Skeptic » eSkeptic » April 21, 2010

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Sara E. Mayhew (Copyright 2009 Sara Mayhew. All rights reserved.)
Manga and Science

The hosts of Skepticality love opportunities to introduce listeners to innovative ways of communicating skepticism. This week’s guest is a perfect example. The award-winning creator of graphic novel Secrets of Sorcerers, Sara E. Mayhew is a professional illustrator who specializes in manga artwork that embraces critical thinking.

In 2009 Sara became a TED Fellow (“Technology, Entertainment, Design”) — part of a distinguished program built on the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. She spoke about her goal to use the art of manga to teach young readers about science and critical thinking through engaging stories and images. She spoke again at TED 2010, and recently spoke at the Center for Inquiry: Los Angeles on the topic of “Skepticism Through Manga.”

This week, Swoopy talks with Sara about her new manga, Legend of the Ztarr (the story of a young girl on a far off planet who must ultimately utilize critical thinking and science to help save her world) and about her popular critical thinking blog, There Are Four Lights.


SS Watertown famous ghost picture
Historical Ghost Investigations Part II:
Sinking the Watertown

This week, MonsterTalk continues its two-part discussion of historical ghost investigations. Blake Smith describes his investigation into a famous photo that allegedly shows two dead sailors floating off the side of a 1920’s oil tanker. Methodology for conducting historical investigation is detailed, using Ben Radford’s upcoming book on scientific paranormal investigation as a basis for the talk.

Did two sailors haunt their fellow shipmates? Does the photo really show two ghosts? Find out the answers in this informative conclusion — and find out how you can solve your own cases!

The Remarkable Story of Professor Antony Flew —
The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Who Changed His Mind
There is No God (book cover)

On April 8, 2010, the British philosopher Antony Flew passed away after a long life in academic philosophy, having taught at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities. For most of his career Professor Flew was one of the world’s most outspoken and prominent atheists, until he changed his mind in the closing years of his life, apparently impressed by the arguments from Intelligent Design creationists, most notably with regard to the complexity of DNA. In 2004, Flew co-authored a book entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. The co-author was Roy Abraham Varghese, who became the center of controversy when the New York Times published an article alleging that Flew was in serious mental decline and that the book — and by implication the conversion itself — was perhaps contrived or highly influenced by Varghese.

In this week’s eSkeptic, we present the following article by Kenneth Grubbs, which was written before Flew died and aims to get at the truth of Flew’s conversion. Kenneth is a long-time skeptic and freelance writer living with his family in Southeast Michigan. Kenneth also writes for the free-thinking website Isaac’s Rainbow.

Antony Flew (photo by John Lawrence)

Antony Flew, 1923–2010
Following the Argument Wherever it Leads

a tribute by Kenneth Grubbs

A bristling chill swept the dimming colorless sky over Reading, England one evening earlier this year. In weather uncannily, perhaps even poignantly, similar it was my profound pleasure to speak at length with the delightful and charming Annis Flew, wife of the now notorious Antony Flew who, after almost 70 years vigorously defending atheism apparently changed his mind. Today, at the age of 87, Flew considers himself a deist. At least that is what Annis made clear to me when we spoke in January.

Flew, The Man

At the University of Oxford, during the war-ravaged 1940s, a group of undergraduate students, presided over by C. S. Lewis, gathered each Monday evening below ground in the Junior Common Room of St. Hilda’s College to passionately debate Christianity and atheism.

This elite group, known as The Socratic Club, was the “intellectual hub of Oxford.” At its core is the Socratic maxim to “Follow the argument wherever it leads,” a principle that would guide Flew his entire life. It was here at the Socratic club in 1950 that a 27-year old Flew presented his first relevant work, Theology and Falsification. It was also here at Oxford that he would meet Annis, the woman who would become his wife and lifelong friend and the woman with the kind and steady voice I would speak with on a crisp January evening, some 60 years later.

Professor Flew authored more than 35 books and essays on such diverse philosophical topics as free will and determinism, crime, evolution, logic, ethics, and language. His landmark works include God and Philosophy (1966), The Presumption of Atheism (1976), and now, of course, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (2007). 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.

