In Defense of Antony Flew’s Positions Against Richard Carrier’s Slanderous Chutzpah
|February 27, 2008||Posted by Anthony under Antony Flew, apologetics, atheism, Blog, General, Secular Humanism|
The letters I received from Flew that I discuss below have been released in an ebook. This ebook contains this essay as well as a few other remarks looking back on this tempest in a teapot. You may buy this ebook using the links on this page (Kindle, etc.) To my knowledge, Richard Carrier has yet to respond to this, except to dismiss it. Bless him.
“Here’s the smoking gun for anyone who has the courage to follow the evidence where it leads – this time concerning the state of mind of Antony Flew, the atheist apostate who had the courage to do follow the evidence where it led as it pertained to the existence of God.” – Roy Abraham Varghese
When I wrote my review of Antony Flew’s “There is a God” I was already aware of the accusations made by those like Richard Carrier that Flew was far off the deep end. Clearly, the accusation isn’t new to Carrier. It was made by others, too. I chose not to link to his extended blog entry at that time. Trust me. I really wanted to respond. To the right is a picture of Richard Carrier triumphantly holding his correspondence from Flew. The whole entry was just begging for a response. I chose not to clutter my review but now I think it’s time that I share what I can add to this debate. Here is that review.
My part of the story begins when I was in France attending the International Academy for Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights. This event is hosted by John Warwick Montgomery and that year Gary Habermas was attending. Unlike Carrier, who alleges in his blog entry never to have heard of the single most formative atheist voice of the last century, I was well aware of Flew’s arguments as an atheist and also the apparent trend towards being something else. I had later heard that God and Philosophy was going to contain some definitive statement about Flew’s change of mind but it really didn’t. Knowing that Habermas and Flew were tight and being face to face with Habermas himself I just had to ask.
Habermas had quite a bit to say. At the conclusion of our conversations I decided that I had to write to Flew to encourage him to finally set the record straight. Habermas assured me that Flew is a gentleman who will respond to literally anyone. As you can see from the picture, Habermas was quite right. I too received a reply from Dr. Flew. I should note that between the two pictures one of us has more facial hair and we know what that means.
Now, I don’t have any desire to try to dispute the view that Flew has become forgetful in his old age. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to speak to that. What I believe I am in a position to speak to is whether or not the book, which Carrier classifies as ‘bogus’ accurately represents Flew’s position at this time. That is the key point, is it not? Even if there is a ghost writer, what we are concerned about is whether or not the writer accurately reflected Flew’s views.
Now, I didn’t know that I could send multi-question surveys demanding point by point answer and substantiation. If I had, I probably would have sent him a checklist: “Dear Tony, do you want to go with me? If yes, check here.” Or something of that sort. So, I only have a measly three letters to work with from Flew (yes, we had a brief exchange). Therefore I cannot speak to all of the charges made by Carrier and can only address the ones where there is some overlap. For whatever truth there is to Carrier’s version of events, I hope that my contribution can entice skeptics to actually be skeptical for once. Other interpretations of events may be possible even in cases where I can’t offer a direct one to one counter-point.
In the first place I want to address the accusation that the book is bogus because it was written by other people. Ghostwriting is a pretty common thing as I understand it. I didn’t realize it was despicable on its face as Mr. Carrier seems to imply. He doesn’t seem to give much slack on it… the man is more than 80 years old for cripe’s sake. Richard Carrier complains about this ‘Flewless’ characteristic:
Lengthy direct quotation of what are purported to be conversations without explaining how exact quotation was possible (Were the conversations recorded? Did Flew personally check his exact quotes with everyone he quoted? Is he a skilled stenographer? Even Oppenheimer got no clear answer about this);
You’ve got to be kidding me. Do we really expect that the book has got to account for ‘how exact quotation was possible’? This is one example among many where Carrier seems to take on the high inquisitor role as though Flew’s book was a paper written by Carrier’s assignment, presumably with Carrier as the primary and exclusive audience. I think a return to my main question is in order: Does the book reflect Flew’s true position? The related question here would be: “Is it stated anywhere that Flew would not use a ghostwriter?”
Now, I don’t know if that is stated anywhere. I can say, however, that I knew as early as 2006 (my first letter) that it was going to be written by others. Christians in fact. Direct quote from my Flew letter:
“What this book will also contain is a great deal, indeed by far the larger part from Christian writers.”
So, Carrier complains that the book “has everywhere the hallmarks of Christian apologetic interests and idioms, but none of Flew’s.” However, Flew did not hide the fact from me that the book was going to be penned by Christians. He came out and said it straight out. If Carrier has some line on some source where it is insisted that Flew wrote it all by himself, that it was always only going to be by himself, and that Christians were not going to be involved I might be willing to relax on this point. As the book says it was written by Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese I doubt such material exists and I think it was always reasonable to expect a different ‘idiom.’
