it seems to me that Feser should perhaps take some of his own advice and not use throw around meaningless James Dobsonesque talking points when the subject of the poor comes up. Through out the rest of the blog post Feser gives some qualified praise for Nozick’s libertarian ideas. While he (rightly) rejects the more radical anarcho-capitalist arguments of people like Murray Rothbard, Feser still seems largely trapped within the libertarian ideological framework as evidenced by his comments on the poor. I have to admit that the more I read Feser the more I come to sympathize with the Nouvelle Theologie’s critique of neo-scholasticism.

Precisely where therein do you "praise a lot of [Feser's] work"?

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of distributism. Part of my motivation for returning to the Catholic Church was that I didn't want to be an American liberal or an American conservative. But frankly, I'm not quite sure how distributism is supposed to work in practice.

itascriptaest said...

@Scott,

I was mistaken about the praise being in the post. I did however write a comment below that said he is good in metaphysics - which is where he does a lot of his work. I have also elsewhere praised his critiques of libertarianism.

Edward Feser said...

itascriptaest,

Perhaps I should have ignored it, but as my longtime readers can attest, while I am perfectly capable of taking criticism and even, within limits, of tolerating gratuitously nasty remarks made about me personally, what I absolutely cannot stand is someone misrepresenting my views.

In your post you asserted several grave falsehoods:

1. You claim that I "discount concepts like a 'just wage' as non-serious 'self-righteous posturing.'" In fact I never said, and would never say, such a thing. On the contrary, I have for years now affirmed that there is such a thing as a just wage and vehemently reject libertarian claims to the contrary. All I said in the post you referred to is that in concrete circumstances it can be difficult to determine what justice in wages requires and that there is too much posturing and too little clear thinking about the issue. Your uncharitable and unjust remarks only confirm that judgement.

2. You asserted that "Feser... claim[s] that poverty does not exist in the First World." I never said such a ridiculous thing. What I said is that the character of poverty in the First World is different from the character of poverty in the Third World.

3. You write that "Feser still seems largely trapped within the libertarian ideological framework." In fact, as my longtime readers know, I have not been a libertarian -- or a "Nozickian," a "Hayekian," or a "classical liberal -- for almost a decade. (No one who has read my book on Locke could regard your characterization of my views as an attempt to meld "classical liberalism and Thomism" as anything but laughable.)

Indeed, when I have talked about libertarianism at all in recent years my remarks have been almost completely critical. Naturally, though, when I say one kinda-aorta nice thing about Nozick the Distributo-nuts come out of the woodwork to denounce this effrontery to "the poor," whom they seem to regard as their special pets. A refreshing change, I guess, from the Rothbardo-nuts who usually come out of the woodwork to denounce me as a sell-out and a "Statist" eager to impose Catholicism on all and sundry.

(And no, I don't regard all Distributists or Rothbardians as nuts. Some of my best friends, and all that.)

BTW, my favorite part of your post is where you tried to link my purported economic views to my being a Neo-Scholastic. That is so off-the-wall nuts that it alone shows that you are not really a liar but just so thoroughly blinded by ideology you can't even read what's on the computer screen in front of you.

Scott said...

@Edward Feser:

"kinda-aorta"

I like this and hope to see more typos in this vein.

Edward Feser said...

Scott,

Oh that's great -- didn't see it. I'm not going to correct it. Maybe we can start a meme, like "pwned."

"Didja pwn him?"

"Yeah, kinda-aorta."

"Kewl!"

itascriptaest said...

In your post you asserted several grave falsehoods:
Oh dear!
1. You claim that I "discount concepts like a 'just wage' as non-serious 'self-righteous posturing.'" In fact I never said, and would never say, such a thing. On the contrary, I have for years now affirmed that there is such a thing as a just wage and vehemently reject libertarian claims to the contrary. All I said in the post you referred to is that in concrete circumstances it can be difficult to determine what justice in wages requires and that there is too much posturing and too little clear thinking about the issue. Your uncharitable and unjust remarks only confirm that judgement.
That's nice I guess but this seems to be more of the typical Acton Institute-type tactic of deflection tactic sure you'll affirm the teaching “but really the teaching is just too ambiguous to really merit any further action/discussion ect.” As far as unjust and uncharitable, if your argument style is what is to be considered “charitable” I don’t think I have much to worry about.
2. You asserted that "Feser... claim[s] that poverty does not exist in the First World." I never said such a ridiculous thing. What I said is that the character of poverty in the First World is different from the character of poverty in the Third World.
Yeah I am challenging your notion that much of poverty even in the supposedly affluent West is all that different from what we see in the Third World. Not to mention the fact that many of the hard fought safeguards would not be in place today were many conservatives to have their way.
3. You write that "Feser still seems largely trapped within the libertarian ideological framework." In fact, as my longtime readers know, I have not been a libertarian -- or a "Nozickian," a "Hayekian," or a "classical liberal -- for almost a decade. (No one who has read my book on Locke could regard your characterization of my views as an attempt to meld "classical liberalism and Thomism" as anything but laughable.)
Weren’t you the one who gave a speech at the Von Mises Institute talking about the supposed affinity between Hayek and your own Aristotlean views? Yes, yes I realize you have criticized Locke, Rothbard and Hayek on occasions over certain issues, but you have also given them quite a bit of praise. Needless to say I don’t think it is “laughable” to infer that.
By the way I am not a distributist though I sympathize with some of their complaints. I meant “neo” in the sense of Thomists like you who are a little too chummy with modern liberalism for my tastes. On this narrow point you are indeed in agreement with people like Robert George.

Scott said...

@Edward Feser:

"Maybe we can start a meme, like 'pwned.'"

Something like this, maybe:

"Didja pwn him?"

"Yeah, I went straight to the heart of the matter, kinda-aorta. His replies were in vein; I don't think they'll be in circulation for long."

"Kewl!"

tz said...

http://www.amazon.com/b?node=262690011

Like when I'm in Jo Ann fabrics looking to make something, I don't know what all this strange stuff is used for. And it isn't even abstract.

Or finance where there is a notional value of a derivative contract

Scott said...

@itascriptaest:

"That's nice I guess but this seems to be more of the typical Acton Institute-type tactic of deflection tactic sure you'll affirm the teaching 'but really the teaching is just too ambiguous to really merit any further action/discussion ect.'"

