Edward Feser godsplains why atheists don’t understand religion, and why there is absolutely, positively a God (the Catholic one)

Edward “Dogs Don’t Go to Heaven” Feser is able to discern the most extraordinary conclusions about reality from simply plumbing his brain and channeling revelations, being sure to weed the true revelations from God’s Fake News (see the first link). In other words, he’s a theologian: a Catholic who’s an associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College.  His schtick (and I’ve written about him quite a bit) is this:

  1. Thomas Aquinas is the greatest philosopher who ever lived, and Aquinas’s “Five Ways” of knowing (which, as Feser admits, weren’t original with Aquinas) constitute definitive proof of God’s existence.
  2. Aquina’s God (aka the Real God) also happens, mirabile dictu, to be Feser’s god: the god of Catholicism.
  3. New Atheists don’t understand the subtleties of Aquinas’s arguments, and so are attacking strawmen. In order to come to grips with genius philosophers like Feser, one has to read extensively, particularly Aquinas (see #1), and most especially Feser’s own writings. As I wrote several years ago:”Edward Feser, a Catholic philosopher at Pasadena City College, is notorious on this website for touting the Cosmological Argument for God’s existence (short explanation: every contingent thing has a “cause”; the universe is contingent; therefore the universe has a cause; therefore God). He’s equally notorious for claiming that one can’t truly understand this compelling argument without reading at least six books and seven articles, two of which of course, are by Feser himself.  (Go herehere, and here to see Jason Rosenhouse’s refutation of Feser’s arguments.)” [JAC: Jason’s links don’t seen to exist any more, but you can see his critiques of Feser here.]
  4. Feser’s a nasty piece of work, especially towards atheists—far more vitriolic than the New Atheists he decries. That’s very un-Christian of him.
  5. He thinks that New Atheists like Dawkins and I (we’re mentioned explicitly) rely almost entirely on the “argument from design” in our rejection of God. That, of course, is pure bullshit: both of us have dealt with most of the arguments for God, sophisticated or not. The reason we concentrate on creationism is because it was the alternate theory of origins dispelled by Darwin, but is still plaguing biologists in America and the Middle East. But fighting creationism is different from saying that we think the argument from design is the best and most central argument for God. I’m surprised that Feser, who prides himself on his intellect and nuanced thinking, doesn’t realize that.
  6. Dogs don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls. (See first link for explanation).

In the latest installment of his never-ending exposition of the Prime Mover argument, Feser lists at Five Books “The best books on arguments for the existence of God.” Here they are, with three being about Aquinas.

It’s amazing, as I said, all the things Aquinas (and Feser) can conclude about God without any need for empirical observation. From the Prime Mover argument, both accept that there is a God, that He/She/It/Hir are outside time and the Universe, that there is only one God, and that that God is omnipotent. The rest—and of course Aquinas bought the literal existence of Paradise, Adam and Eve, a young Earth, and the Jesus story, as well as the existence of angels (Aquinas was positively obsessed with angels and their characteristics)—comes from “divine revelation”. Further, Feser argues that you can judge which revelations tell you True Stuff through reason alone! That is, using reason, Feser can supposedly prove to everyone that God is the Catholic God, that the Jesus story is true, that there’s a Trinity, and so on. How curious that the “reason” he adduces hasn’t manage to convince Hindus, Jews, or Muslims!

Here’s some of Feser’s theobabble:

The way that Aquinas divides up the territory is that he thinks there are some things that we can know about God through purely natural reason. From a modern reader’s point of view, it might be surprising just how much Aquinas thinks we can know in that way. We can know not only that there is a God — in Aquinas’ view this can be strictly demonstrated through philosophical arguments — but  we can deduce a great number of the divine attributes: that God is all-powerful, omniscient, outside of time and space, and so on.

There are other things about God’s nature, however, that in Aquinas’ view cannot be known through philosophical reasoning alone. They could not be known simply through applying our natural powers. If we’re going to know them, then, we need to rely on special divine revelation. God has to reveal them to us through some prophet or sacred text or the church, for example. The doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation would be two examples of this. Now, does that mean that Aquinas thinks that these are not ideas that are susceptible of rational investigation? No.

