Monday, November 05, 2007

Antony Flew's manipulators continue to sink to new lows

Update: For those coming here from The Carnival of the Godless, I have a number of other blog posts on Flew, with I think at least one more to come.

News of Antony Flew scandal is continuing to spread. It's been picked up in a number of places, from God is for Suckers! to Atlantic Monthly blogger Ross Douthat. Brain Flemming has a perfect account of why the exploitation of Flew is reprehensible:
Imagine that in Ronald Reagan's twilight years -- the "long goodbye" of the neurodegenerative disease Alzheimer's -- some opportunistic political hack gained access to Reagan, manipulated a few quotes out of this mentally compromised old man, then penned the book, "The Democrats Were Always Right: Why I Am No Longer A Republican by Ronald Reagan."

Sleazy wouldn't begin to describe this behavior.
Now, the worst/best part of it is that they aren't backing down. Vic Reppert has put up a post passing along something gotten via Gary Habermas: Roy Abraham Varghese's response to the NYT piece. By passing this along with no disputing comment, both Habermas and Reppert are giving this their implicit endorsement. Part of me's saddened to see that there are people so morally bankrupt that they're willing to help in a project like this, but I have to confess to also being thrilled: if such people must exist, I'm glad that they're willing to expose themselves in such a public manner.

Let's look at the details of Reppert's post now, shall we?
I personally thought that the Oppenheimer piece was pretty clearly biased, in that it sounded as if he had talked to the people on the atheist side (like Carrier), but had not spoken to anybody on the theist side.
This is at best sloppy reading. Oppenheimer explicitly says he talked to Varghese. On page two, he says: "'I’ve been involved with him for 20 years or more,' Varghese told me in August." Even if that weren't the case, Oppenheimer's most damning revelations come from his direct interaction with Flew himself (see the first quote in PZ Myers' post). Note that Reppert doesn't link to Oppenheimer's article, making it difficult for his readers to check these things out for themselves. Now let's look at what Varghese himself has to say:
Among those who have personally been most influential in Tony Flew’s pilgrimage of reason is Professor Gary Habermas. Both intellectually and at a personal level Gary has become one of Tony’s closest friends and advisors. I know this from discussing the matter with Tony. As is their wont, the freethinking blogaholics (with their single digit audiences and gnat-sized attention spans) have turned their guns on all those (including Gary) who are associated with Tony. Since they have no interest in truth or even serious debate, there’s no point spending time or energy on their daily diet of diatribe. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. These folks interpret this as a continuous obligation. But that’s no reason for the rest of us to share their fate.
"I have no interest in debating them, based on an unsubstantiated assertion by me that they don't want to debate!" Talk about projection; this is one of those times when I think Freud doesn't deserve all the shit he gets.

After that, Varghese spends most of his time bolivating about issues that aren't in significant dispute, so I'll skip to the last paragraph (though follow the link if you're curious--unlike Reppert, I provided one):


Is Tony Flew "all there" mentally? Oppenheimer asks if he is "a senescent scholar" with a "failing" memory. As he himself notes, Tony cheerfully volunteered the fact that he has "nominal aphasia", the inability to reproduce names. Now, starting at the age of forty, the average human being progressively forgets recent names, events and the like. So nothing out of the ordinary there. Is Tony slower to respond when asked a question than a younger person? No question about that – age certainly leaves a mark with each passing year and he is now eighty-four. But then again there are numerous scholars in their seventies and eighties who have trouble remembering recent names and events. And yet in most such cases, the thinkers concerned have been clear and consistent in their reasoning whether or not we agree with their conclusions. The same holds true for Tony. When he sets pen to paper (as will be seen in the most recent issue of Skeptic), he is as cogent and coherent as you could want (and also as terse as he was in his 1950 article). The only reason why people ask questions about his mental faculties is because he dared to change his mind. But let’s not forget that his new view of the world is one embraced by many of today’s leading philosophers in the Anglo-American world as well as most of the pioneers of modern science. This is the dirty little secret that the "new atheists" and their drum-beaters never talk about. It’s so much easier to shoot the messenger!
Pure obfuscation. Again, as Oppenheimer said, "he forgot more than names"--again, see PZ's snippings for details.

25 comments:

Steven Carr said...

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.

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

Because Varghese is dishonest?

John said...

Antony Flew is being treated with contempt by all sides.

A balanced presentation of his turn from atheism to deism would list the ideas that Flew considered worthy of further consideration in discussions of the existence of God, in particular, those of Richard Swinburne and David Conway.

Surely Flew was right to draw attention to the work of Swinburne and Conway. Those who ignore the arguments of S and C merely prove they are interested primarily in base polemics, not the give-and-take that characterizes the best scholarship.

John ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

Steven Carr said...

Swinburne and Conway have presented no arguments in favour of deism.