Well, no doubt you'll enlighten us with a formula for calculating a just wage.

"Yeah I am challenging your notion that much of poverty even in the supposedly affluent West is all that different from what we see in the Third World."

Challenge it all you like. The fact is that the vast majority of even homeless people in the First World are better off than their counterparts in the Third World. That's not an excuse for not doing anything about their situation; it's just an observation. But it's a true one.

"Yes, yes I realize you have criticized Locke, Rothbard and Hayek on occasions over certain issues, but you have also given them quite a bit of praise."

In what imaginary world does critical praise constitute agreement?

Edward Feser said...

itascriptaest,

If you can't cut the crap, man up, and simply admit the blindingly obvious -- that your statements were false and that you were shooting off your mouth without thinking -- then there's no point in talking to you. You're in Jerry Coyne land. 'Bye.

itascriptaest said...

Well evidently you don't take criticism very well now do you? But please gone on writing about such figures as Nozick and Hayek, because you know that's what the world needs more of. Bye

rank sophist said...

Naturally, though, when I say one kinda-aorta nice thing about Nozick the Distributo-nuts come out of the woodwork to denounce this effrontery to "the poor," whom they seem to regard as their special pets.

This stings, Professor.

Timotheos said...

So if you compared my heart to St. Francis’s, would you say that he has a kinda-aorta?

malcolmthecynic said...

Well evidently you don't take criticism very well now do you?But please gone on writing about such figures as Nozick and Hayek, because you know that's what the world needs more of.

What is that even supposed to mean?

Bye

And good riddance. If you're not going to man up, apologize, and retract your statements when you've been caught red-handed presenting blatantly false characterizations of Dr. Feser's views, then don't let the door hit you and all that.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"So if you compared my heart to St. Francis’s, would you say that he has a kinda-aorta?"

Heh. Let me consult my auricle and get back to you.

Anonymous said...

It also seems that Brandon is getting slaughtered because there are not enough well versed people to defend the ideas from your posts. Unless people have had a good read through some of your books, and followed along this blog, it is a bit jarring.

This post from Brandon address another problem:

http://www.strangenotions.com/strangenotions-update-and-feedback/

"1. Imbalance among commenters. When I first started Strange Notions, I expected to attract thousands of Catholics but have difficulty drawing many atheist commenters, especially the high-minded, respectful sort I was looking for. But just the opposite has been true. We've had no problem attracting non-Catholics. In fact, roughly 80% of our 39,000 comments have come from atheists (and I imagine the pageview and visitor percentages follow suit.)"

That said, I have no problem with the tone of your posts. If people over there have a problem with it, they need to educate themselves with the ideas of people you are engaging with, as you say.

Cheers,
Dan

Ismael said...

Unfortunately Vogt's project is a massively tough one.

There are a few problems:

1- many catholics, especially well-informed catholics do npot bother too much to evagelize on the net.

So they probably do not even know Vigt site and if they do they will not partecipate to it as actively as Vogt expected.

--


2- The internet is full of atheists bozos, who have probably not read anything except Dawkins (or more probably the wiki page dedicated to Dawkins books) but like to swarm blogs like a horde of zerglings (pardon my excessively nerdy Starcraft reference).

You cannot win against these people: not only they are too ignorant to participate meaningfully to the discussion, but hey are unwilling to learn and go being the end of their nose.


---

3- Perhaps lack of a good editing staff, that can edit articles and blogposts to quit the site.

Vogt might have someone not just copy Feser's blog posts, but edit them to suit the site.

Even better it would be to have someone like Feser contribute to the site directly. (I understand that Feser probably is unable to do so: he is writing books,articles and blogging, so I am sure shortage of time is a big issue).

In the end he should just find some good people competent in their fields to contribute to the site, and not just borrow from others.


Mind you I am am glad Vogt started this project, but there are many difficulties in evangelizing contemporary atheists...
First you must find a way to open their minds from the narrow vision in which they have been deluded and indoctrinated by Dawkins and co.

Yet, although Dawkins and co. have, most of the time, incredibly stupid and fallacious arguments to back up their credo, it STILL takes time to learn the basics to understand WHY such arguments are stupid and fallacious. Unfortunately the contemporary atheists lack attention, focus and willingness, most of the time (generalizing here, of course there are exceptions) and they are no better than “young earth creationism” fundamentalists in this respect. They just have a lot of sarcasm and rage (at least in what they write).

Vogt DOES have the right idea, but the execution needs to be refined.

That said I hope Vogt will read your blogpost Dr. Feser, and maybe my comment too (I do no claim any authority here, just giving my 2 cents, hoping to help) and that he will do his best to correct the faults and I truly wish his project to be successful!

Anonymous said...

That said, I have no problem with the tone of your posts. If people over there have a problem with it, they need to educate themselves with the ideas of people you are engaging with, as you say.

I can sympathize that Brandon seems to have a policy against polemics in the comment section, so it does not make sense to post polemical blog posts. The polemics were not meant for every atheist, and the way the posts were put up, it seems like they are intended for atheists in general.

Ismael said...

PS: sorry for the typos above, I apologize.

NiV said...

You need someone to paraphrase the *arguments* in the articles, add the required background to be able to understand them, and include a link to the original.

Paraphrasing the arguments for a more general audience would be a useful thing to do anyway. They usually need to be condensed to extract the essential core argument, avoid the convoluted academic jargon, and fill in the huge gaps and logical leaps around impenetrably technical or paywalled papers. I personally find the mental effort of disentangling the arguments entertaining, but not everyone will.

Although I'd also suggest you don't expect too much from it. If you want to introduce atheists to theological philosophy, Thomism is not where I'd start. The medieval worldview of basic definitions and concepts is too different from a modern materialist mindset to be quickly understood, and those who aren't already deeply religious or theology/philosophy students with the time to devote to it are going to be impatient.

As for the complaints that people aren't reading the background theory, and raising objections answered elsewhere, some sort of index or FAQ might be helpful.

It's none of my business, though, and I'm only trying to be helpful, so feel free to ignore my suggestions if you don't like them. To be honest, I wouldn't expect you to. :-)

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

I should mention, in fairness to Brandon, that I asked him not to edit anything of mine that he did decide to re-post. The reason is that, like any writer, I choose my words very carefully, have reasons for including or excluding this or that point, etc. So, when I've written something, I don't want somebody else cutting it up, since he may inadvertently take out something that I regard as essential to the integrity of the whole, re-word things in a way I don't like, etc. (It has happened to me before -- believe me, I could tell you some nightmarish editing stories.) And I simply have zero time to devote to re-editing such re-posts myself.

