Antony Flew’s Passing

Antony Flew died the other day. Like many secular people, I have mixed feelings. At the end of his life he was declared a theist. I say “was declared” because it is not clear to what extent in his final two or three years he was not simply in a state of senescent confusion. The final book issued in his name (actually authored by third-rate religious apologist Roy Abraham Varghese) is a crackpot screed that, surely, Flew would have repudiated with disdain had he been in possession of his powers. Because he lent his famous name to such a text, theistic propagandists were not ashamed to exploit his dotage, cackling and gloating over their “victory” in “converting” the “world’s most notorious atheist.” Perhaps we atheists should all draw a object lesson and beg that everyone disregard us, if, someday, when in the grip of disease or decay, we begin babbling about the love of God or endorsing intelligent design.
Surely, we should not judge a life of 87 years on the basis of the senile follies of the closing few years. Less excusable than his end-of-day volte face was the fact that he participated in public debates for which he was woefully unprepared, such as his encounters with Thomas Warren, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig. Someone used to the sorts of debates held at the Oxford high table would hardly be prepared for the bare knuckles style of American fundamentalists. You could excuse him for being blindsided once, but he fell for it again and again.
Still, I rank Flew as second only to Bertrand Russell as a writer of pellucid, witty, and penetrating philosophical prose, and Flew’s treatment of the theistic arguments was far deeper and more rigorous than Russell’s. Speaking personally, his book God and Philosophy helped drive me from theological murk (e.g., Paul Tillich) and into the harsh light of analytic philosophy. Flew was made famous by his much-quoted 1950 essay “Theology and Falsification.” Flew argued that theological assertions, unlike empirical claims, are incapable of falsification. A scientific claim, such as the double-helix structure of DNA, is potentially falsifiable (though not actually falsified) by many kinds of scientific tests or data. Theological assertions, says Flew, are not similarly falsifiable by contrary data or counterexample.
All such efforts to rule out theological claims as pseudo-assertions on the basis of some sort of verifiability or falsifiability criterion are now generally dismissed as detritus from the bad old days of logical positivism. I still think there is something to Flew’s argument, though. Consider a typical theological assertion, one that was presented to me as Law One of the Four Spiritual Laws from a Campus Crusade tract: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
Great news, huh? The omnipotent, omniscient, creator of the universe loves ME and has a wonderful plan for MY life! But then a moment’s reflection reminds you that God’s “wonderful plan” for some people’s lives is that as infants they are burned to death in house fires. In fact those who assert that God loves you must also hold that God’s love for persons is compatible with his permitting of any of life’s multiple misfortunes to befall them. That is, “God loves you” is not falsified if God permits you, through no fault of your own, to suffer a hideous and torturous death. God’s love therefore seems to be something very strange—not at all like the love of parent for a child. As Flew notes, an earthly father will be driven frantic to ease the suffering of a child, while the heavenly father does nothing at all.
The upshot is not that assertions like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” are meaningless or devoid of factual significance. They are asserting something, but just what? If God loves me but in some mysterious way that is compatible with letting any horrible thing happen to me or, worse, my loved ones, then why should I want God’s love and why should it matter to me? Indeed, what, really, is the difference between saying that God loves me and saying that God is totally indifferent towards me? The value of Flew’s “Falsification” essay is precisely that it makes us ask such hard questions of theological assertions rather than giving them a free pass because, superficially, they look like innocuous everyday assertions.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11389651479904502758 DM

    Atheists,

    but you have NO ANSWER TO DEATH… therefore you FAIL…

    THE DEATH TRAP

    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/
    ********

    THE REAL QUESTION:

    DOES ATHEISM HAVE A FUTURE?

    AND THE ANSWER – NO!

    http://www.disclose.tv/forum/does-ath-ism-have-a-future-no-t19859.html

    Shermer – Harris – Myers – Dawkins – Randi VS. NOSTRADAMUS – EINSTEIN – MARKUZE

    you're ANNIHILATED!

    Atheists,

    Repent and turn to God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    'Flew argued that theological assertions, unlike empirical claims, are incapable of falsification'

    Of course, theistic philosophers say this has been entirely refuted.

    And they also often say that science is incapable of falsifying a god, because no empirical data can disprove a god. NOMA and all that.

    So are religious claims both a) falsifiable and b) outside the reach of empirical evidence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Steven Carr said: “So are religious claims both a) falsifiable and b) outside the reach of empirical evidence?

