Atheism

Coffee!!: New York Times pundit: Book “rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew”

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Many here will remember Antony Flew as the prominent atheist philosopher who was convinced by design in the universe and life that “There IS a God,” the title of his subsequent controversial book. Go here for more.

Here is the New York Times‘s obituary on the death of Antony Flew, from which we learn:

Although rumors had been circulating for several years that Mr. Flew had begun to question his atheism, “There Is a God” came as a shock. For Christian apologists, it was a welcome counterblast to recent antireligious best sellers like “God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris.

Some reviewers found Mr. Flew’s reasoning less than impressive. “Far from strengthening the case for the existence of God,” Anthony Gottlieb wrote in The New York Times Book Review, the book “rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.”

A long article in The New York Times Magazine by Mark Oppenheimer suggested that Mr. Flew, his mental faculties in decline, had been manipulated by his co-author and other Christian proselytizers. Mr. Flew, in a statement issued through his publisher, reaffirmed the views expressed in the book, which did not include belief in an afterlife.

“I want to be dead when I’m dead and that’s an end to it,” he told The Sunday Times of London. “I don’t want an unending life. I don’t want anything without end.”

Now, my favourite line is “Anthony Gottlieb wrote in The New York Times Book Review, the book “rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.”

Did someone really say that? I can understand not believing in the existence of God, but if I am not going to believe in the existence of Antony Flew, whose work I studied forty years ago, I might as well not believe in the existence of the dry cleaning establishment about 30 metres from my home. Admittedly, I would need to come up with an alternative explanation for how people run in with cash and come out with plastic wrapped garments, but … not being a materialist atheist, I am just not as creative as some people.

No wonder legacy mainstream media is tanking in ratings.

See also:

Should “intelligent design” be captialized as Intelligent Design?

Evolutionary psychology promises to “rescue” literature

Can your lifestyle affect your grandchildren’s health ? Maybe …

20 Replies to “Coffee!!: New York Times pundit: Book “rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew”

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Too funny, reminds me of this video:

    The Dawkins Delusion
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QERyh9YYEis

    “Does Richard Dawkins exist? Many people would say yes. Terry Tommyrot thinks otherwise. In a revealing interview on “The Big Questions”, Dr. Tommyrot explains how belief in Richard Dawkins is, in fact, a harmful delusion, and how it can be explained scientifically.”

  2. 2
    PaV says:

    Only the liberal mind could make such a statement without laughing out loud:

    Some reviewers found Mr. Flew’s reasoning less than impressive. “Far from strengthening the case for the existence of God,” Anthony Gottlieb wrote in The New York Times Book Review, the book “rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.”

    Here Mr. Gottlieb is agreeing with critics who claim Flew’s reasoning seems flawed, and yet he says the book “weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.” How is the questioning of someone else’s existence consistent with reason? Cogito ergo sum.

  3. 3
    O'Leary says:

    For the record, there is no real evidence that Flew was manipulated by his co-author. He was always his own man. Even up to the end, when he denied life beyond death.

    I happen to think he ain’t quite gone, whatever he would like. But … in that view as in everything, he was his own man.

    I say, shame on the people who needed to discredit him by pretending otherwise, to cover the embarrassment of his change of mind.

  4. 4
    pelagius says:

    Denyse wrote:

    Now, my favourite line is “Anthony Gottlieb wrote in The New York Times Book Review, the book “rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.”

    Did someone really say that? I can understand not believing in the existence of God, but if I am not going to believe in the existence of Antony Flew, whose work I studied forty years ago, I might as well not believe in the existence of the dry cleaning establishment about 30 metres from my home.

