Thursday, December 27, 2007

Craig the Annoyed

Many fans have been telling me for weeks about William Lane Craig's childish rant against me on his radio show Dr. Craig's Current Events Audio Blog. Now that my dissertation has been accepted for defense (I'll blog on that in a week or two), I finally found time to listen to it. It is kind of sad. But it's the sort of petty and bigoted belittling I hear many Christians launch against whoever or whatever annoys them. So I'm not surprised.
The show in question is Craig's riff on the Furor Over Flew's There Is a God (11 November 2007), which is little more than his opinionated summary of the scandal, trying to deflect it as apologetically as he can muster. But his knowledge of the affair seems based solely on the Oppenheimer article (which I discussed in Antony Flew's Bogus Book), and whatever his Christian colleagues have told him, rather than any actual research into the facts. It's therefore not very informative, especially if you've already been following everything I've written on Flew's conversion saga (e.g. Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of).

Craig's audio blog weaves basically three overlapping arguments: Varghese didn't do anything wrong by writing Flew's book, Richard Carrier is a nobody and therefore Oppenheimer is biased (wait until you see the convoluted logic behind that one), and atheists made up the story about Flew being crazy because they just can't handle the truth. Oh, and he tacks on a veiled 'Richard Carrier is an a**hole' argument at the end, cleverly turning it into a commercial for Christianity, relying on the old McCarthy-era "Christians are nice, atheists are evil" storyline (and thus pandering to the pervasive Christian bigotry in his audience like some roadshow politician).

There's no need to respond to everything he says. I'll just single out some examples.

Did Varghese Try to Pull a Fast One?

One of Craig's arguments is that Varghese was always upfront about his having written the book because it says "Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese" on the cover. But a credit like that rarely means "co-authored by" (which would normally just use the conjunction "and," not the preposition "with"), and it certainly never means "written entirely by." And Craig concedes it was written entirely by Varghese. Of course, Craig doesn't even mention the fact that the third author (Hostetler) isn't credited at all. Instead, the preposition "with" normally means "with contributions added by," and since there is a preface and an appendix explicitly written under Varghese's name, plus an introduction solely credited to Flew (in which the clear impression is made that he wrote the subsequent ten chapters), the book certainly makes it seem that the rest of the book is by Flew and that the "with" just refers to the added preface and appendix by Varghese.

Otherwise (1) the rest of the book is written in the first person, overtly represented as Flew's perspective, and the reader is given no idea that he is reading anything other than Flew's words (which is why their incongruity of style and content with his past work quite threw me), (2) Varghese is never named as the author of any chapter thus credited to Flew (whereas he is named as author of the preface and one appendix), (3) Hostetler is never mentioned at all (nor are their relative contributions ever described), and (4) when Flew (ostensibly at least, in a chapter that the table of contents explicitly credits solely to Flew) actually does mention who helped him, neither Varghese nor Hostetler is mentioned, but two people he could not even recall having spoken to when querried by Oppenheimer, and who had nothing to do with writing the book at all.

In fact, here Craig gives us some new information that actually makes the scandal worse. Flew is made to say in his introduction that "the last seven chapters describe my discovery of the Divine" and "in the preparation of the last seven chapters, I was greatly helped by discussions with Professor Richard Swinburne and Professor Brian Leftow," and then he immediately says Varghese wrote one of the appendices, and N.T. Wright the other (even though there is no "with N.T. Wright" on the cover, and in fact Varghese wrote the seven chapters Flew is supposed to be talking about, not just the one appendix credited to him). In other words, in the one place where Varghese's rather far more considerable "help" should appear, it is completely absent (yet his having written one appendix is declared, which gives the clear impression he did not write the rest). Hostetler gets no mention at all.

Worse, Craig now claims Varghese told him (?) that he (Varghese) added all the quotes of Leftow (and other scholars) after the fact, "to make the book more interesting." Okay. So if all the mentions of Leftow are not Flew's doing, in what sense did Leftow "help" Flew write these chapters, the only chapters in the book that are supposed to describe Flew's "discovery of the divine"? If only Varghese added those quotes (of, incidentally, personal conversations the book clearly passes off as having been exchanged with Flew), and since these are the only evident contribution by Leftow, then it sure sounds as though Leftow helped Varghese, not Flew, which would mean Flew didn't even write the Introduction credited to him. We are instead hearing the words of Varghese, pretending to be Flew.

Add this all up and it sure looks like a scam that Varghese thought he could get away with. The way the book is composed and presented, it looks deliberately designed to conceal Varghese's involvement in the central ten chapters (and to conceal Hostetler's involvement entirely), while doing everything to convince the reader that Flew wrote those chapters, using all kinds of rhetorical tricks that would certainly mislead a reader to that conclusion, such as employing a folksy first person narrative and cute little stories and anecdotes (that Varghese now admits to having fabricated entirely on his own, at least according to Regis Nicoll, Antony Flew: True Convert or Exploited Scholar? 21 December 2007). Or explicitly crediting Varghese with only a preface and appendix and not the rest of the book. Or depicting Flew as claiming "he" was helped considerably by people (like Leftow) it appears he barely even knew and whose contributions even Craig now admits were inserted by Varghese without Flew's direct involvement.

