Edward Feser does not waste words. Here is a 330-page book dedicated to arguing line-by-line for the existence of God. At the level of clear logic and argumentation, Feser successfully conveys with persuasiveness five arguments for God; he also answers an ocean of objections. What makes this latter point so powerful is that Feser cites and refers to a wide range of scholarship that argues against him. In short, he is not afraid to engage with the best of those with whom he disagrees.
Feser’s success here also reveals a potential weakness. While Five Proofs can be read by an average reader, it will likely tax almost anyone who reads it. He does not hold the reader’s hands. He does not ease into arguments through stories or long illustrations. He argues. He illustrates. He rebuffs. As noted, he does not waste words.
As a reviewer, I am thus somewhat restrained when it comes “to whom” I would recommend this book. It is excellent. But some may find it difficult to read. I should note: I do not mean difficult because one cannot understand or follow Feser’s arguments. Far from it. I mean difficult in that Feser expects a lot from readers, and he gives a lot too.
Feser, as the book’s title indicates, shows five proofs for God’s existence. In this sense, the work demonstrates that God exists through reason. And this goal is, to the say the least, ambitious. But Feser does not rely on his own arguments per se. He engages about 3,000 years of thinking about God and whether or not he exists.
And interestingly, he does not just stop at “that God exists.” He also tries to explain certain characteristics about God must be true of the five arguments are true (e.g., God is eternal, immutable, etc.).
While Feser spends much time on the argument, we can cite his summary of each of them with the provisio that these are only symbols of the whole argument:
- “The Aristotelian proof begins with the fact that there are potentialities that are actualized and argues that we cannot make sense of this unless we affirm the existence of something which can actualize the potential existence of things without itself being actualized, a purely actual actualizer.
- The Neo-Platonic proof begins with the fact that the things of our experience are composed of parts and argues that such things could not exist unless they have an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause.
- The Augustinian proof begins with the fact that there are abstract objects like universals, propositions, numbers, and possible worlds, and argues that these must exist as ideas in a divine intellect.
- The Thomistic proof begins with the real distinction, in each of the things of our experience, between its essence and its existence, and argues that the ultimate cause of such things must be something which is subsistent existence itself.
- The rationalist proof begins with the principle of sufficient reason and argues that the ultimate explanation of things can only lie in an absolutely necessary being.” (2017: 169)
I can envision two sets of people enjoying Five Proofs. First, students and even scholars who would like to sharpen their understanding of the proofs. Feser engages a wide array of scholarship in his articulation of the arguments. Hence, academics would benefit from reading.
Interested Christians would also benefit. Feser helps put the pieces together for how nature confirms the confession of faith (i.e., that God exists with some of the attributes we affirm of him, immutability, etc.).
I know that I will refer back to Feser’s book in the future to find clarity on these arguments and how they also lead to certain attributes of God such as simplicity.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided me a copy of this book for review.