The Last Superstition: Let’s Meet Aquinas

Chapter 3: Getting Medieval

Having laid the groundwork in Chapter 2, Feser now moves on to the star of the show, Thomas Aquinas. He opens the chapter with a story of Aquinas overlooking a woman’s achievements, and instead interrupting her with a comment about her body:

he once came upon “a holy nun who used to be levitated in ecstasy.” His reaction was to comment on how very large her feet were. “This made her come out of her ecstasy in indignation at his rudeness, whereupon he gently advised her to seek greater humility.” [p. 74]

And one about attacking a woman, when his brothers locked him up in the family castle (bold added):

When the brothers upped the ante by sending a prostitute into his room, he famously chased her away with a flaming brand snatched from the fireplace and then used it to draw a cross on the wall, before which he prayed for, and received, the gift of lifelong chastity. [p. 74]

Section What Aquinas didn’t say

Feser starts out by spending five pages berating Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett. This can be skipped.

I should note that Feser berates both Dawkins and Dennett for either mangling or not devoting much space to the classical — i.e., Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s — proofs for God. But he also keeps telling us what a mistake it was for the world of philosophy to abandon these ideas. In other words, he criticizes Dawkins and Dennett for not paying attention to ideas that are not widely embraced even by philosophers and theologians. If he can’t convince his colleagues to accept Thomism, why should the rest of us spend any time on it?

The other thing I’d like to pause on is this quotation on p.79:

The author of a sympathetic recent study of Dennett’s philosophy acknowledges that the “consensus evaluation” of Dennett’s work among his academic peers is that while it is “undeniably creative and important,” it “lacks philosophical depth and is not systematic.” [Tadeusz Zawidzki, Dennett (Onewold Publications, 2007), p. ix]

This quotation comes from the opening paragraph of the preface:

I came to this project with some standard assumptions about Dennett’s work. I have been reading Dennett since deciding to major in philosophy as an undergraduate, and over the years I had come to accept the consensus evaluation of his work: although undeniably creative and important, it supposedly lacks philosophical depth and is not systematic. Consensus has it that Dennett’s approach is diffuse and piecemeal, involving clever discussions of specific problems at the intersection of philosophy and the sciences of human nature, without the backing of an overarching, philosophical system. Many of Dennett’s admirers, skeptical of the excesses of traditional philosophical systems, see this approach as a virtue (Rorty 1993, pp. 191–192; Ross 2000, pp. 16–23). Indeed, Dennett himself often blithely dismisses the importance of philosophical system-building (Ross 2000, p. 13; Dennett 2000, pp. 356, 359).

Writing this book has significantly changed my view of Dennett’s work. If the reader comes away with anything from the following, I want it to be an appreciation of the fact that Dennett’s work constitutes a deeply coherent philosophical system, founded on a few consistently applied principles.

I’ve underlined the parts that Feser quoted, and added bold emphasis.

Feser is doing the same thing that creationists do when they quote Darwin saying that the evolution of the eye seems absurd: taking part of a rhetorical construct and quoting it out of context to make it sound like a flaw.

Since the rebuttal of Feser’s implication is right there in the second paragraph; since he carefully selected this quotation to be technically true (well, some people say that Dennett’s a hack); and since he deliberately selected his quotations to just remove “supposedly”; it’s clear to me that Feser knew exactly what he was doing: selectively quoting Zawidzki to make him say something he doesn’t agree with. So I’m going to call him dishonest.

Series: The Last Superstition

Shit My Bible Says: Girl Cooties

Leviticus 12:2-5:

2[…] A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. […] 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. […] 5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.

So ladies, the next time some guy treats you as inferior or compares you to livestock or something, don’t blame him. God himself says that you have cooties.

Isn’t this Backward Logic?

The Post writes in an article about the release of Manal al-Sherif, who dared to commit the crime of Driving While Female in Saudi Arabia:

There is no written Saudi law banning women from driving — only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics. They claim it protects against the spread of vice and temptation because women drivers would be free to leave home alone and interact with male strangers. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers or rely on male relatives to drive.

Except, I thought it was Saudi men who are so weak-willed that if they so much as glimpse a female ankle, they’ll lose all control and go on a rampage. So shouldn’t they be the ones forbidden from driving or leaving the house until they learn some impulse control?

HPV Vaccine: Then and Now

Remember back in the summer of 2007, when two pharmaceutical companies
released a vaccine against human papilloma virus (HPV), how if girls
were vaccinated against HPV, it could prevent them getting cervical
cancer later in life, and the religious right
got all bent out of shape about it?:

A spokeswoman for the Family Research Council (FRC) says young women should have to deal with the consequences of a rapidly spreading sexually transmitted disease rather then rely on a new vaccine.

The FRC’s Bridget Maher said her group believes over-reliance on the vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) could send the wrong message to young women. “Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,” Maher told New Scientist. “Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.”

Rivka at Respectful of Otters has a
of similar sentiments from the theosphere in 2006.

But that was then. Now, Merck has
released a new version of the vaccine
suitable for boys, which can prevent penile and anal cancer later in

Groups that initially were critical when Gardasil was introduced for girls say they now want to make sure the decision is left up to parents.

“We do not oppose the development or distribution of the vaccine,” said Peter S. Sprigg of the Family Research Council. “The only concern we have is about proposals to make vaccination mandatory for school attendance. It’s a parental rights issue.”

In fairness, I should note that the FRC’s official position
in 2007
seems to be the same:

Q: Would vaccinating individuals against a sexually transmitted disease lead them to be more sexually active?

A: Not necessarily.

so it may be that Bridget Maher wasn’t speaking on behalf of the FRC,
or it could be that they were careful not to put their fearmongering
on the web where it could be scraped by the
Wayback Machine. It’d be
interesting to go through the organizations mentioned at Respectful to
Otters and see if there’s the same kind of indignation against a
vaccine for boys as there was against one for girls.