Moreover, no one (not even the publisher) informed Oppenheimer when he took on the project and the publisher sent him several galleys of the book and arranged an interview with Flew, that Flew did not write the book. After
Oppenheimer sent me one of the galleys and I read it, I told him that Flew probably did not write it (I had several years of hands-on experience with textual and stylistic analysis at Columbia University), but by the time I informed Oppenheimer of this (and supplied a list of internal stylistic evidence), he had already come to the same conclusion independently, and was already asking questions. And it was only when he started asking about this that the truth came out, including the discovery of Hostetler's involvement (otherwise nowhere mentioned or credited in the book).

Of course, when Oppenheimer got the cat out of the bag, everyone fell in line claiming everything was kosher and this sort of thing happens all the time. In actual fact it does not. I am not aware of any case where a noted scholar got away with having someone else ghostwrite his scholarship.
Indeed, since when has it become "acceptable" for a scholar to pass off someone else's work as his own? Even when a non-academic who can't write well has someone ghostwrite for them, the fact is often mocked when discovered. But Flew is not a talentless layman. He is a scholar, who clearly can at least dictate his own book, or indeed even write it himself. So why the ghostwriters? Indeed, why two ghostwriters, both American advocates of evangelical Christianity? And why is their involvement concealed in every way possible in the construction of the actual book? And yes, we're told Flew endorsed the whole content of the book, but is he even competent to? The only investigator so far who had no stake in the propaganda value of this book, and who got into a position to test the question, found ample evidence Flew was not.

I'm sorry, but this looks really bad. Way worse than Craig concedes. The more that comes out, the less content that appears to have actually came from Flew's own mind. At least after the first three background chapters, most (if not all) of the conversations quoted, as well as the stories and anecdotes, seem now confirmed as entirely Varghese's invention. Even his defenders now accept the fact that he wrote the whole book (although I suspect Hostetler wrote much more of it than Varghese claims). And yet the book itself conceals this fact, while deploying various devices to convince us we are reading the very words and thoughts of Antony Flew. Had those of us who actually give a damn about the truth not raised an uproar over this, most (if not all) readers would never have known the truth.

This qualifies as a bona fide scandal in my book, and those involved should be ashamed of themselves, if not for outright deceit, then at the very least for instance after instance of abysmal judgment. Either way, this book now sits under a pall of suspicion. No matter what the truth, it will always look like an exposed attempt to dupe the public, and because of this it will be increasingly harder to trust the honesty of Christian apologists, who not only seem inclined to behave this way, but even defend each other when they do.

Is Flew Crazy?

I don't think Flew is "crazy." But I do think he is mentally incompetent. In particular, I believe, from abundant evidence supporting the fact, that he has little ability to recall things he has read or even done or said, and since reasoning (and research and analysis and attention to complex bodies of evidence) requires our memory to function much better than this, Flew is incapable of reasoning well, except in cases that do not require long-term memory. For example, I'm sure he can reason his way through an argument when all the premises are self-evident or easily re-discovered or are given to him on the spot. But I have no confidence any more in his ability to recall or analyze premises that involve the recollection of things he argued or read in the past, at least beyond a few months.

All his writings subsequent to December 2004 suggest this, as do his personal appearances witnessed by others, and the confusion of his statements in the press, and Oppenheimer's account of the two days he spent with him. There are even hints in Flew's letters to me, such as once sending a letter almost identical in content to one he had sent only a day or two before, or his confession to having entirely forgotten (!) about Hume's argument against miracles during many months of writing and interviews (an inconceivable lapse that even Flew himself credits to "physical decline," as Oppenheimer reports). All the bizarre corrections he made to each of his letters with scissors and glue should have been an early clue. At the time I just dismissed it as weird.

To be fair (and correcting Craig on this point) I never claimed to have reconverted Flew to atheism. I only got him to retract the only evidence he (at the time) claimed to have in support of his newfound deism, but he never retracted his belief in God, and my attempts to find out from him why were never answered. But this, too, was among many examples of the odd behavior I have witnessed from Flew. And if I am being correctly informed about his involvement in this book (such as that he signed off on ten different drafts and now endorses the printed copy in its entirety), the fact that it falls significantly short of the mental astuteness of his earlier work, and substantially contradicts things he said to me (especially his past statements about his own intellectual history), only counts further in favor of a serious problem.

Of course I'm not in a position to confirm anything. I do not live in England and I am not Flew's personal friend, much less his family. I have always just been a foreign correspondent. All I can go on is the evidence available to me as an outside observer from afar. But that evidence is abundant and all points in the same direction. Craig, for example, repeats the Christian apologetic that Flew admitted to having nominal aphasia, as if that explains everything, but it does not. Oppenheimer did not just ask Flew to identify a few names and then leave. He interviewed Flew in person for two whole days. He was thus in a much better position to assess Flew's mental abilities than Craig is now. And yet Oppenheimer confirms that Flew "forgot more than names." He couldn't even define key words in his own book (the book he is supposed to have read ten drafts of and signed off on), or recall events in his own recent past, or critically discuss his own past arguments, and seemed uninterested in the content of the very book he was specifically being interviewed for. None of this is the behavior of a sharp mind.

Moreover, nominal aphasia does not explain Flew's inability to recall conversations and meetings or even long-term friendships and correspondences. As even Flew apparently said, a nominal aphasia only prevents someone from uttering names (so, for example, he would have to use round-about descriptions to identify people, and usually only when he himself is speaking). It would not cause him to forget who people are, or arguments he had made, or key academic vocabulary, or events in his own life, which is what Oppenheimer found. Furthermore, no one just "gets" an aphasia. To have such a condition entails either brain damage (such as from a stroke) or a brain disease (like Alzheimer's), either of which can have subsequent effects beyond what is originally diagnosed. And judging from the evidence I have accumulated, and evidently witnessed extensively and first-hand by Oppenheimer, Flew is suffering from something far more serious than nominal aphasia.

