Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Flew question once again

Was Flew simply manipulated into changing his mind?

According to this piece, no.

32 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Anthony Flew's conversion story reminds me of British astronomer and cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001). Although a fierce atheist for a large part of his life, Hoyle grew increasingly uncomfortable with his (non)beliefs as he learned more and more about the distribution of various elements in the universe and started researching the origins of life. He finally concluded that something very much like Intelligent Design was responsible for life and the universe as we know it. He is the originator of the famous analogy that likens unguided evolution to a whirlwind passing through a junkyard and somehow rearranging the trash into a working Boeing-707.

Although not specifically converting to any religion, Hoyle stated near the end of his life, "There is a coherent plan for the universe" and attributed that plan to a Mind, "although I admit I have no idea what it is."

Zach said...

Common story: so-and-so was a staunch atheist, and then started to study the origins of life, and grew perplexed based on facile analogies with jumbo jets, and concluded there was a god based on hubristic overconfidence that he would be able to understand the origins of life, at the end of his life, after having never studied it in any depth for those years when he was most productive, intelligent, and critical.

These imagination-stunted simpletons would be better served reading Aquinas than Paley, that's for sure.

Matt DeStefano said...

Flew couldn't even define "abiogenesis", I'm not surprised the old (and sadly declining) man was perplexed by modern science. The ironic part here is that the ID camp has lauded Flew as some sort of hero-convert, when he has explicitly denied their God again and again, despite his old age and receding cognitive abilities, and the constant manipulation by Varghese and company.

B. Prokop said...

"These imagination-stunted simpletons"

Zach, please don't tell me that you're calling one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th Century an "imagination-stunted simpleton"!!! If so, then you do not have the slightest, foggiest idea of what you are talking about. You'd better read up on Fred Hoyle a bit before you make an even bigger fool of yourself!

You and I together, along with every other contributor to this website combined wouldn't even approach the colossal intellect of this great mind.

Martin said...

Hoyle may have been brilliant, but that evolutionary junkyard argument of his is just as awful as Dawkins' argument against theism.

Evolution involves a selection mechanism, so it is not analogous to a tornado in a junkyard.

B. Prokop said...

"evolutionary junkyard argument of his"

I doubt he said it as an "argument" - it was more likely a quip (and probably meant to be taken humorously).

Hoyle is also famous for coining the term "Big Bang" - as an insult! An atheist at the time, he feared that positing a beginning to the universe could be a death knell to non-belief in a Creator.

im-skeptical said...

"An atheist at the time, he feared that positing a beginning to the universe could be a death knell to non-belief in a Creator."

So Hoyle was having doubts way back then. His Boeing-707 remark clearly shows a lack of understanding of evolution theory.

It is also interesting that both Hoyle and Flew, even as they started to believe in some kind of god, didn't buy into Christianity.

B. Prokop said...

"So Hoyle was having doubts way back then."

I'm not so sure I would go so far as to call them "doubts". He after all stuck with his Steady State Theory as an alternative explanation for how the universe got here until he was overwhelmed by mounting evidence to the contrary.

Of extreme historical interest is that his widely-publicized rejection of the "Big Bang" (to be said with a snicker) for so many decades actually advanced the cause of cosmology in several significant ways.

Firstly, Hoyle, compelled to find a plausible explanation of how heavy elements came to be, discovered the actual process by which they did (via supernovae). The Big Bangers might never have learned the truth on their own.

Secondly, having the world's foremost cosmologist disagreeing with them forced other astronomers to sharpen their game. They couldn't afford to make casual or lazy assumptions in favor of the Big Bang idea, knowing full well that Hoyle would skewer them.

His rejection of atheism came about when the full implications of his insight into heavy element formation finally hit him. He could no longer accept the idea that the universe was undesigned.

As to "not buying into" Christianity, that's a bit of an overstatement. Hoyle was very much keeping an open mind about the subject in his later years.

And I still think his Boeing-707 comment was meant as a an instance of British humour.

