Rosenhouse redux

In fairness to Jason Rosenhouse, I want to call attention to some comments he makes in the combox of the recent post of his to which I replied earlier today.  First, in reply to some comments by Vincent Torley, Rosenhouse makes some remarks which include the following:

I intend to read [Feser’s book].  For what it's worth, I've actually enjoyed some of Feser's purely philosophical posts in the past.

Considering the heat that has characterized our exchange, this is very gracious, and I appreciate the kind words.  Unfortunately, he also goes on to say:

But the fact remains that in the posts that triggered this little kerfuffle he has been behaving very badly indeed. Prickly and combative is one thing, but flinging ad hominem attacks (as he did with Eric MacDonald), or calling someone sleazy and contemptible based on a gross distortion of what they said (as he did in pretending that Robin Le Poidevin was trying to make theistic philosophers look foolish by placing a bad argument in their mouths when it's completely unambiguous that he was doing no such thing) is quite another. 

None of this is fair.  First of all, as I have already noted, Rosenhouse fails to give any example of how I “grossly distorted” anything Le Poidevin said.  It is pretty obvious that what he is really upset about is that I used words like “sleazy” and “contemptible.”  But I never said that Le Poidevin himself was a sleazy or contemptible person.  For all I know, he is a very fine fellow indeed.  What I described as “sleazy” is the common atheist practice of presenting the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” straw man as if it were the basic thrust of the cosmological argument.  I cited Le Poidevin as merely one writer among others who engaged in this practice and I explicitly said that I was not claiming that he was deliberately trying to mislead his readers.  I said only that he should know better than to engage in this practice.  To say “This practice is sleazy; Le Poidevin shouldn’t use it” is very different from saying “Le Poidevin is a sleazy person.”  Again, I never said that, and would not say it.  Rosenhouse, who claims that I have not represented Le Poidevin’s views carefully, has himself not represented mine carefully.  In any event, as I’ve complained before, it is risible for Rosenhouse to try to find some gnat to strain out of my remarks while ignoring the camel of misrepresentation that so many of his fellow atheists swallow when they attack crude straw men instead of what writers like Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually said.

Second, I never made any ad hominem attack on Eric MacDonald, nor indeed any attack on him at all.  I simply noted that if someone is looking for advice on what to read in order to understand theology (as Coyne was), it is questionable whether “an ex-Anglican priest” who maintains that “religious beliefs and doctrines not only have no rational basis, but are, in fact, a danger to rational, evidence-based thinking” is likely to be the most objective source of advice. If Rosenhouse can’t concede even that much, then I submit that he is merely being argumentative.  

Third, Rosenhouse has a helluva nerve complaining about my aggressive tone.  In the post that began this series of exchanges between Coyne, Rosenhouse, and myself, Coyne dismissed theology as “drivel” and said that he was starting to believe that the “obscurantism” of which he accuses theologians is “deliberate.”  In his own first post, Rosenhouse characterized theology as “sewage” (!) and then dismissed my response to Coyne as a “temper tantrum.”  This despite the fact that judging from their remarks, Coyne and Rosenhouse have little or no knowledge of what the most significant theologians -- Aquinas and thinkers of similar stature -- actually had to say.  Even worse are the bizarre denizens of Coyne’s combox -- a nightmare world of ignorance, shamelessly begged questions, gratuitous nastiness, and Stalinist ideological policing if ever there was one.  And, as I pointed out in my recent post on the cosmological argument, ill-informed attacks on straw men are routine among New Atheist writers when they deal with arguments like the cosmological argument.  In response to this kind of stuff, I have indeed been aggressive, and justifiably so.  

Finally, in another combox remark I did not see before posting my most recent reply to him, Rosenhouse says this about Dennett’s treatment of the cosmological argument:

I wouldn't say this was Dennett's finest moment.  I think his desire to write at a popular-level got the better of him here, and he ought to have been a bit more careful about explaining what the issues are.

Well, kudos to Rosenhouse.  Unfortunately, he goes on halfway to take it back:

But it's still a far cry from how Feser makes it sound.  And I certainly agree with Dennett's conclusion that the lucubrations devised by theistic philosophers to prop up the argument are not compelling.

Here Rosenhouse simply misses the point again.  As I keep saying, what thinkers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz et al. are up to is precisely not trying to “prop up” lame arguments like the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” argument, any more than Darwinians are trying to “prop up” the claim that “Monkeys gave birth to humans.”  Yet the contrary impression is what Dennett leaves his readers with.

Still, even a halfhearted concession that Dennett’s discussion is flawed is something, and it may bring down upon Rosenhouse the wrath of the Dawkins Youth.  Hope he doesn’t get banned from his own combox!
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