Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Preface)

Feser starts out the preface of his book going on a long tirade about the "metaphysical absurdity and moral abomination" of same sex marriage. He bemoans the "sexual libertinism and contempt for religion" that has been allowed to become common and public and no longer the "private eccentricities of a decedent elite". In doing so he comes off sounding a lot like Archie Bunker did when seeing the effects of feminism and the civil rights movement, and to me it's very off-putting.

Feser would fit right into the Fox News spin machine. In fact, he could be the spokesperson for the religious right. He's angry that homosexuality is now tolerated to the point where gays have the chance to marry each other (the horrors!). He's angry that belief in god is no longer the default position accepted by academics, scientists, and philosophers. He's angry that the New Atheists and "secularists" have ushered in the "near total collapse of traditional morality," as he phrases it. The bottom line is that Feser is very angry with the way things are and the way things are headed. And I can totally see why. If I were a conservative Christian, I'd be pissed at the direction Western culture is headed. "Traditional" values are being replaced by "progressive" values, traditional religion is being replaced by non-religion and atheism, and the cultural and legal power structures that have allowed religious conservatives a stronghold on society and politics for so long are collapsing. While this is all music to my ears as a progressive and an atheist, it's no wonder people like Feser are pissed.

Feser's conservative Catholic attitude towards morality, society, science, and philosophy are exactly why I'm an anti-theist and hold religion in contempt. The kind of theist Feser represents is what motivates me to spend the hours that I do trying to refute and help destroy the religious worldview that I think poisons the mind and is harmful (not to mention false). Feser not only contends that belief in god is perfectly rational when seen in its best light, he maintains that atheism is logically impossible. Secularism, he says, "ought to be driven back into the intellectual and political margins whence it came," because it's a "clear and present danger to the stability of any society". The thing is, Feser never actually defines secularism in the preface and seems to use it interchangeably with atheism. So it's not clear what he's arguing against and he seems to think his audience will just know that secularism means something tantamount to atheism, which is untrue. But nonetheless, these are bold claims and Feser knows it, and in the following chapters he will try and justify them all. For now, he just seems to need to get his disdain for New Atheism off of his chest.

Feser seems to be motivated against atheism and secularism to an extent by his belief that belief in god "upholds public morality". This I think is a common motivation for being a theist. Without god, many theists think that society will inevitably decay into an immoral abyss. This is really what motivates them on an emotional level. But Feser also claims belief in god is "true, and demonstrably so." We'll have to see if his evidence can back them up in the following chapters. Regarding the New Atheists, Feser hypocritically castigates them for their ad hominem attacks on religion, while launching a torrent of ad hominem attacks on the New Atheists. You can't call others out on their ad hominems while resorting to it yourself. He also misquotes Richard Dawkins (for which he's been called out on) as having called creationists "ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked." (xi) The actual quote is:

To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).

Feser maliciously paraphrases Dawkins in such a way to make him appear more angry and hostile against creationists to his readers, many of whom would probably not check to see the original quote.*

And so, in the preface it becomes clear what Feser's motivations are. He thinks secularism and atheism have gotten us to this "low point in the history of our civilization," as he puts it, and wants to put an end to their forward marching advances. And the way to do that, he thinks, is to expose atheism as a charade and demonstrate using reason and evidence that it is really the theist that is the "true upholder of reason." One of the reasons why I seek to undermine belief in god and religion is that they underpin many political and moral positions that I think are blatantly wrong (like the arguments against same sex marriage). Since religion and god are often the foundation on which these views antithetical to mine rest on, undermining that foundation destroys the root cause of the issue. Feser would have little to ground many of his right wing conservative arguments on if there was no foundation for his theological views. He knows that, and that's why he's intensely motivated to make a case for his deity.

*[Edited Original: Feser either mistakingly or maliciously misquoted Dawkins to make him appear more angry and hostile against creationists to his readers, many of whom would probably not do any fact checking.]

Chapter 1 →

Edit: A theist who agrees with Feser took the time to critique my review and I responded to him. In my response I clarify many parts of my original critique that perhaps I should have worded better and I address many of his misunderstandings of my review. For further elaboration on my review, see A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition.

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