I was privileged to meet Sir Hoyle in the early 1970s. I still have my autographed copy of his book The Black Cloud as a memento of the meeting. We discussed the possibility/probability of extraterrestrial intelligence. At the time, I was a big believer in ETI (I'm not any more), and recall him saying that he wasn't sure we would even recognize ETI as such, were we to encounter it. I wish we had discussed his ideas on creation instead, but the subject never came up. Missed opportunity.

Martin said...

Humorous or not, it completely misunderstands evolutionary theory because it leaves out selection.

To TRY to force the analogy to be more accurate, it would be more like a tornado in a junkyard where, if a piece of a plane ends up in the position where it would be if it were completed, it stops there and holds its position while the tornado continues.

Over time, by chance, more and more pieces would end up in the right place until eventually the whole plane is built.

William said...

"Over time, by chance, more and more pieces would end up in the right place until eventually the whole plane is built."

Please, don't insert unexplained normativity into evolutionary theory, even in an analogy! Your example IS intelligent design--the force that holds the change in the plane part position fixed has a plan, it would seem. Try again?

B. Prokop said...

Although the tornado through the junkyard is admittedly a poor analogy, it nevertheless highlights a severe and perhaps fatal shortcoming to the idea of unguided (undesigned) evolution. And that is the fact that a single cell (just one!) is a far more complex structure than a Boeing-707. To employ Arthur C. Clarke's analogy, it is more complex than the entire aerospace industry. All of it. From the mining of raw materials to the design labs to the construction facilities to the air traffic control system. Not to mention the individual aircraft.

And that's just one cell. Now when it comes to something like the human body and brain... well. (I would imagine it's analogous to the entire world economy.)

But we're to believe, as Martin writes, "Over time, by chance (my emphasis), more and more pieces would end up in the right place until eventually the whole [aerospace industry] is built." Oh, and let's not forget that it must be self-replicating.

Now that's faith!!!

Martin said...

William,

>Your example IS intelligent design

That's fine, for the sake of argument. I am not arguing "evolutionary theory is true." I am not arguing "intelligent design is false."

All I'm arguing is that a tornado in a junkyard is not a proper analogy because it lacks a selection mechanism. Allow a design plan, if you like. The point is that for the analogy to be analogous, the parts in the junkyard need to "stick" in place when they are in the proper place to build a jet. This is considerably different from trying to build the jet by just having the tornado whirl the junk around with no selection mechanism.

So Hoyle's analogy fails.

Martin said...

B Prokop,

>But we're to believe, as Martin writes, "Over time, by chance (my emphasis), more and more pieces would end up in the right place until eventually the whole [aerospace industry] is built."

You aren't to believe anything, other than that Hoyle's example misses a critical step, and that is a selection mechanism. Allow it to still be unbelievable, if you like. Allow there to still be some design plan, if you like. All the cell to be more complex than the aerospace industry, if you like.

The point I made and continue to make is that Hoyle's junkyard is critically disanalogous. There's a considerable difference between trying to build a jet in a junkyard by just stirring all the parts, vs trying to build it by stirring all the parts but having the correct parts freeze in place when they get there.

Whether this is still enough to explain human organisms, brains, minds, etc is an entirely different point than the one I'm making.

B. Prokop said...

OK. No argument between us.

But really, I'm sorry I brought the quote up now. I honestly believe Hoyle was making a lighthearted quip, and did not mean the details to be taken seriously. He was unquestionably a proponent of "fine-tuning" in his later years. He may even be the originator of the term, as he was of so many others.

Martin said...

I think fine tuning is a much better design argument, and it seems to me to conflict with biological design. If God has to step in to tweak evolution once in awhile, then I suppose the universe is not finely tuned for life after all, is it?

This whole biological design thing is a house built on sand, if you ask me. God as a tinkerer who has to step in because, oops! Those bacterial flagellum aren't going quite the way he intended! As some have put it, "The ID God is too small."

