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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The Evangelical Philosophical Society has recently published a review of Antony Flew's latest book, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. The review is entitled Antony Flew's Deism Revisited: A Review Essay on There Is a God and has been written by one of the people who Flew regularly conversed with prior to his change of heart: Dr. Gary Habermas.

The article gives a nice summary of several chapters of the book. I found the following especially interesting:

The second half of the book consists of the long-awaited reasons for Flew's conversion to deism, titled "My Discovery of the Divine." It includes seven chapters on Flew's religious pilgrimage, along with the nature of the universe and life. Two appendices complete the volume.

"A Pilgrimage of Reason" (chapter 4), is the initial contribution to this section. In this essay, Flew chiefly makes the crucial point that his approach to God's existence has been philosophical, not scientific. As he notes, "My critics responded by triumphantly announcing that I had not read a particular paper in a scientific journal or followed a brand-new development relating to abiogenesis." But in so doing, "they missed the whole point." Flew's conversion was due to philosophical arguments, not scientific ones: "To think at this level is to think as a philosopher. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that this is properly the job of philosophers, not of the scientists as scientists" (90).

Thus, if scientists want to get into the fray, they "will have to stand on their own two philosophical feet" (90). Similarly, "a scientist who speaks as a philosopher will have to furnish a philosophical case. As Albert Einstein himself said, "รข€˜The man of science is a poor philosopher'" (91). Flew ends the chapter by pointing out that it is Aristotle who most exemplifies his search: "I was persuaded above all by the philosopher David Conway's argument for God's existence" drawn from "the God of Aristotle" (92).

What Antony Flew's story shows is that a person who -- at least until his conversion -- atheists believed to be a very intelligent person can be convinced by the arguments for the existence of God that God does, in fact, exist.

Am I saying that every atheist using his reason must necessarily come to the same conclusion? No. While I do think and have consistently contended that an objective viewing of the entire case for God (philosophical, historical, scientific) should lead people to conclude that there is a God and that Jesus is that God, rationality isn't that open-and-shut. Two people, looking at the same evidence, can come to vastly different conclusions depending upon their interpretation and acceptance of the data that underlies the premises of the arguments being made.

What I do think that Flew's experience shows is that the truth or falsity of Christianity doesn't rise or fall on a strictly rational argument. It isn't the case that it is irrational to believe the claims of Christianity. Rationality, while it helps to winnow out some truth claims, cannot on its own either establish or defeat the claim that Christianity is true. Rather, there are beliefs, prejudices and assumptions that every single one of us holds that will color the evidence that is used in creating the premises in differing ways. In other words, both skeptics and Christians use rationality and use it properly, but it is the weight and interpretation given to the facts within the premises that are really the basis for the rejection or acceptance of Christainity's claim.

After all, Flew wrote books that were cited by many skeptics as great intellectual rebuttals to the claims of theists that God exists. Now Flew, the same man who wrote those arguments, has changed his viewpoint. Did rationality change? Not at all. Rather, he re-evaluated his underlying presuppositions within his rational framework which had earlier led him to dismiss the theistic claims in favor of the atheist position. What really changed, ultimately, was Flew's willingness to allow for the possibility that God (or the Unmoved Mover) really could account for reality.

I look forward to reading his book.

14 comments:

Your point on presuppositions is well taken. I have an agnostic friend who turned from Christianity, and part of his reason was based upon the idea that "belief is not a choice." He gave an example of telling the person to believe that China did not exist, which of course is absurd. But to me, this presupposition thing is the issue he ignored. Beliefs make sense within a certain framework - that is true - but the framework itself is a choice we make, as it is in large part dictated by our attitudes which we do have control over.

For instance, when Ehrman debated Craig, he basically shows that he discounts miracles out of hand as far as history is concerned, and this presupposition prevents Jesus' resurrection from ever being miraculous. But this presupposition is based on an attitude about evidence which he has control over.

