Ed Feser Notes Something I’ve Noticed Too

Ed Feser Notes Something I’ve Noticed Too July 24, 2012

Namely, that an awful lot of atheist rhetoric is just sort of Protestant rhetoric on steroids.

An interesting discussion follows in which he traces his reasons for abandoning atheistic materialism and returning to theism and the Catholic Faith. What is remarkable here, in contrast to so much of the rhetoric of the New Atheists is how much of Feser’s article is an exercise in intellect use and how little of it is devoted to intellect worship. He’s too busy thinking to waste time boasting about how devoted to Reason he is.

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  • Protestant rhetoric only works for “the church doesn’t have any moral authority because it’s corrupt!” which is really just an appeal to emotion.

  • Nate

    Yeah, that’s an interesting story by Ed.
    For me personally, I’m amazed at how admiration of certain people around you can affect how you think. I suppose this is a version of the argument from authority. When I first started grad school, I took naturalism seriously mostly because I was surrounded by profs whom I worshipped as gods among men. I was never an atheist, but I certainly didn’t think that, say, non-physicalist/non-naturalist conceptions of mind/meaning/value were any good, nor did I think that any arguments for the existence of God worked. But I thought this mainly because that’s what I had been taught by famous profs–people I worshipped. These people certainly *used* their intellects, regardless of what they worshipped or didn’t, and often they were kind and even humble….and so I had good reason to think that their very powerful intellects and very complicated and respectful arguments were saying something important and even possibly true.
    If these smart people were naturalists and atheists, then surely these were views that had a lot going for them.

    It was only after gaining confidence in my own philosophical abilities that I realized that I had good reason to think that it wasn’t the case that I was philosophically incompetent because, while putting down what I was supposed to put down on seminar papers , I still didn’t really get it.
    It was instead the case that naturalism utterly failed in every way. When I realized this, I went back and read a bunch of modern day critics of naturalism (many of whom are theists), and realized that, hey, their arguments were actually pretty damn good, and that the profs I worshipped dismissed them as inconsequential for reasons that had no merit.
    Lack of confidence, combined with awe, can do much to affect the views of the naive. When I was naive, I took naturalism and atheism seriously.
    I can’t imagine I am unique here.
    But at the end of the day, good philosophy fails to explain the prevalence of atheism in the academy. We need to look for some psychological reasons instead. I don’t want to sound mean, but truly, it’s the only way to go.

    • Dan

      Have you seen Ed Vitz’ paper, The Psychology of Atheism? It turns the tables by using classical Freudian tropes, normally used against theism, to skewer atheism.

      • Nate

        Thanks Dan. Really interesting. Thanks for this.

      • Ted Seeber

        That strangely reminds me of the English Autistic website ISNT- the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, an attempt by a group of high functioning autistics to examine normal people as if being normal was a mild mental illness like PDD-NOS, Asperger’s, or autism.

        It was a very funny site when it was maintained. Many of the links have gone bad from link rot over the decades- I think it was last updated around 2001.


        I especially like the fake DSM page which basically calls all normal people Satan:

        And personally, I think most psychologists suffer from 666.00 Neurotypic Disorder.

  • JB

    My path from being a Cradle Catholic, to and through “losing” (ie setting aside for convenience) my faith when I was a 140 IQ National Merit Scholar in college (actually a Catholic university), and then gradually ratcheting back to the Church in my 40s, was considerably different from Mr Feser’s – although one thing I DO agree with him 100 percent (in his essay) is that it’s a mistake to try to sever faith from reason, which by the way I never attempted to do even when I was an obnoxious smartass Sophomore.

    (Funny gloss: “Sophomore” and “sophomoric” are derived from a combination of the ancient Greek words for “wise” and “fool”. HA!)

    My path went this way:

    1. In my required freshman year philosophy class at a prominent Catholic university, I drew a cartoon “speech balloon” next to the picture of Descartes making him say, “I am full of shit.” I was right about that, as far as Descartes went.

    2. The main reasons for my “losing” (ie conveniently setting aside) my Catholic faith in my early youth were not intellectual, but rather were based in the pelvic region.

    3. At age 29, when I was not currently professing Catholicism, I had an encounter with the dark side of the supernatural. I had been dabbling in the occult at that time, including ritual magic. My encounter with the dark side of the supernatural (more accurately the preternatural) ceased when I instinctively – or habitually or anyway based on the Catholic faith of my childhood – appealed to Christ to help me. He did.

    4. A few years later, living long term in Communist China opened my eyes to how and why atheism is not just mistaken, but is in fact evil and is hostile to all truth and all goodness, in a cosmic spiritual war which required me to take sides. My reconversion to Christianity began in Communist China. The death of Pope John Paul the Great was the catalyst.

    5. After leaving China – after some years in China – and resettling in a free country where Christianity is not persecuted, I attended a church for the first time in years. It was an Anglican church and I was grateful just to be there in freedom.

