Monday, October 24, 2011

Open-Minded Atheists?


(This is another item from the backlog in my Drafts folder. I think I wrote it in 2005 or 2006. This all seems moot since Flew has now passed away, but I'm posting it here for what it is worth.)


I was recently made aware of the following article:

Douglas LeBlanc, "Atheists and Theists Analyze Antony Flew’s Newfound Deism" Christian Research Journal, volume 28, number 3 (2005), http://www.equip.org/free/JAF175.htm
What I find interesting about this article is not the opinions expressed regarding Flew's conversion from agnosticism to Deism, but what appear to be implied pot shots by Gary Habermas and Douglas Geivett against (some?) atheists.

For example, in commenting on Flew conversion, Habermas stated, "“Here’s a guy who may be more open-minded than I thought,” Habermas said. “I think over the years we haven’t taken him at his word when he says he goes where the evidence leads.” It is unclear why Habermas did not take previously take Flew at his word. One potential explanation worries me. Habermas's remark reminds me of a belief held by many theists (not necessarily Habermas), that nonbelief is never rational but instead the result of a willful choice to suppress the truth of theism in order to justify an immoral lifestyle.

Turning to Doug Geivett, Geivett quoted Richard Carrier's article on Flew's conversion from nontheism to Deism, in which Carrier wrote:
This would appear to be his excuse for everything: he won’t investigate the evidence because it’s too hard. Yet he will declare beliefs in the absence of proper inquiry. Theists would do well to drop the example of Flew. Because his willfully sloppy scholarship can only help to make belief look ridiculous.
Before I comment on Geivett's remarks, I first need to mention a potential area of disagreement between Carrier and I: I don't necessarily agree with the last sentence in the above quotation. If Flew's scholarship was "willfully sloppy," at most that damages Flew's credibility, not the credibility of supernatural belief in general. Turning to Geivett, Geivett said that Carrier seemed concerned that Flew’s new beliefs “would disturb people’s faith that God does not exist.” Also, in another apparent (?) reference to Carrier, Geivett wrote, "I regret the churlish attitude of some who are scandalized by his intellectual honesty and his cautiously nuanced position.”

While I do not speak for Carrier, I highly doubt that he was "scandalized" by Flew's change in position. Just as Geivett correctly notes that the evidential strength of the case for Christianity "does not depend on the conversion of a notable" nontheist, the evidential strength of the case for naturalism is not undermined by the conversion of a nontheist, even a notable nontheist.

Also, LeBlanc's article does not contain any discussion about Flew's own admissions that he failed to research specific pieces of evidence. For example, regarding the origin of life, Carrier quoted Flew as stating:
I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.
There is also no reference to Flew's admission that he was "mistaught by Gerald Schroeder," regarding the alleged theistic implications of physics. In terms of the reported reasons for Flew's newfound Deism, these seem to be significant reversals. After all, according to the transcript of Habermas's interview of Flew, Flew summarized his following reasons for embracing Deism.
  • "The biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation," based upon the writings of Gerald Schroeder.
  • Flew also thinks "the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it. " He has "never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument," and he doesn't "think it has gotten any stronger recently." But he is apparently impressed with other arguments for intelligent design, based upon big bang cosmology and fine tuning.
  • It's not clear to me if Flew considers this evidence for Deism or just evidence favoring the existence of disembodied minds, but Flew has become convinced that evidence of near death experiences "certainly constitute impressive evidence for the possibility of the occurrence of human consciousness independent of any occurrences in the human brain."
So it appears Flew has come to reject two of his three stated reasons for embracing Deism.

In conclusion: Habermas admission that he did not previously take Flew at his word is troubling. Geivett's (apparent?) comments about Carrier go too far. And LeBlanc's article does not acknowledge Flew's reversal on his two of his major reasons for switching from nontheism to Deism. Nevertheless, I do agree with Geivett that Flew should be "given the space he needs to draw his own conclusions and report them on his own terms.”

Also, to repeat what I wrote in a related article about Flew, nothing I have written is any way meant to deny the fact that Flew apparently moved from naturalism to supernaturalism (i.e., deism). All I have claimed is that it appears that, as of 2005 or 2006, Flew apparently came to reject two of his three stated reasons for embracing Deism.

1 comment:

Blue Devil Knight said...

Good reason to focus on evidence and arguments, not the person or even necessarily what they used to believe.