B. Prokop said...

I have no dog in the Irreducible Complexity fight - haven't ever bothered to study the issue more than superficially. But when I (personally) say I believe in design, I'm not speaking of "tinkering". I regard the universe as a whole to be the product of design "from the get-go", as well as being perpetually maintained (what St. Paul calls being "upheld"). There's no requirement for tinkering - the initial set-up was good enough that none is needed. Except...

...except for us. We're the part that "went sour", and thus the Incarnation and Redemption. In fact... seat of the pants, blue sky theological speculation here: perhaps without the Fall, there would have been no need for miracles at all??? Hmmm...

Victor Reppert said...

I don't see why God couldn't tweak evolution, or why it would denigrate him to do so.

After all, wouldn't raising Christ from the dead be an instance of "tweaking?"

Steven Carr said...

Poor Antony Flew.

At least he spent the last few months of his life in a nursing home, probably blissfully unaware of what damage had been done to his reputation by Vorghese's book published in his name.

A book where an 84 year old Englishman talks about 'cookies' and 'candy' and has baseball anecdotes!

You couldn't make it up!

B. Prokop said...

Victor,

That's why I added the final paragraph.

grodrigues said...

Quite entertaining reading all the ad hominems against Flew (was senile, was manipulated, etc.).

Flew must really be a thorn in the side for these intellectual vermin.

Victor Reppert said...

Matt: I found it puzzling that you want to explain his "falling" into theism in terms of his being manipulated, but still give him credit for being sufficiently free of manipulation to not give any real aid and comfort to "those ID folks." If was really putty in the hands of Varghese and company, then they should have been able to get him to say whatever they wanted him to say. If not, then you have to accept the idea that the content of his belief change was based on his own thinking.

I remember receiving a letter back in the mid-1980s from someone who wondered if someday Flew would someday turn to God.

And ID simply asserts a designer, period. Even if they all believe in one kind of a deity, they are very clear on what is the conclusion of their argument, which is simply design, not theistic design. They believe that someone might take this argument and develop it into a theistic argument, but that is a separate step not part of intelligent design itself.

im-skeptical said...

Bob.

"And that is the fact that a single cell (just one!) is a far more complex structure than a Boeing-707."

That hits the nail on the head. I have made the point many times that biological structures are very different from any designed thing in that they are far more complex. They don't seem to be designed at all. They are too complex to be the result of any design. A designer strives for simplicity as a rule, because a simpler thing can be built and a simpler thing is more reliable.

Karl Grant said...

They are too complex to be the result of any design. A designer strives for simplicity as a rule, because a simpler thing can be built and a simpler thing is more reliable.

So by that logic, a matchlock aqruebus is the product of design and a M4 carbine just sprung out of nowhere? Or a vacuum tube corded rotary phone is designed and iPhone isn't? Also there is no denying a Ford Model T from 1910 is far less complex machine than a Ford Taurus from 2010, so why don't I see Model Ts on the road.

im-skeptical said...

Karl Grant,

We both know that M4s and iPhones are designed. They have much more functionality than their predecessors and are accordingly more complex. But as an engineer, I understand that even in the most ambitious designs, we still try not to make things more complex than they need to be. And the most complex things humans have ever designed are still simple in comparison to biological structures that have evolved.

Karl Grant said...

They have much more functionality than their predecessors and are accordingly more complex.

And does your typical average cellular organism has more functionality than your typical average machine? Hmm...

But as an engineer, I understand that even in the most ambitious designs, we still try not to make things more complex than they need to be.

You're an engineer? That's nice, I am a software engineer (.Net Developer to be specific), my dad is a civil engineer. What's your specialty? Chemical, mechanical?

And yes, we ideally try to make things no more complex than they need to be. Of course, for this to apply to biological life forms you would first have to find out what the lowest level complexity would be needed for a sustainable biological cell. For all you know this is the lowest level of complexity cellular organisms can operate on. You would also have to come up with a reason as to why God would want to stay at that level of design rather than improve upon it.

Or in other words, explain why my dad should be driving a Model T instead of his Taurus or I should be driving a Curved Dash Oldsmobile instead of my Bravada.

