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December 21, 2007

Is Antony Flew’s Conversion Real?

After reading the book, researching the public record, and interviewing the co-author, here's my analysis.

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jason taylor

I would say we should take the most charitable interpretation possible and accept it.

Steven Carr

Antony Flew has asked me to send him a copy of 'The Empty Tomb', edited by Price and Lowder, as he wants 'all important literature'

Steven Carr

On page 145, Flew talks about favorite (sic) cookies and candy.

I can assure you that Flew has never eaten a cookie or candy in his entire life.

He has eaten biscuits and sweets.

An 84 year old Englishman talking about cookies?

It would almost be as believable if he brought out a gangsta-rap record, or started discussing whether or not the Pats were going to have a perfect season.

Julie Trotter

I think it's great that Mr. Flew is acknowledging there is "a" Creator. However, unless he believes in the Creator's Son, it is null. I am just hoping this will get others to reconsider. And my Hope is in Jesus Christ.

Steven Carr

' Moreover, in a signed, handwritten letter (a copy of which I now have) sent to Roy Varghese, the legendary philosopher reaffirmed his conversion while criticizing Oppenheimer for drawing attention away from the book’s central argument: the collapse of rationalism.'

Could the text of this be posted?

Regis Nicoll

Steven--In terms of the handwritten letter, Roy Varghese asked that I reference rather than quote it, since Tony is very sensitive about the NYT article and how his statements might be contorted. Flew was so upset over Oppenheimer piece, that has vowed to do no more interviews. At his age, I can't say as I blame him.

Regis Nicoll

It is clear from the book that although Flew has not accepted Christianity, he is actively investigating its claims and feels that among revealed religions, "it is the one to beat." In fact, in a signed statement I received from Richard Swinburne concerning a discusssion he had with Flew about one year ago, Swinburne felt that he was "most of the way towards Christianity."

Bob Johnson

It's great to see Deism in the news! I read Antony Flew's book and thought it was interesting and honest. The only thing I wish he would have included was that even though it is probably possible for Nature's God to communicate directly with an individual, that communication would be meaningless to everyone other than the person it was directly communicated to. Once that person tells someone else, it becomes hearsay and nothing more because if you believe the person, you're not believing God. You are putting your trust in that person who claims to have received a divine revelation, not in God. That's one of the great things about Deism, it doesn't buy into any of the "revealed" religions for that reason, plus many others.

Progress! Bob Johnson
http://www.deism.com

Regis Nicoll

Bob--I suspect you have no problem believing that Karl Marx revealed his ideals for a new world order in "Das Kapital", despite knowing that only from hearsay.

Steven Carr

How can Flew's statements be 'contorted' if you post the entire letter?

Flew's last will and testament is a book where an 84 year old English Professor talks about 'cookies' and 'candy', and never gives any serious discussion of the God of Aristotle that Flew has converted to.

This is a scandal like Salvador Dali signing blank canvases.


Steven Carr

Steven--In terms of the handwritten letter, Roy Varghese asked that I reference....'

How very interesting to see that Roy Varghese is now the official person who gets to say which of Flew's writings are published and which are not published.

John Grimes

I read Mark Oppenheimer's article by following a link from the Wikipedia article on Antony Flew. I recommend reading both, it'll take less than 30 minutes. Then make up your own mind about what's going on.

And do it even if certain people tell you there's no need, they've already read it and they can tell you what it says or how Flew is presented. Make up your own mind. If you're not willing to do that, you've no right to an opinion.

Gina Dalfonzo

Steven, I'm not sure exactly what point you're trying to make. If it's that Flew had a co-author who did much of the work of compiling his (Flew's) writings and statements, that's been acknowledged. If it's that Flew isn't really a theist, I can offer this much: I was present when my boss, Chuck Colson, participated in a public and well-attended discussion with Flew in England some time ago. In acknowledging his shift to theism, Flew came across as lucid, sincere, and as far as I could tell, not under duress.

Steven Carr

Varghese could not care less about the god of Aristotle, so his book does not discuss what Flew has converted to.

Flew has great concerns about Christian doctrine.

These concerns are never mentioned in Varghese's book.

