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December 15, 2004

Apostasy apostasy? Or apocrypha?

Reports of Antony Flew's epiphany may have been greatly exagerated. Or not. Here is Flew's letter editor to the editor of Philosophy Now.

Flew is being awfully coy for a philosopher:

Anyone who should happen to want to know what I myself now believe will have to wait until the publication, promised for early 2005, by Prometheus of Amherst, NY of the final edition of my God and Philosophy with a new introduction of it as ‘an historical relic’. That book was a study of the arguments for Christian theism, first published in 1966 in various editions in both hardcover andpaperback in both the USA and the UK. My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also areligious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato’s Socrates: “We must follow the argument wherever it leads.”

If Flew has undergone a metaphysical shift, it isn't a very dramatic one. Flew seems to have become more sympathetic towards the argument from design. He doubts that evolutionary theory can explain the emergence of complex molecules. Flew says that his worries are empirically-motivated. He's not arguing that evolutionary theory is logically flawed or explanatorily impotent. Some body of experimental results is making Flew wonder whether complex molecules arose (or could have arisen) through natural selection. He's vague about which data he found so persuasive and he admits that he hasn't kept up with the scientific literature.

Flew is clear that he hasn't converted to a religion or found a deity as such. He is simply open to the possibility that there might be some "hyperintelligence" responsible for life. Flew doesn't even think that this intelligence is necessarily conscious, let alone concerned with humans and their moral lives. I'm no fan of conceptual analysis, but I must say that supernatural, non-conscious intelligent design force sounds like a contradiction in terms.

It's nice that Flew's flickering atheism has drawn the reality based community together this holiday season. I don't think I've ever agreed with so many other bloggers at once: Kriston Capps, Julian Sanchez, Sean Carroll, Matt Yglesias.


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Get thee behind me, nominalist!

ID is a terrible argument, for it leads nowhere.
I prefer the arguments from:

Authority:"God commands you to believe."
Absurdity and Potentiation of Faith:"Because it is just so ridiculous it must be true. And believing the ridiculous makes you authentic, ya know"
Social Timidity:"Everybody else believes, what makes you special."
Mrs O'Leary's Ontological:"If He doesn't exist, how come you know His name?"
And finally Vaihinger:"Fake it, who's gonna know, and what can it hurt."

Doesn't the entire ID argument lead to the downfall of faith? If you believed that God created science as both a mechanism and a human challenge, then halfway through we throw up our hands and say "it's too complex, a supreme being must have done it". God must be sighing and saying (to himself) "well yea, but".

P.S. Thank you for the introduction to Grammer Police and Mixing Memory. I still can only stomach Matthew in small doses.

So Flew is a 19th century throwback?

I think the reason he's got everyone's panties in a twist is because his "atheism" is defined in a non-standard way. (At least to those unfamiliar with Flew's writings). He says he considers himself a "negative atheist." And, while I understand the concept, I think most people (unfamiliar with the idea) are confusing his beliefs with the belief in non-existence of god, rather than just a lack of belief ...

Methinks it's a ploy, before Flew flickers out. It sounds familiar... Flew the Sentient hologram hands off to a superintelligent nonspecific nonsentient er, Being(?). Not caring for the game, the aforementioned entity passes the ball back to Flew, who, realizing that there's only one more place to go with All This, passes long to the Pantheistic Benevolence who's been waiting patiently for Flew to notice. Better than a Hail-Mary, it's an unflawed Flew flea flicker!

It is a very insecure theology that looks for proof of God in the resolution of a scientific puzzle.

re: Flew and the God question

I hate to be banal, but maybe Flew's imminent demise has something to do with his startling discovery of God. I mean who the heck wants to cast off the mortal coil only to become fodder for the cosmic recycling bin. Perhaps he is hedging his bets in his 80's as he totters toward the final reckoning and ... horror of horrors ... is secretly flirting with faith on the side in hopes of ... seventy virgins? Who knows. Might be one big crazy cosmic harem out there boys.

Flew's ideas are too abstract for my liking. So I'm going to try and entice the heavyweights in here to give their opinions on some interesting thoughts gleaned from the esoteric tomes of one George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff and his illustrious side-kick, Ouspensky.

"G" as he was called refers to God in his voluminous trilogy "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" as his "His Father Endlessness" and G had a very low opinion indeed of the average human's chances of making it to the other side ... let alone into the embrace of seventy nubiles. When questioned about the soul, G was derisive about exoteric religious contentions that we all have one waiting to spread it's wings. He contended that at best we have "the possibility of a soul" -but that the vast majority of humans "die like dogs" - meaning they go to serve the designs of the Great Mother/Father and don't have a differentiated existence in any hypothetical afterlife.

How one asks, can the soul be created? Here it gets interesting. G had a whole science of energies and centers relating to the maintenance of the physical organism and its attendant functions. Kind of an alchemy of energies. On the soul question, he referred most particularly to something called "conscious suffering" and "self observation".

G regarded humans as "machines". Beings in the grip of automatism, functioning most of the time on replay. In this condition the possibility of evolving a soul is somewhere near zero - even if the machine happens to develop the painterly skills of a Picasso or the cerebral heft of an Einstein.

Self observation enables the machine to self-recollect and provides a vantage point from which to divine the chaotic and imbalanced functioning of our various centers (this divided condition being the cause of our aforementioned 'sleep'). G's system includes various techniques for helping to integrate the wiring, so that we become the compliment of all our parts, rather than the victim of their disarray.