    There is some unnecessary confusion about this.

    First of all religious claims are clearly falsifiable. So, for example, the religious claim that whatever one asks of God in Christ’s name will be done, is falsifiable. As is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Or the age of the Earth. Or that the Second Coming would take place while people of Jesus’s generation were still alive. And so on.

    I think the confusion resides in this: Some atheists believe that the physical laws and facts that science discovers can falsify the foundational theistic claim that God has created the universe. This is obviously false, for, on theism, science simply discovers facts about God’s creation of the physical universe, so scientific knowledge cannot possibly falsify that foundational theistic belief. MOMA then is not only true, but trivially so.

    On the other hand philosophy can falsify that foundational theistic belief, as evidenced by the many arguments against the existence of God that atheistic philosophers have been proposing, most notably the various versions of the argument from evil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith:

    You said: “All such efforts to rule out theological claims as pseudo-assertions on the basis of some sort of verifiability or falsifiability criterion are now generally dismissed as detritus from the bad old days of logical positivism.

    Well the idea that propositions only have meaning if they imply a scientifically measurable difference is clearly nonsense. For example under that criterion the question of whether we all experience the color red in the same way would become meaningless, and it clearly is not. Similarly with the question of whether cockroaches are conscious beings or not. Or with moral questions.

    On the other hand I think that meaning can only be grounded on empiricism, don’t you agree? Can a proposition have any meaning for us if its truth value has no relevance at all to our life, not even in principle? If, whether a proposition is true or not, would make no difference whatsoever for us?

    Here is an example of a proposition which strikes me as meaningless: “Mathematical objects exist in a Platonic realm”. If somebody would explain to me what difference the truth value of this proposition would make to me then and only then would it become meaningful to me.

    There is an entire set of propositions the meaning of which escapes me, namely propositions of the form "X exists objectively". People explain that this means that X would exist even if nobody could possibly experience it (directly or indirectly). But whether an existent has the property of objectivity or not cannot make any difference to me, for all difference entails the possibility of experiencing that difference (even if only indirectly, even if only in principle).

    But then a moment’s reflection reminds you that God’s “wonderful plan” for some people’s lives is that as infants they are burned to death in house fires.

    “Life” in the theistic context has a much larger meaning than the meaning that the naturalistic understanding of reality implies. Most obviously, on theism life continues far beyond our life in this universe. So the above counterargument does not work. The counterargument that I think does work is to ask what God’s “wonderful plan” is for those who will end in eternal torture in hell.

    Incidentally theists do not agree whether God has a detailed plan for each human life. In my own view the strongest theistic understanding entails that S/He has not, and that (to use phrase from the recent movie “Knowing”) “shit just happens”. In other words I find that the best possible world that God can create (and hence has created) in order to realize His/Her marvelous purpose for creation, is one where natural evil is random.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17363535855611196531 atheismwar

    with the atheists:

    they start begging when they start dying…

    they PAY THE PRICE FOR ATTACKING THE SUPERNATURAL –

    with their LIVES…

    CRYSTAL NIGHT TONIGHT!

    Atheists,

    but you have NO ANSWER TO DEATH… therefore you FAIL…

    THE DEATH TRAP

    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/
    ********

    THE REAL QUESTION:

    DOES ATHEISM HAVE A FUTURE?

    AND THE ANSWER – NO!

    visit:

    http://www.clubconspiracy.com/forum/f30/does-ath-ism-have-future-no-11202.html#post66570

    Shermer – Harris – Myers – Dawkins – Randi VS. NOSTRADAMUS – EINSTEIN – MARKUZE

    you're ANNIHILATED!

    Atheists,

    Repent and turn to God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    DG
    In other words I find that the best possible world that God can create (and hence has created) in order to realize His/Her marvelous purpose for creation, is one where natural evil is random.

    CARR
    Amazing.

    God realises His/Her marvellous purpose for creation by subjecting everything in to a game of Russian Roulette, but one where eventually God's Finely-Tuned Killing Machine will kill every living creature ever born in it…..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Hmmm. Is it just my perception, or have some of the posted comments gotten more incoherent than ever? Woo. Maybe this site should have a link to on-line psychiatric services.

    Anyway, turning to the replies originating from this universe, Dianelos asks:

    "On the other hand I think that meaning can only be grounded on empiricism, don’t you agree? Can a proposition have any meaning for us if its truth value has no relevance at all to our life, not even in principle? If, whether a proposition is true or not, would make no difference whatsoever for us?"