    Denyse,

    Instead of taking that statement literally, why not read it in context? Gottlieb’s review is available on the web for your perusal, and it makes his point obvious. Flew appears not to have written the crucial part of the book:

    Oddly, Flew seems to have turned into an American as well as a believer. His intellectual autobiography is written in the language of an Englishman of his generation and class; yet when he starts to lay out his case for God, he uses Americanisms like “beverages,” “vacation” and “candy.” It is possible that Flew decided to make some passages easier on the ears of American readers or that an editor has made trivial emendations for him. But it is striking how much of Flew’s method of argument, too, has changed from that in his earlier works, and how similar it now is to the abysmal intellectual standards displayed in [co-author] Varghese’s appendix. In fact, Flew told The New York Times Magazine last month that the book “is really Roy’s doing.”

    The review concludes:

    It is unclear whether Flew has lost the desire to reason effectively or whether he no longer cares what is published in his name. Either way, it seems that this lost sheep remains rather lost.

  5. 5
    above says:

    @O’Leary

    “I say, shame on the people who needed to discredit him by pretending otherwise, to cover the embarrassment of his change of mind.”

    I am not the least bit surprised to be honest. Militant atheists have become so desperate in trying to proselytize that “everything is permitted” to put it in the immortal words of Dostoyevsky.

    Apprently they will not hesitate in demonizing even one of their most astute thinkers, simply because he was honest enough to acknowledge that he was wrong.

  6. 6
    StephenB says:

    —O’ Leary: “For the record, there is no real evidence that Flew was manipulated by his co-author. He was always his own man. Even up to the end, when he denied life beyond death.”

    Yes, and the very fact that he died discounting the idea of an afterlife shows that his change of mind did not occur as a result of any religious influences. He did not really WANT to believe in God, but he had not choice because he simply could not resist the evidence.

  7. 7
    Phaedros says:

    Here’s a video of Flew speaking with Lee Stroebel (I think).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggQGpomwPCM

    What’s interesting, and mystifying, is this poster’s treatment of him.

  8. 8
    Clive Hayden says:

    pelagius,

    from the horses mouth:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    Very interesting interview Clive, you can almost see Flew tripping over the sudden realization that the “omnipotent, omniscient Being” he was coming to grips with was so powerful that the “Being” would absolutely have to be personal also.

    I read this unfortunate comment from Anthony Flew:

    When atheist critics suggested that Professor Flew, then in advanced age, had experienced something like a deathbed conversion out of fear of death, the professor retorted with a rejection of any afterlife. “I want to be dead when I am dead and that’s an end to it,” he made clear. “I don’t want an unending life. I don’t want anything without end.”
    http://www.christianpost.com/a.....page2.html

    I have to agree with Anthony that if I were to be stuck in this imperfect world in this imperfect body, especially given my weaknesses of character without God, I would want it to end to and wouldn’t want it to go on forever. But that is the whole beauty of God’s work in Christ in that He has sealed us with the guarantee for us to be redeemed to a perfect state, both body and mind, with full fellowship with Him in eternity. Without that promised guarantee, I would indeed feel just like Flew in that a eternity spent on this unredeemed world in my unredeemed state would be something that I would not want to go on forever, Indeed it would be like a prison almost:

    Creed – My Own Prison
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YoUuwDZuW0

  10. 10
    O'Leary says:

    Pelagius at 4: I would be ashamed to advance the arguments you are endorsing.

    The fact that Flew, to the end of his life, continued to deny life after death should signal that he was his own man and was perfectly serious about what he said.

    Given his age, I don’t doubt he needed some help with his last book, but there is no good reason to think that it did not represent his actual views.

    About American vs. English lingo, I admit I am no judge, because we Canadians use both indifferently. I didn’t realize that “beverages”, “vacations”, and “candy” were Americanisms. Here, you could also say “drinks”, “trips”, and “sweets”, and every native speaker would know what you meant.

    (At least, we know what Brits are talking about.)

    But that, in itself, is precisely my reasonable grounds for suspicion of the claim that Gottlieb fronted, and you seem to want to accept.

    Had I been Flew’s editor, the exact terminology of non-technical philosophical issues might have come out a bit differently from what it did in this case.

