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Offline Hatter23

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In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« on: September 17, 2013, 10:06:33 AM »
A Catholic Philosopher does a refutation of the Courtiers Reply

Quote

The New Philistinism
By Edward Feser
 Friday, March 26, 2010

The New Atheist writers are supremely self-confident in their ability to dispatch opponents with a sarcastic quip or two. And they show no evidence whatsoever of knowing what they are talking about.

 once heard a fundamentalist preacher “refute” Darwin by asking rhetorically: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” He didn’t elaborate. But he did chuckle disdainfully, and since his audience of fellow believers did the same, no elaboration was necessary. They all “knew” that he had just posed a challenge no Darwinian could possibly answer, and that was enough. None of them had ever actually read anything any Darwinian had written—and I highly doubt the preacher had either—but never mind. What would be the point? They “already knew” such writers could not possibly have anything of interest to say, in light of this “fatal” objection to evolution.

This was some time before I became an atheist, which was some time before I became the observant Roman Catholic I am now. Oddly, the rhetoric of the New Atheist writers—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens among the most prominent—sounds much more like that of a fundamentalist preacher than like anything I read during my atheist days. Like the preacher, they are supremely self-confident in their ability to dispatch their opponents with a sarcastic quip or two. And, like the preacher, they show no evidence whatsoever of knowing what they are talking about.


Take Daniel Dennett. (Please.) In his book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, he assures us that: “The Cosmological Argument … in its simplest form states that since everything must have a cause the universe must have a cause—namely God”; he then briskly refutes the argument by asking: “What caused God? The reply that God is self-caused (somehow) then raises the rebuttal: If something can be self-caused, why can’t the universe as a whole be the thing that is self-caused?”

Very good questions, it might seem—except that (as everyone who knows something about the philosophy of religion is aware) that is not what the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God says. In fact, not one of the best-known defenders of the Cosmological Argument in the history of philosophy ever gave this stupid “everything has a cause” argument—not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Thomas Aquinas, not John Duns Scotus, not G.W. Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. Perhaps, like Dennett, you think that when trying to refute some of history’s greatest minds, a good strategy would be to attack an argument none of them ever defended. But if not, you might find something better to do with your time than to curl up with Breaking the Spell.

Richard Dawkins is equally adept at refuting straw men. In his bestselling The God Delusion, he takes Aquinas to task for resting his case for God’s existence on the assumption that “There must have been a time when no physical things existed”—even though Aquinas rather famously avoids making that assumption in arguing for God. (Aquinas’s view was instead that God must be keeping the world in existence here and now and at any moment at which the world exists, and that this would remain true even if it turned out that the world had no beginning.) Dawkins assures us that Aquinas gives “absolutely no reason” to think that a First Cause of the universe would have to be all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, etc.; in reality, Aquinas devoted hundreds of pages, across many works, to showing just this. Dawkins says that the fifth of Aquinas’s famous Five Ways is essentially the same as the “divine watchmaker” argument made famous by William Paley. In fact the arguments couldn’t be more different, and followers of Aquinas typically—and again, rather famously (at least for people who actually know something about these things)—reject Paley’s argument with as much scorn as evolutionists like Dawkins do.

And those are only (some of) the errors on pages 77–79.

You will find similar howlers throughout the works of the other New Atheists. Their grasp of the chief arguments for the existence of God and related matters is, in short, comparable to the scientific acumen of the college sophomore who thinks the lesson of Einstein’s revolution in physics is that “it’s all relative, man”—or that of the fundamentalist preacher of my opening example. It’s that bad.

If you have any doubt about this, feel free to pick up a copy or three of my book, The Last Superstition, which exposes the errors of the New Atheists, and lays out the case for the existence of God, at rigorous and polemical length. (Sorry, but you’re simply not going to get an adequate understanding of the arguments of a Aquinas or a Leibniz—any more than of Darwin’s ideas, or Einstein’s—from an op-ed piece.) Or, if you don’t like polemics and prefer a more sedate academic approach, try my book Aquinas. Or play it safe and buy both.

But you don’t have to take my self-promoting word for it. The intellectual frivolousness of the New Atheist literature is by now an open secret. Philosopher and prominent Darwinian Michael Ruse has said that Dawkins’s book made him “ashamed to be an atheist” and that Dennett’s book is “really bad and not worthy of [him].” Another atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, has described Dawkins’s “amateur philosophy” as “particularly weak,” and his attempts to counter the philosophical difficulties inherent in his own position “pure hand-waving.” Literary critic Terry Eagleton—yet another atheist, and a Marxist to boot—characterizes Dawkins’ writings on religion as “ill-informed,” “shoddy,” and directed at “vulgar caricatures.” The list of the New Atheists’ fellow intellectuals and even fellow atheists who are critical of their work could easily be extended

Now imagine that some of the friends and coreligionists of the fundamentalist preacher I quoted earlier let him know that his “refutation” of Darwinism was completely worthless, that he clearly knew nothing about the subject, and that he really ought to try seriously to understand it before commenting further. Suppose the preacher’s response to this criticism was to dismiss it as providing aid and comfort to the Darwinist enemy, and that since he already knew from his “refutation” that Darwinism was too ludicrous to take seriously, there could be no point in investigating it any further. “After all,” we can imagine the preacher slyly replying, “would you need to read learned volumes on Leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?”

Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens would, of course, be outraged by such a dismissal of Darwinism. And rightly so; it would be sheer, question-begging bigotry. For whether Darwinism is really comparable to “Leprechology” is of course precisely what is in question, and anyone who actually knows something about Darwinism knows also that such a comparison would be ludicrous. But the preacher will never know this, dogmatically locked as he is into his circle of mutually self-reinforcing prejudices. In his view, Darwinism must be too absurd to be worth taking seriously, because it cannot solve the chicken/egg “problem” he has posed for it; and the chicken/egg “problem” must be a serious objection to Darwinism, because he already knows that Darwinism is too absurd to be worth taking seriously. He is on a merry-go-round, but insists that it is the rest of the world that is moving. Even Richard Dawkins can see that.

Or maybe not. Because this is exactly the sort of response Dawkins has made to his critics. Indeed, the “Leprechology” line was in fact uttered by Dawkins himself, in reply to the suggestion that he should learn something about theology and philosophy of religion before commenting on it. Similarly, in the preface to the paperback edition of The God Delusion, he says: “Most of us happily disavow fairies, astrology and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, without first immersing ourselves in books of Pastafarian theology.” Yet whether the work of Aquinas, Leibniz, et al., is really comparable to “Leprechology” or “Pastafarianism” in the first place is precisely what is in question—and precisely what people who actually know something about Aquinas, Leibniz, et al., know to be a suggestion that is simply too stupid for words. The reason Dawkins and Co. don’t see this is that, like the fundamentalist preacher of my example, they literally refuse to see it. The truth is sitting there, in easily available books, waiting for them to discover it. And yet these apostles of open-mindedness, free thought, critical thinking, and calm rationality insist that they will not look, that they will simply not bother to try to understand the ideas they criticize. (All the same, in the very letter to the editor of The Independent in which he makes his “Leprechology” defense, Dawkins whines that his views have been misrepresented and that the “decent” thing for his critics to do would be to read his book before attacking it! Apparently, the reason Dawkins will not study theology is that he has been too busy studying Yiddish, and wants to show off his mastery of chutzpah.)

What accounts for such madness—for the inability of the New Atheists to see that they are guilty of precisely what they accuse their opponents of, that their position rests on exactly the kind of hypocrisy, willful ignorance, and fallacious reasoning they would not tolerate in others?

Well, as our preacher could tell you, one sin leads to another. Like the killer who has to commit a second murder in order to cover up his first one, Dawkins and Co. are able to blind themselves to their sophistries only by perpetrating a further and bolder exercise in rhetorical sleight of hand. In his book The Rediscovery of the Mind, philosopher John Searle once criticized eliminative materialism—a bizarre theory propounded by some contemporary philosophers according to which the human mind does not really exist (don’t ask)—for the dishonest way in which its adherents often respond to their many critics:

Another rhetorical device for disguising the implausible is to give the commonsense view a name and then deny it by name and not by content. Thus, it is very hard even in the present era to come right out and say, “No human being has ever been conscious.” Rather, the sophisticated philosopher gives the view that people are sometimes conscious a name, for example, “the Cartesian intuition,” then he or she sets about challenging, questioning, denying something described as “the Cartesian intuition”… And just to give this maneuver a name, I will call it the “give-it-a-name” maneuver. (4–5)

Well, the New Atheists have incorporated this “‘give-it-a-name’ maneuver” into their own rhetorical bag of tricks, and the name they’ve chosen is “The Courtier’s Reply.” The label comes from Dawkins’ fellow biologist and atheist P.Z. Myers, and it refers to an imagined defense a court sycophant might give of the naked emperor of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous story: “Haven’t you read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots?” etc. The idea is that complaining about a New Atheist’s lack of theological knowledge is no better than the courtier’s complaint that the naked emperor’s critics haven’t read the works of Count Roderigo. In other words, it is just the same old question-begging “Leprechology” and “Pastafarianism” pseudo-defense, now tarted up with a clever marketing tag.

