Book Review: The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, by Edward Feser
I have recently finished reading the book entitled The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, about which you can learn more here, by Edward S. Feser. Feser is an associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College, visiting assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, and a visiting scholar at the social philosophy and policy center at Bowling Green State University.
Professor Feser is unabashedly a Roman Catholic philosopher who wrote this book specifically in response to the writings of the New Atheists. One cannot get more than a few pages into his writing without realizing that, in addition to being a Roman Catholic, Feser is a totally committed devotee of the philosophy/theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. What is also notable about Feser’s writing, unlike what one may expect from a philosopher, much less a Christian one, is that it drips with acerbic sarcasm, humor, and wit, which makes what could potentially be very dry material very entertaining (or very annoying and infuriating if one is on the other side of the positions he argues). Indeed, Feser ensures this book is very readable to even those who are most unfamiliar with philosophy as he goes to great lengths to explain basic philosophy before embarking on the meat of arguments.
Feser’s main agenda in the book is to demonstrate why and how the primary arguments proffered by the New Atheists are without merit. His arguments are far more pointed and directed than, say, David Bentley Hart‘s are in his book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness and Bliss (see more on that book here), which deals with many of the issues raised by the New Atheists. The distinction is that Hart’s thesis is to present a “definition” of the term “God,” which also just so happens to address and expose many of the errors of the arguments put forth by the New Atheists, as opposed to Feser’s approach which is to formulate specific arguments in opposition to the New Atheists.
Feser’s book is more than just “negative” however (by negative I mean demonstrating how the New Atheists are in error); his arguments against the New Atheists generally take the more positive form of demonstrating how Thomism, and by genetic connection, Aristotelianism, are far more cogent and coherent worldviews, especially as it relates to God.
Feser, like Hart, has an extremely low opinion of the arguments presented by the New Atheists, and it is also clear, like Hart, his opinion is not merely due to some sort of personal bias toward theism or Christianity; rather, both men note the intellectual bankruptcy in the arguments and positions of the New Atheists in the face of authentic scholarship, indeed even the scholarship of atheists of better reputation. Of course, as implied above, Hart’s approach to the New Atheist arguments is as merely an ancillary to his greater point in developing a clearer picture of God, whereas Feser meets them directly.
Feser, like Hart, notes that the New Atheists’ rejection of, or disbelief in, “god” does not at all speak to the Christian’s God as the “god” the New Atheists disbelieve in bears little resemblance to what Christians mean by “God.” Furthermore, Feser takes the time to provide the reader a brief overview of the history of (relevant) philosophy so one can see what came before in philosophical thought, what now exists in it, and how that transition was made. Upon setting the philosophical stage, Feser picks off each of the New Atheists by demonstrating and exposing the fact that none have “done their homework” due to their rather obvious unfamiliarity (or lack of understanding of) basic philosophy. Furthermore, he reveals that their lack of philosophical literacy has caused them to develop their own philosophies (intentionally or unintentionally) to provide the foundations for their views that are completely incoherent and unable to withstand the most elementary of arguments and analysis.
Through the use of the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, and ultimately St. Thomas Aquinas, Feser convincingly demonstrates that cogent, coherent, and rational cases can be made for the existence of God, the soul, the afterlife, non-physical reality, and teleology. Indeed, perhaps most central to Feser’s thesis is his approach to teleology, which is to say the purpose or function something has. For the atheist, by definition and also, indeed, through his own arguments, teleology simply cannot exist as teleology assumes, by its own terms, a purpose or function giver (e.g.: God) which the atheist fundamentally rejects. As a result, the atheistic approach to life, philosophy, and science is ultimately one which flounders around trying to develop a sensical worldview but is unable to do so as it rejects the tools available to do it. Instead, without an understanding of basic philosophy and with a rejection of teleology, New Atheist philosophy has been forced to embrace completely irrational, incoherent, absurdist, and, indeed, superstitious, philosophies like eliminativism, scientism, idealism, and/or anti-realism (among others I am sure). By contrast, Feser asserts, unlike the irrational worldview of the New Atheists, he can present a worldview that makes sense, is consistent with what we intuitively know to be real life, and can provide context, answers, and explanation for what we experience as life and reality.
Finally, it is worth noting that, despite being a Christian philosopher, Feser makes his arguments in this book without resorting to the Bible, Church teaching, or other religious authority. Instead, his arguments are exclusively philosophical and arrived at through the use of reason and rational thinking. Perhaps this aspect of the book is what will make it most powerful with the non-believer as it requires no submission to, or acceptance of, any religious teaching or text. In order for one to understand and arrive at Feser’s conclusions, all one has to do is think, but, unfortunately, all most atheists are interested in doing is disbelieving.