- Hardcover: 312 pages
- Publisher: St. Augustine's Press; 1 edition (October 13, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1587314517
- ISBN-13: 978-1587314513
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 181 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,190,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism Hardcover – October 13, 2008
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*Starred Review* New Atheists Richards Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris get their comeuppance from philosopher Feser in the spirit with which they abuse believers. “Their books stand out for their manifest ignorance” of the Western religious tradition, he says, “and for the breathtaking shallowness of their philosophical analysis of religious matters.” Far better than such no-quarters rhetoric, however, are the review of pre-Aristotelian philosophy and the summary of Aristotelian metaphysics and Thomas Aquinas’ refinements of Aristotle that make up the heart, soul, and bulk of the book. Feser chooses to argue from Aristotle because he was not arguing from any religious perspective and because Aristotle’s logic, his rationality, hasn’t been improved upon or refuted by modern philosophy. Aristotle’s proof that there is a prime mover or pure being—God—remains solid. Ignoramuses like the four horsemen of the apostasy, whose factual errors, half-truths, and mischaracterization Feser highlights with contemptuous glee, “refute” Aristotle only by changing the playing field from metaphysics to science, from philosophical realism to materialism. With energy and humor as well as transparent exposition, Feser reestablishes the unassailable superiority of classical philosophy. --Ray Olson
"A thoughtful and theologically sophisticated sally into the ranks of the New Atheism. Feser has written a lively and well informed polemic against the latest crop of Village Atheists - Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, & Co. - who have provided the public with so much entertainment and so little enlightenment these past few years. This is a serious and passionately engaged challenge to the latest effort to impose a dehumanizing orthodoxy by religious illiterates." -- Roger Kimball, co-editor and publisher, The New Criterion
"Edward Feser's book is a timely wake-up call to the many people who have been seduced by the amateurish attempts at philosophy of religion found in the popular bestsellers of the `Faithless Foursome,' Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris.
"Feser shows that the so-called `New Atheism' is just the old atheism, only more irrational. But at the same time as carrying out his incisive critique of all that is bad in contemporary popular atheism, he presents an admirable 101 course in philosophy for people who care. About what? About the classical metaphysical tradition going from the best of the ancient Greeks, through the medieval philosophers, and down to the neo-Aristotelianism and neo-Thomism of today.
"Anyone who comes away from The Last Superstition thinking that potboiler atheism has anything to recommend it, or that belief in God is irrational, will not be convinced by anything. For the rest of us, the book is, to use an apposite term, a godsend. And the caustic humour peppering the book adds just the sort of spice this fraught subject needs. If the Faithless Foursome were at all interested in a serious rebuttal, they now have it." -- David Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy, University of Reading, UK
"There have been largely two types of critics of the `New Atheism.' One type grants the empiricism of the atheists and then tries to show that belief in God is consistent with it. This approach gives away the store by removing God from the realm of the knowable. The second also grants the atheists' empiricism, but argues that it leads to the detection of design in the universe and thus the existence of God. This approach gives away the store as well, by limiting knowledge to the empirically detectable. Professor Feser offers us a third approach, one that is far more effective in defeating the New Atheism. He provides persuasive arguments that show that God is knowable and that what is knowable is larger than the set of that which is empirically detectable. This is a tour de force that should be in the library of every thinking citizen, believer or unbeliever." -- Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University
“New Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris get their comeuppance from philosopher Feser in the spirit with which they abuse believers. ‘Their books stand out for their manifest ignorance’ of the Western religious tradition, he says, ‘and for the breathtaking shallowness of their philosophical analysis of religious matters.’ Far better than such no-quarters rhetoric, however, are the review of pre-Aristotelian philosophy and the summary of Aristotelian metaphysics and Thomas Aquinas’ refinements of Aristotle that make up the heart, soul, and bulk of the book. Feser chooses to argue from Aristotle because he was not arguing from any religious perspective and because Aristotle’s logic, his rationality, hasn’t been improved upon or refuted by modern philosophy. Aristotle’s proof that there is a prime mover or pure being – God – remains solid. Ignoramuses like the four horsemen of the apostasy, whose factual errors, half-truths, and mischaracterization Feser highlights with contemptuous glee, ‘refute’ Aristotle only by changing the playing field from metaphysics to science, from philosophical realism to materialism. With energy and humor as well as transparent exposition, Feser reestablishes the unassailable superiority of classical philosophy.” --Ray Olson, ALA Booklist, starred review, October 1, 2008
Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist and prominent atheist, argues in The God Delusion that belief in God is outdated. Before 1859, it was reasonable to think that life on earth had been designed.... But, Dawkins maintains, Charles Darwin changed all that. He showed that adaptations could be explained by natural selection. No appeal to an intelligent designer is required. Darwin thus made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
Professor Edward Feser argues in his brilliant new book The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism that Dawkins has it all wrong. God is not a hypothesis, to be replaced if a more satisfactory theory comes up. Quite the contrary, Feser suggests, the existence of God can be proved by rationally compelling arguments. He thinks that not only is Dawkins wrong about this but so are his fellow atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, all three of whom are frequently subject to humorous and telling remarks.
