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Monday, July 21, 2008

Antony Flew's trenchant response to Richard Dawkins & 'The God Delusion'

In 'Flew Speaks Out: Professor Flew Reviews The God Delusion' Professor Antony Flew responds in trenchant terms to what he calls 'that monster footnote [concerning Flew on page 82] to what I am inclined to describe as that monster book' The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006).

According to this new article by the 85 year old ex-atheist, published July 19th 2008 by UCCF's excellent apologetics website www.bethinking.org, Richard Dawkins is 'a secularist bigot'.

The fault of Dawkins as an academic, says Flew: 'was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form.'

Flew's 2004 announcement that at the age of 81, after a noted professional lifetime of atheism, he had come to believe in the existence of God, really set the cat among the pigeons. Ad hominem accusations of hedging his bets with respect to an afterlife that Flew (under the influence of Gilbert Ryle) still doesn't believe even theoretically possible were bandied about by ill-informed detractors such as British humanist's Roy Hattersley and Richard Dawkins. Indeed, at a recent conference on the resurrection in London, Flew stated (before a mainly Christian audience) from a platform shared with Professor Gary R. Habermas and Bishop N.T. Wright, that he didn't believe in any kind of life after death, including resurrection. Hardly the words of a man who is either hedging his bets or easily swayed by Christian friends! As Flew writes in There Is a God (Harper One, 2007): 'I do not think of myself as surviving death. For the record, then, I want to lay to rest all those rumors that have me placing Pascalian bets.' (p. 2.)

Indeed, Richard Dawkins slings several criticisms in Flew's direction within a large footnotes on page 82 of The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006), none of which deal with the substance of Flew's Deism, or the philosophical arguments that persuade him thereof. Instead, Dawkins says that in his 'old age' Flew, whom he depreciates as not being a 'great philosopher' like Bertrand Russell, has adopted belief in 'some sort of deity'. Dawkins also attacks Flew for what he calls 'his ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the "Philip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth', for which he notes 'The awarding university is BIOLA, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. One can't help wondering whether Flew realizes that he is being used.'

Having responded in several venues to the erroneous suggestions that his change of mind is a 'Pascalian Wager' in the face of death, and that his book There Is a God was basically written by rather than with help from Roy Abraham Varghese, Flew now responds directly to Dawkins. (By the way, I personally read the hand-typed article sent by Flew to a mutual contact at UCCF for publication, so I hope we can leave conspiracy theories where they belong.) Flew is clearly deeply upset with Dawkins, on both an academic and a personal level, and he doesn't mince words, accusing him of an 'insincerity of academic purpose.' Dawkins 'is not interested in the truth as such,' laments Flew, 'but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means.'

On receiving the Philip E. Johnson award, Flew notes that: 'Dawkins obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that [being a specifically Christian institution] is incompatible with producing first class academic work in every department...' Moreover, as to the suggestion that he was 'used' by Biola, Flew clearly doesn't think the accusation worth dignifying: 'If the way I was welcomed by the students and members of faculty whom I met in my short stay at 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.'


Recommended Reading

Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God (Harper One, 2007)

Antony Flew, 'Flew Speaks Out: Professor Flew Reviews The God Delusion'

Gary R. Habermas & Antony Flew, 'My Prilgrimage from Atheism to Theism'

Gary R. Habermas, 'Antony Flew's Deism Revisited'

Roy Abraham Varghese, 'Letter to the Editor, Magazine, New York Times'

Benjamin Wiker, 'Exclusive Flew Interview'

Peter S. Williams, 'A Change of Mind for Antony Flew'

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12 Comments:

Blogger Steven Carr said:

Here is what Dawkins writes on page 18 of The God Delusion

''A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation... A deist too believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place.

The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs.'

Here is what Flew writes in his review :-

'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’.'

The book that Roy Varghese wrote for Flew contains no definition of the word 'deism' and how it differs from theism.

Flew seems to have forgotten what is in his 'own' book...

He certainly has no idea what is in The God Delusion.