John said...

Steven,

have you read Swinburne and Conway? It is not obvious that you have. If S and C are not not making arguments for the existence of God - in the case of S, of a sort familiar from classical theism, in the case of C, of a more Aristotelian sort - what are they making arguments for?

Steven Carr said...

What are they arguing for?

I think I'll wait to find out until Varghese writes their next book.

John said...

You do that, Steven. Your lack of intellectual curiosity is appalling.

Hallq said...

I, for one, have read Swinburne, though not Conway. I hope to write something on Swinburne's work when I find the time. Not so sure about Conway, have a lot higher priorities in the things I want to read/write about in philosophy of religion. In any case, there's an enormous difference between Swinburne's works and Varghese's work published under Flew's name. The former contains actual critical discussions of the issues, while the latter boils down to "look at all these smart people endorsing belief in God!" We're not going to respond to it in a way that "characterizes the best scholarship" because it isn't high enough quality to deserve such a thing. Really, the entire point of the Varghese-Flew book is not serious discussion but to say "look, everyone, the world's most notorious atheist converted!" That's what needs to be addressed.

John said...

I'm trying to remember what I was given to read when I took philosophy of religion at the UW. It was a lot of stuff on religious experience, I think - that was a research focus of Keith Yandell. James, Otto, Eliade; then Yandell would clean their clocks with a little bit of good analytical philosophy.

For the more cerebral stuff, it was Mavrodes, Plantinga, and Wolterstorff that I remember, besides Flew, Russell, Whitehead, and classics like Hegel and Kant.

You must be busy Chris, but if you find the time to respond to the questions I put to you on my site, I would appreciate it. It's just a way of generating some friendly debate.

ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

Hallq said...

Ooh, a fellow Wisconsin student, one who studied under Yandell nonetheless. Good to hear from you/ Unfortunately, I'm not seeing the questions on your site you refer to--you're talking about Ancient Hebrew Poetry, right? Could you point me to it more clearly?

John said...

I hid it well, didn't I? The title is "Avoiding the Stallone /Eastwood ending to Waiting for Godot: A Debate," or something like that.

Another blogger, Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests, has been filling in for you the last couple of days. See his blog. He pretty much clobbered me already, but what the heck? It's fun to debate these things, especially with someone who is well-read.

If you plan to follow the Flew-evangelical thing further, you might want to look at a recent piece by Copan at Pen & Parchment.

Kyle said...

"Part of me's saddened to see that there are people so morally bankrupt that they're willing to help in a project like this, but I have to confess to also being thrilled: if such people must exist, I'm glad that they're willing to expose themselves in such a public manner."

How do you define morally bankrupt if morality is merely a human convention? Or does it have its root in something deeper. I think you may have revealed something about yourself you may not be aware of with that statement. You emote based on an abosolute set of moral standards without having justification in your own atheist worldview. It's OK, it happens all the time. I did it too when I was an atheist.

Steven Carr said...

'How do you define morally bankrupt if morality is merely a human convention? Or does it have its root in something deeper.'

How do you define financially bankrupt if money is merely a human convention?

Another theist who thinks that money , like morality, can only have value if God declares 100 dollar bills to be worth 100 times a one dollar bill.

The idea that 'human conventions' have no value is refuted every time one of these people take out their wallets.

Hallq said...

It amazes me how ready some Christians are to defend dishonesty by themselves and their comrades based on totally unsubstantiated assertions about atheist immorality.

Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle said...

Steven Carr said:
"Another theist who thinks that money , like morality, can only have value if God declares 100 dollar bills to be worth 100 times a one dollar bill.

The idea that 'human conventions' have no value is refuted every time one of these people take out their wallets."

But you have little or no emotional investment in the names and values we give to our bills. The value of a dollar changes daily given multiple economic factors. The goverment could issue the $25 bill tomorrow and you would hardly blink. But if someone wants to change the human moral convention of lying and teach, "It is good to lie to others and deceive them to gain an advantage over them.", you get all bent out of shape. It is almost as if you have a reference system from which to compare your human conventions? No? This is the law written on your heart by God and I am simply pointing it out to you.

Hallq said:

"It amazes me how ready some Christians are to defend dishonesty by themselves and their comrades based on totally unsubstantiated assertions about atheist immorality."

I did not defend lying so not sure where that statement came from. I pointed out how you feel so strongly about people being honest indicates a committment to Christian morality.

Victor Reppert said...

I did not endorse Varghese's response, I presented it to provide Varghese's side of the discussion, which I thought was missing from Oppenheimer's essay. I linked to Richard Carrier as well.

Steven Carr said...

'But you have little or no emotional investment in the names and values we give to our bills. The value of a dollar changes daily given multiple economic factors. The goverment could issue the $25 bill tomorrow and you would hardly blink. But if someone wants to change the human moral convention of lying and teach, "It is good to lie to others and deceive them to gain an advantage over them.", you get all bent out of shape.'

