• Edward Feser’s Imaginary Knockout of New Atheism

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    A more pointed and descriptive headline for this essay is “Feser comes on like Apollo Creed from Rocky III, but winds up as Apollo Creed from Rocky IV.” In what follows, I will address Feser’s recent talk on “What We Owe the New Atheists,” where Feser himself uses Rocky III to describe the current state of Catholic apologetics against a popular and effective “New Atheist” movement. At about 10 years old (really older) the New Atheism continues to influence American and worldwide cultural thinking—indeed, atheism and its arguments, as well as the persistent perniciousness of religious dogmatism and fundamentalism, gain wider currency year after year. Feser wishes his beleaguered co-religionists and theologians to see themselves as Rocky Balboa, the reigning champ who loses his edge until a brash and hungry upstart takes the belt and forces Rocky to get back the “eye of the tiger.”

    Feser casts the New Atheists as Rocky III’s Clubber Lang (played ably by Mr. T), and although Feser doesn’t say, he must himself take the role of former Rocky rival Apollo Creed. Feser-as-Creed (a pun resides here somewhere) coaches and wheedles the Italian Stallion back to glory; for Feser, that glory is the metaphysical system of the medieval Scholastics, represented par excellence by Thomas Aquinas.

    I plan to cover some detail from Feser’s talk, as he is an interesting enough speaker to warrant serious consideration for most everything he says. In the end, however, his arguments and ideas remain impotent and actually shy away from the fight he seems to want. To put a finer point on it, to the extent that Feser himself gets in the ring, he is already over-matched and gets fatally clobbered. If Catholicism/Christianity/Theism-as-Rocky will ever come back against the New Atheism, it won’t be because of Feser or his Scholasticism—but he just might inspire Rocky to get up and fight again.

    Now, to the essay itself.

    Feser’s opening illustrates the ultimate impotence of the entire talk to come. Like a long since almost-been prize fighter, he brags about his clever insults against Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Feser’s sympathetic audience and fans must love the insults, but really the quips sputter. For all Feser’s self-congratulation and assurance of his own subtle, nuanced thinking, the New Atheists have made more of a difference. They reached the center from the periphery; to the extent Feser even wants to claim the center—as I suggest later, he seems not to have the will for it—he fails. So the first failure is the lame review of insults and the in-group hugging that assures the faithful of their unassailable philosophical chops.

    The second failure come straightaway when Feser assumes the moral high ground. I insulted those bad people, he says, because they deserved it. They deserved it. It’s their fault. They made Feser insult them. He would not have attacked them if they didn’t provoke him.

    Yes, Feser uses the abusive spouse gambit, the one where the abuser blames the victim for causing his outburst. The one where the abuser asks the victim, “You see what you made me do? Do you think I wanted to do that?” Feser himself justifies the behavior: “As I think anyone who has read my book can tell you, this abuse was not gratuitous, but well-earned by its targets.” Yet Feser also dishes out the same kind of victim-blaming when talking about the drubbing of religion. In the language of Rocky III, religion/Rocky has brought the beating down upon itself/himself: “Say what you will for Mr. T’s character, he means business. Rocky, it seems, does not. So, though we root for Rocky, when Mr. T knocks his block off we have to admit that Rocky was asking for it.”

    Feser crosses a couple of lines in the two examples above, the most basic of which is moral principle our parents taught: two wrongs don’t make a right. Even if we were to grant that the New Atheists are as ignorant and rude as Feser portrays (in reality, that cannot be granted), one would think a good and sophisticated religious philosopher could or should restrain himself from emulating the behavior he detests in his opponents. Another line crossed is one of good taste. In claiming that “Rocky was asking for it,” Feser uses the old excuse of many a bitter second-place team: “They didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves.” The response to this excuse is easy and devastating: scoreboard. Clubber Lang deserved to win more than Rocky deserved to lose. Similarly, Catholicism specifically and religion generally face increasing criticism and marginalization because better options, arguments, and ideas exist in the same space.

    But Feser doesn’t get this point, it actually never occurs to him, and so he doesn’t realize how lame his trash talk is. From the sidelines and away from a real contest, he tries to motivate the philosophical troops. In his address to the team, he tells them they are the sleeping giant that the New Atheists have awoken; the apologists are coming back to claim the title. And what major weapon do the philosopher apologists have that can stop the New Atheist juggernaut? Why, medieval Scholasticism. Yep, medieval Scholasticism. Knowing that many sympathizers will bristle at the suggestion, Feser carefully argues why a return to Scholasticism makes the best sense. Scholasticism, he says—

    requires that we recognize that where the apologetic task is concerned, metaphysics wears the trousers. Specifically, a defense of classical metaphysics — grounded in the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions and brought to perfection by the great Scholastics — is an unavoidable prolegomenon to the defense of the classical arguments for the existence of God and the natural law conception of morality. In no other way, I maintain, can modern secularism of the sort represented by the New Atheism be decisively rebutted.

