Friday, February 5, 2016

Parfit on brute facts

Derek Parfit’s article “The Puzzle of Reality: Why Does the Universe Exist?” has been reprinted several times since it first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in 1992, and for good reason.  It’s an admirably clear and comprehensive survey of the various answers that have been given to that question, and of the problems facing some of them.  (Unsurprisingly, I think Parfit’s treatment of theism, though not unfair, is nevertheless superficial.  But to be fair to Parfit, the article is only meant to be a survey.)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Debased Coynage

I had a lot to say about Jerry Coyne’s Faith versus Fact in my First Things review of the book, but much more could be said.  The reason is not that there is so much of interest in Coyne’s book, but rather because there is so little.  I was not being rhetorical when I said in my review that it might be the worst book yet published in the New Atheist genre.  It really is that awful, and goes wrong so thoroughly and so frequently that it would take a much longer review than I had space for fully to catalog its foibles.  An especially egregious example is Coyne’s treatment of Alvin Plantinga’s “evolutionary argument against naturalism” (or EAAN).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Upcoming Thomistic workshops

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, and thus a good time to draw attention to several forthcoming Aquinas-related summer workshops.

Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY will be hosting the Sixth Annual Philosophy Workshop on June 2-5, 2016, on the theme Aquinas on Politics. The presenters will be James Brent, OP, Michael Gorman, Steven Long, Dominic Legge, OP, Angela Knobel, Edward Feser, Thomas Joseph White, OP, and Michael Sherwin, OP.

The Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies will be holding its 2016 Summer Program in Norcia, Italy from July 10-24.  The focus of the program will be St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews and St. Thomas’s commentary on it.

The Witherspoon Institute will be hosting the 11th annual Thomistic Seminar in Princeton, NJ, on August 7-13, 2016, on the theme Aquinas and the Philosophy of Nature.  The faculty will be John Haldane, Sarah Broadie, Edward Feser, Robert Koons, and Candace Vogler.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Islam, Christianity, and liberalism again (Updated)

Hope you won’t mind submitting to one more post on Islam (the last for a while, I hope).  What follows are some comments on some of the discussion of Islam and its relationship to Christianity and to liberalism that has been going on both in my own comboxes and in the rest of the blogosphere in the weeks since I first posted on the subject.

Referring to God and worshipping God

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Liberalism and Islam

Note: What follows is pretty long, especially if you think of it as a blog post.  So think of it instead as an article.  The topic does not, in any event, lend itself to brevity.  Nor do I think it ideal to break up the flow of the argument by dividing the piece into multiple posts.  So here it is in one lump.  It is something of a companion piece to my recent post about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Critics of that post will, I think, better understand it in light of this one.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Canine theology

In Western culture, the dog is often described as “man’s best friend,” and in Western art, the dog is often used as a symbol for faithfulness.  Suppose, then, that we compare the Catholic faith to a healthy dog.  The analogy might be useful for understanding how other religions appear from the point of view of traditional Catholic theology.  Perhaps non-Catholics will not be amused by the comparisons to follow.  But dog lovers may appreciate them.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christians, Muslims, and the reference of “God”

The question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God has become the topic du jour in certain parts of the blogosphere.  Our friends Frank Beckwith, Bill Vallicella, Lydia McGrew, Fr. Al Kimel, and Dale Tuggy are among those who have commented.  (Dale has also posted a useful roundup of articles on the controversy.)  Frank, Fr. Kimel, and Dale are among the many commentators who have answered in the affirmative.  Lydia answers in the negative.  While not firmly answering in the negative, Bill argues that the question isn’t as easy to settle as the yea-sayers suppose, as does Peter Leithart at First Things.  However, with one qualification, I would say that the yea-sayers are right.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Goodill on Scholastic Metaphysics and Wittgenstein

In the January 2016 issue of New Blackfriars, David Goodill reviews my book Scholastic Metaphysics.  From the review:

Feser[‘s]... purpose... is in bringing Scholastic metaphysics into conversation with contemporary metaphysics... The contemporary partners Feser chooses to converse with are analytical philosophers...

