The Exploitation of Antony Flew

Have you heard the shocking news? The world’s most notorious atheist has converted!

No, it’s not Richard Dawkins.

Or Sam Harris.

Or Christopher Hitchens.

Or Dan Barker.

Or Michael Newdow.

Or Julia Sweeney.

No, this world-famous, notorious atheist convert is the philosopher Antony Flew.

If you’re wondering, “Who?”, you’re probably not alone. Antony Flew is a British philosopher, now retired and of advanced age. Though fairly well-known in philosophical circles in his day, I doubt he was ever “the world’s most notorious atheist” by any stretch. Yet now that he’s converted – if in fact he has converted, which I’ll get to in a minute – he’s inevitably acquired this title thanks to Christian apologists who can’t seem to accomplish a single goal without elevating it to the status of the most monumental victory over atheism ever. A recent New York Times article, “The Turning of an Atheist“, gives the whole sordid story.

Flew came to prominence in the 1950s when he presented a famous paper titled “Theology and Falsification“, in which he argued that claims about God have so many exceptions and qualifications that they are impossible to prove and should be disregarded. In subsequent years, he stood by this position with writings such as God and Philosophy (1966) and The Presumption of Atheism (1984). Flew is also the coiner of the term “No True Scotsman Fallacy“, in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking.

Flew retired in 1983 and today is 84 years old. After his retirement he shunned the spotlight for two decades, but in the early 2000s, the first rumblings of rumor were heard. In 2001, he quashed those speculations by writing an article for the Secular Web, “Sorry to Disappoint, But I’m Still an Atheist!

But rumors of his conversion persisted. Starting in 2005, he apparently confirmed those rumors by stating a preference for Aristotelian deism, and seemed to endorse pseudoscientific speculations such as those of Gerald Schroeder. In response, Richard Carrier of the Secular Web wrote Flew a letter asking him if the rumors were true and pointing out the dubious scientific basis of these apologetics. Flew replied, expressed dismay that he’d been taken in by these charlatans, and promised to be more vigilant in the future, though he held to deism.

This brings up to the present and the subject of the Times article: a book has just been published, purportedly by Flew along with Christian apologist Roy Varghese, titled There Is a God. This book repeats many of the standard arguments for intelligent design creationism, and apparently once again endorses the claims of Gerald Schroeder.

Mark Oppenheimer of the Times went to Reading to interview Flew. Oppenheimer found that he was polite and agreeable, but suffering from serious memory gaps. Flew could not define terms like “abiogenesis” and was unfamiliar with the arguments advanced in the book. He freely admitted, and Varghese confirmed, that Varghese wrote all the original content of the book. Flew was simply persuaded to sign his name to it after it had been written for him.

The only conclusion I can draw is that these apologists are taking advantage of a confused, elderly man in a state of cognitive decline. There’s little evidence that Flew even understands the controversy he’s at the center of, much less that he changed his position as the result of any new arguments. These apologists insinuated themselves into his life, won his confidence, and then pushed him to agree to their claims when he no longer knew what he was agreeing to, and are now using him as a prop to promote their antiquated, irrational superstitions. (Although even by the most Christian-friendly interpretation of these events, Flew is now a deist, not a Christian – which one would think, in their eyes, leaves him just as damned as if he’d been an atheist.)

Just to be clear, I don’t expect this to have the slightest impact on the atheist community. We are not atheists because we follow Antony Flew (or Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris). We follow these people because we are atheists and find their positions in agreement with our own. Even if Antony Flew had converted in his prime, that would have no persuasive effect on me unless he could show the facts and evidence that led to this decision. The Times article mentions “what others have at stake”, but in fact there is nothing at stake other than the sad story of a worthy philosopher’s legacy being coopted late in life by confidence tricksters.

On the other hand, the Christian evangelists who are trumpeting this as a great victory are truly reprehensible. These people congratulate themselves for every soul “saved” – regardless of whether that conversion took place through coercion, indoctrination or trickery – as if people’s lives were goals in a game and the only objective was to score the most points. Like predators who hunt the sick and the weak, they target the people who are least able to resist them – those who are bereaved and emotionally vulnerable, who are suffering from dementia or cognitive decline, or even those who are dead and unable to defend themselves, as with the invented deathbed conversion stories of Charles Darwin and Thomas Paine. Against an informed atheist in possession of his own mind, their flimsy and irrational assertions easily splinter, so it’s small surprise they pick on the stragglers instead.

I want to make it clear right now that, if I should ever sink into such a state, I want all religious evangelists kept far away from me. I will not be made into a pawn for their manipulative and dishonest games, and if my mind is gone, I will not let them gain possession of my shell so that they can display it as if it were a repudiation of the principles I’ve spent my life defending.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Prof.V.N.K.Kumar (India)

    “We are not atheists because we follow Antony Flew (or Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris). We follow these people because we are atheists and find their positions in agreement with our own”

    Beautifully said. I want to assure you that even when you reach the age of 100, you will not lose your cognitive abilities. Poor chap must be suffering from Alzheimers disease, or atleast the beginnings of it. It’s rather unethical to take advantage of an old man.

