Welcome Camels with Hammers to Patheos!

Welcome Camels with Hammers to Patheos! September 13, 2012

Patheos has added Camels with Hammers, written by philosophy professor Daniel Finke to the Atheist channel.  Here’s a snippet of his intro post:

I am like Nietzsche’s camel. While I am many miles away from morally perfect, I have been a generally conscientious person since I was a child and was devoutly, zealously, evangelically, self-sacrificially, and mildly puritanically religious until I was 21. And I am open to certain interpretations of my personality that see it as still fundamentally religious—as long as they do not confuse that for faith-based thinking or other forms of closed-mindedness, authoritarianism, or deference to unwarranted authorities of thought or practice. I think a fair accounting would acquit me of such charges, whatever the other inadequacies of my intellect and character.

What I am stressing here is something that both the faithful and the always-secular rarely seem to understand about at least some of us apostates. For some of us, our rejection of our faith is not merely the abandonment of our religious values but, at the same time, very much our fulfillment of them. It was Christianity that led me to reject Christianity.

I quite like Finke.  When people were laying into me after the conversion announcement, Finke wrote a post titled “How Foolish Atheists Convinced The Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco That Catholic Philosophy Was Rationally Superior To Atheism” where he took casual atheists to task for only engaging with the dumbest parts of religion and being glib about their own moral philosophy.  And then he laid into me.

And then I went to summer camp and got a bit distracted.

So, just as I did when JT Eberhard came to town, I’m using Finke’s move as a kick in the pants to write a reply to his post.  Call it a blogwarming gift (or a scramble to make sure it’s not awkward at the digital water cooler).  I’ll have at least one post up for him this weekend.

(Oh, and I solemnly swear Patheos isn’t recruiting atheists with the promise that I’ll finally slot their critiques ahead of “Let’s discuss moral philosophy through the lens of theatre” posts.  Though I do have some thoughts on the Cumberbatch Frankenstein that will hopefully run next week).


— — —


Meanwhile Patheos’s second-to-newest atheist blogger Chris Hallquist has posted a quick response to my welcome post.

This is really cool, but I want to comment on the issue of my book dealing with evangelicals vs. other Christians, particularly Catholics.

I guess I probably give that impression in part because of accidents of recent intellectual history. Catholic philosophers have had relatively little impact on philosophy of religion in the past half-century. In the United States, the revival of philosophy of religion was led by Alvin Plantinga, an Evangelical, and has been so dominated by protestants, to the point that even Notre Dame’s philosophy department was dominated by Protestants when I was there.

And the fact that I have an entire chapter devoted to William Lane Craig is just due to the fact is that he beats out the vast majority of other apologists in terms of mass appeal, especially among people who actually know something about science and Biblical scholarship. I don’t know of any Catholic apologists I can say that about.

Not to say that all the noteworthy philosophers of religion are Protestant. The most influential philosopher of religion in Britain for several decades now has been Richard Swinburne, who’s Eastern Orthodox. And Eleonore Stump is Catholic. But in spite of the recognition they’ve gotten, not many people go around talking about how one of them has supposedly solved the problem of evil, or “wins all their debates.”

I think my quickie answer to this is that Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney can end up the public face of conservatism, but when I want to find the strongest arguments on the other side, I skip them and read Nisbet or Chesterton or Burke or Wolfe.  It’s necessary that someone debunk the popular apologists for a religion or an ideology, but that’s not really the same thing as tackling the meaty bits of the ideas.

Luckily, Hallquist says he’s planning to tackle Augustine and Aquinas at some point in the book, and I’ll be watching the feeds to jump in.

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  • I’ll be watching, too. After Hallquist reads Aquinas and Augustine, perhaps he’ll take up the Early Church Fathers. Then perhaps he’ll join you on the Catholic Portal.

    • Owlmirror

      Becaue a trained philosopher cannot possibly notice the logical fallacies and unevidenced incoherent nonsense written by men who lived many centuries ago?

      • No, because Christianity became less philosophically coherent after the reformation. Actually saying he might change his mind is a compliment to him. People who are actually engaging in reason are open to doing that. People who just dismiss all the writings of men like Aquinas and Augustine as “logical fallacies and unevidenced incoherent nonsense” are never going to be convinced.

        • Owlmirror

          Am I supposed to by convinced by this just because you say so?

          What sort of incoherence do you see in specifically post-reformation writers? Can you give examples?