True, he thinks that we can only know about them through divine revelation, but, there are two things that have to be emphasised here. First of all, Aquinas would not deny for a moment that when we ask ‘How do we know that these doctrines have really been divinely revealed?’, we have to be able to give a rational answer to that. He doesn’t think that the fact that divine revelation has occurred is itself something that we have to appeal merely to faith in order to know about. He thinks that you need to be able to give rational arguments for the conclusion that an act of divine revelation has actually occurred.

Good luck in showing that you can figure out the difference between real divine revelations and phony revelations. I presume, that if Feser’s argument is rational, such distinctions can have nothing to do with their content!

I could go on, but Feser’s word salad runs a long time (it’s a terrible interview, conducted by Oxford student Charles Styles, who is reluctant to pose any hardball questions).

Just a bit more fun: watch how Feser claims there’s an objective morality that more or less conforms to Sam Harris’s “well being” argument, but remains grounded in God because what constitutes our well being depends in our nature and, as the canny theologian argues, “we wouldn’t have the natures we have if God weren’t keeping us in existence.” Slick move, Dr. Feser!

He also has a “good” argument against the atheists’ claim that the existence of evil is incompatible with an omnibenevolent Christian God. To wit (my emphasis):

The existence of such evil gives us good grounds to doubt the existence of God or to deny God’s existence, even though it doesn’t count as a strict proof. That’s the kind of argument that an atheist would have to develop in order to get the problem of evil off the ground as an objection to theism.

The problem with that, though, is that if you do have an independent demonstration that God exists, if you’ve got something like a successful version of Aquinas’ Five Ways, then you already know independently that there is a first cause of the world who is infinite in power, all-good, and so on. So, you independently know that for any instance of evil that occurs, there must be some reason why God allows it, even if we don’t know what that reason is. 

Another great finesse! Of course the Prime Mover argument doesn’t show that God is “all good”, but presumably, using rationality, Feser (and Aquinas) managed to deduce that from revelation. I’m stunned with admiration for Feser’s Sophisticated Theology™.

I’ll just end with a passage from Faith versus Fact (p. 58), eminently applicable to Dr. Feser but aimed, I believe, at Feser’s hero Aquinas:

Philosopher Andrew Bernstein describes such theological analysis of arcane and unevidenced claims as “the tragedy of theology in its distilled essence: The employment of high-powered human intellect, of genius, of profoundly rigorous logical deduction—studying nothing.”

Note: Feser has a thin skin and will undoubtedly respond, and his response will consist in noting my failure to have spent half my lifetime studying the works of Aquinas and Feser. I will respond in advance that Feser knows nothing about the proper use of evidence, and is simply confecting tortuous arguments to prove what he finds emotionally comforting.

As an update: Reader Pliny the in Between has a relevant cartoon:

 

h/t: Barry

99 Comments

  1. Simon Hayward
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    On line 3 – is “week” a verb that I don’t know, or a typo?

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Fixed!

      • Posted April 7, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Also needing fixing: “He thinks that New Atheists like Dawkins and I (we’re mentioned explicitly) rely almost entirely on . . . ” That’s “Dawkins and me.”

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    When I listen to Bach, or Mozart, or Early Music (that’s a thing), there’s a certain delight in experiencing something from many centuries ago – like going to a museum.

    I wonder if this is the equivalent for philosophers, to delight in reading ancient texts, imagining a world shrouded in mystery, a humanity plagued by fears, and filling their minds with pre-scientific lucubrations that wildly attempted to rationalize the bewildering experience of life.

    Thats all fine and good, but the problem is that Sophisticated Theologians(TM) never come back to reality, unless it’s their plumbing, their vehicles, medicine, their HVAC….

    ‘Corse I’m just spitballing here…

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      I always find myself thinking – you’d love it, whoever, we know now … and maybe you can help us with …

      This is especially true of Galileo, when he ‘writes for the ages’ somewhere when he comments about how books allow one to be in conversation with someone far away (he says China) or removed in time.

      o/~ king of night vision, king of insight …

  3. GBJames
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Sigh.

    (a special form of “sub”)

  4. Barry Lyons
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Per Bernstein’s remark, there’s this great line from Sam Harris: “The history of theology is the history of bookish men parsing a collective delusion.”

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      I always liked Dan Barker’s description of theology as “a subject without an object”.

      • Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        + 1

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        Long ago, Ophelia Benson wittily characterised theology as the -ology without an ology.

        • Steve
          Posted April 7, 2018 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          With apologies to Seinfeld fans, this too is a show about nothing.

