Friday, July 23, 2010

On Antony Flew and the dishonesty of Fundie God-Mongers

Antony Flew has been hyped as a former paragon of atheism who "converted to Christianity" or at least belief in the Christian God. Of course, this statement is patently in error, but it hasn't stopped delirious Christian fundamentalists from desperately trying to recruit the now deceased Flew into their specious cause, just as they earlier tried with Sir A.J. Ayer.

But my issue is not so much Flew's conversion to God belief, but rather the honesty (or more accurately, dishonesty) of some in arguing about it, or making certain claims. What do I consider a dishonest argument? Well, any of the following:

- Making a claim that controverts what one has openly stated earlier

- Applying or using a false premise or worse, a strawman argument to make a specious case

- Using either or both of the first two in order to arrive at a false and dishonest conclusion

First, let's take the issue of Flew's "atheism" or the claim he was an "atheist", with which I differ. If one reads his book Atheistic Humanism, Prometheus, 1993, it is clear that Flew was no died in the wool atheist, but rather a secular humanist. Indeed, re-reading his book discloses his biggest complaint with most organized religion is (p. 73): "their Earth-centered particularity which has made the possibility of rational agents elsewhere in the universe embarrassing for Christians in a way which for adherent of other religions is not".

In other words, Flew's complaint was mostly that organized Christian religion is far too parochial and geo-centric, so much so that if advanced aliens ever did land here - most fundie Christians would go nuts, or burn turn their KJV bibles into bonfires. (This is not as much applicable to Roman Catholics, I suspect, as the Pope has actually organized confabs to do with first contacts and what they'd imply for the Church. See, e.g. my blog entry:

Anyway, my point is that on going through Flew's book, no where is there the adamant stance one associates with most atheists. Even in his discussion of the possibility of an afterlife (Ch. 4, 'Can We Survive Our Deaths?') his preoccupation is more with whether a unique identity and memory can be preserved, than that there is no possibility of surviving it.

But no where do Flew's humanistic bona fides come through as forcefully as in Part Two of his book: Defending Knowledge and Responsibility. Because the tack here is the respect for an abiding consistency of quality in human knowledge, first and foremost. It is this veneration of quality in human knowledge and hence human responsibility in forging it, that shows Flew as the consummate humanist. Thus, it was not so much an "atheist" converting to God-belief (or rather GENERIC God-belief because as I will show, Flew was very tepid about how far he'd go!) as a humanist doing so.

This is why it troubles me to report the ensuing passage in a fundie relative's blog which shows consummate disrespect for knowledge, as well as the facts concerning Antony Flew, his "conversion" and what it meant.

This fundie relation writes:

"Lastly , the late Professor Anthony Flew , who abandoned his atheism ( BEFORE he died , THANK GOD ! ) , had admitted, while still an atheist , that he couldn't explain how DNA was created and developed through evolution ."

But as I noted previously, Flew didn't "abandon atheism" so much as a hard core secularism which perhaps bordered on atheism. I would suggest the fundie in question get hold of Flew's book and read it himself. As for being unable to "explain how DNA was created through evolution", let's not forget that Flew was a philosopher, not a micro-biologist or geneticist. So if he did make such a remark, he ought to have apologized and put the questioner onto the book The Astonishing Hypothesis, by Francis Crick. The interrogator, Xtian or other, would find all the needed answers there!

Secondly, the fundagelical's histrionic, over-eager paean to Flew for "abandoning his atheism before he died, THANK GOD!" is misplaced and duplicitous rubbish, not least because it ensues from a dishonest stance taken by this person himself (in previous blogs he's written).

To clarify, he has stated in NO uncertain terms, that ALL those (including other Christians - like Catholics) who DON'T accept HIS mode of "salvation" (belief on the Lord JC as personal Savior) are ALSO bound for Hell! In other words, it makes NO difference whether one is an atheist or not! Or whether one "abandoned atheism" on his deathbed for God belief!

