Five Proofs of the Existence of God
By Edward Feser
Ignatius Press, 2017
336 pages, $20
One might think a book about five proofs for the existence of God would be hopelessly opaque and difficult to read. In the case of this book, at least, the reader would be delightfully mistaken.
Professor Edward Feser has a rare gift: the ability to make esoteric philosophical arguments accessible to lay readers. With charm and wit, Feser summarizes five arguments for the existence of God, based on Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and Leibniz.
Don’t be intimidated. Feser swept me along on the gentle current of his explanation, and I found myself understanding, for the first time in my life, various “-isms” of philosophy that in my younger years completely confused me.
Numerous down-to-earth examples and analogies render complex philosophy comprehensible to the lay reader, such as the simple act of one person giving another person a $20 bill or a cup of coffee sitting on a table becoming cool over time. His book is also peppered with charming asides like, “Perhaps you suspect there is something fishy about this argument, and if so, you would be right.”
In the first part of the book, Feser gives the five proofs for the existence of God. These proofs lead inevitably to a list of God’s attributes and an understanding of his nature, which take up part two.
Finally, Feser brings it all home by unpacking and refuting many common objections to the five proofs, with particular emphasis on the arguments of the New Atheists: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others.
It turns out that much of modern atheism’s objection to the five arguments arises from a total misunderstanding of what the arguments actually assert.
For example, the arguments from causality conclude by naming God as the Uncaused Cause. Atheists respond with, “But if everything has a cause, then what caused God?” To which they may cleverly append, “Gotcha!”
What they don’t understand is that the arguments related to “first cause” do not try to assert that “everything has a cause.” The arguments specifically arrive at the conclusion that there is one thing, and one thing only, that does not have a cause.
That thing is God. Critics of First Cause arguments don’t even realize they are “destroying” an argument that no serious philosopher has ever made!
“So,” Feser writes, “to ask, ‘What caused God?’ far from being the devastating retort New Atheist writers suppose it to be, is in fact painfully inept.”
My only criticism of this book is the tendency for Feser to leave undefined certain philosophical terms that many non-philosophers like me have heard but never really understood.
Most of the time, Feser does define the terms he uses, but perhaps the book would benefit from a short glossary of philosophical terms used in the book.
That’s actually a minor quibble. For a person of faith to have certainty of faith is a great blessing. One can obtain this certainty not only through revelation and a personal encounter with the living God, but through exposure to the unshakable philosophical and rational foundations of belief.
We live in an age of cynical unbelief, surrounded by people who dismiss religious experience as mere emotionalism. For those who crave a rational basis for their faith, or want to demonstrate to their intellectual detractors that faith in God is rational, reasonable and well-founded, this book is perfect.
Clare Walker writes from