          Are you willing to defend Augustus and Aquinas? How about we start with just Augustus?

          I’ve always been interested in Hell, because if Christian doctrine is anywhere close to being correct, rather than being the pernicious nonsense that I am certain that it is, I am one of those predestined to be damned.

          Augustus seems to have been quite certain that hell was real, and that the damned were indeed tortured in fire forever and ever, rather than the more liberal and modern interpretation of hell being a non-torturing “separation” from God. Yea, whatever.

          Here’s Augustus’ arguments:


          Do you agree with Augustus?

          If not, what makes you right and him wrong?

          And if he’s wrong, how was what I wrote wrong?

          • Owlmirror

            Silly me. I meant “Augustine” above, rather than Augustus.

            I blame the Roman Emperor for having as similar name.

      • Ted Seeber

        Because these men did not write nonsense and were actually *smarter* than you are.

        • Owlmirror

          Just out of curiosity, do you think that Augustine and Aquinas were *smarter* than Isaac Newton?

          I ask because Newton wrote an essay — not published while he was alive, because he was certainly smart enough to know that it could have gotten him into very hot trouble indeed — that specifically rejected the doctrine of the trinity, giving evidence of scribal errors in the manuscripts that first promulgated this doctrine.

            An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture

          So was Newton smarter than Augustine and Aquinas (both proper trinitarians)? Or were they smarter than Newton?

          I ask because I am unaware that Augustine or Aquinas made any significant discoveries in mathematics or physics.

      • This describes the texts of Galileo I’ve been reading for my Physics class very well, Owlmirror.

        • Owlmirror

          I am deeply curious as to what you mean. Augustine says that peacock meat does not rot, and that salamanders live in fire. What does Galileo say that is similar?

    • IIRC, Chris Hallquist already has written several posts on, for example, Aquinas’ Five Ways. I’m sure you can find them with a search on his blog.

      • Sorry for the double post, but check out, for example, this

        • leahlibresco

          There’s not much in depth discussion of Aquinas in that post. Hallquist writes:

          But today there are very few Aristotelians. That means there are very few of us are moved by arguments with assumptions like this (from the first of Aquinas’ five ways):

          For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it.

          But actually a bunch of us might be moved by that argument if he took it out of jargonese. Aquinas and Aristotle worked within a specialized vocabulary that most of us aren’t fluent in (and Feser does a pretty good job of giving you the tools to parse it). Just quoting it as a way of saying “Isn’t this silly” is a technique that would work against plenty of true claims.

          • Alexander S. Anderson

            This is doubly problematic with Aquinas/Aristotle, or with many other pre-modern philosophers, as some of their jargon, such as “motion”, “essence” and “substance” have been repurposed by moderns to mean something different, which warps a lot of arguments when viewed through modern lenses.

          • I’ve read all of The Last Superstition and much of Feser’s Aquinas, and found them… unenlightening, to say the least.

            It’s worth saying here that philosophers rarely agree on anything, not even on questions about what some long-dead philosopher meant, so this really isn’t an issue of just finding the right person to explain Aquinas to you, because no matter what they say, some other Aquinas expert will have a different opinion.

            And my point wasn’t that the claims are necessarily silly, just that there seem to be some metaphysical doctrines in there that few modern people would accept. There are a lot of philosophical ideas like that, which have historically been advocated by some philosopher or other, which I’m not inclined to think of as “silly.” Well, maybe it would be more consistent of me to think of them as silly. But as a matter of fact I don’t.

            Or you might think that nothing here actually depends on any peculiarly Aristotelian or Thomistic metaphysical doctrines, it just looks that way because of the jargon (is that what you meant to suggest in your comment?) Caveats about the difficulty of interpreting dead philosophers aside, that is a thought that’s crossed my mind. Specifically, I’ve wondered if maybe some of these claims are meant to be tautologies. But I suspect most interpreters of the philosophers in question would not like that, and furthermore that it would cause problems further down in the line of reasoning. But if you’ve had a thought something like that, I’d be curious to hear the details.

          • Chris Hallquist

            A couple of other thoughts:

            1) One other enormously important difference between William Lane Craig and Ed Feser is this: Craig doesn’t waste huge amounts of his audience’s time talking about how terribly misunderstood al-Ghazali is, how terribly unfair people have been to al-Ghazali, etc etc etc. He generally just dives right in to Kalam. That’s smart. After all, few of us care whether al-Ghazali had a good argument for the existence of God, we just care if there’s a good argument for the existence of God to be made. Whether Craig’s version of Kalam is really al-Ghazali’s argument is historical trivia to most people. That generally makes me much more willing to engage with Craig than I am to engage with Feser.