Instead he has a shoddily-written book, designed to trash Flew's reputation as a philosopher.

People though, simply look at claims that an 84 year old Englishman talks about 'favorite' (sic) 'cookies' and 'candy' and dismiss the book as the work of an American author.

Regis Nicoll

Steven--The “book does not discuss what Flew has converted to” you say? When one has described a non-personal, non-revelatory, non-interventionist Prime Mover as “self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient” (as Flew has done here and numerous times elsewhere) there is nothing more that can be said.

As to the issue of Christian doctrine, in App. B N.T. Wright spends about 25 pages addressing the long-standing concerns Flew has had about revealed religion, the deity of Christ and the resurrection. And you say they “are never mentioned in Varghese's book.” Now, I ask, just who is trying to trash whom here?

LeeQuod

Steven Carr wrote: "Instead he has a shoddily-written book, designed to trash Flew's reputation as a philosopher."

The Point is biased toward opinion that is supported by evidence. So far, Steven, all you've supplied is three words that could easily have been Americanized by Flew himself, to appeal to a larger audience.

The Point staff have actual correspondence and have actually heard Flew speak. The atheist camp seem only to have a predetermined conclusion and are in search of any evidence - no matter how circumstantial - to support it.

Steven Carr

'(I have since reviewed ample evidence validating that statement but which, because of legal restrictions, cannot be divulged.)'

People at Harper Collins described Oppenheimer's article as an 'attack on integrity'.

Reviews on Amazon say the book is 'bogus', 'dishonest', 'fraudulent' 'deceit' 'a hack Christian treat'.

Yet, for unspecified legal reasons , the 'ample evidence' refuting this cannot be divulged.

What legal reasons? Does Varghese not like winning court cases for libel, and his lawyers have advised him not to divulge the ample evidence which would rescue his reputation as a man of integrity , because...? Well, why?

What legal reasons can there be not to defend yourself against charges of 'deceit'?

Steven Carr

'.T. Wright spends about 25 pages addressing the long-standing concerns Flew has had about revealed religion, the deity of Christ and the resurrection.'

Really?

Here is Flew's concerns, in something he really did say

http://www.leestrobel.com/newsletters/2006NOVEMBER/LS_TopAtheistBelieves_01Nov06.htm

'His biggest barrier to Christianity, he said, is the doctrine of hell. "If I had begun as a Christian believer, I should have believed in the goodness of God, and I should regard it—as I do regard it now—as totally inconsistent with the doctrine of eternal torment for anyone."'

So where is the discussion of the 'biggest barrier to Christianity' in Varghese's book?

Steven Carr

Flew would never change 'biscuits' to 'cookies'.

Cookies are almost unheard of in Britain, and 84 year old public school educated Englishman would no sooner write 'cookies' in a book than call people 'dudes' (or spell 'favourite' wrongly'

The idea is utterly absurd.

And Flew writes grammatical sentences.

Take the following sentence from the book 'The principle of special relativity ensures that forces such as electromagnetism have an invariable effect regardless of whether they act at right angles to a system's direction of travel'.

This is not even a grammatical sentence, whether Flew wrote it or whether Bob Hostetler hacked it out.

Gina Dalfonzo

From a Wikipedia article on the Americanizing of the Harry Potter books (you may recall that in that series "Philosopher's Stone" was Americanized to "Sorcerer's Stone," "jumper" was changed to "sweater," and other such changes were made):

"Americanisation of books is standard practice in the publishing business, and is not normally considered translation."

Enough said on the cookie topic. And I do mean enough.

If you'd like, I'll diagram that supposedly non-grammatical sentence for you. But after that, I'll request that you make charges only if you acknowledge what bloggers and other commenters are saying (I repeat: NO ONE here has said or even implied that Flew is a Christian), and if you have evidence to back them up. And if you can't do that, this thread will be closed. Thank you for your attention.

Steven Carr

'The last will and testament' of a work by a philosophy professors would be Americanised, as 'standard practice'?

BTW, we also have 'sorcerers' and 'sweaters', as standard English words in the UK, but cookies is exceedingly rare, unless we are eating American chocolate chip cookies.

