Saturday, November 24, 2007

Apologists Gloating over Antony Flew's Intellectual Corpse

Just like shit attracts flies, the rotting intellectual corpse of Antony Flew, formerly atheistic and somewhat obscure philosopher, has attracted the gamut of theologoical predators, eager to cash in on his senility-induced “conversion”. Not one to ever be out-sleazed, Dinesh D’Souza has weighed in, and with his usual reality-averse viewpoint. Right off the bat he reveals, as so many religious apologists do, that he has no understanding of atheism, confusing it, as so many do, with rebellion against the gods:

”Imagine if one of the world's leading Christians--say C.S. Lewis a generation ago, or Billy Graham now--were to reject his religious beliefs and become a atheist. It would be big news! The New York Times would be all over it, for sure, and the question would be why a man who has devoted his life to God would now turn against Him?”

Being an atheist is not “turning against” the gods. One who is against something still believes in that something. To not believe is to not be for or against. A Satanist is against God. An atheist isn’t. Further, notice D’Souza’s use of that favorite of neo-conservative debating tricks, backing his speculation (that the NY Times is biased for atheism and against believers), with more speculation (that the NY Times would have treated a famous believer’s deconversion to atheism differently than it treated Flew’s conversion). Apparently gathering facts to support his point of view was too difficult, or at least less convenient, than simply making shit up (MSU).

"Contrast this with the New York Times' approach to the conversion of philosopher Anthony Flew. Flew has been, for the past half-century, the world's leading advocate of atheism. His works such as Theology and Falsification and The Presumption of Atheism were considered classics of theist thought. No one has so relentlessly espoused the atheist cause, and no one has been more anthologized and eulogized by the atheist community."

This is sheer nonsense. Outside of philosophical circles and the most hard core of atheist groups, Flew was virtually unknown. He has, not coincidentally, become “the world’s leading advocate of atheism” to apologists like D’Souza only when he became useful to them. When he was espousing atheism, they did not treat him, or his work, as significant at all.

Other twentieth-century philosophers, such as Martin Heidegger and Bertrand Russell, were unbelievers but they did not make atheism central to their philosophical work as did Flew. Flew's atheism long precedes that of latecomers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens.

The significance that Flew wrote before the “New Atheists” is what exactly? The fact is, Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens, along with Sam Harris, are far more known, and more read, than Flew ever was. This is why it is so important for D’Souza to attempt to marginalize them to Flew’s benefit. Being honest about Flew’s obscurity runs contrary to his agenda.

"Now, in his early eighties, Flew has rejected atheism and said he believes that God exists. He does not espouse the Christian God, but calls himself a Deist. He says he has a lifelong commitment to following the evidence where it leads, and that new advances in the sciences have shown him that materialism and Darwinism simply cannot account for the world as it is and life as it is. Examining the fine-tuning of the universe and the mind-boggling complexity of the cell (a compexity that evolution presumes but cannot explain), Flew now believes that the design of the universe requires a designer. He gives his reasons in a new book There Is a God which is co-authored with Roy Abraham Varghese."

Yes, in a book which Flew, to my great sadness, supposedly wrote about philosophers that he could not even remember in post-release interviews. Clearly the man is losing his faculties, and was primed for exploitation by the likes of Varghese and D’Souza. Luckily for us, D’Souza is so clueless as to what makes for a sound argument, he refutes himself:

”In the book, Flew uses simple analogies to expose atheist illogic. For instance, leading atheists seek to prove that the mind is no more than the brain. If the brain is destroyed, they say, we can't use our minds. Therefore there is nothing to minds excerpt circuits andneurons.”

Apparently D’Souza, and now poor Flew, needs to be reminded of what every Logic 101 student learns: analogies do not prove, they only illustrate. Flew cannot possibly expose illogic, of atheists or anyone else, using analogies. And again we must ask the master of MSU, where are these atheistic scientists seeking to prove the mind is no more than the brain? I know of many scientists, like Stephen Pinker, who seek to explain brain function in terms of what we know of it, including but not limited to the fact that no verified example exists of mind function without brain function. Flew’s analogy here of a child on an island finding a cell phone and concluding that there are no voices without the phone rings shallow. One can always devise a hypothetical scenario where standard scientific methodology might draw an erroneous conclusion. So what? The question is not “is it possible such reasoning could error”, but rather “why should we, in this particular instance, conclude that it is in error?” D’Souza is strangely silent on this question, and for good reason. The answer, that it runs contrary to what he wishes were true, would not serve his political and sociological agenda. Better to toss out the analogy, and hope his target audience doesn’t notice the gaping flaw in his argument. Then, as if to pour salt in an open wound, D’Souza goes into major denial over Flew’s reduced mental capacity:

”When a major figure like Flew switches sides, the New York TImes goes into mafia-style intellectual hit mode. They selected Mark Oppenheimer of Yale, who visited Flew in England and wrote a long article in the November 4, 2007 New York Times Magazine suggesting that Flew converted because he is, well, senile. The basic idea is that Flew has lost his mind and can't remember anything, and when Christian apologists like Varghese were nice to him Flew basically surrendered to them and let them write his book.

The only evidence that Flew has lost his mind is that he's 84 years old. A man of 84 naturally loses some of his memory, especially for names, but this does not mean he has lost his marbles. Flew's own writings of the past few years are all entirely coherent and employ sophisticated philosophical vocabulary. While Flew seems to have asked his collaborator Varghese to write a draft of his life story, it was Flew who reviewed and approved the final contents. There is nothing in the Times' article that shows Flew to be incapable of a reasoned change of mind and heart.

Perhaps, but the evidence of Flew’s senility is apparent to all but those who wish to use him for their political ends. His problems go far beyond a failure to remember a few names. He can’t seem to remember major pieces of the book’s arguments.

”I realize that atheists--including those at the New York Times--are embarassed at having to surrender one of their most stalwart champions to theism. Maybe they too should consider following the evidence where it leads? Too closed-minded to consider Flew's arguments, these fellows would much rather belittle the intellectual capacity of the man they once revered. Hell hath no fury like an atheist scorned.

A wonderful bit of fiction writing Dinesh. You should write children’s books. Atheists do not feel scorned by Flew. We feel sorry for him. Watching him espouse arguments that he would have laughed at, and rightly so, in his earlier more lucid days, is sickening to put it mildly. The evidence remains clear on two points: Flew is senile, and Dinesh D’Souza and the rest of the religious Right that are exploiting Flew for their own purposes, are shameless opportunists. The last thing they are interested in is following the evidence where it leads. They already “know” where it should finish, and they aren’t interested in letting the facts get in the way.

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