I promised to give a more detailed account of what's wrong with Feser's book, so let's begin. I shall skip over the preface, as it
contains no arguments. On that basis, I suppose I should skip the
first chapter as well, but that would leave me open to accusations of
lack of thoroughness, so I'll say as much as I can about it.
It is not until page 6 that Feser so
much as waves his hand in the direction of an argument, when he
recounts what he claims was his own voyage of philosophical
discovery. He cites Frege as motivating his Platonism. This
naturally makes me wonder what Feser thinks about Russell's Paradox,
and more importantly of course Gödel's
theorem. But he never talks about such subjects, nor does he talk
about subjects like the axiom of choice or Euclidean vs.
Non-Euclidean geometries. It makes it hard for me to take seriously
his analogy between mathematical and philosophical knowledge when he
seems to have such a poorly developed theory of mathematical
He also mentions that Russell
influenced him by showing how little we can know of the intrinsic
nature of the material world. Of course, I think Russell was right
about this, and in fact that he didn't go far enough. Feser draws a
contrary conclusion, perhaps on the basis that knowledge of intrinsic
matters is the only real knowledge or that all knowledge must trace
back to knowledge of intrinsic matters. But he doesn't prove or
argue for either of these claims, at least not here. They have been
much discussed in contemporary philosophy, so this represents another
area where he is wrong to say that his really important issues have
been ignored by the modern naturalists.
He also describes Richard Swinburne as
someone who employs "the most rigorous of modern philosophical
methods to the defense of religious belief." I am skeptical of
this as a description of Plantinga (who also gets this praise), but
applied to Swinburne, this can only be considered laughable.
Feser claims that to the naturalists,
natural selection is a "pseudo-deity." I suppose it has
features in common with how Feser takes God to be, in that it is
knowable a priori. Once you understand natural selection, it
is quite obvious that it must happen in any situation where there is
a mix of some stability over time and some more or less random
change. Of course, that natural selection is responsible for
specific phenomena, e.g. the diversity of life, requires empirical
evidence in each case (evidence which is readily available in the
case of many biological phenomena). However, Feser's claim that
natural selection could not in any "true or interesting sense"
manifest design is unargued. I suppose it depends rather heavily on
what one considers interesting.
The remainder of the first chapter
continues to provide no arguments, except a sort of inductive
argument based on cases for Feser's theory of what motivates
secularists. Not all (only most) of his theories about this are
wrong, though it goes without saying that they are all absurdly
charicatured. The naturalistic world view rejects ultimate
authority. That's what it is to be a naturalist. Some, perhaps
most, naturalists inconsistently treat naturalism itself as an
ultimate authority, because people have trouble with the idea that
there really is none. They deserve to be called superstitious,
though the fact that naturalism is so purely negative, consisting of
little more than the rejection of all ultimate authorities, makes
taking it as an ultimate authority a less bad error than most other
cases of belief in ultimate authority.
However, contra Feser, there are good
reasons to reject ultimate authority. The concept is incoherent.
This is admitted by some of its defenders (e.g. Kierkegaard, or
Heidegger), who insist that we must believe in it despite its
incoherence; this is the reason that "faith" has become the
popular line among defenders of ultimate authority. Feser, of
course, has no patience with this line, and indeed doesn't even
bother to mention why he thinks so many on his side seem to welcome
putting things in terms of faith. It might be an enlightening topic
for him to investigate.
Feser is obviously right to note that
most atheist philosophers do not confront the issue of the existence
of his God directly, instead engaging in various smaller detail
projects in pursuit of naturalism. But this is because the absurdity
of his God as an ultimate authority is widely recognized, while forms
of ultimate authority in narrow areas are less obviously unacceptable
and so more controversial. This is one of the areas where I agree
with Feser; I think the reasons for rejecting his God are closely
related to reasons for rejecting non-Humean causation, various forms
of anti-reductionism, Armstrong-style universals, perfectly natural
properties, and many other still popular philosophical speculations.
Still, the connection is not so strong that anyone who rejects God is
obviously rationally required to reject all these more moderate
views. Feser naturally wishes to run the inference in the opposite
direction, and argue that anyone committed to any of the more
moderate views, and most naturalistic philosophers are committed to
some of them, are committed to his God; the inference is also not
immediate in that direction, as I mentioned in my review of his book
Feser ends his first chapter by asking
atheists like myself to consider the possibility that we might be
wrong. I do frequently consider the possibility that I am wrong to
reject the God of Plato, Spinoza, and Einstein. Though that has
little to do with Feser's God, I'm afraid it's the best I can do.