One problem with this, of course, is that without being re-written for Strange Notions, the posts are going to be read out of their original context and thus (as I have complained) are bound to be somewhat misunderstood. Brandon has kindly dealt with this problem by adding, yesterday, a link to this very explanatory post to each of the re-posts of my stuff he's got at his site.

But that doesn't solve the problems that Dan, Ismail, and NiV have noted. Maybe this very post will give Brandon some traffic and attract people to his site who have the relevant background knowledge.

Edward Feser said...

Hi rank sophist,

This stings, Professor.

It wasn't directed at you, rs, or (as I indicated above) at Distributists in general.

But there are Distributists of a certain ilk who like to pretend that you either agree with them or you don't care about the poor, or are dissenters from Catholic teaching, or sell-outs to power, or some other such self-serving BS. And my remark was very much directed at such people, who (like our dishonest friend above) should perhaps hire an unemployed carpenter to help get the planks out of their eyes.

Anonymous said...

I find the Strange Notions to be much more that disappointing. In fact I find it to be atrocious. Right wing religiosity as its very worst.

Anonymous said...

Looking over the comboxes at Strange Notions, the complete lack of self-consciousness among new atheism is pretty striking. It pretty shamelessly resembles discredited philosophical movements like logical positivism. New atheists don't at all seem to be aware of philosophical difficulties that naturalistic philosophers like John Searle and Alex Rosenberg (to cite two on opposite sides of the naturalistic spectrum) are aware of.

And if one looks at the responses to Professor Feser's The Road From Atheism, it seems like new atheism as a movement is decisively unwilling to actually read philosophy - including that which is sympathetic to their position. Yet they are willing to linger on Strange Notions and snipe away. That is the brand of atheism I find quite unimpressive, the kind that reaches for low-hanging fruit but is not willing to even probe its own philosophical limitations. Obviously no one is required to read all of the books Feser has read, and if they did, the claim is not that they should come to the same philosophical conclusions that he did. But the shallowness of the responses is staggering.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Aren't the New Atheists on the decline?

From what I could tell their attacks on religion seemed to amount on a veneer of pseudo-intellectualism upon popular anti-religious crudities, like 'we don't need ancient fairy tales any more'.

Their social power is political. Even in irreligious Britain or Australia religion is generally not viewed badly, unless it goes against prevailing political and cultural orthodoxy. It is simply by stirring up a segment of the population, largely young people, with the churches' opposition to various social liberal tropes, that the New Atheists ever had much influence.

ccmnxc said...

Especially regarding the Road From Atheism posts, I find most of the responses to be somewhat tragic. From part two especially, I am seeing a lot of the "Who does Feser think he is, doing all this name-dropping?" mentality.

I would also have to agree with the assessment that Strange Notions, while good in intent, doesn't do a whole lot intellectually, since there are only a few theists on there defending a bunch of posts they (generally) didn't write. I think they'd almost be better just linking to Ed's or any of the other authors' blog posts (though on second thought, that might bring an increase in the wrong types of people).

Crude said...

I would also have to agree with the assessment that Strange Notions, while good in intent, doesn't do a whole lot intellectually, since there are only a few theists on there defending a bunch of posts they (generally) didn't write.

I admire, broadly, the idea of 'having dialogue with people who disagree with you'. But I actually think the intent of the site is harmful for one reason - it's specifically about 'dialogue with New Atheists', and New Atheism is marked explicitly by a desire to brand theists/religious people generally as unworthy of dialogue to begin with.

Atheism and irreligion is different from New Atheism. In the latter case, you have Richard Dawkins and his 'make religious people the butt of contempt to bully people out of theism' moves, you have Boghossian's 'religious people are mentally ill, they have a sickness, they should be treated by scientists to cure them' hate speech, and more. I'm so tired of the stock 'intellectual' religious response to this which amounts to 'ignore it, try to be friendly anyway, because golly, being Christian means accepting insults and threats without blinking!'

New Atheism doesn't deserve dialogue, it deserves condemnation. People who subscribe to the kind of mentality Dawkins and Bog are pushing should not be welcomed as equals in debate. They should be condemned and excluded - talked at, not with.

Anonymous said...

The reason why 'New Athiesm' is opposed to actual intellectual engagement is because its not an intellectual movement, rather a political one. And it has all the purposes of political movements, basically 'New Athiesm' exists to give athiests a like-minded community where they can interact and act like most political communities so the level of arguement tends to weak.

It's as if you were to go to your local church and ask the old people who go their the arguements for gods exitence, the main difference being that New Athiests have an arrogance about them and a conviction their beliefs are bound to reason and rational thought.

But it is 'dying'- part of this is that athiesm has an image problem that's largely true (smug, arrogant, preachy etc.) so they're trying to be 'friendlier' and more positive while maintaining that same hostility underneath

and another part of is that New Athiesm has very little left to say, people are bored with athiesm, they're bored with the discussion because theres virtually no original thought being produced

Elizabeth said...

Reposting your blog posts at SN was worthwhile to me -- Otherwise, I may not have found your blog! Geology is my educational background, and I currently stay home with our four children. I have made it a goal to pass down the intellectual side of our Catholic faith. As someone with a science degree married to a scientist, you can imagine the grief we received in school. Let me tell you what you already know: a Catholic geologist is not in the majority. This is not because geologists have brilliantly figured it all out. Quite the contrary -- I had many professors admit to huge holes in theories and still insist dogmatically that they were Truth. (Very scientific!) But I also see the daunting culture and the battle for my children's souls. It's our job to equip them with knowledge alongside their faith. So alongside a classical Catholic education, I teach them religion at home and answer their questions as they arise alongside their lessons.

When breaking things down for children, I have to admit I was experiencing a bit of a "dark night of the soul" over it all. It suddenly sounded like such a fairy tale. I stumbled upon your conversion stories and have been pouring over your blog. Thank you! It is all so very helpful! You and some other fantastic sources remind me of our rich intellectual heritage and inspire me to continue to deepen my own understanding of Catholicism and Truth. One can never learn it all in this lifetime.