    That wouldn’t change anything about what he really believed near the end of his life, which is pretty clear from some of his last statements.

  11. 11
    pelagius says:

    Moderators,

    Why was my last comment deleted? It was on-topic, relevant, and supported by references.

  12. 12
    Clive Hayden says:

    pelagius,

    Moderators,

    Why was my last comment deleted? It was on-topic, relevant, and supported by references.

    It was accusing Flew of dementia, which is, of course, very rude, considering it was not true, so I won’t allow that sort of mark on a recently deceased man’s intellectual courage and character.

  13. 13
    pelagius says:

    Clive,

    I didn’t “accuse” Flew of dementia any more than I would “accuse” Stephen Hawking of having ALS. Dementia can happen to any of us. It certainly is not a mark against Flew’s intellectual courage and character that he suffered this unfortunate fate.

    The fact of Flew’s dementia is indisputable, having been confirmed by Flew’s wife Annis in January:

    I tried to gain access to Professor Flew for this story, but he was in an Extended Care Facility in Reading, England, tired, confused, and in the paralyzing grasp of advanced dementia. He had been there for well more than a year, and Annis informed me that “Tony is rarely aware of his surroundings anymore.” There would be no interview.

  14. 14
    Clive Hayden says:

    pelagius,

    Your accusation isn’t confirmed by his wife, she said he wasn’t aware of his surroundings, which is suspect at best, given that it’s coming from Skeptic, and even if it were true, it’s 2010, There is A God was published in 2007, and the conversion to Deism was in 2004. It’s a sad day when an honest man who honestly follows his intellect is eaten by his own and called demented.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    Clive

    Sounds, sadly, a lot like the infamous: “Ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked.”

    I find it highly significqnt that instead of engaging the arguments made by Flew on the merits, his now critics (and former co-ideologues), attack him as senile and demented and those who argued the case out with him and/or intervie3wed or co-authored with him as exploiters.

    Distraction, distortion and demonising denigration leading to dismissal.

    A sadly familiar pattern.

    I suggest we might instead want to look at the interview in Philosphia Christi in 2004, here. (Also Cf Habermas’s remarks here.)

    Let’s hear Flew in his own words on how he became a deist — not a Christian — circa 2004:

    Well, I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before. And it was from Aristotle that Aquinas drew the materials for producing his five ways of, hopefully, proving the existence of his God. Aquinas took them, reasonably enough, to prove, if they proved anything, the existence of the God of the Christian revelation. But Aristotle himself never produced a definition of the word “God,” which is a curious fact. But this concept still led to the basic outline of the five ways. It seems to me, that from the existence of Aristotle’s God, you can’t infer anything about human behaviour. So what Aristotle had to say about justice (justice, of course, as conceived by the Founding Fathers of the American republic as opposed to the “social” justice of John Rawls (9)) was very much a human idea, and he thought that this idea of justice was what ought to govern the behaviour of individual human beings in their relations with others . . . .

    I am open to it, but not enthusiastic about potential revelation from God. On the positive side, for example, I am very much impressed with physicist Gerald Schroeder’s comments on Genesis 1. (10) That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation . . . .

    I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it . . . .

    It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design . . .

    And so on across a wide range of CURRENT issues and events; not a reliving of the distant past.

    Try this on Islam:

    As for Islam, it is, I think, best described in a Marxian way as the uniting and justifying ideology of Arab imperialism. Between the New Testament and the Qur’an there is (as it is customary to say when making such comparisons) no comparison . . .

    And on the resurrection of Jesus:

    The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events. But you must remember that I approached it after considerable reading of reports of psychical research and its criticisms. This showed me how quickly evidence of remarkable and supposedly miraculous events can be discredited.