Craig again makes the case for this. He defends the book by saying Flew read the manuscript and signed off on it and had said "yes, this does represent how I came to believe in God." That's a problem. Craig seems unaware of the fact that the book's account cannot represent how Flew came to believe in God.
Even if it surveys new reasons, which he now finds convincing, unless Flew consistently lied to me in 2004 and early 2005, I can prove these were not his reasons for becoming a theist. For I have first-person documentation of how Flew came to believe, in handwritten letters from Flew himself, and they never mention any of the arguments in this book, except one: the argument from biogenesis, the very argument I also have Flew explicitly abandoning, again in Flew's own handwriting.

There does not seem to be any other reasonable conclusion: either someone is lying (and lying big time) or Flew no longer remembers how or why he became a theist, and simply trusts that the book is a correct account of it. A book he did not write. Between what this book (which Flew did not write) says was his journey, and what my collection of handwritten letters (which Flew did write) says was his journey, there is zero agreement. Can Craig explain this contradiction in any other way?

Despite Craig's assertion to the contrary, Flew has never addressed any of this evidence for his mental decline. He only (supposedly) denied it in a press release whose actual origin remains unknown (see item four in my November 16th 2007 Update at the Secular Web). But even if he said what this release claims, I know many an Alzheimer's patient, for example, has vehemently and angrily denied their condition, so mere denials are not enough. Is he even competent to know or acknowledge the extent of his memory failure? We would need something specific, that shows how the telltale evidence is all a big misunderstanding somehow. So how does Flew explain the specific evidence of his failing memory? Hey, I know! Why don't his Christian friends ask him?

Is Oppenheimer a Liar because Carrier is a Nobody?

The most amusing part of Craig's tirade is his obvious annoyance at the (otherwise trivial) fact that Oppenheimer calls me "brilliant" in the Times. It's not clear what this really has to do with the merits of Flew's book or the facts of its writing or Flew's condition or competence, beyond a rather convoluted use of this by Craig to construct a fallacy of "poisoning the well" (coupled with a nice string of generic non sequiturs).

How so? Now try to follow me here. Craig does his best to paint me as not brilliant (even though none of the "evidence" he lists pertains to that question, and he omits a great deal of evidence only a sophist would think he could get away with not mentioning), therefore Oppenheimer must be biased in my favor (because, we are to suppose, that can be the only reason he would call only me brilliant and none of Craig's scholarly Christian friends), therefore Oppenheimer must be lying about and/or exaggerating his (otherwise extensive first-person) evidence of Flew's mental incapacities, therefore the book (that Flew did not write) accurately represents the story of what convinced Flew to leave atheism and become a theist.

Not a single step in this convoluted argument is logically sound. Even if Oppenheimer is biased towards me, that does not make him a liar, nor negate any of his eyewitness testimony. He simply confirmed with direct first-hand evidence what I had come to suspect from (at the time) sparse and indirect evidence. And even if Oppenheimer lied (and it is absurd to think he did...and Craig carefully avoids actually saying he did, even though this must be what he means to imply or else his attack against me makes no sense here), I have my own first-hand evidence that the book extensively contradicts Flew's past accounts of his journey (so am I now a liar, too?). Craig imputes to me (and other atheists) an ulterior motive (and thus does seem to be implying we are all liars), but he seems quite unaware of the evidence I have presented (here and elsewhere), so I can't consider his opinion on this subject to be well-informed.

But he ought to know better when portraying my credentials, and I can only count him dishonest here, or insultingly lazy (since my curriculum vitae is available online and easy to find, and even Wikipedia now has a decent biography of me). In Craig's childish rant against me, I am a mere "grad student" who "doesn't even have a doctorate" (even though my having a doctorate or being a grad student has no bearing on whether I am brilliant, nor does either have any bearing on anything I am cited or quoted for in Oppenheimer's article, or any of my own reporting on the Flew affair), and who has no "works of academic distinction at all to his name" (which can only be a subjective opinion, as I have several degrees, books, honors, and peer reviewed papers, and in any case, whether I have accumulated "academic distinctions" also has no bearing on whether I am brilliant).

Among my papers published in peer reviewed journals (not commonly something a mere grad student can claim), one has already been cited as authoritative: my work on Hitler's Table Talk (which had a more than trivial impact on the entire field of Hitler studies), which is cited by the historian Richard Steigmann-Gall in his 2003 book The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Another (my work on "The Argument from Biogenesis" in the November 2004 issue of Biology & Philosophy) has likewise gained considerable attention from scholars, at least judging from the dozens of requests I've received for it from professors in the life sciences around the world.

Even my 2005 book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism has been cited as making a significant contribution to philosophy by Yonatan Fishman in a 2007 article for Science & Education, and even beyond that it has been widely praised by informed readers. I also wrote an online book Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006) that I think is reasonably scholarly (more so than the book it critiques), though I assume Craig would not consider it an academic distinction to have been paid thousands of dollars to write a well-researched book for the public domain. He probably discounts all the copious work I've published online.

