Over the past ten years I have published, in one venue or another, about twenty things on the philosophy of religion ... But no more. I’ve had it. I’m going back to my real interests in the history and philosophy of science and, after finishing a few current commitments, I’m writing nothing more on the subject. It was kind of a strange post, since this kind of thing is not normally "news." Who the heck cares whether some academic has decided not to study or teach in a particular area of his discipline, anyway?I take it that one of the benefits accruing to someone who decides not to do any more work in a particular field is that he doesn't have to talk about it anymore. But if he doesn't want to talk about it anymore, then why is he announcing it to the world?
It would be sort of like someone working in public relations having a press conference to announce that he didn't want to deal with the press anymore, and then taking questions from reporters about it.
Anyway, then I start seeing all these posts about this particular philosopher, Keith Parsons, who teaches the subject at the University of Houston, Clear-Lake, and how he took this dramatic action that everyone is supposed to care about, but not so much that he has to talk about it some more because that was the whole point of doing it in the first place.
Parsons states that he thinks the whole thing is a fraud, albeit perpetrated by sincere people.
I found the arguments so execrably awful and pointless that they bored and disgusted me ... I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position...His announcement is curious because he does not actually give any reasons for why he thinks this, something you would expect a philosopher to do.
But now it is becoming interesting because his announcement has become the subject of some debate over the philosophy of religion, with our good friend Edward Feser weighing in on this curious non-news event that somehow got media traction. Parsons first says "who's Edward Feser?" and then accuses Feser of being "nasty." He apparently thinks that engaging in intellectual debate is "nasty." No wonder then, that Parsons doesn't want to deal with philosophy of religion anymore. I mean, he would have to, like, debate and defend his positions and all that nasty stuff.
Feser, far from being "nasty," criticizes Parsons for not having dealt, in his treatments of theistic positions, with classical theism itself, preferring instead to deal exclusively with modern theistic personalism, which, compared with classical theism, is a mere side attraction on the main highway of historical theism:
In general, though at least some contemporary atheist philosophers may be said to have a solid enough grasp of the arguments of writers like Plantinga and Swinburne, their grasp of the mainstream classical theistic tradition tends to be at best only slightly better than that of vulgar pop atheist writers like Richard Dawkins (who, as I demonstrate both in Aquinas and, more polemically, in The Last Superstition, hasn’t the faintest clue about what writers like Aquinas really said). And if one hasn’t grappled seriously with the arguments of the great classical theists, then one simply cannot claim to have dealt a serious blow to theism as such. Not even close.Parsons, in response, simply accuses Feser of nastiness. Then comes the most lastest response to Parsons by Feser, in which Feser points to further evidence of why, after all, Parsons might want to find something else to do:
Parsons says, as if it were something we could all agree on:It's sort of like a scientist saying that, despite only a passing familiarity with the thought of Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr, he had found relativity theory and quantum mechanics wanting. Or, despite only a vague idea of the accomplishments of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn, you had announced classical music a fraud.
Both theists and atheists begin with an uncaused brute fact.
And the problem is that that is precisely not what theists do, at least not if we are talking about theists like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, and all the other great representatives of classical theism. Aristotle’s Pure Act is not a brute fact. Plotinus’ One is not a brute fact. Anselm’s That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Conceived is not a brute fact. Aquinas’s Subsistent Being Itself is not a brute fact. And so forth. In each case we have arguments to the effect that the material universe in principle must have had a cause and that the divine cause arrived at not only happens not to have a cause (as a “brute fact” would) but rather in principle could not have had or needed a cause and in principle could not have not existed. And the reasons, of course, have to do with the metaphysics of potency and act, the difference between composite substances and that which is metaphysically absolutely simple, the real distinction between essence and existence in anything contingent, and other aspects of classical metaphysics in the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and Scholastic traditions.
...Neo-Platonist, Aristotelian, and Thomistic and other Scholastic writers are hardly marginal theists, after all. They are the paradigmatic theists. They invented (what is these days called) the philosophy of religion and the core arguments in the field. They represent a 2300 year old tradition of philosophical theism, and their thought has historically determined the intellectual articulation of revelation-oriented religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.