  • Ric

    “We are not atheists because we follow Antony Flew (or Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris). We follow these people because we are atheists and find their positions in agreement with our own”

    I disagree with the wording here. We don’t “follow” these people. We agree with their opinions.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Just to be clear, I don’t expect this to have the slightest impact on the atheist community. We are not atheists because we follow Antony Flew (or Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris). We follow these people because we are atheists and find their positions in agreement with our own. Even if Antony Flew had converted in his prime, that would have no persuasive effect on me unless he could show the facts and evidence that led to this decision. The Times article mentions “what others have at stake”, but in fact there is nothing at stake other than the sad story of a worthy philosopher’s legacy being coopted late in life by confidence tricksters.

    The religious are so enamored with accepting appeals to authority from church leaders, so called prophets and authoritative holy books, that they seem to think atheists also operate in this fashion. So the turning of a prominent atheist is viewed with similar importance as if a church leader or prophet changed his mind and issued an edict or retraction. But we don’t operate on these appeals to authority. We may have some admiration for a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, but their positions are only as good as the evidence and reason backing them up.

    Like predators who hunt the sick and the weak, they target the people who are least able to resist them – those who are bereaved and emotionally vulnerable, who are suffering from dementia or cognitive decline, or even those who are dead and unable to defend themselves, as with the invented deathbed conversion stories of Charles Darwin and Thomas Paine.

    Preying on the needy and the bogus deathbed conversion claims really bother me. A few years ago, someone I know claimed that the former network news anchor Peter Jennings had a deathbed conversion. Another person in the room commented it was a good thing, since now they would see him in heaven. (Else apparently he would be burning in hell as we speak). The comments were told to me after the fact, or I would have taken them to task. First of all, how did these people making the claim know that Peter Jennings needed to convert? He apparently had some interest in religion, being one of the few in network news to devote time and energy on the subject, putting together some reports and special programming. What exactly would Jennings have needed to convert to – and how did these people making the conversion claim know his faith or lack of? Maybe he wasn’t biblical enough. The most I could find on the web were people arguing about whether or not Jennings was now in hell, along with some dubious claims of conversion by someone who knew someone who new a nurse or pastor that was at the hospital. These people have no shame.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    Flew made his name attacking the meninglessness of religious utterences, so it is rather ironic that his conception of “an intelligence that explains both its own existence and that of the world” in my view is even less verifiable/falsifiable than that of a personal God. Of course, it seems likely that he isn’t even in control of his thoughts, and it’s sad that his name has been associated with these claims.

    Just to be clear, I don’t expect this to have the slightest impact on the atheist community. We are not atheists because we follow Antony Flew (or Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris). We follow these people because we are atheists and find their positions in agreement with our own. Even if Antony Flew had converted in his prime, that would have no persuasive effect on me unless he could show the facts and evidence that led to this decision.

    Note that to argue that it would negatively affect the atheist community would be a form of the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy. Even is Flew converted to evangelical Christianity one year after the publication of ‘Theology and Flasification,’ it would have no bearing on the argument whatsover. Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument.

  • http://saliental.blogspot.com/ salient

    Good post.

    Of course, the seduction of Flew to induce a so-called “conversion” for the sake of his soul was not really the point of their exercise. Nor were they trying to convince atheists that conversion to mythoholism is a more logical position. Nevertheless, I doubt that they would comprehend the fact that atheists are not fooled by arguments to the numbers. They are, so they might expect that we should be.

    Religionist evangelists don’t give a toss about our souls, or anyone’s soul but their own. They are collecting ‘souls’ for brownie points in heaven, just the way the missionaries did. Questions of morality are irrelevant to their purpose because actions done while on God’s mission are ‘street legal’. For many of them, the ‘God bless’ piffle is merely an attempt to cover themselves after having spat venom – rather like saying ‘excuse me’ after passing gas. An apt metaphor, I think!

    The internet reaction from religionists illustrates the point of their wooing of Flew – the theists are crowing victory over a deistic position that would have been considered heretical a couple of centuries ago. Shows how desperate they are.

    I’d like to say that this desperation reflects awareness that knowledge will eventually prevail over mythology, but I don’t have so high an opinion of how far natural selection has taken the cognitive potential of the average Joe. “Go forth and multiply” might not have benefited the average cognitive capacity so much as the Flynn effect suggests.