  5. glen1davidson
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Scholasticism, the way of knowing without observing.

    Without evidence it is capable of discerning that an unobservable God is responsible for everything, and this gives you the power to do… Oh yes, say that there is an unobservable God who is responsible for everything.

    How many heads of pins can dance on God?

    Glen Davidson

    • eric
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps a better definition would be: “the way of publishing without observing” ?

      🙂

  6. Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Feser sounds a lot like Dr. Richard Carrier, PhD. who believes he has mathematically proven the non-existence of Jesus, and dismisses anyone who hasn’t read his tediously long tomes.

    Perhaps we could lock the two of them in some sealed chamber, and harness the energy released by their mutual matter/antimatter annihilation.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to hear Feser debate, say, Alvin Plantinga over whose god was the right one.

      • Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        That debate would create a rift in space-time.

        • Derek Freyberg
          Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          Put him up against William Lane Craig – much more entertaining.

      • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        I actually think that’s more useful than non-believers debating.

        Years ago I provoked some thought (at least momentarily) when I showed a bunch of student evangelicals (in a club that was advertising creationism in science departments, so I felt ok with crashing the meeting) that their bibles had different translations for Isaiah 45:7. (In fact, some of them actually omitted the verse, which got some very worried!)

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Richard Carrier, PhD. who believes he has mathematically proven the non-existence of Jesus, …

      I’m not a Carrier fan but that’s unfair. He does not claim to have mathematically proven the non-existence of Jesus, rather he has assessed all the historical evidence for Jesus and arrived at the claim that more likely than not he didn’t exist.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, Carrier’s argument is Bayesian — Bayesian ad nauseam, you ask me.

      • josh
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. There is no knockdown case for Jesus’s historicity (or lack thereof) so *any* decent analysis has to go through a lot of relatively obscure material to make a cumulative case. Carrier think he can show the weight of evidence is on his side, and uses Bayesian arguments to formalize that. He’s not necessarily right, but there *is* a lot of material to analyze and points to consider.

        In contrast, Feser’s central argument is relatively straightforward. He’s not relying on evidence beyond naive observation and he doesn’t do research that could turn up anything new, so it can’t be too involved. It’s tied in to an elaborated system of claims and jargon but the argument itself is mostly just repeated over and over. Once you understand the flaws in it, it’s done for good. Feser can’t allow himself to think too deeply about his claims since they fall apart. So instead he just assumes that others haven’t really understood him and they should read the same argument made at excessive length.

      • Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        One cannot prove history, yet Carrier claims to have done just that in his 900-page books,On The Historicity of Jesus and … wait for it … Proving History. He botches Bayes’ Theorem on a subject totally unsuited for its application, arriving at a 1:2,500 chance that Jesus existed (whatever that means). The only thing he ‘proved’ was that Bayes is a GIGO equation and he is a purveyor of ‘G’.

        The man’s hubris knows no bounds, as he also believes he’s reconciled relativistic gravity with quantum mechanics.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          Actually there is good statistical evidence that Bayes theorem is not a GIGO machine on most problems using reasonable priors. I assume Carrier quantifies the trivial observation that the Jesus figure is not secular historical (assuming no religious bias) – no statues, coins, grave, contemporary descriptions… And a Bayes factor of K = 2,500/1 means it is “decisively” so [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes_factor ].

          Quantum field theory trivially reconcile relativistic gravity with quantum mechanics outside of black holes (roughly) by using the gravity Lagrangian, so that claim could be trivial. The problem -and promise – is to full reconcile; however there is a candidate (M theory), so even that is nothing outstanding. Unless he has his own, unpublished ideas… A reference would be nice.

        • josh
          Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          I get that you don’t like Carrier; I think he’s kind of pompous myself, and although he can make careful arguments, once he’s adopted a conclusion he tends to present it as ironclad. I just don’t see what this has to do with the price of tea in China. You decided to bash Carrier on a thread that has nothing to do with him. I don’t think your comparison to Feser was fair, for the reasons I stated.

          In the same vein, claiming the title of his book shows he doesn’t understand his own method is silly and is belied by his actual explanations of what he intends. It’s like arguing that Dawkins literally believes all Christians have been medically diagnosed with delusions.