This engagement with contemporary philosophy ensures that the book is more than just an introduction which rehearses the arguments of others. Feser demonstrates a mastery of both the Scholastic tradition he draws upon and the writings of contemporary thinkers, which he uses to provide telling and insightful analyses of key metaphysical notions...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Yuletide links

End-of-semester grading, Christmas shopping, and the like leave little time for substantive blogging.  So for the moment I’ll leave the writing to others:

Crisis on campus?  The president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University speaks truth to pampered privilege: “This is not a day care. This is a university.”

At Public Discourse: Samuel Gregg on David Bentley Hart and capitalism; and Jeremy Neill argues that the sexual revolution will not last forever.

Traditional logic versus modern logic: What’s the difference?  Martin Cothran explains.  (Also, an older post by Cothran on the same subject.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Should a Catholic vote for Ben Carson?

During the second Republican presidential candidates debate in September, Ben Carson said that instead of invading Afghanistan after 9/11, President Bush should have used the “bully pulpit” and

declare[d] that within five to 10 years we will become petroleum independent. The moderate Arab states would have been so concerned about that, they would have turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Defence of Scholasticism

My article “In Defence of Scholasticism” appears in the 2015 issue of The Venerabile (the cover of which is at left), which is published by the Venerable English College in Rome.  Visit the magazine’s website and consider ordering a copy.  Among the other articles in the issue are a piece on religious liberty by philosopher Thomas Pink and a homily by Cardinal George Pell.  The text of my article, including the editor’s introduction, appears below:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Telegraph on Scholastic Metaphysics

At The Daily Telegraph, Christopher Howse kindly calls attention to my book Scholastic Metaphysics, which he describes as follows:

A brilliant new defence of metaphysics… [I]t is a lively read.  The author is Edward Feser, and in 2011 Sir Anthony [Kenny] gave something of a rave review in the TLS to an earlier book by him, The Last Superstition...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Papal fallibility (Updated)

Catholic doctrine on the teaching authority of the pope is pretty clear, but lots of people badly misunderstand it.  A non-Catholic friend of mine recently asked me whether the pope could in theory reverse the Church’s teaching about homosexuality.  Said my friend: “He could just make an ex cathedra declaration to that effect, couldn’t he?”  Well, no, he couldn’t.  That is simply not at all how it works.  Some people think that Catholic teaching is that a pope is infallible not only when making ex cathedra declarations, but in everything he does and says.  That is also simply not the case.  Catholic doctrine allows that popes can make grave mistakes, even mistakes that touch on doctrinal matters in certain ways.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Augustine on semantic indeterminacy

St. Augustine’s dialogue The Teacher is concerned with the nature of language.  There are several passages in it which address what twentieth-century philosophers call semantic indeterminacy -- the way that utterances, behavior, and other phenomena associated with the use of language are inherently indeterminate or ambiguous between different possible interpretations.  Let’s take a look.  (I will be quoting from the Peter King translation, in Arthur Hyman, James J. Walsh, and Thomas Williams, eds., Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Third edition.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Long list o’ links

You’ve long longed for a list of links.  And it’s been a long time since I listed any links.  So here’s a long list of long longed-for links. 

Chris Kaczor is interviewed at National Review and America magazine about his new book The Gospel of Happiness.

At Nautilus, philosopher Roger Trigg explains why science needs metaphysics.

Sexual ethics and the modern academy: a Princeton Anscombe Society panel discussion with John Haldane, Candace Vogler, Roger Scruton, and Robert P. George.

The Wall Street Journal on how Steely Dan created “Deacon Blues.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dumsday and Vallicella on Neo-Scholastic Essays

At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, philosopher Travis Dumsday kindly reviews my book Neo-Scholastic Essays.  From the review:

Edward Feser writes as an historically informed Thomist who is also thoroughly conversant with the analytic tradition…

[T]his volume nicely exhibits Feser's clear writing style and uncommonly strong facility with both the Scholastic and analytic traditions. Those of us attempting to integrate these traditions can profit from his example.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red herrings don’t go to heaven either

They say that pride goeth before a fall.  And if you’re Jerry Coyne, every fall goeth before an even bigger fall.  The poor guy just never learns.  Show him that he’s shot himself in one foot, and in response he’ll shout “Lock and load!” and commence blasting away at the other one.  It seems the author of Why Evolution is True has got it into his head that a Darwin Award is something it would be good to win.  And this week he’s made another try for the prize.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Repressed knowledge of God? Part II