    So for Feser, the real and only battleground left for apologists—for any theism, really—is metaphysics. But this is where Feser ultimately fails most spectacularly. He says, “all bodies of knowledge, including apologetics, rest on metaphysical foundations, and cannot be adequately defended without defending those foundations.” A bit later, he says, “If the Faith is going to be defended effectively against the New Atheists or anyone else, its metaphysical presuppositions must be carefully set out and rigorously defended.”

    These two statements go far awry. First, our metaphysics must follow our physics, as cosmologist Sean Carroll excellently explains in his recent debate with apologist William Lane Craig (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07QUPuZg05I&feature=share&list=FLRhV1rWIpm_pU19bBm_2RXw&index=4). Contra Feser, metaphysics is not a foundation but rather more like a flexible set of connections that help clarify and define the full picture afforded by our knowledge of reality. Furthermore, Feser’s attitude is all wrong: one should not aim to “defend” presuppositions but should instead seek to examine and update them in light of new evidence from the physical world.

    So there you have it: Feser has lost his battleground—metaphysics—and his thinking about one what can do with metaphysics is parochial and outmoded. To complete the Rocky analogy, when Apollo Creed steps in the ring with the Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, he takes a fatal beating because he misreads the fighting situation (Creed thinks it’s an exhibition) and he doesn’t account for the training and strengths of the opponent. If I may advise Feser on how to improve, I counsel him to update his model of the nature of metaphysics, and to put his metaphysics in better contact and conversation with physical evidence.

    Feser’s blind spot for why one might reasonably prefer other metaphysical approaches to those (yes, plural) of Scholasticism comes across in his very basic misunderstanding about the New Atheism. Feser nowhere acknowledges that the New Atheism has explicitly and consistently targeted popular religion, not the philosopher’s religion. For the New Atheists, the problem is the practical behaviors and political maneuvers made by people citing religion as their inspiration and motivation. New Atheism is not primarily philosophical but political and cultural. So while Feser dismisses Intelligent Design and American fundamentalism/literalism, that’s exactly where the New Atheism wants to exert pressure. Feser can keep harping on divine simplicity—a lovely idea, by the way—but the fundies and other wingnuts are trying to control civil liberties, so the latter groups deserve more attention. Feser can continue to defend his old metaphysical presuppositions, but there’s new knowledge of reality to be gained and he simply adds nothing to that more important project.

    To close, I want to cite two more instances of Feser’s blindness. I admit these are minor examples, but I think they speak to the intellectual harm Feser is doing to himself. First, look at Feser’s casual use of the idea of heresy. He says,

    from a Catholic point of view, it is possible to go too far in the direction of rationalism. For example, to treat theology like a mere intellectual game while ignoring its spiritual and moral implications would, needless to say, be to miss the whole point of it. And it would be heretical to deny that there are truths knowable only through divine revelation, or to deny that acceptance of those truths on faith is a free act to which we are drawn by grace.

    Feser forgets or seems not to realize what the Church and Christian Europe thought of hersey and what they did to heretics. Feser blithely accepts that it would be heretical—heretical—to believe X and not Y. Heresy is thoughtcrime, and one branded a heretic is available to persecution. Often the heretic was literally branded, burned, and violently dispensed with. It is telling that Feser lets heresy slip from his lips and keyboard without even a suggestion of shame at the term.

    The second instance of blindness comes later. Feser criticizes his co-religionists’ retreat from metaphysics by saying “In short, religious believers have been fleeing into a non-cognitive ghetto almost faster than skeptics can push them into it.” A ghetto. The word, like heresy, has been made heavy by the religiously inspired implications, drawn from real ghettoes where non-believers were forcibly kept. Heretics and ghetto-ized Jews and others received real and severe physical and economic persecution at the hands of Christians and Christianized society.

    There’s no need to make more of these examples than they are, but they further confirm what Feser’s talk is and who Feser is. Despite its bravado, the talk ultimately serves as a kind of consolation of apologetics, a justification for remaining in Plato’s cave. Feser calls himself a philosopher, scholar, and writer. Overall, however, he is a decent coach in a game passing him by. To be honest, I hope he reads this essay and considers challenging himself to go beyond Scholasticism.

    Category: PhilosophyReligion

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    Article by: Larry Tanner

    • Brian

      It’s Mr. T! -Still talking trash after Rocky has knocked him out and showed his philosophy to be hopeless!

    • Greg

      “Like a long since almost-been prize fighter, he brags about his clever insults against Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Feser’s sympathetic audience and fans must love the insults, but really the quips sputter.”