          • grasshopper
            Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

            Years ago, I watched youtube video of Richard Carrier making a presentation to an audience upon a topic I forget. But what I do remember is his lack of pomposity. He presented his evidences almost indifferently, just setting out his facts and arguments without fanfare.
            His writing style led me to expect an egoistical display of superior knowledge, but that didn’t come into play, as far as I was concerned.

          • Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

            I was struck by how much Feser sounded like Carrier. I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.

            • glen1davidson
              Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

              No one expects anyone to expect the Spanish Inquisition.

              Glen Davidson

        • Historian
          Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          I do not understand what you mean by saying “one cannot prove history.” For example, are you denying that it can be proved that a man named Abraham Lincoln existed and was president of the United States? If your answer is yes than nothing can be proved, including an event that took place 10 seconds ago since it has now passed into history.

          • Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

            Can you prove there is no Aether? Yes. It’s been done by experiment.

            Can you prove that every early Christian believed Christ was crucified in outer space? Dr. Richard Carrier, Ph.D. thinks he did by counting the ups and downs in the Ascension of Isaiah.

            • phil
              Posted April 7, 2018 at 1:52 am | Permalink

              I don’t think that is entirely accurate. The Michelson–Morley experiment attempted to detect the aether but failed to do so. It did not prove that there is no aether, merely that none was detected, supporting the assumption that none exists.

              It’s a bit like atheism. Atheists don’t necessarily believe that there is no god, merely that they do not believe there is a god. The two propositions are not the same.

            • grasshopper
              Posted April 7, 2018 at 3:25 am | Permalink

              I am unaware of any experiments done to disprove the existence of the luminiferous ether. In the 1880’s Michelson and Morley did their best to detect it with their famous interferometry experiment, and failed. The best that can be said is that arguments for its existence are unnecessary because facts about spacetime, light and gravity can be explained without it. Sir Oliver Lodge was still arguing for the existence of the ether in the 1920’s with his book “Ether And Reality”. Einstein treated the ether as unnecessary. So the existence of the ether was never disproved, merely ignored.

    • prinzler
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Big difference: Carrier is capable of summarizing his argument for a lay audience, even though the complete argument is on an academic level. From what PCC says, Feser isn’t willing/capable to do that.

      Apologies to Dr. Feser if I have that wrong.

      • Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        The words “Carrier” and “summarizing” are oxymoronic. His prolixity is truly in a league of its own.

        Carrier’s ‘complete arguments’ are less on an academic level than a faux-intellectual one, and once stripped of their pretension, are stunningly pedantic.

        • chris moffatt
          Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention a total misapplication of Bayesian statistics

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Carrier has said no such thing.

      • Posted April 7, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        What no such thing?

    • phil
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 1:36 am | Permalink

      I think that is inaccurate. I’ve read Carrier’s two main volumes on the topic, and while I had difficulty following all his logic I thought the evidence he mounts was very interesting, and frequently pretty damning.

      • Posted April 7, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        I’ve read Carrier, and had difficulty detecting any logic whatsoever.

    • Hunt
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 2:58 am | Permalink

      Already happened:

      https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13752

      • Posted April 7, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        TL;DR for anyone not willing to plow through those 7,600 words:

        I am a super-genius; Feser is a moronic monk; my Bayesian analysis proves I am right; how could Feser be so stupid to make those arguments; if Feser had read my books he’d realize how stupid he is.

  7. Jon
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    seems this Feser guy went to the same school as my holier-than-the-pope mother and the old canuck nuns who taught us both… the answer to any question they couldn’t answer (a la “the existence of evil”): it’s a mystery!
    “sophisticated theology” indeed.

  8. Les Faby
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    (Please delete this message once you read it)
    Minor Typo: Aquina’s
    Aquinas is his name and you want the possessive form.

    • grasshopper
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      I’ve spoken so often about St. Thomas Equinus’ possessives I am more than a little hoarse.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Finding g*d thru Philosophy – hard to think of a more painful way to go. If it takes all this high level of thinking, how did all these poor stupid people come by it? Money for Nothing and Nothing for Free.

  10. Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Without delving into it too deeply, my take is that Feser erects Aquinas as another god-like figure to add to his virtual supporters. There’s God, Jesus, and Aquinas.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      The foundation of Feser’s arguments is Tmmaso d”Aquino. God & Yeshue bar Yussef have nothing to do with it. It’s d’Aquino all the way down..

