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Dr. Edward Feser And His Six Arguments for God

May 20, 2024


Dr. Edward Feser is Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College. He has a PhD in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara and is author of numerous books, including Five Proofs of the Existence of God.

His new course “Six Arguments for the Existence of God” just launched in the Word on Fire Institute. In this discussion, Dr. Feser shares his background, faith, hobbies, and what we can expect from his course.

Please tell us a little about your background. How did you get started in your field?

My first serious encounter with philosophy occurred in the context of an undergraduate course on Greek literature, which included a unit on the Presocratic philosophers. I was instantly hooked, fascinated by the depth of the questions, the power of rational argumentation to defend answers to those questions, and the oddness of some of the answers defended by these thinkers. 

Before long I also became acquainted with the traditional debate over the existence of God, represented by thinkers like St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas on the one side and skeptics like Hume and Nietzsche on the other. Like so many young people first encountering philosophy, I was led into doubt by what was, in hindsight, a superficial understanding of this debate and became an atheist for about a decade.

It was after becoming a professor, while trying to make this material interesting to students in the classroom setting, that I came eventually to reconsider my youthful atheism. Wanting to explain to students how anyone ever would have taken philosophical arguments for God’s existence seriously, I took a much deeper dive into the tradition and the literature on the subject. And I gradually came to see that the standard atheist criticisms were actually very shallow and typically aimed at caricatures of the arguments. I came to see that, especially when read in light of the broader metaphysical commitments (concerning the nature of change, of causality, of the material world, and so on) that writers like Aquinas deploy when reasoning to God’s existence, the arguments were very powerful. 

I hope they will at least see that the thesis that God exists does indeed have a rational basis . . .

And I also gradually came to see that those broader background commitments were themselves also widely misunderstood, but also very powerful and hard to avoid when one understood the arguments for them properly. The result was a fairly radical intellectual conversion that culminated in the conviction that Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s general philosophical view of things, including the centrality of God to their system of thought, was correct after all. And this led also to a return to the Church.

How does faith inform your work?

In my opinion, the very deepest philosophical questions also happen to be the ones most relevant to what are traditionally called the praeambula fidei or “preambles of faith.” Is the material world all that exists? Does God exist? Is the human mind something more than the brain? Do we have immortal souls? Is there an objective basis for morality in the natural law? I’ve addressed issues like these in depth in many books and articles, and they are also constitutive of the philosophical work that has to be done in order to set the stage for showing that a special divine revelation really has occurred. So, my work is largely on the boundary between philosophy and theology, and is aimed in part at showing how the former provides a rational foundation for the latter.

What is your Institute course about?

The course sets out what I take to be the six most important and compelling arguments for God’s existence that have been developed in the history of philosophy. They are associated with Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Avicenna, Aquinas, and Leibniz, though other thinkers too had a hand in developing and defending them. Some of them are fairly well-known but very often misunderstood. Others have been historically influential but unjustly neglected in recent philosophy and theology. I explain how the arguments work, set out the more general background philosophical assumptions that they rest on, and defend them against objections that have been or could be raised against them.

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What’s the most important concept you hope people will take away from the course? 

My own view is that the existence of God, and a fair bit about the nature of God, really can be established definitively by way of purely philosophical arguments. I would be pleased if those who watch the course come to agree with that judgment, but even if they do not, I hope they will at least see that the thesis that God exists does indeed have a rational basis, and that there are no good grounds for the cliché that belief in God is essentially nothing more than a matter of blind faith, emotion, cultural prejudice, or the like. On the contrary, today’s widespread atheism among intellectuals is a historical aberration. The greatest thinkers of history tended to be theists, and there are good philosophical reasons why that was the case. I hope viewers of the course will at least have a better understanding of those reasons.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

There is quite a bit of overlap between my professional interests and my hobbies insofar as collecting and reading books takes up a lot of both my work time and so-called free time. That would include topics like philosophy, theology, science, history, politics, and the like.

However, I also have a longstanding deep interest in various areas of popular culture, such as science fiction, comic books, movies, and music, especially jazz, rock, and music that is on the border of jazz and rock. Even here, though, there is some overlap with my professional interests, insofar as occasionally I will write on these topics too, from some philosophical or theological angle. So, basically I am a workaholic. But one of these days I intend to take a break and get some physical exercise.

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