Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Antony Flew's Bogus Book

I'm mentioned considerably in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine about Antony Flew's new book. Fans will want to know about this, and hear some of the backstory from me, filling in some of the blanks left by the article, which was good but inevitably brief for so complicated a story. So here you go.

The Times Article

The article in question, by Mark Oppenheimer, is "The Turning of an Atheist" (New York Times Magazine, 4 November 2007, pp. 36-41). I had known of this article for over a month, as I communicated extensively with Oppenheimer (and the NYT fact-checking office), but I was politely asked not to discuss it until it appeared. Oppenheimer also procured for me an early galley proof of Flew's new "book," There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind ("co-authored" by Roy Abraham Varghese), which I was able to read a month ago and comment on for Oppenheimer (many of my fans have asked me if I knew of this book, and in fact I had already read it, I just could not discuss it until now).

As also reported by the Associated Press years ago, I'm well known for my correspondence with Flew on the matter of his conversion from weak atheism to strong Deism, and anyone who wants the full story about that can read my article on the subject (which has numerous subsequent updates appended to it): Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of (2004). Now, after reading "Flew's" new book, I was appalled at how badly argued it was, and how obviously it was not written in his style or idiom, but in that of contemporary Christian apologetics (like someone attempting a poor imitation of the style and approach of a Lee Strobel or Gary Habermas). Moreover, from crucial omissions (and distortions of history) it was clear the author could not have been Flew. Unless Flew had gone completely insane.

But I was certain another author was to blame, and not lunacy. And now my suspicions have been confirmed. This book is being promoted as "former atheist" Antony Flew's "long awaited" explanation of why he converted, but it is now known that Flew did not write any of it, and in fact recalls almost none of its contents. Indeed, Flew openly confessed to Oppenheimer that he didn't write a word of it. Oppenheimer also confirmed that Flew apparently knows (or remembers) little of its contents and almost none of the authors or works cited in it, despite the publisher's assurance that he signed off on it (though as Oppenheimer reports, even his publisher confesses doubts about Flew's ability to remember essential details, and it seems evident now that Flew's failing memory is clinically serious).

In my opinion the book's arguments are so fallacious and cheaply composed I doubt Flew would have signed off on it in sound mind, and Oppenheimer comes to much the same conclusion. It seems Flew simply trusted Varghese and didn't even read the book being published in his name. And even if he had, he is clearly incapable now of even remembering what it said. The book's actual author turns out to be an evangelical preacher named Bob Hostetler (who has also written several books with Josh McDowell), with considerable assistance from this book's co-author, evangelical promoter and businessman Roy Abraham Varghese.

However, I don't completely believe the story they told Oppenheimer. The style of the chapters attributed to Flew differs so much from the portions explicitly written by Varghese (such as a lengthy preface), that I suspect Hostetler was responsible for much more than the publisher claims. Whether that's so or not, this is a hack Christian tract, not formal or competent philosophy, nor anything from the mind of Antony Flew. Consequently I won't provide anything like an extensive review of this terrible (and quite bogus) book. I'll only say a few things about it below.

Back to the article. Oppenheimer tells only some of Flew's story, and portrays me in a somewhat snarky way, but everything he says is more or less true, so I can't complain. Although, I must say, I have never been to a chess tournament, or a sci-fi convention (though as a teenager I attended several gaming conventions), and I rarely attend "skeptics' conferences," because I usually find all these things equally boring. So whether I am a "type" you would recognize from such events I can't really say. But I usually find sci-fi fans themselves to be very interesting, so I'll pick "sci-fi convention" and claim I'm like those guys (yeah, that's the ticket). Otherwise, Oppenheimer isn't far of the mark calling me obsessive in a way "both admirable and a little debilitating." My wife would certainly recognize me in that description! But for those who are curious, I have submitted the first draft of my completed dissertation. Though it still awaits the revision and defense stage, I am reasonably nearer to getting my degree.

Otherwise, the rest of what Oppenheimer says, though correct, leaves out some of the backstory. For example, he omits to mention that I was specifically asked by several members of the secular community to initiate a correspondence with Flew. I did not undertake this task on my own initiative. I actually had no interest in him myself. I have never been a Flew fan and, in fact, until recently I thought I had never even heard of him until 2001 (when the rumors began), and since then I have found little of his philosophy appealing, or even correct (I now remember
that before 2001 I had read one piece of his and glanced at his entries in a library catalog but didn't think much of it at the time). It was only at the urging of colleagues that I undertook to get to the bottom of things in 2004, and it was only Flew's confusing and often bizarre replies that led me to push harder in trying to get him to explain things.

Thus, what Oppenheimer calls a piece de chutzpah, the "four-page" questionnaire I sent to Flew, was actually born of necessity, as Flew was evading direct answers, instead providing vague and confusing details of his belief and evidence. I had to resort to something more organized and direct. In actual fact, most of those "four pages" consisted of empty space for Flew to write answers in (Oppenheimer's description makes it sound like four pages of questions, when in reality there were only fifteen questions). Likewise, Oppenheimer calls my question about Flew's attendance at Quaker meetings "invasive and rather trivial," but in fact I told Oppenheimer that this was among the rumors circulating that I wanted Flew to have the opportunity to confirm or refute, hence it was no more invasive than any of the other questions I was asking. At any rate, Flew showed no reluctance or annoyance in answering this question.

In contrast, Flew left completely blank two of the most important questions of all:

Question Number 12: Do you believe God could be any kind of conscious entity with thoughts, plans, and/or desires?

Question Number 13: If not, then how do you suspect an entity with no thoughts, plans, or desires could (or even would) intelligently organize a universe in a specific way to bring about life? And why did it do such a thing?
Flew wrote nothing in response to these (and to this date still has not answered them)--yet he completely filled all available space answering the thirteen other questions, including six lines answering the Quaker question, and in some cases up to ten lines plus half the back of the page in answer to a single question. I find it very curious that Flew was so forthcoming on so many questions, except these, not even bothering to explain why he refused to answer them. Yet Flew said publicly and in his letters to me that he believes his god is uninvolved and unconcerned, a mere Aristotelian prime mover, yet at the same time says his god got involved enough to create life and even man, which is not the behavior of the unconcerned. Flew has deliberately avoided even facing, much less attempting to explain, this bizarre inconsistency in his avowed beliefs. I can only conclude that his beliefs are irrational and incoherent.

That's a part of the story Oppenheimer's account doesn't make clear. Though I understand he didn't have room to go into these things. Nor did he have room to tell his readers what Flew's answer was to the other question Oppenheimer quotes, the one he calls "relevant, if barbed":

Question Number 14: Should we believe claims open to scientific evaluation that are not accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community?
I had added that "I have in mind 'scientific' claims like those of Schroeder and Behe." Flew's answer is as telling as it is appalling: "I do not think we should believe Behe's claims, while Schroeder's claims are not a matter of natural science. What he says about scientific matters is common ground with all his fellow physicists." That Flew believed that is more than a bit shocking. Worse, that Flew thinks any of Schroeder's claims are not "open to scientific evaluation" is disturbing, as is the notion, apparently embraced by Flew, that such claims could be worthy of any stalwart belief.
 
The Bogus Book

This book never once mentions my name. Or any of the articles I sent to Flew. Nor does it address any of the questions or issues that I raised in my correspondence with Flew. Moreover, the author writing under Flew's name makes a crucial mistake at one point that confirms that he had read none of our correspondence and knew nothing of my letters and attachments to Flew, or Flew's to me. This is more important than it might sound. Because I think it confirms that this book tells us absolutely nothing about what Flew really believes, or why. It seems to be
entirely the creation of a pair of hack Christian evangelicals, representing only the beliefs, arguments, and concerns of American Christian propagandists. I'll provide only a few examples of what I mean. I could list many more.

First: Not a single argument in this book is anything Flew ever said in his letters to me were his reasons for becoming a theist, except one: the DNA argument, which he phrased very differently, and then rescinded in his letters to me. In his new preface to God & Philosophy he even cited my article in Biology & Philosophy as already refuting many of the claims which are now made in this book about the origin of life (see Richard Carrier, "The Argument from Biogenesis: Probabilities against a Natural Origin of Life," Biology & Philosophy 19.5, November 2004, pp. 739-64). So the author either never read my article, or literally forgot everything it said. I suspect the former, since Flew physically has the article and thus could consult it at will, so a bad memory would be no excuse.

Hence if Flew wrote this, or anyone competent enough to actually read the only article Flew cites against the argument from biogenesis in his new preface to God & Philosophy, I would at least expect a response to the facts and arguments in my article. Instead, the book is written in complete ignorance of its contents, as well as of the fact that I had sent it to Flew, and Flew had confessed to reading it, and had been persuaded by it to rescind his argument from DNA in his final preface to God & Philosophy (as even Oppenheimer documents, and as I show even more clearly in my article on Flew). As a result, on this one argument "Flew's" book stands already refuted on almost everything it says. Only a hack would attempt that. Someone who actually knew what he was doing (or who was actually Antony Flew) would not have left my article without response, as it was clearly the crucial piece that turned Flew around on the only actual argument he has ever made.

The real author not only has no knowledge of my crucially relevant interactions with Flew (even beyond this one example), he also thinks Flew's "biological-scientist friend" who corrected him on the science of biogenesis was Richard Dawkins, when in fact it was me. In his preface to God & Philosophy Flew erred in thinking (and claiming) that I was a scientist (yet another example of his apparent mental decline--Flew had written to me that Dawkins said nothing to him on this subject, and that I was the one who had persuaded him, and cites my article alone in the relevant footnote in God & Philosophy). As a result of this mistake, Flew evidently misled the ghostwriter into believing Flew had been persuaded by a "scientist friend." The author thus picked the most obvious candidate: Dawkins. This is a mistake that Flew would not have made, and would surely have corrected had he ever actually read this book before it went to press (unless his memory is catastrophically failing him).

For example, the author pretending to be Flew claims there hasn't been enough time for abiogenesis. The real Antony Flew knows this is false. In fact he conceded it was false to me in writing, and I quoted him on this fact in my online article. You would think that even a forger who wants the world to think this is Flew's response to his own critics and that Flew remains a theist for sound reasons, would at least have his fictional Flew explain his retraction and re-retract it somehow. Instead, the author appears not even to know that Flew retracted the claim that there hasn't been enough time for abiogenesis. The author also seems unaware of the fact that Flew had radically changed earlier drafts of his preface to God & Philosophy to reflect exactly this change of position, even though this was also a matter of public record. Thus no explanation is given for his sudden (though apparently fictional) re-reversal.

There are many more examples of this kind of thing. For instance, I also sent Flew (as an enclosure to one of my letters) an unpublished manuscript by me, "Are Uncanny 'Ordering' Forces Necessary to Explain Life?" which directly rebutted many of the arguments Flew is now being made to advance (in the areas of ontology, cosmology, and biogenesis), yet the arguments in these chapters show no awareness, even indirectly, of the arguments in my unpublished paper that I know Flew has. So either Flew refused to read what I sent him, or read it and forgot everything it said, or Flew didn't even read "his" new book, for surely if he had, he would have told his ghostwriter to anticipate my rebuttals. I similarly sent Flew excerpts from my (at the time unpublished) book Sense and Goodness without God, which again the ghostwriter shows no sign of having read. Surely even if he wasn't going to name me for some reason, he would at least compose his arguments in a way that would address or preempt rebuttals he already knew I would make. Thus it seems clear the actual author didn't read anything I wrote, not even what I had physically sent to Flew.

Second: It seems to me the book has everywhere the hallmarks of Christian apologetic interests and idioms, but none of Flew's. Curiously absent from the entire book is any discussion of Deism or the God of Thomas Jefferson, which Flew repeatedly emphasized in his letters to me. And also curiously absent are his fulminations against revealed religions and the doctrines of hell. We find in this book not even apologies or retractions or qualifications. The real author evidently had interests and aims completely different from Flew's, and didn't understand Flew's particular passions and ideas, and had no interest in explaining what Flew's real beliefs were, much less why he held them.

Instead, this book is filled with the typical concerns and methods of contemporary Christian apologetics, and as a result sounds nothing like Flew. That the book is written in the recently favored style of Christian apologists is indicated by such Flewless characteristics as:

(1) The launching of chapters and sections with bizarre, quasi-colloquial examples (like baseball stories, lost tribes fiddling with satellite phones, dogs eating a kids homework), leading awkwardly into a very informal argument filled with patent fallacies and practiced rhetoric;

(2) The excessive use of "argument from authority" through the un-academic, reportorial method of over-frequent direct quotation of a series of seemingly random authors, without ever quoting any opponent or critic of their views;

(3) Lengthy direct quotation of what are purported to be conversations without explaining how exact quotation was possible (Were the conversations recorded? Did Flew personally check his exact quotes with everyone he quoted? Is he a skilled stenographer? Even Oppenheimer got no clear answer about this); and

(4) The nature and structure of the arguments, which are more characteristic of the interests and habits of current Christian apologists than of Flew's (like the free will defense, creation ex nihilo, or opposition to evolution theory).
Indeed, one of its chapters even betrays such complete ignorance of basic evolutionary principles that any competent evolution scientist would have an easy field day with the juvenile understanding on display there. The real Flew has written books on evolution theory that exhibit more competence than that.

All this, in my opinion, makes this book a grand and shameless lie, a clear violation of God's commandment against bearing false witness. I know for a fact that apart from the argument from DNA, which Flew later rejected, none of the arguments this book attributes to Flew were among his reasons for converting. Even if they are reasons he embraces now (though I doubt even that), the fact that this book portrays them as what led Flew to believe is a clear act of deceit (unless Flew was lying to me from the start, which I doubt).
So we should not be surprised to find yet more dishonesty. Hence I doubt there is much truth to the fact when Flew is made to appear as though he is seriously considering converting to Christianity, and is made to say he is very impressed by the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, especially following (so the fictional Flew tells us) the arguments of Anglican bishop N.T. Wright. Wright even participates in the charade by adding a chapter on this, supposedly responding to Flew's last remaining "doubts." For those who are interested in this issue, I had already composed extensive (albeit indirect) responses to Wright's arguments, in both The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005, supplemented by online FAQs on the relevant chapters there) and my online book, Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False? (2006).

Finally, chapters provided by Varghese (actually written in Varghese's name) vent a fireball of rage and calumny against the renowned, popular, and bestselling atheists Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. Chief among his complaints against them is that they ignore Christian responses to their arguments and offer no fully-developed worldview to replace the ones they attack. It is thus a little ironic that my book does exactly that. So if you share Varghese's outrage at the supposed failings of these popular authors, then please read my book, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), which does anticipate and address Christian responses (based on extensive field experience debating and dialoguing with Christians and reading their books), and does present a complete and coherent worldview to replace the ones I reject. Besides, I actually wrote my book.

 

144 comments:

Moloth said...