  11. Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, besides the fact that you cannot prove anything via a philosophical argument (Anything!), here is a different take on the Cosmological Argument:

    The Cosmological Argument For God (Kalam Version)
    1. Whatever begins to exist has a beginning.
    2. The Universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the Universe had a beginning.
    4. The End
    Note The conclusion that the universe had a beginning might imply that there was a cause (or might not). The fact that we do not know what such a cause might be does not imply anything, let alone the existence of a god. This is just another God of the Gaps argument.

    For reference (a summary of the original)—
    1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
    2. The universe has a beginning of its existence.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
    4. Therefore, if the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God.
    5. Therefore, God exists.

    Note Again, there is no basis for #4 in the conclusions. It is just slipped in as it coincides with the fundamental beliefs of the audience.

    • Simon
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Not sure there is a basis for #1 either. Appears to be true for the set of things in a universe, but is it true for the set of universes. Category error, surely.

    • Taz
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      What exactly is the difference between claiming something began to exist and claiming something had a beginning? They seem like equivalent statements to me.

    • phil
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 1:58 am | Permalink

      What evidence exists that the universe had a beginning, or that it began to exist? Is there a basis for #2?

      • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        None at all, and much antievidence – all of modern cosmology. (if one takes universe in the etymologically correct sense.)

        Otherwise, one is left with what I call “baby’s first hubble volume”.

  12. glen1davidson
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Apparently the most important questions of the universe and existence can be answered without facts.

    Observable facts are just needed things trivial enough to be seen or otherwise perceived. Things that actually have an effect, iow.

    Glen Davison

    • chris moffatt
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”. C Hitchens.

  13. colnago80
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    The fact that Feser makes the claim that Thomas Aquinas was the greatest philosopher ever speaks poorly of the subject of philosophy.

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      No, it speaks poorly for the ability of Feser to evaluate philosophers.

      I do agree with him that Aquinas was a genius, but unfortunately one who had to pick the wrong place (repeatedly!) on where to start.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Well, I wasn’t inclined to be swayed, but he lost me with the “no dogs in heaven.” In what sense would that be paradise? That reminds me of the old Twilight Zone episode “The Hunt,” about the Devil trying to trick a man into hell saying it was heaven, but dog can’t get in. The man passes with the observation, “Any place that’s too high-falutin’ for Rip is too fancy for me.”

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Even being generous to Aquinas, many of his ideas have been abandoned by Christians, most notably his views on the morality of slavery (now overtly renounced by the Catholic church). His heavy reliance on Aristotle has no particularly good justification, and even made him controversial in his own day.

    The classic philosophical rebuttal of the Five Ways is from David Hume (Dialogues on Natural Religion), and his thoughts were thoroughly embraced by Immanuel Kant, who chose to justify theism on entirely different lines.

    One of TA’s most problematic ideas is dividing the universe into two planes, the “natural order” and the “supernatural order” and many other Christian philosophers saw this as a troubling idea (it was rejected by both John Calvin and Greek Orthodox thinkers) as it raises all kinds of paradoxical problems.

    The only atheist I know who really admired Aquinas was Ayn Rand, who contrasted him with Augustine- Aquinas having the greater respect for human reason, human virtue, and the natural world. However, Rand thought her whole philosophy could be justified by Aristotle (a questionable assertion!!) and so had a soft spot for Aquinas since he relied so heavily on Aristotle.

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Neither Aquinas nor Rand seems to have been willing to actually read Aristotle correctly, if only to point out differences better.

      One thing that is very interesting and poorly discussed even now is how Aristotle’s teleology is and isn’t global. There’s a “chain” of “for the sake of”, but isn’t really all to one *purpose* necessarily. Aristotle himself (in _Parts of Animals_, if I recall) seems uncertain: he says if there’s a goal for literally everything it is to make as much beauty as possible. (!)

      Shades of Darwin, who I now wonder if he had Aristotle in mind with the “endless forms most beautiful” phrase.

  16. Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    “Feser has a thin skin and will undoubtedly respond, and his response will consist in noting my failure to have spent half my lifetime studying the works of Aquinas and Feser.”

    In other words, The Courtier’s Reply.

  17. Richard
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    If this God is “outside of time and space”, how does he then interact with us poor time- and space-based mortals? Does he dip his toe into the water now and again, so to speak? At that point, is not he (or part of him – the Divine Big Toe?) then inside time and space, and hence (in principle, at least) detectable in some way?

    Or is my simple brain incapable of grasping the Sophisticated Theology that handwaves this away?