We’ve been discussing the thesis that human beings have a natural inclination toward theism, and that atheism, accordingly, involves a suppression of this inclination.  Greg Koukl takes the inclination to be so powerful that resisting it is like “trying to hold a beach ball underwater,” and appears to think that every single atheist is engaged in an intellectually dishonest exercise in “denying the obvious, aggressively pushing down the evidence, to turn his head the other way.”  (Randal Rauser, who has also been critical of Koukl, calls this the “Rebellion Thesis.”)  In response to Koukl, I argued that the inclination is weaker than that, that the natural knowledge of God of which most people are capable is only “general and confused” (as Aquinas put it), and that not all atheism stems from intellectual dishonesty.  Koukl has now replied, defending his position as more “faithful to Paul’s words” in Romans 1:18-20 than mine is.  However, I don’t think this claim can survive a careful reading of that passage.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Koukl responds (Updated)

Christian apologist Greg Koukl kindly sent me a response to my recent post about the discussion generated by his recent comments about atheism, natural theology, and Romans 1:18-20.  With his permission, I post it here.  I’ve been thinking of writing up a follow-up to my recent post anyway, and when I do I’ll comment on Greg’s remarks.  But for the moment, here is Greg’s response, for which I thank him: 

Feser’s concern, I think, is partly the result of taking general remarks made in a video blog about Romans 1 and asking of it the kind of precision not generally possible in that format.  In a brief verbal summary of an issue there is little opportunity for nuance regarding the kinds of concerns brought up in Feser’s thoughtful 2,500 word blog, which may account for my own remarks appearing “glib."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Repressed knowledge of God?

Christian apologist Greg Koukl, appealing to Romans 1:18-20, says that the atheist is “denying the obvious, aggressively pushing down the evidence, to turn his head the other way, in order to deny the existence of God.”  For the “evidence of God is so obvious” from the existence and nature of the world that “you’ve got to work at keeping it down,” in a way comparable to “trying to hold a beach ball underwater.”  Koukl’s fellow Christian apologist Randal Rauser begs to differ.  He suggests that if a child whose family had just been massacred doubted God, then to be consistent, Koukl would -- absurdly -- have to regard this as a rebellious denial of the obvious.  Meanwhile, atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder agrees with Rauser and holds that Koukl’s position amounts to a mere “prejudice” against atheists.  What should we think of all this?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Walter Mitty atheism

While writing up my recent post on Jerry Coyne’s defense of his fellow New Atheist Lawrence Krauss, I thought: “Why can’t these guys be more like Keith Parsons and Jeff Lowder?”  (Many readers will recall the very pleasant and fruitful exchange which, at Jeff’s kind invitation, Keith and I had not too long ago at The Secular Outpost.)  As it happens, Jeff has now commented on my exchange with Coyne.  Urging his fellow atheists not to follow Coyne’s example, Jeff writes:

If I were to sum up Feser’s reply in one word, it would be, “Ouch!” I think Feser’s reply is simply devastating to Coyne and I found myself in agreement with most of his points.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why can’t these guys stay on topic? Or read?

Jerry Coyne comments on my recent Public Discourse article about Lawrence Krauss.  Well, sort of.  Readers of that article will recall that it focused very specifically on Krauss’s argument to the effect that science is inherently atheistic, insofar as scientists need make no reference to God in explaining this or that phenomenon.  I pointed out several things that are wrong with this argument.  I did not argue for God’s existence.  To be sure, I did point out that Krauss misunderstands how First Cause arguments for God’s existence are supposed to work, but the point of the article was not to develop or defend such an argument.  I have done that many times elsewhere.  Much less was my article concerned to defend any specifically Catholic theological doctrine, or opposition to abortion, or any conservative political position.  Again, the point of the essay was merely to show what is wrong with a specific argument of Krauss’s.  An intelligent response to what I wrote would focus on that.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Harvard talk

This Friday, October 2, I will be giving a talk at Harvard University, sponsored by the Harvard Catholic Student Association and the John Adams Society.  The topic will be “The Immortality of the Soul.”  The event will be in Sever Hall, Room 113, at 8pm.