Ah, gotta love "Lying for Jesus".
They know they don't have a leg to stand on, so they have to lie, cheat and steal in order to appear relevant.

Pathetic.

David Fitzgerald said...

There really should be a word in english for "I am completely surprised/I am not surprised one little bit" (For example,if you found out that Dick Cheney was an evil robot from the future or that Michael Jackson was holding a stable of slave boys captive in his basement) Anyway, I think this story needs to break wide open. Evangelicals using Flew as a sock puppet could be the biggest scandal in the history of Christian scholarship. On the Bob Terkell-o-meter, this is off the scale - it even beats all of Lee Strobel's and Josh McDowell's canon of "research".
-DF

zhadi said...

Heh. Even if they HAD known about your correspondance with Flew, very few people are unwise enough to go up against such a chess tournament attending, Sci-Fi Geek as yourself. I, a fellow geek (and about as much of a chess player as yourself), bow down before you in awe.

FreeThinker said...

Fascinating coda to the NYT article, which I read yesterday. Unfortunately, most all evangelicals will read neither -- just the notion that a "renowned atheist" had "found God" is all they need and want to know.

Brian said...

Had I not carefully read your book, I would argue that hanging was too good for them. As it is, I hope they face legal action of some form.

-- B. Dewhirst

Quixie said...

I believe your reasons for believing that this was not the work of Flew.

This leaves me very puzzled, however. Why would Flew not write his own conversion story? Why would he blindly pre-approve this without even reading it?

For money?

Ó

JP said...

This NYT article is such an interesting read.

Very confusing, the state of Flew that is.


Off topic, I see you are a CG veteran. I am as well, just got out after 10 yrs. When do you get out?

Anduril919 said...

Wow! Just, absolutely, wow! Taking advantage of an aging philosopher who has all the signs of going senile, only a Christian evangelist would do it!!! Unbelievable!!

ari said...

Apparently the article whispered between the lines that people were taking advantage of an aging, senile philosopher. The article was written in such a way as to imply that both parties were abusing a senile man for their own agendas. But philosophers aged or not have made themselves public property, and it seems as if they owe the world to justify their conversions.

Steven Carr said...

Why should Flew's new book contain a discussion of Deism?

Varghese is not a Deist.

So who would expect Varghese to discuss what Flew converted to?

I like the idea that Flew is interested in baseball, an almost incomprehensible game to English people. For one thing, where are the stumps for the pitcher to bowl at?

Pikemann Urge said...

Religious apologists are getting desperate, hey? But their enthusiasm is so strong that to them they can't see the nastiness of what they're doing. They're like a 10 year old boy, so wide-eyed and awed at finding a pile of money in a ditch that he can't stuff his pockets fast enough.

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

I've added some more material on my blog. The publisher is now promoting a statement by Flew rejecting the NYT piece. (You can see it smuggled into an Amazon.com review, which seems odd.) But frankly, I see no reason to to disbelieve that this, too, was ghost-written.

Mike said...

I can't help but worry that putting your name on Flew's story might give the man's work more credit than it's worth.

I do agree that this should be blown as wide open as a story like this possibly can. To make shoddy arguments is one thing. To take advantage of an aging man is quite another.

jqb said...

One cannot be religious and not be ethically corrupt to some degree -- faith, the abdication of reason, is inherently intellectually dishonest.

Jon said...

Great work Richard, plus like the blogroll!

Richard Carrier said...

JP: I left the Coast Guard in 1992, having attained the rank of Petty Officer Third Class, in sonar (sub-hunting), a rate that was also retired in 1992 (hence my honorable discharge was at the convenience of the government...they eliminated my job!).

Richard Carrier said...

Brian: I hope they face legal action of some form.

I don't see how they could. They ostensibly had Flew's permission to do this, presumably even a signed contract, and Flew is too mentally lost to know what they did, much less realize the fraud, get outraged by it, and take them to court. And even then there is no guarantee he could win, since the fault is ultimately his for not paying closer attention. At best he could claim mental incompetence voids their contract, but as a rule the mentally incompetent are too incompetent to know they are mental incompetent. And there is no one else who has standing in the case, except perhaps his wife (he seems not to have any real friends), who appears to be out of the loop and unconcerned with the whole affair. So they'll skate.

Quixie: Why would Flew not write his own conversion story? Why would he blindly pre-approve this without even reading it? For money?

No. Oppenheimer's theory, I believe, is correct. Read his article to see what I mean. Flew was mentally (and possibly even physically) incapable of writing his own account, and as Oppenheimer relates, it seems he is hardly even capable of reading a book in any sense that would matter. He simply trusted Christians who were nice to him and wowed him with their words and charm. "We can tell your story. Trust us." He didn't believe they would lie. And he is mentally incapable of understanding how they did. They essentially used a man who can't even remember a conversation one day to the next, carting him around town and sitting him in staged interviews with pro-Christian scholars he would never remember even having met, much less spoken to, and then writing up what they pleased.

I do hope at least they didn't cheat him out of the profits. It sounds like he and his wife could use the money. But I am certain he had no such notions in mind.

Ari: But philosophers aged or not have made themselves public property, and it seems as if they owe the world to justify their conversions.

Insofar as they are able. Flew isn't. As for my part in the whole affair, I was just trying to find out the truth. What exactly did he believe? Why? Did he have a good reason? It took me a while to realize the problem was one of serious mental decline, not sound thinking and research, and even then I couldn't be sure he wasn't just a lousy and lazy philosopher (and I have met many of them), without sitting down with him in person. Oppenheimer finally got to do that, for two whole days, and essentially confirmed the problem was not laziness, but incapacity.

I have every hope my wife will take better care of my intellectual behavior if I go the same way. She's much more involved in my work and legacy than Flew's wife seems to be. Jen would not stand for this sort of thing. She'd beat the Christian vultures off with a broom.

Steven Carr: Why should Flew's new book contain a discussion of Deism?

Anyone who believes Flew wrote it (or even approved it) has every reason to expect that. But so should any competent forger. I mean, anyone but a hack should know you have to make a bogus book at least believable.

Richard Carrier said...

Geoff: Thanks for the update.

You identify one other string of examples I could have droned on about: the vast difference between Flew's logically meticulous writing (at least before his conversion) and the writing in this book, which is so lousy with blatant fallacies and loose ends (and so illogically random in its use of sources) that there are literally only two possible explanations: Flew has lost his mind, or didn't even read this book, much less write it. Thus, hearing his (possibly fictional) adamant backing of its contents now can only do more damage to his reputation, by confirming he has, in fact, lost his mind. The Flew that was is no more.

Oppenheimer's article pretty much confirms this, since if Flew can't even recall what the book says or having met any of the people he allegedly interviewed (and extensively quotes), then there is no logical sense in which Flew can claim "the book...represents exactly my opinions." If you don't even know what it says, then how can you know it represents your opinions? Moreover, as my side of the affair confirms, the book hugely misrepresents the actual steps that led to his conversion. If he can't even tell that this account is wrong, then his backing of the book is meaningless. He is no longer able to know why he converted any more. It's quite possible he now "remembers" only whatever his Christian friends "tell him" happened--and they aren't telling him the truth.

Richard Carrier said...

P.S. Some have asked off-thread about the autobiographical chapters in this book, since I did not discuss those. My view on these chapters is more complicated. They are also written in a different style from the Varghese chapters and the "argument" chapters (which pretend to be Flew presenting his reasons for converting). So I suspect they have more of Flew's "voice" in them than any of the other chapters.

But did Flew write them? No.

Oppenheimer confirms that Varghese did, using what Flew had written elsewhere and (supposedly) told him. Some of what's there can indeed be read in material Flew has written or said elsewhere. The rest, however, can't really be confirmed as authentic, so I don't know how much of it to trust.

But where those elements can be verified, it doesn't look good. For example, the account in these chapters of his writing of Theology & Falsification cannot be entirely true, since Flew has said significantly different things about that elsewhere, and to me. The book has Flew claiming he didn't intend it or believe it to be an argument for atheism but in fact against a positivist argument for atheism, when in fact the real Flew always maintained it was a decisive argument against belief, and the foundation of his own atheism--until 2001, as he reports in an article he wrote for the Secular Web (Sorry to Disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist!), when he first realized he was wrong and that it was possible to adduce evidence for theism (and thus "verify" it, to an extent, a view I had always held and was glad to see Flew finally coming around to).

Compare his coherent account there, with what Flew is made to say about the same thing in the book, and it becomes clear Flew could not have written or read the account in the book, unless he is no longer able to remember his own past. This bodes very ill for the remainder of the autobiographical material.

Jon said...

It is such an oxymoron that any so called "true Christian" would feel it necessary to manipulate an old man. It makes it difficult for me to believe that they are educated Christians. Do those involved really believe what they are doing for both his salvation and their own propaganda agenda? I believe that they think Theists will only read their book and the "conversion story" of their telling without reading Flew's obvious difference of writing style in the work he has done by himself. In a weird way other educated and more morally attuned Theists will be angry at such a black mark that has been put on the plate of Theism by those manipulators of old men.

John W. Loftus said...

Richard, since this will soon be a part of Flew's legacy in history, I hope you publish a lengthy review of this bogus book in a scholarly journal or two. Great detective work, my friend.

Richard Carrier said...

Updates: Varghese is now claiming Flew read and signed off on ten separate drafts of the book before it went to press (see Varghese reponds via Gary Habermas). That is either not true, or Flew's mental incompetence is far more severe than even I had thought. The evidence is too overwhelming to come to any other conclusion.

Other leading apologists are circling the wagons and insisting on Varghese's integrity and honesty and deriding the Oppenheimer piece as inaccurate, misleading, unsupported, etc. One can see some examples of this in the Amazon reviews for the book.

I went ahead and posted my own review on Amazon, which, unlike most of the other customer reviews, actually discusses the contents of the book. I reproduce the relevant portion of what I said here (giving just a handful of examples, not everything that could have been said...the book is so awful it hardly deserves any further review):

In chapter five the real authors of this book (neither of whom are Flew) do not understand the difference between mechanical and theoretical simplicity (Occam's Razor only pertains to the latter, which involves the number of assumptions required to sustain a theory, not the number of physical parts). Hence they utter fallacious rhetoric like "What is complex about the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient Spirit, an idea so simple it is understood by all the adherents of the three great monotheistic religions...?" This is a non sequitur. To see why, just change the subject: "What is complex about the idea of a self-generating multiverse, an idea so simple it is understood by all the adherents of science and reason?" This is just as fallacious, and for the very same reason. The book is plagued by this kind of bad rhetoric, to the point of becoming appallingly annoying.

In chapter six, the authors do not even seem aware of the distinction between the weak and strong anthropic principles, nor are they aware of the fact that fine tuning was not an argument that persuaded Flew to become a Deist (even if he is persuaded by the argument now, though I doubt he is even capable of evaluating the argument now, given the evidence presented in the New York Times of his apparent mental decline). Worse, here as in every chapter, the authors ignore already-existing criticisms of the arguments they present, thus making this book not only one-sided, but blindly misleading, as if they and their alleged sources were the first to discover these arguments and no one has been able to think of any response to them. This makes the book essentially useless from a scholarly perspective.

Also in chapter six the authors portray Paul Davies as an opponent of multiverse theory, when in fact Davies published an article in Modern Physics Letters A (volume 19, issue 10, 2004) affirming multiverse theory as viable and scientifically respectable, declaring in his own words that "some version of a multiverse is reasonable given the current world view of physics." In other words, the authors of this book are engaging either in catastrophically bad research, or outright deceit.

In chapter seven the authors completely ignore all the arguments and evidence against their view presented in my article in Biology and Philosophy (November 2004), even though the real Flew cited this article in his new preface to God and Philosophy as having refuted much of what is now being claimed in this chapter. The chapter's understanding of evolution theory is also so juvenile it further suggests that Flew neither wrote nor read it, since Flew has written books on evolution theory that demonstrate a much better understanding than this. Indeed, this is some of the worst creationist literature I have read. Dembski must be bowing his head in shame.

Also in chapter seven (and elsewhere) the authors present no clear idea of what actually demarcates science and philosophy or why or when one would ever have authority over the other, despite the fact that the entire book rests on the need to make this distinction, and despite a great deal of rhetoric on the matter, including the distasteful and misleading (but typical) creationist tactic of quote mining.

I could go on, but these failings are typical of the entire book. Even in general it isn't written well. It also ends with a rage-filled calumny against Dawkins, Dennet, and Harris by Varghese and a rather lame defense of the resurrection of Jesus by N.T. Wright (even though his name is not on the cover), which is embarrassing compared to his book on the subject, as flawed as even that is. But anyone should know there are far better defenses of the resurrection to read. This chapter isn't worth the bother. And neither is the rest of this book.

james_Toews said...

Hi all
I just read the "Flew" book and as a Christian who actually took his arguments seriously in the early 70s as a undergrad- I was naturally pleased by the book. [as I sure you all are when a noted Christian converts over to atheism]. The NYT article and Richard's correspondence are, to say the least, sobering :)
Having said this, I could not resist a little poke at the smug self satisfaction you are enjoying- it is identical in tone and substance to what Christians engage in when the debate the merits of humanism or atheism. I hear lots of it and it doesn't look good anywhere.
In the light of the NYT article it may be doubtful that Flew actually used the phrase "follow the evidence where it leads" but such a pursuit is the ultimate search and is only diminished by gloating.
Is there a God, as I have come to believe? Flew's genuine or age diminished conversion or not- this is not a simple- and those who actually want to find the answer to the question will need to step back, just a bit. It won't be discovered in the debate as it is most often framed.
Having said that- thanks for the research, Richard. Editorial slight of hand, even with the best of intentions, doesn't help my cause.
Blessings
James

Brian said...

James, lets see some evidence.

Frankly, even if your contention is correct, and the God of the Bible exists, such a tyrant demands opposition, not submission.

Richard Carrier said...

James Toews:

Sorry, but I have no idea what your point is.

But Flew did use the phrase "follow the evidence where it leads" in publications and correspondence that I am certain are genuinely his.

james_Toews said...

My apologies for lack of clarity. My points-
#1. Thanks for the research, Richard
#2. A battle of bad attitudes is the similitude of inquiry.
#3. Discovering the evidence for God, if indeed He does exist as theists believe, won't happen in this debate. But then I suppose you already know that.

and to Brian- If indeed theists are correct- God the Creator of the Cosmos must reveal Himself to people. From my context, the question is actually this- "Are you actually open to Him proving Himslf to you?"
Three possibilities emerge from this-
1. you are not- end of inquiry
2. you are and nothing happens- end of inquiry
3. you are and you discover something that requires further research.
Too bad the Flew book is tainted- its conclusion is #3. no more no less.

Brian said...

James, that is hardly evidence in support of the contention that the God of the Bible exists.

Why do you discount beliefs of Muslims and Pagans when they argue from similar premises... perhaps if you open your heart, you'll see that Scientology is the One True Path?

james_Toews said...