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      The pagan Greek philosopher Philo thought he had solved this problem with his notion of the “Logos” as an intermediary between God and the world, but was fairly vague on details.
      In Christian theology Philo’s logos morphed into the second person of the Trinity, the Son.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      This is the best response to an undetectable god, imo

    • phil
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      If god is able to affect anything within space and time then he is somehow detectable, e.g. through the existence of miracles, or the efficacy or prayer.

      One thing I admire about Greek philosophers was that they had punched great gaping holes in Christian theology centuries before Jesus was supposedly born.

    • Matt
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Richard, I was about to post the same question but saw your comment.

      Also, even if we stipulate this Supernatural Universe Creator existed 13.8 billion years ago we have no reason to assume it exists today, or should be prayed to. In fact, one could argue that this Supernatural Universe Creator exhausted all its power creating the universe and ceased to exist.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    From the Prime Mover argument, both accept that there is a God, that He/She/It/Hir are outside time and the Universe, that there is only one God, and that that God is omnipotent.

    Reading Rosenhouse’s account of Feser defending Nagel, it seems the two latter are married to the non-scientific, irrational idea of “common sense”. Here is an irony out of Nagel: “I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.” So why is not the idea of a ‘universal common mover’ not “prima facie highly implausible” as “the result of a sequence of physical accidents”?

    Abandoning common sense for science, we can note that:
    – Nothing that religious claims concern remains to be explained by science; been there, done that.
    – The universe is all there is, by theory and confirmed by observation.
    – The model of one god is a worse choice (more constrained) than many gods if we could apply a model test for comparison. (But we cannot, because the idea is unobservable, irrational.)
    – A potential religious magic agency is so impotent and infertile that it is rejected by current cosmology, the uncertainty in matter-energy and the work that can be done – including magic actions – is insignificant. (But we already knew this, it has been millenniums and the presumably omnipotent magic has done *nothing*, no verified religious miracles say.)

  19. Craw
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I demur. As far as I can tell, and I have read enough Feser previously to know I don’t want to read any more so did not follow the link, the parts Coyne quoted are actually a clear and succinct summary (by Feser) of what Aquinas thought. It’s not word salad at all. The ideas — Aquinas’s — are all wrong but the summary of them — Feser’s words — is admirably clear.

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps it’s the editing, but Feser comes across in the interview as far more reasonable than he does in his other writings. I think he’s profoundly wrong; and I think many non-atheists would disagree with him too, since his reasoning goes to the existence of the Catholic God and not to deism or alternative theisms; but you don’t get the snark and arrogance that he has displayed in his blog or comments on the blogs of others.

  20. Derek Freyberg
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Feser: “The problem with that, though, is that if you do have an independent demonstration that God exists, if you’ve got something like a successful version of Aquinas’ Five Ways, then you already know independently that there is a first cause of the world who is infinite in power, all-good, and so on.”
    Let’s face it, if there were an independent demonstration (be honest, Ed, call it what you believe it to be, an independent proof) of the existence of God, there would be a God, or the God: there would be no issue of belief or disbelief, no theism or atheism, God would just be. It would be as if we were debating over belief in the existence of the Sun.
    Self-evidently, this not so.
    Feser may think that he has a proof of the existence of the Catholic God, but it is not one that satisfies.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      “Let’s face it, if there were an independent demonstration (be honest, Ed, call it what you believe it to be, an independent proof) of the existence of God, there would be a God, or the God: there would be no issue of belief or disbelief, no theism or atheism, God would just be. It would be as if we were debating over belief in the existence of the Sun.”

      And then humanity could get on with the urgent task of destroying this odious god monster as quickly as possible.

      rz

    • chris moffatt
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      “Feser may think that he has a proof of the existence of the Catholic God, but it is not one that satisfies.”

      Nor is it one that is taught in the catholic churches and catholic schools to the catholic hoi polloi. Been there, know that.

      One wonders why this doG makes himself so inscrutable and impossible to understand except by a few geniuses like Feser and Plantinga.

    • Posted April 7, 2018 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      Cue Douglas Adams’s babelfish?

      ‘But, says Man, the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and vanishes in a puff of logic.