Feser’s is a bold claim indeed, one very much out of philosophical fashion. In mainstream Anglo-American philosophy, the dominant position is that Hume and Kant long ago showed that the theistic proofs do not work. To overturn this verdict is a formidable task, and to accomplish it Feser needs to present a great deal of background material. The principal reason, he holds, that modern philosophers reject the theistic proofs is that, since the Enlightenment, they have accepted a truncated notion of causation. Today, philosophers think of a cause as one event, preceding another in time that brings it about. As an example, if I light a match, these philosophers would take this to mean that the event of striking the match is followed by the event of the fire’s appearance.
This departs from Aristotle’s delineation of four causes, efficient, final, formal, and material. Aristotle’s efficient cause corresponds most closely to the modern view, but even here the resemblance is not very strong. Aristotle thought efficient causation involved a substance rather than an event: I, not the event of striking the match, cause the fire.
To grasp Aristotle’s doctrine of causation, developed and extended by Thomas Aquinas and other scholastics, Feser needs to go back to Plato to explain the famous problem of universals. He argues against the view that universals are merely words or concepts in our minds. Instead, he favors the moderate realism of Aristotle and Aquinas. All this may sound abstract, but it is essential to understanding the way in which Feser thinks that God’s existence can be proved. Readers who are willing to cope with this rather difficult material will gain something else, besides being in a position to understand the theistic proofs. They will learn a great deal about the history of philosophy. I have never seen the topics that Feser discusses presented so clearly. It is an effort well worth the effort. --David Gordon, Ludwig von Mises Institute, for The American Conservative Union Foundation, Issue 120, November 19, 2008
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Feser’s book, as the title indicates, takes aim at the so called New Atheist movement, which began with Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith and culminated with Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. A central theme of the literature of the New Atheists is that religious people are blinded by faith (which they define as the will to believe something when there is no evidence to believe something), and religion needs to be eliminated in order for society to flourish. Feser’s argument is that the so-called war between science and religion is a myth, and that in truth the war is between two rival philosophical systems: classical teleological philosophy (the philosophy of thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas) and mechanical philosophy (what we would today call naturalism and materialism). Feser argues that the latter is demonstrably false, and that the rational thing to do is to return to classical philosophy.
Chapter one of the book sets up the basics tenets that Feser will defend. Chapter two consists of a retelling of the early history of western philosophy, beginning with Thales and giving particular emphasis to the metaphysical ideas of Plato and Aristotle, showing a particular deference to the latter. Chapter 3 is arguably the best chapter of the book, because this is where Feser shows that the New Atheists (Dawkins in particular) do not understand what they are talking about when it comes to the classical arguments for God’s existence, because they do not know the difference between metaphysics and empirical science. Feser does an excellent job in explaining very abstract arguments in this chapter and makes a powerful case for them that even a naturalist like myself cannot fail to be compelled by, even if I find them faulty in the end. At any rate, Feser shows that the arguments are worth taking seriously and that many people do not understand what the arguments are really trying to say. Chapter four continues with the Aristotelian trajectory, stating that if you accept the Aristotelian/Thomistic conception of reality then you also have to accept the natural law theory of morality. I found this part questionable, since Aristotle was not a natural law theorist, but Feser makes a good case for the theory, if one already accepts the metaphysics that he sets out. I definitely agree with him that our metaphysics precedes our ethics.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, where I began to disagree with Feser was in the last quarter of his book, chapters five and six. Chapter five talks about how (according to Feser) modern philosophers abandoned rather than refuted Aristotelianism, and embraced mechanical philosophy and materialism. This is a bit of an overstatement, because Aristotelianism was not abandoned by modern philosophers; only Aristotelian causation and classification of science was abandoned. Other aspects of his philosophy (such as virtue ethics) are still defended by materialist philosophers. Aristotle sought to know what things in themselves were; or as he formulated it, what there end goal or purpose was. Modern philosophers saw this as a waste of time, and modern science looks at causal relations between objects; its nature or essence is not needed. So, while certain elements of Aristotle were abandoned, it is false to say it was abandoned completely. A good way to think about this is by comparing Newtonian physics to quantum mechanics. You can still explain gravity and velocity through Newtonian means, but that is not the complete picture of things. Newton was superseded, but not abandoned. The same can be said of Aristotle.