      It seems like Feser was highlighting the irony of someone who wrote a book called “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism” giving a talk titled “What We Owe the New Atheists”. Naturally his audience finds the jibes funny. They are funny. Whatever value New Atheism might have against a few stripes of religion, each of the “four horsemen” are, for all of their bluster, so consistently inept when it comes to philosophy of religion that it is laughable. Dawkins is the only one who even makes an attempt to examine, for instance, Aquinas’s Five Ways, and it is painfully evident that he has not cracked open any secondary scholarship on them (neither a skilled defender, like John Wippel, nor a skilled critic like Anthony Kenny). As the New Atheists’ secular colleagues point out, their philosophical position is an exceedingly tenuous one.

      “The second failure come straightaway when Feser assumes the moral high ground. I insulted those bad people, he says, because they deserved it. They deserved it. It’s their fault. They made Feser insult them. He would not have attacked them if they didn’t provoke him.”

      Your points here might be a bit more cogent if you had addressed Feser’s views on polemical philosophy.
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/can-philosophy-be-polemical.html
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/search?q=polemics

      You’re right that two wrongs do not make a right. But polemics are not necessarily wrong. When a view is scandalous, it ought to be discredited. This is a position which the New Atheists hold with respect to virtually ALL religious belief. (You later say that the New Atheists only direct their critiques at popular religion; I will address that later.) Feser does not believe that all atheists should be discredited via polemics, but only those who polemically promulgate weak philosophy with (in his view, and by his arguments) deleterious moral and social implications. (If you want evidence for this, see his book Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, or his recent exchange with Keith Parsons over on his blog, or many of his many other exchanges with more credible and respectable atheists like Robert Oerter. You could also look in his more scholarly work where he addresses serious critics such as Sobel, Mackie, etc.).

      “Even if we were to grant that the New Atheists are as ignorant and rude as Feser portrays (in reality, that cannot be granted), one would think a good and sophisticated religious philosopher could or should restrain himself from emulating the behavior he detests in his opponents.”

      Feser engages the New Atheists in polemics. That does not mean that he emulates their behavior. Take Dawkins’ treatment of the Five Ways again. Dawkins’ treatment is irresponsibly inept. If someone offers a critique of that quality, it can be assured that he is either ignorant or the arguments or dishonest in representing them. Unfortunately for Dawkins, if one is publishing a book with claims as sweeping and bold as his, then one is under the obligation NOT to be ignorant of those one is critiquing.

      “First, our metaphysics must follow our physics, as cosmologist Sean Carroll excellently explains in his recent debate with apologist William Lane Craig []. Contra Feser, metaphysics is not a foundation but rather more like a flexible set of connections that help clarify and define the full picture afforded by our knowledge of reality. Furthermore, Feser’s attitude is all wrong: one should not aim to “defend” presuppositions but should instead seek to examine and update them in light of new evidence from the physical world.”

      These assertions would demolish Feser’s position, if they did not manifestly beg the question. Feser has argued for his metaphysics in a number of places. He has also disputed scientism extensively. (The issue is addressed in his upcoming book, Scholastic Metaphysics.) Perhaps you could address some of his arguments rather than gesture toward a scientist’s response to some other philosopher (who, though a theist, does not share his metaphysics with Feser).

      Your arguments here also require that Feser’s metaphysics are inconsistent with modern science, which you have not attempted to show.

      “Feser nowhere acknowledges that the New Atheism has explicitly and consistently targeted popular religion, not the philosopher’s religion.”

      This is false. He acknowledges this point in his book a few times. (I don’t have it on hand at the moment, however.) But the issues for the New Atheists are as follows: a) They have claimed that all religion (or at least all Christianity, and perhaps the other major monotheistic religions) are pernicious, so if their critique is only directed toward a few culturally contingent denominations of Christianity, that qualification should be made explicitly, and it is not. b). If the New Atheists are only targeting backwaters, fideist, young-earth creationist flavors of Christianity, then their critiques exclude, for instance, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as many Protestant denominations, which are more relevantly like “the philosopher’s religion” than “popular religion.” (The recent popes, for instance, have all admitted the consistency of the Big Bang and evolution with Christian revelation.)

      • lartanner

        Thanks for the comment, Greg.

        Really, the point is something like Feser says nothing that comes close either to challenging the New Atheism or to giving a way to challenge it.

        • cengime

          My understanding of Feser’s take on New Atheism is that intellectually, it’s just irrelevant, since he thinks none of them have any idea what they’re talking about—”God” and the arguments for the existence of God as represented in books like The God Delusion and The End of Faith are just straw men, and Feser would agree that God as those authors imagine Him doesn’t exist. So defeating atheism to him doesn’t mean coming up with a new and effective defence of classical theism (since it hasn’t really been attacked), but spreading knowledge of good philosophy and true Christianity.