Of course, you are correct that money has no absolute value.

That is the point.

It still has a real value, even if human beings and not an alleged God says what a dollar bill is worth.

You would care if the US government said that all the dollar bills you had were no longer legal tender, and had no exchange value, and could not be exchanged for the new currencies without 'In God We Trust' on them?

You would not simply say 'Hey, there just bits of paper, without any emotional value. Who cares if the government has declared them worthless? The only things with worth are things my god says have worth'


God has written the law on our hearts?

Surveys show that very few Christians and not many more clergeymen can accurately tell you what the Ten Commandments are.

How can the law be written by God on our hearts when many Christians can't tell you what it is, without looking it up?

Did God write the law on our hearts in invisible ink, so people had to be told from a book what these laws are?

Hell's Handmaiden said...

Kyle,

You write that "... if someone wants to change the human moral convention of lying and teach, "It is good to lie to others and deceive them to gain an advantage over them.", you get all bent out of shape. It is almost as if you have a reference system from which to compare your human conventions? No? This is the law written on your heart by God and I am simply pointing it out to you."

Sure. We have a kind of reference system. The problem is with the claim that this 'reference' came from God. We humans have all kinds of 'reference systems' and most of them-- I think you'll admit-- didn't come from God. Why should this one in particular be special?

Kyle said...

heck's handmaiden said-
"We humans have all kinds of 'reference systems' and most of them-- I think you'll admit-- didn't come from God. Why should this one in particular be special?"

Good question. I can think of several reasons.
1) People, even children, respond instictively to injustice against themselves and others. For reference see children on the playground crying 'unfair'!
2) This system is revealed by God in His Word.
Rom. 2:14-15
"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,"
3) The most devout atheists operate under the notion of absolute morals because they think their morals are 'right' and they demand justice when others mistreat them. Atheists never say, "You wronged me under my system of morals, but if it OK in your system of morals, then all is forgotten." Atheists don't really think that morals are flexible because they are not willing to live in a world where everyone thinks so.

#2 should answer the silly question about invisible ink. It is not an explicit treatise God put on our hearts. It is a conscience that responds when we do things like lying, stealing, adultery, blasphemy, dishonoring our parents, worshipping idols (self, false gods, actors, sex, drugs, etc), coveting (envy), failing to love Jehovah, failing to keep Sabbath (pre-NT Jews only), and murder (in the mind only, or a real person).

PS I thought of all of them off the top of my head except for murder! I had to look it up. Shoot! I usually get that one.

Hallq said...

Who's "heck's handmaiden"?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in morals handed down from god. In fact i really don't believe in morals. Just moral action. Actions are right if they achieve my goals and wrong if they don't. However because I am not the only human, and am fallible (and so want input from others and external constraints on my actions) I enter in to agreements with others and compromise. From this part Morality is simply those goals that are shared by a lot of people that i can compromise with.
Also one of my goals is the creation of beauty, and another is the long term survival of the human race (or a child civilization), and I am not especially greedy or power hungry. So actions that most would consider moral are what achieve those goals.
Now that voice that you call the conscience I would split into two pieces: One is what society teaches you, mostly through observing your parents not explicit teaching.
the other is composed of various instincts that are there because the caused the genes that created the instincts to spread.
but those are also the source of the corrupting voices, that of hate, lust for power, xenophobia, selfishness, and rage. But heading to those voices is disruptive to me getting what I want, both when I head them and when others do so. So I condemn acts that go against my goals and against goals. So that our collective goals can be archived.
So are there truly morally wrong acts?
Maybe.
There are acts that i don't want others or myself to do.
Either because they will prevent the creation of beauty, or cause suffering.
And so i speak out against those actions because i want to live in a world peoples actions are actions that contribute to my goals, and I am willing to compromise some: when other respect my goals i respect theres.

Doug said...

It amazes me how ready some Christians are to defend dishonesty by themselves and their comrades based on totally unsubstantiated assertions about atheist immorality.

The human tendency to be dishonest shouldn't amaze you. Your initial blog post alone contains numerous dishonest claims.
Maybe you're just stunned because you think others are employing the same type of dishonesty you appear to be found of - in attempts to get a misguided point across.

Doug said...

Either because they will prevent the creation of beauty, or cause suffering.

So you do believe in morals. Nothing like constructing a long post only to contradict yourself at the end.

Steven Carr said...

DOUG
So you do believe in morals.

CARR
Many people don't believe in morals.


They believe that people should blindly obey whatever pops into the mind of an inhuman being, or else he will have them tortured for eternity.

Hallq said...

Doug--you're probably beyond help here, but do you care to even try to back up your accusations of dishonesty?