And that is really, in my view, what it all comes down to; the attitudes people have towards evidence (the type, the amount, etc). We don't want evidence, we want undeniable sensory proof. (Interestingly, when people claim to get that proof, e.g. NDEs, the skeptic discounts that too.) In other words, people don't want faith at all, or hope. They want sight. But as Paul says in 2 Cor. 4, we look towards that which is not seen. Moreover, Jesus said it well - if they won't listen to the law and the prophets (as the ancients surely did not) they will not believe even if a man rises from the dead. We love to think we're so much different from ancient man, but that's just our arrogance getting in the way, as usual.

In his latest defense of the book, even Vargehse does not go so far as to claim that Antony Flew wrote one sentence of the book. He 'edited' and 'approved' versions of the manuscript.

But write it? Vargehse never claims Flew wrote any of the book.

Flew wrote not one original sentence for the book.

So why does the book not say 'edited' by Antony Flew?

Because Varghese is dishonest?

LESLIE made an excellent point. Paul looked towards that which was not seen, which is why he was convinced that Jesus was still alive.

A rather revealing comment, I would say...

Instead of looking at this as a wise way of working, some seem rather eager to indicate it almost as a Christian conspiracy. Or why else focus on whether Varghese is "dishonest" or not?

Flew is 84 years old. To expect someone of that age to sit down and write a book by his own hands is a bit far fetched. It is also doubtfull whether Flew ever embraced modern technology like PC, not to mention word processing.

For most of his professional life, many authors - and professors - had secretaries or others who wrote down what were delivered by notes, dictate or plain telling the story as it is/was. Sometimes they were given rather free hands to polish and elaborate, depending on talent and trust.

The autor then went through all the text, editing and correcting. In the end the author took full responsibility (and honour/blame) for what was written.

We see the same today in many autobiographies by politicians or sport stars.

It should not come at all as a surprise if Flew as an oldtimer (and rather old man) has chosen to follow this well proven method.

Saves a lot of time and effort, and is also a tad wise for a person who may not live much longer.

Conspiracy/discrediting comments about who wrote Flew's book generally speaks mostly about those using it.

I hadn't heard about the New York Times article until after I had written the post. I think that it raises questions about whether Flew was the best person to use for the example I made in the post, but it does nothing to undermine the point made in the post. Still, I find it hard to believe that Flew, no matter what condition he was in, would not have friends or family who would object to have a book published and advertised as supposedly written by him that wasn't.

Steven writes: Paul looked towards that which was not seen, which is why he was convinced that Jesus was still alive. I last saw my friend Michael 20 years ago. I don't see him at this very instant and have no expectation that I will see him any time soon. Does that mean that I am somehow delusional to believe that he is still alive?

With all due respect Steve, that comment is highly ignorant of Paul and the NT in general. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul lists a number of people who saw Jesus risen, including himself. Incidentally, he said he delivered these to the Corinthians as something which was "of first importance." Besides that, in 2 Cor. 4, Paul is talking more specifically about heaven and such, seeing as his words up to that point had been about all the persecutions and troubles he and fellow believers had to face while here on earth. So unlike the atheist, who can only focus on the cards he is dealt here and be distraught by the fact that life is meaningless, Paul had a realistic hope, even though that for which he hoped was at the moment unseen.

That's strange.I thought Paul was supposed to have gone to Heaven.

I guess we can class his trip to Heaven with his encounter with Jesus.

Even when challenged on what a resurrected body was like, Paul could not come up with one detail from anybody's personal experience.

Much like he could not describe his trip to Heaven.

Carr, do you have a learning disability? It's an honest question. It just seems like reading comprehension isn't your strong suit.

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LESLIE
Moreover, Jesus said it well - if they won't listen to the law and the prophets (as the ancients surely did not) they will not believe even if a man rises from the dead.

CARR
Jews did not listen to the law and the prophets?

Clearly those were words of people trying to prove a resurrection by quoting from the law and the prophets.

