Philosopher Antony Flew has a new book out titled There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.
But what’s interesting is that he didn’t write it–Christian apologist Roy Abraham Varghese did.
Today’s New York Times has the fascinating and disturbing story about how some evangelical Christians have exploited an aging man’s loss of memory and critical thinking capacity to make him the basis of a fallacious argument from authority in support of their views.
UPDATE (November 8, 2007): Richard Carrier, who was quoted in the New York Times story, has given more information at his blog.
CNN reports that the Church of Scientology is partnering with Christian churches in low-income areas to offer free tutoring (and indoctrination in L. Ron Hubbard’s “study technology”). This is actually not a new development–Scientology has long partnered with a number of pastors of Baptist churches to promote its “Applied Scholastics” program, such as Rev. Alfreddie Johnson and the Rev. Fred Shaw.
I’d normally ignore it as too crazy even for creationists, but I’ve encountered this argument more than once lately. It’s the notion that the existence of “the laws of logic” requires a transcendent divine authority—a version of the eye-roll-inducing “Transcendental Argument” favored by the likes of the late Reconstructionist Greg Bahnsen. For example, as creationist Dr. Jason Lisle puts it:
Laws of logic are God’s standard for thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, the laws of logic are abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter—they apply everywhere and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature. And they are necessary for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God.
The materialistic atheist can’t have laws of logic. He believes that everything that exists is material—part of the physical world. But laws of logic are not physical. You can’t stub your toe on a law of logic.
It’s bad enough that such people misconceive laws of nature as being akin to legislated laws, now they have to go and do the same with logic.
I wonder, actually, if this is one of those instances where argument is futile. Even in general, I don’t like being dragged into the kind of metaphysical mode of argument that many theists favor. Engaging in that sort of thing just encourages pathological thinking, and I don’t care if many respectable philosophers still go for that sort of gamesmanship. But this “logic implies God” type of thing is a particularly nasty example. No wonder I run across it among creationists.
Here’s a snippet from the end of Paul Kurtz’s lead editorial/article in the last Free Inquiry:
I am astonished by the fact that six books on atheism have been published by five authors (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor Stenger) to such vitriolic comment in the press. . .
Incidentally, to our list of six books by the so-called five horsemen, we should add a new one, which is perhaps equally significant: An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, by Taner Edis. I should point out that this book is published by Prometheus Books, which I founded. Nonetheless, An Illusion of Harmony is important because, of all the major religions of the world, Islam stands out for its doctrinal defense of creationism and its rejection of evolution, allegedly supported by the Qur’an. Indeed, a new eight-hundred-page, glossy, pro-creationist book, the Atlas of Creation, has just been published and distributed worldwide to defend Islamic creationism. Penned by the prolific (and pseudonymous) Harun Yahya, a household name in Islamic countries, this book will no doubt enjoy significant sales among believers. Edis’s work, by contrast, critical of intelligent design and creationism, will no doubt have modest sales.
Will the pundits who’ve deplored recent books on atheism likewise deplore Edis and his criticism of Islam as an unwarranted assault on religion? The paradox is that books on religion far outnumber by many hundredfold books on atheism. The number of religious books in print dwarfs the sales of the recent best sellers on atheism. What I find so puzzling is not the outcry of religious folk—which is to be expected—but that of the so-called neutral liberal and conservative pundits of our time. What an unfair assault on the effort to apply science and reason to religion.
Good for my ego, as you might imagine. Only slightly good for An Illusion of Harmony, which was stuck in a pathetic 400,000 range in the amazon.com rankings when I last looked. Sigh.
Mind you, it’s somewhat odd for me to be listed among the “horsemen.” Mainly because, let’s face it, my influence is virtually nil compared to the proper five horsemen. And really, my approach to criticism of religion is pretty different. Then there’s the fact that I probably wouldn’t get along very well with Hitchens or Harris if we were put in the same room. Again, sigh…
My mind is on intelligent design today, probably because I’ve just started teaching about it in my science-and-pseudoscience course.
Anyway, the ID people are pushing Antony Flew hard, because he’s out with a new book There is a God, and because it’s always nice to be able to highlight a major convert to your cause. There’s an interesting interview with Flew online, which reminds me why the whole affair pisses me off. Here’s Flew’s brief description of his reasons to believe:
There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical.
In other words, he invokes the “science” behind Intelligent Design. And he gets the real science thoroughly wrong, from the physics and Einstein down to the biology.
Arghhh! If a philosopher changed his mind for the usual armchair metaphysical reasons, fine. I ignore them anyway. But why do they have to make trouble for scientists instead?
(Thanks to Glenn Branch for the link.)
A very common charge against creationism and intelligent design is that not only is this bad science, but also bad theology.
I’m not entirely comfortable with this. Yes, academic theologians are much less likely than, say, televangelists, to attack evolution. Being able to point to theologians who accept evolution is very useful in the political and cultural struggle over science education. I’d love it if larger numbers of ordinary religious people would be influenced by sophisticated theologians rather than by anti-intellectual preachers. But what business is it for defenders of evolution, especially scientists, to go around making pronouncements on what is good theology and bad theology?
One immediate problem is that if we come across as saying that “good” theology does not overtly interfere with science, that’s a pretty self-serving definition. It’s hard enough to convince people to agree with scientists about nature; it’s hardly likely that too many will listen to scientists telling them what proper religion is. In a public debate where scientists have to defend elite forms of knowledge against populist religiosity, declaring that we’re the ones who know what is good and bad theology is a bad idea. It only reinforces perceptions of high-handedness.
A deeper problem is that there’s little common ground that would allow us to come to an agreement on what is good and bad theology. Communities of faith decide what they believe among themselves, usually with little regard to what academics are concerned about. Good theology in one tradition or sect is rank heresy or a gross theological error in another. Especially in the typical situation where theological commitments come down to acts of faith, it becomes difficult to see declarations of “bad theology” as being much more than arbitrary expressions of disapproval.
I know it’s tempting to try and stamp out creationism by any rhetorical means necessary. Often I find myself trying to reassure a student that believing in evolution doesn’t mean abandoning their religious heritage. One way to get this across is to say that there are more liberal theological options. But I also feel uncomfortable with telling them what’s good or bad theology. I think I’m correct in this: it’s none of my business.