Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The "Natural Theology is Outdated" Objection

This isn't the most serious objection, but it is raised often enough to give us some concern. Many times when someone finds out that I'm highly influenced by Aristotle, especially his metaphysics, it is immediately objected, "his arguments are old." My initial reaction to this is, "yeah, they are old. But, what difference does it make?"

The problem is compounded whenever we consider the many other things we regard as indispensable, but are just as old. I'm thinking in particular of logic and mathematics. I wonder if the person making the objection would also abandon democracy on the ground that it's old. Calculus is getting there, too. In any case, I think the objection is not so much that the arguments of natural theology (and metaphysics, more generally) are old and should therefore be discarded, but that they have been long refuted.

If my impression is correct, then why not simply say they have been refuted? That would save us a lot of time, instead of going over what C.S. Lewis aptly called the fallacy of "chronological snobbery." In addition, most of the alleged "refutations" of these arguments are based on misconceptions, which is what we find in Kant's treatment of the cosmological argument. As for the other cases, I guess I'm just not impressed.


  1. I suspect if they just say the ideas have been refuted, time isn't saved at all, because the natural response is "Alright, show these refutations" - and that's precisely what's trying to be avoided.

    Whether because it's seen as a waste of time (It's so obviously refuted, why go over it?) or a threat (If it's not refuted, it makes it a live possibility, and that's just not a pleasant thought) or otherwise, is another question.

  2. I think there may be difference between the words 'old', 'outdated' and 'refuted'. The first just states that the argument has been around a while. The second need not label the argument as 'old' but rather obsolete or non-popular. Note that this doesn't mean that it's been "rebutted", either. Its outdatedness could just allude to there being revisioned pieces of argument. And for the 'rebutted' part, well, that could either refer to undermining or defeating rebutters. Either one says nothing about popularity or age.