Flew, The Book

There is a God was published in 2007 by Harper One, the imprint of Harper Collins focusing on predominantly religious and spiritual works. The book is “about why I changed my mind,” Flew writes. His name appears in large print on the jacket. Below it, in considerably smaller type, it reads “with Roy Abraham Varghese.” From the jacket we also learn that the book is the “Winner of the Christianity Today Book Award.” This is a curious honor, given that deism shares almost nothing with Christianity, nor any other religion; but far more importantly, Annis informed me without hesitation that “Tony never came to recognize any of the revealed religions.”

Roy Varghese penned the 18-page Preface. The Introduction is written by Flew, spanning four and one half pages. In it comes the thunderous recant, “I now believe there is a God.” There are two Appendices. Roy Varghese writes the first. Its 22 pages consist of one part “New Atheist” bashing, and two parts tiresome argument. Bishop N.T. Wright, an Oxford New Testament Scholar, writes the second appendix. Before Wright begins his 28-page essay, “The Self-Revelation of God in Human History: A Dialogue on Jesus,” there is a brief paragraph by Flew inviting Wright to contribute, an odd invitation from a deist.

Flew, The Controversy

In December of 2004, 54 battle weary years after Theology and Falsification was first introduced at the Socratic Club, a lifetime of work was forever fractured when the Associated Press released the story that Antony Flew, famed British philosopher and atheist, “now believes in God.” In 2007, not long after Flew’s book was released, Mark Oppenheimer wrote an essay in the New York Times magazine (“The Turning of an Atheist,” November 4), for which he interviewed both Flew and Varghese. I spoke with Mark in February, who told me that Professor Flew informed him with no ambiguity that he did not write the book. “This is really Roy’s doing,” Flew said, “He showed it to me and I said OK.” When Oppenheimer interviewed Varghese, he too stated that the book was his idea, and that he (Varghese) “did all the original writing,” but that the “substantive” material came from Flew’s previous work. Oppenheimer describes Varghese as a Christian apologist as well as a “crusader for (and financial backer of) those who believe that scientific research helps verify the existence of God.” Varghese met Flew at a conference in 1985.

Subsequent to Oppenheimer’s story, Varghese wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times magazine: “First the good news: Antony Flew is alive and well (physically and mentally)” (“Doubting Antony Flew,” November 5, 2007. This letter was written just one year prior to Flew’s dementia requiring hospitalization).

When I spoke with Mark he reminded me that Harper One wasn’t entirely satisfied with Varghese’s prose, so they asked Bob Hostetler, an evangelical pastor, to re-write many of the passages, “To make it more reader friendly,” according to Varghese himself. So the ghostwriter had a ghostwriter!

In essence then, two-thirds of Antony Flew’s book is actually Roy Varghese writing for Flew, with some undefined portion written by Bob Hostetler writing for Varghese. The remaining one-third of the book is Varghese writing as Varghese, taking puerile whacks at the “New Atheists” in Appendix A; and Bishop Wright in Appendix B, writing as Bishop Wright, presenting his 28-page Christian dissertation. As Annis said, “All those Christians [were] trying to pull him to their bosom.” Yet almost unbelievably, nowhere in There is a God is any of this information disclosed. The omissions alone are disturbing. “The most disappointing thing to me,” Oppenheimer told me, reflecting back with clear candor, “is the cynicism of the publishing industry. They knew they made a mistake, and never took the opportunity to correct it.”

Roy Varghese declined my request for an interview. He did email me a written statement to highlight three points. First, he explained that the statements made in the book have been made by Flew in other forums as well. Second, Flew signed off on the book’s manuscript multiple times. And third, Varghese arranged a special meeting attended by himself, Professor Flew and Professor Richard Swinburne, famed Christian apologist and long time friend of Flew. The expressed intent of the meeting was for Swinburne to assess Flew’s genuine views, as well as his capacity. Swinburne wrote a testament proclaiming Flew’s grasp of the material, suggesting that Flew’s position was “most of the way toward Christianity.” (Varghese was kind enough to send me a copy of Swinburne’s statement).