That does not stop Flew rambling on about Gilbert Ryle, in paragraphs which have nothing to do with deism, The God Delusion or anything at all that is relevant to whether or not Flew's God of not-Christianity exists.

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 21, 2008 4:42 AM  

Blogger peterswilliams said:

Flew does seem to be incorrect in his 'less important point' about Dawkins failing to define deism in 'The God Delusion'. That said, on page 82 of 'The God Delusion', when Dawkins discusses Flew's intellectual conversion, Dawkins is vague about what sort of deity Flew has come to believe in - a vagueness that fits well with his insinuation that Flew is hedging his bets because of his advanced age ('who announced in his old age that he had been converted to belief in some sort of deity'). What Dawkins doesn't mention (but should have known, or could have easily found out), is that as a deist Flew doesn't believe in an afterlife.

And this is the relevance of Flew's paragraphs about Gilbert Ryle. Contra Carr's assertion, these are not a case of Flew: 'rambling on about Gilbert Ryle, in paragraphs which have nothing to do with deism, The God Delusion or anything at all that is relevant to whether or not Flew's God of not-Christianity exists.'

'There Is A God' makes it clear that while Flew is open to the possibility of personal religious experience and miraculous religious revelation (including the resurrection of Jesus) he does not affirm either at the moment.

Flew has sometimes been wary of using the term 'deist' - cf. his endorsement of using the term 'theism' in his interview with Gary R. Habermas for Philosophia Christi. However, Flew has used 'deist' to describe his position - perhaps in order to distance himself from the misunderstanding, attendant on the term 'theist', that he believes in revelation or life after death. However, if 'deism' is taken to mean that God does not act as a primary cause - except for causing the existence of the universe as a whole - then Flew, who believes that intelligence must have had a hand in the origin of life, doesn't technically count as a deist, but rather as a minimalist philosophical theist.

Finally, In response to Steven Carr's repetition of the 'Varghese wrote "There Is A God" and Flew is just an unwitting figure-head who doesn't even know what it contains' conspiracy theory, I can only quote Flew himself:

“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 I’m 84 and 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 hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”

As one can see from reading Flew's solo interviews (e.g. his interview with Benjamin Wiker) 'There Is a God' certainly does represent Flew's own thinking on the God question.

By Blogger peterswilliams, at July 21, 2008 8:23 AM  

Blogger Steven Carr said:

Peter can but hope and pray he never reaches a stage where somebody has to ghost-write a philosophy book for him.

Dawkins defines what a deist believes and what a theist believes.

Flew attacks Dawkins for not defining deism.

The only conclusion is that Flew only skimmed the index of the book he was reviewing.

And where does 'There is a God' define deism?

On what page?

Where does 'Flew' discuss the difference between what he believes and what Varghese believes?

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 21, 2008 9:19 PM  

Blogger Steven Carr said:

Peter rails against Dawkins for not saying that Flew is a deist and then claims that Flew is not a deist.

Amazing.

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 21, 2008 9:28 PM  

Blogger Peter S. Williams said:

I have already agreed with Steven Carr that Flew is mistaken when he makes the 'less important point' that Dawkins does not define deism in 'The God Delusion'. It is not my intent to ascribe infalibility to Flew! So, I agree with Steven that Dawkins does indeed provide definitions of what a theist believes and what a deist believes. And I agree with him that the most charitable interpretation of this mistake on Flew's part would appear to be that Flew only skimmed the index of 'The God Delusion'.

None of this, of course, means that Flew knows nothing about 'The God Delusion' in general, or about the particular footnote on page 82 which is the focus of his recent comments. Steven appears to make an invalid inference from the true premise that Flew is wrong about his 'less important point' about 'The God Delusion', to the false conclusion that Flew: 'certainly has no idea what's in The God Delusion.'

'There is a God' doesn't, if memory serves, specifically mention and/or define deism. 'There is a God' does, however, make it clear that Flew doesn't believe in any religious revelation, whether personal or historical. No one would come away from reading 'There Is a God' thinking that Flew was a Christian or a Muslim!

