Answering Prof. Feser

Answering Prof. Feser February 24, 2014

I hope you don’t mind first names. Informality is conducive to comity, and after the unpleasant brouhaha last week, I think you and I both want a civil exchange rather than one that should be titled “Philosophers Acting Badly.”
Here are the questions you asked:

1. You said that I ignore the strongest claims of my opponents and focus only on weaker ones. Could you please give a specific example of some strong argument that I have ignored?
2. Could you tell us where in your writings or in someone else’s that we can find what you take to be the strongest criticisms of the Scholastic arguments for the doctrine of divine conservation?
3. Is your fellow Secular Outpost blogger Jeffery Jay Lowder wrong to think that the “Everything has a cause” version of the First Cause argument is a straw man that atheists shouldn’t waste time attacking? If he is wrong, can you give us any examples of philosophers who have defended that argument?
4. Could you tell us where to find a good justification for your claim that theistic philosophers in general think of God as a “brute fact,” or are at least implicitly committed to the claim that he is a “brute fact”?

I will address the first of these today and the others over the week.
I admit that when I first saw your first question, my initial reaction was “What the BLEEP?” Since had never written anything in response t0 you, I did not know what exactly you were referring to. Then I recalled a conversation the previous day with Mr. Chad Handley in which I said the following:
“Unlike Prof. Feser, I would like to address the strongest claims of my opponents, and not those that seem weakest to me.”
This is the passage that prompted your first question, isn’t it?
The context for my remark—which I will say right up front was rather rude and thoughtless—was two previous posts by Jeff Lowder the day before. In these posts (q.v.) Jeff criticizes you and other writers for focusing too much on the “New Atheists” and not enough on the arguments of the best atheist philosophers. He also claimed that, at times anyway, you tend to tar us atheists with the same brush, as though we all endorse all of the NA’s arguments (I don’t but, as I argue in other posts, I think some of their arguments, with a bit of work, can be made strong).

That was the context of my above remark. I was agreeing with Jeff that really at this point no more time needs to be devoted to Dawkins, Harris, etc. Though, as I say, I do not think that all their arguments are bad, I do think that there are much, much bigger fish that need frying. I did not mean to imply that you had never, ever addressed any of the arguments that I think are strongest. Perhaps you have. Here, in my opinion, are ten of the strongest atheist critiques:
The Non-existence of God, by Nicholas Everitt
The Wisdom to Doubt, by J.L. Schellenberg
Objecting to God, by Colin Howson
Arguing about Gods, by Graham Oppy
God in an Age of Science, by Herman Philipse
Logic and Theism, by Jordan Howard Sobel
Arguing for Atheism, by Robin Le Poidevin
On the Nature and Existence of God, by Richard Gale
Nonbelief and Evil, by Theodore Drange
A Physicalist Manifesto by Andrew Melnyk
The last is not a critique of theism, per se, but is a comprehensive defense of physicalism, including, in my opinion, a very cogent defense of physicalism with respect to mind.
So, Ed, if you have addressed all or even half of these, my hat is off to you and you have my sincere admiration for taking on the best.
The upshot is that my remark was thoughtless, clumsy, and ill-advised. I do apologize for it. I do, however, think that Jeff had a point, and it was that point I was trying to reinforce in my remark to Mr. Hadley. Are we OK on this point now, and should we pass onto other, more fruitful, topics?
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