2017 was a busy year for Edward Feser, having two hot publications drop within six months of each other. One of them he co-wrote with Joseph M. Bessette on the topic of a Catholic defense of capital punishment, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, which I plan on reviewing later this summer. The other, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, has turned out to be one of the best books of its kind in the field of popular apologetics. It brings together into one place all of the work in apologetics and metaphysics that Feser has written about before—particularly in The Last Superstition and in various places of Scholastic Metaphysics and Aquinas—while also adding to his repertoire more fleshed out versions of proofs he had hitherto only briefly touched upon in passing.
Those unfamiliar with Feser’s work should check out his 2008 book The Last Superstition: A Refutation of New Atheism, a book that does exactly what its subtitle exclaims. Ten years ago, the New Atheist movement had already reached its crescendo with the publication and popularization of the Dennet-Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens crowd and their groupies. The internet had been won over, for the most part, by the non-arguments presented in their pieces of stunningly empty gibberish—the sort of pathetic anti-theist posturing you could expect out of the Bill Maher “documentary” that dropped around that time. The breakthrough of Christian apologism into the mainstream began to really get momentum around then, with Feser’s Last Superstition playing its part in the fray.
Ten years later and the popularization of Christian apologetics, coupled with the blows to credibility suffered by the likes of the New Atheists and their online skeptic communities, has yielded some impressive fruit. The time, it would seem, is ripe for the sort of book targeted at popular audiences that lays down the argumentation. Feser’s Five Proofs is that book.
His format is simple. He dedicates a chapter a piece to each of the five arguments he presents. The chapters include some necessary background on the philosophers credited with formulating the arguments, specifically to address their general approaches to epistemology and metaphysics. Then he explains the arguments in relative detail. The second to last last segment of these chapters includes an organized, numbered proof—simultaneously the Cliffs Notes and the ‘official’ presentation of the proof presented in that chapter. More than anything else, this distinguishes Five Proofs as a worthwhile addition on any armchair philosopher’s shelf, as these ordered rundowns help circumvent the wordiness necessary to explain the proofs without losing their substance. Each chapter ends with addressing the most common objections to each proof and their rebuttals.
It’s curious that someone as astute and regularly-published as Edward Feser has found his professorship teaching out at a community college in SoCal. I’ve certainly read less-convincing arguments and less pleasant texts published from tenured professors at Ivy League universities—a fact that I was reminded of as I reread this particular book of his last week. Few contemporary philosophers are able to so lucidly and clearly make the dense philosophical proofs like the ones on display in this book come alive to the average reader. Aristotle’s Argument from First Cause, which has to include a basic rundown of Aristotelian metaphysics in order to make sense, ends up being perfectly coherent from start to finish by the time Feser is finished with it.
It should be known that this book is not a mere guidebook or introduction to the arguments for God’s existence. Far from it; Feser’s argumentation in favor of God’s existence remains some of the most penetrating put forth in a single modern volume, but it only consumes the first half of the book. In the second half, Feser addresses what can be philosophically known about the nature of God according to the implications of these proofs as well as common criticisms of Natural Theology—the name for the general framework of metaphysics that Feser puts forth. That chapter reads like a more streamlined and more substantial version of Feser’s aforementioned book, The Last Superstition.
I’ll be addressing some of the points Feser brings up in Five Proofs next week in more detail, specifically the various formulations of the cosmological proofs and the general folly of the now seemingly-defunct New Atheism movement. Those will require more substantial dedicated posts than what I have room for here, however. In the meantime, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of this book—at this point, it’s at the top of my list of modern Christian apologetics books available today.