'There Is a God' makes it clear, however, that Flew believes in a God who is responsible for more than merely 'lighting the blue touch paper' at the beginning of things; he believes in a God who had a hand in the origin of life. Hence, as I explained before, IF 'deist' is taken to mean a God 'whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place' (Dawkins' definition of deism), THEN Flew is not a deist (in this sense). Rather, I suggest that he might be more accuratly described as a minimulist philosophical theist.

I also explained that Flew has used both 'Theist' and 'Deist' to explain his belief in God; and that he currently seems to prefer 'Deist' - probably because it doesn't carry with it the association that he believes in a revelation or in life after death (which he doesn't believe in either).

The term 'Deist' like the term 'Theist' (and, indeded, like the term 'Atheist') would appear to be subject to a number of different interpretations. What Flew means by 'Deist' isn't the same as what Dawkins means by it.

'There Is a God' makes a clear differentialtion between those parts that represent only what Roy Abraham Varghese believes (e.g. the introduction and one appendix are listed as being written by Varghese), what N.T. Wright believes (e.g. his appendix), and when it is relaying what Flew believes.

I suppose Steven thinks that Varghese's inclusion of an appendix laying out his own case for belief in God is a ruse to fool readers into thinking that the rest of the book actually represents Flew's reasons for belief in God, whereas in actual fact the whole book (besides N.T. Wright's appendix) is really Varghese's opinions with Flew merely acting as an occasional ventriloquist's dummy?! And I suppose that means that when Flew provides the same very reasons in solo interviews, articles etc., that's just a co-incidence (or perhaps Flew has been hypnotised)?! And I suppose that the fact that 'Flew' hasn't become a Christian (doesn't believe in life after death, etc.) is simply because Varghese is canny enough not to push the 'Flew' boat out too far? Thus all is just as one would expect if 'There Is A God' is an elaborate conspiracy...

Flew himself says that 'There Is a God' accurately represents what he believes: 'This is my book and it represents my thinking.' He was certainly happy enough to sign his name to my copy of 'There Is a God' when I met him in London recently. I think it only courteous to follow both Occam's 'Razor' and Swinburne's 'Principle of Testimony' in taking Flew at his word.

Dawkins does not say that Flew is a deist. Dawkins does say that Flew believes 'in some sort of deity'. But I do not: 'rail against Dawkins for not saying that Flew is a deist' as Steven says (indeed, given the difference in the meaning ascribed to the term by Dawkins and Flew, if Dawkins had called Flew a deist he would have been mistaken). Rather, I note (as does Flew) that Dawkins is vague about what Flew believes, and that rather than dealing with the substance of what Flew believes, he simply drops ad hominem hints about Flew's 'old age', hints that tie in rather conveniently with his vagueness about what Flew believes. I also note that Dawkins makes a big, 'well poisoning' deal out of Flew's association with a 'Bible Institute'.

Hence while Steven Carr's attempt to show that I contradict myself -

'Peter rails against Dawkins for not saying that Flew is a deist and then claims that Flew is not a deist. Amaizing.'

- is a good rhetorical move, it is unfortunately one based on an insufficiently close reading of what I actually wrote.

By Blogger Peter S. Williams, at July 22, 2008 4:24 AM  

Blogger Steven Carr said:

'I also explained that Flew has used both 'Theist' and 'Deist' to explain his belief in God; and that he currently seems to prefer 'Deist'

Does Flew know what he is?

And it is most amusing that Flew lambasts Dawkins for allegedly not providing a definition of deism, when Flew has allowed a book to be written that doesn't even define what he himself believes in.

Poor guy.

'The fault of Dawkins as an academic, says Flew: 'was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form.'

Poor Flew. He will go down in history as a philosopher who can't even give a definition of what he believes in, yet thinks it scandalous when others don't do the same. (Regardless of the fact that Flew seems unaware of the actual content of The God Delusion)

Such is the damage Varghese has done to Flew's reputation, producing a book on a conversion to deism that does not even tell its readers how deism differs from theism.