And the most complex things humans have ever designed are still simple in comparison to biological structures that have evolved.

Does that include biological organisms that humans have designed or will design too?

William said...

im: Embracing the Paradox: More Design means Elegance, hence Simpler! Less Design Means It Must Be More Complex, SO We Have an Argument for Irreducible Simplicity:

" And the most complex things humans have ever designed are still simple in comparison to biological structures that have evolved."

Naah.

Methinks that if I scatter plot design versus complexity (I can of course cherry pick my data,but let's not do that) I get almost no R*R of significance above 0 for any typical correlation...so, I doubt the evidence for either side's position here.

Karl Grant said...

William

Methinks that if I scatter plot design versus complexity (I can of course cherry pick my data,but let's not do that) I get almost no R*R of significance above 0 for any typical correlation

Probably true, things are designed to be as complex as needed to fulfill their intended purpose. A kitchen knife is simple in design, a chainsaw not so much; so we have to very different levels of complexity for two tools whose basic purpose is to cut things. That's the point I am trying to make, for I'm Skeptical's argument to be effective he would first have to know A)the lowest level of complexity life can operate on; B) the goals of the designer and whither or not these goals limit them to operating at the lowest level of complexity or require something more.

Of course, I don't think Irreducible Complexity is a killer argument either for said reasons.

im-skeptical said...

Karl Grant,

"lowest level of complexity cellular organisms can operate on ..."

Maybe so, but the argument says biological things appear to be designed. I say they don't. Both designed things and natural things have structure. That's what is similar about them, but structure doesn't imply design. Biological structures don't look like anything that we know has been designed.

"biological organisms that humans have designed or will design"

There aren't any. The most we have accomplished is to modify genes. Not the same thing. If we ever design our own organisms, it will be by using and modifying structures that already exist in nature.

William,

"Less Design Means It Must Be More Complex, SO We Have an Argument for Irreducible Simplicity"

That's a ridiculous statement, and certainly not what I have implied.

"scatter plot design versus complexity"

Hmm. I'm not even sure what that means. How would you quantify design for this plot? But I think there would be a correlation between complexity of function and complexity of structure.

William said...

im: Yes, I was being funny, sorry.

The scatter plot I mentioned was of some measure of design intention on Y axis, some measure of complexity on X axis, and I was asserting that the plotted points would not be anything similar to a clean line or curve, because design complexity may depend on the designer's needs and tastes more than the "amount" of design; and life has its share of simplicity as well as complexity.

Karl Grant said...

I'm Skeptical,

I say they don't.

And I am saying you don't have enough information to make a convincing, effective argument.

Both designed things and natural things have structure. That's what is similar about them, but structure doesn't imply design.

And that's question-begging since the debate is about whether natural things are really the product of design and whether that structure in nature indicates design.

Biological structures don't look like anything that we know has been designed.

And an iPad wouldn't look like anything people knew to have been designed if we chucked it back in time one hundred years. Your point?

If we ever design our own organisms, it will be by using and modifying structures that already exist in nature.

Really? And here I thought we would try to reinvent the wheel from the way you have been talking. And by the way, I am still curious as to what your engineering background is.

im-skeptical said...

"you don't have enough information to make a convincing, effective argument"

Really? I do know the difference between an organism and a machine made by humans. And even if I had lived a hundred years ago and seen an iPad, I think I could tell it was man-made. That's the point. There IS a difference between designed things and natural things.

If you must know, I have two engineering degrees: BS electrical engineering and MS computer science.

Karl Grant said...

I do know the difference between an organism and a machine made by humans.

That's nice, most people do. In fact, if you read any ID literature you'll find out quickly they are aware of the differences too.

And even if I had lived a hundred years ago and seen an iPad, I think I could tell it was man-made. That's the point. There IS a difference between designed things and natural things.

There is major differences between a lot of designed things; for example, there is quite a bit of difference between an assault rifle and some super-virus cooked up in some bio-weapons lab despite both being created by man for the same purpose. So simply saying there is a difference between man made objects and natural things does not preclude them being designed.