God? Don’t Confuse Me with Facts

When I was 17, I first came across the humorous statement “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” The saying was on one of those gag post cards with others such as Plan ahead, the latter word spilling onto the side of the page because there wasn’t enough room on the line. Funny stuff, until you encounter actual, real life circumstances that reflect this kind of irony.

Unfortunately, I think there is much of the don’t-confuse-me-with-facts thinking in regard to Antony Flew’s latest and last book There Is a God. Unsurprisingly, a New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer is leading the way for those who do not want to believe that an atheist could actually follow the evidence and conclude there is a god.

In Oppenheimer’s article, he lays out two basic insinuations—certainly not proofs—to explain the existence of There Is a God. First he suggests the “senescent scholar” is just too old to think straight any more.

With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand.

Ouch! Poor man. Some people in their 80s and even in their 90s show little mental deterioration (see this article about a speaking engagement last week by 97-year old Coach John Wooden about whom one student said “He’s 97, but he has the sharpest mind I’ve ever been around”), but unfortunately some decline. Has this happened to Flew?

I read an interview by a noted Catholic thinker, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, conducted with Flew and posted October 30 after the release of the book. Dr. Wiker is a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary’s University, and Thomas Aquinas College (CA). You can read the relatively short interview here. In Flew’s statements I didn’t detect anything suggesting the kind of decline Oppenheimer implies. Here’s a sample:

The second [reason for abandoning atheism] was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance.” If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.

Interestingly, Oppenheimer admits further along in his New York Times article that Flew informed him of a medical condition that would affect their interview:

When we began the interview, he warned me, with merry self-deprecation, that he suffers from “nominal aphasia,” or the inability to reproduce names.

Of course, not remembering certain names, especially when they are thrown at him out of context, does not mean that Flew can’t follow evidence to it’s logical conclusion.

Oppenheimer’s second stratagem, then, was to point to the evangelical [read poor scholarship, biased point of view] influences on Flew and the undue leverage of his co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese, who he persisted in calling a “ghost-writer” though his name is on the cover of the book.

“There was stuff he [Flew] had written before, and some of that was adapted to this,” Varghese said. “There is stuff he’d written to me in correspondence, and I organized a lot of it. And I had interviews with him. So those three elements went into it. Oh, and I exposed him to certain authors and got his views on them. We pulled it together. And then to make it more reader-friendly, HarperCollins had a more popular author go through it.”

So even the ghostwriter had a ghostwriter

On no more evidence than that Flew spent time with theists, Oppenheimer concludes

Intellectuals, even more than the rest of us, like to believe that they reach conclusions solely through study and reflection. But like the rest of us, they sometimes choose their opinions to suit their friends rather than the other way around. Which means that Flew is likely to remain a theist, for just as the Christians drew him close, the atheists gave him up for lost … At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake.
-emphasis mine

Nothing from the interview with Dr. Wiker shows anything of this dottering man just glad to upend his life’s work because a few “Christians” were kind to him. (From Oppenheimer: “These Christians were kind and attentive, and they always seemed to have the latest research.” [Implication: And of course, we know THAT could never be true.)

The fact is, Dr. Flew has become a deist. This thinker followed the evidence and has concluded that there is an intelligent designer. Unfortunately, too many whose minds have already been made up don’t want to be confused with facts.

17 Comments

  1. Does anybody in his right mind that that Flew wrote a book calling himself ‘The Worlds Most Notorious Atheist’

    Flew has converted to deism, and a belief in the god of Aristotle.

    If the book was by the philosopher Antony Flew, it would contain a long, and frankly tedious, discussion of deism.

    But it doesn’t. Because the book is not about the deist Antony Flew’s beliefs.

    He is no more interested in what the book is about that that Englishman is interested in the baseball anecdotes it contains.

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  2. In the video interview, Flew talks about the ‘integrated complexity’.

    Is that a term used in intelligent design?

    Perhaps Flew was thinking of ‘irreducible complexity’ and just forgot what the correct words were?

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  3. Steven, thanks for taking the time to comment on this subject.

    You’d have to ask a scientist … or Flew himself … what he meant by “integrated complexity.” Or perhaps it’s a term he created to describe what he was seeing. He is a bright mind, and as he points out in the Dr. Wiker interview, takes credit for the term “free-will defense” he says theists use to explain evil.

    That the publishers have control over the cover of a book is something writers know but the public at large may not. Book titles are often changed even, and cover design is up to the publisher unless the author’s agent negotiates away something else to give the author control over the outside packaging.