  • Polly

    Despicable. Clearly they’re taking advantage of Flew.
    Is this the mindset that’s required to accept god, an enfeebled brain? This whole scenario casts a very bad light on what it takes to get a thinking person to accept religion – and not even religion, just a generic god. Apparently, Flew still retains enough of his marbles to reject specific religion; I’m sure they tried.

  • jack

    Yes, it is despicable, but, sadly, it is only the tip of the iceberg. There are not many senescent and prominent atheists on whom to prey, but the TV and radio preachers prey on the semi-senile by the millions every day. It is an industry comparable in magnitude to the Publishers Clearinghouse mail order scams that impoverish the feeble-minded elderly. The infamous Jim Jones funded his cult in part by convincing old folks to sell their homes and donate the proceeds to him, in exchange for a promise to take care of all their needs for the rest of their lives. We all know how that turned out.

  • Yoyo

    that is sooo sad, you could get my grandmother, who has alzheimers to sign a stat declaration that she is a space alien zombie here to perform anal probes. It wouldn’t mean any more than that you are a gutless nasty creepziod like many xian apologetics.

  • James Bradbury

    Is it speculation that Mr Flew is suffering from Alzheimer’s or is there some evidence?

    I have heard (sorry I can’t remember the source) that an occasional early symptom of Alzheimer’s is loss of religious faith.

  • Marcus

    Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument. – RiddleOfSteel

    Papal infalliability works on the same princples.

  • heliobates

    Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument.

    Do you have some proof for the existence of intrinsic meaning of which the philosophical community is unaware?

  • http://nomorehornets.blogspot.com The Exterminator

    Apparently I’m considerably more cynical than other commenters here. Perhaps Flew just figured out a way to make himself newsworthy again.

    Here’s another related theory, slightly less cynical: For many years, Antony Flew was the respected intellectual atheist. As he found himself becoming superannuated, maybe his ego drove him to find (nonviable)alternatives to his godlessness. We all make the assumption, I think, that philosophers are supposed to be consistent in their beliefs. But why should they be? Anyway, if his taste for intellectual glory prompted his acceptance of the ridiculous god hypothesis, it could have happened without his being consciously manipulative of the media.

  • Damien

    The only conclusion I can draw is that these apologists are taking advantage of a confused, elderly man in a state of cognitive decline. There’s little evidence that Flew even understands the controversy he’s at the center of, much less that he changed his position as the result of any new arguments.

    What’s the evidence? I’m not talking about “gosh, this guy doesn’t know what ‘abiogenesis’ is and doesn’t remember everything his ghostwriter put down, so I guess he must have Alzheimer’s”, I’m talking about actual, concrete evidence that Mr. Flew is non compos mentis. Something from a doctor, for example.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I see one problem with that hypothesis, Exterminator: If Flew “converted” in sound mind because he was seeking fame and glory, why stop at deism? Why not go all the way to full-blown evangelical Christianity, as these apologist vampires around him would clearly love for him to do?

    Also, Richard Carrier has written a post of his own on the topic: Antony Flew’s Bogus Book. I highly recommend it for further arguments reinforcing the conclusion that this book was written entirely by two Christian apologists with no input from Flew. For one thing, it makes arguments which Flew explicitly rejected in his dialogue with Carrier.

    Damien: I recommend reading the Times article for evidence in this vein. One rather important point is that, when interviewed, Flew professed not to know several people with whom he’s had extensive professional and personal correspondence. Consider this passage:

    When we began the interview, he warned me, with merry self-deprecation, that he suffers from “nominal aphasia,” or the inability to reproduce names. But he forgot more than names. He didn’t remember talking with Paul Kurtz about his introduction to “God and Philosophy” just two years ago… When I asked about Gary Habermas, who told me that he and Flew had been friends for 22 years and exchanged “dozens” of letters, Flew said, “He and I met at a debate, I think.”

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument. – RiddleOfSteel

    Papal infalliability works on the same princples.

    On the contrary, Marcus, papal infallibility is the exact opposite of what RiddleOfSteel said. The whole point of papal infallibility is that certain statements are true only because of who’s saying them.

  • http://nomorehornets.blogspot.com The Exterminator

    Ebonmuse, you ask:
    If Flew “converted” in sound mind because he was seeking fame and glory, why stop at deism? Why not go all the way to full-blown evangelical Christianity, as these apologist vampires around him would clearly love for him to do?

    I don’t want to flog my hypothesis to death, but there’s a simple answer to your question. Let’s assume, for the moment, that I’m right, that there’s little impairment of his intellect. Then he would know that his jump from atheism to evangelical Christianity would arouse everyone’s suspicion. By professing some vague deistic beliefs (regardless of the Christians’ spin on them), he can stay believably like himself for people who read the news with some skepticism.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    We are jumping to conclusions. Carrier’s post is interesting but he’s biased as heck — possibly biased as to his own influence on Flew’s change of mind and the extent to which Flew would remember it, and definitely biased towards atheism, as are we all, however reasonable the position of atheism may be. In bringing up words like “Alzheimer’s”, we, here, are piling bias upon (Ebonmuse’s inevitable) bias upon (the reporter’s possible) bias. Restrain yourselves!