    What the psychical researcher looks for is evidence from witnesses, of the supposedly paranormal events, recorded as soon as possible after their occurrence. What we do not have is evidence from anyone who was in Jerusalem at the time, who witnessed one of the allegedly miraculous events, and recorded his or her testimony immediately after the occurrence of that allegedly miraculous event. In the 1950s and 1960s I heard several suggestions from hard-bitten young Australian and American philosophers of conceivable miracles the actual occurrence of which, it was contended, no one could have overlooked or denied. Why, they asked, if God wanted to be recognized and worshipped, did God not produce a miracle of this unignorable and undeniable kind?

    The man in that interview is nothing like what I have observed and experienced with those suffering Alzheimer’s; which BTW can be rather rapidly onset (as I am currently finding out from very personal and painfully close experience).

    Similarly, Habermas observes apt5ly in his review of Flew’s last book:

    Flew then begins the remainder of the book with an introduction. Referring to his “conversion” from atheism to deism, he begins by affirming clearly that, “I now believe there is a God!” (1). As for those detractors who blamed this on Flew’s “advanced age” and spoke of a sort of “deathbed conversion,” Flew reiterates what he has said all along: he still rejects the afterlife and is not placing any “Pascalian bets” (2).

    In a couple stunning comments, Flew then reminds his readers that he had changed his mind on other major issues throughout his career. He states, “I was once a Marxist.” Then, more than twenty years ago, “I retracted my earlier view that all human choices are determined entirely by physical causes” (3).

    In short, the man has a history of original thought and changing his mind after re-considering old evidence and looking at new information.

    Let us treat him with respect and do him the honour of addressing his arguments and issues on the merits.

    GEM of TKI

  16. 16
    Clive Hayden says:

    kairosfocus,

    Thanks for that clarification.

  17. 17
  18. 18
    inunison says:

    Clive and kairosfocus,

    What reaction did you expect from atheists on the news of Antony Flew’s conversion? What else could they say?

    In the communist country, where I grew up, State would often diagnose Christian parents with dementia or some other cognitive dysfunction. They would be put in asylum and their children taken into State’s custody. I must add that this treatment would be temporary, lasting few weeks or so. I was ten years old.

    Oh, I am sorry… forgot that communism is not the same as atheism. My bad.

    All I am saying is that you should not take statement “Ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked” lightly.

  19. 19
    O'Leary says:

    Much as I should be doing something different, according to my contractual obligations, I cannot take this lightly.

    I have a relative who struggles with Alzheimer and stroke, yet has a very honourable record of service to his Queen and country. Following a long tradition of modesty, I will say nothing more of that than this:

    When one leads a person gently back into the past, they may display a very good sense of what they really believe. If Flew changed his mind in 2004, I know no reason to doubt that he did.

    For one thing, he made it obvious that he expected no special benefit to follow.

    As for his widow, I have dealt with that sort of thing myself. You can respect the person’s testimony without taking it literally.

    And if the day ever comes that I can figure out how to put up a photo of that person in his prime, I will.

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    inunison

    Believe you me, I do not take it lightly.

    Dawkin and ilk’s supercilious arrogance and venomous attitude as revealed by that statement — and I just watched as much as I could stomach of a video pretending that the “bright” ones are the atheists — call to mind Plato’s rebuke in The Laws Bk X, c. 360 BC, based on what had happened to Athens at the hands of Alcibiades and co.

    Yes, the problem of avant garde evolutionary materialist atheism and associated radical relativism and amorality has been known for 2,300 years in our culture so we have no excuse for letting it happen again in the century just past — but then, it was avant garde “science” wasn’t it:

    ___________________

    >> [[The avant garde philosophers, teachers and artists c. 400 BC] say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art [[ i.e. techne], which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial . . . They say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical “material” elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . . these people would say that the Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them . . . These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might, and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions, these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[here, Plato hints at the career of Alcibiades], and not in legal subjection to them . . . . >>
    ___________________

    If that sounds like what you went through, guess why.

    And, if you think that The Laws is an obscure reference [guess why?], try Paul of Tarsus in Rom 1.

    GEM of TKI

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