          • lartanner

            I agree basically. But the follow-on point is that classical theism itself never gets off the ground. There’s hardly a need to attack it, it ends up subject to the standard objections even though apologists insist otherwise, and people generally believe Plantinga style theism is the better theology.

            • You do realize that the purpose of the talk isn’t to “defeat” the New Atheism, right? Rather to reflect on how the movement can turn out to be constructive for intellectually curious theists. That’s something he did in Last Superstition, not by caring to engage too much with their silly arguments and red herrings, but instead of engaging with something equivalent to Young Earth Creationists, he instead spells out a solid, well-informed narrative of evolution and cosmology. After that solid narrative, most readers are capable of knowing for themselves why the New Atheists are incapable.

              Until you read TLS and interact with the arguments given there, this headline is just intellectually dishonest.

              And why don’t you write a post on how the “standard objections”.strikes either classical theism or contemporary thomism? My suspicion – based on this post – is that the result will be…not convincing.

            • lartanner

              To your first sentence: yes, I realize it.

              If you want to know the objections to classical theism, you need to read up and do your own homework.

              I have read TLS and Feser’s Aquinas. They are OK. B/B+ work. If there were a God, it very well could be like what Feser/Thomism argues.

            • Of course I know them, as does most beyond-rookie thomists. I simply wonder exactly which of them, and why you think they keep “classical theism on the ground”. Just sayin’ that they do, is again…question-begging. Especially when professional critics like Anthony Kenny are being engaged in the books, while e.g. Hume and Kant vs. Aristotelianism are discussed.

              And if you’ve actually read Aquinas and TLS (which I trust you on) – why don’t you write a post on them instead of writing on a Youtube-video taken out of context, which Greg really has challenged (with only your handwaving reply).

              Critique of specific arguments and representation of successful “standard objections”. Now THAT would be interesting, and probably generate a really interesting and fruitful discussion. Is it possible to be hopeful? 🙂

            • lartanner

              Others have engaged and critiqued TLS. Besides, it really says nothing that gets my blood boiling to the point of wanting to waste my time. Maybe you can articulate what captivates you about TLS’s most important theistic arguments.

            • Hehe, another generic response. Well, why waste time when you just “know” it, huh?

              I could, but I would just be restating arguments like the Unmoved Mover, with underlying foundation as the four causes, act and potency or e.g. arguments from Philosophy of Mind (the field – not the book), along with developed notions, borrowed from David Bentley Hart, with God as the ground of all being or Existence itself.

              But the burden of proof is really on you for just assuming the “standard objections” to be successful and….for writing this post? If you can’t state the objections yourself, or at least point in the direction of someone who can (at least a substantial critique of TLS), then this post and your following hand-waving comments are – as initially stated – intellectually dishonest.

            • lartanner

              If you want a better-than-generic response, then say something worthwhile. You’re a Feser fanboi. Bully for you. But you want to re-hash the history of Western metaphysics, theology, and philosophy? No, thanks.

              Look, as I said, Feser/Thomism is mildly interesting: If there were a God, it very well could be like what Feser/Thomism argues. If you want more than this, then focus on specifics. As it is, I am at work and also listening to a webinar.

              So…do you plan to get interesting at some point?

            • Guest

              Handwaving with insults this time. Gotta love that. But still waiting for that one mention of a successful “standard objection” that we all know keep classical theism on the ground. C’mon – it’ll take you 5 seconds! 🙂

              Unwarranted assumptions are just so…2006?

            • Handwaving with insults this time. Gotta love that. But still waiting for that one mention of a successful “standard objection” that we all know keep classical theism on the ground. C’mon – it’ll take you 5 seconds! 🙂

              Unwarranted assumptions are just so…2006?

              …and it’s so much more fun to learn about good counter-arguments…even for us fanboy thomists.

            • lartanner

              Had you been reading carefully, you would have understood that I’ve given my favorite objection twice now.

            • Tom More

              Hahaha.. He knows he’s trying to walk on air. Like Dawkins , he just hasn’t the remotest clue.

            • Tom More

              Lartanner makes a dash for the back door. So much for the “standard objections”.. which really all Thomists know.. and how silly they are. Like Russell.. who apparently requires special pleading due to not having even read them.. let alone understanding them. Ignorance is the child of indifference.

            • Tom More

              That ain’t gonna happen with these guys. You can’t be an atheist and intelligent at the same time. Especially if you get what Aquinas said about intelligence.

            • Steve Willy

              Shut your neck bearded face you preening, Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, faux-analytical, GNU-Reditt obsessed, pseudo-intellectual assclown.

