Feser’s The Last Superstition [Index Post]

Feser’s The Last Superstition [Index Post] January 15, 2012

I ran into a Dominican at an American Association for the Advancement of Sciences event in DC, and now I’m reading and arguing about Edward Feser‘s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the Last Atheism with him and another brother at the priory.

This seems like a nice opportunity to explore the ‘non-nihilistic metaphysics logically require theism and probably Christianity’ pitch that I’ve gotten from plenty of Christians and more than a few atheists.  Hopefully the discussion will put me in a better spot to answer Dom’s challenge.  All posts about this book will be listed here, with the first one coming out Monday.  And, for everyone’s convenience, since Feser spends a lot of time on Aristotle, I’ll put his summary of the Four Causes here for reference.  (His quickie explanation applies all four to the example of a red rubber ball).

  1. Material Cause – underlying stuff that a thing is made out of, in this case rubber
  2. Formal Cause – the form, structure, or pattern the materal exhibits, which in this case comprises such features as sphericity, solidity, and bounciness.
  3. Efficient Cause – brings a thing into being, or more accurately and technically, which actualizes a potentiality in a thing; in this case that would be the actions of the workers and/or machines in the factory in which the ball was made
  4. Final Cause – the end, goal, purpose of  a thing, in this case providing amusement to a child

Strict materialists and plenty of other people think final causes are nonexistent and/or incoherent.  My posts on the topic follow below:

  1. Stuck in the Map Territory Gap – How can you tell whether a metaphysics is just a formalization of what you already know or a new structure to build on?
  2. Three Final Causes I Don’t Pray To – Even if I concede my existence is predicated on some First Mover or being that is Pure Act, does that entity have to look anything like a god?
  3. Futzing Around with Final Causes – Where is everyone getting this ‘inherent dignity of the body’ stuff from anyway?
  4. It’s Hard Out Here for a Platonist – If you’re going to take aim at a human-independent idea of math, there’s going to be a lot of collateral damage.
  5. The Perfection-Privation Problem – I get confused by the God-as-all-perfections- perfected idea


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  • Ben L

    I am really interested to see what you have to say about this. I’ve been trying to follow along for the most part, but without investing the time you have I seem to be stuck in the boring new atheist phase, as described in the post just quoted by Sullivan. What makes Christianity more special than another superstition? How does it follow that the ancient myths of one group of people (Jews) are more special that the ancient myths of another, say, Greeks? I don’t see an empirical evidence that either are true, or have any factual basis. The point of the New Atheists, I think, is that when everything is coming from total bullshit, to put it bluntly, you don’t have to listen to arcane rationalizations of something for which there is no evidence for and a lot against. So I am continually interested to see where and why you find such investigations, as the one you are about to do, to be worthwhile.

    • Joe

      Its good to know you’re following along with an open mind and willing to set aside your bias for the sake of dialogue.

      • leahlibresco

        Prior belief and expectations =/= bias.

  • BenYachov

    If you in any way shape or form construe Aristotle’s concept of “Motus/Motion” with literal physical motion you automatically loose the argument.

  • If you want to read a brilliant contemporary re-envisioning of Aristotle’s Four Cause theory (or for that matter just a brilliant book trying to overturn the 400 year exclusion of teleology from science) take a look at Terrence Deacon’s 2011 book _Incomplete Nature_. His goal is to mechanize teleology and thus make it scientifically investigable. I think I’ve recommended it before, but it is worth reiterating. Get Patheos to buy you a copy to review, Leah! It is a heavy and rewarding read. It is a 500 page philosophy of science page-turner.

  • By the way Deacon would be an atheist who allows for local (not universal) final causality. Life has final causes, nothing else does. Telos ex nihilo (to mix Greek and Latin). But that is sufficient to support (at least tentatively) an ethics.

    • Lukas Halim

      Yes, I agree with that local final causality is enough to sustain an ethics. I would question whether Telo ex nihilo makes sense, though.

      • Lukas, I agree one can debate whether that makes sense.

  • Lukas Halim

    That’s funny – I just bumped into a lecture from Feser and was thinking about buying one of his books (either the one you mention, or the one on Aquinas). I don’t personally understand why the four cause theory (and the related act/potency distinction) are better than the standard modern mechinistic view (which I think believes in only efficient causes).