This 'awakening' is by no means easy, and requires enormous will. The awakening in and of itself doesn't eventuate in a soul. According to G the makings of a soul is begun by generating and storing specific types of energy.

Most of our energy is used up - burnt up in the normal condition of "inner considering" as we do daily helter skelter. Energy that gets invested for soul creation has first of all to be "conscious" energy and allied to suffering. Here conscience comes in and G labored the need to act according to higher will and conscience. For example we may have the dispostion to stay at home eating candies and watching a video, but we know that we should in fact be visiting sick aunt Marnie who severely grates on our nerves. If we go to see aunt Marnie with inner resentment in order to get it over with as soon as possible, the energy is lost. If we can transcend our negativity, and do it consciously as an act of "intentional labor" the act then generates a type of inner strength, enabling us to even perhaps see aunt Marnie differently - maybe even love her.

This simple effort-based act can get a lot more protracted, as when a person goes to the Sudan and risks life and limb in order to fulfill the demands of higher conscience. It's not what that person does with the destitute people - it's how he or she does it - when it comes to the soul creation issue. A person could go to Sudan for egoistical reasons, so that they can go on TV shows on their return and write a book. In such a case the possibility for soul creation is lost, because ego consumes energy; almost the reverse process to soul creation in fact.

G claimed to draw his knowledge from the highest esoteric authorities as a result of travels in Tibet and time spent with esoteric groups such as the Sufis - some of this is described in his book "Meetings With Remarkable Men".

Unlike Flew-the-earlier, I have always believed that the blue print of higher reality ... and dare I say it - of God - is contained within nature itself. Which is a reason I am engrossed with the Kabbalah and it's system of esoteric correspondences. I'm not certain that a purely cerebral philosopher is capable of passing through the portals of mystery. He or she may create intimations and glimpses of the greater glory, but the actualization of same in the life of the aspirant requires a more exotic set of tools.

re .."an exotic set of tools.." (from Aidan) is it fair to say that the Will is not exotic- rather, it is unwieldy. Gurdjieff's "conscious energy" is quite reminiscent of (perhaps congruent to) the "mindful action" of Sino-Tibetan Buddhist traditions. I wonder if Flew, after realizing that perhaps he'd been playing "devil's advocate" for so long that it had merely reinforced the opposite pole in that part of him that "was of two minds" (a condition that we surely must cultivate in order to philosophize), simply decided to give "the other devil his due"... in as timely a way as, say, Augustine of Hippo... ^..^

Interesting point Herbert

Umm, this has had real consequence. My Dallas Morning News today had a column and a supportive editorial using Flew as a justification for teaching ID in Texas grade schools.

"If the scientific data are compelling enough to cause an atheist academic of Anthony Flew's reputation to recant much of his life's work, why shouldn't Texas schoolchildren be taught the controversy?" ...DMN editorial 12/16

Offensive and outrageous, but millions of Texans may have read it.

Seems to me that Flew, himself, was a major source
of the rumors that he is now said to characterize
as wild and baseless. Well, I guess all this will
help to increase the sales of the new edition of
his book, *God and Philosophy*, when it comes
out from Prometheus Books, early next year.
I do wish that he can straighten out what his
current views are concerning the existence of
God, since he is getting everybody else confused
as to what they are.

Jim F.

Bulletin # 138 (16 December 2004)

Professor Antony Flew

"I have not changed my views",

Antony Flew informs Rationalist International

By Sanal Edamaruku

Today, 16th December 2004, Professor Antony Flew, British philosopher,
well known rationalist, atheist and an Honorary Associate of Rationalist
International, telephoned me and informed that the wild rumours about his
changed views are baseless. He expressed surprise over the confusion some
people have spread and asserted that his position about the belief in god
remains unchanged and is the same as it was expressed in his famous
speech "Theology and Falsification". "I find no new reason to change my
views", Professor Flew said.

Professor Antony Flew discusses the atheism of a rationalist, based on
the impossibility to verify or falsify the religious claims about a god,
in his short paper "Theology and Falsification", first published in 1950.
Since then this paper was reprinted more than forty times in different
places, including translations into German, Italian, Spanish, Danish,
Welsh, Finnish and Slovak. During the conversation with me, Professor
Antony Flew expressed desire to publicise this paper as it represented
his views till this moment. "There is no change", Professor Antony Flew
asserted. "Some people argue that I changed my views. It is simply not


The recipients of Rationalist International Bulletin may publish, post,
forward or reproduce articles and reports from it, acknowledging the
source: Rationalist International Bulletin # 138. Copyright © 2004
Rationalist International

It seems I need to add a disclaimer to my above comments on Gurdjieff to correct a few erroneous impressions.

I am not in fact a follower of Gurdjieff - nor am I a Jew who practices the Kabbalah. I am from a Christian background and happen to have a broad philosophical interest in many different systems of knowledge. I studied Comparative Religion at MA level and it gave me a broad insight into a number of religious systems. In order to practice your faith fully, it is a good thing to understand the larger picture.

Moreover, politically I am staunchly on the right and see no conflict whatever in my support for the Bush administration and it's commitment to freedom and democracy around the world, and an interest in pegagogical/theological issues. The idea that people on the right have to be, by implication, exclusionary and narrow minded - is an unfortunate stereotype.

A while back I did some posting under the email address [email protected].

This email address was hijacked without my knowledge (I haven’t used it for some time) and has been used on-line in an inappropriate fashion. It’s my understanding that the account in question has now been finally closed at my request by hotmail people, however if anyone encounters a post in this name with the above email associated with it, would you please alert me at [email protected]. Thanks.

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