            • Tom More

              Excellent advise and certainly ardently delivered.! 🙂

            • Tom More

              I’m laughing my face off. I was fortunate enough to study the origins of western thought and the history of philosophy. Folks should pay a LOT of attention to Feser and learn why the answer to the “standard objections” is deep laughter at the incoherent babbling.

          • josh

            “My understanding of Feser’s take on New Atheism is that intellectually, it’s just irrelevant, since he thinks none of them have any idea what they’re talking about—”God” and the arguments for the existence of God as represented in books like The God Delusion and The End of Faith are just straw men…”

            What you are falling for is called ‘bluster’. Feser is a nobody and his philosophy is a backwater of a backwater, so he calls out big names like Dawkins for writing a popular book that doesn’t spend hundreds of pages spelling out the problems with Feser’s worldview for him. Dawkins is brusquely dismissive of Feser’s hobbyhorse, which is appropriate since it is neither coherent nor popular. Feser doesn’t understand the problems with his own views, so spends his time misreading the New Atheists and fantasizing about the resurgence of scholasticism. Young Earth creationists do the same thing.

            • cengime

              If Dawkins didn’t mention scholastic arguments in his book, I guess you could defend this position that he gets Feser’s worldview and ignored it because he is on some higher philosophical plane, but the fact is that Dawkins took on the “Five Ways” directly in chapter 3 and proved that he fundamentally misunderstands all of them, both in the details and the larger metaphysical context. Dawkins may be an excellent scientist, but when it comes to philosophy of religion, The God Delusion is a work for a popular audience by a popular audience, and it isn’t just Aquinas’ defenders who say so. Doesn’t even the atheist Michael Ruse say that Dawkins in Delusion “would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course”? Didn’t Terry Eagleton say that theologians are “absolutely right” to accuse Dawkins of straw man arguments?

            • josh

              Read carefully please. I didn’t say Dawkins ignored Aquinas, I said he was legitimately brusque.

              “…but the fact is that Dawkins took on the “Five Ways” directly in chapter
              3 and proved that he fundamentally misunderstands all of them, both in
              the details and the larger metaphysical context.”

              Except that he didn’t fundamentally misunderstand them, that’s just a smokescreen thrown up by Feser and other lazy critics. I’m not claiming that Dawkins is an expert on the details of Aquinas’s metaphysical musings anymore than he is an expert on other creationists’ detailed eschatologies and baraminologies. But he accurately sums up some (though not all) of the fundamental problems with the arguments.

              Michael Ruse isn’t an intellectual heavyweight, he’s a turf-defending philosopher with a personal grudge against the ‘New Atheists’. Terry Eagleton is worse, a literary critic with sub-par snark and no substance.

            • Tom More

              Dawkins is a one man cartoon show. It’s like watching an abused nine year old.

            • Steve Willy

              Shut your neck bearded face, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, pseudo-intellectual, GNU-Reditt obsessed, faux-analytical, fetus flushing analphile.

            • Billy Bagbom

              You’ll catch more flies with sugar!

            • Tom More

              Hahaha.. such illiteracy. Feser defends every step of the way and his position is virtually unavoidable if reality is the goal.

      • Tom More

        For a real howler.. check out Dawkin’s central argument in TGD. It’s so dumb one could cry. He did prove however that materialism is impossible. Theism is of course untouched as he has no conceptual grasp of even what it is. Which of course is typical. Imagine living a whole life that stupid and then dying.

    • being itself

      Feser, although he would not admit it, also thinks that metaphysics should follow our physics, How do I know this? In his book The Last Superstition he provides example after example of physical examples to justify his metaphysical claims.

      The hilarious thing is that he cocks up the physics every time. He is using the physics of Aristotle, that every educated person for the last 300 years knows is mistaken.

      But not Feser or his fan boys. They use imaginary physics for their metaphysics, and with this wreckage ‘prove’ their imaginary God.

      • Tom More

        You really don’t get Feser at all. You just attributed exactly the opposite of his position. Metaphysical presuppositions.. usually utterly unexamined like your ideological pose.. underly all positions. It cannot be otherwise in the real world. Feser is a moderate realist. Or informed as some of us like to call it. 🙂

    • josh

      Feser, hoping to beat Clubber Lang, seems unaware that his champ is the intellectual equivalent of Glass Joe, and dead to boot.

    • Stephen Krogh

      I agree that Feser’s opening is weak and uncharitable, though I wonder whether a better analogy than the abused spouse would be Feser’s (and yours) own: boxing. Here, it isn’t clear that the opponent deserves to be punched, but if two people are already in a fight, then it doesn’t necessarily seem to be in bad form to throw a punch.

      I’d like to comment primarily on your claims that 1: metaphysics is not foundational, 2: should follow from physics, and that 3: presuppositions should ultimately be open to examination and, where appropriate, dismissed or updated in light of new evidence.