    On the other hand, I definitely found Carrier’s information on the contents of the book interesting:

    Curiously absent from the entire book is any discussion of Deism…
    …this book is filled with the typical concerns and methods of contemporary Christian apologetics…
    Finally, chapters provided by Varghese (actually written in Varghese’s name) vent a fireball of rage and calumny against the renowned, popular, and bestselling atheists Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris.

    Strong indications, all, that the overall shape and content of the book aren’t Flew’s doing — which I’m inclined to believe since it actually probably wouldn’t contradict even Varghese’s statements on the matter. In other words, I think we can say with reasonable certainty that Varghese et al are using Flew to promote a worldview that doesn’t precisely align with his. It would be possible to do this without actually lying, per se — just omitting inconvenient qualifiers that Flew might have placed on his position had he been putting the book together himself, and adding in some bits from Varghese that push people towards Christianity particularly.

    I can imagine them rationalising it this way, putting it together so carefully from things Flew actually did say, choosing the bits that made the story they wanted. I can imagine Flew agreeing to let them write the book after a bit of pressure, thinking they had the right to the ‘data’ of his personal story, not paying attention to the way they were writing as if he agreed to the worldview they were promoting with that ‘data’, and feeling as if he had to go along with it once he’d said yes.

    I can even imagine Varghese and possibly Hostetler rationalising that Flew probably would agree with such-and-such an argument, because it makes so much sense… but, though I can imagine them thinking that, I say so with no certainty that they did. They may not have. I don’t think they would have needed to. I could have done it without resorting to that…

    In short, Flew needn’t be senile. He may simply have decided that he doesn’t have the energy to fight the war over subtext in the way his views are being presented by others.

    Know what? I actually believe Varghese:

    “There was stuff he had written before, and some of that was adapted to this,” Varghese said. “There is stuff he’d written to me in correspondence, and I organized a lot of it. And I had interviews with him. So those three elements went into it. Oh, and I exposed him to certain authors and got his views on them. We pulled it together. And then to make it more reader-friendly, HarperCollins had a more popular author go through it.”

    The “launching of chapters and sections with bizarre, quasi-colloquial examples (like baseball stories, lost tribes fiddling with satellite phones, dogs eating a kids homework)” that Carrier notes probably passes for ‘reader-friendliness’, don’t you think? No, it all fits. Varghese is telling the truth. But the book, well, insofar as the book purports to be by Flew, it’s a little dishonest. And I suspect that that little dishonesty has been intelligently designed to go a long, long way.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug
    Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument.

    Do you have some proof for the existence of intrinsic meaning of which the philosophical community is unaware?

    Im not sure what you mean here. I said that(not RiddleofSteel, btw) ‘Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument’ in defense against the appeal to authority fallacy. Meaning that, it makes no difference what Flew says now, or that Flew even wrote the article; all that matters is that the article is there, making an argument, to which we must judge whether it is a good or bad argument. As far as ‘prrof for intrinsic meaning,’ I’m not quite sure to what you are referring.

  • James Bradbury

    Lynet is right.

    I think we are in danger of getting into a PR war here on events that are uncertain and hard to judge objectively. Theists will put their spin on it and we’ll put ours. Who can know for sure what Flew’s real beliefs or motives are? It seems both sides are engaging in wishful speculation.

    At the end of the day I think it falls more into the category of gossip than news. I see no reason to waste any more time on it.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument.

    It looks like the above quote from Doug was inadvertently attributed to me. But I do agree with Doug’s point, mainly that in the end, we judge based on the merits of the argument – considering the reason and evidence as I mentioned in my earlier post. On the other hand, the Pope makes a claim based on his persona – with a wink and nod that he is really speaking for a god. The key ingredient being there is no argument – it’s an edict. So I am a bit amazed that Marcus would try and equate Papal infallibility with judging an argument based on the merits, because when the Pope invokes papal infallibility there is no judging an argument – what he says goes.

  • Marcus

    In Catholic theology, papal infallibility is the dogma that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when he solemnly declares or promulgates to the Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals as being contained in divine revelation, or at least being intimately connected to divine revelation. For all such infallible teachings, the Holy Spirit also works through the body of the Church to ensure that the teaching will be received by all Catholics. – Wikipedia

    I apologise for any misunderstandings I might have caused, peharps it would be clearer if put this way. Whatever the pope teaches is in effect – “preserved from even the possibility of error [...] ” and effect “whatever the [pope] does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument”. Peharps I still am wrong when I compared the two since arguments and edicts are very different.