But then there is The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, in which I have three extensive chapters. Rumor has it that Craig has still not read this, despite it being current fundamental literature in his supposed field of interest (the resurrection of Jesus), and despite the fact that (evidently unknown to Craig) even the renowned Christian scholar Stephen Davis remarked upon the quality of my work in it, admiring my "great detail" and "broad knowledge of ancient texts" (though Davis then errs greatly in his critique of my work, as I document in Stephen Davis Gets It Wrong).

Obviously this is not a record comparable to, say, N.T. Wright or Gary Habermas, but that's not my point. For Craig to portray me as a mere grad student who has done nothing notable is simply wrong. Nor is his method of evaluating my "brilliance" even relevant. Scholars like Wright and Habermas have been around a lot longer than I have (and as far as I can tell have been in academics a lot longer, too, as I came to it relatively late in life), so counting laurels is meaningless. When Oppenheimer calls me brilliant I don't imagine his criterion was "he who publishes the most papers and books is brilliant" but simply "he who personally impresses me with the scope and depth of his thought and scholarship," which I assume was based on Oppenheimer actually doing what Craig appears not to have done (i.e. actually reading my work) and on Oppenheimer reviewing the considerable praise I have received from fans all across the net (and possibly in person, as I know he interviewed other scholars who know my work).

Am I brilliant? I don't know. I have been told so by many, not just Oppenheimer, but I'm not sure how I would define the term, much less evaluate my own work in light of it. Though I'm proud of my achievements, I usually find myself in constant need of more improvement. But no one would credit my own self-evaluation anyway so it hardly matters what I think of myself. Nor should it matter what Oppenheimer thinks of me, especially to a man like Craig who doesn't even deign to read (or even in fact mention) any of the evidence that might bear on the question.

Of course, Craig himself has no degrees in ancient history, despite touting himself as an authority on a subject in ancient history (the resurrection of Jesus). In fact he has only one degree in any historical field: an M.A. in "church history" (which followed his B.A. in "communications") which is considerably broader chronologically, and far more limited contextually, than my M.A. and M.Phil. in ancient history (not to mention my Ph.D., which I should have in 2008). But I don't think this means he can't be an authority on the resurrection, or that he can't be brilliant. Yet
by his rules, that's what I'd have to think.

Many have asked me what an M.Phil. is, and it is pertinent here to explain: the M.Phil. is a formal degree that constitutes a complete Ph.D. minus only the dissertation. For my M.Phil. I had three formal majors and one minor (all confirmed by oral exams given by leading professors at a major university) and certainly far more coursework than one undertakes for any M.A. It is thus a much more significant degree. But though Craig has an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy (and another in theology), which I lack (though I am a historian of intellectual history and one of my M.Phil. majors was in ancient philosophy), he's the one who is trying to claim I have no academic distinctions, all the while representing himself as an expert historian (which, apparently by his own criterion, he is not). So I could just as easily accuse him of lacking credentials. But that's a childish game.

Am I an A**hole?

There are many who think so. And they are as entitled to that opinion as Oppenheimer is to the notion that I am brilliant. I'm sure both groups could adduce ample evidence in defense of their view. Craig, however, doesn't adduce any. He simply declares intimate knowledge of my thoughts and private behavior, on no basis whatever, and declares that "for people like Richard Carrier, Antony Flew doesn't matter a whit, he's just a poker chip in a game between atheists and theists, and whose gonna win this chip, but there isn't any personal care." How the hell does he know that? Does he have miraculous telepathic powers? Is he reading my aura? I know Craig doesn't outright call me an a**hole, but that's pretty much how he just described me. What a jerk!

Let's set the record straight: This is not a game. Flew is not a poker chip. It does not matter to me where Flew ends up religiously. But since Christians began promoting his conversion as an advertisement for theism, right from the very beginning (yes, even Habermas was doing this, way back in 2004), it does matter to me whether Flew has good reasons or not for where he is now, and whether he is competent or not to make a sound decision in the matter. And from what I've uncovered, I now feel genuine sadness for Flew and the way he is being exploited and used by Christians who pretend to be his friends. But there isn't anything I can do about that, except expose it, by writing about it. And unlike Craig, I actually present a lot of relevant evidence supporting what I think Flew's Christian "friends" are really doing to him.

And that's the bottom line. Craig claims that it's only Christians who "really cared about Antony Flew as a person" by forming friendships with him. But what exactly have they done that shows any real care for him? Have they denounced those who exploited him? Have they bothered to find out why his behavior is so inconsistent and indicative of mental incapacity? Have they even noticed any of these telltale signs, much less shown even an ounce of concern over them? And if they know what's wrong (as any "close friend" surely must), have they made any effort to fund or procure help for his condition, or to protect him from those who seem keen on exploiting it? And if they know his mind and memory are functioning perfectly well (as again any "close friend" surely must), why don't they ask him to explain the alarming discrepancies in the evidence? Indeed, if Flew is fully competent, why don't they ask him to write (or at least dictate) his own book? Or his own letter to the Times? Why, instead, do they ignore all the evidence of his contradictions and catastrophic failures of memory, and instead respond to it all only by attacking the character of the messengers?

I have no money, live across the sea, and am neither family nor a personal friend. I have done all I can. What's their excuse? I see no care here. Given the evidence (even that I presented above, and more elsewhere), how can the way Flew has been treated by Varghese and Hostetler count as caring about him as a man? If anything, their actions smack of quite the opposite. Otherwise I see no acts of caring going on, and Craig does not mention any, beyond acting friendly. Yeah. Everyone reading this who has had a Christian act "friendly" to them until his true colors showed, please raise your hand. Sorry, merely acting friendly does not prove real concern.