      I don’t think Feser would disagree with 2, depending on what you mean. Both Aristotle and Thomas thought that one had to do physics before metaphysics, because physics, according to A. and T., pointed towards metaphysics; the latter wouldn’t be possible, indeed wouldn’t even clearly have any explananda apart from the former. However, they would claim that the order in which these inquiries are practiced is not necessarily the order in a sort of hierarchy of study. In other words, physics points to metaphysics precisely because the object of the study of metaphysics is the substratum for physics. We wouldn’t, for instance, have anything to say about quarks (if you’ll permit me to talk about something I’m hardly equipped to discuss!) if it weren’t for more rudimentary chemistry and physics, i.e., the more rudimentary sciences unveiled the existence of quarks. But, presumably, quarks are more foundational than, say, atoms. Thus, once we know about quarks and come to know more about their goings-on, we would assume that anything about our rudimentary chemistries and physics will ultimately have to align with our knowledge about those goings-on, or we start working towards alignment. Metaphysics would be something like that, more foundational, despite the order of discovery. Thus, it seems that Feser could accept 2, while rejecting 1. Perhaps it would be wrong to do so, but an argument would have to be made (perhaps Carroll makes it; I haven’t watched the video.).

      Regarding 3, I wonder what Feser (and you) take “presuppositions” to be. They seem to come in degrees. We presuppose much about what our parents tell us about our family history, the day and place we were born, and so on, and we seem to be justified in accepting them, working from them, and so on, despite that there is relatively thin evidence (at least if we take the testimony of our parents to be weak or thin evidence; I actually doubt that most of us do, but it is certainly evidence of a lesser degree than evidence arising from scientific demonstration).

      The quantum physicist also presupposes more rudimentary sciences when she works with quarks. That isn’t to say that she does so without justification, or that she simply takes these issues as a matter of faith; rather, she presupposes them precisely because she has good reason to believe they’re true. She is, after all, a scientist who has worked a good deal with them, and has colleagues and teachers who have.

      I take it that Feser understands presuppositions in this latter way, presupposing the metaphysics he accepts to have been demonstrated, or otherwise justified in some way. I don’t see, however, how any willingness to analyze new data and, when necessary, change position is abrogated when using such presuppositions. I cannot speak for him (indeed, I haven’t read much he’s written, and only stumbled upon this page by accident), but it seems entirely possible that he could start from these presuppositions, work from them, and still be open to the possibility that they will have to be changed in light of contradictory evidence. But, it seems that the mere logical possibility that a belief is false is hardly sufficient to force someone to jettison or ignore her presuppositions until the possibility is gone. Further, it seems that she might even be able to continue to hold her presuppositions even if fairly good counter-evidence is adduced. She’d certainly have to tackle the counter-evidence if she would want to be intellectually honest, but there doesn’t seem to be any problem with maintaining presuppositions even when investigating whether they are true. I mean, I don’t think we should expect someone to all-of-a-sudden become agnostic regarding her patronage once she comes across some compelling evidence that her father isn’t who her mother said he is, particularly if she has reason to believe he is. We should expect that she would investigate things, of course, but it seems that she could do so while also maintaining a belief that the man who raised her along with her mother is her father. The same goes for science (I recall there being some claim a few years ago regarding some particles seemingly traveling faster than the speed of light. As I recall, the study was flawed, but I certainly don’t recall a wave of agnosticism regarding Einsteinian physics rushing over the scientific community before the flaw was brought to light).

      Anyway, just some thoughts about the paragraph. I say all of it, of course, in full understanding that this is a blog, and that you were moving quickly in a response to a lecture you heard, so I don’t mean to indict your ability to assess Feser’s arguments, nor to suggest that you did so poorly.

      Contra
      Feser, metaphysics is not a foundation but rather more like a flexible
      set of connections that help clarify and define the full picture
      afforded by our knowledge of reality. Furthermore, Feser’s attitude is
      all wrong: one should not aim to “defend” presuppositions but should
      instead seek to examine and update them in light of new evidence from
      the physical world. – See more at:
      http://www.skepticink.com/atheistintermarried/2014/04/20/edward-fesers-imaginary-knockout-of-new-atheism/#sthash.BN8ZTUMQ.dpuf

      • Tom More

        Feser is exactly right because metaphysics is foundational to all knowledge. We all employ our most basic assumptions of action or change in investigating anything, ever. That’s why Aristotle is called the Father of Western Science.

    • Trent Horn

      Feser has responded to Carroll’s arguments here:
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/07/carroll-on-laws-and-causation.html

      • lartanner

        Oh no! Feser has … RESPONDED! I am impressed neither with the response nor with Feser’s standing to respond. Feser is a guy who not only doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, he’s also pretty sure he doesn’t need to know what he doesn’t know.