The fact that Varghese felt the need for a third party confirmation regarding Flew’s capacity raises concerns. And having decided that such a confirmation was necessary, it would have been more persuasive had a truly independent third party, rather than a Christian apologist, conducted it.

Of the three important points Varghese wanted me to know, point number three negates points one and two. If Flew’s capacity is questionable to Varghese, then the credibility of expressing his newfound views in other forums and signing off on manuscripts is not compelling.

At this juncture then, having reviewed the controversy, having considered Flew’s age and capacity, and having considered the potentially biased motives of those around him, our story finally intersects with its purpose. Simply put, these antics are of no relevance to us here. Why? Because the Socratic maxim so dear to Flew’s heart is not to follow the man; it is instead to follow the argument. Professor Antony Flew affirms that he is a deist; so stipulated. We will follow the argument and see where it leads.

Flew, The Argument

When someone abandons lifelong convictions, changes their mind, and writes a book to explain it all, we should expect new and dramatic reasoning. Let’s follow the argument spelled out in There is a God.

“Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God,” the argument begins in earnest, summarily invoking the authority of science. “The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature.”

Notice that these points are nothing more than observations for which science is seeking evidence. They are, in and of themselves, not evidence per se, nor do they “point to” anything, despite the semantic implications to the contrary.

The argument continues, “How did the laws of nature come to be? How did life as a phenomenon originate from non-life?” And lastly, “How did the universe, by which we mean all that is physical, come into existence?”

The three scientific observations preceding these questions have been carefully crafted into questions from which the inferences, according to the authors, can only be God. Put more simply, the unspoken conclusion we are to infer is, what else could it be, but God? This is the backbone of the argument for deism. The enigmatic truth that biology and cosmology remain confounded by these questions has been creatively reconstituted into would be articles of evidence.

Flew/Varghese argue that, “Perhaps the most popular and intuitively plausible argument for God’s existence is the so-called argument from design.” Having now read hundreds of pages of masterfully constructed arguments from this classically trained Oxford philosopher, in my opinion Professor Flew would shudder at the notion of employing “popular” or “intuitively plausible” statements as arguments for or against anything. They write, “What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved.”

Consider this passage from God and Philosophy, written by Flew in 1966: “Certainly it is proper to feel the awe in the contemplation of the human eye or of the single living cell. But no exploitation, however breathtaking, of the limitations and potentialities of materials would give good ground for inferring Omnipotence.” So what changed? Did complexity became more complex? Did design became better designed? Is Flew’s qualification, “however breathtaking,” invalidated by the complexity of DNA?

Another cornerstone of any argument for deism is the Anthropic Principle. Flew/Varghese submit the weight of electrons, the speed of light, and gravitational constants to demonstrate that the universe is too “fine tuned” to be accidental. Again, these observations contribute nothing substantive — they are simply statements about the universe, not packets of data’ — save the same misleading implication what else could it be, but God? The authors conclude: “The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such ‘end-directed, self-replicating’ life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind.” The logic proffered fails as an argument because it requires us to accept the lack of knowledge as knowledge, and the lack of evidence as evidence. This is Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, or, appeal to ignorance. It is also the Burden of Proof Fallacy, which states that if we cannot prove X to be false, then X is true; the inability to disprove X becomes the proof of X. The argument is of course invalid.

Bertrand Russell was fond of suggesting that a teapot orbited the sun just beyond Mars; no one can disprove his claim, therefore it is true. If we follow the this line of reasoning we must accept the conclusion that the more evidence we lack … the greater the likelihood that God exists. The argument beckons for God to be defined as “the sum of all knowledge yet acquired.”

This was the reason Flew wrote The Presumption of Atheism back in 1976. It was written to mirror the legal maxim, Ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat, or “The onus of proof lies on the proposition, not on the opposition.” Flew noted in that book: “If it is to be established that there is a God, then we have to have good grounds for believing that this is indeed so. Until and unless some such grounds are produced we have literally no reason at all for believing.” The absence of evidence hardly qualifies as “good grounds” for anything, much less god, and thus our expectations for some epiphanic insight to leap from the pages of this book and help us understand the basis for Professor Flew’s recantation have been thoroughly dashed.