    What evidence do you have that Flew is not ” interested in what the book is about”? Did you read the Wiker-Flew interview? That did not sound like a man disinterested in the book.

    Becky

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  4. Becky, this is a provocative study–and timely, what with Pullman’s movie throwing the spotlight on atheism. With all due respect to those of the atheistic faith, I cannot fathom the mind that could delve deeply into astronomy, anatomy, medicine, physics, geology, etc. and come to the conclusion that it is all random. If we laid a sculpture on a table and put beside it a painting of a sunset; and then we stacked a child’s blocks spelling the word “supercalifragilistic expialidocious” in front of a grandfather clock…if we then invited any person off the street and asked how these things came to be the way they are, what would we say of a man who claimed any of these things happened by chance? Insane? Maybe. At the very least, irrational. Each of those items clearly had a sentient designer who planned and build or arranged.

    Why then do we look at structures infinitely more complicated and orderly and posit that it all came about by chance?

    The answer, IMHO, dwells in motive. If a man does not want there to be a god, then he views facts through that lens, compromises some reason, and arrives at an explanation that supports his worldview. It reminds me of a school of counseling called the “existential approach,” which proposes that reality IS what the subjective person thinks it is. In other words, reality is what you believe and so, is completely variable. There is no concrete reality that exists whether we believe it or not. Amazing.

    Certainly, we Christians have our own lens as well. And we can be guilty of bending facts. But given the world as it really is, I think it takes a lot more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian.

    Never alone.

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  5. Becky,

    Thank you so much for this interesting discussion. I had not heard of Anthony Flew, but, having a family full of agnostics and atheists, I read about him with interest. I remember that Einstein came to much the same understanding.

    Blessings,
    Normandie

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  6. ‘You’d have to ask a scientist … or Flew himself … what he meant by “integrated complexity.”’

    Flew thought people knew what it was. Nobody has ever heard of it. Flew can’t even remember the name of the argument that converted him.

    Thank you for confirming that Flew had no control over the title of his book, that he allegedly agrees with 100%

    Dawkins, by contrast, is on public record as disagree with the TV company’s decision to call his programme ‘The Root of All Evil’.

    But nobody is claiming that Dawkins was not manipulated.

    Flew believes in deism.

    There is no real discussion of deism in Varghese’s book.

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  7. The transcript of the interview differs remarkably from what Flew says in the video 🙂

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  8. Wayne, Normandie, thanks for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to interact.

    Steven, perhaps you didn’t read the NYT article in which writer Mark Oppenheimer admitted that Flew told him he had nominal aphasia. Why is it a surprise that he forgets the names of things? Or an indictment? It’s very apparent from the interview that his mind is still sharp. I didn’t see the video, so I can’t comment on how they differ.

    As to the the fact that Flew had no say on the cover of the book, that is no different that 90% of all authors with their books. Why is it suddenly so egregious? Flew did sign off on the content, according to Oppenheimer’s quote of the HarperOne editor. But as a skillful writer, he has readers doubting that Flew actually meant to abondon atheism.

    You can tell from the interview, that is clearly not true.

    Undoubtedly the book (which I have not read), is not an exhaustive treatise of everything the man believes. That doesn’t mean, however, that what it does say about his beliefs is false.

    Becky

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  9. Hmm. Not a surprise. It’s very popular to asume Christians don’t beleive in gravity, that the world is flat, that Christians are stupid, crazy or irational. It’s the conveint way of dismissing Christianity without having to think. What irony!

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  10. Flew had no say on the title of his book?

    Is this the Antony Flew we have come to know?

    Flew wrote not one word, and the title was chosen for him.

    What a travesty!

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  11. IN http://www.nzarh.org.nz/journal/2005v78n4sum.pdf written in 2005, Antony Flew says ‘Probably I should always have called myself an agnostic’.

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  12. Steven, while I appreciate you coming back to dialogue on this subject, you seem to be bent upon proving the point of this post. 😉

    Fact: authors don’t have the final say on their titles or book cover design. Do I KNOW that Flew wanted a different title or design? No. He might have been perfectly happy with what he got. But knowing the way the publishing business works, I can surmise he didn’t come up with the line about him being the world’s most notorious atheist.

    Fact: Flew DID write much of the content of the book, just not in the way you think an author is supposed to work. His co-author compiled Flew’s writings and his correspondence along with [transcripts of?] interviews and reviews [verbal? written?].