  • heliobates

    Im not sure what you mean here. I said that(not RiddleofSteel, btw) ‘Arguments should exist in a vacuum, and whatever the author does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument’ in defense against the appeal to authority fallacy. Meaning that, it makes no difference what Flew says now, or that Flew even wrote the article; all that matters is that the article is there, making an argument, to which we must judge whether it is a good or bad argument. As far as ‘prrof for intrinsic meaning,’ I’m not quite sure to what you are referring.

    If the words that you use to encode your argument do not have intrinsic meaning (and they don’t) then the only way your argument has any meaning is if meaning can be inferred from context. Saying that any argument somehow stands completely independant and should be evaluated that way is naieve.

    I realize that you’re trying to head off the fallacy of appeal to incorrect authority, but the context that you must consider when discussing Flew’s “conversion” is the context in which he made those original arguments and the two decades in which he apparently reconsidered them. Flew’s arguments also didn’t remain sealed in hermetic perfection: he wrote new prefaces for subsequent editions of his books for the purpose of putting his arguments in new contexts.

    Unless you are discussing scientific or mathematical data (the “data”, not the “findings”), you always have to consider “whatever the author does, or is like” because you have to be open to the possibility that the author isn’t telling you the truth or is confused, which is what seems to be happening to Flew.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    Marcus:

    Whatever the pope teaches is in effect – “preserved from even the possibility of error [...] ” and effect “whatever the [pope] does, or is like, has, and should have, no bearing on the validity of the argument”. Peharps I still am wrong when I compared the two since arguments and edicts are very different.

    I concur with what Ebon said above: “The whole point of papal infallibility is that certain statements are true only because of who’s saying them.” I argue that we should evaluate at an argument reguardless of who says it, and judge it upon that basis alone. Papal infallibility is the polar opposite: it says you must obey the edict exactly because of who said it.

    heliobates:

    If the words that you use to encode your argument do not have intrinsic meaning (and they don’t) then the only way your argument has any meaning is if meaning can be inferred from context. Saying that any argument somehow stands completely independant and should be evaluated that way is naieve.

    So the only way we can infer the meaning of Flew’s paper in 1950 is to know about the man in 1950, and somehow our analysis of that paper, which hasn’t changed, should somehow be altered in 2007 because we know the man has changed in 2007? I do not think this is right. The words do not change, the argument does not change, and to change our critical analysis of it on the basis of a pshycological switch 57 years later I believe is wrong. Sure, we consider the fact that he has changed his mind, but unless he shows a valid argument against the points he made in Theology and Falsification, our interpretation of that paper really should not change at all.

    Flew’s arguments also didn’t remain sealed in hermetic perfection: he wrote new prefaces for subsequent editions of his books for the purpose of putting his arguments in new contexts.

    I would agree that it is worth studying his subsequent writings to fully flesh out his ideas. Still, it doesn’t change the basic argument. If he had come out in 2004 with a complete and persusive refutation of his 1950 thesis, then we might go back to the original article and re-evaluate. But again, he did not refute it, he only changed his mind, and for reasons entirely separate from the 1950 thesis. This has no bearing at all then on that thesis.

    Unless you are discussing scientific or mathematical data (the “data”, not the “findings”), you always have to consider “whatever the author does, or is like” because you have to be open to the possibility that the author isn’t telling you the truth or is confused, which is what seems to be happening to Flew.

    The only way this is relevant to a critical examination of his 1950′s thesis is if he claims he was confused then, and shows us how it is wrong now. His confusion now should have no bearing on a critical examination of his paper written 57 years prior.

    An example: Plato’s concept of justice is that as all parts of a state working in harmony is a just state, all parts of the soul working in harmony is a just soul. We can examine his life to the best of our ability, to see what he was like, what Greek society was like, and try to understand why and how he made this argument. However, it makes no difference to the validity of the argument what he, or Greek society, was like. We may understand it better by understanding the context, but it does not change the core argument.

  • heliobates

    Doug,

    I’m not fundamentally disagreeing with your assertion that we should separate the argument from the person making the argument. The problem you’re going to have is that Flew apparently doesn’t hold the same position. So was his old position the correct one? If so, why? If not, why not? How do you know?

    You either read Plato in his original tongue or you read a translation of his ideas. In either case, you’re going to have to acquire significant domain knowledge in order to assess his ideas. Just coming to understand how Plato’s conceptions of “state”, “harmony”, “soul” differ from our 2,500 years of distortion and elaboration on his philosophy is a necessary first step to answering whether or not his “core argument” is correct. There’s no way to read Plato in a vacuum.