We are still left with whether or not the book has interests genuine to Flew or only to Christian apologists.
In the first letter, a substantial part of it is detailing that the book would tell the story of his unbelief beginning at Kingswood School and proceed to his involvement in various religious controversies and ending up with him as a Deist. That is almost word for word what he said in the letter. It also tracks well with the first 100 pages of the book. He explicitly says in two of his letters to me that he still rejects theism as understood by any revelatory system but accepts theism as Einstein did:
“…ending up with me a Deist, believing- like Einstein and many other great physicists- in the existence of a God.”
Beginning on page 98, Flew- or the ghostwriter, which ever you please- begins discussing Einstein’s view of God over a number of pages and references other great physicists as well. Example, on page 103, he lists Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger, and Paul Dirac and then a few more pages later cites Paul Davies. This brings us to about page 110, well over half way through the book, and it is following the formula that Flew explicitly states to me that his book will follow.
What does Carrier say? Among other things, this one is priceless, and continues off from his previous citation:
“Curiously absent from the entire book is any discussion of Deism or the God of Thomas Jefferson, which Flew repeatedly emphasized in his letters to me. “
Well, holy cow, that settles it! Where is the Deism or the God of Thomas Jefferson? He put it in his letters to Carrier so of course he’d put it in his book! Well, in his letters to me, two times he invokes Einstein and God as understood by physicists! At the very least, my letters show that the book’s emphasis on Einstein and nobel prize winning physicists is perfectly in line with Flew’s actual position. Unless Carrier would like to propose that Varghese penned my letters, too.
Carrier goes into a bunch of commentary about Flew and Dawkins and whether or not the ghostwriter was mislead about who tutored Flew- Carrier or a ‘scientist friend.’ Consider this quote:
The real author not only has no knowledge of my crucially relevant interactions with Flew (even beyond this one example), he also thinks Flew’s “biological-scientist friend” who corrected him on the science of biogenesis was Richard Dawkins, when in fact it was me.
If there was anything I picked up from my conversations with Habermas is that Carrier’s “crucially relevant interactions with Flew” were not by any means unknown to any of the players involved. Consider this more extended quote:
You would think that even a forger who wants the world to think this is Flew’s response to his own critics and that Flew remains a theist for sound reasons, would at least have his fictional Flew explain his retraction and re-retract it somehow. Instead, the author appears not even to know that Flew retracted the claim that there hasn’t been enough time for abiogenesis. The author also seems unaware of the fact that Flew had radically changed earlier drafts of his preface to God & Philosophy to reflect exactly this change of position, even though this was also a matter of public record. Thus no explanation is given for his sudden (though apparently fictional) re-reversal.
This re-writing of the preface to “God and Philosophy” is something that came up in my conversation with Habermas. I highly doubt that the ‘forger’ would have been unaware of this history if Habermas was aware of it. Rather then read conspiracy theories into the matter, however, let us consider if perhaps ‘no explanation is given’ because he has other reasons. Maybe in the first place, no one felt the need to appease the spoken and unspoken demands of Richard Carrier. However, I propose that another reason is strongly alluded to in one of my letters from Flew.
Namely, Flew specifically states that he doesn’t agree with Dawkins. DAWKINS. Not Carrier. DAWKINS. In other words, whatever re-reversals Carrier believes he generated and wanted to have accounted for, I have in hand a letter from Flew written after “God and Philosophy” and Carrier’s interaction with him and before “There is A God.”
Flew explicitly says in one of the letters that he expects to ‘attack’ Dawkins’s arguments in response to Dawkins’s own “unfounded attack” on him. No disrespect meant to Mr. Carrier here, but we might presumably believe that that Flew felt he had bigger fish to fry. I note that on page 123, Flew says in the passage that appears to have offended Carrier so:
These statements provoked an outcry from critics who claimed that I was not familiar with the latest work in abiogenesis. Richard Dawkins claimed that I was appealing to a “god of the gaps.” In my new introduction to the 2005 edition of “God and Philosophy,” I said, “I am myself delighted to be assured by biological-scientist friends that protobiologists are now well able to produce theories of the evolution of the first living matter and that several of these theories are consistent with all the so-far-confirmed scientific evidence.” But to this I must add the caveat…
I think it should be clear that far from the identity of the ‘biologist-friend’ being described as Richard Dawkins, the passage doesn’t say anything at all about the identity of the person(s) in the first place. I propose that the critic that Flew really cared about was Richard Dawkins. My letter clearly has Flew stating he is going to mount his own attack. By page 123, that attack is coming to its conclusion but I think it is reasonable to believe that even here Richard Carrier is furthest from Flew’s mind.