The landscape of science has changed in almost unrecognizable proportions since Flew’s early life. However, it is unreasonable — irrational even — to suggest that Flew’s original position opposing complexity as an argument for a Divine Mind was only a matter of degree. If complexity is a poor argument for the existence of God (and it is) then the degree of complexity is an irrelevant attribute.

Flew, The Conclusion

As a species our hunger for answers is insatiable. So desperate are we to understand the universe around us that for untold centuries we have refused to accept any “gap” in that understanding. Unexplained phenomena are the spawning grounds for ghost stories, sea monsters, grassy knolls, and a Divine Mind.

Antony Flew understood this as well as anyone. He devoted a lifetime of vigorous intellectual argument against presuming God. Today we are asked to accept that he has changed his mind. With asterisks in hand, we accept.

Could we make a cogent argument “pointing to” his age and capacity as factors that might mitigate a change of this magnitude? We could. Are there uncertainties that could warrant a tenable challenge to the motives of those individuals surrounding Flew, with regard to his “conversion” and the curiously construction and authorship of the book? There are. Should the publishers bear any responsibility for preventing misperceptions concerning the disclosure of would-be ghostwriters? They should.

There is little hope of ever reconciling the Antony Flew of 87 years with the Antony Flew of 27 years. Did he change his mind, or did his mind change him?

History will record Antony Flew as a deist; Annis Flew confirmed that for us all. History, I fear, becomes an unwitting conspirator, forever defiled.

With so many varied aspects to this story, it is easy to forget that which matters most. Antony Garrard Newton Flew, philosopher, professor, author, atheist pioneer, and devoted husband, is now gone. For more than 60 years this thinker, this man of great intellect, marched to a different drum and followed the argument. We owe him much.

The last of the old guard, Professor Flew’s festschrift deserves to be written with admiration and respect for a distinguished philosopher. As Annis said to me, her accent reminiscent of British Royalty and her voice never wavering, “I am so very proud to have known him.”

Skeptical perspectives on ID Creationism at Shop Skeptic
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(27 page booklet $5.00) by Michael Shermer

Includes sections: 25 Creationist Arguments & 25 Evolutionist Answers; 10 Intelligent Design arguments and 10 answers; What is Evolution?; Relationship between science and religion; Creation mythology around the world; Old and New Creationism; Intelligent Design Theory and its Discontents; Explanatory gaps, and more…

Donald Prothero Geology, Creationism, and Evolution
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illustration The New Creationism: Intelligent Design Theory
(DVD $23.95, CD $15.95) by Robert Pennock

Dr. Pennock delivers a superbly organized lecture and a thorough analysis and refutation of the latest new arguments from the new creationists. Covers Intelligent Design theory, Irreducible Complexity, and makes a brilliant analogy between the evolution of life and the evolution of language (neither one had a top-down designer), to show the deep flaws in creationists’ reasoning.

Why We Are Hardwired for Belief in God

On April 10 the Wall Street Journal published a debate between Michael Shermer and Gregory Paul on the question of whether or not belief in God is innate. The online version was well edited but shorter than Shermer’s original draft, which he presents here (just for the record).

READ the post

The Sensed-Presence Effect

Michael Shermer discusses the phenomenon of how the brain produces the sense of someone present when no one is there.

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How the Economy Works (cover)

economist Dr. Roger Farmer

How the Economy Works:
Confidence, Crashes & Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech



  1. Bob says:

    Thanks for the article on Flew. Well written, insightful and suggestive!

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Thank you Bob. Professor Flew was a truly remarkable man. It was an honor for me to write this story.

  2. richard says:

    good article, but i have to admit, i’m becoming tired of having to state and restate the obvious logical arguments to theists to no avail. if all this energy was channeled towards science, theres no telling where we would be with respect to the physics that will eventually tell who and what we are.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Richard, I share your frustrations everyday. It does become tiresome at times. I must tell you however, that these are the most important questions that there are. And for those of us who see the disturbing inculcation of children and have the opportunity to do something about it; we must push through the frustration, keep our vitriolic temptations in check, and trudge on. Its an important fight. Thank you so much for your remarks.