    Try to tease out these issues without understanding the context in which they formed. I’ll bet you need to know more than you want to know about the mind behind the argument, or you won’t be able to make any sense of this. I gave you more grief than you possibly deserved, but it seemed absurd to me that you used the phrase “in a vacuum” when no such analysis is possible. That’s all I was trying to say, and if I communicated something else, my apologies.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    I appreciate where you are coming from. In certain works context is invaluable. Take, for example, Mother Teresa’s latest book of her writings. It means really nothing without the context of her life. I just simply can’t ignore instances, however, in which explicit arguments are given and in which context means nothing. I do admit, though, that most of this probably from mis-understandings of each other positions.

    The problem you’re going to have is that Flew apparently doesn’t hold the same position. So was his old position the correct one? If so, why? If not, why not? How do you know?

    These questions are interesting, and I would fully agree that we need to look at the changing man to fully appreciate them. However, I never claimed that he held/holds a correct position. My original argument is that regardless of what Flew currently thinks (or miss-thinks, or whatever,) that it will not and should not adversely affect the community because we still have a very strong argument in ‘Theology and Falsification.’ Is the paper ‘correct’? I’m not sure I even know how to respond to that, though I find it persuasive. So this is what I meant with ‘arguments in a vacuum.’ I can imagine a circumstance in which someone found it lying in the street, liked it and published it. The argument would be just as strong.

    Try to tease out these issues without understanding the context in which they formed. I’ll bet you need to know more than you want to know about the mind behind the argument, or you won’t be able to make any sense of this.

    I do think that we need to know the mind (whatever that means) of the man to ‘tease out the issues’ (if possible) that you mentioned above. But I disagree that we need to know the man to appreciate (as in, critically understand) the argument (if you claim that we do).

    So on that note, using Plato was probably a really bad example. I was trying to think of someone in the past, and I went back a little far. In all likelihood, it is probably not possible to understand the arguments, as he intended them, without knowing the context of Greek society, and your point probably holds here. It is possible to understand them however, without knowing the author or Greek society, but of course not as Plato intended. I would argue that even if we had no Greek context, Republic would still be very valuable, if not only for helping to understand the Greeks, but also as a theory of justice. (As far as his theory of justice, that’s my real quick and dirty interpretation, and no, I can’t read Greek.) But in more modern times, I don’t think we need context to appreciate an argument. What is modern? Well, even going back a few hundred years to Hume, if someone found his writings, without a name, and published them, his arguments would be none the weaker without knowing what Hume the man was like. Sure, I agree, context is very valuable, and much would be lost without knowing the man, David Hume. Yet, it is not essential to appreciate the arguments, even in someone as far back as Hume.

  • Damien

    Damien: I recommend reading the Times article for evidence in this vein.

    Thank you, I have. I agree that to laypeople like you and me, Mr. Flew seems…a bit off. But until we have a diagnosis from someone a bit more experienced in mental health than a journalist for the Times (and editor of the New Haven Review, of course), we shouldn’t go stating guesses and rumors as deplorable facts.

    Thanks to Lynet and James for their comments.

  • theistscientist

    methinks maybe another possible permutation. Old Anthony Flew may possibly just be getting the jitters as he faces his own mortality and may have begun hedging his bets a little towards God. Yes, I know atheists hate P’s Wager and yes i know P’s wager (unless tightened up a lot) is logically invalid. However, psychologically, it is another matter altogether, a study done on the religiosity [delta] of dying patients found (not surprisingly) that religious conversion increased among same. Just as it does among soldiers about to go into combat. (and no, I know there are some atheists in foxholes, but really, not many!) Now before you barbecue me here, please think outside the box. This could be the explantion for Flew’s change of mind. If so, it would be evidentiarily neutral in the theist/atheist debate. UNless of course there is (possibly) a God and that possibly that God reaches out to dying hominids in some epiphanous spiritual way. Certainly a logically possible permutation.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Douglas Paulsen

    Yes, I know atheists hate P’s Wager and yes i know P’s wager (unless tightened up a lot) is logically invalid. However, psychologically, it is another matter altogether,

    Actually, I think you have that backward. It is logically valid, but I don’t find it at all convincing (though, admittedly, some might.) Logic is not the problem with Pascal’s Wager, though.

    As for whether Flew was influenced by it or not, I’m not sure if Flew himself even knows.

  • lpetrich

    There’s a long thread about him over at IIDB: Antony Flew; also note what Richard Carrier has written about this affair:

    Antony Flew Considers God…Sort Of (most recent update: 27 Dec 2007)
    Craig the Annoyed
    Antony Flew’s Bogus Book

    And here’s a review of AF’s book by NYT reviewer Anthony Gottlieb — it’s not very good.

  • lpetrich

    Correction:
    Craig the Annoyed

  • Steve

    I only read a few of the comments here. They really are all the same. I don’t see any appeals to anything, let alone evidence in any of these comments. I have read Flew’s book. I rather enjoyed it.