Josh said...

@Crude:

I tried posting over at SN for a day or two a while back, and I think you're right. Why would someone want to spend an appreciable amount of time talking to some of those people when you're forced to treat obstinate philosophical infants with faux politeness? I don't think that's synonymous with charity in debate, and so I stopped visiting. Maybe it has gotten better since then, though.

Secondly, the upvote/downvote comment system is so inimical to philosophical/religious discussions. I have a hard time understanding why that's there, and it seems the atheists on the site slobber all over themselves to use it at every opportunity.

I'd second another commenter above: great idea; but execution should be refined a little bit.

Crude said...

I think it's great that posts like Ed's are getting distributed through a site like that, etc. But yeah, Josh - I think the comment system is the biggest anchor there. Even Vogt has noted that the site has attracted mostly New Atheists (and hey, he's who he was trying to reach), and NAs are not exactly 'discussion friendly'.

A great way to improve the site easily would be to shut down the comments, and if he wants to host a dialogue, host it between active participants / host particular articles written by atheists. But hey, his site, his methods. I just cannot endorse the whole 'Smile and make friends with people who are enormously and unapologetically hostile' move.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

It wasn't directed at you, rs, or (as I indicated above) at Distributists in general.

But there are Distributists of a certain ilk who like to pretend that you either agree with them or you don't care about the poor, or are dissenters from Catholic teaching, or sell-outs to power, or some other such self-serving BS. And my remark was very much directed at such people, who (like our dishonest friend above) should perhaps hire an unemployed carpenter to help get the planks out of their eyes.


I'm glad that my somewhat belligerent posting hasn't come across this way. And I agree--distributists and other political groups with Christian adherents have far too many extremists.

Anonymous said...

Internet atheists tend to be fundamentalists, and like any sort of fundamentalist, it's mostly futile to argue with them because they've made up their minds and won't change them for anything, or open them up for any reason.

And to echo others here, it's pretty obvious that the atheist commenters on SN are totally ignorant of the relevant philosophical issues surrounding materialism or naturalism.

It's like they are thirty years behind the actual issues in the philosophy of mind - and all they can talk about are outdated talking points from their 'Prometheus Press' books. Why bother?

A much more promising project, I think, is the New Apologetics, as their material is produced by actual theologians and philosophers, who back up their posts with answers and discussion.

As for SN, maybe it will get better when Fr. Barron and his seminarians get more involved.

ccmnxc said...

A much more promising project, I think, is the New Apologetics, as their material is produced by actual theologians and philosophers, who back up their posts with answers and discussion.

New Apologetics is interesting. Both their Facebook and website seem to show that they have a better idea of what is going on than most. Still, a lot of what they write seems to be very contemporary insofar as there seems to be a lot of reliance on ontological-type argument and such. There doesn't seem to be much Thomistic influence (though their tractatus gives off a very Thomistic vibe). In short, they seem pretty darn knowledgeable, but I don't know what to think of them yet.

Kevin Aldrich said...

It would be great if some of you both wrote OPs and commented at Strange Notions.

NiV said...

" and New Atheism is marked explicitly by a desire to brand theists/religious people generally as unworthy of dialogue to begin with."

Are you saying it's *bad* to brand someone as unworthy of dialogue? ;-)

Sometimes I find it hard to tell when people are being ironic.


"I'm so tired of the stock 'intellectual' religious response to this which amounts to 'ignore it, try to be friendly anyway, because golly, being Christian means accepting insults and threats without blinking!"

Doesn't it? (No offence intended, but sometimes I do wonder whether Christians really do believe all that stuff in the Bible...)

Yes, it's hard work, sometimes. But it wouldn't be so worthwhile if it was easy. Believe me, it can be just as hard work going in the other direction. But the "ignore it" advice is sound - a lesson learnt from years of bitter experience. And don't expect instant miracles - often it's more a matter of just not making things any worse.

"They should be condemned and excluded - talked at, not with."

Do unto others...

You won't win on persuading them that your religion is right and true. It's wisest not to try, unless they come and ask you specifically. What you *can* usefully argue for is freedom of belief. They're free to be atheists, if that's where their thinking leads them - and don't forget that for much of human history atheists didn't have that freedom! But that very same freedom of belief that they now enjoy has to be general. You can't pick and choose which beliefs people are free to have and which they aren't - because chances are it won't be you choosing, and you're just as likely to get caught on the wrong side of that sooner or later. Freedom of belief demands the freedom to believe things that are wrong, in both the truth-value sense and the moral sense. And that's a good job, too, since many of everyone's beliefs will turn out to be wrong or misinformed, and we can't always tell (obviously!) which is which. It's just the way things are.

Even people who believe in and follow science take much of it on faith. Nobody can chase down every argument, check every piece of evidence, spot every gap or flaw for every single thing they believe. And few people have the training to reliably do so, especially outside their own area of expertise. The vast majority of ordinary people have no idea how things work or why the things they know are true.

But in most areas we don't expect people to be able to, and we make allowances. Nobody worries that most people don't know how electricity really works or why mountain tops are cold even though everyone knows that hot air rises. We try to be charitable, knowing how harshly we could be judged if we were ever examined on our own knowledge. Those special topics on which people come into conflict are driven by politics and ideology - belief systems every bit as dangerous as religion is claimed to be.

Everybody has their own cognitive blindspots. We can't see them ourselves - which leads many people to assume they don't have them. It's only by talking to people of radically different beliefs that we can find out where they are. For you, that includes talking to atheists, and they're as stubbornly convinced that they're right as you are, and as resentful of people telling (or worse, showing) them they're wrong. They avoid conversations that risk it, or get angry and push such people away.

So ideally you have to "do unto others..." and go into such conversations with the aim not of pointing out their errors, but of locating your own. Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom.

And what do *you* care what other people think of you?

Ismael said...

@Dr. Feser

I should mention, in fairness to Brandon, that I asked him not to edit anything of mine

Indeed a prudent precaution, usually, since editing, even with the best intent to preserve the original authors message, can easily degenerate.

So I fully understand your request to Vogt.

---

In any case Vogt problems require some measures that also, no doubt, require funding (e.g. hire some competent people ho have specialized in certain topics) or in any case "specialists" that are willing to contribute directly to the website... but usually specialists have a full agenda already.

