Skip to comments.Professor Antony Flew reviews The God Delusion (World's foremost former atheist critiques Dawkins)
Posted on 07/20/2008 3:48:33 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
On 1st November 2007, Professor Antony Flews new book There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind was published by HarperOne. Professor Flew has been called the world's most influential philosophical atheist, as well as one of the most renowned atheists of the 20th Century (see Peter S. Williams bethinking.org article A change of mind for Antony Flew). In his book, Professor Flew recounts how he has come to believe in a Creator God as a result of the scientific evidence and philosophical argument.
Not surprisingly, his book caused quite a stir as can be seen from the miscellaneous customer reviews on Amazon.co.uk. Some of those comments (and those elsewhere) implied that Flew was used by his co-author, Roy Varghese, and did not in fact know what was in the book. This is a serious charge to which Professor Flew responded and which he reiterated in a recent letter (dated 4th June 2008) to a friend of UCCF who has shown it to us. Professor Flew writes:
I have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because Im 84 and that was Roy Vargheses role. The idea that someone manipulated me because Im old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.
Professor Flew has recently written his forthright views on Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion. His article, reproduced below, shows Professor Flews key reasons for his belief in a Divine Intelligence. He also makes it clear in There is a God (page 213) that it is possible for an omnipotent being to choose to reveal himself to human beings, or to act in the world in other ways. Professor Flews article is offered here as testimony to the developing thinking of someone who is prepared to consider the evidence and follow its implications wherever it leads.
Professor Antony Flew writes:
The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents or rather lack of contents of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view).
The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period in which he composed this book although he has since announced his intention to retire) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form. Thus we find in his index five references to Einstein. They are to the mask of Einstein and Einstein on morality; on a personal God; on the purpose of life (the human situation and on how man is here for the sake of other men and above all for those on whose well-being our own happiness depends); and finally on Einsteins religious views. But (I find it hard to write with restraint about this obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins) he makes no mention of Einsteins most relevant report: namely, that the integrated complexity of the world of physics has led him to believe that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind it. (I myself think it obvious that if this argument is applicable to the world of physics then it must be hugely more powerful if it is applied to the immeasurably more complicated world of biology.)
Of course many physicists with the highest of reputations do not agree with Einstein in this matter. But an academic attacking some ideological position which s/he believes to be mistaken must of course attack that position in its strongest form. This Dawkins does not do in the case of Einstein and his failure is the crucial index of his insincerity of academic purpose and therefore warrants me in charging him with having become, what he has probably believed to be an impossibility, a secularist bigot.
On page 82 of The God Delusion is a remarkable note. It reads We might be seeing something similar today in the over-publicised tergiversation of the philosopher Antony Flew, who announced in his old age that he had been converted to belief in some sort of deity (triggering a frenzy of eager repetition all around the Internet).
What is important about this passage is not what Dawkins is saying about Flew but what he is showing here about Dawkins. For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed I believe eventually to reply to every letter.)
This whole business makes all too clear that Dawkins is not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means. That would itself constitute sufficient reason for suspecting that the whole enterprise of The God Delusion was not, as it at least pretended to be, an attempt to discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God but rather an attempt an extremely successful one to spread the authors own convictions in this area.
A less important point which needs to be made in this piece is that although the index of The God Delusion notes six references to Deism it provides no definition of the word deism. This enables Dawkins in his references to Deism to suggest that Deists are a miscellany of believers in this and that. The truth, which Dawkins ought to have learned before this book went to the printers, is that Deists believe in the existence of a God but not the God of any revelation. In fact the first notable public appearance of the notion of Deism was in the American Revolution. The young man who drafted the Declaration of Independence and who later became President Jefferson was a Deist, as were several of the other founding fathers of that abidingly important institution, the United States.
In that monster footnote to what I am inclined to describe as a monster book The God Delusion Dawkins reproaches me for what he calls my ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The awarding Institution is Biola, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Dawkins does not say outright that his objection to my decision is that Biola is a specifically Christian institution. He obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that this is incompatible with producing first class academic work in every department not a thesis which would be acceptable in either my own university or Oxford or in Harvard.
In my time at Oxford, in the years immediately succeeding the second world war, Gilbert Ryle (then Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy in the University of Oxford) published a hugely influential book The Concept of Mind. This book revealed by implication, but only by implication, that minds are not entities of a sort which could coherently be said to survive the death of those whose minds they were.
Ryle felt responsible for the smooth pursuit of philosophical teaching and the publication of the findings of philosophical research in the university and knew that, at that time, there would have been uproar if he had published his own conclusion that the very idea of a second life after death was self-contradictory and incoherent. He was content for me to do this at a later time and in another place. I told him that if I were ever invited to give one of the Gifford Lecture series my subject would be The Logic of Mortality. When I was, I did and these Lectures were first published by Blackwell (Oxford) in 1987. They are still in print from Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY).