  21. J. Quinton
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    The best argument against god can be expressed very neatly in the only truly universal language that we have:

    P(H | E) = P(E | H)*P(H) / [P(E | H)*P(H)] + [P(E | ~H)*P(~H)]

  22. Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Theology is possibly an art form – constructing ever fanciful schemes and doctrines about – Nothing. All that imaginative effort over the centuries has to count for something, right?

    rz

  23. loren russell
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    The Cosmological Argument and Ontological Argument at least give the most-attenuated deist breathing room. Anything further is accepting [meaning picking and choosing among] revelations. None of which make any sense of the entity of the CA and OA having interest in thinking creatures on one small planet. It made sense to mediaeval scholars who imagined God walking with Adam in Eden on the first Sunday. From the moons of Jupiter on, it’s made no sense. And certainly no sense that I have an immortal soul, while my Manxie boss Sierra lacks one..

  24. grasshopper
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Dogs don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls? I wonder if Feser goes as far as William Lane Craig who suggests that because animals don’t have souls they can’t feel pain. Craig says that sure, they might behave like they are in agony, but they don’t really feel it. Why is veterinary medicine even a thing?

    • chris moffatt
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Feeling pain requires a brain and a nervous system however rudimentary. One wonders if W L Craig can feel pain?

      • Richard
        Posted April 7, 2018 at 1:07 am | Permalink

        He certainly can’t feel empathy.

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Feser may be arrogant and snarky, but he pales by comparison with Craig. Some of Craig’s statements are the kind that could have come right out of the Old Testament. I could all too easily see him as Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander, during the Albigensian Crusade: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”—”Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own”.

    • dallos
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      This is the common part of religion and science.
      Do the scientists think that dogs go to heaven?
      Do they think that a dog has a soul?

  25. Geoff Toscano
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    You are right that Feser is an arrogant nobody (let’s face it, anyone who seriously argues Thomism, and he’s supposedly the world leader, really does have a screw loose). I recall a leading commenter here, I think it may have been Ben Goren, taking him on in immensely logical ways, and Feser didn’t even respond, simply dismissed him as an idiot.

    I’m really not sure that Feser is intellectually capable at any level.

  26. Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Kant couldn’t find 100 Talers in his pocket, because Edward Feser stole them. That settles the matter.

  27. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    As always, my response to Feser et. al. is an invitation. Next time Professor Feser or anyone of his theologian colleagues is sick, I invite them to avoid the gross materialism of science (medical in this case) and just treat their illness by pure natural reason.

    • Richard
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      I am reminded of the Jesus and Mo cartoon where they explain the OA to the barmaid, then ask her for two pints of her best. Her response: “Why don’t you just define them into existence?”

  28. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    As always, I respond to Edward Teser et. al. with an invitation. Next time he or any of his theologian colleagues are sick, I invite them to avoid the gross materialism of science (medical in this case) and treat their problem themselve by means of pure natural reason.

  29. Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    To be fair to Feser, he does think he has a version of the five ways that are *proofs* of the existence of God, and has written a book to that effect:

    From what I’ve read of Aquinas’ and Feser’s five ways, I don’t find them in the least convincing. Bradley Bowen has been talking through some of the problems with Feser’s five proofs here (which I recommend):

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost?s=Feser%27s+case+for+god

    Cambridge philosopher Arif Ahmed also pointed out some serious issues with two of Feser’s arguments in the Unbelievable podcast discussion here:

    https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-5-Proofs-of-the-Existence-of-God-Ed-Feser-vs-Arif-Ahmed

    But it’s worth remembering that Catholics have been at this game for centuries, so are well versed in their own peculiar metaphysics and well motivated to believe in it. As a result it’s pretty difficult to find any unanswered objections to it (they’ve applied their best minds to ensure they’ve all been addressed!). They are also quick to patronise and belittle anyone who doesn’t spend his life steeped in their ‘history of ideas’.

    The problem is its conceptuality, and, unlike modern science, it doesn’t help us exploit reality the way that science does. In the end modern scientific descriptions yield more *fruitful* analysis of the real world, so Thomism becomes just another superfluous metaphysic among the many. Catholics could rescue this by conducting programs exploiting their ideas of ‘potencies’ and ‘acts’ to deliver real world benefits. We could have centres of scholastic excellence all round the world delivering improved health, welfare and living standards because of their unique insight into the way things are (I can almost hear them accusing me of a category error here!).

    But we don’t, and the unavoidable conclusion is that is because it’s bullshit.