I hope that charitable historians of philosophy will overlook the book, just as people overlook the scandal of Salvador Dali signing blank canvases.


And by the way,Dawkins was lambasting the 'Philip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth', rather than Biola.

But since Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, I suppose all is possible.

I am not a big expert on Einstein.

Is Flew right when he said that Einstein talked about the 'integrated complexity' of the world?

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 22, 2008 3:26 PM  

Blogger Steven Carr said:

By the way, on page 69 of 'God and Philosophy', Antony Flew writes 'It is none the less atheism for being decked out in theistic clothes as in the words of Einstein.'

So why the choice of 'scandalous' by Flew when he use similar language to describe Einstein as Dawkins does?

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 22, 2008 3:31 PM  

Blogger Peter S. Williams said:

Two quotes from Antony Flew:

'atheism... has always to be interpreted by reaction to the sense of God in question in the particular context. It is none the less atheism for being sometimes decked out in theistic clothes, as in the words of Einstein inscribed over the fireplace in Fine Hall, Princeton: "God who creates and is nature is very difficult to understand, but he is not arbitrary or malicious."'
- Antony Flew, 'God and Philosophy', (Hutchinson, 1966), p. 69.


'In my book "God and Philosophy", I had said we cannot make too much of these sorts of passages, since Einstein had said that he believed in Spinoza's God. Since for Baruch Spinoza the words God and Nature were synonymous, it could be said that Einstein, in the eyes of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, was unequivocally an atheist and that he was "a spiritual father of all atheists." [cf. 'God and Philosophy' p. 15] But the recent book "Einstein and Religion", by one of Einstein's friends, Max Jammer, paints a very different picture of the influence of Spinoza and also of Einstein's own beliefs. Jammer shows that Einstein's knowledge of Spinoza was quite limited; he had only read Spinoza's "Ethics" and turned down repeated requests to write about Spinoza's philosophy... While drawing attention to Spinoza's pantheism, Einstein, in fact, expressly denied being either an atheist or a pantheist:

"I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. it does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand those laws. our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations."

In his book "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins propounds my old position that Einstein was an atheist. In doing so, Dawkins ignores Einstein's own categorical statement above that he was neither an atheist nor a pantheist. This is puzzling because Dawkins cites Jammer on occasion, but leaves out numerous statements by Jammer and Einstein that are fatal to his own case... Einstein, of course, did not believe in a personal God... But unlike Spinoza, who saw the only logical consequence of the denial of a personal God in an identification of God with nature, Einstein maintained that God manifests himself "in the laws of the universe as a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble." ...Einstein clearly believed in a transcendent source of the rationality of the world that he variously called "superior mind," "illimitable superior spirit," "superior reasoning force," and "mysterious force that moves the constellations." This is evident in several of his statements...'
- Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese, 'There Is A God', (HarperOne, 2007), p. 98-101.

By Blogger Peter S. Williams, at July 23, 2008 3:05 AM  

Blogger Steven Carr said:

I'm sure the German soldier just pointed to his belt buckle, which said 'Gott mit uns'

God is watching us?

God watches children being raped?

And does nothing?

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 26, 2008 2:39 AM  

Blogger Steven Carr said:

So did Einstein ever talk about the 'integrated complexity' of the world?

By Blogger Steven Carr, at July 27, 2008 2:09 AM  

Blogger mattghg said:

Hello Peter,

Do you know why it is, of all places, that Flew would choose to release his review onto the internet via the UCCF apologetics page?

I'm not trying to be clever or funny; I'm just curious.

By Blogger mattghg, at July 31, 2008 4:18 AM  

Blogger Peter S. Williams said:

Flew posted his response to Dawkins to a contact at UCCF (a friend of mine) who had a hand in organizing the recent Gary R. Habermas tour of the UK. Habermas and Flew are of course old friends, and Flew participated in one of the events on the Habermas tour (in London). So I image that this is where the link comes from.

By Blogger Peter S. Williams, at August 3, 2008 4:10 AM  

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