    6. Consequently I dabbled a bit in the Anglican church, until I realised, “Who am I trying to fool? (Me, that’s who.) As I was born and raised in THE (Catholic) Church, I know deep down what the truth is, AND I’m lucky to be able to receive the REAL Body of Christ (as I used to do), so…

    7. ….so ultimately I returned to the Church and the sacraments.

    All a very personal journey, most of which was not 100 percent “logical”, although I understand and respect how some persons who are more talented with logical reason than I – such as Mr Feser – are given different paths by God, back to God.

    But in light of ALL the above, I think my journey AND Mr Feser’s, in different ways are both proofs of an old Russian proverb:

    “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

    🙂 🙂 +

  • Hezekiah Garrett


    I wanted to be a philosopher once. I was sitting in “Great Questions 101” in the middle of summer with a broken air conditioner, listening to a classmate (some stoned-out 18yo kid from all I could tell) occasionally throw in an objection based on Aristotle. At first, the prof was polite about rejecting the kids points, but I quickly got the feeling he was just a little threatened by this long dead Greek. So I start looking ta who this Greek is, and found he had an acolyte or two a millenium or more later, the RaMBaM and the Dumb Ox.

    And then I flipped thru the text book. A little Socrates, a little more Plato, leap to Anselm prattling about unicorns, straight into MODERNITY. No Ari, no Moshe, no Tommy. What were they afraid of? I gobbled up Nico.Ethics, the Guide for the Perplexed, and what I could of the Summa (my head still hurts to think!)

    It led me to find a priest who could argue for his Faith respectably, so I could demolish his arguments and be free from this sneaking suspicion I had that Catholicism is true. (At this time I was also beginning to enlist in the Bugs Bunny army, aka CAEI!, which gave me some peek into this weird world of weirdos we call a Church.)

    So I figure if you catch a priest after he says Mass on a friday night and offer to buy him a steak or lobster, he’d surely be willing to talk for an hour or two. (I didn’t know secular priests don’t take vows of poverty, or that priests will actually just sit down and talk to confused non-catholics, even hostile ones. They don’t all have to be bribed.)

    It never even got that far. I was in the Narthex, watching this ritual that was completely foreign to me, when something happened at the Consecration, to me personally. I’ve always said since then that God knew I was too weak for Faith, and so He had to come down and give me Knowledge, so Faith could come. I saw Him, I heard Him. I was not drunk, or tired, or stressed too terribly. I was in my right mind, I have no reason to doubt what I saw and heard. He basically insulted my manhood and challenged me about my direction in life.

    Argument has never been necessary again. Although its still interesting.

  • The Deuce

    The New Atheists really aren’t really in love with reason like they claim. They’re in love with the idea that they’re in love with reason.

  • Ted Seeber

    My technical school was highly materialist- to the extent that the closest we ever came to philosophy was the idea of evolution as an engineering method.

    It was common for Catholics in that state school to either become atheist, or become traditionalists (ok, maybe it was the town- Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon wasn’t exactly a hotbed of liberalism- I got punched out for protesting against the first gulf war, and still have a scar from 7 stitches over my left eye). I may be more conservative now- but I still can’t see how a good Christian can defend a war of invasion or the abuse of the death penalty.

    We all fall away from our faith in college, and eventually, we do return to it. It’s a common stage for most Cradle Catholics.

    But I wonder if Leah Liberesco knows she isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, to convert from atheism.

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      Be honest, Ted. That was 20 yrs ago. Was it JUST protesting that got you punched? 😉

      I myself do not have nearly all the stitches I deserve. I am fleet of foot.

      • Ted Seeber

        Actually, it was NOT protesting that got me punched, in a way. I had gotten people mad at me the night before with my dorm roommate at the joint protest/support rally at the VFW hall in Klamath Falls (which was right across the street from the most liberal institution in Klamath Falls, the Tower Theater). But I had math homework to catch up on. My roommate was into watercolor, and posted a beautiful peace sign on our door. I was doing my math, when I heard the peace sign being ripped down. I opened the door and got a eyeful of a fist with a ring on it.

        Took me three weeks to recover and identify the perp. Found out his best friend’s National Guard Unit had been called up that weekend- and he had just gotten drunk while saying goodbye.

        If I had gone to the protests again, I wouldn’t have been hit. But it was a sign of protest on my door that I was hit for.

        • Ted Seeber

          It wasn’t even the most offensive thing I had seen in the dorms posted on a wall. Probably the most libertine was the following computer science problem written in pseudo-C:

          While (bStillInKlamathFalls)

          • Hezekiah Garrett

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!! As a confirmed luddite, I hate getting jokes like that!

            Fair enough, you didn’t deserve it. I pictured you patiently explaining on and on to some yokel why his bloodthirstiness was bad for him.

  • Mike Walsh

    Somewhere in Mike Flynn’s novel “Up Jim River” a character refers to “the Calvinist prophet Dawkins”. I thought that was pretty funny.