How does it work? Well, suppose you confront a New Atheist with the overwhelming evidence that his “objections” to Aquinas (or whomever) are about as impressive as the fundamentalist’s “chicken/egg” objection to evolution. What’s he going to do? Tell the truth? “Fine, so I don’t know the first thing about Aquinas. But I’m not going to let that stop me from criticizing him! Nyah nyah!” Even for a New Atheist, that has its weaknesses from a PR point of view. But now, courtesy of Myers, he’s got a better response: “Oh dear, oh dear … not the Courtier’s Reply!” followed by some derisive chuckling. One’s intelligent listeners will be baffled, wondering how shouting “Courtier’s Reply!” is supposed to excuse not knowing what one is talking about. And one’s more gullible followers—people like the www.infidels.org faithful who have been buying up The God Delusion by the bushel basket—will be thrilled to have some new piece of smart-assery to fling at their religious friends in lieu of a serious argument. In the confusion, the New Atheist can slip out the back door before anyone realizes he hasn’t really answered the question. Call it “the Myers Shuffle,” and feel free to fling that label back at the next fool atheist who thinks yelling “Courtier’s Reply!” should be enough to stop you in your tracks.

So, the New Atheist covers up one fallacy with another. But how do otherwise-intelligent people get themselves into this rhetorical regress in the first place? Here we need to turn from logic to politics and psychology. Dawkins and Co. have an enormous political stake in the claim that religion is inherently irrational. They want a society in which religious believers are no more welcome in the public square than racists or Holocaust deniers are. To admit that there really are respectable arguments for religion—that it is something about which reasonable people can disagree—would be at once to admit that all the extremist talk about religion being tantamount to child abuse, no more worthy of respect than belief in the tooth fairy, etc., goes out the window. It would have to be conceded that Catholic theologians and Jewish rabbis, say, have as much right to be heard on matters of public policy as boozy Vanity Fair columnists and writers of popular-science books.

Of course, it would for the same reason mean that as yet unsold copies of The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, God is Not Great, The End of Faith, etc., would be consigned to the remainder bin, where they belong, for ill-informed extremist political tracts is really all they are. And that brings us to the last, psychological reason the New Atheists have worked themselves into such a fit of irrationality. One final thought experiment: Suppose you are Richard Dawkins, the former Charles Simonyi Professor in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. You’ve spent years criticizing creationists and Intelligent Design theorists for not doing their homework before attacking Darwinism. You’ve staked your reputation as a scientist (or as a science popularizer, anyway) on a years-long crusade against religion, dismissing it as the province of ignorant, bigoted yahoos and without a single serious argument in its favor. You’ve sold hundreds of thousands of copies of The God Delusion, presenting it as a once-and-for-all demonstration of the truth of this proposition. Experts in the relevant fields—theologians and philosophers of religion—have criticized you for not knowing what you are talking about. Fellow atheist academics have done the same. And you have dismissed them all as the objective allies of the fundamentalist bigots. The people who actually know the stuff are wrong (you claim) and you are right—despite the fact that this is the very attitude you condemn in fundamentalist bigots themselves.

In short, you’ve dug yourself into a very deep hole, and seem irresistibly compelled to keep digging. What are you going to do at this point—admit that the critics are right? Admit that you’ve been making a fool of yourself for decades and leading many less intelligent people to do the same? That you’ve done a grave injustice to the religious believers you despise, and who would relish your public humiliation? That you are a hypocrite? Not a chance.

Pride goeth before a fall. And before a fallacy. So “Courtier’s Reply!” it is, and damn the torpedoes. The New Atheism must of necessity be a New Philistinism, deliberately closing its mind to the wisdom of millennia—to the serious consideration, or even the reading, of the arguments of writers like Aristotle and Plotinus, Augustine and Aquinas, Leibniz and Clarke, lest these dangerous ideas tempt one to doubt the secularist creed. Or, in the words of a better-known exercise in doublethink: “Ignorance is strength.”


So for all these sophistocaticated courtier like arguments, this person states one need to have an understanding of Darwinism to refute it, so why apply a different standard to theology?

The bone simple truth still doesn't get that YOU HAVE TO SHOW EVIDENCE THE EMPERORS CLOTHERS ACTUALLY EXIST. Evidence exists for evolution...there isn't any for your God. Darwinism does not require sophisticated arguments predicated on lofty philosophical terms, it actually has things like bacterial resistence, genetic reversion, and the English Peppered moth as demonstrations...real physical items....to support it.



« Last Edit: September 17, 2013, 10:27:26 AM by Hatter23 »
An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Online Nam

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2013, 10:15:11 AM »
"Philopopher" --- my new favorite word.

-Nam
A god is like a rock: it does absolutely nothing until someone or something forces it to do something. The only capability the rock has is doing nothing until another force compels it physically to move.

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously - Humphrey

Offline Hatter23

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2013, 10:23:03 AM »
"Philopopher" --- my new favorite word.

