The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism

The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism

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by Edward Feser
     
 

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The central contention of the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point in human history a completely secular scientific account of the world has been worked

Overview

The central contention of the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point in human history a completely secular scientific account of the world has been worked out in such thorough and convincing detail that there is no longer any reason why a rational and educated person should find the claims of any religion the least bit worthy of attention.
     But as Edward Feser argues in The Last Superstition, in fact there is not, and never has been, any war between science and religion at all. There has instead been a conflict between two entirely philosophical conceptions of the natural order: on the one hand, the classical “teleological” vision of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, on which purpose or goal-directedness is as inherent a feature of the physical world as mass or electric charge; and the modern “mechanical” vision of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, according to which the physical world is comprised of nothing more than purposeless, meaningless particles in motion. As it happens, on the classical teleological picture, the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the natural-law conception of morality are rationally unavoidable. Modern atheism and secularism have thus always crucially depended for their rational credentials on the insinuation that the modern, mechanical picture of the world has somehow been established by science.
     Yet this modern “mechanical” picture has never been established by science, and cannot be, for it is not a scientific theory in the first place but merely a philosophical interpretation of science. Moreover, as Feser shows, the philosophical arguments in its favor given by the early modern philosophers were notable only for being surprisingly weak.
      However, not only is this modern philosophical picture rationally unfounded, it is demonstrably false. For the “mechanical” conception of the natural world, when worked
out consistently, absurdly entails that rationality, and indeed the human mind itself, is illusory. The so-called “scientific worldview” championed by the New Atheists thus inevitably undermines its own rational foundations; and into the bargain (and contrary to the moralistic posturing of the New Atheists) it undermines the foundations of any possible morality as well. By contrast, and as The Last Superstition demonstrates, the classical teleological picture of nature can be seen to find powerful confirmation in developments from contemporary philosophy, biology, and physics; moreover, morality and reason itself cannot possibly be made sense of apart from it.  The teleological vision of the ancients and medievals is thereby rationally vindicated – and with it the religious worldview they based upon it.
     Winner of the 2008 Book of the Year in Religion from ForeWord Magazine and the only 2008 Editors’ Choice for Religion from the American Library Association’s Booklist, The Last Superstition remains the most cogent and powerful refutation of the New Atheism extent.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781587314537
Publisher:
St. Augustine's Press
Publication date:
08/15/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
342,903
File size:
549 KB

Meet the Author

Called by National Review “one of the best contemporary writers on philosophy,” Edward Feser teaches philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He is the author of On Nozick, Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction, and Locke, and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Hayek. He has also written for such publications as City Journal, Crisis, National Review, and New Oxford Review.
 

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The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Bob_Drury More than 1 year ago
In "The Last Superstition: A refutation of the new atheism", Charles Feser presents an excellent historical and philosophical review of the arguments for the existence of God as established by Aristotelian Thomism. It is worth reading for that alone. The most prominent of the new atheists is Richard Dawkins. His basic premise in "The God Delusion" is that mathematical probability can be inferred from the observation of material phenomena. If this is true, material reality is irrational and, by default, the source of intelligibility is the individual human mind. Voila, relativism! In the context of Aristotelian Thomism, Feser delineates the errors of early modern philosophy, namely those of Descartes et al, the predecessors of the modern atheists. However, Feser does not address the specific arguments of Richard Dawkins. In "The God Delusion", Dawkins reviews three mathematical problems of mathematical improbability. They are the problems of the improbability of evolution in a one-off event, the improbability of the origin of life and the improbability of God. To Dawkins' satisfaction, mathematical analysis leads to solutions to the first two problems. However, mathematical analysis demonstrates that there is no solution to the improbability of God. Feser's implicit position is that the conclusion of Dawkins is incompatible with the valid conclusion of Aristotle and Aquinas that God exists. Therefore, both the conclusion and the argument of Dawkins must be false. Should Feser be given a pass from directly facing his opponents? Feser notes that metaphysics starts with both empirical and conceptual premises from which metaphysical conclusions necessarily follow. He attributes the necessity of the truth of metaphysical conclusions to the fact that the empirical premises of the sort used by Aquinas in metaphysics are obviously true. Mathematical arguments start with conceptual premises and draw necessary conclusions. In contrast to both of these epistemological routes is that of science. Scientific arguments start from empirical premises and draw merely probabilistic conclusions. In the epistemology of science, it would appear that for Feser, probabilistic is probabilistic in the sense of human certitude. If so, it is a very strange word to refer to human certitude when the crux of an opponent's arguments is the inference of mathematical probability from material phenomena, not only generally, but particularly in empirical science. Feser shares the same fault with Richard Dawkins, the failure to cite the distinction between probability in the sense of human certitude and in the sense of mathematical probability. In light of that failure the studious reader must conclude that Feser would be fully agreeable to equating the probability of the conclusions of empirical science to the probability of mathematics. In other words, Feser has implicitly conceded to Richard Dawkins. In spite of his excellent presentation of Aristotelian Thomism, it cannot be said that Feser has refuted modern atheism, because he has avoided the central issue in contention, the inference of mathematical probability from material phenomena and the specific mathematical arguments alleged by Dawkins to flow from that inference.
JA_Termini More than 1 year ago
We owe a debt of gratitude to Edward Feser for sharing with clarity the insight of his penetrating analysis of materialism. Feser has three distinct advantages: a) he obviously knows the subject better than Dawkins, Dennett, & Co., b) he has the proficiency and honesty to follow its precepts to their ultimate conclusions, and c) he has an unrivaled grasp of Aristotelian/Thomistic Metaphysics. Thomas Aquinas cautioned us that a small error in the beginning is a large one in the end. It is left to our imagination to comprehend the consequence of a large error in the beginning. This is the embarrassing problem confronting Dawkins, Dennett, & Co. Any freshman in Philosophy 101 should be able to see through their simplistic and unprofessional knowledge of Thomism, which sets them off on the path to absurdity.---James A. Termini, retired Aerospace Engineer
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