            2) Relatedly, I’m curious to know your opinion of Aquinas’ argument itself is. Because my point in the section you quote isn’t to refute Aquinas per se, it’s just to explain why I don’t think there’s any great imperative for I or most other people to focus on him. (I think perhaps I need to add a section to the book: “The argument from unrefuted arguments”…)

          • Skittle

            I think the quoted portion is tautological in the same way that “entropy increases” is tautological, once both “entropy” and “an increase in entropy” are defined. And I think it’s saying essentially the same thing as “entropy increases”.

          • Ray

            Skittle — “entropy increases” is not tautological. It isn’t even true unless you assume a heck of a lot about initial conditions (a low entropy boundary condition free of microstate correlations, e.g. the big bang state) and the laws of physics (unitarity in QM or Louisville’s theorem in Classical mechanics), and even then it’s only statistically unlikely to be false. That these things are true within the observable universe is well supported empirically but it is not true by definition. Further, the assumptions that the second law relies on may be false in a broader cosmology (e.g. that of Carroll and Chen.)

          • Chris, first of all, you need to change your link. You still point to the freethoughts blog.

            Secondly, who cares if Feser complains too much about how little serious attention St Thomas Aquinas gets? How can that be enormously important?

            Feser himself claims that he didn’t find St Thomas’ arguments that convincing until after he was teaching them for years. See here:

            So don’t be surprised if a few hours does not get you there.

            Intuitively the arguments are convincing. It essentially is the, “Of course God exists, how else did we get here?” argument just made more philosophically sophisticated to account for all the modern science. We have found causes but it has to start somewhere.

            Is it, by itself, going to force many people to believe in God? Probably not. The infinite regress problems can be basically ignored. It is still a choice. But for those who demand proof it is a proof.

            Your complaint about metaphysical assumptions is interesting. Just claiming that most people don’t accept what Aquinas and Aristotle accepted is not very convincing to me. It makes sense to me that the provability of God might depend of some metaphysical axioms. So the demand for proof needs to be clarified to also demand that no axioms be used. Really asking logic to prove something from nothing.

          • Chris Hallquist

            Hmmm… I really should refer people to the chapter the above-linked blog post was a part of. Among other things, it provides a response to most of what Randy said.

          • leahlibresco

            Re Randy’s comment that:

            Feser himself claims that he didn’t find St Thomas’ arguments that convincing until after he was teaching them for years.

            This kind of pitch isn’t really compelling. It may be true you’ll change your mind only if you spend years studying something that looks promising now, but you’ll need more of an inducement than a guy on the internet’s say so.

          • Owlmirror

            The jargon isn’t as problematic as the lack of knowledge of modern physics. And far worse is the logical fallacy of non sequitur.

            Getting from “motion exists” to “an invisible person with magical superpowers exists” makes no sense at all. And if Feser or his fans want to claim that the “God” of classical theism isn’t actually a person, then they’re just pantheists playing word games.

          • Chris Hallquist writes:
            “…no matter what they say, some other Aquinas expert will have a different opinion.”
            This only means that one or the other “expert” or all of them are not really expert or, more likely, that the reader has so widely different axioms from classical metaphysics that he cannot appraise it properly. We readily admit this is a difficult task, because Aristotelico-Thomism is high science, so much so that there were only a few among the Schoolmen themselves who did not deform the doctrine.

            The moderns who differ (if they really differ) should be measured to Aquinas himself or his greatest commentators: Cajetan and John of St. Thomas are the best known; personally, I would add Jacques Maritain. Of course, a few hours of study would not enable even a genius like Descartes to do the job, though he imagined to be competent enough to put physics-mathematics in the place of metaphysics as the first of sciences.

          • Owlmirror

              “[…] axioms from classical metaphysics […]”

            The first axiom of classical metaphysics is that we don’t talk about classical metaphysics.

            Sorry, I’ll come in again.

            The first axiom of classical metaphysics is that classical metaphysics is God.
            The second axiom of classical metaphysics is that we don’t talk about the first two axioms, and pretend that we aren’t assuming our conclusion when we conclude that classical metaphysics is God.