-Nam

fixed...but it is a funny typo
An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Online Nam

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2013, 10:28:17 AM »
"Philopopher" --- my new favorite word.

-Nam

fixed...but it is a funny typo

I Like it. I wonder what it means?

-Nam
A god is like a rock: it does absolutely nothing until someone or something forces it to do something. The only capability the rock has is doing nothing until another force compels it physically to move.

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously - Humphrey

Offline Hatter23

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2013, 10:35:01 AM »
"Philopopher" --- my new favorite word.

-Nam

fixed...but it is a funny typo
I Like it. I wonder what it means?

-Nam


It sounds like a purveor of Pop philosophy. However, his writing aren't such. His writings are more of the; "I'm so heavily invested in my religion I can't bear the thought that there are actually people criticizing it and noticing it isn't worth crap" variety. He would have gotten along fabuslously with a bunch of asshole trolls on LJ called "Atheist Fail"


An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2013, 10:46:27 AM »
A Catholic Philosopher does a refutation of the Courtiers Reply

<snipped all the blah de blah>>

The bone simple truth still doesn't get that YOU HAVE TO SHOW EVIDENCE THE EMPERORS CLOTHERS ACTUALLY EXIST.

That's it in a nutshell.  Argue all you like that there must be a god in a philosophical sense.....my answer will always be "okay, so show me".

Is there any other physically existing thing whose existence we seek to prove by philosophical argument?  Nope.  So I am not about to give religion that free pass.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2013, 10:56:13 AM »
I stopped at "How does it work?" paragraph. It was becoming mind-numbingly repetitious[1], and boring.

I find myself to be a well-read person. How does an intelligent person go from, "I need evidence that isn't of itself and molded upon opinions of others." to "I believe fairy tales are actual things that happen without evidence (drawn from opinion) to actually show it's true."?

I don't get it. I guess I'm just not educated enough to...and frankly, I hope I never will be.

-Nam
 1. in the sense I've read it by other people using the same arguments
A god is like a rock: it does absolutely nothing until someone or something forces it to do something. The only capability the rock has is doing nothing until another force compels it physically to move.

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously - Humphrey

Offline Boots

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2013, 10:59:29 AM »
"Philopopher" --- my new favorite word.

-Nam

fixed...but it is a funny typo

I Like it. I wonder what it means?

-Nam

* Religion: institutionalized superstition, period.

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Offline jdawg70

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2013, 11:30:23 AM »
The way this piece is written appears to be intentionally inflammatory.  As it appears to lack any actual content or any sign of actual thought, I suppose that's a good thing for the article.  It's gotta be convincing somehow, right?

I mean:
Quote
(Aquinas’s view was instead that God must be keeping the world in existence here and now and at any moment at which the world exists, and that this would remain true even if it turned out that the world had no beginning.)

How the f**k the above can be posited without any further explanation is beyond me.  Is he honestly expecting me to just accept his handwave of 'must be keeping the world'?  Does he really not see that 'god assures that the universe exists' is practically just a variable substitution of 'god made the universe exist'?

I'm not surprised that he name-dropped Craig in here - these are the words of a debater, not a philosopher.
"When we landed on the moon, that was the point where god should have come up and said 'hello'. Because if you invent some creatures, put them on the blue one and they make it to the grey one, you f**king turn up and say 'well done'."
- Eddie Izzard

Offline Hatter23

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2013, 11:59:23 AM »
The way this piece is written appears to be intentionally inflammatory.  As it appears to lack any actual content or any sign of actual thought, I suppose that's a good thing for the article.  It's gotta be convincing somehow, right?

I mean:
Quote
(Aquinas’s view was instead that God must be keeping the world in existence here and now and at any moment at which the world exists, and that this would remain true even if it turned out that the world had no beginning.)

How the f**k the above can be posited without any further explanation is beyond me.  Is he honestly expecting me to just accept his handwave of 'must be keeping the world'?  Does he really not see that 'god assures that the universe exists' is practically just a variable substitution of 'god made the universe exist'?

I'm not surprised that he name-dropped Craig in here - these are the words of a debater, not a philosopher.

Well the whole point of "The Courtiers Reply" was the intellectual disingenuous nature of "List a bunch of works and names that agree with my position" and "use fanciful and obscure terms to support oneself" rather than address the objection directly.

And what does he do here? The same.

and this

Quote
Another rhetorical device for disguising the implausible is to give the commonsense view a name and then deny it by name and not by content. Thus, it is very hard even in the present era to come right out and say, “No human being has ever been conscious.” Rather, the sophisticated philosopher gives the view that people are sometimes conscious a name, for example, “the Cartesian intuition,” then he or she sets about challenging, questioning, denying something described as “the Cartesian intuition”… And just to give this maneuver a name, I will call it the “give-it-a-name” maneuver. (4–5)

What you mean, like "The Ontological Argument," "The Cosmological Argument," or say "The New Philistinism?"
An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2013, 12:05:07 PM »
I'm going to spend some time refuting his most egregious points.