    One more link; I think this exchange between Keith Parsons and Ed Feser is informative too:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/02/26/feser-parsons-index/

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      His argument can be refuted in one line: it is question begging, because only in a theological world view is the (rest of the) universe contingent!

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      No need. See above. (I *do* speak the lingo, though I am no longer professionally involved.)

  30. James Walker
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Reading Feser takes me back to my Catholic high school theology classes, where convoluted mental gymnastics were used to arrive at the conclusions we were supposed to arrive at (which happened to coincide with church teachings). What a waste of intellectual energy.

  31. eric
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Feser claims there’s an objective morality that more or less conforms to Sam Harris’s “well being” argument, but remains grounded in God because what constitutes our well being depends in our nature and, as the canny theologian argues, “we wouldn’t have the natures we have if God weren’t keeping us in existence.”

    What does patrimony have to do with ethics? Nobody gives any credence to this argument outside of theology. What is good and evil for my son isn’t going to be defined by me just because I helped create him. Luke Skywalker isn’t somehow philosophically required to be evil just because Darth Vader is his daddy. We aren’t required to share in God’s morality merely because he’s our creator. And that’s a very good thing, given that a significant minority of the entire world’s population have Genghis Kahn in their family tree.

    The problem with that, though, is that if you do have an independent demonstration that God exists, if you’ve got something like a successful version of Aquinas’ Five Ways, then you already know independently that there is a first cause of the world who is infinite in power, all-good, and so on. So, you independently know that for any instance of evil that occurs, there must be some reason why God allows it, even if we don’t know what that reason is.

    That makes no sense at all. Succinctly, his argument seems to be:

    1. Ignore any observation that runs counter to the proposition that God is good.
    2. Use other claims to conclude God is good.
    3. Now bring those observations back into consideration, and reason that because you already proved God is good, those observations must have an explanation consistent with His goodness.

    Hey, I can do that too!
    1. If we ignore all living things that don’t have cellulose in their cell wall.
    2. Conclude via observation that all living things are plants.
    3. Now consider the fact that Edward Feser is a living thing.
    Ergo, Edward Feser is a plant.

  32. Kevin Voges
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Goody, ontological arguments! Can I play?

    Ontological Proof of the Non-existence of God – Gasking

    1. The creation of the universe is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.
    2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.
    3. The greater the disability or handicap of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.
    4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.
    5. Therefore, if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator, we can conceive a greater being—namely, one who created everything while not existing.
    6. An existing God, therefore, would not be a being than which a greater cannot be conceived, because an even more formidable and incredile creator would be a God which did not exist.
    7. (Hence) God does not exist.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      “It is the final proof of god’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us”

      – Rev. Andrew Mackerel (a character in a book by Peter De Vries)

  33. Vaal
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    6. Dogs don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls. (See first link for explanation).

    ^^^^ To be fair, though, it does seem like you and Feser do have some common ground. 😉

  34. Roger
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Don’t get him mad! He’s a real “hots-head” as Lisa Douglas from Green Acres would say. Okay, off to eat my hots-cakes.

    • Roger
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      It must be really frustrating trying to convince people of literally nothing. Poor fella.

  35. Posted April 8, 2018 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    What did you mean by empirical observation? It is not like we can calculate God’s existence by coming up with a mathematical formula. Is there a mathematical or scientific symbol for cause and effect?

  36. Posted April 30, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing, as I said, all the things Aquinas (and Feser) can conclude about God without any need for empirical observation.

    In The Last Superstition, Feser explicitly says that what he does is comparable to math or geometry: start with some premises, and just think through the implications. He never stops to check whether his conclusions match reality, and even tends to pooh-pooh the idea that that might be useful. Basically, he’s good with theoretical work, but doesn’t like experimental verification.
    As for how he concludes that the prime mover happens to be the Catholic God, that’s easy: we know that A can transfer a property P to B if A has P either explicitly, or contained within it. That is, a red paint brush can cause redness on a wall because it itself is red. And while a car cigarette lighter isn’t on fire, it can cause fire because it contains “being on fire” within it. As I understand it, this is kind of like how bauxite looks very different from aluminum, but contains aluminum within it.
    We know that the universe contains intelligence (like ours), and therefore it must have come from a source that’s either intelligent, or “contains intelligence”. Likewise compassion, mercy, and all the other things he wants to attribute to his god.
    You may think that I’m making things up, but I’m not.


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