    Did it rain on this location exactly 10,000 years ago today? Well, I’m strongly inclined to say that there was some sort of weather here exactly 10,000 years ago today, so I guess I would say that it is true that it either rained or did not rain here on that date even though there is no way for us to tell whether it did or not. Therefore I regard the proposition “It rained on this location exactly 10,000 years ago today” as a meaningful statement that is either true or false and its truth condition (not ascertainable by us) would be a fact about the world, the occurrence of liquid precipitation on this location 10,000 years ago today. So mark me down as a realist and a big fan of the unrestricted employment of the law of the excluded middle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    In response to my comment:

    “But then a moment’s reflection reminds you that God’s “wonderful plan” for some people’s lives is that as infants they are burned to death in house fires.”

    Dianelos replies:

    “'Life' in the theistic context has a much larger meaning than the meaning that the naturalistic understanding of reality implies. Most obviously, on theism life continues far beyond our life in this universe. So the above counterargument does not work. The counterargument that I think does work is to ask what God’s “wonderful plan” is for those who will end in eternal torture in hell."

    Sorry, Dianelos, but this just leaves me more confused than ever about what it could mean to say "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." So, I'm assured that the infant for whom God's "wonderful plan" was to be burned to death in a house fire will enjoy an eternity of bliss in heaven. Will that person grow up in heaven, get an education, get married, have a career, have children, or do any of the other sorts of things that, paradigmatically, make life worthwhile here on this plane of existence? In short, what kind of meaning will this person's life have in heaven? This strikes me as a patently unanswerable question for a number or reasons, not least that I have no idea what heavenly existence is supposed to be like. Even if it can be explained satisfactorily to me (and you probably should save your breath) I still don't see how this solves the problem. What kind of wonderful plan is it to painfully kill someone in infancy and then lavish heavenly bliss upon them? This makes God sound like an eccentric billionaire who likes to beat people to a bloody pulp and then compensate them with a ten million dollar check. Hardly sounds like a wonderful plan even if people line up to get the beatings and the checks. I used this example in a debate with William Lane Craig and his response was to get mad and accuse me of being flippant. No. I really just don't get it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith:

    I agree that the proposition “It rained on this location 10,000 years ago” is meaningful, because that rain would perhaps have moved a pebble which I would now find in a particular spot. So the truth value of this proposition can conceivably have some relevance to my life. Or, one may imagine, it will be possible to build a time-machine, in which case I could go back in time and experience that rain first-hand.

    My point is that there are some propositions the truth value of which, as far as I can see, does not imply any conceivable relevance whatsoever to my life, not even in principle. These propositions appear to be completely separated from my experience of life (including its objective and subjective dimensions) and thus also from my sphere of empirical knowledge. It is those propositions that strike me as meaningless, or at the very least not worthy to think about. Take, for example, the proposition “mathematical objects exist in a Platonic realm”. Can you give any conceivable difference that the truth value of this proposition could make to my life? And if you can’t, can you give me some reason why I should care about the truth value of this proposition?

    Ditto for the proposition “X exists objectively” (which must not be confused with the proposition “it is objectively true that X exists”). For if the existence of X can conceivably affect my life then the proposition “X exists” simpliciter suffices, and to say that “X exists objectively” adds no additional meaning and hence the “objectively” qualifier says nothing.

    I can formalize my argument thus:

    1. It makes some sense to think about the truth value of all meaningful propositions. (premise)
    2. If the truth value of a proposition can make no conceivable difference to my life then it makes no sense to think about its truth value. (premise)
    3. Therefore, if the truth value of a proposition can make no conceivable difference to my life then it is meaningless. (from 1 and 2)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith:

    You raise some difficult issues. First of all I would like to explain my general stance.

    Every theist must make a basic epistemic decision: Does one consider past revelation (in scripture and perhaps in tradition too) as the reliable source of theistic knowledge – or does one consider our sense of the divine to be that reliable source? The theist who chooses the former is called “conservative” (and sometimes, confusingly, “orthodox”), and the latter is called “progressive” (and sometimes, confusingly, “liberal”). Now it seems to me that for a Christian theist the answer is pretty easy: the Gospels point beyond themselves and often appear to belittle “scripturism”, and the fundamental Christian dogmas of the Resurrection and of the Trinity entail the living and hard-working presence of God in our life. To be a conservative Christian demonstrates, in my judgment, a failure of faith, the absence of trust in the presence and power of the living God. As is clear by now, I am a progressive Christian. Indeed if theism is to become a science (in the traditional sense of the word) I think it must 1) affirm the existence of our sense of the divine, 2) affirm that this sense, no matter how vague or difficult to put in common words, is an objective sense that directly perceives the spiritual realm on which all existence rests, and 3) affirm that the past beliefs codified in scripture and tradition are only stepping stones, and, no matter how important and laudable, can and do contain errors.