Now look at it from the other way around. By Craig's own criteria, Craig himself cares not one whit about me. He's never attempted to befriend me, and does not seem much interested in me as a person, and is certainly not being kind. But then I wouldn't expect him to call me up for a friendly chat or take me out for a drink, since we've never met in person, we have no shared experiences, and our relationship is (or had been) purely professional (up until now...I can't consider Craig's present behavior as professional, and it is certainly not cordial), which is the same situation I am in with Flew: I was never his personal friend, as I had never met him, I just wrote him letters and got some strange replies. But I always treated him professionally, criticizing him when I thought he was wrong, and speaking the truth as I knew it, but always backing it up with relevant facts. In contrast, Craig accuses me of being heartless, implies I am dishonest, and belittles my achievements, all without presenting any appropriate evidence to back up these charges.

In effect, Craig is pulling the strings of classical Christian bigotry. Everyone has heard the repeated storyline that atheists are heartless and Christians are all nice and loving. This is essentially the myth he reiterates here. Never mind that this storyline rarely corresponds to reality. Christians can be exceedingly cold and mean, even outright evil, while atheists can often be loving and kind and stalwart friends. And both can exhibit character and behavior anywhere in between. But Craig evidently wants to sell his faith, and thus needs to denigrate atheists by portraying them as insolent game players, while claiming "only Christians" really care about anyone. Sorry, but the facts in this case seem more the contrary to me.



Ben said...

I love the "crazy Carrier" pic.

Steven Carr said...

Antony Flew has asked me to send him a copy of 'The Empty Tomb' as he wants 'all important literature' on the subject.

His copy is on order from Amazon.

In Varghese's book, Antony Flew is made to talk about 'cookies' and 'candy' and there are baseball anecdotes.

An 84 year old Englishman talking about 'cookies'? It is about as believable as Flew bringing out a gangsta-rap record.

And an 84 year old Englishman talking about the trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees?

You may as well have Billy Graham talking about the trade of Denis Law from United to City.

What was Varghese thinking of when he put all that in?

Any English person just glances at those stories and knows that 84 year old Englishmen don't talk like that.

Anonymous said...

Look, when one person attacks the credentials of someone else, especially over a matter that he has apparently not properly investigated, then it's entirely appropriate for that person to state them. Or, do you Christians think ill of when Paul the Apostle did the same thing in II Corinthians?

Carrier just wrote: "It does not matter to me where Flew ends up religiously." It's not about Flew so much as it's about how the authors and promoters of this book have maniputated Flew as a poker chip. Are Christians that desperate? Or, rather, are they so interested in saving the lost that they only see and hear what they want to see and hear from Flew? These are the questions that interest me. Even if we merely answer that last question affirmatively, then it offers a glimpse into the mind of the believer who cannot be remotely impartial when investigating the claims of Christianity.

Pikemann Urge said...

Richard, Craig said that if Flew were really pressured by Christians then he would have converted to their faith. Instead, he remains an unattached theist. What do you say about this?

BTW I enjoy your writing so let's see more posts in future, please!

Ben said...

Pikemann...Carrier may be busy, so lemme try. Perhaps not everyone succumbs to pressuring? Or in this case fully? What kind of false dichotomy is that? I'm sure its much easier to get some vague approvals to poorly understood manuscripts than it is to solicit a full on dedication to Jesus Christ. Flew may have bought it in the head, but that doesn't mean he's all set and ready for an all new stable paradigm. As crazy Carrier documents...Flew isn't exactly the paragon of conviction currently.

Craig is apparently burying that hatchet nice and deep with Christian cliche'd two tone justifications (sometimes even three!). I wonder what its like having a perfect justification for being a sociopath on earth for the glory of eternity. Wouldn't want to play that "evil poker game" where you care about the truth you do know rather than all the things you don't. To get to where these apologists are, they have to have something approximating the level of conviction of the opposition...unfortunately that means planting their feet deep on purer nonsense...and it shows.

PhilVaz said...

Looking forward to the Carrier-Craig debate in early 2009, when both are addressed as Dr. I just wish Carrier could lower his voice a few octaves. Alvin and the Chipmunks never appealed to me.


Ben said...

That new CGI chipmunks movie scares me. A little creepy on some subconscious level. I think it set in at an early age, they needed to stay cartoons so I didn't have to deal with the fact they weren't human children. TMSC...teenage mutant singing chipmunks.

I don't agree with your interpretation, but what would you say if Carrier would sing his arguments and perhaps tap dance? I suppose there would be a way to one up his already laudable badassery after all.

Tatarize said...

Not that it'll help much. I consider myself well read. I've interests in a fairly diverse cross-section of intellectual thought. Science, philosophy, theology, technology, and more than a few times I've read work by both Carrier and Craig.

I have found Craig to be a pompous blowhard, though one of the most intellectual apologist (which is much like being the most talented wall-puncher) with a reasonable ability to try and reform arguments in such a way to hide their logical flaws (without much success). "Look at that, he changed 'exists' to 'began to exist' to dodge that one counter argument and allow dozens more." - *sigh*

I have found Carrier to be absolutely brilliant. Reading the comments section of a July/August edition of Skeptical Inquirer, I found his quick comment to be the most insightful thing I have read in months (before and sense), and has changed my view on a number of issues and allowed me to see a number of things more clearly than I previously did. - There's little I could say more complementary than that.