Page 123 out of a 200+ page book is pretty well through and contrary to Carrier’s assertion, to this point in the book the content matches up pretty well with what Flew says he is going to do in his letters to me. The fact is, there isn’t much of the book left- beginning on page 161 are contributions by other writers. In other words, the outline of the book as presented in the letter matches up to the outline of the final book pretty well… so far about almost 100% for 123 out of 161 pages. These 40 pages are not referenced in the letters… I assumed at the time that Flew didn’t want to give away by letter what he wanted to have available only in his book. I see no reason to believe otherwise.
However, I cannot contradict Carrier’s analysis of whether or not Flew’s positions on these chapters matches up with his own or rather are just of interest to apologists. Still, so much of the rest of the book matches up exactly with what Flew told him his views were that I have trouble believing that here now at the end these ‘forgers’ are smuggling in their own thoughts and ideas whereas the previous 125 pages or so they stuck with what Flew believed.
I can add one more bit of corroboration, though it doesn’t concern the last 40 pages. It concerns the contributions by Christians at the end, most notably NT Wright.
Hence I doubt there is much truth to the fact when Flew is made to appear as though he is seriously considering converting to Christianity, and is made to say he is very impressed by the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, especially following (so the fictional Flew tells us) the arguments of Anglican bishop N.T. Wright. Wright even participates in the charade by adding a chapter on this, supposedly responding to Flew’s last remaining “doubts.”
Ouch. Appears to be seriously considering…. made to say he is very impressed by the claim… especially… especially- so the fictional Flew tells us!- of the argument for the resurrection as put by NT Wright. Wright joins in with the Christian forgers to really add to the deceit! Flew, of course, is none the wiser.
Sadly, in contrast to Carrier’s conspiracy mongering, NT Wright is explicitly mentioned in one of my letters. It follows after the bit about Christians contributing to the book. The direct quote is a nice corrective to the hyperventilating in the quote above by Carrier. Here it is:
I would most strongly recommend to you the contribution of the present Bishop of Derby, who offers the most powerful case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus which I have ever seen.
Well, damn. If I didn’t know better, that would be the real Flew expressly stating that he is very much impressed by the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, as argued by NT Wright.
(Flew says ‘Derby‘ but I trust no reasonable person will dispute that he in fact meant Durham. Alastair Redfern is not known for his arguments for the resurrection that I am aware of. If anyone really wishes to dispute this, I note that the language in my letter is very close to the language Flew uses in the Introduction on page 3: “…the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who is the present bishop of Durham, kindly presented his assessment… In fact, [Wright] presents by far the best case for accepting Christian believe that I have ever seen.”)
The material provided by NT Wright covers pages 187-212 and my letter expressly indicates that Flew finds it compelling material. Again, unless Carrier should like to suppose that a ghostwriter is sending me letters from Flew, it seems that we can chalk another 30 pages of the book as specifically recording Flew’s actual position. That gives us about 155 out of 213 pages total that I can substantiate from hand written letters from Flew personally really represent his real position. You don’t have to agree with Flew that Wright’s arguments are good: clearly, though, Flew believes they are good.
I think it is a fair position to take that the remaining pages likewise contain his real position. Furthermore, I think it is reasonable to ask if Carrier approached this book with the right mindset. He consistently wants to know why Flew didn’t provide such and such and x and y. Quite probably, Flew was writing the book to a much broader audience and meant it to be a summary of where he is now and how he got there and not a philosophical treatise meant to go toe to toe with the spokespersons of the Internet Infidels.
There. That is what I have to offer by way of my own correspondence with Flew. The reader can take it as he likes it. I do want to comment on one last quote, however:
…yet the arguments in these chapters show no awareness, even indirectly, of the arguments in my unpublished paper that I know Flew has. So either Flew refused to read what I sent him, or read it and forgot everything it said, or Flew didn’t even read “his” new book, for surely if he had, he would have told his ghostwriter to anticipate my rebuttals.
Ah, yes. Of course. Flew didn’t read it, read it and forgot, or when he read his book he would have had in mind Richard Carrier’s objections and would have strove to anticipate them. Or… just another idea… perhaps he just thought the arguments were *ahem* not worthy, in his mind, of a response. There are more options and interpretations available other than the ones that Mr. Carrier lays out on the table.
(Hey, Richard! Long time no talk! 😉 How’s it going?)