    Now a progressive theist clearly sees that the so-called Irenaean theodicy is far more successful than the traditional Augustinian theodicy, with its dogma of the Fall. According to the Irenaean theodicy the purpose of creation is to give us, created persons, the means for soul-building, the result of which has value which cannot otherwise be instantiated. At the eschaton the Irenaean theodicy describes a state of “being in heaven” for us all. This I interpret as “theosis”, i.e. a condition of having realized the image of God in us to such a degree that we are actually united with God, a point at which our existence as separate individual persons is extinguished (and hence one can describe that condition also as “no-being”, the way the Buddhists do). Now our task of soul-building is clearly not completed in this life and hence will continue long in the afterlife. About the afterlife little can be reasonably said, but I think it is pretty clear that our life in this universe is just a first step. Both the child then who dies in the fire and the old philosopher who dies at 100, are infants in the big picture.

    You ask whether that child will “grow up in [the afterlife], get an education, get married, have a career, have children, or do any of the other sorts of things that, paradigmatically, make life worthwhile here on this plane of existence”. The short answer I’d give is “yes”. Perhaps not in exactly the same form we experience in this life on Earth, but in a form that is functionally similar to our experience here. So in the afterlife we shall certainly have the opportunity to learn, to build meaningful relationships with other people, and to laboriously grow in virtue – but there will also be suffering and doubts and fear. The traditional binary view – this life an opportunity and a test, the afterlife with eternal consequences – is perhaps quite wise when compared to the religious worldviews it supplanted, but in this day and age is a hopelessly rough sketch and therefore rather misleading.

    The very idea of individual selves – I am here you are there, I go this way you go that way – may be too primitive. So, that tragic child and the old contented philosopher are not different persons in some significant sense. Which perhaps illuminates the ethical principle that we should love each other as ourselves: we should because the other person ultimately is ourselves. And we should never return evil, because returning evil is hurting ourselves twice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Curiously, Antony Flew was struck down by dementia after he turned to God.

    I guess God does not like converts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    You say:

    "My point is that there are some propositions the truth value of which, as far as I can see, does not imply any conceivable relevance whatsoever to my life, not even in principle."

    I am not sure what you mean by "any conceivable relevance to my life" or "in principle." It is often unclear to me what philosophers mean when they ask whether something is possible "in principle." Does it mean "logically possible" or something weaker like "possible for creatures with the cognitive and perceptual abilities of humans?" Also, I am not sure if you mean "meaning" in the sense that philosophers of language speak of meaning or whether you mean it in the sense of "making a difference in my life." If you intend the latter, I might agree with you that something utterly irrelevant, even to the satisfaction of my curiosity, is not worthy of thinking about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    Thanks for your enlightening distinction between a "conservative" and a "progressive" theist. You say:

    "You ask whether that child will 'grow up in [the afterlife], get an education, get married, have a career, have children, or do any of the other sorts of things that, paradigmatically, make life worthwhile here on this plane of existence'. The short answer I’d give is 'yes'. Perhaps not in exactly the same form we experience in this life on Earth, but in a form that is functionally similar to our experience here."

    I'm honestly not trying to be pigheaded, but, again, this answer leaves me as much in the dark as ever. I just do not know what it means that a life in heaven (as a disembodied mind, or an angelic sort of being, or what?) could be "functionally similar" to our biological, earthly life. So, I still don't get God's "wonderful plan" for the incinerated infant or what God's love is supposed to be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Radio programme

    At 1:29 the interviewer of Flew explains he could not broadcast the interview he had done with Flew, because Flew could not understand the questions.

    Blog

    That unbroadcastable interview was done in 2005.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Steven,

    Wow. That reveals a lot. All the more shame on those who exploited him for propagandistic purposes. I guess for Varghese and his ilk nothing is too sleazy if it is done for the glory of the Lord.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You say: “I am not sure what you mean by "any conceivable relevance to my life" or "in principle." It is often unclear to me what philosophers mean when they ask whether something is possible "in principle"."

