March 22, 2009

To repeat, it's a really good book...

I'm starting to re-read Feser's The Last Superstition. (I mentioned it last week.) By the time I got to the end I'd become fuzzy about some of the arguments from the beginning of the book, and the structure rests on them. So I'm starting over.

Here's a little more, from the first chapter, just in case some strange soul out there in the "audient void" still actually reads books to try to understand things...

...Nothing that follows will require of the reader any prior aquaintance with philosophy or its history, but the discussion will in some places get a little abstract and technical—though never dull, I think, and the dramatic relevance of the occasional abstraction or technicality to issues in religion, morality and science will amply reward the patient reader. Some abstraction and technicality is, in any case, unavoidable. The basic philosophical case for the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the natural law conception of morality is at one level fairly straightforward. But the issues have become ever more greatly obscured in the centuries since so-called "Enlightenment" thinkers and their predecessors first started darkening the understanding of Western man, and a nearly impenetrable philosophical smokescreen of unexamined assumptions, falsehoods, clichés, caricatures, prejudices, propaganda and general muddle-headedness now surrounds the average person's (including the average intellectual's) thinking about religion. It takes considerable intellectual effort to dissipate this kultursmog (to borrow R. Emmett Tyrrell's apt coinage).

The task is not unlike that which faces debunkers of popular but intellectually unsupportable conspiracy theories...

...Similarly, everyone "knows" that the cosmological argument for God's existence says "Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause, namely God" and that this argument is easily refuted by asking "Well, if everything has a cause, what caused God then?"— except that that that is not what the cosmological argument says, and none of the philosophers who have famously defended the argument — not Aristotle, not Aquinas, not Leibniz, not anyone else — ever committed such a stupid and obvious fallacy. Everyone "knows" that to say that morality depends on religion means that God arbitrarily decides to command something or other ("just 'cause He feels like it," apparently) and the only reason to obey is fear of hellfire — except that that is not what it means to say that morality depends on religion, certainly not in the thinking of the many serious philosophers who have defended that claim. And so on and on...

...As we heard Quentin Smith and Jeremy Waldron complain above, apart from the few who make a professional specialty of arguing about religion, secularist thinkers are generally unacquainted with anything but absurd caricatures of traditional religious idea and arguments, are utterly unaware that anything other than these caricatures exist, and thus don't bother to look for anything but straw men to attack. They simply don't know what they are talking about, and they don't know that they don't know it...

Kultursmog! Great word. This kind of thing is worth studying just because kultursmog describes our world so very well. To think clearly about anything is an accomplishment. (One needn't, by the way, be interested in religion to appreciate Feser. His skewering of the muddled philosophy that underlies natural science is very good.)

Posted by John Weidner at March 22, 2009 6:12 PM
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