Good questions, Brian.
First, you are right. I did not give evidence- but then not every proof is evidential in the way you would like. Give "evidence" for love for example. I expect you believe that such a thing exists- but I have yet to see the kind of evidence that would satisfy a committed skeptic.
Second, who said I discount other beliefs? Indeed I am a Christian and not a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist etc. However for me, the usefulness of exploring the merits of various expressions of belief in God must begin with the prior assumption that any possibility of a God in any form exists, let alone a theistically defined God. My contention is that in this inquiry- actually being interested in whether or not God exist must be a prior assumption for the discussion to be meaningful.
Having said this- if I am not willing to allow myself to be persuaded by a person who opposes my belief only shows the inconsistency of my purported quest for truth.

Brian said...

James,

You really ought to read our fine host's book before making specious arguments concerning love. (He addresses this specific example, in fact. He discusses Qualia on pages 146-148, and Love in numerous places.) You might as well argue that "redness" doesn't exist. The vagueness of spoken language is hardly evidence against evidence.

As well as Mr. Carrier's book, there are others which point out the inherent theological incompatibilities of the world religions. Certainly Mormonism and Islam, for instance, are theologically incompatible as to whether Mohamed was the final Prophet. Similarly, the Bible and Koran differ as to the nature of Christ.

Brian said...

(con't)
III.10.3 The Nature of Love, pgs 197-202

Love is both "a pattern in our brains..." and "in yet another sense... a patern in our lives."

It isn't as if there isn't an evidence-based answer.

Bad said...

This sort of reminds me of the final days of Nietzsche, where a crazy relative of his carted her near catatonic body around as a sort of carnival act, sometimes literally propping him up on a throne for people to gawk at, all in the service of promoting her own anti-semitic distortions of his words and life's work.

james_Toews said...

Well, Brian. After what I have said, I had better read the book- and I will.
You're response however begs my question. I used love as a noun and you rephrased it as an adjective [and probably a verb.] Redness is a zone in the light spectrum humans have agreed on- light is something independant of your opinion or mine [Idealists will not agree with this of course]. You can disagree with my nounish use of the word love but that means you don't believe in love the way I do. Probably makes for a bitt of an impass and gives an opportunity to argue a some more- even clarify a definition or 2.
But there is no need to be nasty about such a disagreement, right? Same with the concept/reality of God. Christians don't have a monopoly on intolerance, by the way. It may even be possible that bad behaviour didn't originate with religion. Novel thought, eh?

Brian said...

James,

As you'll see when you read Mr. Carrier's book, my second reply answers your grammatical concerns.

You're perfectly free to define love, or god, such that reasonable discussion is impossible... but I trust that isn't what you've done here.

Unless you're using some bizarre definition of love, my (quoted) response of love being a pattern we recognize is indeed the same love you're talking about.

I'll leave you to your reading.

james_Toews said...

Take care Brian. I'll go to my reading.

Blue Devil Knight said...

It's ad hominem I've seen from the secular front so far. This is no exception.

Bad said...

"It's ad hominem I've seen from the secular front so far."

This seems like a pretty baseless accusation, particularly because I'm not sure you understand what the fallacy of ad hominem actually means.

When someone is held out as an authority, talking about whether or not they are qualified one is relevant, and not fallacious. You guys brought the issue up, after all.

Furthermore, exposing lies, deception, and confusion is not "ad hominem." None of the arguments that apologists are making (and putting in Flew's mouth, with or without his informed consent) are being avoided: they've been dealt with over and over and over. The issue is whether any of the books claims about Flew make any sense in light of evidence to the contrary. Instead of trying to rebut those arguments, you are avoiding them by just citing a fallacy and then using it as an excuse to run off and fail to actually engage with the issues... which, ironically, IS the logical fallacy of ad hominem.

james_Toews said...

"I'm not sure you understand what the fallacy of ad hominem actually means"

I'm sure that some people don't know what "ad hominem" means but my little MS word dictionary defines it thus- "appealing to people’s emotions and beliefs rather than their ability to think (formal)."
The evidence for the charge is adequately displayed in the blog. Just go back and read it.
Couching vitriol in syllogisms doesn't change its character.
God or not God- that's a question worthy of intelligent inquiry. What an irony that this is a Christian defense.

Brian said...

James, are you sure you know what a fallacy is?

Which argument have we been avoiding, exactly?

As for an appeal to emotion... you're the one who submitted a George Lucasian "Search your feelings" as evidence for his own proposition. Carrier et alia have been demonstrating that this book is a fraud and a forgery. Certainly that is germane to the promotion of a belief system which is highly critical of lying.

Perhaps it would be best if you let Blue Devil Knight defend his own charge... with some evidence?

Blue Devil Knight said...

bad: Attacking a book by saying the author is senile is unequivocal ad homimen. Perhaps you need to revisit freshman jock logic.

You inadvertently alluded to something intelligent, though. I should have added other fallacies to the list. Lots of yummy red herrings in there with the ad hominem.

The funny bits are discussions of whether he really wrote the claim that he indeed stands by the book.

I guess nobody has had time to read and make substantive comments on the book's content. So far, I have just seen bald assertions that it is "the usual crap" but no actual grappling or summary. That is, no real review has come out yet. Typical knee-jerk Madalyn O'hair style crap.

If anyone knows where we can find a review of the book, let us know.

Incidentally, the discussion by Carrier of his list of questions was interesting, as much because of the narcissism displayed by Carrier as for the historical details.

Brian said...

bdk:

The argument isn't that the book is crap because the author is senile, an argument that he is senile is that the book is crap. The book, as has been said here by those who've read it, does not address criticism of its positions-- it argues points which have already been refuted.

If you'd actually read the comments, you'd see Mr. Carrier's review...

If you would like to offer evidence in support of your proposition, which I presume to be that the Christian God exists and this book is well-argued, then do so.

Otherwise, you're the one being fallacious.

james_Toews said...

"Perhaps it would be best if you let Blue Devil Knight defend his own charge... with some evidence?" touche! your point is well taken, Brian. I am not a seasoned blogger and obviously stumbled into a pre-existing debate.

On the matter of- "As for an appeal to emotion... you're the one who submitted a George Lucasian "Search your feelings" as evidence for his own proposition." I didn't and wouldn't make any such submission.

Doppelganger said...

Am I the only one that had never heard of "the world's most notorious atheist" until his supposed conversion?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm an atheist who doesn't like crappy arguments from any side.

You are right, though, that I missed the prominent comment review from Richard, which means you are right I was kind of a dick. Sorry about that.

Bad said...

"Attacking a book by saying the author is senile is unequivocal ad homimen."

Again, you're demonstrating that you don't know what a logical fallacy is. If anyone was arguing "the arguments in this book are wrong because Flew is senile" then THAT would be ad hominem. But that's not what anyone is saying. We're saying that given that the arguments are the usual terrible drek, including arguments that FLEW HIMSELF agreed were drek, why are they so terrible, and is Flew really to blame? How did this mess come about? Is it honest, or even consistent with Flew, or is his inability to follow a debate being exploited? None of that is ad hominem.

"Perhaps you need to revisit freshman jock logic."

I don't think I need lessons from someone that doesn't understand what a logical fallacy is.

"You inadvertently alluded to something intelligent, though. I should have added other fallacies to the list. Lots of yummy red herrings in there with the ad hominem."

Blah blah blah: anyone can ALLEGE a logical fallacy. But a bunch of lame allegations with no justification aren't worth the electrons they are printed on.

"I guess nobody has had time to read and make substantive comments on the book's content. So far, I have just seen bald assertions that it is "the usual crap" but no actual grappling or summary."

How many times do you want us to debunk the fine tuning argument, or conventional ID arguments? We've written entire books, webpages devoted to this stuff. We're supposed to jump up and pretend this stuff is fresh and new every single time. Carrier has read the book. He discusses it's content. He discusses it right in this article you are commenting on... did you even bother to read it before spewing out a bunch of cookie-cutter snark?

"I'm an atheist who doesn't like crappy arguments from any side. "

This has got to be the new "some of my best friends are black."

RobHu said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this post Richard, it is helpful to be kept informed.

d said...

Doppelganger said...

Am I the only one that had never heard of "the world's most notorious atheist" until his supposed conversion?

November 09, 2007 11:35 AM


Not at all; you're probably about the millionth one.

William Hawthorne said...

Antony Flew released the following statement in response to the deceitful NYT article:

The idea that someone manipulated me because I'm old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking.

Straight from the publisher’s office. Thanks to Steve Laube, the Literary Agent for the project. amazon.com/review/RU8MI4LZBIH4W/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm/

RobHu said...

Richard, a friend of mine made the following comment in my blog post about this issue:
---
Carrier's article doesn't hold any weight with me, because it's just an immature, egotistical rant. It comes across like: "He never mentioned ME, so the book can't be genuine. He never mentioned the devastatingly clever arguments in MY letters, and he didn't even try to refute the arguments in MY book, so it must be a fake." No consideration of the possibility that Flew might not have thought them relevant. If you write a book about your conversion, you're not obliged to refute the specific arguments of every atheist you've ever met. (He also refers to it as Flew's new "book", complete with quotes. Is he disputing that it's even a book now?)
---
If you have the time would you please respond to the points that she makes?

Thank you
Robert Hulme

Steven Carr said...

Where did Flew release this press release to?

As at 11/11/2007 it is not on the Harper Collins web site.

I have only ever seen it on a Amazon review, written by the literary agent for Pastor Bob Hostetler.

Does anybody in his right mind think Flew gave his full approval to a book whose title calls him The World's Most Notorious Atheist?

Is that what Antony Flew calls himself?

Bad said...

I'll respond to it in the meantime. :)

"Carrier's article doesn't hold any weight with me, because it's just an immature, egotistical rant. It comes across like: "He never mentioned ME, so the book can't be genuine. He never mentioned the devastatingly clever arguments in MY letters, and he didn't even try to refute the arguments in MY book, so it must be a fake."

If you feel hostile and want to parody Carrier's argument, then yes, you COULD try to characterize him that way. But I think that's profoundly unfair. Carrier's point is not that he himself is special, but rather that his conversations with Flew show that Flew was aware of all sorts of things that the writers of the book seem ignorant of. As Carrier points out, it isn't just that Flew told HIM that he was wrong about abiogenesis: Flew actually on the basis of that went and rewrote a substantial part of his last actual, written by him, discussion of his conversion.

And then this book comes out... with zero mention that Flew ever questioned his previous ideas about abiogenesis or even retracted them. That leaves only two interpretations, both bad: either Flew had only tangential involvement with the book and didn't really understand or didn't think very deeply about what was being written in his name, or Flew is so far gone that he can't even recall his own thinking... even to refute it!

"No consideration of the possibility that Flew might not have thought them relevant. If you write a book about your conversion, you're not obliged to refute the specific arguments of every atheist you've ever met."

But if something is written that claims to be the history of your thinking, and it leaves out some fairly major turnarounds and admissions and retractions and mistakes... that's a pretty serious accuracy problem regardless. And yes, to some extent, if Flew is really participating on an intellectual level, he IS required to address some of the most obvious counter-arguments to his new claims: particularly when it can be shown that he's heard them repeatedly, not to mention actually admitted that some of them have merit!

"(He also refers to it as Flew's new "book", complete with quotes. Is he disputing that it's even a book now?)"

No, he's disputing that it's really something that can be considered a book from the mind of Flew. Flew didn't write any of the book. He may have given some input on it and read some drafts, and approved of it.

If so then, that makes it "Flew's book" about as much as the Lord of the Rings was written by me, since I approve of it and I even got to read some drafts of it (thanks to Christopher Tolkien!).

james_Toews said...

So, Bad, let me get this right- if at the end of the day- it turns out that Flew actually did fully and carefully approve of the published text of book [written in his name by Varghese et al]- and that he is not actually senile or of diminished capacity for following a train of logic [though clearly old and possibly failing in memory at some points]- that it is possible for a renown and respected [though possibly not the world most notorious] atheist in the world has changed his mind?
Is this such a shocking thought because atheists as a tribe have an unusually low tolerance for admitting they are ever wrong?

Brian said...

James, have you any evidence to present yet?

james_Toews said...

Hi Brian
I came to the blog to check the critiques of the Flew book not argue for my beliefs- so taking the time and space to give the argument for my beliefs didn't seem to fit. But if you go back to my post I gave you the steps of my journey from agnosticism to theism. It began with actually allowing for the possibility that a theistic God could exist. That began a journey.
So what then is the evidence for my theism? Admittedly it is not a proof as such- but as a moderately well read individual I have yet to find a satisfying explanation for love, truth, dignity, beauty etc that precluded God. Taken to its extreme my position now is- without God there is no difference between a bucket full of rocks than a human being that deserves respect and dignity. I find that conclusion untenable so what's the alternative?
It’s a blunt and ancient argument admittedly- but it made sense to me when I considered it. Maybe after 4000 years of extant writing on the subject Carrier will finally have the answer. We’ll see.
Maybe you can summerize it for me.

Brian said...

Yes James, we're aware you're another apologist for Christ.

...so what's the alternative?

Ironicly enough, as I've indicated before, you're posting in the blog of a man who has written a book addressing these claims.

You've offered neither a proof, nor -evidence-. An argument from incredulity/ignorance isn't a substitute, as you ought to know.

The 'alternative' is a thorough-going metaphysical naturalism which accounts for love, beauty, mathematics, etc.

(Frankly, 'no position' is a better position than one constructed as yours is, but we can do better than that.)

james_Toews said...

Yes Brian, I will read Richard's book. But I have read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Gould et al. Who knows? Maybe there is something new under the sun.
You asked me a question and my answer is admittedly incomplete but not evasive. My intellectual position is that without some form of God [no more- no less at this point]- love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for.
Catch-all phrases like "a thorough-going metaphysical naturalism" sound like just another way of saying, "trust me, someone understands this very complicated idea."
So you explain why [or if] you have more concern for human dignity than for a bucket of rocks. [I suppose you may say that there is no intrinsic difference between the 2. That too is an ancient, coherent if rather unattractive and unpopular view of things. Reading between the lines I would conclude you don’t hold this view.]

Your retort that, “'no position' is a better position” than yours, is the argument that the skeptics used to frustrate the Academy and leads nowhere. The skeptics became unwelcome in any debate for that reason.

RobHu said...

James:

If I remember correctly Dawkins, Hitchens, Gould, and Harris to not address the points of love and beauty in their books, so it's not surprising that you haven't encountered explanations for these things from a naturalist perspective.

If those are things that interest you then you might find it useful to read Richard Carrier's book which does specifically address those points.

-Rob

Brian said...

You've stated that God is necessary for X. You have not, however, presented any evidence that this is the case. If you're happy to allow positions without evidence, then fine.

I believe God makes love and beauty impossible.