No doubt, in my opinion, that he requires people who have solid knowledge not only of philosophy but of modern science (cosmology, neuroscience and evolution in particular as these are usually the main topics that play role into debates)


---

Also Vogt should try to reach out to CATHOLICS FIRST, perhaps, so he can build a community of well-informed Catholics who can participate meaningfully to a debate.


So Vogt's problem is a few bugs in the foundation....


Still, your blog Dr. Feser, I think, has quite a following even among well-informed Catholics (or even non-catholics that still disagree with general (new) atheism) and this might indeed be an aid to Vogt if some of these also take interest in Strange Notions.


--------

I might add that in a way Vogt problems are GENERAL PROBLEMS in evangelization. Catholics should be more organized, certainly online, where in the end most debates occur (probably not the best debates though)

The new atheists, for all their stupidity, did so something right: they formed a sort of “united front” (even if they disagree with each other and often do not even understand what the other say... I mean Dawkins has no knowledge of Cosmology but still praises Krauss just because he's a New Atheist) with people from different disciplines and credentials, APPEARING to be a formidable tag team (of course they are not, they just appear to be to the ignorant).

In their stupidity and ignorance they managed to make religious people look what the new atheist actually are: ignorant bigots (of course the new atheists in the end just popularized some things smarter and more devious people before them already set in motion... of course the occasional young earth creationist yahoo does not help either)

Now they even make movies together (like the movie with Dawkins and Krauss, 'the unbelievers'... maybe it's the sequel to 'Dumb and Dumber'... only not funny.)

Catholics, or even Christian in general, ought to unite in a similar fashion, BUT still maintain cogent and intelligent arguments, of course.

Crude said...

NiV,

Are you saying it's *bad* to brand someone as unworthy of dialogue?

I'm saying that when you have someone like Dawkins saying 'Make theists the butt of contempt! Hurt them!' - to the cheers and support of New Atheists - that yes, they are not worth respecting. If you want to endorse that tactic, or say that it shouldn't be a factor in leaving them behind, be my guest.

Doesn't it? (No offence intended, but sometimes I do wonder whether Christians really do believe all that stuff in the Bible...)

No, it doesn't. And yes, that's offensive and flippant. 'All that stuff in the Bible' includes some stinging denunciations of individuals, and incidents like Matthew 10:14. Remarks like yours are dishonest and not particularly intelligent. Offense intended.

Do unto others...

Means something different than you apparently take it to mean. Maybe you wish it means "I can mock you, belittle you, treat you as an enemy, and try to agitate for political harm to come to you - but you have to treat me as your best friend." It does not.

You won't win on persuading them that your religion is right and true.

Then it's a good thing that's not my concern here.

I'm not talking about mere atheists or irreligious. They compose a larger and distinct group. I'm talking about a subset of atheism that treats Christians as 'the enemy'. Not merely people who they disagree with, but people who must be eradicated at all costs.

Here's Dawkins on how to deal with religious people:

I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.


This isn't about people who are merely mistaken, or a group of people who I and others collectively disagree with. It's about a nasty hate-group that has lately celebrated a man who openly calls for religious belief and belief in God to be treated as a mental disease that should be put on the DSM-V so that 'cures' can be found.

So please, spare me the talk of the importance of freedom of belief. That's not what's being discussed right here, as if I'm criticizing a group of atheists for *gasp* daring to be atheists.

Here's the unfortunate truth: some people, some groups of people, conduct themselves in such a way that deserves condemnation. Westboro Baptist's members are not ripe for conversation - there is no dialogue to be had with them, and it's a mistake to act as if their behavior warrants them a seat at the intellectual table. And New Atheists are to atheism what Westboro Baptist is to Christianity.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The problem with NiV is the New Atheists are not very good at ridicule. Variations of 'we don't believe in magic' anymore are hardly going to have the religious shaking in their boots. Indeed, they New Atheists are made to be the victims of satire, their arguments and rhetoric being so silly.

This is why I don't even get worked up by them. I find them hilarious, although in a way they didn't mean to be.

I do think it is a shame that the traditionally religious aren't taking more advantage of the humourous inspiration of the Gnus, though.

ccmnxc said...

To give the New Atheists credit, though. It seems they're bringing about a revival (or arrival?) in popular apologetics among lay Christians. Stemming from that, I think we can at least hope to see further interest in philosophy and theology among Christians that wouldn't have existed were it not for the New Atheists. Of course, it would be somewhat ironic that New Atheism would be a factor in such things, but then again, irony is par for the course when it comes to the New Atheists.

Curio said...

Strange Notions is well meaning, but clearly lacks cohesion. It's just all over the place. There is no agreement on what science is, what it's limits are, etc.

On the whole, Strange Notions doesn't appear to be Thomistic. Which is a shame.

I don't know how fruitful this sort of dialogue can be when it's framed as an exchange between atheists and Catholics. I'd rather see both sides take up specific philosophical issues. I'd like more educational materials. Philosophy is difficult, you need more than debates.

http://www.charlesdekoninck.com/

Here's a site I would hate to see spoiled with virulent comments, but would much better serve philosophically inclined atheists. It's amazing that the accomplishments of Laval Thomism have gone unnoticed for so long.

Crude said...

Curio,

I think it's entirely possible to have atheist or at least irreligious/Catholic dialogue. It's possible to discuss topics calmly, give point/counterpoint, etc. I just think the specific New Atheist bit is a bad idea.

And re: Jeremy, I agree that in large part the NAs are pretty easy to mock. But I also don't believe in dismissing them due to that. Really, their rhetoric and attitude is very similar to the League of Militant Atheists of long ago. They weren't jokes - maybe they were intellectually, but in reality, that was a nasty little movement.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude,

As far as I can see, the New Atheists, so far as they have influence is as a part of political and social left-liberalism. On their own they pose little threat.

Scott W. said...

It's about a nasty hate-group that has lately celebrated a man who openly calls for religious belief and belief in God to be treated as a mental disease that should be put on the DSM-V so that 'cures' can be found.

My understanding is that the point of finding cures for mental disorders is to heal people. Leaving aside for a moment a number of articles proposing a link between religious faith and good mental health, there is no such thing as ridicule therapy legitimately accepted by the psychological profession as far as I know. No small wonder because not just because such would dehumanize people you are supposedly trying to heal, but it also dehumanizes those administering it.

