Monday, November 26, 2007

John Haldane comments on Flew

This is a response to the "Flew Affair" by theistic philosopher John Haldane. I can't see how you can improve on his comments.

1) Debate on the existence of God has to proceed by argument, not by appeals to authority.

2) Accusations of wrongdoing have to be proved, and they have not been in this case.

3) Any ad hominem turn in the discussion of belief in God is a bad thing.

4) While charges of manipulation may be unjustified, Flew has suffered some reduction of "vigor" due to age and that he cannot be regarded as a major player in the philosophy of religion. It doesn't follow from this, however, that the book is fraudulent.

5) What Flew has "converted" to, it is agreed on all hands, is considerably less than traditional theism. On a "Christian exclusivist" view of soteriology, Flew is still headed for eternity in hell.

If people can read Flew's book as an account of an intellectual journey I would hope that there would be enough of Flew there to make it worth the price of purchase. But as cutting edge philosophy of religion, no, I don't expect that. There's no good reason to believe that Flew has deteriorated completely, or that changes in his mind can be entirely explained in terms of Alzhiemer's-type deterioration.

4 comments:

IlĂ­on said...

"If people can read Flew's book as an account of an intellectual journey I would hope that there would be enough of Flew there to make it worth the price of purchase. But as cutting edge philosophy of religion, no, I don't expect that."
I've read about half of it, so far; I had expected it to have more meat to it.

Even though I am "read[ing] Flew's book as an account of an intellectual journey," and even though I realize it generally merely touches upon the philosophies and arguments he and others had advanced -- and thus, the arguments themselves may well have been far over my un-philosophical head -- I have to admit that I frequently find myself thinking back at the book, "*That* was supposed to be a defeater for Christianity?"

To put it another way -- and going strictly by what I've read in this book, so far -- it seems to me that if Flew-at-his-heyday was offering the best-of-the-best of atheistic argumentation, then it's no wonder that we today are subjected to the likes of Hitchens and Dawkins: The atheists have already blown their wad (and it wasn't that large a patrimony to begin with).

Hallq said...

ilion: I've said it before, I'll say it again: Varghese and his cohorts are guilty of greatly exaggerating Flew's significance in philosophy of religion. The presentation of his ideas is much less rigorous than in the original works. Flew also seems to have had a tendency to chase down secondary issues, going through the things he's most famous for hardly gives a comprehensive case against religion (he may have tried to be more comprehensive in /God and Philosophy/ though--I've looked at several of his works, though not that one).

Victor Reppert said...

Flew's arguments were very popular in the 1950s, and the book New Essays in Philosophical Theology was very popular. Faced with the type of harsh polemics of people like Dawkins, dealing with someone like Flew is a relief by comparison, who appears to have been willing to listen. But Flew's atheology seems terribly dated to me.

There is a similar phenomenon in Lewis studies: events in the course of Lewis's life (his conversion, his exchange with Anscombe, his wife's death) are given different spins by people with an axe to grind one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

'But as cutting edge philosophy of religion, no, I don't expect that. '

Flew says the book is his last will and testament.

It is a shame for Flew that Varghese has written a hack Christian tract (see Richard Carrier) as Flew's last will and testament.

I hope Pastor Bob Hostetler is proud of the work he has done in tarnishing Flew's reputation as somebody who put more 'meat' into his books.

Does the book even have an index?

To go with its shoddy bibliography.

You would think Varghese could have afforded to hire an indexer, such as would be standard for any work written by a famous philosopher writing his last will and testament in the field.