Where are we now?

As for your list of folk you've read, I expect none of them were arguing in favor of their own position. You didn't list Ingersoll, Marx, Sagan, Russell, Bakunin, Rand... none of the thinkers whose reputation rest on their positive positions as much as what they'd opposed. Now, I don't have a problem with Dawkins et alia, but to suggest that because you've read both Dawkins and Harris you've been exposed to every possible position for atheism... well, that is more than a little silly.

If theists,Christians, actually paid attention to the arguments against their own case, on the other hand, instead of putting words into the mouths of dying senile men, you might have a leg to stand on. That your coreligionists felt this was necessary is, to me, quite telling.

As for your closing paragraph, I think you've misconstrued me. I meant that your position is so bad you'd be better off not having one at all... was that the sentiment to which you were responding by dredging up the ancient skeptics?

james_Toews said...

Rob
Indeed I must read Carrier's book considering I am on his blog. I don't however think it is completely out of line to ask for a summary.

Brian
You do have a way of trying to put words in my mouth-Am I defending Flew's writing/editorial team???
You said I "stated that God is necessary for X"
In fact I said- My position is- "love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for" without God.
There is a notable difference between what I said and how you baldly rephrase it- This from a critic of those who are accused of putting words in Flew's mouth.
You on the other hand make the statment-
"I believe God makes love and beauty impossible."
Explain or rephrase.

Brian said...

James, as you've requested a rephrasing:

Love, beauty, and human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for with the existence of God.

As for putting words in your mouth, you're here to correct me. I don't feel as though I've been especially unclear in paraphrasing your statement as 'James thinks X' when your actual words were directly above mine on the screen, especially if you'd taken a slightly broader view of what I meant by "X."

You're right, however... I should have simply copy-and-pasted rather than opting for being terse.

james_Toews said...

It's not that you're unclear when you rephrase me- you clearly change my statements and impune me regarding positions I haven't taken.
Now that you have rephrased- explain yourself.

Brian said...

James, if I need to explain my statement you certainly need to justify yours.

also...

I said "You've stated that God is necessary for X"

If for X is "for James to believe love, beauty, and human decency are adequately accounted for as they are commonly understood" I haven't changed your position.

If it isn't, then you didn't actually answer the question you were supposed to... after all, you were supposed to be presenting evidence for why one ought to believe in a God.

And my comment stands... you haven't presented any evidence in support of your proposition, whether or not I've restated it to your satisfaction.

You can hardly claim you didn't say exactly:
In the light of the NYT article it may be doubtful that Flew actually used the phrase "follow the evidence where it leads" but such a pursuit is the ultimate search and is only diminished by gloating.

Okay... what evidence?

james_Toews said...

"James, if I need to explain my statement you certainly need to justify yours."
On this point I unequivocally agree and am happy to continue [until we get kicked off the blog :) ]
Hate to keep clarifying my position but my statement was not a positive claim for theism but a negative one- against atheism.
It was- “My intellectual position is that without some form of God [no more- no less at this point]- love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for.”
Hence the challenge to you was explain how “atheism adequately accounts for love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood.”
Once you have explained how atheism does account for these I will attempt to demonstrate how theism does it better- though it too has difficulties [hate to admit that too early but it is no secret].
My claim is that theism is a superior hypothesis [no more- no less] accounting for these qualities.

Brian said...

James, are you familiar with Bertrand Russell's teapot argument?

The burden of proof is yours to prove theism, not ours to prove atheism.

Why don't you demonstrate that theism can account for these things -at all- before we proceed further.

To clarify, Metaphysical Naturalism, a thoroughly atheistic philosophy, can account for love etc. Atheism is somewhat narrower in scope.

Frankly, we're still at "lets see some evidence," a question you haven't answered yet... once you do, -then- I'll entertain questions.

james_Toews said...

"James, are you familiar with Bertrand Russell's teapot argument?"
Thanks to the magic of Wikipedia I am now [and also Dawkins revival of it]- and it doesn't apply to our conversation. I am positing a superior hypothesis to explain phenomena we both agree exists. No flying teapots here.
A better scenario is the debate between the Ptolemic vs Copernican cosmologies? Which explains observed data better? Guess which side I claim to be on? :)
I've been doing all the explaning- it's your turn. What's your hypothesis- and not just the fancy label for it? It can't be that hard.

Brian said...

You're posting an argument to demonstrate theism exists.

You haven't explained a damn thing, you've just stalled and dodged and changed the subject.

Google "Metaphysical Naturalism" yourself.

Better yet, don't come back until you've actually read the book.

Better still, read the book and don't come back until you have some -evidence-

james_Toews said...

Well you really put me in my place, Brian. Take care!

Randy said...

James,
You wrote:
Once you have explained how atheism does account for these I will attempt to demonstrate how theism does it better- though it too has difficulties [hate to admit that too early but it is no secret].
My claim is that theism is a superior hypothesis [no more- no less] accounting for these qualities.


Looks like you are asking Brian for a causal account:e.g., how it came about that something like beauty exists. Are you also going to be giving the same type of explanation?
Since you used the terms 'demonstrate' and 'hypothesis', I take that as another indication that you are going to give a causal account? Something that is equivalent to a scientific explanation?

Quixie said...

It's got nothing to do with putting people in their place. It's simple.
If you keep insisting that theism explains something . . . . then explain it. If you have evidence, then present it.

The burden is yours.

It wouldn't be so bad . . . except for the posturing. Smugness looks good on no one (especially when you haven't even bothered to familiarize yourself with the material being discussed).

Ó

james_Toews said...

Your right, Quixie “Smugness looks good on no one . . . ” and I take that critique seriously.
On the matter of- “especially when you haven't even bothered to familiarize yourself with the material being discussed.” I have indeed not read Carrier’s book but in the course of this blog I have become familiar with Carrier Naturalism. Metaphysical Naturalism is of course not new. My debate on this score was not with Carrier but Brian. I don’t think it is out of line to ask him to articulate his own position in his own words.

Randy, I am asking for a causal account from Brian on the matter of love, beauty and human dignity. My causal account for these is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . and that He made man in His image.” The existence of love beauty and human dignity are the evidence I posit for the existence of God since this explains them better than naturalism of any variety. There is no logical difference between appealing to naturalism or God as the origin of these- neither is scientific- the question is which has a better accounting for the noted observed data?
A theist has the difficulty of explaining the existence of suffering and injustice- the naturalist has the difficulty of explaining how a human being has any more intrinsic worth than a bucket of rocks or a slug. Many say they don’t.
Is that stalling and dodging? I don’t think so.

Brian said...

James, that would be the same theistic entity which created genocide, poverty, starvation, limited natural resources, unstable ecological equilibria, mass extinctions, wasps who implant their larva in the abdomens of other insects, etc?

Some God.

Now, if there was supposed to be some evidence in that last response of yours, I don't see it. Until I do, I am not going to allow you to change the subject.

Is your argument supposed to be "There is love, and the only way that could exist would be for a god to create it?"

I guess you think love is pretty useless, huh? Can't come up with any reasons it might have utility? Kind of a spandrel, then, huh? Unfortunately for your argument, naturalism can account for spandrels and utilitarian advantages with equal facility.

james_Toews said...

Yes, Brian, I hold that God did indeed create everything and yes you can easily account for the that entire list of woes. As a matter of fact that list of woes is simply nature running its course.

But if there is no God can you tell me why anyone should care? Let the fit survive and the weak die. What we think of as dis-equilibrium will sort itself out relatively quickly- as the cosmos measures quickly.

Brian said...

So, to clarify...

You believe God must exist, and must have created the universe and everything in it (including love, sociopaths, child molesting priests, tens of thousands of false religions, etc.) because you believe love and human dignity are so maladaptive that there is no reason for them to exist in a social mammalian species whose young spend the first decade of their lives all but helpless and whose elderly play an important role in the transmission of information in pre-literate societies?

Is that your argument for the existence of God? You see -no- possible utility for love, and cannot credit the possibility it is even vaguely benign like the appendix?

james_Toews said...

That's a clarification and then some :) I'll stand by my own statements.
We've cycled back to the definition of love now. There are certainly good utilitarian definitions of love that fit well into naturalism. But which of them answer the question, "Why should I care if my pleasure is diminshed or my survival compromised?"

Brian said...

Okay.

Is that your -best- evidence for the existence of God?

james_Toews said...

Sorry Brian I sent the reply without answering your last question. The answer is "no."
I find the idea that love is "vaguely benign like the appendix" untenable.
We may have an impass.

Brian said...

So, to make sure I understand you clearly... you don't think love is neutral, but rather that it is extremely harmful (maladaptive).

Is that correct?

james_Toews said...

Brian, give it up with the rephrasing. Isn't putting words into our people's mouth what started this whole blog off?
My definition of love includes altruism- yours is ultilitatian. We obviously disagree.

Brian said...

James, I'm attempting to get you to clarify your position. Obviously, it is wise that I did so, as I was confused as to what your argument is.

Why is God required for there to be love? Come on, you claim to have a logical argument here... apart from "love is so unlikely to evolve it must have been intelligently designed," I can't think of what you mean... you've now indicated this wasn't what you meant.

james_Toews said...

I suppose we should spent more time on the love issue when it first came up. Oh well, its been fun.
Hope we can both agree on that :)

Brian said...

No, James, you've left me with the impression you're a liar for Christ. We don't have a problem with the definition of love... we have a problem with your failure to clearly present a logical argument involving evidence.

james_Toews said...

Nice rebuttal

Abyss of Silence said...

Yes, sweetie, I will take care of your intellectual property and you in your dotage and bitch-slap anyone who tries to take advantage of you should your faculties fail you.

Given the degree to which I get pissed off when people misrepresent you in comments or try to insinuate that you are not being thorough or cast aspersions on your integrity, I don't think you need worry about me failing you.

Just don't cross me.
;)

PhysicistDave said...

James,

You wrote:

>My intellectual position is that without some form of God [no more- no less at this point]- love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for.
Catch-all phrases like "a thorough-going metaphysical naturalism" sound like just another way of saying, "trust me, someone understands this very complicated idea."
So you explain why [or if] you have more concern for human dignity than for a bucket of rocks.

You must be unacquainted with evolutionary psychology?

The ev-psych folks are quite happy to offer detailed and plausible naturalistic explanations for all those matters you wish to have “adequately accounted for.”

Perhaps, the real problem is that you do not consider their explanations “adequate” because their explanations do not include God or, more broadly, because their explanations leave “human dignity” etc. as ideas that are merely relative to human beings rather than having some transcendental underpinning?

From a naturalistic perspective, “love, beauty, human dignity” exist simply as pre-occupations of human beings. They have no cosmic, trans-human existence. The fact that ants, AIDs viruses, tsunamis, etc do not seem to give a whit for human “love, beauty, human dignity” supports this naturalistic, deflationist theory.

It appears to me that you have no “intellectual position” but merely a deep emotional desire to make human concerns (“love, beauty, human dignity”) of greater cosmic significance than they actually are. Of course, if you have some evidence or reason, other than your deep emotional feelings, indicating that “love, beauty, human dignity” do have a deep, cosmic, transcendental significance, I’d certainly like to hear it.

PhysicistDave

Gadfly said...

Since I live in Dallas, I communicated by e-mail with Vargese once his story of "flipping Flew" came out in the Dallas Morning News.

He is indeed a slippery, slimy, bastard. He makes all the debunked claims about Einstein as a believer, for example.

Christopher said...

Thanks for the update Mr. Carrier. I am an evangelical Christian (not in that ring-wing fundy sense), and I would like to apologize for the shameless actions of these men. I'm disgraced they bear the name, Christian. You're absolutely right about bearing false witness in this case. I read the piece in the times and I was appalled. I was equally appalled by the dialogue in this blog comment section. I think there are some Christians making good arguments against Naturalism (namely Plantinga), so keep searching. In the meantime, thanks for your diligent scholarship. I look forward to reading your book.

Richard Carrier said...

Gadfly said... I communicated by e-mail with Vargese...He makes all the debunked claims about Einstein as a believer, for example.

Oh, that's all in Flew's book, too. There is an entire chapter that drones on and on quoting a random assortment of "great scientists" affirming some belief in God or other (including Einstein). That's the kind of lamely fallacious mode of argument that used to be uncharacteristic of Flew.

I mean even apart from factual accuracy. Even if everything said about Einstein's belief is correct, citing the opinions on theology of a long-dead physicist is a textbook fallacy called Appeal to Authority, and Flew used to be keen to such mistakes (as should any competent philosopher). On the linked site this example violates at least standard number 3 (ignoring the lack of consensus among comparable experts), although there is another standard they should have included: outdated expertise, a point I noted repeatedly to Flew (and even categorized formally in my article for Biology and Philosophy), since the relevant scientific knowledge (and philosophical analysis) has vastly expanded and changed since Einstein's day.

Though the "Flew" chapter does quote-mine more recent scientists (including, of course, Schroeder), this still violates standard number 3. It also often violates either standards 1 or 4, e.g. see Mark Perakh, "Flew, Schroeder, Varghese: What a Company!" (2007).

Richard Carrier said...

I won't comment on many of the exchanges here, some of which tempt the line as far as relevance, though their pertinent and impertinent content is too hard to disentangle, so I won't delete any of them, though many of these posts are very near to meeting my blog's deletion policy. Keep that in mind. Please go elsewhere if you want to continue debating subjects not relevant to my current blog entry (which means, primarily, Antony Flew and his alleged book).

Otherwise, most of the rest has already been met with adequate responses. I'll just add my one cent in subsequent short posts.

Richard Carrier said...

Blue Devil Knight said... Attacking a book by saying the author is senile is unequivocal ad homimen.

As has already been well enough argued by others here, I never made this argument (thanks, Bad). In fact I have written here a lot on the actual content of the book and its merits, entirely regardless of who wrote it, even though (as seems to have been overlooked) my blog entry was not about the merits of the book's arguments, but whether they really are the arguments that persuaded Flew to become a Deist. Evidence of his mental condition is certainly pertinent to answering that question, exactly as I explain.

William Hawthorne said... Straight from the publisher’s office...

Actually (according to Steven Carr) there is some question as to whether that ever came from Harper Collins, rather than Hostetler's (not Flew's) agent, but I haven't investigated the matter. At any rate we already addressed this long before you posted, as it was noted by Geoff and then discussed by me.

RobHu said... Richard, a friend of mine made the following comment in my blog post about this issue...If you have the time would you please respond to the points that she makes?

Bad already answered this well enough. He is quite right.

Otherwise, whether my writing is immature you can judge for yourself. But as I may have said somewhere already, in addition to everything Bad aptly said, the reason I focused so much on my own involvement with Flew is that I can actually confirm the facts in that case, e.g. I know what articles I sent to Flew, which arguments he told me he had read and changed his mind in response to, and what arguments he said to me he didn't buy and which ones he said he did, and so on. The crucial example, as Bad points out, is the Biology & Philosophy article, where I can confirm first-hand that the authors of this book are ignorant of (or hiding) some of the most significant developments in Flew's post-conversion thinking, which so radically moved Flew that he completely rewrote the final draft of his new preface to God and Philosophy.