              “though he imagined to be competent enough to put physics-mathematics in the place of metaphysics as the first of sciences.”

            Because of course word games about how reality works beat out actual observations of how reality works.

          • OwlMirror:
            If I understand what you are saying, philosophy has no axioms founding an all-comprehensive view of the world like 1) identity or non-contradiction, 2) sufficient reason, 3) finality, 4) efficient causality, and so on. Modern philosophers worthy of that name, theist or not, would most certainly not agree that science can exist without a worldview placed on a higher plane than natural sciences.

            There is no problem with anyone being content with physics and mathematics as an explanation of the world, but they should keep to that field and not pontificate about what they have no knowledge of, as exemplified with your “statements” of first axioms – which unfortunately do not sound as a joke. Descartes was at least serious about metaphysics being necessary to other sciences. He was just mistaken that he could philosophize in a field other than philosophy of sciences, because his knowledge in metaphysics, of his own admission, was sophomoric.

          • Owlmirror

            Sylvie D. Rousseau:
            Do you actually know metaphysics well enough to defend it? I’m honestly curious. What do you mean by “higher plane”, above?

            The third axiom of metaphysics is that words, with multiple definitions in slippery human-created language, are better at describing ultimate reality than either math or empirically testable physics.

    • Jerkoff

      I just can’t take “Professor” Dan seriously. Anyone who takes Nietzsche that seriously, a man who die INSANE and produced his later work under the influence of Syphillis, has a screw loose.

      Sorry, but he does.

  • I’m taking bets on the next Freethought Blogger to be drawn to Patheos. The braver among you could drop a few virtual quids on P.Z. Myers at 500-1.
    Anyway, I don’t always agree with or, indeed, understand Dan Fincke’s posts but he’s an interesting writer and seems to be a nice guy.

    • Do you only take exact bets or also group ones? I think the next assimilee will be female.

      • That’s great! Tragically low confidence in the guy who asks if he’ll get a girlfriend.
        Gilbert – I’ll put that at evens.

    • leahlibresco

      Possibly of interest: http://predictionbook.com/

  • Alexander S. Anderson

    The Hallq’s assessment of Catholic philosophy in the last half century hits hard. It’s rather a painful truth that Catholic philosophy has either been so occupied with infighting or so watered down that it has made almost no impact even considering the rather soft state of philosophy in the last 50 years. I think that’s something that we as Catholics must mourn and then take steps to correct.

    • Ted Seeber

      Heck, Catholic EDUCATION in the last century has failed. The fastest growing “denomination” Christianity is Ex Catholics, and in the United States at least, it’s the second largest.

      The reason for that is because of the Heresy of Americanism- predicted by Pope Leo XIII- combined with a rather optimistic and pessimistic (depending which side of the aisle you’re on in the Capitol building) reading of the primacy of conscience as preached by Vatican II.

      Which basically resulted in a generation of Catholics abandoning Catholicism in favor of superficial moralities like the sexual revolution and the fiscal revolution, and throwing the next three generations under a bus as far as good theology was concerned.

      “Jesus loves you rah rah rah” might work for a Televangelist or the MegaChurches of Protestantism, but it does *NOT* work for anybody smarter than a turnip.

    • I actually think JPII might be one of the best Catholic philosophers from the last 50 years. I wonder if he was missed because he was pope. Encyclicals like Faith and Reason and the Splendor of Truth are something to be considered. Then there is Theology of the Body.

      Personally I am just thrilled to see Plantinga mentioned. I was raised Christian Reformed and went to Calvin College. He is the pride of the philosophy department there. Small world.

      • John Paul II was able to get through to me with his Culture of Death, and make me understand why the death penalty (in addition to abortion, etc) was something to regard gravely. All the other arguments failed to make sense, but JP’2’s were considerable.

    • Make it “US American” or perhaps even “Western” Catholic philosophy/theology and you would be more right. But liberation theology has certainly made huge impacts in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. And yet even in the West Elizabeth Anscombe more or less single-handedly revived the entire school of virtue ethics (okay MacIntyre can take some credit too, anyway, both Catholic), which now competes directly with Utilitarianism and Kantianism as schools of ethics. And yes, JP2 had a bit of worldwide impact too. We should not get too trapped into thinking that US America = the world. Because it doesn’t.