Quote from: Edward Feser
This was some time before I became an atheist, which was some time before I became the observant Roman Catholic I am now. Oddly, the rhetoric of the New Atheist writers—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens among the most prominent—sounds much more like that of a fundamentalist preacher than like anything I read during my atheist days. Like the preacher, they are supremely self-confident in their ability to dispatch their opponents with a sarcastic quip or two. And, like the preacher, they show no evidence whatsoever of knowing what they are talking about.
If this were actually true, it would be a pretty serious concern.  Let's see what evidence he has.

Quote from: Edward Feser
Take Daniel Dennett. (Please.) In his book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, he assures us that: “The Cosmological Argument … in its simplest form states that since everything must have a cause the universe must have a cause—namely God”; he then briskly refutes the argument by asking: “What caused God? The reply that God is self-caused (somehow) then raises the rebuttal: If something can be self-caused, why can’t the universe as a whole be the thing that is self-caused?”

Very good questions, it might seem—except that (as everyone who knows something about the philosophy of religion is aware) that is not what the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God says. In fact, not one of the best-known defenders of the Cosmological Argument in the history of philosophy ever gave this stupid “everything has a cause” argument—not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Thomas Aquinas, not John Duns Scotus, not G.W. Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. Perhaps, like Dennett, you think that when trying to refute some of history’s greatest minds, a good strategy would be to attack an argument none of them ever defended. But if not, you might find something better to do with your time than to curl up with Breaking the Spell.
His argument here begs the question.  While he is correct in saying that the proponents of the Cosmological Argument generally do not claim that everything must have been caused, the Cosmological Argument itself is about the First Cause for the universe, implied to be God.  In other words, the ultimate cause for the entire universe.  Yet there is no cause given for that cause (indeed, that is the point of the Cosmological Argument, that the First Cause was uncaused).  So Dennett's objection is still valid.  If God does not need to have been caused in order to cause the universe, then there is no reason to propose that the universe itself needs to have been caused by anything.

Quote from: Edward Feser
Richard Dawkins is equally adept at refuting straw men. In his bestselling The God Delusion, he takes Aquinas to task for resting his case for God’s existence on the assumption that “There must have been a time when no physical things existed”—even though Aquinas rather famously avoids making that assumption in arguing for God. (Aquinas’s view was instead that God must be keeping the world in existence here and now and at any moment at which the world exists, and that this would remain true even if it turned out that the world had no beginning.) Dawkins assures us that Aquinas gives “absolutely no reason” to think that a First Cause of the universe would have to be all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, etc.; in reality, Aquinas devoted hundreds of pages, across many works, to showing just this. Dawkins says that the fifth of Aquinas’s famous Five Ways is essentially the same as the “divine watchmaker” argument made famous by William Paley. In fact the arguments couldn’t be more different, and followers of Aquinas typically—and again, rather famously (at least for people who actually know something about these things)—reject Paley’s argument with as much scorn as evolutionists like Dawkins do.
Since I haven't actually read The God Delusion, I can't comment on what Dawkins said.  However, I can comment on Aquinas's arguments.  I'll start with the last one, the fifth of his Five Ways.

Quote
The Fifth Way: Argument from Design
  • We see that natural bodies work toward some goal, and do not do so by chance.
  • Most natural things lack knowledge.
  • But as an arrow reaches its target because it is directed by an archer, what lacks intelligence achieves goals by being directed by something intelligence.
  • Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
While this is not exactly the same form as the Divine Watchmaker argument, it follows the same lines.  It is essentially arguing that things without intelligence must be directed by things with intelligence, and thus God must have ultimately directed all things.  I can see why Dawkins might have made the comparison, because it follows the same general path - it takes intelligence in order to make things happen, whether it's shooting an arrow or building a watch.

Both are flawed for that reason, as they presuppose that intelligence is necessary for anything to happen.  This is based on our experience - we make things happen, we're intelligent, thus things that we can't see an obvious cause for must have been made to happen by something intelligent.  However, our experience, limited to a few thousand years of recorded history on a single planet in a nondescript galaxy, is not a valid basis for either argument.

Regarding the second point he makes regarding Aquinas's argument (specifically that the Uncaused Cause must be all powerful, all knowing, all good, etc), while it is true that Aquinas did give reasons to think that the First Cause must be an omnimax being, they are not convincing because of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, in which he stated that an infinite series could not exist.  For example, it is impossible for a being to be all-powerful unless it is infinitely powerful, yet it cannot be infinitely powerful because that would be an infinite series.  Therefore, the existence of an omni-anything being is automatically ruled out by the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and there are no good arguments to serve as the basis for it.