        • ccmnxc

          C’mon Doc! Give me the arguments; give me the evidence. Actually demonstrate that your opponent (Feser in this case) is wrong. Haven’t you guys been making this your damn mantra for the past decade? Come down off your cloud and show us mere Feserbots that exemplary reasoning power. Don’t worry about going over the entire history of Western philosophy, a simple argument or two will suffice.

          Maybe you can address the point where Feser accuses Carroll of asserting but not arguing for his “metaphysics must follow physics” axiom. Cause if Carroll didn’t even meet the burden of proof to begin with, why on earth should any of us faith-heads be concerned about it? Or perhaps the part where he says Carroll’s statement ultimately boils down to scientism (which is either self-refuting or irrelevant) since it is basically saying that physics provides an exhaustive explanation. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, maybe you can refute Feser where he points out that using the mathematical methodology of physics to extrapolate metaphysical conclusions is essentially a category error (though I don’t think he uses that term) and is thus invalid.

          I suppose you can, if you want, fall back on the claim that Feser is so out-of-touch and ignorant that he is not worth your time or effort (see here: “it really says nothing that gets my blood boiling to the point of wanting to waste my time”). The teensy problem with such a proclamation, however, is that you wrote a freaking 1700 word essay on the same guy and work you might be tempted to say is essentially irrelevant. Oops.

          Now, you can admit that maybe you are not comfortable with setting out to refute such arguments, which is fine, since:
          1. It will prove you aren’t so invested in your conclusions and being correct that you are willing to cede some ground to Feser, and
          2. It is a relatively small blog with few spectators, and even fewer who would think less of you for some humility on the subject.

          If, however, you decide that supporting your claims isn’t for you, just remember that any demands for anyone else to do the same (including Feser) ought to be laughed at. In this particular area, turnabout is fair play as far as I am concerned.

          Finally, you mentioned to Daniel (4 months ago) that you had already made your argument to him twice and that he just wasn’t reading carefully. I don’t know what kind of cryptic sophistry this argument was hidden under, but I found no such thing. Perhaps a roadmap to your argument would be helpful. Or a treasure map if you hold it in high enough esteem.

          • lartanner

            You seem to think Feser’s accusations warrant some sort of response.

            • ccmnxc

              Only if you are interested in people taking your “takedown” of Feser at all seriously. If this is simply note-taking for your own personal edification, that’s fine, but this is a strangely public place to do so.

            • lartanner

              Fantastic. Your judgment is noticed. I do not care at all if you or anyone else takes my argument ‘seriously.’

          • Tom More

            He’s desperate. He knows, I know and you know that any attempt he makes will fall on its face. He will just try to duck and weave like all sophists. Rhetoric against reason. Mind you .. it’s hard to defend reason if you hold that man is mindless matter in motion. So stupid.

    • Jim

      Despite being an Atheist myself, this post is just rhetoric and emotive language. The author is more concerned with being humorous than actually doing philosophy.

      • lartanner

        Don’t see why you find it necessary to say “despite being an atheist myself”; also don’t understand what you have against rhetoric, emotive language, and humor versus philosophy.

      • Tom More

        He’s dishonest. Sophists are always about rhetoric. One problem with hiding from reality is that one actually becomes the lie. Really neat how that happens.

    • Gene Callahan

      “First, our metaphysics must follow our physics…”
      So, you have no idea what metaphysics even means! Typical.

      • lartanner

        Gene, you might be interested to understand the etymology of the word “metaphysics.” The word, you see, denotes the things after the physics, and if you know something of Aristotle you’ll understand why.

        Now, perhaps you wish to believe metaphysics has logical priority over physics, but this seems a matter of convention and personal preference.

        You are welcome to make a clear and civil argument if you want to and are able. Otherwise, your comment is awfully douchey for a guy with a stupid name.

        • Owchywawa

          Iartanner, metaphysics is typically understood as the study of being as being. Since being is the first principle of everything that exist, it is prior to creating mathematical models of how particular things exist (i.e. physics).

          Aristotle didn’t actually call his book metaphysics. That was added later simply as a mater of organizing books by some random guy. Aristotle called this work “first philosophy.”

          • lartanner

            Is it possible that the study of being as being rests on foundations laid by observing, understanding, and modeling physical objects/events/forces?

            • Tom More

              No. That all presupposes metaphysical principles which you don’t even know you have.

            • lartanner

              Interesting. Those presupposed metaphysical principles you mention, the ones so jubilantly proclaim as principles one may not even know one has, do they rest on any presuppositions? Where does it end? How? How do you know?

              In other words, what are the metaphysical principles that do not rest on any presuppositions?