It does no good to say the ridicule is to make them voluntarily seek psychological help. Just go look up how to do an intervention and see if you find anything about using ridicule. My guess is you will find nothing if you don't find something admonishing against it.

And finally, why stop at rhetorical "hurt" against believers? Why not physical as well? Against the law? So what? Clever atheists should be able to get around that and not get caught or punished.

In the end, New Atheist strategies say much more about New Atheists than believers.

monk68 said...

Curio,

"Here's a site I would hate to see spoiled with virulent comments, but would much better serve philosophically inclined atheists. It's amazing that the accomplishments of Laval Thomism have gone unnoticed for so long."

I could not agree more. I certainly associate most closely with the Laval Thomists myself, and I think DeKoninck and company provide, by far, the most powerful Thomistic critique of the metaphysical chaos lurking behind the modern emperiological sciences, or at least the ontological interpretation thereof. The reason for this, in my view, is that they (along with the River Forest Thomists) have expended great effort plumbing the depths of Aristotle's philosophy of nature (physics); whereas other Thomist schools, (or at least particular Thomists within those schools) seem inclined to ascend directly into meta-physics before becoming sufficiently immersed in physics per se. Within those two schools (Laval and River Forest), one finds excellent natural philosophers fully conversant with the historical development and findings of modern physics. They, therefore, enjoy an especially unique vantage point from which to assess current physical theory both in terms of ontology and epistemology.

Pax

Anonymous said...

Hi Monk68,

Sounds promising. Can you post some good links that might supplement the Charles De Koninck link with those groups you mentioned?

Ed's books and blog have been very helpful. I especially find his book on the philosophy of mind extremely interesting in terms of the applicability of Thomistic thought to modern dilemma that occupy the boundary of science and philosophy (even though it was more focused on cartesian ideas).

Cheers,
Dan

Scott said...

@Dan and monk68:

What about this (and see more here? I have it in my Amazon shopping cart and it looks very good. monk68, what do you think?

Scott said...

Here's another one from my shopping cart; I'd have bought this one already if it weren't out of stock. I'd be happy to hear monk68's (or anyone else's, of course) thoughts on either or both of these.

Anonymous said...

Crude - Maybe, but there's so much bias to work through. These dialogues are often more fruitful in person, where charity manifests more easily. BTW, major respect for going in to RationallySpeaking and engaging them on gay adoption. I'm assuming it's one and the same Crude.

Monk68 - Glad to hear there are others! The final nail in the coffin of my former skepticism was driven in by the Laval/River Forest Thomists. De Koninck deserved a Nobel Prize for his thesis on Eddington alone. The formal object of modern science is measure-number. Why isn't this truth recognized more clearly in contemporary phil. of science?

Dan - This excellent resource will keep you occupied for some time. There's plenty of wisdom to be found on Chastek's blog as well.

- Curio

monk68 said...

Scott,

What can I say? Ashley’s “The Way toward Wisdom” is, without doubt, one of my most treasured possessions. I have referred to it more times than I can count. For those who have a working grasp of A/T epistemic and ontological categories (as I know you do from your comments on this blog), I recommend it above all other works for both its scope and power of integration. It is a long and difficult read, but the payoff is simply priceless IMO.

And the second book you highlight, “The Modeling of Nature”; is another extraordinary work that I reference often. Whereas Ashley’s work is comprehensive across a wide range of disciplines, Wallace’s work is focused on putting Aristotelian physics in dialogue with the modern natural sciences. “Modeling” also deals at length with scientific methodology and epistemology. His interaction with Quine is just excellent.

Ashley and Wallace are both of the River Forest school of Thomism where, as I say, the strong focus on philosophy of nature as a discipline to be well understood *before* approaching meta-physics, pays enormous dividends with respect to interaction with the modern sciences. Wallace for, instance, holds PhDs in both philosophy (classical Aristotelian tradition) and theology, as well as an M.A. in physics (I believe). Ashley is also conversant across large cognitive spheres.

If you are in a position to purchase either or both of those two works, don’t think twice.

Pax

Curio said...

Dan, Scott, etc. - I also need to recommend this mysterious blog!

I have no idea who the writer is, or why he hasn't been updating lately, but he is apparently a PhD in physics whose ideas are heavily informed by Thomistic philosophy.

Scott said...

@monk68:

Thank you very much for your helpful and informative comments. I knew they were River Forest Thomists and I was sure you'd be well familiar with them.

I'll take your advice as soon as my budget permits.

Anonymous said...

Well, after that endorsement, I had to purchase "The Way toward Wisdom". I hope to be reading it within the week. Thanks Scott and Monk68. And thank you Curio for the links.

Cheers,
Dan

monk68 said...

Scott, Dan, Anon

Curio’s link to the “Aristotelian Thomism” page is a wonderful index to many of the best works produced by the Laval/RF schools. I also agree that James Chastek’s “Just Thomism” (JT) is excellent. In particular, I would like to *highly recommend* two links on the left sidebar at JT. The links point to two audio lectures series by Dr. Duane Berquist. They are listed as:

BERQUIST ON PHILOSOPHY
BERQUST PHYSICS

Within the “On Philosophy” series, there are three lectures - each about 3 hrs in length. They are largely taken, paragraph for paragraph, from Aristotle’s introduction to the Metaphysics, as well as Aquinas’s commentary thereon. The sheer range of intellectual and methodological pitfalls for the philosopher, which Berquist highlights in view of these texts, is of the greatest value. But the real gold mine is the 28 lectures on Aristotle’s Physics (technically, Aristotle’s 8 books of “Natural Hearing”), Each lecture is roughly 2-1/2 hours long; so you are looking at an immense, in depth, presentation by a *master teacher*.

Berquist is a direct descendant of the Laval school of Thomism, having been a student under De Koninck himself. He goes through Aristotle’s physics paragraph by paragraph, and sometimes line by line. Rather than simply knowing *what* the principle A/T concepts are; Berquist will painstakingly guide you through the reasoning processes whereby, in order to preserve the intelligibility of *anything* in nature; Aristotle arrived at the *necessity* of principles such as substance/accident; form/matter; act/potency, etc. There’s nothing better. It is like a free graduate education. You will come away with a high-level grasp of Aristotelian natural philosophy, and you’ll be in a position to read Aquinas much better also. Download and enjoy.

Pax

Crude said...