And finally, regarding Aquinas's argument that God is keeping the universe in existence...while it is true that this might preclude there ever having been a time when no physical things existed, it ignores the far greater problem, namely that there is absolutely no proof that God is keeping the universe in existence to begin with.

Quote from: Edward Feser
You will find similar howlers throughout the works of the other New Atheists. Their grasp of the chief arguments for the existence of God and related matters is, in short, comparable to the scientific acumen of the college sophomore who thinks the lesson of Einstein’s revolution in physics is that “it’s all relative, man”—or that of the fundamentalist preacher of my opening example. It’s that bad.
Actually, it seems to me that Feser has so far failed to show that the "New Atheists" have such a poor grasp on things.  Indeed, his defense of the arguments in favor of God's existence so far is little more than, "these people paraphrased in a way I disagree with, therefore they don't understand the arguments they're disagreeing with".

Quote from: Edward Feser
If you have any doubt about this, feel free to pick up a copy or three of my book, The Last Superstition, which exposes the errors of the New Atheists, and lays out the case for the existence of God, at rigorous and polemical length. (Sorry, but you’re simply not going to get an adequate understanding of the arguments of a Aquinas or a Leibniz—any more than of Darwin’s ideas, or Einstein’s—from an op-ed piece.) Or, if you don’t like polemics and prefer a more sedate academic approach, try my book Aquinas. Or play it safe and buy both.
Until Feser has shown himself capable of addressing the errors in his own arguments, I am not likely to buy into other arguments of his.

Quote from: Edward Feser
But you don’t have to take my self-promoting word for it. The intellectual frivolousness of the New Atheist literature is by now an open secret. Philosopher and prominent Darwinian Michael Ruse has said that Dawkins’s book made him “ashamed to be an atheist” and that Dennett’s book is “really bad and not worthy of [him].” Another atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, has described Dawkins’s “amateur philosophy” as “particularly weak,” and his attempts to counter the philosophical difficulties inherent in his own position “pure hand-waving.” Literary critic Terry Eagleton—yet another atheist, and a Marxist to boot—characterizes Dawkins’ writings on religion as “ill-informed,” “shoddy,” and directed at “vulgar caricatures.” The list of the New Atheists’ fellow intellectuals and even fellow atheists who are critical of their work could easily be extended
I noted the lack of actual citations and context-limited quotes here.  Even though this is an op-ed piece, it does not excuse Feser from providing actual sources.

Quote from: Edward Feser
Or maybe not. Because this is exactly the sort of response Dawkins has made to his critics. Indeed, the “Leprechology” line was in fact uttered by Dawkins himself, in reply to the suggestion that he should learn something about theology and philosophy of religion before commenting on it. Similarly, in the preface to the paperback edition of The God Delusion, he says: “Most of us happily disavow fairies, astrology and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, without first immersing ourselves in books of Pastafarian theology.” Yet whether the work of Aquinas, Leibniz, et al., is really comparable to “Leprechology” or “Pastafarianism” in the first place is precisely what is in question—and precisely what people who actually know something about Aquinas, Leibniz, et al., know to be a suggestion that is simply too stupid for words. The reason Dawkins and Co. don’t see this is that, like the fundamentalist preacher of my example, they literally refuse to see it. The truth is sitting there, in easily available books, waiting for them to discover it. And yet these apostles of open-mindedness, free thought, critical thinking, and calm rationality insist that they will not look, that they will simply not bother to try to understand the ideas they criticize. (All the same, in the very letter to the editor of The Independent in which he makes his “Leprechology” defense, Dawkins whines that his views have been misrepresented and that the “decent” thing for his critics to do would be to read his book before attacking it! Apparently, the reason Dawkins will not study theology is that he has been too busy studying Yiddish, and wants to show off his mastery of chutzpah.)
This is a rather weak argument.  It seems that Feser is complaining because Dawkins makes slighting remarks about religion and compares it to things like believing in leprechauns.  While that's his right, for Feser to arbitrarily claim that those slighting remarks are the sum and total of Dawkins's (and other "New Atheist") arguments is deceptive at best.  Comparing a non-evidence-based belief to another (whether it's belief in God, belief in Santa Claus, or belief in leprechauns) is a valid argument in my opinion, because we do not accept the existence of Santa Claus or the existence of leprechauns without evidence.  It doesn't matter how much rhetorical support those arguments have - any argument can be supported by logic regardless of whether it's true, because logic cannot determine the validity of the premise.  That's why we need evidence.

Quote from: Edward Feser
What accounts for such madness—for the inability of the New Atheists to see that they are guilty of precisely what they accuse their opponents of, that their position rests on exactly the kind of hypocrisy, willful ignorance, and fallacious reasoning they would not tolerate in others?