Exchange Mobility said...

Who are you and why does this matter?

Jon said...

That was great! "To crush your enemies, hold their crying women and children in their arms after you have slaughtered them all!" Reading that post was like the intellectual version of that quote.

lillanasse said...

"most talented wall-puncher" LOL! Couldn't had put it better.

TrevorD said...


You're probably aware, but it looks like Denyse O'Leary is weighing in on this topic. See here:

Here's a sample of what she wrote: " As I was already aware of the controversy, I read the book carefully as an editor might, and I think that there is no question that Flew wrote the material that appears under his name. And if he didn't, he would certainly have tried to."

There you have it...

If you are not familiar with her writings, she is a prolific contributor to Uncommon Descent (William Dembski's blog) and has several of her own blogs too. I rather think she likes to consider herself as the "Ann Coulter" of the ID world (and apparently is an admirer of Coulter, so that will provide some insight as to her critical thinking skills...)

I posted a comment to inform her that you have blogged extensively on this topic but since then she has disabled comments (as with Uncommon Descent, comments on ID blogs tend to be highly controlled).

Would be fun to see you take on O'Leary in future exchanges...

Steven Carr said...

I asked around and even Brits who have lived in America for quite a while didn't know what Babe Ruth's real name was, and what clubs (franchises?) he was traded from and to.

Perhaps Antony Flew really did approve manuscripts talking about Babe Ruth.

Or perhaps Varghese is trying to bowl us all a googly.

Bad said...

"You're probably aware, but it looks like Denyse O'Leary is weighing in on this topic."

Ah yes: though it's always hard to follow which one of her cornucopia of blogs the main argument is on, since she links to herself right and left.

In any case, anytime Carrier blogs on this topic, I feel like it's worth a plug and others should do the same. More people need to see the facts and troubling inconsistencies on this matter laid bare.

Blue Devil Knight said...

This is just sad, the way Flew is being exploited. It is sickening.

You said:
All the bizarre corrections he made to each of his letters with scissors and glue should have been an early clue. At the time I just dismissed it as weird.

This is just a fairly standard practice of the old guard academics. He's not going serial killer on us or anything.

Richard Carrier said...

Blue Devil Knight: Thanks for the info! I had never seen that letter-writing practice before. If you have, then I'll go back to thinking it's just weird. Not that I ever thought it portended the next Ted Bundy.

Richard Carrier said...

Jon: Surely you mean to be quoting Conan the Barbarian: Question: "What is the best thing in life?" Answer [now remember, spoken forcefully in that famous Arnold S accent]: "To crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentation of their women." Ah, the governor of my state. At least his movies were so much more fun than Reagan's.

Fran B: You need to be more specific as to where O'Leary talks about Flew's book being authentic (there are so many blog entries there it will take too long to hunt). If you find the blog entry again and right-click on the title line you can copy the URL and paste it to a comment here, or just click the title line and it will send you to a page that contains just that entry, and at the top of your browser you can copy the URL.

Of course, merely being an editor isn't exactly the right skill set. I worked for the Columbia University Electronic Texts Service, one of whose major functions was the identification of authorship by stylistic analysis, employing computers to that effect. I not only did a lot of that there, but taught it there as well. I don't have the machinery here to do as full an analysis as I could have done there, but from my years there I learned enough to apply various rules of thumb at sight, which I did in this case.

Result? It is so obviously not Flew's voice I don't see how any honest analysis could come to any other conclusion. I can almost hear Flew in some of the early autobiographical chapters, so I suspect some of the material there is his, possibly from an unfinished autobiography he may have been working on many years ago. But as I have noted before, even those chapters contain disturbing errors, so they can't have been entirely by Flew, at least not in his right mind.

Richard Carrier said...

Exchange Mobility said... Who are you and why does this matter?

Who are you talking to and what do you mean by "this"?

Richard Carrier said...

Pikemann Urge said... Richard, Craig said that if Flew were really pressured by Christians then he would have converted to their faith. Instead, he remains an unattached theist. What do you say about this?

That's Oppenheimer's theory, not mine. I have never said Flew's position is the result of pressure. I believe he is being manipulated by men who are exploiting his failures of memory, a significantly different tactic, which limits what they can pull off. I think they are stretching what they can get away with as far as they can (whether they are conscious of this or self-deceived I don't know). But they have not succeeded in convincing Flew to "remember" having converted to Christianity, partly because...

(1) There is too much public record of the fact that his conversion was not to Christianity but a form of generic Deism (so they are trying to recreate a history of events that can fit the overt evidence as much as possible, although as I have shown they have been very clumsy at this; however, notice how they construct the book to imply that he is thinking about going further, perhaps anticipating future success at their actual goal of "reminding" him that at some point he converted to Christianity) but also partly because...

(2) The danger of him publicly denouncing their claims prevents them from asserting any more than they can convince him he once thought, but his opposition to revealed religions is so ingrained and emotionally vitriolic it is very likely one of the most embedded elements of his character and therefore will likely be the last thing he forgets, at least when it comes to religion (I'll bet it frustrates the hell out of them that they can't get him to "recall" being convinced by Wright's arguments for the resurrection, for instance, but judging from the words they put in Flew's mouth in There Is a God, they do seem hopeful that they will someday succeed at this).

Richard Carrier said...

David Appell: I deleted your post for containing gratuitous profanity and for making wild accusations without identifying any specific examples of any of your claims (see my deletion policy).