    To say that Flew “wrote not one word” is only accurate if you mean he typed the final version that went to the publisher. Or if you believe the co-author lied about where he got the material and that somehow Flew is just fine with that. Or that you believe Flew didn’t actually write the essays and correspondence from which the book came, and that he didn’t conduct those interviews or give those reviews.

    To believe what you say means that all the HarperOne people—editors, proof readers, marketing execs, PR people, salesmen—are in cahoots with this scam, and that neither Flew nor his agent care about the misrepresentation of the facts. You read that article, Steven. In it Flew refers to the book. Why didn’t he then declare it as a fabrication?

    Your adherence to these spurious allegations in the face of the facts is mind-boggling. But that’s how I feel about ignoring the evidence for God, too.

    You said Flew says ‘Probably I should always have called myself an agnostic’. Well, now he doesn’t have to because he knows.

    Becky

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  13. Will Varghese sue the New York Times for saying ‘This is all Roy’s doing’? No. Varghese would be scared still of a court case.

    Are you claiming Flew is ‘happy’ with a book comparing him to Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, who certainly were the World’s Most Notorious Atheists?

    The book will be ignored by atheists as it was written by Pastor Bob Hostetler, and the literary editor was Steve Laube.

    And if Christians try to use the ‘arguments’ in this extremely badly-written book, they will be torn apart.

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  14. The real tragedy is that Flew , while hardly the World’s Most Notorious Atheist, was a fairly important figure in 20th century philosophy.

    But he will go down in history as an old, duped man, just as Salvador Dali’s reputation was tarnished by Dali signing blank canvases.

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  15. Will Varghese sue the New York Times for saying ‘This is all Roy’s doing’? No. Varghese would be scared still of a court case. Steven, it’s so interesting to me how you have no problem assigning motives to everyone who believes differently than you do. Varghese won’t sue because the NYT article quoted him regarding the source of the content. I don’t assume he is lying, whereas you evidently do.

    Oppenheimer? I don’t know if he believed him or not. He certainly was trying to discredit him and make it look as if compiling Flew’s writings and conversations meant Flew didn’t write a single word. What a stretch.

    Are you claiming Flew is ‘happy’ with a book comparing him to Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, who certainly were the World’s Most Notorious Atheists? I’m not claiming I know how any of these people feel other than what they tell me they feel. Clearly Flew had the opportunity to disown the book and instead embraced it. That you and others persist to believe that Flew doesn’t believe what the book says he believes is also a stretch.

    The book will be ignored by atheists as it was written by Pastor Bob Hostetler, and the literary editor was Steve Laube. Why is it OK for you to make such unfounded assertions, then turn around and deny God’s existence for lack of concrete evidence? Steven, if you believe as most atheists say they believe—in logic and reliance on empirical evidence—I suggest you apply that to all of life. Instead, you are saying wildly untrue things about people and situations you have no facts about. That you are now suggesting that their agent had anything to do with the writing of this book comes straight from your belief system and nowhere else.

    I have no idea if Christians will “try to use” the arguments or not. It continues to surprise me that atheists hold onto this idea that there are no Christian scientists or philosophers, so of course no Christian could come up with an argument other than what a converted atheist gives them.

    The truth is just the opposite.

    In addition, I know off the top of my head of three famous former atheists who did not stop at becoming deists, but as a result of their own search for truth discovered the God of Christianity and wrote about their experiences. Those are the thinkers that make an impact among Christians.

    Your belief that Christians are celebrating Flew’s change of mind is mistaken. Being a deist does not mean that he has embraced truth. Maybe he’s a step closer, but a play at the plate can be close without the runner sliding in safe. Fortunately, his life isn’t over and he has more time to think about the ramifications of the existence of God.

    One question I would hope he will contemplate is this: if there is an intelligent designer, then why wouldn’t he communicate with his intelligent creation?

    Becky

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  16. “Flew thought people knew what it was. Nobody has ever heard of it. Flew can’t even remember the name of the argument that converted him.”

    In the video Flew talks about the “Integrated complexity of the physical world” as well as the “Integrated compexlity of the biological world.”

    Steven, you should know no-one talks about the irreducible complexity of the physical world! From the context it is crystal clear that Flew says axactly what he means: Integrated complexity.

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  17. […] as late as 2007, when his book There Is a God (you can read my posts related to the book here and here) was published, he had no hope for eternity: Mr. Flew, in a statement issued through his publisher, […]

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