Had I not been a first-hand correspondent with Flew and thus received several of his prior drafts of that preface, I would not even know how he had radically changed position on the biogenesis question--and thus these authors would have gotten away with omitting any mention of it or any planned response to it. But as it is, I have the physical evidence right here in my office and thus can confirm facts that others would not be in a position to know.

And these facts are strong evidence that Flew is either catastrophically unable to remember even his own major and central decisions (which were clearly so relevant he stopped the presses on a forthcoming book to make radical and directly relevant changes to it), or he neither wrote nor either read or understood the book now being sold in his name.

Richard Carrier said...

James_Toews said... Yes Brian, I will read Richard's book. But I have read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Gould et al. ... My intellectual position is that without some form of God...love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for.

Then you fall into the category of the "outraged" that I identify in my last paragraph of my blog entry. You may be delighted to know that (allegedly) unlike Dawkins et al., I actually recognize the need to adequately account for "love, beauty, human dignity" (and many other things), and hence in my book I devote an entire set of chapters to beauty, an entire chapter to love, and an even larger set of chapters to moral value, plus various sections on the value of compassion, personhood, and human rights (since I assume by explaining "human dignity" you mean what you later said: explaining "how a human being has any more intrinsic worth than a bucket of rocks or a slug").

In each case I give an adequate account of these things from observable facts, building on scientific facts and the epistemology and metaphysics established in the first half of the book. I'm not going to summarize my arguments and evidence here because (like everything else I write) not having to repeat myself is a major reason I wrote the book in the first place.

RobHu said...

Just to clarify, I wasn't suggesting your writing was immature, my friend was.

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I have passed your reply on.

Richard Carrier said...

Update: Adding to my November 7 Update to my Secular Web article on the Flew story (which simply summarized bits of what I said here on my blog), I have now posted a November 16 Update with five new items of note that go beyond what I have said here.

John W. Loftus said...

The key to understanding Flew's thinking and viewpoint is something I commented here on my Blog.

Jon said...

I have ordered your book via Amazon, Sense and Goodness without God--I have been anxiously awaiting its arrival.

I love Dawkins, Hitchens, Hitchens and Dennett, but I think your contributions to the secular community are often overlooked.

breakerslion said...

Amazing, but not surprising. An Old Fraud can't help being an Old Fraud any more than a scorpion can help being a scorpion. You would think they would do their homework a little better, but since they are pandering to the trusting and gullible, I guess it makes them lazy.

Truth is finite, bullshit is infinite.

dale said...

Your interaction with N.T. Wright's ideas is poor at best...

With only 2 minutes of browsing, I note one large problem with your notion that 'many converts expected a humiliated savior'.

Your treatment of Isaiah 52-53, Psalm 22, etc. assumes that these texts were predictions of Jesus when originally spoken/collected. Although many preachers talk like this, even entry-level students of theology know that they had quite other original meanings. The fouth servant song in Isaiah 52-53, for example, is a reflection on the nation of Israel's languishing in the Babylonian Exile. Like it or not, 1st century Jewish hope and expectation was deliverance from Roman oppression, and they imagined it to look like a military figure like Judas M. before or Simeon Bar Kochba after... Not like a crucified (or risen for that matter) messiah...

-d-

SMA said...

The term "natural philosopher" is the earlier term for "scientist", especially physicists. It was the term preferred by Niels Bohr, co-author of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Wikipedia describes it as a term "applied to the objective study of nature".

What is the reason that you have chosen to describe your self as a "natural philosopher"?

SMA said...

It is worth noting that the dialogue between Flew and Theistic philosophers began in 1985, which makes the argument that Flew was swayed by "Christians being nice to him" rather weak, as well as the argument that Flew only changed his view because he is "senile" (whatever that terms means, it is generally used by those of a younger age to describe changes in consciousness that may occur to those who have reached a greater age).

I decided to read the interviews for myself, and have started with the 1985 interview between DR. GARY R. HABERMAS and DR. ANTONY FLEW. It is a pleasure to read because it is a rare instance of a debate between a theist and an atheist that is conducted in an objective and civilized manner. At that time Flew "Flew informed Habermas that he had indeed become
a theist. While still rejecting the concept of special revelation, whether Christian, Jewish or
Islamic, nonetheless he had concluded that theism was true."

I will continue reading the lectures to discover if there is any instance where Flew specifically states that he has become a Christian. - or if there is any justification for the question asked by the author of this blog, as reported by the Times article, i.e. "(“Have you attended Quaker meetings, and is there anything about Quaker religious doctrine that you find attractive?”).

Brian said...

SMA, those are a strawman of the position being offered up here. Mr. Carrier is arguing that -Flew did not write this book at all.-

SMA said...

I know what Richard Carrier is "arguing" but I find his argument to consist primarily of conclusory statements.

The substance of the Times article as well as Mr. Carrier's blog is short on describing the actual thought content of the dialogue. Whether one believes that Flew wrote it and meant it, the content is still the content. Since I did not find information concerning the actual content of the debate in either the Times article or Mr. Carrier's blog, I decided to go to the source and read it for myself, where upon I did come to realize that Flew's relationship with theological philosophers extends over twenty years, and that the debate between Flew, and theological philosophers is conducted with surprising objectivity and civility. I am finding it quite an interesting read. It is a shame that other issues are obscuring the real content of the discussion. In reading the discussions between the philosophers involved, I find little support for Mr. Carrier’s conclusions.

Paul Crowley said...

Can we read Flew's questionnaire answers anywhere? It sounds like they'd tell us a lot more about what he believes than this book.

Richard Carrier said...

Dale said...: Your interaction with N.T. Wright's ideas is poor at best...

No, your reading of my article is poor at best. You ignored everything else I said (in Many Converts Expected a Humiliated Savior), and it is the cumulative evidence that makes the case, not a single reading of a single passage.

In fact, you actually make the reverse mistake of assuming that the conclusions of modern biblical criticism about the original meaning of Isaiah's remarks about the "redeemer" are the conclusions embraced by all 1st century Jews. Christianity alone refutes that notion (showing clearly there were Jews then who read the text differently), but so do Jewish texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g. The War Rule (4Q285), similarly 4Q540 and 4Q541, and 11QMelchizedek, which all interpret Isaiah 52 or 53 eschatologically, and so on), and as I note in the essay you failed to read, the author of Daniel appears to have had a similar notion.

We know from authors like Josephus and Philo, and evidence in the Talmudic literature, that OT prophecies were often reinterpreted as having bearing on contemporary events (even despite the protests of a few Rabbis who frowned on this). Yes, many Jews expected a triumphant martial messiah, but many others expected a messiah who, as Daniel outright says, will be killed.

The punchline is that I wasn't even talking about Wright in section you are talking about, so how you can assess my treatment of Wright from a section that doesn't discuss him is beyond me. Talk about shallow. That's like the pot calling the tile black.

Richard Carrier said...

SMA said... The term "natural philosopher" is the earlier term for "scientist", especially physicists...Wikipedia describes it as a term "applied to the objective study of nature". What is the reason that you have chosen to describe your self as a "natural philosopher"?

The term "natural philosopher" meant (and still means) one who philosophizes about nature (usually or most famously by explaining all phenomena in terms of the interaction of natural objects and forces). Thus all ancient scientists were natural philosophers (since science was originally and technically still is a branch of philosophy), but not all natural philosophers could be called scientists (since not all embraced what we would call science, and even those who did supplemented it with philosophizing, i.e. drawing further inferences from scientific facts to fill the gaps and flesh out a worldview).

I call myself a natural philosopher in the old, and then most popular sense, which today would be the equivalent of what we might call a naturalist philosopher, i.e. a philosopher who explores and defends naturalism as a worldview. I am beholden to science (as the final authority on questions of natural fact), but I go beyond it, thus I am not a scientist, but a philosopher who embraces the scientific program, plus the full implications of its results (until those implications are corrected or refuted scientifically).

See my article pertaining to this subject: Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea's World Without Design (2003).

Richard Carrier said...

SMA: You are missing a huge chunk of the story if you read only Christian-filtered material. For example, on the Quaker question and other issues you ask about, read the whole of the article I pointed everyone to from the start: Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of.

Richard Carrier said...

Paul Crowley said... Can we read Flew's questionnaire answers anywhere? It sounds like they'd tell us a lot more about what he believes than this book.

You'd think so. And yet, as I note in my original entry, Flew mysteriously left blank the very questions that would have enlightened us on that point. Beyond that, everything he has said (i.e. that I know Flew actually said) that pertains to this matter is available in my article on the subject (linked in the previous comment above).

Richard Carrier said...

There is now a new update to my original Secular Web article on Flew (27 December 2007) and a new blog entry about the same subject (Craig the Annoyed).

SMA said...

Richard Carrier said: You are missing a huge chunk of the story if you read only Christian-filtered material. For example, on the Quaker question and other issues you ask about, read the whole of the article I pointed everyone to from the start: Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of.

I said that I think the interview between Flew and Habermas is well worth reading. I did not say that I read "only Christian filtered material". In fact Flew does not argue for Christianity and so I do not know what leads you to draw such a conclusion that I read only Christian filtered material. I read your article, Antony Flew considers God…Sort of” in it’s entirety and I commented on it on my own blog.

The other NY Times article on Flew's book, Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God, by Stanely Fish, presents two reviews on books about God, one by a Bart D. Ehrman, a former theist turned agnostic, and the other on Flew's book, a former atheist turned theist. I was raised agnostic and discovered that I was a theist, My discovery process comes from many different sources and experiences. Scientifically, my primary influences are in quantum physics, although the facts of nature that support my own belief in God are seldom described in language concepts of God, and certainly not in terms of any religion. From that perspective it is easy for me to understand that Flew is on his own personal discovery process, and that the concept of God need not be framed by acceptance of a particular religion. As you call yourself a natural philosopher, is it so difficult to accept God on natural terms, rather than needing to frame a belief in God in terms of religions created by man?

jqb said...

My intellectual position is that without some form of God [no more- no less at this point]- love, beauty, human dignity, as they are commonly understood, are not adequately accounted for.

If you take an "intellectual position", it is your burden to justify it. It's not intellectually honest to declare yourself the winner if others can't refute your position by providing such an account.

As it happens, I see no reason why these cannot be accounted for without some form of God, nor do I see how the existence of some form of God could possibly provide an account -- that suggests to me severe confusion about the semantics of these words, and probably the very nature of semantics. Perhaps it would help to study what such people as Quine and Wittgenstein said about language. In fact I think we would all be better off if schoolchildren, from a very early age, were instructed about the error of Platonic/essentialist/intrinsic thinking.

As for the Flew book, that it refers to "cookies" and baseball should be enough to cast considerable doubt on it being Flew's work, but Carrier's analysis cinches it. This is a great boon to Flew's legacy, since the arguments in the book, regardless of whose they are, are awful, and better for Flew if they aren't his. Of course the whole enterprise of the use of Flew as an argument from authority, the production of the book, and the promotion of the book is deeply intellectually dishonest (when it isn't outright dishonest), It is good to show that it isn't Flew's book, but it doesn't have much consequence as long as people are mired in the institution of theistic religion with its attendant "apologetics" -- the intellectually dishonest enterprise of crafting arguments, regardless of validity, in support of a prior fixed claim, rather than going wherever evidence and reason take us.

jqb said...

"As you call yourself a natural philosopher, is it so difficult to accept God on natural terms, rather than needing to frame a belief in God in terms of religions created by man?"

It seems to me that a "God on natural terms", revealed by "the facts of nature", must be a natural entity and isn't properly called "God". At the very least, the word should be defined clearly.

I think anyone claiming there's a "God" must answer to Richard Carrier's questions:

Do you believe God could be any kind of conscious entity with thoughts, plans, and/or desires?

If not, then how do you suspect an entity with no thoughts, plans, or desires could (or even would) intelligently organize a universe in a specific way to bring about life? And why did it do such a thing?

I would add that it is not enough to answer yes to the first question merely because you find it difficult to answer the second question. If you maintain that there is a conscious God, I would like to know where its brain is.

SMA said...

Jqb said, “It seems to me that a "God on natural terms", revealed by "the facts of nature", must be a natural entity and isn't properly called "God". At the very least, the word should be defined clearly.”

Jqb said” I think anyone claiming there's a "God" must answer to Richard Carrier's questions:

Do you believe God could be any kind of conscious entity with thoughts, plans, and/or desires?”

My Response:
In response to the “facts of nature” revealed by the Aspect and Gisin experiments. contemporary scientists have interpreted the existence of “non-local effects”. Non-local effects are the effect of the whole upon the parts. The parts are local and make up the “multiplicity” of separated things, i.e., things that can be located within space-time co-ordinates. Non-locality is synonymous with “wholeness”, which is synonymous with “Oneness”, which is a term often used for God. In esoteric concepts God is described as “no thing”. Non-locality is “no thing” “things” have boundaries and are separable in space and time. Non-locality (wholeness) cannot be located in space and time. Space-time co-ordinates are used to measure the existence of local entities or “things”.

You are asserting a definition of God in the above and I don’t agree that God can be defined. If you read the debate between Habermas and Flew, you will find that Flew specifically makes the point that “Aristotle himself never produced a definition of the word “God,” and that Flew repeats this point about God remaining an undefined term throughout, and so to make a discussion about Flew’s book turn on a specific definition of God misses the point of Flew’s thought.

It is an ancient saying that God has No-Name, Humans need language to communicate ideas but the use of language imposes limitations on meanings, which pre-exist and thereby stimulate the need for communicative language terms.

However, that said, I will respond to Richard Carrier’s question.

I would not describe God as an “entity”. An entity implies a separately existing thing, which characterizes locality. Throughout history, in cross-cultural religion and philosophy, God has been identified with “Oneness”. While the multiplicity is the world of separated things that unfolds within space-time. Wholeness (Oneness) is both within and without space-time, since wholeness includes “every thing that is”. concepts such as wave-particle duality, Bohr’s complementarily, non-locality, and David Bohm’s wholeness and the Implicate Order, offer insights into natural reality as transcendent of the local framework, which is measurable by space-time co-ordinates.

The terms, “conscious entity” implicates a perceptual lens that is focused within space-time. But the whole consciousness of a living entity is simultaneously governed by subliminal, sub-conscious, unconscious, and even super-conscious awareness. The classic example that the mind of an “entity” is greater than the “conscious” mind is that the functions of natural physical bodies occur automatically and are unconsciously directed.

As for thoughts and desires, since God is inclusive of “everything that is” and since thoughts and desires exist, then thoughts and desires exist within God.