Sneb and B. Dewhirst and Agnostics_R_Us: I deleted your posts in reply to Appell only because they were no longer relevant after having deleted David Apell's original tirade. But I thank you all for pointing out the oddities of what David Apell had said. Please keep that up in the future. I try to be strict with my deletions, so you needn't fear this will be a regular thing. BTW, I saved everything in case any of you want to keep the text of that deleted thread.

JQB: Sorry, but I deleted your one-sentence post because it merely asserted as fact certain accusations against Craig, rather than presenting these charges as an opinion or mentioning your reasons for believing them.

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist said...

[quote]I don't think Flew is "crazy." But I do think he is mentally incompetent.[/quote]

Working with the public, it seems to me that mentally declining in one's later years is more common than not. It doesn't mean that one can't live independently and do most of the tasks of daily living. Flew's conversion to theism is probably genuine (in the sense that it is real to him.) Even as a theist, given Flew's advanced age and years dealing with this subject, I think it unlikely that his conversion is based on some new logic that he overlooked all these years, and much more likely that his conversion is based on an emotional reaction.

Loren said...

I think that his "conversion" was from an honest god-of-the-gaps argument as a result of being fed misinformation by the likes of Gerald Schroeder. In any case, his deism is far from the beliefs of his Xian-apologist handlers.

Richard Carrier said...

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist said... I think it unlikely that his conversion is based on some new logic that he overlooked all these years, and much more likely that his conversion is based on an emotional reaction.

I don't think so. There is no identifiable emotional motive involved as a cause (e.g. he still adamantly denies any possibility of an afterlife). I think Petrich is closer to the truth: Flew is being fed premises that logically lead to his conclusion, forgetting everything he once new as to why those premises are false. If anything, it is emotional factors that are preventing him from being manipulated by the same tactic into becoming a Christian, since his emotional investment in certain conclusions would appear to be stronger than his recollection of other, less-emotionally-charged facts.

Unknown said...

Oh, please. Richard, you're a completely unpublished academic (except for the book you self-published). Your CV lists awards you got in high school, along with awards in -- er -- marksmanship? You're trying to make a career out of discrediting Christianity, which is totally boring. Your Flew accounts are mostly name-calling and are packed with errors of fact. I'm bored.

Richard Carrier said...

Chris: Now you're just lying.

I have published peer reviewed articles, and chapters in a book by a major publisher. That's not "completely unpublished" (nor is being published relevant). The awards listed on my CV include college scholarships and fellowships and teaching recognitions, not just high school and military decorations (though I see you have no respect for national service or the discipline involved in acquiring skills). And my accounts of the Flew matter are certainly no mere name-calling, and whether they contain errors of fact has yet to be shown (indeed, you don't even name any).

As to being bored, that's your problem (to each his own), though why on earth you've spent the hour reading all this if it's so boring is then beyond me.

Shawn Brace said...

I find it odd that in Oppenheimer's long article about Flew, he only spends a few paragraphs talking about his actual visit with Flew - a visit that he claims allegedly opened his eyes to Flew's ncompetence.

Oppenheimer spent two days with Flew, yet all he can come up with for the article is a couple quotes from him???

Richard Carrier said...

Shawn Brace said... Oppenheimer spent two days with Flew, yet all he can come up with for the article is a couple quotes from him???

Indeed, that's Oppenheimer's point: He got nothing of any use from Flew despite two days of interviewing. Hence Oppenheimer could only summarize why he got nothing of use: Flew couldn't remember anything about the book (the only reason for the interview) and kept talking about things unrelated to the book instead.

I know a few prominent members of the humanist community (I won't name them, since I don't know if they want their involvement made public, but I know them personally and trust what they say, for whatever that's worth) who spent over half an hour with Flew in a private office trying to get him to explain some things, and they ran into a similar wall: an inability to get him to address their questions, rather than ramble on about unrelated subjects, or describing views that simply repeated in different words what they were already asking about. Their frustration grew until they basically gave up. If that's what interviewing him is now like, Oppenheimer is a veritable trooper for having put up with this for hours on end.

At a more recent event held by CFI London, where Flew gave what I'm told was a somewhat rambling, murmuring, hard-to-follow speech about Muslim suicide bombers being a product of belief in an afterlife, several members of the community approached Flew to ask him questions again. Unfortunately they didn't ask him anything relevant (he signed a paper affirming he did not believe in either Christianity or the resurrection of Jesus, things we already knew, so that wasn't helpful).

But they did report to me (and I know them well enough to trust their account, too--again, for whatever that's worth) that he was (still!?) completely unaware of any controversy about him in America, and when asked what he thought of the NYT article, he said it was "dishonest" because "they" (?) didn't want to talk about his reasons for denying an afterlife (even though the book wasn't about that, and the interview was supposed to be about the book, and yet the article did mention his views on the afterlife anyway), and "they" (?) didn't know the difference between a theist or deist (even though Oppenheimer mentions and discusses this difference many times in his article).

If Flew can't even recall what the interview was supposed to be about, nor even remember the content of the article that resulted from it, or even the name of the guy who both interviewed him and wrote the article (who is, I am certain, a single person and not an anonymous "they"), perhaps you can imagine how fruitless even a week of interviewing him might be.

Shawn Brace said...


Thank you for your response. I think it clarifies a few things.