And not by eyewitness testimony of people rising from the dead and eating fish.

And when their twisting of the law and the prophets was rejected, they simply resorted to ad hominems.

How do I compare to Antony Flew, who apparently is no longer sure what 'abiogenesis' means?


Or with early Christian converts in Corinth, who didn't realise they were supposed to argue for resurrection, not against it, what with them being people 'not lacking in any spiritual gift', to quote Paul.

Or with early Christian converts in Galatia, who were not even convinced that Jesus was crucified.

Presumably because there was no eyewitness testimony of it.

Steve,

1) I already said this, but let me emphasize it - "Paul had a realistic hope, even though that for which he hoped was at the moment unseen. BK already pointed out that seeing something in the past is not the same as seeing it presently. But I suppose the Bible writers, unlike all other writers throughout history, are not allowed to use general terms.

2) You said, "Even when challenged on what a resurrected body was like, Paul could not come up with one detail from anybody's personal experience."

I'm not sure what you're talking about, but Paul spent the majority of 1 Cor. 15 discussing the resurrection body. And in v.20 he refers to Christ as the "firstfruits" indicating that Christ was the first and it would occur for others at a later time. If you want personal experience and further details, go to John chapters 20 and 21.

3) Contrary to your accusation, the early Christians did not take the law and prophets out of context. These prophecies were considered messianic by Jewish thought well before Christ.

4)I'm not really sure what your point is with bringing up Corinth and Galatia. In both cases false teachers had come in, which has nothing at all to do with eyewitness testimony. Paul has already shown that there was eyewitness testimony, and that he himself was one of those eyewitnesses, though in a different from than the others.

Incidentally, Leslie, the reason we're been leaving this to you is because we have all wasted very large amounts of our time doing detailed analyses of 1 Cor 15 in reply to Steven, who persistently refuses to even remember (for purposes of continuing to dispute with us) what the heck it was we were talking about before. He has an established habit of pointlessly trolling the boards, trying to tie whatever the current topic is back to this article of his own faith (or anti-faith or whatever), and acting as if nothing has ever been said here in actual discussion with him about it.

He isn't interested in discussion. Not in the past, and not in the present. (Whether in the future or not remains to be seen.) He's only interested in being oppositional for the sake of being oppositional.

And, incidentally, the saying about not even listening to a man who returns from the dead, has nothing to do in the story with resurrection per se: that's just an ironic a fortiori. The Rich Man wants Laz to go to his brothers to yank them in line concerning charity so that they won't end up in torment, too, when their time comes. Abraham says, let them read the Law and the Prophets. The Rich Man emphatically denies ("Not!") that his brothers are likely to be taking them seriously on that subject. Abraham retorts that if they don't care enough to pay attention to the Law and the Prophets on this, then neither are they going to change their ways if someone comes to them from the dead.

Similarly, the hope of things unseen (in Paul) is typically based on that which has been seen: because we have seen and heard 'a', we therefore hope for 'b'--our perseverence in this being our faithfulness.

Thus (to give one example of this sort of thing), in Romans 8 Paul is speaking of the hope of the salvation of all of creation from corruption, through the resurrection still to come which hasn't yet come yet. He is correcting the notion that salvation has already been fully accomplished in believers (even though in another sense they have indeed been saved already), because they haven't been raised to perfection yet but are eagerly waiting for this with perseverence, groaning along with creation as though in the pangs of childbirth--the hope being that all creation will be raised up and purified as they themselves will one day be. Why do they have that hope?

Because Christ was raised from the dead. Only in some spiritual non-bodily sense? No. With some body that was not at all the mortal body of Christ? Emphatically not:

"Now, if Christ is in you, then even if (or though) the body is dead because of sin, the spirit still is life because of fair-togetherness. But, if the Spirit of the One Who raised Jesus from the dead is tabernacling in you, then the One Who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also be giving life to your mortal bodies--because (or through) His Spirit Who is indwelling you." (Rom 8:10-11)

The hope then is based on God doing the same thing for the faithful (and then eventually for all creation) what was done for Jesus: raising and transforming even the mortal body. Creation isn't going to be tossed away, either, but saved from the death to which it has been subjected (not by its own will, but by God Who in His authority takes personal responsibility for that subjection, in hope of the salvation to come of those for whose sake He authorized the subjection to corruption and worthlessness) and raised to perfection.