A considerable amount of the book is focused on eliminative materialism, which Feser defines as a brand of materialism that eliminates the mind. This is false; eliminative materialism states that folk psychology is false, not that there is no such thing as the mind. I was extremely disappointed with Feser’s caricatures of materialism, because they are similar to Dawkins’ caricatures of God. Perhaps Feser should take his own advice from time to time.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. Whether you are a theist, an agnostic, an atheist, a naturalist, a skeptic, or anything in between, you will enjoy the book. You will not agree with everything (as is the case with any book), but you will be better off for reading it and maybe question whether your own beliefs are built on as strong a foundation as you might have thought. A compelling, thoughtful read overall. Thank you Dr. Feser.
The first chapter calls the naturalism of the New Atheists "bad religion," and shows how they condemn religious faith while operating out of their own unproven beliefs, which underlie an unexamined quasi-religious faith. Naturalists claim to base their claim on science, but Feser points out that they are really appealing to a philosophy that denies formal and final causality, and other basics of Aristotle and St. Thomas. The presuppositions of this naturalist philosophy, as he will say again and again, undermines the basis of real science.
As someone who was educated a million years ago in Aristotle and St. Thomas, I found the second chapter very valuable. Feser offers a clear and very entertaining summary of Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy, reminding me again about the meaning of realism, nominalism, and conceptualism and the way they appear today, Aristotle's metaphysics, including hylomorphism (the unity between matter and form), the meaning of potency and act, and the four causes, especially formal and final cause. Modern thinkers have mostly lost track of these things, but they provide a crucial tool in explaining reality, and their loss explains much of our purposeless confusing today.
In the third chapter, Feser takes on Dennett and Dawkins and the other New Atheists by comparing their thinking to the thinking of the Medieval philosophers. The main topic is the existence of God. This includes a discussion about First Cause, Unmoved Mover, Pure Being, and Supreme Intelligence. The author rebuts conventional thinking about formal and final causality, helping us understand what the old philosophers really taught when they used those terms.
The fourth chapter includes a discussion about the soul, Natural Law, and faith, reason, and evil. The discussion of the soul requires a good understanding of matter and form, and formal cause. I found the discussion about Natural Law unconvincing when he tried to apply it to marriage and birth control. At issue is formal cause and final cause. He laid great stress on the "form" of two sexual organs united together for the sole purpose of creating life, with a conclusion that the more children you have the better, thus fulfilling the final cause of the sexual act. I wondered why he focused on this smaller reality contained within the larger form of a marriage itself, with a larger final cause than the mere bearing of more and more children.
The fifth and sixth chapters deal with the disaster created by naturalist thinkers, whose purpose from the beginning was the destruction of the Christian world-view. This meant they had to attack ideas like substance, essence, and formal and final causality. Along the way, I was reintroduced to a term philosophers also use without an explanation: intentionality, which is directed outward toward something else and is a crucial element of final cause. He contends that an atheistic interpretation of reality began with Galileo, then went on to Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Kant, and he goes after their philosophical ideas with gusto. He demonstrates how their thinking actually destroys science, which assumes things like causality and intentionality, which is a subtle way of saying final cause.
All in all, a good read. I would recommend it for bright students who have encountered the naturalism enshrined today in the universities, with their general disdain for religion.