      • Alexander S. Anderson

        Well, I was actually assuming an American framework as that was what I see Hallq assuming. I don’t think William Lane Craig is a super lauded philosopher on the continent or anywhere else except our Anglo-American sphere of sorts. I guess what I mean to lament is not much American Catholic philosophy, at least of the sort that goes beyond Catholic circles. (Not recognizing Anscombe or MacIntyre is a huge oversight on my part, with sincerest apologies, considering that both have had an influence on me. But I don’t think their sort of work is the sort that Hallq is interested in with his project.)

  • That’s an impressive coup for Patheos; Camels with Hammers is without doubt one of the better atheist weblogs out there.

    • That is definitely correct. He might even serve to replace Leah as a go-to-cool-atheist-blogger. Well, almost. Leah, much as you conversion is great, I must say I have been at a loss for a good atheist to read since you converted. Do you know any atheist bloggers that welcome Catholic/Christian commenters and engage this stuff thoughtfully and respectfully? Thanks.

      • leahlibresco

        Yvain is a cool atheist blogger who engages people thoughtfully and respectfully. Religion’s not his main focus, but he is reading Feser right now.

        • Yes, I too decided on Yvein as the new main atheist to follow. But now I have this funny image of all Internet Catholics deciding the same and stalking him with the Catholicism that isn’t his focus. A bit like a third picture on the questions he’s discussing in his priviledge-meditations right now.

        • right, i’ve liked what I’ve read of him but as I think a commenter on his blog pointed out, the over/under for him converting to Catholicism is in the 2-4 year range based on his current philosophical trajectory. And while that’s great, it means we’ll have to start looking for another ‘doesn’t treat Catholics like fundies’ atheist blogger again at that point (just to keep our ‘open-minded credentials up at least.) 😉

          • Well, we run that risk with anyone taking Catholicism serious, what with it being true and all. But I think it’s not particularly high in this case. So far he hasn’t changed any of his actual opinions. Before it happened, I would have assigned a much higher probability to Leah’s conversion than I now assign to Yvain’s.

  • I am brand new to Patheos, arriving as part of Dan Fincke’s fan club. I am excited to be here and am immediately heartened by such an elegant and civilised welcome to Dan. I’m really looking forward to exploring his new home 🙂 Thank you for making Dan and, by association, his readers feel welcome.

  • I’d like to see Leah address CwH’s (Fincke’s) point about giving up too soon/comparing apples and oranges. He first quotes Leah as saying this, about her conversion:

    I basically ended up contrasting my very patchy, in progress atheist metaphysics with the coherent, well-fleshed out, but not necessarily true propositions of Catholicism…I was ready to admit that there were parts of Christianity and Catholicism that seemed like a pretty good match for the bits of my moral system that I was most sure of, while meanwhile my own philosophy was pretty kludged together and not particularly satisfactory.

    And he responds with this logical and pertinent question:

    But why not work some more on her atheism before giving up on achieving a workable atheistic metaphysics and metaethics? Why be so hasty?

    • jenesaispas

      How long would be long enough though…?
      You could wait a really long time, convert and then have many people put it down to Pascal’s wager or call you senile.

      • Heh. Very true. I guess I was just spring-boarding off Leah’s own statement that (and I’m paraphrasing here) she didn’t give atheism much of an organized effort. Length of effort probably isn’t as important as quality of effort!

        • leahlibresco

          “didn’t give atheism much of an organized effort” was really not what I meant to communicate in that quote. I’m describing my metaphysics. I did do a fair amount of reading in atheist philosophies, some of which were considerably more consistent but which didn’t seem true.

          • Ray

            Failure to seem true implies a lack of truthiness, as Colbert might say. But does it imply a lack of truth? Did these other philosophies you rejected contradict intersubjectively observable facts about reality, or just your own subjective intuitions?

            Either way, these atheist philosophies which you find “more consistent” than your previous philosophy might be a good subject for a future post.

  • Chris Hallquist

    In addition to my two comment replies to Leah, I should point out the analogy between Plantinga and Craig on the one hand and Romney and Palin on the other hand is rather dubious. It may be tempting for me to make that comparison, given that I don’t think much of the quality of Plantinga’s and Craig’s work, but in their case the reason for addressing them isn’t just that they’re the “public face” of their ideologies (to whatever extent that’s true). It’s also that they have considerable academic reputations which Romney and Palin obviously don’t have (this is more true of Plantinga than Craig, but it’s true even of Craig to an extent.)