            • Tom More

              You’ll find them at the most basic level of experience. As Aristotle did. You assume them unexamined all day every day. One of the problems with atheism is radical incoherence. That’s not meant as an insult incidentally. Its just radical unintelligence. Formal and final causation is the ONLY way out.

            • lartanner

              Why didn’t you answer the question, which is whether those presupposed metaphysical principles themselves rest on any metaphysical presuppositions? It’s a yes or no question.

            • Tom More

              No.

            • Tom More

              The question was answered earlier incidentally but you did not understand it.

            • lartanner

              Why don’t they? How do we know?

            • Tom More

              They are basic. Improve upon them. Knock yourself out.

            • lartanner

              It’s not about improving upon them. You have said there are some principles that themselves have no presuppositions. I’m challenging you to demonstrate and explain. Either we will discover that all principles have presuppositions, or we will wind up with “brute principles” or “brute facts.” In both cases, the intellectual superiority you were trying to assert for yourself before becomes revealed as hogwash.

            • lartanner

              By the way, I always enjoy it when someone qualifies something as radical, e.g., ‘radical incoherence’ and ‘radical unintelligence.’ It’s as if you think the word ‘radical’ excuses you from having to explain or defend your bullshit opinions. Radical incoherence! Radical incoherence! Self-refuting! Squaaawwwk!

            • Tom More

              Or.. if one knows the meaning of the term and is speaking of the first principles of being, radical incoherence is all that there can be. Nice bird noises.

            • lartanner

              My goodness. Everything before “Nice bird noises” is gobbledeygook. Are you even trying?

            • Tom More

              I don’t know whether your problem is english or thinking or both. Maybe just stick to the bird noises.

            • lartanner

              Maybe I should. If you are just going to make broad assertions with no back-up or explanation or argument, then bird noises are about the best we’ll get. Look, fella, either do the work of making an argument or fuck off.you don’t need to write a dissertation, just add some sentences that show the support behind your reasoning. This is basic stuff.

            • Tom More

              It’s all there. Find it.

            • lartanner

              Predictable. You would rather turn up your nose than actually make a case. Classic con-artist.

              I know your source materials and have exposed the flaws in them. That’s why you’re running away at the moment of confronting those flaws.

              Maybe Aristotle does not have all the answers. Maybe old Tommy Aquinas was brilliant, a prick, and fallible. Maybe Feser is conservative academic and nothing more. Maybe Jesus is really only a character in a collection of stories and in people’s Sunday school insistence.

              It takes courage and will to face these possibilities honestly. I wish you more courage, will, and honesty.

            • lartanner

              Squawk, duck, dodge…and repeat. You superiors are hilarious!

          • Tom More

            I think it was Andronichus (SP) of Rhodes who put it “after the physics”.. These poor guys are going to spend their entire lives in the dark. That’s a heavy price to pay for vanity and prejudice. Freedom really is a terrible thing to behold when you see its misuse.

        • Tom More

          This is so dumb. Sometimes a quick google for a “definition” or when it arose doesn’t quite add up to knowledge. Funny stuff.

      • Tom More

        Exactly.. he has no idea what it is. Pathetic. It’s a moral problem.

    • Owchywawa

      You didn’t actually refute Edward Feser’s metaphysics. You just asserted that metaphysics is based on physics because Carroll says so, and then said, “Feser’s attitude is all wrong.” Again, this doesn’t show that “Feser has lost his battleground—metaphysics—and his thinking about one what can do with metaphysics is parochial and outmoded.” You are making blatant assertions without evidence.

      • lartanner

        I don’t need to refute Feser’s metaphysics, nor do I attempt to. Feser’s metaphysics are not the problem, strictly speaking. Feser’s valuation of metaphysics and unwarranted insistence on “defending” his metaphysics are what I discuss. I have nothing to refute because Feser never gets out of the gate.

        • Tom More

          Hahahaha… such evasion. Dodge and weave. Wouldn’t it just be so simple to give a “standard objection”? Ha! That’s the problem with truth for sophists.. it’s hard to deny in actual argument as Feser shows. New atheists are cartoons.

    • Jim

      The first half of your essay were just ad hominem jabs…the rest was lacking. No new atheist will ever argue on metaphysical grounds as it is dismissed as rubbish or absorbed in “science”. And I recoomend reading Fesser’s book for more depth.

    • arensb

      I notice that you quoted Feser even though you disagree with him, something he rarely if ever bothers to do.

    • Tom More

      Metaphysics must follow physics? You’re joking right? You obviously don’t even know what the term means and how it determines epistemology. Such illiteracy. Well deserved scorn. Feser is so obviously correct on so basic a point. No wonder he doesn’t make any sense to you. You have no idea of even the subject matter.