Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Gist of the Argument

The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when the scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called ‘final causes’ … [belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century … They did this on the ground that inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the prediction and control of events … The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world … The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws … [But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, money, fame, art, science, and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center. Hence, the dissatisfied, disillusioned, restless, spirit of modern man … Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values … If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe – whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself – then they must be our own inventions. Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people, or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.”

- philosopher W. T. Stace in a 1948 Atlantic Monthly article, quoted by Edward Feser in The Last Superstition, pages 225-226.

Feser writes a powerful book, one that confirms my suspicion that somehow, someway the middle ages had it right when it came to metaphysical world views. How our age pales in comparison, when someone who actually knows his Aquinian and Aristotelian philosophy! Like a warning shot fired over the bow of “New Atheism,” this book is both a challenge and a dare to any devotee of Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker, et al. Read it, then refute it, if you can, instead of attacking straw men and what you believe the Catholic Church teaches.

The Last Superstition is a good book, if a little abstruse in places and a little juvenile in others. But I have to admit I liked the juvenile quips and put-downs of the political correctness we’re forced to march so lock-step with. A breath of fresh air, and I chuckled every now and then, and who can say that reading a philosophy book? (Unless it’s Feser reading one of Dawkins or Hitchens “philosophy” books.)

Bottom line is that I will pick it up again in a couple of months as both a refresher course and a more in-depth analysis. I’d like to be able to refute these mental midgets next time I read their firestorms on one of the blogs I regularly read.

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