As the fundie so articulately put it in previous blogs:

"Even Satan believed in GOD!"

Meaning that simple belief in God alone is not a sufficient condition to enter the pearly gates, as far the fundie is concerned. This means it wouldn't be for Flew unless he precisely followed the fundie's earlier injunctions! (I.E. to "receive the free gift of salvation from the Lord Jesus Christ") which emphatically Flew did not do.

Here is the content of Antony Flew’s interview with Habermas:

Some excepts:

HABERMAS: Tony, you recently told me that you have come to believe in the existence of God. Would you comment on that?

FLEW: 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.

Note here, that the "Aristotelian God" is exactly the same one as postulated by Deism. Yes, it created the cosmos as an initial non-specific and impersonal Intelligence, but then after this "first cause" is proposed, every distinction with the Christian God is magnified. This entity is NOT personal, and does not and has not intervened in the cosmos since the creation. Further, it has not imparted any Trinity, nor any son who goes by the name of Christ.

The Deist God, to give an analogy, is analogous to a child who makes a toy with a gear wheel, and the toy has the ability to move after being wound up and released. Thus, the child makes the toy (he's a clever kid) winds it up, releases it down the sidewalk, then walks away never to glance at it or its final outcome, destination. In this case, the child plays an analogous role to the ambiguous first cause of deism and the toy is analogous to the universe.

Strictly speaking, therefore, Deism treated in its orthodox and traditional manner is not Theism. Deism is, in fact, only one step removed from atheism. The atheist avers there is no one or nothing "minding the store" and so does the deist.

My point here is that the much ballyhooed "conversion" of Flew is not all that big a deal, when you get to the nitty gritty. More from the Habermas interview:

FLEW: I still hope and believe there’s no possibility of an afterlife.

HABERMAS: What do you think about the Bible?

FLEW: The Bible is a work which someone who had not the slightest concern about the question of the truth or falsity of the Christian religion could read as people read the novels of the best novelists.

This statement. taken in context of Flew's Book section on Knowledge and Responsibilty discloses that he regards the Bible like a novel. In either case the author(s) do not have any overriding concern over the "truth or falsity" of content. Thus, it can as easily be ficititious. Certainly, no one takes a novel literally and neither should one take the bible so (especially the corrupted King James version).

Video of Flew on the “afterlife’ (makes it clear he wants NO afterlife)

Where is Antony Flew right now? Well, if we atheists are correct, he is nowhere. His consciousness long gone.

If the fundie is correct, however, he must be in Hell because - though he believes in a kind of deity - he has not professed the special belief in the Lord JC as personal savior. (Though in the interview he's asked about assorted Xtians praying for him to do so, but he replies that he "doesn't think about it". But as a Deist, why would he? Deists have no place for any personal God! As for people praying, Flew makes clear that most "objects of prayer" don't a priori know and hence couldn't care.)

The fundie bloviator concludes by writing:

"He had accepted the need for an intelligent source to have been involved in the creation of the DNA code . "What I think DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements together," he said ( quoted by Richard Ostling , "Leading Atheist Now Believes in God," Associated Press report , Dec. 9 , 2004 ) ."

Well, ignoring the fact that Flew was arguably not a "leading atheist" but rather a "leading secular humanist", the key point is that his latter day (post-"conversion") statement here more or less conforms with the content he wrote in his 1993 book, when he was still an alleged unbeliever.

A key hint is found on pages 33 and 34 (Section on 'A Conserving and-or Initiating Cause') referencing the origin of the universe, and the basic ontological question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

To the atheist, the REAL one, the answer to the question resides wholly with the believer, since he must admit ab initio that the state of Nothingness was more perfect than Being-Existence. It was more consonant with Perfection, as there was no evil or deficiency in existence. These did not occur until creation. So why initiate a state more imperfect than the original one, when you had to KNOW (as an omniscient Being) that imperfection would ensue?