    I mean that when one describes the empirical relevance of a proposition, one need not necessarily take into account contingent factors such as what resources there are at one’s disposal, or the physical facts of our universe, or even the laws of physics for that matter. If one can’t explain the pragmatical relevance of one’s claim even under the utterly minimalist requirements described above, then one’s proposition is certainly not worth thinking about and hence meaningless.

    I think that the application of this criterion serves as a reality check. For example, if one googles the important sounding concept “objective existence” one finds questions like: “Do elementary particles have an objective existence?”, “The objective existence of mathematical objects”, “Is the objective existence of the physical universe self evident?” I don’t understand and cannot imagine what these people are talking about. Are there things that merely exist, and things that moreover exist objectively?

    If you intend the latter, I might agree with you that something utterly irrelevant, even to the satisfaction of my curiosity, is not worthy of thinking about.

    How can one become curious about a proposition if one does not understand its meaning in the first place? And how can one understand its meaning without knowing how that proposition connects with one’s experience?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “I just do not know what it means that a life in heaven (as a disembodied mind, or an angelic sort of being, or what?) could be "functionally similar" to our biological, earthly life.

    I am not talking about “heaven” and what traditionally or popularly has been said about it. What concerns me is the most powerful version of theism we (theists and atheists alike) can conceptualize. Given the problem of evil, and given the weaknesses of the traditional Augustinian theodicy, and its dogmas of the Fall at the beginning of creation and of hell for most of us at the end (which if anything exasperates the problem of evil), it seems clear to me that strongest theodicy is the Irenaean one, and which I have been discussing all along. It is in this context then that I am talking about the afterlife.

    So, will the afterlife be entirely spiritual? I don’t think so, because I don’t think that the afterlife (or succession of afterlives) will ever become entirely non-physical. Indeed I think we shall always experience some kind of a physical environment. Why? Because we shall never be omnipotent, which means that our experiential environment will always resist our will to some degree. Further, our environment will always be intelligible, and will thus resist our will in an orderly/predictable fashion. Finally, “to resist one’s will in an orderly/predictable fashion” is I think a good definition of what “physical” means.

    But shall we experience some kind of disembodied existence in the afterlife? My hunch is that we shall not, for, given the purpose of our existence, I don’t see the advantage of such a condition. I also note that traditional theism has affirmed some kind of bodily existence in the afterlife, and I don’t see any reason to suspect an error in this. I am not saying that the physics of the afterlife will be identical, or even similar, to the physics of this one here. Also, I suppose that in the afterlife both our cognitive and our physical powers will be greater; perhaps we shall be able to walk through walls the way the body of the raised Christ is said to have been able to – who knows? And, ultimately, why should one care? If the Irenaean theodicy is true then we shall all experience the afterlife, and given God’s goodness the design of the kind of life we shall have will be for the best. I am here just trying to show that there is nothing incoherent or difficult to conceptualize about the idea of an afterlife in which “the sort of things that, paradigmatically, make our current life worthwhile”, still obtain. If anything one would expect the afterlife to contain more things that make it worthwhile.

    How can the afterlife be functionally similar to our biological, earthly life? Well, if I am right that in the afterlife we shall be embodied beings experiencing a physical environment, I don’t see where the problem lies. Incidentally, by “functionally similar” I mean that the afterlife will be effective in serving the same purpose our current life serves (i.e. that of “soul-building”). But there may be some big differences in our experience. Perhaps we shall be able to check the current physical universe the way we now check an encyclopedia. (This latter bit is a secret wish of mine; if God is reading this I hope S/He will take my wish into account. I would really like to be able to know how the real Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus lived and spoke; or to know how the Parthenon or the Knidian Aphrodite looked like). Perhaps our powers of empathy, which in this life are embryonic, will be much stronger in the afterlife. Again, this is all interesting speculation, for one can’t really know, can one? But, if you’ll excuse the pun, I am dying to find out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    We may still be at cross purposes, but I certainly think (as a hard-bitten scientific realist) that elementary particles have "objective existence." That is, I think that the proposition "Protons exist" is meaningful, and true, and that its truth condition is a fact about the world, namely the actuality of a kind of entity that we pick out with the referring term "proton." Further, I think that protons exist objectively in the sense that their existence does not depend upon the percepts, concepts, or consciousness of any being, nor are they constructs of language or conceptual schemes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    I certainly like your view of the afterlife better than the harps and clouds thing. In fact, the only afterlife I could imagine wishing for would be one where I could explore space/time without the present bodily limitations. Still, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride…Worse, we can wish for things that cannot exist, like the eternally unsatisfiable consumer demand for compact cars that are as roomy inside as the '64 Cadillac. And that is precisely what I worry that we are doing when we try to envision an afterlife. We want a world in some ways like the present one, and in other ways not. Getting back to the original question that started the discussion, if my query about how we are to understand the love of God is answerable only by postulating some sort of existence like Frodo Baggins' or Harry Potter's, let's say, then I think I can still rightly wonder if theists really know what they are talking about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “ Further, I think that protons exist objectively in the sense that their existence does not depend upon the percepts, concepts, or consciousness of any being, nor are they constructs of language or conceptual schemes.

