Thursday, March 12, 2009

ForeWord on TLS

ForeWord Magazine is a trade journal directed at librarians and booksellers and devoted to reviewing books published by independent and university presses. I am pleased to learn that The Last Superstition, having been put on Booklist’s Editor’s Choice list for 2008, has now been named by ForeWord a finalist for the Book of the Year Award in the field of religion.


  1. Congratulations. If not for the tone that others have already mentioned, it may have been a candidate for book of the decade -- certainly it's the most philosophically rigorous yet accessible book on basic issues in the philosophy of religion that I've read. The tone, though, will turn too many people away from it to allow for wide acclaim -- and that's true whether or not it's justifiable.

  2. No doubt, but it also attracts other readers who would be bored stiff by a dry academic style or nauseated by a treacly confessional one.

    So, I remain unrepentant.

  3. Hey, I admit there's some seriously funny stuff in there. Some of it I find overblown, but it's quite clear that the authors you target are guilty of the idiocy you accuse them of. I can't imagine you seriously think that the only alternatives to making gay jokes and calling people stupid is "dryness" or a "confessional tone," but that's another story. The book is well-written, and the only reason it won't become an international best-seller is the fact that people who don't already agree with you will have a seriously hard time getting past the introduction.

  4. Well, I've decided to buy it. I'm looking forward to the book...and the tone. I hope to have it reviewed on my blog within a month or so.

    This sort of thing is desperately needed today. Congratulations Professor Feser.

  5. Go, Ed, Go!

    And you should at least find it a compliment that the most common complaint about your book is tone - and tone, only because it supposedly restricts the audience of your book.

  6. Hello again Anonymous (at 1:35),

    By "gay jokes" I assume you mean the single, extremely mild crack about Aristotle's views on homosexuality at p. 50 -- a joke anybody could have made, whatever his views on homosexuality.

    If _that's_ supposed to be a noteworthy example of the off-putting "tone" of my book, I must say that the problem is not with the book!

    (I do realize, of course, that there are other things in the book that people with liberal views about homosexualty will find offensive, but I think you'll agree that it's the content of what is said, and not the tone, that will offend.)

    Consider also that Dawkins and Co. have had no trouble at all selling books despite their harsh tone. So if, as you seem to be implying, circumstances happen to be such that atheists can get away with polemics while theists cannot, then what that shows is that there is an injustice that needs to be redressed, and that people had better start getting used to theists playing hardball too. In which case somebody had better set an example and start playing it, no?

    (This assumes, of course, that hardball is justifiable in the first place, but as you know I have defended the claim that it is several times in earlier posts.)

  7. Thanks Matt, hope you like it!

    Hello Anonymous (at 3:45), I do find that telling, though I have noticed a couple of extremely feeble attempts in the blogosphere to address the content during the last week or two, which I'll probably write up a brief reply to next week, after I finish up something that demands my immediate attention.

  8. "I have noticed a couple of extremely feeble attempts in the blogosphere to address the content during the last week or two, which I'll probably write up a brief reply to next week"

    Hi Ed

    I hope this multi-part review is among the ones you're going to respond to!

  9. Professor Feser,

    I am extremely happy to be reading your book right now as I have been looking for a critique of this sort for some time. The only other books that I enjoy that attempt to refute the "New Atheists" are "Answering the New Atheist" and "The Irrational Atheist".

    Yours is by far the best, however, as it truly points out the real errors in their reasoning right at its foundation. I have said it once and I will say it again, the New Atheists are philosophically illiterate blow hards and so is the majority of Western society today. That is the reason for all these problems and what appears to be intellectualism is nothing more than "I'm smart because I place a popular label on myself".

    As a philosophy student myself, I am appreciative of your attempts to bring value back to philosophy as it seems to have taken a back seat within society and I am thankful that someone finally "gets it".

    On a side note, I just want to ask you if you think this is correct. Many of the New Atheists today state that their Atheism is a "lack of belief" in God because they don't hold a positive position, so they are immune to having to shoulder any burden of proof.

    I have often countered this claim by stating that the very claims that "they don't hold a positive position" or that "they don't shoulder the burden of proof" or that "those who claim a positive position have to prove something" are positive positions in and of themselves...therefore they can't just get away with not having to say anything during a debate.

    Would this be the correct approach? Thanks in advance.

  10. Eric,

    I've actually responded to the second part of that series. I do hope that Professor Feser finds my response adequate and my interpretation of his work correct.