  3. Barry Linetsky says:

    Thanks for the article on Professor Flew. I took three courses with Professor Flew at York University in the early to mid 1980s, including two undergraduate courses and a graduate seminar on David Hume Second Treatise, and loved every minute of it. Flew was always smart, witty, engaging, and best of all, given he was a philosopher, rational and intelligent. He had a real passion for his work and loved to share, inquire, argue, and educate. He didn’t tolerate fools lightly, and wasn’t afraid to strongly argue his opinions.

    He also had his own peculiar eccentricities and quirks, both in mannerisms and speech. He spoke the way he wrote, and when I read Flew, I read him in his voice at times. I carried out a brief correspondence with him following my graduation, and he would always respond promptly and kindly in his distinctive scrawl. In the few times I met him in social situations, he was always gracious and gentlemanly.

    His detail to epistemological and logical thinking is what I gained most by being a student. Like others who knew him, it is hard for me to accept his statements that had abandoned atheism. In the few online interviews I have read, there seemed to always have been a bit of a wink to these statements, as if he was having one on with everyone. He had previously dealt with all of the arguments he himself had put forth to justify his conversion. It is impossible to reconcile his personal admission that he had flipped with his prior body of work. To do so was for him to abandon his earlier commitment to logic and sound epistemology, to disregard his own earlier arguments. Your article helped to explain how this may have happened – how a statement or confusion may have been manipulated into a political coup by those who were powerless to oppose the blinding light of Flew’s reasoned arguments opposing irrationalism and mysticism.

    The best we can do to preserve the memory and work of Antony G.N. Flew is to continue to invoke his own arguments against theism with the passion and certitude that he himself brought to the challenge.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Barry, thank you so much for your insight. I wanted so desperately to interview the Professor for this story and was completely disappointed to learn that it wasn’t going to happen. Your intimate description of him helps me tremendously. I’m not surprised at all by it; makes perfect sense. We lost a great man.

  4. Russ Stevens says:

    Thanks for a tightly-reasoned and much-needed article. It seems to me, however, that the last line of the ninth paragraph under “Flew, The Argument” lacks the word “not,” as indicated here:

    Bertrand Russell was fond of suggesting that a teapot orbited the sun just beyond Mars; no one can disprove his claim, therefore it is true. If we follow this line of reasoning we must accept the conclusion that the more evidence we lack … the greater the likelihood that God exists. The argument beckons for God to be defined as “the sum of all knowledge [not] yet acquired.”

  5. Russel Moffat says:

    Hi Kenneth. Brilliant article and tribute. First I’m grateful to you as I have often thought about getting this book but never got round to it. I won’t be wasting my money now.

    Second, I’m both embarrassed and angry at this blatant manipulation and misrepresentation of the truth for Christian apologetic purposes. I will certainly be recommending your article to others who have the book or who have heard in the passing about Flew’s apparent change of heart.

    Third, I admit I am somewhat confused. An atheist becoming a deist is not really such a big deal is it? Deism has a respectable pedigree both historically and contemporally – even Dawkins has said, on at least a couple of occasions, that he understands and can relate to the God of the Physicists/Philosophers although not in that camp himself. Deism is probably the most scientifically compatible of the non-atheistic options (although I should’t forget the agnostics who get most upset at being ignored!)

    Religion, however, is a very different ball-game. I just can’t understand why Flew, if he was a deist would invite Tom Wright (whose many books on Christian origins I have in my study and who I both respect but disagree with on major points) to contribute to this “story”. It doesn’t make any sense whatsover.

    Furthermore, I’m puzzled by the apparent lack of existential angst in relation to all of this. As an anguished soul myself I relate to the struggles of a Nietzsche or a Kierkegaard and love Darwin’s phrase regarding the God Issue – “extreme fluctuations” – that I get; that is me! All that seems to be missing from the Flew story. It just doesn’t resonate with me. Something is missing from the plot.

