Feser’s Case for God – Part 1: What Feser Gets Right

In his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG),  Edward Feser lays out what he takes to be the five best arguments for the claim that “God exists”.  Based on a quick glance through this book, it seems to me that Feser does a much more reasonable job of making a case for God than either Norman Geisler (in When Skeptics Ask) or Peter Kreeft (in Handbook of Christian Apologetics).  In my view, based on careful reading of Geisler’s case and Kreeft’s case, each of their cases is a SPOC (Steaming Pile Of Crap).  Feser’s case for God has the distinct advantage of NOT being a SPOC.

I have no idea at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good and strong or bad and weak, but I do see that he gets some important things right, some basic things that Geisler and/or Kreeft got wrong.

The first thing that Feser gets right in his case for God is the length of his case:

  • Norman Geisler’s case for God (in When Skeptics Ask, p.25-33):  18 pages 
  • Peter Kreeft’s case for God (in Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.48-86): 39 pages
  • Edward Feser’s case for God (in Five Proofs of the Existence of God, p17-168): 151 pages

To try to prove the existence of God in just 18 pages, as with Geisler’s case, is completely idiotic.  To try to prove the existence of God in less than 40 pages, as with Kreeft’s case, is also very foolish.  To make a case for God in about 150 pages is a bit too aggressive in IMHO, but this is much more reasonable than trying to do so in less than 40 pages, and I admit that it just might be possible to make an intelligent case for God in only 150 pages.

The second thing that Feser  gets right is his focus on just a few proofs or arguments for the existence of God, unlike Kreeft who presents twenty arguments for God, at least ten of which are complete crap (I have only examined the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s case so far, but all ten are crap).  Kreeft wastes our time with several obviously lousy arguments, but Feser has carefully selected what he believes to be the very best arguments, and then does justice to those arguments by devoting significant space to developing, clarifying, and defending each argument.

Kreeft wrote an average of only about two pages per argument, while Feser devotes an average of about thirty pages on each of the arguments that he presents.  Kreeft presents outlines of arguments that generally consist of between only three to six statements, while Feser presents outlines of his arguments that consist of between 27 and 50 statements for each argument.  Feser, unlike Kreeft, understands that a reasonable case for the existence of God requires one to put forward some fairly complicated arguments.

The third thing Feser gets right is that he devotes a significant portion of each of his arguments to establishing that a particular being possesses several of the divine attributes that constitute the traditional Christian concept of God.  Geisler makes a pathetic attempt to do this too, but his case is so ridiculously short that he cannot adequately explain, clarify, or justify any of his claims or sub-arguments.  Kreeft doesn’t even make the attempt, and so his arguments for God generally FAIL to be arguments for the existence of God.  Kreeft’s arguments are generally not even in the ballpark.  Kreeft is swinging his plastic-toy bat at whiffle balls out in the parking lot, while the rest of us are on the field swinging real bats at real baseballs.

Each of Feser’s arguments can be divided into two phases.  The first phase gets us to the existence of some sort of metaphysical entity or entities.  In the second phase, the argument attempts to show that there is only one metaphysical entity of that sort, and that this entity has many of the divine attributes that constitute the Christian concept of God.  This is how most reasonable arguments for God ought to be structured:

The Aristotelian Argument  

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

14.  So, there is a purely actual actualizer. (FPEG, p.36)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

50. So, God exists.

The Neo-Platonic Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

9. So, the existence of each of the things of our experience presupposes an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause. (FPEG, p.80)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

38. So, God exists.

The Augustinian Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

15. So, abstract objects exist not only in contingently existing intellects but also in at least one necessarily existing intellect. (FPEG, p. 109)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

29. So, God exists. 

The Thomistic Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

23. So, either directly or indirectly, each of the things we know from experience has its existence imparted to it at every moment at which it exists, including here and now, by some cause whose essence and existence are identical, something that just is subsistent existence itself.  (FPEG, p.130 )

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

36. So, God exists. 

The Rationalist Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

18. So, there must be at least one necessary being, to explain why any contingent things exists at all and how any particular contingent thing persists in existence at any moment. (FPEG, p.163)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

27. So, God exists. 

Furthermore, Feser does NOT skimp on the reasoning for the crucial second phase.  In his first two arguments (Aristotelian & Neo-Platonic), about 3/4 of the argument is focused on phase two.  In his third argument (Augustinian), phase one and phase two are of equal length.  In his last two arguments (Thomistic & Rationalist), about 1/3 of the argument is focused on phase two, and phase two of those last two arguments would have been significantly longer, but he abbreviates the reasoning based on the fact that these arguments reuse several steps of reasoning from the Aristotelian argument (statements 15 through 47 of the Aristotelian argument are devoted to showing that “a purely actual actualizer” must possess several divine attributes).  Feser draws an inference (that the being in question has several divine attributes) in just one or two steps, when the actual reasoning if spelled out fully (as in the Aristotelian argument) involves a chain of several inferences involving dozens of statements.

The fourth thing that Feser gets right is his careful use of the word “God”.  It is absolutely shocking how sloppy and unclear and confused Geisler and Kreeft are in their use of the word “God”.  They abuse and misuse and misunderstand this word, and use it with different meanings, shifting the meaning at will, without providing any notice or warning that they are doing so.  No professional philosopher should be as careless as Kreeft and Geisler are with any key philosophical concept or term, but to abuse and misuse the word “God” when one is presenting a philosophical case for the existence of God is shameful and outrageous.

Feser quite correctly avoids using the word “God” until he gets close to the very end of an argument for God, and he is very clear about what he means by this word.  Although I don’t accept his analysis of the concept of God,  it is a fairly common one from the Thomist tradition, and it represents a sincere attempt to capture the meaning of the word “God” in keeping with traditional Christian theology, and which quite appropriately analyzes the meaning of this word in terms of various divine attributes (e.g.  “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, “eternal”, etc.).

CONCLUSION

I don’t know at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good or bad, valid or invalid, sound or unsound, but even if they are all weak and defective arguments, I am still very grateful to Feser for providing a case for God that meets some basic intellectual requirements for making a reasonable case for God.  Unlike the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap, and it is a great pleasure to consider a case that at least has the potential to be a reasonable and intelligent case for God.

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