    You can see my response in the comments section.

  11. Oh...and just in case...

    My apologies, Professor, if I misinterpreted or misrepresented your arguments. I am still a student.

  12. Don't let this kind of thing get you down, Dr. Feser. All those sages "in the know" know that you are "just a hack in philosopher's clothes." It's just a matter of time before those silly experienced editors and highly competent reviewers who endorse your book come around to see the light.



    the Cogitator

  13. Of course, there are also these kinds of reviews as well.

  14. When I see comments like the following concerning a book like Feser's I really have to laugh:

    "Angels are pure "essences"? What does that even mean?....The passion people pour into meaningless phrases continues to amaze me."

    It only demonstrates that some atheists are only willing to go so far until they cop out of a real discussion.

    This reminds me of a debate between Richard Dawkins and David Quinn. As usual, it demonstrates Dawkins' complete lack to engage philosophy while unwittingly making grand philosophical assumptions himself.

  15. Hello all,

    Yes, those were the two I had in mind. So inept they are almost not worth responding to, but one of them is a philosophy student who at least makes an attempt at saying something substantive, so I'll give him credit for that much and write up a brief reply when I get a chance.

    Ali and Cogitator,

    I do appreciate your responses to these guys, thanks.

    In reply to your question, Ali, I guess I would say that their view is a "negative" one only in the trivial sense in which someone who refuses to accept the periodic table of elements is taking a purely "negative" position and thus lacks the burden of proof. The trouble in the latter case is that the burden of proof has been met by the other side so well that only someone extremely ignorant of the subject could pretend that his "Nyah nyah, prove it to me!" attitude is intellectually serious.

    Similarly, only someone ignorant of the true character of the arguments for theism and against naturalism could think such an attitude is intellectually serious in the context of the debate between theism and atheism. Someone who denied modern chemistry would, given the evidence available, in fact have a lot of work to do if he was going to make his merely "negative" position respectable. Similarly, given the serious problems inherent in naturalism -- as I argue in TLS, I think naturalism is incoherent and thus demonstrably false -- any intellectually serious naturalist or atheist has a lot of work to do if he is going to make his own "merely negative" position respectable.

  16. Hi T'sinadree,

    Yes, that was particularly lame. The guy picks out one throwaway line about angels from the book and treats it as if it were somehow representative of the whole. And even then he misses the point of it.

  17. "Many of the New Atheists today state that their Atheism is a "lack of belief" in God because they don't hold a positive position, so they are immune to having to shoulder any burden of proof."

    Bill Vallicella has two great posts on this topic here and here.

  18. Dr. Feser, I just wanted to say 'thank you' for writing TLS. From what you stated in your recent radio interview, it must have been an intense 8 months. As a Christian myself (and former philosophy student) with interests mainly in ancient and medieval philosophy, I'm always on the lookout for the rare occurrence of titles such as yours. I would also easily rank TLS with the works of Brian Leftow, Alfred Freddoso, and Norman Kretzmann (whose commentaries on the Summa Contra Gentiles are probably some of the best works of medieval scholarship available.) As I'm sure you have been requested of this before, please keep us informed of your projects. I already have your book on Aquinas on preorder.

  19. The tone actually is not only appropriate but also, some would say, "Biblically appropriate." As we know, Jesus was very gentle with the everyday-sinners, but he really gave it to the cocky intellectual leaders: "Hypocrites!" "Blind guides!" For some reason, the book-buying public has allowed the New Atheists to emerge as leaders (Blind Guides!). Let 'em have it, Professor. I, too, am a professor of 30 years at one of the major doctoral-granting universities in the US. To me, The Last Superstition is a Desert-Island book, one of the very best I have ever read (and I am an egg-headed academic who reads many books a year). This is a work of brilliance and I thank you for it.

  20. Professor, sorry to ask, as I know you are busy, but I am having a problem with something.

    You make a distinction in your book between something that is "mental" and something that is in reality...but aren't mental images real too, just in a different sense?

    For instance, say I construct a unicorn in my mind from what I've abstracted from my senses (a horse and a horn). Understandably, this does not necessitate that a unicorn exist outside my mind, but then what it is in my mind? Does it not have actuality in my mind as well, or is my mind not something actual?

    Just curious about this. Perhaps I missed it in your book?

  21. Oops, nevermind. I had to re-read chapter 5-6. Missed it. Sorry, Professor.