Well, as our preacher could tell you, one sin leads to another. Like the killer who has to commit a second murder in order to cover up his first one, Dawkins and Co. are able to blind themselves to their sophistries only by perpetrating a further and bolder exercise in rhetorical sleight of hand. In his book The Rediscovery of the Mind, philosopher John Searle once criticized eliminative materialism—a bizarre theory propounded by some contemporary philosophers according to which the human mind does not really exist (don’t ask)—for the dishonest way in which its adherents often respond to their many critics:
Yet Feser has not actually proved that the "New Atheist" arguments are based on hypocrisy, willful ignorance, and fallacious reasoning.  Indeed, the two examples he gave were not terribly difficult to rebut.

Quote from: Edward Feser
Another rhetorical device for disguising the implausible is to give the commonsense view a name and then deny it by name and not by content. Thus, it is very hard even in the present era to come right out and say, “No human being has ever been conscious.” Rather, the sophisticated philosopher gives the view that people are sometimes conscious a name, for example, “the Cartesian intuition,” then he or she sets about challenging, questioning, denying something described as “the Cartesian intuition”… And just to give this maneuver a name, I will call it the “give-it-a-name” maneuver. (4–5)

Well, the New Atheists have incorporated this “‘give-it-a-name’ maneuver” into their own rhetorical bag of tricks, and the name they’ve chosen is “The Courtier’s Reply.” The label comes from Dawkins’ fellow biologist and atheist P.Z. Myers, and it refers to an imagined defense a court sycophant might give of the naked emperor of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous story: “Haven’t you read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots?” etc. The idea is that complaining about a New Atheist’s lack of theological knowledge is no better than the courtier’s complaint that the naked emperor’s critics haven’t read the works of Count Roderigo. In other words, it is just the same old question-begging “Leprechology” and “Pastafarianism” pseudo-defense, now tarted up with a clever marketing tag.
In other words, he's basically saying that anyone who criticizes philosophical arguments that are not based on evidence should be fully acquainted with those arguments before they criticize them.  Or at least so I understand his argument.

Quote from: Edward Feser
How does it work? Well, suppose you confront a New Atheist with the overwhelming evidence that his “objections” to Aquinas (or whomever) are about as impressive as the fundamentalist’s “chicken/egg” objection to evolution. What’s he going to do? Tell the truth? “Fine, so I don’t know the first thing about Aquinas. But I’m not going to let that stop me from criticizing him! Nyah nyah!” Even for a New Atheist, that has its weaknesses from a PR point of view. But now, courtesy of Myers, he’s got a better response: “Oh dear, oh dear … not the Courtier’s Reply!” followed by some derisive chuckling. One’s intelligent listeners will be baffled, wondering how shouting “Courtier’s Reply!” is supposed to excuse not knowing what one is talking about. And one’s more gullible followers—people like the www.infidels.org faithful who have been buying up The God Delusion by the bushel basket—will be thrilled to have some new piece of smart-assery to fling at their religious friends in lieu of a serious argument. In the confusion, the New Atheist can slip out the back door before anyone realizes he hasn’t really answered the question. Call it “the Myers Shuffle,” and feel free to fling that label back at the next fool atheist who thinks yelling “Courtier’s Reply!” should be enough to stop you in your tracks.
Personally, I find this caricature of "New Atheists" to fall somewhere beyond pathetic.  His whole argument is that they don't know what they're talking about, therefore they make witty comments to disguise this supposed lack of knowledge.  Except that he has not even come close to showing that they don't know what they're talking about.  All he's actually done is point to a couple of examples (from Dawkins and Dennett) and claimed that since they made comparisons that Feser declared were invalid, they must not understand the subject at all - and gone from there to a blanket assertion about all "New Atheists".

Except that sort of wrongheaded assertion is what he wrote this op-ed to combat.  Isn't it?

Quote from: Edward Feser
So, the New Atheist covers up one fallacy with another. But how do otherwise-intelligent people get themselves into this rhetorical regress in the first place? Here we need to turn from logic to politics and psychology. Dawkins and Co. have an enormous political stake in the claim that religion is inherently irrational. They want a society in which religious believers are no more welcome in the public square than racists or Holocaust deniers are. To admit that there really are respectable arguments for religion—that it is something about which reasonable people can disagree—would be at once to admit that all the extremist talk about religion being tantamount to child abuse, no more worthy of respect than belief in the tooth fairy, etc., goes out the window. It would have to be conceded that Catholic theologians and Jewish rabbis, say, have as much right to be heard on matters of public policy as boozy Vanity Fair columnists and writers of popular-science books.
I don't think they are actually trying to force religion out of society, though.  Anyone else seen or read them saying this?