Anon,

Crude - Maybe, but there's so much bias to work through. These dialogues are often more fruitful in person, where charity manifests more easily. BTW, major respect for going in to RationallySpeaking and engaging them on gay adoption. I'm assuming it's one and the same Crude.

That was me. I stopped following that since Massimo said he was going on vacation (which meant, I assume, comments froze), but at least there was something approaching a productive conversation there. Thanks for the compliment.

Scott said...

@monk68:

The Berquist lectures sound fascinating; I'm downloading them now. Thanks for the recommendation.

NiV said...

"I'm saying that when you have someone like Dawkins saying 'Make theists the butt of contempt! Hurt them!' - to the cheers and support of New Atheists - that yes, they are not worth respecting."

And again, why would you care?

It seems to me that you're putting far too much weight on their opinion. I've had people trying to make me the butt of contempt for years, and it's never bothered me in the slightest - nor have I let that stop me from talking to them or being polite to them.

"'All that stuff in the Bible' includes some stinging denunciations of individuals, and incidents like Matthew 10:14."

There's nothing wrong with stinging denunciations. The problem is with taking them personally, and letting them wind you up. Matthew 10:14 was about not wasting your time trying to convert people who don't want to be converted - it says nothing at all about being rude to them, or contemptuous.

"Remarks like yours are dishonest and not particularly intelligent. Offense intended."

That's OK by me. :-)

"Maybe you wish it means "I can mock you, belittle you, treat you as an enemy, and try to agitate for political harm to come to you - but you have to treat me as your best friend.""

No. It means that you can mock me, belittle me, and treat me as an enemy, but my best tactic is still to be polite to you.

It stops the conflict escalating, it might even de-escalate it. That's good both from the point of view of avoiding trouble as well as the general moral good of reducing the amount of conflict in the world. It gives a good impression to bystanders, and sets a good example for others to follow. It can seize the moral high ground in debates, which is often effective. And as I noted, you can often learn a lot from people with no inclination to spare your feelings.

Provoking an enemy to anger impairs their judgement, leads them to rash and impusive action, so it's a common military tactic.

And most importantly of all - if you respond angrily to their goading, it means their tactic got the desired response and they'll do it even more often. If you don't like them doing it and want them to stop, you don't give them the reaction they want. You don't show them how well their mockery is working, or how much it stings.

All of this has been common wisdom for two and a half thousand years. "Do unto others" is not a sign of weakness - it's very often the most effective response. Hence the dictum.

"Not merely people who they disagree with, but people who must be eradicated at all costs."

Hmm. Slight exaggeration there.

"It's about a nasty hate-group that has lately celebrated a man who openly calls for religious belief and belief in God to be treated as a mental disease that should be put on the DSM-V so that 'cures' can be found."

And again, I've been subjected to exactly the same sort of calls. It's standard political rhetoric, and sadly very common. Capitalists and bankers, environmentalists and politicians; invective and vitriol against figures of hate are standard currency. The unusual thing about new atheists is not that they propose using such tactics, but that they propose using them against religious beliefs. One can decry the general descent into crudity, but there's nothing special or unusual about them or their methods.

I've even come across a few people who have told me that for my actions I *deserve* to be thrown into a lake of burning brimstone to be tortured forever. ;-) Extreme rhetoric is nothing new.

"Westboro Baptist's members are not ripe for conversation"

Possibly part of the problem is that people don't talk to them. Cults always try to isolate their followers from social contact with outsiders. It tends to poke holes in the illusion of 'us' and 'them'.

Crude said...

NiV,

It seems to me that you're putting far too much weight on their opinion.

How much 'weight' am I putting here? I'm arguing that the proper attitude towards such people is that you don't engage in "dialogue" with them, you treat them as they deserve - in other words, you cut off conversation - and focus your energy elsewhere. At most, you talk at them, not with them.

There's nothing wrong with stinging denunciations. The problem is with taking them personally, and letting them wind you up.

Once again, what is this 'winding up' you speak of? They conduct themselves poorly, intentionally - I suggest they not be engaged in discussion with, that Catholics limit themselves to knocking down their "arguments" and restricting dialogue to where mutual respect is present. If you regard this as dangerous escalation, I question your sincerity.

Go lecture the Gnus if decency is of concern to you. I suspect your 'concern' is remarkably one-sided.

And most importantly of all - if you respond angrily to their goading, it means their tactic got the desired response and they'll do it even more often.

Considering what I've advocated here is cutting off conversation with them and isolating them intellectually, all I can ask is - what on earth are you responding to? Figments of your imagination?

Hmm. Slight exaggeration there.

No, not really. Hence Boghossian regarding religious belief as a virus which must be 'eradicated'. Don't like it? Again, take it up with the Gnus.

Matthew 10:14 was about not wasting your time trying to convert people who don't want to be converted - it says nothing at all about being rude to them, or contemptuous.

There is no shortage of contempt or rudeness in the NT where warranted - and sometimes, it is in fact warranted.

The unusual thing about new atheists is not that they propose using such tactics, but that they propose using them against religious beliefs.

Wonderful. I never said the New Atheists were unique in that regard. I expressly pointed at WBC as an equivalent. Really, there are plenty of hate groups which the New Atheists compare easily to.

Possibly part of the problem is that people don't talk to them. Cults always try to isolate their followers from social contact with outsiders.

What nonsense. The Gnus have plenty of contact with religious people - they seek out blogs like Vogt's. Evidence points away from it 'helping'. In fact evidence points towards double standards being maintained, where the hate-rants of Bog, Dawkins and others are tolerated, but if someone like Ed Feser is so much as dismissive of atheists, whimpers and tears hit a high point.

By the way - you seem uniquely tweaked at my advice regarding the New Atheists. I'm sure you can point me at past comments by yourself on, say... PZ Myers' or another atheist blog, condemning theme for their 'extreme rhetoric' and arguing that they should treat religious believers 'as they wish to be treated.' Right?

NiV said...

"Considering what I've advocated here is cutting off conversation with them and isolating them intellectually, all I can ask is - what on earth are you responding to?"

Well, advocating cutting off conversation with them and isolating them intellectually.

"I'm sure you can point me at past comments by yourself on, say... PZ Myers' or another atheist blog, condemning theme for their 'extreme rhetoric' and arguing that they should treat religious believers 'as they wish to be treated.' Right?"