Finally, as to the suggestion that I have been used by Biola University. If the way I was welcomed by the students and the members of faculty whom I met on my short stay in Biola amounted to being used then I can only express my regret that at the age of 85 I cannot reasonably hope for another visit to this institution.
(for additional background on Antony Flew)
Biola University page on Antony Flew
(...and in Flew’s own words)
“My Pilgrimmage From Atheism To Theism”
Interesting passages include:
Flew’s viewpoint on Islam, The Bible v. The Koran, and
the intellectual caliber of Saint Paul.
(p.12 of the .pdf)
Flew’s mention that his father (an important person in
The Methodist Church) might have tried to get his denomination
out of The World Council of Churches due to the WCC being
hijacked by Marxists
(bottom of page 14 of .pdf)
ping for later
Every knee shall bow.
Good news..Wonderful to see that man and God has been reconciled again- in this instance, Prof. Flew whose philosophical studies are a delight to read...Much as the mind of Aquinas accepted God from the start, Prof. Flew came to God in a more roundabout way, but he found Home.
good read - honest thinking
Isn’t Deism a heresy in all Christian denominations? Don’t you have to accept Christ as lord and savior?
BIOLA is a very good evangelical Christian college. I know a couple of teachers there. They actually believe the Bible at that college.
Well, I could answer that, but as a Catholic and as a Christian, I would get sucked into a twilight zone that I would rather avoid.
Full of delusional absolutists.
Aren’t Hindu’s theists too?
The arguments of atheism i have seen against Christianity much rely upon choosing a invalid form of it so that they may attack it. My thought here: http://peacebyjesus.witnesstoday.org/Atheism1.html
Dawkins’ response to flew in his own words.
Summary: Flew is senile, he fell for the Discovery institutes nonsense, and he tells provable lies to advance his new cause.
But what if it's true?
This is from Flew in 2001:
"Richard C. Carrier, current Editor in Chief of the Secular Web, tells me that "the internet has now become awash with rumors" that I "have converted to Christianity, or am at least no longer an atheist." Perhaps because I was born too soon to be involved in the internet world I had heard nothing of this rumour. So Mr. Carrier asks me to explain myself in cyberspace. This, with the help of the Internet Infidels, I now attempt.
Those rumours speak false. I remain still what I have been now for over fifty years, a negative atheist. By this I mean that I construe the initial letter in the word 'atheist' in the way in which everyone construes the same initial letter in such words as 'atypical' and 'amoral'. For I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify - to show to be false - what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as "the religious hypothesis." The more I contemplate the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam the more I wish I could demonstrate their falsity.
I first argued the impossibility in 'Theology and Falsification', a short paper originally published in 1950 and since reprinted over forty times in different places, including translations into German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Welsh, Finnish and Slovak. The most recent reprint was as part of 'A Golden Jubilee Celebration' in the October/November 2001 issue of the semi-popular British journal Philosophy Now, which the editors of that periodical have graciously allowed the Internet Infidels to publish online: see "Theology & Falsification"."
The moment . . . the very MOMENT . . . that a debater goes ad hominem reveals that (1) he feels terribly threatened and (2) he does not feel comfortable merely arguing the factual/logical case.
All a positional proponent needs do is argue his own case. The use of ad hominem attacks against foes is a giveway about the weakness that the proponent feels about his own case.
Doesn’t matter if we’re talking pro or anti theism, pro or anti evolution, pro or anti ANYTHING. Any topic, anywhere, any time.
It also makes profound statements about someone’s character, too. And those statements are not positive.
Strictly speaking, heresy is the denial of one or more tenets of a faith one professes to accept; thus, Christians who disagree on major issues hurl charges of heresy in both (or many or all) directions. But Deists don't claim to be Christian, so they can't be Christian heretics.
Belloc (and Chesterton following him, I think) did call Islam "merely the greatest of the Christian heresies" but that's sort of loose usage: I guess historically there's some evidence that Mohammed got the basics of Islam from renegade Christians, but he himself -- and still less his followers -- never professed Christianity.
He only thinks that because he's 85 years old -- it's definitely an old-fashioned view! ;-)
So he became an atheist at about age 30? So in his real prime, he was presumably a Methodist, like his father (not necessarily, of course, but it seems most likely; in any case, by his own account, not an atheist).
Unless you and Dawkins have strong backgrounds in gerontology and have examined and tested Flew, claims of senility are a really cheap shot!
Usually true, except when the ad hominem charges are those pertinent to a moral issue, i.e. Mt. 23
Antony Flew-- 2001
Flew wasn't just an atheist; he was professional philosopher who based is atheism on a rational system that he constructed. He accepted this system for more than fifty years and in the last few years of his life he changes his mind based on the demonstrably flawed logic of Behe. He, in effect, now denies his entire life's work.
He has done so, not to accept Christ, but simply to accept Deism, the vague notion that there is an "intelligence" behind the mechanisms of the universe.
The Discovery Institute has captured a talking point, but lost a soul.