So the Americanisation of Harry Potter is an entirely different thing.

I shall enjoy the image of 84 year old English ex-public schoolboys talking about 'candy' and 'cookies', and Americans thinking that this is the true voice of the English author.


Please do tell us how an electric field can have an INVARIANT effect whether or not it is at 90 degrees to a conductor moving through it, or whether the conductor is moving parallel to the field.

That would certainly revolutionise the whole theory of electric motors....

Or how 'electromagnetism' is a force.

'Electromagnetism' is the relation between electricity and magnetism.

There are electrical forces and magnetic forces, or even an electromagnetic force, but 'electromagnetism' is not a force.

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1988/illpres/four.html explains 'There are four fundamental forces acting in nature: the gravitational force, the electromagnetic force, the strong and the weak force.'

And what is meant by 'The principle of special relativity ensures that forces such as electromagnetism....'?

Special relativity does not apply to gravity, by definition.

And the weak and strong forces are not covered by special relativity, but by quantum mechanics.

The whole sentence is nonsense.

Gina Dalfonzo

"'The last will and testament' of a work by a philosophy professors would be Americanised, as 'standard practice'?"

In America, yes, it would. And there's no such thing as one kind of Americanization and then another kind of Americanization that's "an entirely different thing." Americanization is Americanization. Now that this question has been dealt with, that will be the last comment accepted on the "cookies" issue.

Regis understands the other issues you reference better than I do, so I will leave it to him to respond to the rest of your comment.

Regis Nicoll

Steve—Although it is a distraction in the extreme, electromagnetism, contrary to your assertion, IS a force. In “The Encyclopedia of Particle Physics (Q is for Quantum)” by astrophysicist, John Gibbon, “There are only four forces that are known to operate between elementary particles. Two of these, gravity and electromagnetism, are familiar in the everyday world…” Also note that, grammatically, electromagnetism is a noun which is equivalent to “electromagnetic force.”

“So where is the discussion of the 'biggest barrier to Christianity' in Varghese's book?” You ask. Recall that this not a book about Flew’s conversion to Christianity, but to deism.

But this is amazing--after sifting through over 200 pages of “There is a God”, you give us Americanizing the text and grammar: if that’s the best you can do, your case is closed. By avoiding the central arguments that Flew has acknowledged there and elsewhere for deism--the origin of the laws of nature, the teleology of life and the origin of the cosmos—you’ve effectively raised the white flag for your side.

Scott Ferguson

The article quotes Anthony Flew as saying"I think the origins of the laws of nature and of life and the Universe point clearly to an intelligent Source. The burden of proof is on those who argue to the contrary."

I am taken aback by this. Doesn't the burden of proof lay on the party making the positive claim, to wit, "There is an all-powerful intelligence who created the universe?"

I can only assume that his book contains reams and reams of new and important data reinforcing the claims of the Intelligent Design proponents. The scientific community must be abuzz...

Regis Nicoll

Scott--Does the burden of proof lie on the person who believes that other people have minds or on the contrarian who insists that the world is but an emanation (illusion) created by his own mind?

LeeQuod

Scott Ferguson wrote: "Doesn't the burden of proof lay on the party making the positive claim,"

(OK, Lord, I've learned my lesson; I'll never repeat a lawyer joke ever again.)

Those of us who do not have legal training are likely to completely misunderstand these terms and their meanings. Here is how I understand it, and I would welcome a better version: In Western criminal proceedings, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. (In America the notion of "presumed innocent until proven guilty" does this.) Generally speaking, the burden lies with the one making the complaint. There are actually several different kinds of burden, and they can shift from one party to another based on the evidence presented so far.

All of that presumes a court of law.

When someone like Antony Flew says "the burden of proof", he's not using the term in its legal context. Even so, he's saying that the facts presented so far are in favor of the theistic position, and it is now incumbent on the atheistic position to have its case proven.

And regarding "making the positive claim", that would be so only because Occam's Razor would be violated (by multiplying entities unnecessarily). But Occam's Razor is only a heuristic, and theists argue that the absence of God requires an enormous multiplication of entities to explain the observable world.

