Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Walking the Fine Line…

…between pagan and Christian
-        Steve Vai, For the Love of God

In this book, Edward Feser intends to refute the new atheists: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the like.  This will be a difficult book for me to work through.  First, the topic is not something that comes easily to me: the nuances of the early philosophers and the science of philosophy.  Much more difficult: I want to stay focused on the aspects important to the culture and tradition of Western Civilization, and avoid – as much as possible – getting into the middle of the debate.

In other words, I will address the “Christian” part of this from the viewpoint of the functional benefits to liberty in the west, and the costs to liberty of losing the “Christian.”  This is the fine line that I will try to walk.

For when the consequences of [secular progressivism’s] philosophical foundations are worked out consistently, it can be seen to undermine the very possibility of rationality and morality themselves.

Friedrich Nietzsche offered, in “Twilight of the Idols”: “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident…”  I think Nietzsche and Feser fully agree on this point.  Peter Singer demonstrates the point, with his defense of infanticide, necrophilia, and bestiality.

Yet these new atheists believe they can create something approaching Christian morality without the Christian faith.  Given that it was through this Christian morality that western liberty was born, it would seem an important issue for libertarians to take up.

In his opening chapter, Feser raises many points and objections that he will develop in more depth in subsequent chapters.  He suggests that the new atheists demonstrate their ignorance on the matter of Christian philosophy, as they understand nothing of the philosophical tradition – going back to even the pre-Christian Plato and Aristotle, and continuing through Augustine and Aquinas.  Their “philosophy” is dependent on this tradition, yet without understanding it they believe they can remove the tradition and still have a coherent philosophy.

…the very possibility of reason and morality is deeply problematic at best on a modern naturalistic conception of the world, but perfectly intelligible on the classical philosophical worldview and the religious vision it sustains.

Instead of addressing the foundational philosophers of this Christian tradition, Feser offers that these new atheists tackle the caricature Sunday-morning televangelists.  These make for very easy targets, but worthless if one is after a meaningful conversation…or the truth.

Feser offers several comments about the materialist idea – all is material, there is no purpose, meaning or design in our universe.  Explain the human mind and consciousness?  These atheists have no answer other than faith: one day science will find the answer.

Feser intends to show the following through the remainder of this book: the so-called war between science and religion is, instead, a war between rival philosophical or metaphysical systems, namely the classical worldview versus modern naturalism; this naturalistic worldview makes reason and morality impossible; secularism, therefore, can do nothing other than manifest irrationalism and immorality.


  1. I will be interested to see where this goes. I think I have other articles about this book or others like it. They seem to be very straightforward arguments. I think one of the main disputes is that atheists believe that morality can be built upon social utility ideas. Same with logic. There may be no truth but that doesn't mean humans don't have any motivation to think logically and morally. Their weakness is that even if there is utility no one can really argue one system vs another with any real conviction. Morality is "good" but there is no real way to determine which moral system is better objectively.

    "a war between rival philosophical or metaphysical systems, namely the classical worldview versus modern naturalism"

    Also, NT Wright helps frame the war differently. He views the war as between 2 ancient philosophies. One is found in ancient Pagan/Jewish/Christian/Medeival culture where natural and supernatural are intertwined. The other is Epicureansim. Maybe not quite as ancient as the default human paradigm but not anywhere close to Modern.

    1. "Their weakness is that even if there is utility no one can really argue one system vs another with any real conviction."

      Eugenics. A very rational, reasonable, socially utilitarian idea. Hard to argue against it on this basis. Just one example of many.

    2. I'm confused. Feser is saying atheism can't produce a moral system or can't defend it as good or the best.

      I responded that they do based on utility.

      You seemed to disagree with me using eugenics as an idea that disproves what I said about utility and the inability to defend.

      But eugenics is a dead idea. It wasn't an idea en vogue very long and is now rejected as heinous, even by atheists. To my point, it could be described as useful but its goodness couldn't be defended very well, simply because of the harm it did to other humans.

    3. I am not sure if we are agreeing or disagreeing. The 20th century is full of moral systems based on utility, with millions dead. Abortion is derived from a moral system based on utility - it has lasted far longer than eugenics.

      Utility is in the eye of the beholder; every utilitarian defends his moral system as good or the best. How do we compare? On what basis?

      When utility butts up against reality, the utilitarians have no choice but to change their minds. But countless millions die between now and then.