It is a small victory, however. As a philosopher, Flew saw himself as a "negative atheist". In other words he was never an atheist at all. He was agnostic. He never denied the existence of God, just that there was no evidence for His existence. Somehow, the "watchmaker" argument that he had argued against for decades somehow became compelling based on his new belief fhat DNA couldn't form naturally. He is a philosopher and not a biologist. Behe takes my old friends advice; "When you can't dazzle 'em with diamonds, baffle them with bulls**t".
Now, a reasonable hypothesis for all this is mental degredation: "It is estimated that up to one third of adults will experience a gradual decline in cognitive function known as mild cognitive impairment as they age (Low LF et al 2004; Busse A et al 2003). Less severe than dementia, mild cognitive impairment is defined as cognitive defects that do not interfere with daily living. It may include slower thinking, a reduced ability to learn, and impaired memory. While many conventional physicians view these defects as an inevitable consequence of aging, newer research has uncovered possible reasons for mild cognitive impairment and has also identified potential therapies that may enable people to battle age-related mental decline more effectively than ever before. Minimizing cognitive defects will become even more important as the average life span continues to lengthen and hundreds of thousands of people head into their 80s and 90s, when the risk for cognitive decline is greatest." http://www.lef.org/protocols/neurological/mild_cognitive_impairment_01.htm
Actual dementia affects another 15% on average, but increases in prevalence with age.
Flew was an atheist for more than fifty years when his health was in his prime. An 85 year old man has better than a 50% chance of suffering from some form of mental impairment. Dawkins doesn't claim that Flew is senile, he just suggests it is possible. He was right.
Flew is agnostic on the number of god's. He believes in some form of intelligence, single or plural.
So Christianity is a jewish heresy but Deism is only blasphemy?
1: a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth
2: one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine : nonconformist
Apparently Deism is only blasphemy to Catholics, but is a heresy to others denominations according to Mirriam-Webster.
Usually true, except when the ad hominem charges are those pertinent to a moral issue, i.e. Mt. 23
Well . . .
1. The example you give is from the Bible and has God (Jesus) speaking. He isn’t debating points with the Pharisees. He is proclaiming and judging, which he can do as God. God is the ultimate authority on the moral law that he himself created and since he sits as judge over everyone (and everyone belongs to him as he is creator) relative to that law, he isn’t debating here in order to seek truth. He actually IS truth.
2. In a court of law you can destroy the factual testimony of a witness by impeaching the witness, usually on the basis of character or competence. But you don’t get to just make charges. You must clearly demonstrate (usually involving the introduction of valid evidence) that the allegations made against the witness’ character or competence were accurate.
In this case, critics of Mr. Flew must demonstrate with evidence that Mr. Flew is senile, that he was controlled by his co-author, etc. Mr. Dawkins, for example, didn’t do that. If he could have, he would have. His failure to do so in speaks massive volumes about himself and his own motivations. And character.
One major rule of life is that when Person A criticizes Person B (regardless of whether the criticism is favorable, unfavorable or mixed; accurate or inaccurate; civil or mean-spirited, etc.), Person A reveals far more about himself that he does about Person B. That is true about every single one of us.
On FreeRepublic you see people commenting on all different types of issues from all different types of positions. The MANNER is which they do it exposes their character and true motives almost every time.
Usually we don’t realize how transparent we are in our writings and, especially, in person. A surprisingly small percentage of people are capable of deceiving others effectively. And no one can deceive people all the time.
Thus, the adage: You can fool all of the people some of the time. And you can fool some of the people all the time. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.
Even the most brilliant people tend to be far more open books that they ever realized — open to relatively easy interpretation by others with far lower IQs. But their hubris feeds their own denial.
You don’t actually read anything I post do you?
A lot of elderly find religion again later in life as fear of death increases. He didn’t accept Christ however, so theoretically he’s still going to hell.
aruanan said: Actually, studies have shown that most people who make a religious commitment do so earlier rather than later in life. And the longer they wait, the less likely they are to do so.
. . . . .
aruanan, you're correct, of course. But please don't confuse this discussion with facts. You'll only gum up the process.
Hm. Thanks for the diagnostic tool.
Now, when you stop spouting foolishness and start talking sense in however many years, we'll know you're senile, too.
How do you account for him changing his mind when the argument has been the same for 50 uears.
Oh, gee, I don't know ... maybe he finally had enough evidence/experience to convince him that he just couldn't justify those old arguments anymore, and was honest enough to say so.
I can say with some authority that it happens, as that's what happened to me ... though admittedly I only had about 20 years of those sorts of arguments to undo.
I would go further, and venture to guess that Mr. Flew had been having his doubts for quite a while before he "came out," and that his pride made it difficult to admit his conversion.
But of course, it's much easier to dismiss Mr. Flew as senile. And, of course, ad hominem claims of senility are also much less dangerous for those who might begin pondering their own doubts about their atheist beliefs.
(I suppose it's mere coincidence that the Soviets were similarly prone to questioning the mental capacity of those who dared to question Soviet orthodoxy....)