I snipped the rest of it, because the reply was getting long, and to be honest, reading him harping on the same point over and over again was getting tiresome.  What I got from his argument is that he's doing the exact same thing that he accuses the "New Atheists" of doing - representing their arguments as fundamentally ridiculous, and then dismissing the strawmen he created rather than what they're actually saying.  It's tantamount to getting into a mud-wrestling fight with someone because you think they shouldn't mud-wrestle.

I mean, I did do a short Google search and I found nothing by actual "New Atheists" saying this.  Just complaints from the religious to the effect that they had.  And even if they did say it, it's their opinion - which they have every right to push for, just as the religious have every right to push for their beliefs.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2013, 10:05:35 AM »
I read Orr's review of The God Delusion, in order to get a better idea of how this style of argument worked.  Honestly, it seems rather weak - complaining because Dawkins wasn't willing to consider all the subtle nuances of religious belief, and then leapfrogging to statements about Dawkins's presumable unwillingness to consider any argument that doesn't lead where he wants it to.  Really, it's little more than getting upset because he isn't willing to take religious arguments seriously, and then saying that he should take them seriously if he wants people to take him seriously.

I'm reminded of the old story about the Gordian knot that was so complicated that the only way to unravel it was to cut it.  Or an analogy I heard about a while back about how we could describe the solar system's orbital mechanics through an Earth-centric model - that it was possible, but would be so complicated that nobody could understand it.  Modern theological arguments strike me in a similar manner - if you have to spend so much time familiarizing yourself with those arguments, then they're like a Gordian knot, and the simplest way to deal with them is to cut right through.

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2013, 12:10:40 PM »
The OP article is simply someone saying that he is rejecting atheism in a more sophisticated way than normal. When he isn't.

Generically speaking, I look at the difference between science and religion thusly (and it takes a lot to get me to use the word "thusly"):

Religion: God did it. And all our original writings on the subject are from a long time ago. But they are accurate and reliable. And we have really really good excuses that explain why our god isn't active now.

Science: We don't know exactly how the universe happened, we don't know how life started, and we have a lot to learn even about the things we do know a lot about. But we're working on it. And we're adding to our knowledge base daily. Take it or leave it, but at least we have something for you to take or leave.

Personally, I think an omni-everything deity would have a hard time hiding. Infinite wisdom and such is sort of hard to stash away. The actions of a wise omni-anything would be difficult to disguise as anything else. But apparently that's just me. And many of you guys.

Relying on only old stories and rejecting the current and contradictory discoveries of science is voluntary ignorance at its finest. If you don't count the other ways belief is inaccurate and ineffective.

Edit: Added more words because I found my dictionary.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2013, 12:12:13 PM by ParkingPlaces »
Not everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They're all entitled to mine though.

Offline Hatter23

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2013, 12:15:50 PM »
I read Orr's review of The God Delusion, in order to get a better idea of how this style of argument worked.  Honestly, it seems rather weak - complaining because Dawkins wasn't willing to consider all the subtle nuances of religious belief, and then leapfrogging to statements about Dawkins's presumable unwillingness to consider any argument that doesn't lead where he wants it to.  Really, it's little more than getting upset because he isn't willing to take religious arguments seriously, and then saying that he should take them seriously if he wants people to take him seriously.

I'm reminded of the old story about the Gordian knot that was so complicated that the only way to unravel it was to cut it.  Or an analogy I heard about a while back about how we could describe the solar system's orbital mechanics through an Earth-centric model - that it was possible, but would be so complicated that nobody could understand it.  Modern theological arguments strike me in a similar manner - if you have to spend so much time familiarizing yourself with those arguments, then they're like a Gordian knot, and the simplest way to deal with them is to cut right through.

This reminds me of "The Problem of Evil"

I liken it to the early development of the light bulb. Due to resistance, metal heated up and glowed when you sent current trough it. The issue was the heated metal would the quickly oxidize and fall apart, and possible created a fire hazard. People started to experiment with differing thickness and alloys.

The real innovation was doing it in a vacuum, it removed the oxygen which removed the problem.

'God' is the oxygen of the problem of evil.

An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

And you should feel guilty for this. Give me money.

Offline Astreja

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Re: In as such a Courtier's reply...to the Courtiers Reply
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2013, 12:17:41 PM »
Modern theological arguments strike me in a similar manner - if you have to spend so much time familiarizing yourself with those arguments, then they're like a Gordian knot, and the simplest way to deal with them is to cut right through.

I've always wondered about apologetics -- If anything, I think it weakens the argument if you have to run around in Philosophyville like a metaphysical chicken with its head cut off, coming up with myriad excuses and exceptions to defend your position.  If you can't come up with a simple and rational explanation for something, that "something" probably isn't what you think it is.
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