This is why (in verses 12ff) Paul emphasizes that we are not under obligation to the flesh (that which dies), but to the Spirit (that which brings even the mortal flesh alive and saves corrupted creation by raising it to perfection).

Incidentally, this has very important topical links to Romans 1, back where Paul avers that he has a positive obligation to the people he is criticising (pagans who have gone so far off the tracks as to even become homosexuals) which he is eagerly wanting to repay. There's a lot more going on in that section of Romans than exegetes (on any side of the aisle) are typically aware of. {s} But that's another discussion.

I mean for people who actually try to have discussions. Not for people who show up to troll for reactions and then ignore what has been said (unless it maybe looks helpful for trolling again later) so that the same thing can be trotted out again a few weeks or months later as if no one in the same place had ever bothered to try to discuss things with the troll-er. That isn't a discussion. That's only flamebaiting. (And taking the actual topic far off the tracks of the original post, by the way.)

JRP

I would like to comment on the following passages from Mr. Flew's book. Bear in mind, that in playing the devil's advocate, I classify myself as one who hopes that there is a God. Flew writes, “How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends [and] self-replication capabilities?”

“ . . . our knowledge of the universe must stop with the big bang, which is to be seen as the ultimate fact.” “The laws of physics are ‘lawless laws’ that arise from the void – end of discussion.” Flew tackles the why is there something instead of nothing question and writes: “The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such ‘end-directed, self-replicating’ life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind.”


My comment, "The something from nothing dilemma is the most mind-blowing question we on earth contemplate. If one believes that the intelligent life we see on earth (something from nothing) requires an infinitely intelligent mind, then we have to wonder how this infinitely intelligent God sprang from nothing."

Louie Lawent - author of "The Louie/God Interviews (What The Big Fella Really Thinks About Man And The Universe)"

www.myspace.com/LouieLawent

Thanks for the comment Louie.

{{If one believes that the intelligent life we see on earth (something from nothing) requires an infinitely intelligent mind, then we have to wonder how this infinitely intelligent God sprang from nothing.}}

Not really; this is a category error in a couple of different ways, not all of them problematic for the naturalist or atheist.

The salient point is that (to put it tautologically) existence is existence, and the final ground of existence just exists. We don't have to ask where it came from, much less how it somehow came from 'nothing'.

Insofar as it seems that the natural universe is not self-existent (and I'm dubious of the typical attempts to demonstrate this nowadays), then of course by corollary we have to recognize a supervening reality upon which the system of nature is dependent. That would mean supernaturalism is true, but wouldn't in itself mean atheism is false == theism is true.

The distinction Flew is talking about (somewhat conflated with fine-tuning arguments), though, involves entities (ourselves) exhibiting properties that are conceptually different than the fundamental properties of our natural constitution. Where we have evidence that a property of an entity is not in itself a permanently existent property but derives from something else; but we also find that one evident level of reality is not in principle capable of providing that developed property; then the property has to have developed dependently from something else capable of developing it. There is no reason in this evaluation to call into question the permanent existence of the 'something else'.

By the same principle, if supernaturalistic atheism could (or better, clearly did) provide the solution, then it would be neither necessary nor proper to challenge the result by asking 'so how did this supernatural but non-sentient reality spring from nothing?'

All of which you might say in your book next. {s} But since it isn't unusual for detractors to try this tactic, thinking it somehow sinks the case (Richard Dawkins is perhaps the most famous of the tactic's exponents currently), I figured I might as well go ahead and provide the proper technical answer.

JRP

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