Friday, May 11, 2012

God and the Angry Lunicorn

Princess Luna: irate lunar unicorn
Bill Vallicella considers the contrast between the New Atheist concept of God and the classical theism of Thomas Aquinas. The gulf is indeed large:

If someone asserts that there there is a celestial teapot orbiting the sun, or an angry unicorn on the far side of the moon, or that 9/11 was an 'inside job,' one will justifiably demand evidence.  "It's possible, but what's your evidence for so outlandish a claim?"  It is the same with God, say many atheists. The antecedent probability of  God's existence, they think, is on a par with the extremely low antecedent probability of there being an irate lunar unicorn, a 'lunicorn,' if you will.

But this is to assume something that a sophisticated theist such as Thomas Aquinas would never grant, namely, that God, if he exists, is just another being among the totality of beings.  For Aquinas, God is not an ens (a being) but esse ipsum subsistens (self-subsistent Being).  God is not a being, but Being itself.  Admittedly, this is not an easy notion; but if the atheist  is not willing to grapple with it, then his animadversions are just so many grapplings with a straw man.

Why can't God be just another being among beings?

If God exists, then God is the metaphysical ground of the very existence of every contingent being, and indeed, of every being distinct from himself. This is not true of lunar unicorns and celestial teapots. If there is a lunar unicorn, then this is just one more isolated fact about the universe. But if God exists, then everything is unified by this fact: everything has the ground of its being and its intelligibility in the creative activity of this one paradigmatic purely spiritual being.

A typical New Atheist like Richard Dawkins attacks a straw man (or straw God), exposing his lightweight theological and philosophical credentials (no surprise Edward Feser deals more with the "small errors" of modern philosophy in TLS than with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, etc.) In short, the God that Catholics believe in is not like a celestial teacup (pace Bertrand Russell), not like an angry lunicorn (pace Ed Abbey), and not like a flying spaghetti monster (pace Bobby Henderson).

New Atheists need to stop doodling and start doing their homework 
On a side note, I wonder why Ed Abbay's unicorn on the dark side of the moon is angry. However, I do know that in the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the unicorn Princess Luna spends a thousand years on the moon for attempted insurrection against her sister Celestia. Upon breaking out, Luna is definitely irate. I don't blame her. It must be cold and boring living alone on a rock for a millennium.

Thy Princess is not amused!


  1. Perhaps Abbay is a brony. Alternatively, it might represent the usual atheist caricature of God as an angry figure ready to smite everybody.

  2. DGD, it’s probably the latter. To Abbey, God is probably just an arbitrary and superfluous posit, which is why he conflates the God question with the question of unicorn existence (he might as well have said fairies or Santa Claus or the “old man in the sky,” as you suggest). Furthermore, he thinks the evidence for God is nonexistent in the same manner as for lunar unicorns. In short, Abbey’s clueless of the entire Western theistic tradition of natural theology from Plato/Aristotle to Aquinas to today.

    Dawkins is at least aware of Aquinas but understands the Five Ways about as well as a freshman philosophy student (who only tends to get the arguments ripped from the context of the entire Summa with no previous metaphysical grounding of such concepts as the act/potency and essence/existence distinctions). It’s no surprise that Dawkins throws in the “Who made God?” objection.


    I’ll see about starting a series of posts on the classical theist idea of God, in addition to the other stuff I have on the backburner (the FiM review/MLP Virtue Ethics/MLP Applebloom fanfic). Now that I think about it, I do have some peculiar interests for a Catholic philosopher/theologian.