    So let us consider the proposition “Protons exist objectively” understood in the sense you specify above. Can you describe what would be different in our experience if that proposition were false instead of true, as you hold?

    If you can’t then I don’t see the point in thinking about a proposition the truth value of which makes no difference whastsoever. Why should one care about a proposition such that whether it’s true or false cannot possibly make any difference in one’s experience? I suppose that it’s considerations like this that make some people suspect that metaphysics is a vacuous field. But, I’d argue that it’s not metaphysics per se, but some specific metaphysical ideas, such as “objective existence”, that are vacuous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    In “The Cambridge Companion to Atheism” there is an interesting essay by Steward E. Guthrie titled “Anthropological Theories of Religion”. In it he discusses the three main anthropological theories of religion, namely the social-solidarity (or social-glue) theory, the wishful-thinking theory, and the intellectualist (or cognitivist) theory. He explains that the first two theories have been largely discredited, and that the third one is now dominant. About the wishful-thinking theory he argues that “many religions, moreover, fit any wish-fulfillment theory badly because they have features for which no one is likely to wish”.

    I both agree and disagree with him: On the one hand it’s true that many/most (and arguably all) mainstream religions describe a reality and a personal future which nobody in their right mind would wish for. On the other hand, any coherent theistic worldview must sound like wishful thinking. Why? Because if one can conceptualize a world that is better than what a particular theistic worldview posits, then the latter worldview does not comport with theism’s foundational belief that God is perfect in all respects. For, a perfect God would not fail to create the better world one conceptualizes.

    My point is that if, as you say, my description of the afterlife sounds like wishful thinking, then this is exactly as it should be. If it weren’t so I’d be worried, because it would suggest some incoherence in my position. True theistic beliefs must sound like wishful thinking. The tricky part is to be careful about what one really values and hence really wishes.

    Finally, I’d agree that specific claims about the afterlife cannot but be speculative, but I’d argue that some speculations are informed and can be justified. For example I gave reasons for my claim that we shall always experience some kind of a physical environment. So it’s not like I claimed this just because “we want an [afterlife] world in some ways like the present one”. Further, if one has good reason to believe that, on theism, the Irenaean theodicy is the stronger explanation for the existence of evil, then one has good reason to believe that the afterlife, whatever the specifics, will be such that the purpose of creation entailed in that theodicy still obtains. And so on. In short I claim that theistic thought about the afterlife is speculative, but not just speculative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05371279514024960026 Ron Krumpos

    While researching various views on "conscience," I read "Jung on Evil" (Princeton University Press 1995). He offers an unimpassioned view of evil which is totally dependent on humans.

    The editor, Murray Stein, summarizes Carl Jung: When humans adopt a more disinterested viewpoint, they transcend the categories of good and evil to an extent and view human life, human behavior and human motivation from a vertex that sees it all as "just so." Human beings love each other and we hate each other. We sacrifice for each other and destroy each other. We are noble and base. And all of this belongs to human nature. The judgments we make about good and evil are bound to be biased by our own interests and tilted if favor of our pet tendencies and traits.

    In my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org I wrote a short paragraph: Evil and deliverance. Many orthodox religions personify evil as Satan, the Devil, Iblis, Mara, or other demonic forces. Most mystics hold us responsible for our own evils, not an external source. Some say that evil exists only in rejection or lack of awareness of good, or to balance good in the apparent dualities of this life…not in unitive eternal life. Mystics have to eliminate personal wrongs to realize divine oneness. Deliverance comes by overcoming the selfishness of our egos, ignorance of our minds and stubbornness of our senses.


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