    I have read many books by scientists and philosophers and just regular people who believe in a God. I find many of their arguments quite compelling. I suggest you actually read some of these after opening your mind and then offer refutations to their arguments and not just contrary statements. Many atheist arguments remind of the Monty Python skit where a character pays for an argument but all he gets is a person who says things like “no there isn’t”, “no it’s not” etc.

    Attacks on a person’s credibility due to their age really is unreasonable. I have seen videos of Flew in interviews etc. and he seems quite sane to me. Certainly, his recent debates and this most recent book shows me no evidence of dementia. Even, so, dementia does not necessarily equate to gross irrationality.

    In my own, admittedly limited way, I have tried to engage atheists in debate and found it to be a most horrible experience. Almost without fail the debates have rapidly degenerated into childish personal attacks.

    Anyway, hope everything works out as you expect.

    Steve.

  • OMGF

    I have read many books by scientists and philosophers and just regular people who believe in a God. I find many of their arguments quite compelling.

    For instance?

    Many atheist arguments remind of the Monty Python skit where a character pays for an argument but all he gets is a person who says things like “no there isn’t”, “no it’s not” etc.

    Which is actually perfectly valid if the theist does not meet her burden of proof. For my part, I’ve never met a compelling argument for belief. I’d like to hear one if you have one.

    In my own, admittedly limited way, I have tried to engage atheists in debate and found it to be a most horrible experience. Almost without fail the debates have rapidly degenerated into childish personal attacks.

    I get this complaint from theists all the time, and when investigated, it usually turns out that the theist is being overly sensitive, that any argument against their faith is taken as a personal attack. I don’t know you, and I’m not saying that’s the case with you, but if you stick around here, I think you’ll find that the vast majority of the people here will engage your argument and will show it to be lacking.

  • Steve

    That is the point. The atheists I am referring to are not providing arguments, but are merely “you’re wrong”.

    Some books? there’s

    Gerald Schroeder “The Hidden Face Of God – How Science Reveals The Ultimate Truth” and
    “The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom”
    Paul Davies “The Mind of God”.
    Michael Behe “Darwin’s Black Box”.
    Let’s not forget Antony Flew.
    Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn “Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith”
    Thomas Crean “God is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins”
    Alister E. McGrath “The Dawkins Delusion”

    I could go on, and I have a lot more to read. I love it.

    As for your last point, even atheists on the particular atheist forum I am referring to were quite disgusted by the responses and attacks. But I’m not here to prove to you that I’m not lying or that I’m too sensitive.

    As for my own faith, well it’s personal. It’s my experience with the divine and it saved my life. Literally. And then it gave me a new life. I know this is true and have no real need to prove it. Frankly, I cannot prove it. It saved my fathers life and my brothers life. In fact, as a result of my father, my brother and myself handing our life and will over to the care of God within the context of Alcoholics Anonymous, at different times, and under similar but significantly different circumstances, the lives of many others have also been helped.

    God is not a hypothesis in my life, or the scores of others I personally know. It is a daily practice that provides the power of a daily reprieve. I have seen some atheists become devout theists in AA. I have also seen the wonderful transformation of their lives.

    You can believe what you like of course. But I know and have witnessed many beautiful transformations in AA, not least of which is my own.

    CYA.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Steve,

    The success rate for AA recovery is exactly the same as the success rate for quitting on one’s own (roughly 5% last I heard). It offer no alternatives for people who don’t want to begin by admitting they are powerless losers and start believing in god. Give you father and brother some credit; they weren’t powerless over their addiction, they were powerful enough to overcome it.

  • lpetrich

    Steve, I can link you to several rebuttals of your books, like

    Not a Very Big Bang about Genesis (Gerald Schroeder) by Mark Perakh
    Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath by tobe38 A Load of Bright

    and the above Richard Carrier links on Antony Flew. You might also want to peruse our host Ebonmuse’s writings, “Ebon Musings”

    Steve, I am willing to hunt down more rebuttals for you, but I am reluctant to do much more unless you first read the links I gave you and have demonstrated that you understand the arguments that Mark Perakh and tobe38 have made.

  • Steve

    I read the articles. I’ll look further when I get a chance. Particularly at the Schroeder stuff. That was a bit disappointing, but there you go. I didn’t think much of the McGrath critique. I enjoyed that book and I don’t think the critique demonstrated much. It was clear at the outset that McGrath is annoyed with Dawkins. So what?

    Why do I have to demonstrate my understanding to you?

    As for my faith, well, it is I have said. I made no claim that AA was the only solution to anything. I am well aware of other approaches. I am expressing what I have experienced and witnessed. This is not a fantasy I make up to tell atheists. In fact, I know atheists in AA. Atheists are welcome in AA.

    I know, as an experiential fact of my life that the closer I seek to be inline with God’s will, the greater my freedom and enjoyment of life. I know, that when I pray and hand my life and will over to God, that I am not so reactive or caught with self. I know that the practice of meditation and worship strengthen me. I know you don’t believe in God, so I suppose you cannot accept what I say as being valid. And yet here I am.