However, how does one know that this isn't simply the way Flew interacts with people? You, yourself, seemed to admit that you hadn't even heard of Flew before 2001 (?) and I'm sure Oppenheimer had never interacted with him before his visit. Could you be confusing his personality for senility?

After all, some of the most brilliant people also have the quirkiest personalities, and are often time hards to pin down.

Richard Carrier said...

Shawn Brace said... How does one know that this isn't simply the way Flew interacts with people?

Though I can't assess his personality even now, much less before, everyone I know who interacted with him personally in the years before all this (members of the philosophy and freethought community here in the states) confirm things were once notably different, and even my 2001 correspondence with him was somewhat different.

But the issue isn't personality (I'm not calling him a cantankerous old coot or anything), it's memory and acumen. His speaking engagements before 2001 weren't sterling, but they weren't the barely audible rambling his subsequent appearances have apparently been, and I find much fault with his books but they were much better organized, written, argued, and researched than anything he has written since (and I mean actually written, such as his piece for Think), and no amount of personality quirks can explain, for example, his bizarrely inaccurate recollection of the NYT interview and story, or his apparent inability to answer a simple direct question. These look like recently increasing cognitive deficits to me, not long standing personality flaws.

But maybe only someone who knew him better could say.

Anonymous said...

Wow Richard, you really exposed just how fragile your ego is with this one! You obviously loved the fact that Oppenheimer called you brilliant (though you did your best, unsuccessfully, to downplay how much you relished it), and simply can't abide the possibility that someone might disagree with this characterization! How do I know this? Well, you so obviously overreacted to Craig's remarks that this, or something very close to it, is the only plausible explanation (though, it's possible that you're just obtuse, but I don't buy that one). Craig never said that you aren't brilliant; rather, he said that it's telling that you were the only one Oppenheimer referred to as brilliant when mentioned along with the likes of extremely distinguished scholars such as Leftow, Davies and Wright. (Surely, even you would admit that that "Carrier" is the most obvious answer to the question, "Which of these doesn't belong: Wright, Carrier, Leftow, Davies?")

Richard Carrier said...

Eric: You obviously loved the fact that Oppenheimer called you brilliant

Actually I found it uncomfortable. That kind of sweeping generalization is a lot to live up to, more perhaps than I can, and I would rather not hear things like that. I prefer hearing more direct praises of specific skills or achievements, since then I know whether to agree (since I can check, applying the basic golden rule: would I praise the same from anyone else?).

[You] can't abide the possibility that someone might disagree with this characterization!

Actually, I am already certain many do disagree with it. It isn't abiding it that's a problem. It's the misuse of a straw man argument to defend a convoluted poisoning-the-well fallacy that I cannot abide. If Craig had told the truth, and employed that truth non-fallaciously, then I wouldn't have even remarked upon his implying I wasn't brilliant. Because frankly then I wouldn't care.

Craig never said that you aren't brilliant

He certainly implied it. Hence all the attacks on my (supposed) lack of achievements (though as I point out, that is a non sequitur, since achievements are not a fixed measure of brilliance, and it is false, since I have plenty of achievements Oppenheimer could assess me by).

...rather, he said that it's telling that you were the only one Oppenheimer referred to as brilliant when mentioned along with the likes of extremely distinguished scholars such as Leftow, Davies and Wright.

But Oppenheimer didn't say they weren't brilliant, nor ever imply it. And I was never even mentioned in the same sentence with any of these men, or ever placed "along with" them, or ever compared with them. So why would anyone assume Oppenheimer thought anything less of them? Why would anyone assume anything about what Oppenheimer thought of them?

And even if Oppenheimer thinks they aren't brilliant (he never says, but who knows, he might have read their work and concluded it sucks), what has that to do with anything? If Oppenheimer thinks more of my work than theirs, does that even imply he lied about anything he reported on? Remember, that's what Craig is implying. Otherwise there is no sense in trying to play up any supposed bias toward me, since what could such a bias do even if it existed? Oppenheimer simply reports the facts.

You should keep your eye on the ball. Bad opinions never bother me. But fallacies and distortions do.

Paul said...

I recently was presented with a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet gloating over Flew's "conversion". This led me to ask about Flew and his supposed conversion at the SecWeb's latest forum incarnation "FreeRatio DebateBoard". Which led me here, via a viariety of writings.

Many thanks to Richard for clearly laying out the controversies and the evidence to be considered for each. It helps to understand the background when I converse with my JWs.

I've been a fan of yours since I first started reading at the Internet Infidels back in 1999. I, too have found your arguments to be clear, broad and well supported. Convincing, in a word.

Steven Carr said...

Flew did die recently in a home , his memory totally gone, ravaged by senility.

Had he had it for long?

His family said in the obituary that it had been 'a long illness'

Richard Carrier said...

Due to a coding error this reader's comment had to be deleted and is being reproduced here. It was originally posted July 2, 2008, by Quixie (no profile):

I share tatarize's assesment of Craig (the wall punching analogue was very appropriate). Something I find interesting is that Craig tries to portray Carrier as an unqualified nobody who has no influence in the academic landscape. If he really felt that way, he would not devote as much energy and rancor to his attempt to assasinate Carrier's character. Think about it. Also, the fact that he calls into question Carrier's credentials and glosses over the arguments should come as no surprise. Craig's aim is not to refute the arguments at all. By dismissing Richard as a "hack", Craig's aim is to dissuade any of his flock from actually reading Carrier's work and engaging in any kind of real analysis and critique.