“Plans” is a little trickier and relates to the debate generated by quantum mechanics over determinism vs. indeterminism, in which Niels Bohr and Einstein were famously engaged, and which was thought to have been settled in favor of indeterminism at the time when John von Neumann came up with his "impossibility proof" of hidden variables. But that was really an impossibility proof of local hidden variables. Twenty years later, David Bohm came up with his nonlocal hidden variables theory, which introduced subtleties of meaning between “weak
determinism” and “strong determinism”

I intuit Carrier's meaning of “plans” to be on the order of “strong determinism” and no I do not believe that nature (God) is deterministic in that way, but that there is an constant interaction between the whole and the parts, the Oneness and the multiplicity, and I provisionally accept Hugh Everett’s Many World Theory. In that I do not accept God as being strongly deterministic, it can be interpreted as a belief in “free will” inherent to the individual entity, which, in my view is supported by the concept of a “probabilistic” universe.

Of course my intellectual thoughts on accepting the existence of God are not synonymous with those presented by Flew, and unlike Flew, I do not regard the intellect on the highest plane of human understanding, but perhaps when Flew says that he does not rule out the acceptance of revelation, he is referring to a reconsideration of his own concepts on workings of the human mind.

If you still want me to answer your question about God having a brain, I'll do it in another post, as this one is already quite long.

Richard Carrier said...

SMA: I apologize for assuming you hadn't read my earlier article.

Since you ask why I came to this conclusion, I took that as what you implied when you said (and I quote): I will continue reading the lectures to discover...if there is any justification for the question asked by the author of this blog, as reported by the Times article, i.e. "(“Have you attended Quaker meetings, and is there anything about Quaker religious doctrine that you find attractive?”).

Since the justification is provided in my article that you now say you have read, yet you said you are still seeking to discover that justification, and since you only mentioned "the Times" article as reporting the mention of Quakerism, as if you had not also found it in my article, I quite reasonably assumed that you were unaware of what my article says about this.

I was otherwise far too hasty in assuming the reason you had not read my article (which I was justified in believing by what you said) was your over-emphasis on Christian sources (which I was not justified in believing at all).

Sorry about that.

[P.S. for readers who want to read the Fish article SMA refers to, see Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God, from the opinion page of the January 15 (2008) issue of The New York Times.]

SMA: As you call yourself a natural philosopher, is it so difficult to accept God on natural terms, rather than needing to frame a belief in God in terms of religions created by man?

If you are asking whether I find it hard to examine god hypotheses that do not correspond to any popular religion or theology, the answer is obviously no, I don't. I do that several times in my book Sense and Goodness without God (e.g. pp. 153-54) and on my blog (e.g. Atheist or Agnostic and Defining the Supernatural). The latter also partly addresses the question raised by JQB as to whether a god discovered by natural theology must necessarily be a natural being rather than a supernatural one (the answer is no, not necessarily).

Let's please keep comments here on track, though, and not digress into unrelated debates about what SMA believes and what JQB expects from him as evidence (you two can take that elsewhere). But there is one relevant point I must address:

SMA: If you read the debate between Habermas and Flew, you will find that Flew specifically makes the point that "Aristotle himself never produced a definition of the word 'God', and that Flew repeats this point about God remaining an undefined term throughout, and so to make a discussion about Flew’s book turn on a specific definition of God misses the point of Flew’s thought."

This is actually false, and one of the things I got Flew to retract. After I sent him Aristotle's definition of God in the Metaphysics (12.1072b-1073a), as well as Spinoza's definition of God (which is definition VI in Part I of his Ethics, since Flew also falsely claimed Spinoza never defined God), he confessed he was wrong and tried to backtrack by claiming he "meant" to say that Aristotle and Spinoza gave no "popular" definition of God (which so weakens his original statement as to render it useless, especially in context, and even more especially considering the way he clearly misled you).

In actual fact, if you cannot define a term then you are by definition incapable of verifying or falsifying what it denotes, and therefore cannot maintain rational belief in its existence (or even non-existence, since by your own concession you then don't even know what you are talking about). To know how to verify or falsify a statement entails knowing what that statement means (because that literally is the statement's meaning, or an essential part of it). So if you don't know what "God" means, you cannot know how to verify or falsify the statement "God exists."

Conversely, all the evidence you offer for God's existence can only verify what it does and no more, e.g. if you only have evidence of a being causing the Big Bang, you do not then also have evidence of that being reorganizing the DNA of life or resurrecting Jesus, and therefore all you have evidence of is a causer of the big bang, not anything else about that being, and therefore you can only be warranted in believing about God what you have sufficient evidence to believe (which obviously is definable, or else you would not know how the evidence relates to god at all). See my discussion of this epistemological point in chapter 2.2 of my book Sense and Goodness without God.

I guarantee you, Flew once knew this, and agreed with it (it is, for instance, part of his point in Theology and Falsification). In all of Flew's authentic writings he has been concerned with defining terms before pronouncing conclusions on them. This is, in fact, fundamental to philosophical method (and has been since Aristotle). Even in Flew's new preface to God and Philosophy he devotes much of his time discussing the definition of God. So to suddenly find him not caring about this is not only very unlike Flew, it entails a considerable decline in his professional skills as a philosopher (or, as the case may be, the lack of such skills by his ghostwriters).

In any case, I won't examine your definition, since it is too far off topic, but just be advised that I do not find even half of it intelligible, while the rest sounds like pantheism (and a form of it that clearly contradicts what Flew is made to defend in There Is a God). In fact, what I could understand sounds indistinguishable from naturalism, since I can't detect in it anything clearly supernatural (as I have defined it, in the blog entry of that name linked above).

But it would be inappropriate to debate this here.

SMA said...

I read your article but I did not go back and re-read it to remember how you had justified your question. I recall reading that Flew's family background is Quaker, but since Flew has been an atheist for most of his life, I do not see why this should be significant, except that it might be that Flew would have attended a Quaker meeting in the course of a family event, such as a wedding or funeral.

The only source I have emphasized that is Christian is not so much Christian but published in a Christian journal, and that is the interview between Flew and Habermas. This is because I do not actually have Flew's book and so the closest thing for me to understand Flew's point of view is to read the interview, which was published in 2004, long before Flew allegedly became senile.

To describe going directly to the source, as opposed to reading only second hand opinions about the source as an "over-emphasis on Christian sources" has no merit. I referenced the interview because it is in Flews own words and is accessible to all. I am not going to argue on the basis of hearsay about what Flew actually said.

I have a difficulty with the term "supernatural" as it implicates that nature has boundaries. Both classical physics and quantum physics can be described as domains in which sets of laws hold true, but the description of nature at the quantum level of accuracy is radically different from the description of nature within the classical limit. Should we then describe our perception of nature within the classical limit as "natural" and our perception of nature when considered at the quantum degree of accuracy as "supernatural" I think not.

You seem to be saying that language is apriori to belief, I don't agree with that, but that aside, I have defined my own definition of God, which is actually a historical, cross-cultural definition of God. I brought up the Habermas interview because Flew identifies the God that Flew accepts in that article. Since you have stated that you won't examine my definition because it is too "far off topic" then, you are in fact acknowledging that I have defined the term that we are speaking about. I did not say anything about the Big Bang, but I won't go there because I'll go beyond the topic boundaries if I attempt it. Any discussion about Jesus is a discussion of Christianity, which is not what I intended, when I said that one can conceive of God outside of the framework of religions, which is the approach to God that I see Flew taking in the Habermas interview.

I have read very little of Flew but enough to understand that his thought has continued to evolve throughout his life. In my opinion it is not viable to hold Flew to his former beliefs as Flew's own inquiries evolved into changes in his beliefs, which I think is true for any living thought process.

SMA said...

Regarding "supernatural", I looked at your linked blog on the subject, but I find it unfair and impratical that you state that in order for one to understand what you mean when you use the term, supernatural, one must read two other articles. It makes communication rather difficult, especially when one does not have a similar capability to define the meaning of essential terms of a discussion without going off topic.

Miriam Webster defines supernatural

1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2 a: departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature b: attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)

The first defintion could be interpreted to mean that nature at the quantum level of accuraccy is supernatural, which makes no sense at all, because a shortened version of that statement is that nature is supernatural, and that uses the term to define the term, since suoernatural depends on a definition of natural.

The second defintion does not associate the quantum domain with the supernatural, as the quantum domain has it's own laws of nature.

I disagree with definitions of supernatural that make use of the word "metaphysical", because of the relationships and similarities between "meta" and "super", and between "nature" and "physical". If one equates the supernatural with the metaphysical, then one also equates nature with the physical, and brings into question whether air (for instance) is natural or supernatural.

Defing supernatural as "of or relating to God" implicates a specific definition of God, which has already been qualified as off-topic, to this discussion, but I'll say it any way. Some define God as an entity that exists outside of nature, while others conceive of God as "all that is" and within everything that is. In that sense God is an undefined term.

Richard Carrier said...

SMA:

(1) That Flew was showing an interest in Quaker religion is one of the rumors I was specifically asked by my colleagues to ask Flew about in the first place, hence it was part of the original reason I began communicating with him at all in 2004.

(2) 2004 is not "long before" Flew was declining in memory. I now think that was already in progress in late 2004 and was surely serious by early 2005. But I can't assess his condition at the time of the Habermas interview since that was before I contacted him. That interview was taken before he was given evidence refuting his reasons for believing (at the time of the interview), which caused him to renounce those reasons and remove his declaration of belief from his new preface to God and Philosophy. Yet he maintained his belief, for reasons that remain unknown (at least from any reliable source). All this is why the Habermas interview is all but useless now--far too much happened afterward, and everything I write is about that afterward.

(3) I don't know what you are talking about regarding quantum physics in relation to my definition of the supernatural. Of the definitions you draw from a dictionary, the only one that is philosophically pertinent (and is in fact essentially a colloquialization of mine) is 2b. As to why (and how it is more formally framed) you do have to read what I've written. My formal definition is already right at the top of the relevant blog entry (the remainder simply explains it with examples), and my proof (that this is what it actually means in formal philosophical discourse) is laid out in the other article (my critique of Rea). So if you want to know either, you have to read. It's not like I can telepathically insert this information into your brain with some clever use of a biscuit and a spring.

(4) The sentence "you seem to be saying that language is apriori to belief" is not proper English. Did you mean "language is prior to belief"? And if so, what do you mean by that? And from what do you infer my position on this? I would sooner expect you to come to the opposite conclusion from my discussion of this very subject in my book Sense and Goodness without God (cf. pp. 27ff.).

(4) You seem not to know what the word "metaphysical" means. It has nothing to do with "physical" in the sense of material, and in philosophy is not a synonym of supernatural. The word was coined by Aristotle and simply means "after the physics," meaning the book that came second in order after The Physics, meaning "Science" (the ancient word for physics meant the whole study of nature, not just what we limit by the word "physics" today, and it was not a synonym for the word "physical," that was a modern development).

From that (and Aristotle's explanation at the front of The Metaphysics) the word came to mean (in his day) the study of being, in and of itself (what we now call ontology), and then came to mean (in modernity) what we do after we've done all the scientific physics we can, or in other words how we fill the remaining gaps left by science. My book explains further.

The equation of the word "metaphysical" with "supernatural" is a product of the spiritualist and New Age movement, another example of their appropriating and misusing scientific terms to make their belief systems sound more credible. This use of the word does not exist in formal philosophy, and I have never used it thus. To the contrary, my book has the word "metaphysical naturalism" right in the subtitle, so I thought you might have figured out I can't possibly be equating metaphysical with supernatural.

SMA said...

Regarding (1) I don’t know the identity of the group that recruited you to interview Habermas because you haven’t said, but to my point of view interviewing a subject about rumors is the business of gossip columnists.

Regarding (2). I do not discount the Habermas interview as useless. It is an intelligent discussion between two life long philosophers AND it is available to read, first hand, rather than going by hearsay. Whatever you report as having taken place between yourself and Habermas, be it the written questions and answers, or a verbal dialogue, is hearsay in the fact that, absent recorded documentation, it is a second hand interpretation of what took place.

Regarding (3) this is what you said about quantum physics:

The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural. Just because I can't look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.


I argue your use of language. “Quantum mechanics” is a term used for the algorithm that predicts the probabilistic behavior of quantum phenomena. However the “underlying reality” of quantum phenomena cannot be described as mechanical. Wave particle duality and Planck’s constant are non-mechanistic. In David Bohm’s classic textbook on quantum theory, titled Quantum Theory, David Bohm makes the point that the description of nature when considered at the quantum degree of accuracy is non-mechanistic and he objects to the term “quantum mechanics”. He then uses it anyway because by that time the term was accepted in common usage.

I agree with your reasoning that the mere fact that something is invisible to the human eye does not make it “supernatural”, - that is, as far as I am able to understand your usage of "suoernatural", without having read all your articles on the subject. I will read your articles if and when the time becomes available. In the meantime since I cannot know what you mean by “supernatural”, there is no functional basis for using that term.


Regarding (4) I derived that you assume language to be apriori to meaning from the following paragraph:

In actual fact, if you cannot define a term then you are by definition incapable of verifying or falsifying what it denotes, and therefore cannot maintain rational belief in its existence (or even non-existence, since by your own concession you then don't even know what you are talking about). To know how to verify or falsify a statement entails knowing what that statement means (because that literally is the statement's meaning, or an essential part of it). So if you don't know what "God" means, you cannot know how to verify or falsify the statement "God exists."

I disagree with your criticism of my language since apriori is both an adjective and an adverb. The first meaning given in Miriam Webster is well suited to my point:

1 a: DEDUCTIVE b: relating to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions — compare a posteriori c: presupposed by experience

I interpreted Flew to mean that the word, “God”, is not generally defined, but has many different meanings. Flew goes on to describe the God that he personally accepts as the God identified by Aristotle.

It is true that one cannot verify or falsify the existence of God, however, I cannot agree that rational thought is fundamentally based in what one can “prove”, or that language pre-exists belief, which would have to be so if one had to define a term in order to believe in the meaning represented by the term. Your words were “believe in it's (the term’s) existence”, which would translate as believing in the language, rather than the meaning that the language represents. Meaning can be experienced without language. Even the definition given above for “apriori” states that “reasoning” is derived from “self-evident propositions”, which can be translated as that which we accept because we believe it to be true, and is the basis from which all reasoning must proceed.

Regarding (5). I know what metaphysical means. I don’t disagree with what you have said about the meaning of metaphysics, other than your statement that the concept of contemporary physics is limited. However I do not believe that the way that you define the word is the only way of doing so or even that what I said about metaphysics is in disagreement with what you have said. It’s just two different ways of expressing a similar idea.