    By the way I have not checked out the book on Amazon but if there is not a review there already outlining the main points of your article it might be a good idea to post one.


    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Hello Russel, always a great pleasure, and my sincerest appreciation of your kind words. I share your anger.

      I’m going to be the contrarian with respect to the atheist-to-deist “not such a big deal” thing… its still relies on a magic wand… even if its only used once. It is the bailout position for too many arguments to play the “God-dunnit” card just to fill the gap … in my opinion.

      Thank you again for your well-reasoned remarks.

  6. gago says:

    I don’t pick up a lot of fondness for Dawkins, here from Flew:

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Yes … curious isn’t it. As long as the author of this letter betrayed his classical Oxford education and writing style; as long as the author escaped the debilitating grasp of dementia long enough to write it; and as long as the postmark is from a hospital bed in England, then this December 2008 “reply” is probably genuine.

      Thank you for your insight.

  7. Russ Stevens says:

    I’d welcome a brief “yes” or “no” from Mr. Grubbs concerning my insertion of “not” in one of his paragraphs (the 4th comment registered today). I intend to circulate his article with or without that insertion, as he prefers, and am not perfectly confident that, at age 85, I’m actually on the right track. Thanks again for a great article!

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Russ, Sorry for not responding sooner. Though technically acceptable the way its written, inserting “not” works just fine, as well as “yet to be acquired”. Thanks Russ.

  8. Nathan Phillips says:

    I have had Mr. Flew’s name tossed at me in conversation when I mention the secularization of academia. I am not particularly familiar with Flew’s work, but I have read a debate in which he seemed to have lost to a Christian apologist. His arguments weren’t of the Bertrand Russell or Daniel Dennett variet, being full of current science, but rather from classical philosophical stances. I cannot help but think that philosophy separated from science is not strong enough to produce realistic views on the world. I’m not ruling out the possibility that Mr. Flew’s debate that I read could have been biased or fabricated, but this is the impression that I have gotten.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:


      The point you’re raising is incredibly important. Antony Flew was as “classic” as it gets in philosophy; a purist. And although I am hardly qualified to speak professionally with regard to philosophy, I think your supposition has merit.

      Thank you for your comment.

  9. shiranaize says:

    After reading the article and the comments by other readers, it seems to me that Flew’s reputation should not be tainted by this book. In fact, maybe it should be enhanced by it. While I am not familiar with Flew’s arguments, it seems like this book acts as a lesson for what he wanted to teach: “follow the argument wherever it leads.” By presenting two different and inconsistent opinions, it forces us to not merely revere an argument because of the man attached to it, but critically examine both arguments for ourselves. It invites people to participate in the Socratic dialectic, like we have here, whenever they discuss his work. Like J.S.Mill said about the collision of adverse opinions, this ensures that these arguments do not become mere profession, but instead reminds us of the vital and heartfelt reason behind the arguments. In this way, I think that the professed change of heart may be more powerful than if he had died an athiest. Beside, worse comes to worse, he will be remembered like all other philosophers who have more than one distinct period (Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Nietzsche, etc.), and the arguments of his youth will remain as strong as they always were.

    These are just some thoughts, but I hope it allows people to ease some of their anxiety or tensions over this event.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:


      Thank you for your very positive remarks. I hope, and actually believe, that you are correct; that Antony Flew will be remembered in the context of his life’s work. And of course I wrote this story specifically to encourage anyone to always follow the argument, not the person, as you so perfectly restated.

  10. Frank S. Robinson says:

    I don’t have enough information to judge the “truth” about Flew’s relationship to this book. In so many human situations — and unlike in science — “truth” can be an elusive concept. But I do think the whole episode highlights the fundamental intellectual disingenuousness of religious apologists in general. I often wonder how many of them truly believe what they argue, or whether they do it for other reasons. (Of course, the meaning of the word “believe” in this context is itself problematical.)

  11. Peter Morgan says:

    Thank you for this fine and interesting article, and for your responses to an interesting series of comments.