'Condemning' them is just the sort of confrontational behaviour that I'm arguing is usually counter-productive.

But I've argued for more tolerance and less vitriol from time to time, if an otherwise useful conversation seems to be getting out of hand, and I've often argued for freedom of belief, but not under the same name I use here, so no.

Truly, if you want to cut off conversation and isolate yourselves, I don't mind in the least. It's no skin off *my* nose - I have no stake in this game. I'm just saying I think it's counter-productive and inconsistent with what I understand Christianity to be about. If you don't like the advice, then so be it.

Glenn said...

NiV,

No offence intended, but sometimes I do wonder whether Christians really do believe all that stuff in the Bible...

You mean stuff like, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him"?

'course, the Bible also says, "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit."

Speaking for myself... sometimes I don't.

And sometimes I do.

:-)

Scott said...

@Dan and monk68:

I've just ordered the Ashley book as well. Thanks to Amazon Prime, I'll be able to start reading it on Thursday.

Anonymous said...

I should have taken the trial offer. I'll have to wait until Feb 5th. Ah well, c'est la vie.:)

Cheers,
Dan

Crude said...

NiV,

Well, advocating cutting off conversation with them and isolating them intellectually.

And this is bad why, since it has everything to do with their means and nothing to do with their religious beliefs? Do you frown and wring your hands that members of Stormfront are denied a place at the conversational table very often? Do you frown and say 'Judge not, lest ye be judged!' when people decide, no, there's a certain standard of conduct and mutual respect that is necessary for a conversation to take place?

'Condemning' them is just the sort of confrontational behaviour that I'm arguing is usually counter-productive.

Okay. So you condemn my radical 'Do not attempt to hold respectful conversations with people who advocate treating you with hate and contempt, and who regard you as being mentally ill and in need of a "cure" for believing differently than they' views, but you certainly don't condemn the New Atheists for their tactics because you find the whole 'condemning people for advocating contempt and causing pain as a means to convert and silence people'... I dunno, non-condemnation-worthy?

But I've argued for more tolerance and less vitriol from time to time, if an otherwise useful conversation seems to be getting out of hand, and I've often argued for freedom of belief, but not under the same name I use here, so no.

How convenient.

Truly, if you want to cut off conversation and isolate yourselves, I don't mind in the least. It's no skin off *my* nose - I have no stake in this game.

Given the fact that you can't provide evidence of you lecturing New Atheists with this same 'advice', and that it seems remarkably one-sided, it's hard not to regard your statements here as insincere. Run defense on behalf of hatemongers as much as you wish, but I feel no particular need to show respect for someone who wants to play 'good cop' to Dawkins' 'bad cop'.

zmikecuber said...

Question for you respectable Thomists.

I always hear in arguments for the first way, that the unmoved mover must be purely actual. It's said that if the unmoved mover were a composite of form and matter, or essence and existence, or act and potency, in other words, anything other than purely actual, then it would require a further actualizer.

But isn't "actualizer" mean something which causes change? How can something which causes the being of something be a cause of change? Non-being to being isn't change, since change is always said of existing things.

It seems that we'd have to posit some sort of premise like in the second way. But if this is the case, then the first way seems to be alot more lengthy and not as strong as it seems. It's not purely based on change, and requires appeal to the second way.

Thoughts?

Георгий Манчхашвили said...
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Brandon said...

Georgii,

I think one thing that will (partly) help is to recognize that when we are talking about 'natural law arguments' we are sometimes being ambiguous between two meanings:

(1) arguments that are acceptable arguments on natural law principles
(2) arguments that explicitly appeal to natural law principles as such

There are going to be a lot of utilitarian and Kantian arguments that fall under (1). Obviously a natural law theorist will disagree about their ultimate basis; but, for instance, insisting that something is bad because it will have terrible consequences for everyone is often a perfectly acceptable argument in natural law terms, as is insisting that something be done because it is required by respect for human reason and moral law. Not all specific utilitarian or Kantian arguments are like this, of course, but many are; and many others have only the weakness of being incomplete. When we talk about the difference between natural law and these other approaches, we're focusing on the cases where there is a definite clash, but (due to the metaphysical reasons on which natural law theory is based) most decent human beings reasoning on ethical matters will come up with arguments that at least approximate arguments natural law theorists would consider good, and even the awful arguments are usually bad caricatures of arguments that are excellent in natural law terms.

Obviously this doesn't address your primary question, but it's worth keeping in mind. Depending on what the utilitarian/Kantian arguments are, they might already be very close to what a natural law theorist would likely say.

Scott said...

@Dan:

I received the Ashley book yesterday and it is indeed a treasure.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,

Agreed! I am just about to start chapter 3. Fantastic overview of the different flavors of Thomism out there.

Cheers,
Dan

Scott said...

That's right where I was this morning. I'm well into Chapter 3 as of today.

monk68, thanks again for the excellent recommendation.

Noetic Laureate said...

Hi all (but no one in particular),

Interesting topics :

> Had I written it for that site, or for an audience of fair-minded atheists (and I have always acknowledged that there are many such atheists) ...

The trouble I have seen is that evangelistic atheists are those who shout the loudest, yet have the least to say. I have found a class of deep atheist thinkers, but they write mostly on their own, personal, isolated blogs.

> ... a website devoted to discussion between Catholics and atheists ...

I have to smirk at that, is there any implication that if you are not a Catholic, then you are an atheist ?!

It immediately reminded me of the time I was sight-seeing in Florence, Italy. I picked up a tourist map of the city. The index had a list of "Churches" and below that "Churches of the cults", which were all the non-Catholic, but strictly Christian, churches.

Ciao,
Noetic

rm said...

Scott: Please let us know how you like the book in the end.

monk68, Scott: What would all say the required level of expertise is on the Ashley Book?

monk68: Have you read any of Ashley's other books, i.e. How Science Enrichs Theology, Choosing a Worldview, etc. And do you have any details on De Koninck's work on Eddington?

Thanks.

Scott said...

@rm:

"Scott: Please let us know how you like the book in the end."

I'll do that. Thanks for asking.

"monk68, Scott: What would all say the required level of expertise is on the Ashley Book?"

I don't think it requires a high level of expertise in Thomism, but if I didn't know anything about it I'd be mystified. I'd think that probably Ed's Aquinas would be enough of an introduction.