I do not find “New Age” to be meaningful language, I take “formal philosophy” to have the same meaning as “general philosophy”, as used by Heisenberg in his book, Physics and Philosophy. Heisenberg contrasts general philosophy with the philosophy of physics. As I previously noted “ natural philosopher” is the term that was once used for “scientist”, and is distinguished from general, or formal philosophy in that the fundamental measure of truth is determined by the scientific method, i.e., observation and repeated experiment, even when the results of experiment and observation defy our reasoned propositions and conclusions.

Richard Carrier said...

SMA said... I don’t know the identity of the group that recruited you to interview [Flew] because you haven’t said, but to my point of view interviewing a subject about rumors is the business of gossip columnists.

There was no "group." As I explain in my blog (which you should have read), it was a number of my colleagues, and as I explain in my original article, they first asked me in 2001 when it was rumored he had converted to Christianity, which was certainly news--and when newsworthy claims are circulating, the job of skeptics is to confirm or debunk them, especially since a known form of abuse against atheists by Christians are fictional conversion stories. Thus nipping such pernicious propaganda in the bud is the only responsible thing to do. Once I had undertaken this task, with success, I then became the go-to guy for every subsequent rumor.

There were actually more specific and alarming details to some of these original rumors, and affirming them were persons of repute, but to protect the innocent (and avoid making unprovable accusations) I will not discuss this further. But in any case many who were perplexed by these details were already speaking with me on a regular basis, and the matter came up in that context (I had until then never heard of Flew). I said why doesn't someone just write to him and ask. They said since it was my idea why don't I do it. So I said okay. And I did.

Flew at that time debunked the rumor soundly. So when new rumors cropped up, repeating the process was the obvious thing to do, especially as it took so little trouble. The second time the rumors arose (in 2003) it turned out I didn't have to write after all, since another colleague of mine was coincidentally meeting with Flew around then and he got a verbal denial. Simple enough. But this was not possible when the third set of rumors started in 2004, so when I was asked, since I had a rapor now with Flew, to repeat what I did in 2001, I did.

This would all have amounted to trivial correspondences among fellow academics merely to debunk Christian gorilla propaganda, had things not gone strange. You know the rest of the story.

SMA said... I do not discount the Habermas interview as useless.

Not useless, obsolete.

SMA said... Whatever you report as having taken place between yourself and [Flew], be it the written questions and answers, or a verbal dialogue, is hearsay in the fact that, absent recorded documentation, it is a second hand interpretation of what took place.

I have recorded documentation: the letters, verified by a reporter for a major national newspaper. That is not hearsay. That's categorically different from someone claiming he "heard" something. Even Oppenheimer's interview with Flew is not hearsay, because Oppenheimer was there and therefore can testify to what Flew said as an actual eyewitness (indeed, I'd expect he has tapes, whose authenticity he can verify).

SMA said... the "underlying reality" of quantum phenomena cannot be described as mechanical.

We don't actually know that. We have no knowledge at present what underlies quantum phenomena, so we can't say it "isn't" a mechanism (as that would require knowledge we don't have). For example, if Superstring theory is true, then it would be mechanical, in the sense that physical mechanisms (strings of space-time vibrating in an 11-dimensional manifold) would then cause the observable phenomena described by Quantum Mechanics.

Quantum Mechanics is so-called to distinguish it from Classical Mechanics (which leads me to suspect you are either misquoting Bohm or Bohm was playing word games). The word "mechanics" in each case means the physical "mechanisms" that cause or define motion and change (i.e. the science of mechanics is the science of why things move or change--QM is certainly such a science). There is no sense in which "waves" are any less mechanical in this scientific sense than particle interactions, and there is no sense in which a wave-particle duality is necessarily any less a mechanism than either waves or particles by themselves.

SMA said... In the meantime since I cannot know what you mean by "supernatural", there is no functional basis for using that term.

I see. "I'm too lazy to learn what the word means, therefore there is no reason to use it." Apart from being a lame argument, the only logical consequence of it is to abandon the use of the word "supernatural." But then you are only choosing to be willfully ignorant of what "naturalism" means. I see no virtue in that. In any case, it means you can no longer discuss the matter.

SMA said... I derived that you assume language to be apriori to meaning from the following paragraph: ..."...if you cannot define a term then you are by definition incapable of verifying or falsifying what it denotes..."

I see no connection between that paragraph and what you assumed.

SMA said... I disagree with your criticism of my language since apriori is both an adjective and an adverb.

That has nothing to do with the matter. The sentence "you assume language to be apriori to meaning" is not correct English (the use of the preposition "to," for example, makes no grammatical sense here--it does not matter what part of speech "a priori" is). Moreover, it's a priori, not apriori--the latter makes no sense on the original Latin, and my Miriam Webster dictionary correctly presents it as a priori, not apriori.

You were using it to mean "prior" which is not the same thing as a priori ("from the prior"), least of all because the latter is a formal term in philosophy that means something entirely different (arguments and assumptions prior to empirical inquiry, or prior to considering observed facts) than you seem to be talking about. Your quoting of Mirriam only confirms that fact, and makes no better sense of what you were originally trying to say (neither grammatically nor lexically).

I think you had better just admit you meant to say "prior" and move on.

SMA said... It is true that one cannot verify or falsify the existence of God

I disagree. This is not true. One can. And Flew finally admitted one could in 2001. He had up until then denied it, and in fact was (apparently in some circles) famous for doing so.

SMA said... I cannot agree that rational thought is fundamentally based in what one can "prove"

I did not use the word "prove." I said the meaning of a statement literally is what it would mean to verify or falsify it (regardless of whether you physically can do so, or ever have). In other words, all I said is that if you don't even know how you would go about doing so (if you have no idea what observations would verify or falsify a statement), then you don't know what a statement means. For why this is so, read my book Sense and Goodness without God--although you should also read Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. Even though I disagree with him fundamentally on many points (as one can see in my book), he lays important groundwork for the study of meaning.

SMA said... I cannot agree that ... language pre-exists belief

Some beliefs precede language, some beliefs follow language (so there is no simple dichotomy). Language is simply a code for communicating and computing units of meaning. Language is thus invented after meaning is grasped, and only points to meaning, but all complex beliefs are the consequence of running computations on a system of meanings conveyed largely by language, and therefore many beliefs are language-dependent. Nevertheless, all complex beliefs are constructed from irreducibles, which are always prior to language. My book explains.

But none of this has anything to do with anything here. It remains the case that you can only know the meaning of a sentence in any language if you know what observations would verify or falsify the proposition expressed by that sentence. Because that is what language is: a code system for expressing meaning, and the meaning of all assertions is what would be the case if the assertion is true and what would be the case if the assertion is false. If there is no difference (or you don't know what that difference would be) then the assertion is (for you) meaningless.

SMA said... Your words were "believe in it's (the term’s) existence"

Since those words don't exist anywhere here, I don't know which words of mine you are talking about. I am quite certain I said no such thing. At the very least you seem to be confusing "the term" with the thing denoted by the term. One believes (or disbelieves) in the latter, not the former.

SMA said... Meaning can be experienced without language.

Since I argue that very point in my book, you can imagine my astonishment here.

SMA said... Even the definition given above for “apriori” states that “reasoning” is derived from “self-evident propositions”, which can be translated as that which we accept because we believe it to be true, and is the basis from which all reasoning must proceed.

That is not what the a priori means in philosophy, unless you are talking about what are formally called properly basic beliefs, which is the subject of my discussion in my rebuttal to Rea (which I directed you to).

SMA said... It’s just two different ways of expressing a similar idea.

It's not "just" that. I am only using the word (metaphysics / metaphysical) in one way. You must therefore treat me as doing so and not base your criticisms of me on any contrary assumption. For that would entangle you in the fallacy of equivocation.

As far as I can tell there is nothing else relevant to discuss here. I've answered your questions and explained my meaning.

SMA said...

I have read your blog several times. I call a number of people a group, and that is not a point worth arguing about, Imho.

You may have documents in your possession but until you make them available for your readers to read first hand, whatever you tell us about those documents is hearsay. Once they are available then they are not hearsay and one can evaluate your interpretation against the actual letters.

We don't actually know that. We have no knowledge at present what underlies quantum phenomena, so we can't say it "isn't" a mechanism (as that would require knowledge we don't have). For example, if Superstring theory is true, then it would be mechanical, in the sense that physical mechanisms (strings of space-time vibrating in an 11-dimensional manifold) would then cause the observable phenomena described by Quantum Mechanics.

David Bohm is a theoretical physicist, which means he is a philosopher of science, but unlike the term “philosopher of science” only a physicist can be called a theoretical physicists.

Quantum Theory is a classic textbook that Bohm wrote which was based in the Copenhagen Interpretation. If you are familiar with the history of quantum theory, you probably know that Niels Bohr and Einstein argued over hidden variables in a debate that lasted a couple of decades. If local hidden variables existed then quantum theory would be deterministic and nature could be given a mechanistic description, but that is not the case. It was considered settled when Von Neumann came up with the “impossibility proof” of hidden variables.

Actually, it was only an impossibility proof of local hidden variables. It took David Bohm to conceive of a non-local hidden variable theory, which he started to develop during the process of writing Quantum Theory. Bohm's non-local hidden variable theory is presented in Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Non-local hidden variables are not mechanistic by any stretch.

I haven’t followed string theory. I started Greene’s The Elegant Universe but I couldn’t stand his writing persona. That aside, from what I have heard about string theory, it sounds like a limited and finite versions of Bohm’s implicate and explicate order.

As Bohm is the first to point out, science does not give us absolute truths, it gives us insights, and over time, with new discoveries our picture of nature evolves. The scientific view can change, but at the present time the non-mechanistic description of nature at the quantum scale is an established fact of nature. Classical physics is mechanistic but quantum physics is a different paradigm. The laws of nature are not the same in the quantum domain as within the classical limit.

I am not misquoting Bohm. "The Need for a Non-mechanical Description", is a section title on pg 167 of Quantum Theory by David Bohm, Dover Press, 1951. This is a direct quote from a footnote in the same section: * ( in footnote) This means that the term “quantum mechanics; is very much a misnomer. It should perhaps be called “quantum nonmechanics”)

The reason why wave-particle duality is non-mechanical is because you cannot measure the wave and particle aspects of matter or light simultaneously or even with the same setup. This caused Niels Bohr to formulate the framework of complementarity, which basically states that when two mutually exclusive descriptions can be applied to the same system that both descriptions are necessary for a complete description of the whole.

I can give you other reasons why it is known that nature at such a microscopic scale is non-mechanistic, but that is not within the current scope of this discussion, except to say that although I consider Flew to be unusually open-minded in his willingness to cross boundaries, I do not think he is familiar with the thinking of the twentieth century natural philosophers. If Flew were familiar, I would think he would reference the twentieth century discoveries in quantum theory rather than intelligent design. It is much more rigorous.

"Some beliefs precede language, some beliefs follow language (so there is no simple dichotomy). Language is simply a code for communicating and computing units of meaning. Language is thus invented after meaning is grasped, and only points to meaning, but all complex beliefs are the consequence of running computations on a system of meanings conveyed largely by language, and therefore many beliefs are language-dependent. Nevertheless, all complex beliefs are constructed from irreducibles, which are always prior to language. My book explains."

That's good,I like it.

SMA said...

Page 167 of Quantum Theory by David Bohm is accesible on the internet.

If you google Quantum Theory David Bohm, it is the first link at the top of the page , Google Book Search.( before the link to Amazon, which makes some pages available but not the particular page that I referenced)

Scroll down to the link to page 168 and click the back arrow and you will be on page 167.

The Second Paragraph begins Section 26. The Need for a Nonmechanical Description

The footnote I quoted is at the bottom of the page. is at the bottom of that page.

B. Dewhirst said...

SMA, you're distracting our fine host from more productive endeavours.

I, and I expect other readers, would appreciate it if you would refrain from further comment until you can demonstrate you've read Mr. Carrier's fine book.

SMA said...

You are entitled to your opinion, But in my opinion inquiry and debate are essential to philosophical discourse.

B. Dewhirst said...

Reading the other party's argument is also essential to philosophical discourse. Indeed, it is a prerequisite.

RobHu said...

As someone who is subscribed to these comments because a lot of what was said was quite interesting, I want to say that I agree with B. Dewhirst.

SMA, your comments do come across as if you're criticising Richard without having done your research.

It's the nature of the internet that people rarely come to a full agreement on blogs / discussion forums, so I suggest that there is probably little else that is fruitful for you to say here. If you want to continue telling him he's wrong I would suggest you do so by email.

SMA said...

Agreed, but I prefer to concentrate on what I feel is the most essential to the subject matter of the debate, which is what i have been doing.

I expect other readers may feel the same.

SMA said...

And i might point out that since Mr carrier said that he had said all he had to say concerning the meaning of certain words, that there was no reason to continue that particular thread of the dialogue.

However I have found that misconceptions about the quantum description of nature are widespead in our society, even as the groundbreaking work in this area is almost a hundred years old, so I don't know why you think one should not challenge Mr Carrier's statements in that regard. He is wrong when he equates the laws of classical physics with the facts of nature on the quantum scale.

B. Dewhirst said...

SMA, I think you're a borderline troll who doesn't understand Carrier's definitions or relationship to language because you haven't read his book where he lays these things out.

He has a lengthy section on, amongst other things, the implications quantum physics has wrt the metaphysical naturalist worldview.

You've quote mined, as near as I can tell, while he has a reasonably good understanding of Q.M.

Apparently, you're too lazy to read the book.

SMA said...

You are calling me a troll?

I thought trolls were people who intentionally antagonize other posters and otherwise do not contribute to the conversation. If you think that Mr Carrier understands quantum physics , then make your case.

I avoided Mr Carriers assertion that I am lazy, after I said I would read his articles about what "supernatural" personally means to him, if and when I have the time. That means I am busy and not lazy. It is also true that I think that that sort of personal attack generally distracts from the substance of dialogue,and so I do my best to disengage it.

But since you insist, I will say that I have been participating in online dialogues for ten years and I personally think it is scary that the current state of online debate tends toward oppression of freedom of thought rather than encouraging it. You are the second reader of Mr Carrier's blog who has insinuated that the role of Mr Carrier's reader should be to agree with Mr Carrier, question him not, and take whatever he writes to be absolute truth. That is an attitude unworthy of a true philosopher, in my opinion.

RobHu said...

SMA, what are you talking about?

No one is insinuating that the role of being of a reader here is to agree with Richard Carrier, we're just getting annoyed that you are lowering the signal to noise ratio.

B. Dewhirst said...

SMA, my case is as follows:

As is indicated in Carrier's fine book, which you refuse to read, he understands quantum physics as well as one can without advanced degrees in math and/or physics.

Without having read it, how can you know whether you agree or disagree with him... half the time, you misunderstand what he is talking about. Should that misunderstanding turn out to be deliberate, you'd be a troll as far as I'm concerned.

Since you refuse to read his book, it looks to me like your aim is to misunderstand his positions.

I'll allow other commenters to take it from here.

SMA said...