Scott Ferguson also wrote: "I can only assume that his book contains reams and reams of new and important data reinforcing the claims of the Intelligent Design proponents."

It's actually remarkably short, and easily read even by an atheist. You might give it a try.

Vickie

I had a uncle who recently died. He believed in the sense that A. Flew has
come to believe in a Superior diety, but has not been called by God. My uncle died and he make the remark.."I am not called by God." I believe that Flew and everyone else who is not called to understanding the scriptures will be in the "great white throne judgement." Need I say more? If you understand the word of God and the fullness of the scriptures you understand exactly what I am saying. Don't be harsh towards him.

Bad

Even in the course of defending the book, every new article that comes out seems to admit more and more that this or that part was not written by Flew, despite it being in the first person.

Flew may well have signed off on the book. But it's not clear that he could understand whether or not it reflected his views, and the historical record shows that the account of his conversion in the book is wholly inconsistent his original description of his conversion. The book even makes arguments that Flew had previously said were flawed, without any acknowledgment that he had once thought so, or had changed his mind yet again.

LeeQuod

Bad wrote: "seems to admit".

Should one of us Christians take the name "Good", to clarify the terms of this debate?

I'm amazed to see the increasingly tenuous threads to which the atheist camp clings. How much weaker is a "seeming" admission, compared to an actual admission?

Bad also wrote: "But it's not clear that he could understand whether or not it reflected his views".

Are you implying that Flew rubber-stamped all 10 different drafts from Roy Varghese, and that the publisher did no due diligence? And that in public appearances Flew defended what he didn't understand? Wow - I've been told that Christians must be credulous to hold our beliefs, but... wow.

Further, Bad (sorry, I keep visualizing Michael Jackson - and Weird Al Yankovic's satire "Worse") wrote: "the historical record shows that the account of his conversion in the book is wholly inconsistent his original description of his conversion."

Aha - at last some evidence-based reasoning from the atheist camp! What are some specific inconsistencies? And which arguments did Flew previously say were flawed that he now accepts?

Keith Brian Johnson

Since Flew's God, if indeed he believes in one, is not the Abrahamic one but rather the deistic one--and, in fact, he characterizes the Abrahamic one as "originally conceived on the model of an Oriental despot--such as Saddam Hussein" (God and Philosophy, 2005 reprint, Introduction, p. 10), his view can hardly be very comforting to either Christian or Moslem apologists; and since his "conversion" seems to have been based primarily on advances in scientific understanding making time seem to have a beginning and making abiogenesis seem extremely improbable and at the least unexplained, while in the Introduction to the 2005 reprint of God and Philosophy he acknowledges that time's having had a beginning is no longer "mainstream science" and that he is "delighted to be assured by biological-scientist friends that protobiologists are now well able to produce theories of the evolution of the first living matter and that several of these theories are consistent with all the so-far-confirmed scientific evidence," it rather looks as though the basis of Flew's "conversion" has been undercut, leaving him back where he started, unless he forgets himself. None of this can be great comfort to the believers who want to claim Flew as one of their own.

Jason Taylor

"One of our own" is not the point. It is one of God's that is. And if someone is moveing, however slowly in that direction it is a thing to be pleased about.

NMcC

"Bob--I suspect you have no problem believing that Karl Marx revealed his ideals for a new world order in "Das Kapital", despite knowing that only from hearsay."

Posted by: Regis Nicoll | December 22, 2007 at 02:07 PM

Obviously very late to this discussion and the thread is probably dead. I couldn't let the above go without comment though.

Actually, if 'Bob' did believe that Karl Marx did as you are suggesting, he would indeed believe in hearsay, because 'hearsay' is exactly what that assertion is. Karl Marx's Capital is an analysis of the economics of capitalism. As he said himself, his aim was to 'lay bare' the economic laws of capitalism, building on his earlier economic works. Marx had no such ridiculous aim such as you have inferred here. If you believe "that Karl Marx revealed his ideals for a new world order in 'Das Kapital'" then my suggestion to you is that you should stop making ignorant remarks until you aquaint yourself with the facts. It's only common courtesy - and it may prevent you from inadvertently undermining your own position as you have done here in regard to Flew.

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