    I confess, I do sometimes wonder why I sometimes visit forums like this. It is consistently a pointless endeavour.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Steve,

    I confess, I do sometimes wonder why I sometimes visit forums like this. It is consistently a pointless endeavour.

    I suppose that depends on what your goal is in doing so. You’ll find most people here quite open to debate, though they will ask you to provide evidence for what you believe. If you goal is convert people here, there isn’t really much chance of that happening, or if you’re hoping people to accept what you say without asking any questions, that is not likely to happen either.

    Atheists are welcome in AA.

    They are welcome but AA is a religious institution who’s success rate does not differ from the population at large. Not only that, but as far as I can tell the treatment hasn’t changed since it came to be in the first place. I know I hear that people can make their ‘higher power’ anything they want, though the AA office is quite clear that the higher power is their god; however the one thing people in AA are not allowed to do is not admit they are powerless over their addiction and capable of living their own life. Not a treatment I would look upon with high regard.

    I know you don’t believe in God, so I suppose you cannot accept what I say as being valid. And yet here I am.

    Perhaps AA helped you for reasons entirely perphiral to god, like a social support system, people who have gone through addiction to talk to, or a group to spend your time in instead of your addiction. But the main point is you can’t be sure it was god’s help unless you have evidence that that part aids recovery, and as far as I know there is none that it does. It’s wonderful that you overcame your addiction, but give credit were credit is do; to your being strong enough to do so.

  • A Deist

    While I found your article an interesting and an informing read, I was rather dismayed by your view of those Christian Evangelists. For an atheist poking fun at their superstitions, you spoke incredibly irrationally about them; it seemed almost as though they were evil little creatures that you are superstitious of.

    You stated, “…these people congratulate themselves for every soul “saved”…” – that is the entire answer there! They believe that they have saved a soul! That is all there is to it. They are happy because they believed they have saved a soul from eternal damnation. Think about that; this is naturally a big thing for them to be “saving” people. I don’t understand what sort of twisted logic leads you to believe that they are blood-sucking, evil-doers out to harass the weak (that’s not what you said, but this image easily fits into your view of them). Christian Evangelists are often just simple people, with simple beliefs. They do not have bad intentions. Leave it at that, and don’t go around blowing things out of proportion simply because you don’t like people of faith.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    A Deist

    You stated, “…these people congratulate themselves for every soul “saved”…” – that is the entire answer there!

    Not the entire answer and not the entire quote either. Ebon goes on…

    regardless of whether that conversion took place through coercion, indoctrination or trickery – as if people’s lives were goals in a game and the only objective was to score the most points. Like predators who hunt the sick and the weak, they target the people who are least able to resist them – those who are bereaved and emotionally vulnerable, who are suffering from dementia or cognitive decline, or even those who are dead and unable to defend themselves

    These are not well intentioned do gooders, these are people willing to distort the facts and the lives and legacies of real people to prop up their delusions.

  • Rafael

    Greetings.

    Excuse my English. I used an online translator, and perhaps not very good.

    I would make on the subject under discussion, because I think there are some doubts.

    In the link http://lasteologias.wordpress.com/2008/03/19/del-ateismo-a-la-fe/, already commented on the attack on the Lord’s senility flew, resulting in a response related book written by him, entitled “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”, which I transcribe below:

    “My name is in the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I will not allow the publication of a book with my name with which I am not one hundred percent agree. I needed someone to write because I have 84 years. That was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old, but it is difficult for someone to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking. ”

    With regard to the reasons why it changed its mind with regard to God, responding in an interview in the read link http://www.protestantedigital.com/new/nowleerarticulo.php?r=207&a=1849 where reads:

    “Benjamin Wiker: You say God is in that” it is possible that nobody is more surprised than me that my research on the Divine had passed, after all these years, from denial to discovery. “The others can also be very surprised, perhaps more so that the end seemed very sudden. But in God we find that there has actually been a very gradual process, a migration of two decades, “as you say. God was the conclusion of an argument rather long . But have not had an argument on that point where you were suddenly surprised to realize that, after all, “there is God?” In some sense, “you heard a voice within the same evidence said “you hear me now?

    Anthony flew: There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the idea of Einstein and other scientists notable that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical universe. The second was my own idea that the integrated complexity of life itself which is much more complex than the physical universe can be explained only in terms of an intelligent source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply can not be explained from a biological perspective, despite numerous efforts to do so. With each passing year, the more we discover the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less possible it seems that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. It made me felt that the difference between life and non-life was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins comical effort to argue in the mirror of God that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance.” If this is the best argument you have, then the matter is settled. No, I did not hear any voices. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.”