    Your quote from The Presumption of Atheism, “If it is to be established that there is a God, then we have to have good grounds for believing that this is indeed so. Until and unless some such grounds are produced we have literally no reason at all for believing.”, seems to be a focus of many atheist manifestos, to which I find myself always agnostically skeptical, just because the logic is unchanged if we replace “a” by “no”.

    Your response to a previous commenter, that Flew was indeed very classical in his thought, is rather strongly put in the sentence before, “The onus of proof lies on the proposition, not on the opposition.” Does this mean that questions about the nature of “truth” would not much have detained Flew as an academic? On at least some interpretations of logic, true and false are formally equivalent, which makes this beginning of this argument for atheism interpretation-dependent, even in 1976; it certainly makes a gargantuan claim for the applicability and relevance of classical logic, whether to terrestrial or to theological matters. I wonder, in line with my prejudices and far beyond my knowledge of Flew, whether his conversion to deism might be attributed to a reaction in old age to a realization of the tremulous weakness of classical thought in the face of now such commonplace, decidedly non-classical skepticism.

    I knew Professor Swinburne a little at Oriel College, Oxford. I would say that he is a slightly more independent witness than your somewhat mixed vignette, “famed Christian apologist and long time friend of Flew”, might suggest. He is, I believe, a thoughtful Christian, whom a confirmed atheist might well be happy to call a friend, and a sympathetic choice for a near deathbed interrogation of a victim of dementia. His statement that “Flew’s position was “most of the way toward Christianity.”” seems perfectly judged to be usable by all sides.

  12. Roland Paraschiv - Romania says:

    I read the article on Professor Flew with my heart beating hard. I discovered this man years ago when reading about Philosophy in articles / dictionaries. But only this year (2010) discovered that he became a deist, stating that he believed in God / intelligent design and creation. This article is well written and insightful. But I admire Flew because he had the nerve to say it loudly: I BELIEVE IN GOD. Former interviews, letters and other traces leave no doubt about his changing mind from ateism to believing in God. We should be honestly enough to capture the light that led this man entire life: “Follow the argument wherever it leads”. And the argument led him to acknowledge God. I believe this is a miracle and since the complexity of the genetic code was revealed, many scholars, like Flew, were led to believe that the origin of life required a ‘creative intelligence. For me as a Christian and active pastor in the Seventh day Adventist Church in Romania, Anthony Flew had a powerful evangelistic role on any religion. And I believe that God revealed Himself through Flew. Didn`t he write parts of his book? Could be, but I doubt. True, history will retain Flew as a believer in God. And this is important for the final judgement before God.

  13. sgh says:

    Attributing minds to things in the real world is a quick and dirty way of reasoning that is, in the social sphere, relatively accurate. People under cognitive load tend to attribute more “mind” to objects and phenomena (e.g. computers, weather patterns) than when they aren’t under cognitive load. Cognitive load basically means doing a cognitively demanding task. This is thought to tap into the attentional and supervisory resources of the central executive (according to the Baddeley & Hitch model of working memory anyway). Effectively, because you are left with so little spare attentional resources, your capacities to reason about objects is diminished, presumably forcing you to use other strategies to come to conclusions (e.g. attributing minds to mindless objects such as your car). A key observation is that people under cognitive load show the same pattern of deficits on psychological tests as do Alzheimer’s Disease patients, who often have severe atrophy of the frontal lobes. Again, this is thought to reflect the diminished capacity of the central executive which evidently is at least primarily located in the frontal cortex (though localisation of cognitive functions is notoriously difficult). While I certainly can’t say that this is necessarily what happened to Anthony Flew, it is very likely that dementia severely affected his cognitive and intellectual capabilities (because it almost always does). Most of the arguments put forward are really cheap, particularly the one concerning abiogenesis. It is an argument from ignorance, and a prime philosopher such as Flew should know better, and indeed did know better for a long time: this argument has been around for ages.

    Irrespective of whether he changed his mind as a consequence of his dementia, people have rightly pointed out that he was a fantastic thinker and he should be remembered for his life’s work. It is profoundly irritating that theists claim deists as their own, and even believe “that God revealed Himself through Flew”. Four letters: Gtfo.

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