Saturday, November 03, 2007

Anthony Flew

What do you guys think of the Anthony Flew "conversion"? I read his new book and I thought the title was a little deceptive...maybe for good reason, but deceptive just the same. For one, I would hardly say that Flew was one of the most notorious atheists. I've had conversations with a couple of theists about his "conversion" and, after reading the book, I'm not sure he's talking about the same God that Christians are talking about. It (the book) struck me as very reactionary to the perseption of "militant atheism". He flat out says, in his book, that he's not a Christian, but a deist. So, what's with all the media hype?

I was intrigued by the treatment of the unknown versus the known. For example, Flew spends a considerable amount of time adding up all of the unlikely events that have led to life on this planet. But, shockingly (for a former atheist) he slips very easily into the problematic area of assuming that the way we are now is the best and only outcome. He kind of forgets the "golden rule" of evolution --- that it's still occuring and the only reason things are as they are now is because of the specific environments and organisms at play. It seems lazy to, as he does, say that the answers would be too complicated to figure out scientifically and, therefore, we must default to some sort of divine causation. It's too huge a mistake for a former atheist to make without fully justifying the way he came to that conclusion. It almost reads like a poorly written science fair paper, wherein the experimenter gets to a point where he can't get beyond and, therefore, decides that it's insurmountable. That's frustrating. What is so damn hard about just saying, "You know what? I don't know what happens beyond that."?

He also makes the argument that empathy is a proof for some sort of deity. Yet, his justifications for that claim are flat. I don't know... it seems like, for someone who was such a "dogmatic atheist" (that he, personally, denies being, but is being sold as), he makes some really obvious logical errors.

ETA: PZ has an article up about Flew and this book. All I have to say is that I think this Varghese guys is a despicable opportunist who, it would appear, delights in profiting off of the decline of an elderly man. How the fuck is that "Christian"? If that's "Christian", then I'm so glad I don't use the Christian yardstick for moral behavior. *fuming angry* What pisses me off more is that I wasted two hours reading this fucking book. I'm glad I didn't pay for it. But, I'm sad that our library system did.


Chris said...

I've got to admit, I've never even heard of Anthony Flew, apart from this deconversion thing (not just this post). If he's the most "notorious atheists", why haven't I heard of him? The religious who seem to be making a big deal out of this make him out to be our leader, like it's some huge upset in our atheist ranks, or something...

Paul said...

I suspect his notoriety was confined to England, up until a few years ago very few people in this country couldn't name any atheist outside of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. I think that his belief throughout his career was that atheism was the default position until evidence to the contrary was found, inevitably led him to his acceptance of deism now. He always believed that the ontological argument was the most defensible for the existence of god, and I guess it finally won him over. Or maybe he is creating a controversy to drum up book sales.

Paul said...


Go to the Pharyngula blog, PZ has a review of a NYT piece where it exposes a despicable con by xtians to use Flew through this book. Flew didn't write the book, some xtian nut wrote it and Put Flew's name on it.

Chris said...

Wow, that's pretty despicable and low. But...I'm not sure what's sadder, that they did this, or that I'm not surprised that they would do this.

Thanks for the heads up Paul.

trust n truth said...

Okay, I've looked all over the place, clicked many wikis and sites and articles...and I STILL don't know who Anthony Flew is.

Did he do something amazing and wonderful and OMG he's a rare breed of non-believer? Or did he just express his ideas, write a book or two, and do some interviews?

And why does it really matter than an atheist decided "something must be out there"? It proves nothing. Everyone will, and should, question themselves at various stages of life, and many times experiences and learnings will change their perspective. He didn't say he was a Christian or any other religion, he just said he was a deist. An atheist went agnostic...alert the presses! -_- Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I *KNEW* something was off in that book. I hadn't really heard of Anthony Flew, either...but, the arguments for his conversion just didn't add up. Thanks for the link to PZ, Paul.

Vamp DiVerL said...

I was wondering who the hell this guy was too "one of the most important atheist's in the world" my freaking eye, that is unless you consider England "the world" it all makes more sense.

But this whole thing has got me reading more on ontology....the whole world is really all in my little pinky finger *cough-cough SEED!*

Side note, PM we're ok, I'm still not doing ok, though...menopause is kicking my ass. The scary dizzy spells have really got me down. It feels like my equillibrium is *WAY* off, gotta see a doc about it soon.

We're suppose to go to Knott's on the 15th. Darn. Would love to go back to the Westwood Memorial again....Dad is coming for xmas not turkey day.

Kazim said...

There's a guy on the Motley Fool Creation/Evolution board who keeps gleefully bringing up Flew, and throwing in hyperbole about how he's the most notorious atheist of all time. Out of curiosity, I posted a poll on the board, and also linked to it from the atheist board. The results were:

Before Antony Flew achieved notoriety as a famous convert away from atheism in 2004, I had...

78% (36 Votes)
Never heard of him.

11% (5 Votes)
Heard the name, but didn't know much about him.

7% (3 Votes)
Been vaguely familiar with his writing.

4% (2 Votes)
Been strongly aware of his positions.

That's not a survey of the general population, it's a group of people who are mostly atheists. And not just any atheists, but IMHO an unusually well-informed bunch of atheists. He may be notorious among some particular subset of philosophy geeks, but most people never heard of him until he became a convert.

Now picture the results of a similar poll about Dawkins, Harris, Dan Barker, or Christopher Hitchens. Those are atheists who actually have some name recognition.

My impression is that Anthony Flew suddenly and instantly became "The world's most famous atheist" the day he stopped being an atheist.