Fisking Feser: God and Definitional Wimbledon

In a recent review of atheist Jerry Coyne’s new book, Faith vs. Fact, Thomist philosopher Edward Feser writes this: “Reading Coyne trying to do something as simple as defining his terms is like watching him play tennis with himself. And losing.”

It’s a funny line, undeniably, but it’s also ironic, for obviously the same can be directed at Christians like Feser surrounding the most important definition of all: God. Feser’s line of attack against Coyne–that he is not a consistent definer of his own terms, and so his targets cannot be pinned down for close scrutiny or reality testing–invites a look in the mirror: Do theists do the same thing surrounding God?

Obviously, yes.

Theists have always played a funny and murky definitional Wimbledon with the term God, but this definitional Wimbledon has gone on, not for a couple of hundred pages, as with Coyne’s book, but for millennia–and without any conclusive progress.

Thomas Aquinas, for instance, put forth the volley that you cannot really say anything very specific about God except by way of analogy, which is another way of saying that, beyond some broad generalizations (“God is simple, God is one”), God cannot actually be captured and defined with words. (Is God a person? Well, yes, but not in the way you and I are persons. Does God love? Well, yes, but not in the way you and I love. Does God think? Well, yes, but not in the way you and I think, etc.)

It’s a tad too convenient. One might get the impression that one who speaks in this way is playing a shell game–or doesn’t actually know what he or she is even saying.

So if you’re going to make your chief line of attack on somebody definitional inconsistency, at least be sure you’ve got your own most important definitional term–for theists, that would be God–locked down. Which Feser doesn’t.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, God, philosophy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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