However, Flew's answer in the same section is nowhere near that strong, and in fact, appears weak. Indeed, his convoluted answer on page 34 (which actually invokes Darwin as part of a putative design formality) makes no sense to an atheist. It looks as if, reading between the lines, the answer to the preceding ontological question (he facetiously gives) is" "Because someone wanted it that way!"

In other words, the germ of Flew's answer - given inthe fundie's quote- was already present in his book on Atheistic Humanism.

What is the bottom line here? As I keep saying over and over until I'm blue in the face, it's not just to say or assert "This Atheist (or whatever) now 'Believes in God'" but WHAT KIND OF GOD? There are more than a million conceptual variations of deity that have been germinated in the human noggin over eons. The key question is what is its nature? (Which can be mostly addressed by providing the necessary and sufficient conditions for it to exist. If a person can't provide those, he arguably doesn't know what he's talking about!)

To therefore sashay around and clap your hands because an unbeliever suddenly becomes a believer "in God" means nada, unless that change of heart means something to YOUR key and crucial belief system and the DEITY YOU Believe in!

If it only means the former unbeliever now accepts a nebulous "superior being" bigger than himself, but which is still impersonal and which doesn't include biblical revelations or salvation themes, you could as well put a sock in it. You haven't changed anything in YOUR belief matrix for your benefit, and certainly not gained a "convert" to YOUR specific side.

But never mind. The deluded, reality-challenged fundies will find some way to parlay any nonbeliever's belief in God, into a belief in THEIR God!


Unknown said...

"Indeed, re-reading his book discloses his biggest complaint with most organized religion is (p. 73): "their Earth-centered particularity which has made the possibility of rational agents elsewhere in the universe embarrassing for Christians in a way which for adherent of other religions is not".

The hilarious thing is, if these morons did accept "the possibility of rational agents elsewhere n the ujniverse" (i.e. aliens) they could actually solve their problem of the claimed "authors" of their DNA language.

As you pointed out, saying a "superior intelligence" - superior to Man- means nothing unless specified. They won't go there because they know they'll lose. They demand that 'superior intelligence' be God but if it makes even 1 error every ten billion letters it can't be God - because God is supposedly perfect and omniscient. So they're trapped.

They'd do much better to allow for advanced aliens, who would be superior enough to humans to maybe write such a code, but also less than perfect so they would maybe make 1 mistake in 10 billion.

The problem with these Fundies is they simply lack basic reasoning skills. They reason more or less like children do, like fifth graders who *aren't* as smart as a 5th grader is supposed to be!

It's really something to behold to see how you clean their logical clocks every time. Maybe because they have no real logic outside their KJVs, which they substitute for logic and reason.

Unknown said...

Well, ignoring the fact that Flew was arguably not a "leading atheist" but rather a "leading secular humanist


I believe you're right as I read the same book and Flew certainly didn't come over as any hard core atheist. The examples you alluded to were good, but there were many more, including a later section (forget which chapter) where he expresses skeptcism that order can arise out of chaos spontaneously.

But this is as close to an atheist "doctrine" as one can have and in fact there's tons of evidence around which was presented in the book 'Order Out of Chaos' by Ilya Prigogine. He showed using basic thermodynamics how all sorts of organized systems arise out of chaos.

No real atheist I know would have problems with that, but Flew did (and then he used that to mount severe arguments against Marx, Socialism and Communism - which I thought got off the track).

Of course, one can call oneself or one's system of thought anything he wants. Hitler called his "National Socialism" but we all know (those who learned real history) it was merely a cover for his fascism. Even the North Koreans call their nation 'the Democratic Republic of North Korea' but any idiot knows it's nowhere near democratic!

Flew may have called himself an atheist but he obviously meant it in the weakest, most implicit sense of someone who simply withhholds belief, not someone who actively DISBELIEVES.

But so long as language is used incorrectly these problems will persist and people will exploit the confusion to make wrong-headed arguments.