As is indicated in Carrier's fine book, which you refuse to read, he understands quantum physics as well as one can without advanced degrees in math and/or physics.

This does not make a case. What is the basis of Carrier’s understanding understanding? I offered you a direct quote from physicist David Bohm’s classic textbook on Quantum Theory If you are not too lazy to click on the link I provided you will find that David Bohm’s Quantum Theory is described as “advanced undergraduate-level text”. In other words it is a book that would be used in classes of advanced physics and math. Einstein described it as the clearest description of quantum theory that he had read. It was considered groundbreaking at the time because of the degree to which it presented quantum theory in non-mathematical language, but don’t let that mislead you into believing that the book does not provided mathematical descriptions, because it is quite heavy with mathematical descriptions as well. David Bohm is one of the most influential physicists of the twentieth century. I think he is a greater authority on quantum theory than Richard Carrier, especially given the statements that Carrier has already made here in this blog. Not only did Bohm have an advanced degree in math and physics, but taught advanced classes in math and physics and published influential works of his own.

You are entitled to your opinion about whatever , it doesn’t make it true.

B. Dewhirst said...

To clarify: I've read Carrier's book, and have a degree in Physics which included courses in Quantum Physics.

What qualifies you to comment, or select quotations from, or interpret Bohm?

SMA said...

How about the fact that I have read Bohm, including Quantum Theory and Wholeness and the Implicate Order – as well as a number of other books on the subject such as Infinite Potential, the biography of Bohm by David Peat, David Z Albert’s Quantum Mechanics and Experience, The Meaning of Quantum Theory by Jim Baggott, The Non-Local Universe by Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau, Physics and Philosophy by Heisenberg.

David Peat is a physicist who worked along side Bohm. David Z Albert teaches at Columbia, Menas Kafatos is a physicist and Robert Nadeau is a historian of science and both teach at George mason University. Jim Baggott is a chemical engineer who decided to write the book after he discovered what he wasn’t taught in his university physics education, and of course Heisenberg co-authored the Copenhagen Interpretation with Niels Bohr and Born.


Are you suggesting that when Carrier asserts that I am misinterpreting Bohm and that Bohm didn’t mean that the quantum description is nonmechanical, that I should believe Carrier and not the words of David Bohm that explicitly use the phrase nonmechanistic, a subject which Bohm writes about in great length in all his books?

B. Dewhirst said...


Are you suggesting that when Carrier asserts that I am misinterpreting Bohm and that Bohm didn’t mean that the quantum description is nonmechanical, that I should believe Carrier and not the words of David Bohm that explicitly use the phrase nonmechanistic, a subject which Bohm writes about in great length in all his books?



Yes, I'm further suggesting you don't know what "nonmechanical" and/or "nonmechanistic" mean.

SMA said...

And you base this judgementalism on what? That I dare to queestion what Richard Carrier asserts? Talk about true believers, Quakers have nothing over you guys on that score.

Bohm wrote books and books about the the nonmechanistic description of nature, but that doesn't matter. A cult follower will only believe the cult leader tells him to believe, even if you put evidence to the contrary right before their eyes. Hopeless.

SMA said...

I can't help but wonder if the identity of whoever put Richard Carrier up to interview Flew isn't right before my eyes.

B. Dewhirst said...


And you base this judgementalism on what? That I dare to queestion what Richard Carrier asserts?


I base it on having what I take to be a better understanding of quantum physics than you.

It is very difficult to prove a negative, but I hadn't heard of Mr. Carrier before he appeared in Brian Flemming's film, The God Who Wasn't There.

Mr. Carrier has in no way asked me for my opinions... indeed, I'm reasonably certain he'll ask me to knock it off, so I'm really going to have to cut myself off now.

SMA said...

First of all you have not said anything about quantum physics and secondly you hardly know enough about me to know what my understanding is. The disagreement is over whether the quantum description of nature is mechanistic and if you say that it is, then you will be up against Bohr, Heisenberg, Bohm, and the most of the physics community..

If you want to argue that quantum physics abides by the same rules of nature as classical physics , then you should provide a reference, other than saying Richard Carrier says so, which isn't even a reference specifically quoting Richard Carrier.

There exists an abundance papers about quantum physics published on the internet. If you are arguing that the quantum description is mechanistic, you are saying that it is deterministic. Einstein tried to argue that and he failed. Surely you must have heard the famous quote that Einstein said to Bohr "God wouldn't play dice with the Universe". Less well known is that Bohr responded "Still it is not for us to tell God what to do".

Bohm's interpretation has been called deterministic, which confuses some to believe that it takes the proabilisitc description out of Quantum Mechanics, but it doesn't.In the foreward of Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy, FS Northrop distinquished between weak determinism and strong determinism and strongly emphasises that it is very important to understand which meaning is intended. Bohm's interpretation is weak determinism.

Charlie said...

Richard:

I just want to say thanks for your intellectual honesty. I've read your blog, most of the posts and your responses and I'm impressed by what seems to me to be your dishing out the straight poop as you see it. I really admire that.

I've been in the horse business for almost 20 years. The horse world is not unlike your philosophical one: the disagreements are deep and entrenched. One jumps fences; one cuts cows; yet a third team ropes. All have different ideas on breeds to ride, how to train etc. Getting these people to talk to each other is an angst-ridden enterprise (I publish magazines for horsepeople, I have first-hand experience with this). It's difficult to find a trainer that will not talk down to those who don't agree, but will talk at them as people worthy of respect. Yet I think that's exactly what you manage to do here. Yes, you have passion for your positions, but you're not shrill. I really respect that as well.

RE Flew's book in question: There is an old saying in the horse biz: The only problem with horses are the people that own them. I feel like that could be paraphrased for my fellow Christians: The biggest problem with faith in Christ is those who believe. I liked what one post said: Lying for Jesus. Now, there's a cause for rejoicing!

I try to follow the evidence where it leads me, as well (so far, to faith, although I haven't read your bits on the resurrection yet)and it embarrasses and enrages me when others who claim to love the truth use deceipt to try to convice people of that truth. I can only say: HalleluYIKES!!

Right now, I disagree with most of your positions, but, still, I appreciate your honesty. Thanks again. I do have one question: Are there any christian apologists that you respect for the presentation of their arguements? Any that seem to be intellectually honest (you mention NT Wright). I know you don't agree with them or their premises, but just wondering.

Thanks again.

Richard Carrier said...

Everyone: I kept the above exchanges even though they straddle deletion standards, largely because they're f***ing funny. If you have my strange sense of humor, anyway.

SMA: Is English your second language? You seem occasionally unaware of certain points of grammar and common usage, even beyond the case I already noted, and this makes it hard for me to get your meaning. For example, you seem unaware that the word "group" commonly means an organization, not disconnected people. And I don't understand anymore what you think the words "mechanistic" or "mechanics" mean, even in ordinary English much less formal science (for example, at one point you treat "mechanistic" very strangely as a synonym for "empirically measurable" which I am pretty sure has never been its meaning, and then you conflate "mechanics" with "determinism" which is a category error at the very least).

Consequently, I just don't know anymore what your point is, or what it has to do with anything I have said. Especially since I have never "equate[d] the laws of classical physics with the facts of nature on the quantum scale" as you accuse me of, and I don't even comprehend where that notion came to you from. As far as whether QM is deterministic, that is, as I said, still unknown, and in any case I address both possibilities in my book.

Richard Carrier said...

Charlie: Thanks for your kind remarks. I do have my limit, though. I get snarky when people test my patience or repeatedly trample common sense, although I admit merely being mean isn't quite the same as being shrill, so I think I get what you're saying.

You asked: Are there any christian apologists that you respect for the presentation of their arguements? Any that seem to be intellectually honest (you mention NT Wright). I know you don't agree with them or their premises, but just wondering.

I'm no longer sure. The more see of their arguments and speeches and debates the more cynical I get about their honesty. It becomes hard to maintain once you put all the facts together. So far there is only one apologist I know whom I actually trust as honest: Victor Reppert. I think he tells the truth as he sees it and doesn't make sh*t up or play rhetorical games or get angry when he runs out of arguments. That doesn't mean I consider all others to be dishonest, since most I simply don't know well enough to say either way. But those I do know a lot about (e.g. Habermas, Geivett, Craig, etc.) I just don't trust--or in some cases, actively distrust. Sadly, I've had so many experiences with dishonest Christians I can't afford to give any Christian the benefit of a doubt, so it's fair to say the liars have really hurt their cause.

As far as N.T. Wright, I don't know enough about him to have suspicions either way. His book on the resurrection is so inconsistent and disorganized (and occasionally factually wrong) I'm more inclined to think him incompetent than dishonest. Which is to say, I don't think he's a good historian. But he's nowhere near as catastrophically bad as Rodney Stark, who is a recent convert and thus green as far as apologists go. But Stark is otherwise a brilliant and entirely competent sociologist, and I've not seen anything from him that would lead me to believe he is dishonest, just disastrously incompetent in the field of history. Alas, when scientists play at being historians it often doesn't go well, and he may simply be an illustration of that.

Steven Carr said...

Here are some Wright statements which seem strange :-

John 20 verses 30-31 says 'Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.'

According to Bishop NT Wright , in chapter 4 of his new book, Surprised by Hope, 'The fourth strange feature of the resurrection accounts is the entire absence of mention of the future Christian hope.' (I paraphrase - the exact quote comes from a recent Wright speech)

How can scholars write about 'the entire absence of mention of the future Christian hope', in works which do exactly that?

WRIGHT
'The way in which Luke has told central story of this chapter (Luke 24) invites us to compare and contrast it with Genesis 3....Following Jesus’ astonishing exposition of scripture, they come into the house; Jesus takes the bread blesses it, and breaks it, “and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (the Greek is very close to the Septuagint of Genesis 3:7).'

----------------------------

Wright on the resurrection

WRIGHT
'In framing his gospel narrative m this way, Luke has given us a historical version of Psalms 42 and 43.'
Wright on the resurrection

WRIGHT
'First, we note the strange silence of the Bible in the stories. Up to this point, all four evangelists have drawn heavily upon biblical quotation, allusion and echo. But the resurrection narratives are almost entirely innocent of them. '

CARR
Well, there you are.

If it suits Wright, he has no problem finding Biblical quotations, allusions and echoes in the resurrection narratives.


But if he wants to say the opposite, for apologetic purposes, those narratives then become almost entirely innocent of Biblical quotations, allusions and echoes.

It all depends what he thinks will persuade his audience, a thought process that leads Wright to evntually writing things like this 'When Mark says that the women ‘said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid,’ he does not mean they never said anything to anyone.'

Simina said...

Your comments are completely irreverent. I have listened to Antony Flew and he speaks very coherently and is not at all insane. Antony Flew was annoyed by attacks from atheists that he lost his mind, and he repeatedly said the book is written by him, and yes, he did not type it, because he is 80.

I'm wondering why atheists call anything that has to do with believing in God - "pseudoscience" - but would take anything that "proves" why God does not exist. Existence (and even more so, realizing your own existence) is a miracle, and a gift.

Richard Carrier said...

Simina:

First, why should I be "reverent"? Flew is not a King or a God. Irreverence is a signature American virtue, and I consider being called "irreverent" a compliment.

Second, I don't believe Flew is "insane" (see my more recent discussion of whether Flew is "crazy"). I believe he has a memory disorder. Not the same thing.

Third, I have several eyewitnesses who have seen him speak the last few years on different occasions and they all report him having subtle problems indicative of a diminishing of mental acumen, not a complete slide into incoherence (as I explain in that same link above).

Fourth, Flew has not "repeatedly said the book is written by him." I beg you to show me a single quote from him (as in, actually from him) that says that. To the contrary, he apparently has confessed to only reviewing drafts, and doesn't recall even having met many of the people extensively quoted in the book, supposedly from personal interviews he never conducted.

Fifth, I know many 80-year-olds who can type, and there is no indication that Flew has any impairment of that kind. Nor any that would prevent him dictating to a tape or secretary, even if for some reason he couldn't type himself (are you suggesting he has arthritis or something?).

Finally, I don't understand your remark about pseudoscience. Which pseudoscience did you have in mind? Creationism?

Trevor said...

As for Dawkins and others who think that Anthony Flewis senile, I think that samples such as the following: http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/intermediate/flew-speaks-out-professor-antony-flew-reviews-the-god-delusion.htm, would prove that he has logical consistency, good grammar, and also a acute memory still even in hsi later years.

Richard Carrier said...

No one has accused Flew of being unable to speak grammatical English. To the contrary, the evidence shows he (in his final years) could not remember events in his recent past, and thus could not construct sound and sometimes not even logically valid arguments for things, or even arguments consistent with his own past statements.

The article you point to actually proves both points in spades: it shows no knowledge of what Flew himself has said on this subject in his own past writings!

(1) For example, in this article Flew discusses essentially the same argument as Dawkins' without any reference to Einstein's supposed disagreement with him either, the very error he accuses Dawkins of! (2) And in his interview with Lee Strobel, Flew actually said "Einstein didn't have any authority at all" to assess the biological argument for Intelligent Design, yet the biological argument for Intelligent Design is the only argument Flew ever claimed had convinced him, so it has to be the one argument here in the article you cite now that he is criticizing Dawkins for having ignored Einstein's remarks on! So, Flew says Einstein has no authority on the subject, then says Dawkins is a liar for not having acknowledged Einstein's authority on the subject! Can you say cookoo?

The entire article you cite is likewise argumentatively pathetic, issuing nothing but two fallacious and weirdly irrelevant arguments against the actual arguments and evidence Dawkins presents in The God Delusion. And those two bizarre arguments are not only logically invalid (neither makes a valid point against the argument in The God Delusion), but also unsound: they are based on claims that are factually false...

(1) Dawkins defines deism on page 18, so Flew's claim that he never does this is not only completely fallacious and irrelevant, but false as well! (2) And Dawkins addresses all the remarks about design that Einstein had made, which Flew claims Dawkins avoids, in a sweeping generalizable point on page 40, contrary to Flew's claim that he did not address this. And most ironically (and most insanely of all) Flew attacks Dawkins for not quoting some specific Einstein passage Flew has in mind, yet Flew himself does not quote it either, or even tell us which quotation of Einstein he even has in mind! Can you say cookoo again?

That 2008 article looks like the work of a hack apologist who can't even read a book and makes no effort to address any actual science or evidence and doesn't understand how to produce a valid or sound argument. It thus looks nothing like the writings of Flew before he lost his mind (he is now dead, of course).

(Case in point, see p. 176 of Flew's Philosophical Essays where he responds to all the quotations of Einstein with the conclusion that Einstein was not a deist, but an atheist and metaphysical naturalist using "God" metaphorically--so the "Flew" who wrote the article you cite has no awareness of what he had written only ten years before! Yet in 2002 Flew still had his memory, and thus repeated this view, cf. p. 216 of Does God exist?, which he then forgot by 2008)