Pharyngula

I have not been shy about my contempt for the crackpot, Roy Varghese — he’s one of those undeservedly lucky computer consultants who struck it rich and is now using his money to endorse religion. He’s a god-soaked loon who pretends to be a scientific authority, yet he falls for the claim that bumblebees can’t fly and therefore there flight is evidence for a god. Really. He’s that deluded.

I’ve been too kind, however. You must read this New York Times article, The Turning of an Atheist, in which it turns out that Varghese is also a contemptible manipulator.

It’s the story of Antony Flew, the former atheist philosopher who rejected Christianity, but has since been dragged back into the limelight as a convert. It is not a story of an intellectual decision, but a sad tale of an aging, fading scholar who has lost almost all of his acuity and is severely memory-impaired, who is being manipulated and used as a pawn by a team of frauds and apologists for religion and creationism: Varghese, Gerald Schroeder, and John Haldane, Liberty University, and Biola University.

There’s a tragedy here, the decline of Antony Flew. The author visited him to quiz him on the content of the latest book credited to Flew.

In “There Is a God,” Flew quotes extensively from a conversation he had with Leftow, a professor at Oxford. So
I asked Flew, “Do you know Brian Leftow?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t think I do.”

“Do you know the work of the philosopher John Leslie?” Leslie is discussed extensively in the book.

Flew paused, seeming unsure. “I think he’s quite good.” But he said he did not remember the specifics of
Leslie’s work.

“Have you ever run across the philosopher Paul Davies?” In his book, Flew calls Paul Davies “arguably the
most influential contemporary expositor of modern science.”

“I’m afraid this is a spectacle of my not remembering!”

He said this with a laugh. When we began the interview, he warned me, with merry self-deprecation, that he
suffers from “nominal aphasia,” or the inability to reproduce names. But he forgot more than names. He
didn’t remember talking with Paul Kurtz about his introduction to “God and Philosophy” just two years ago.
There were words in his book, like “abiogenesis,” that now he could not define. When I asked about Gary
Habermas, who told me that he and Flew had been friends for 22 years and exchanged “dozens” of letters,
Flew said, “He and I met at a debate, I think.” I pointed out to him that in his earlier philosophical work he
argued that the mere concept of God was incoherent, so if he was now a theist, he must reject huge chunks of
his old philosophy. “Yes, maybe there’s a major inconsistency there,” he said, seeming grateful for my insight.

Flew has, sadly, lost it. He’s an old man being used as a figurehead for a callous Christianity, to endorse ignorance. And they even admit it! The new book is There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, and the authorship is credited to Antony Flew and the despicable Roy Varghese (it doesn’t actually say “despicable” in the byline, but maybe the publisher should insert the word real quick.)

When I asked Varghese, he freely admitted that the book was his idea and that he had done all the original writing for it. But he made the book sound like more of a joint effort — slightly more, anyway. “There was stuff
he 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.”

Don’t buy the book. Remember this every time some apologist brings up the name of Flew to argue against atheism: this is an example of the depths to which desperate Christians will sink — they will lie and take advantage of the confusion of an old man to get a trophy for their wall. Remember too that Roy Varghese is a wretched con man, as are his collaborators, Schroeder and Haldane.

Comments

  1. #1 Sastra
    November 4, 2007

    I’ve been following this issue off and on for years in various venues — including reading Carrier on Secular Web — and have to agree that Flew is being exploited. When his “conversion” was first announced, most atheists were interested in one major question:

    Okay, fine. What’s the argument for the existence of God? Specifics. Let’s analyze it.

    His arguments were a mess. As I recall, he originally cited two: that the book of Genesis “mysteriously” recapitulated the scientific discoveries of the Big Bang, and that abiogenesis has been biologically and statistically shown to be impossible. When it was pointed out to him that the first was standard pseudoscientific faulty interpretation and the second was scientifically naive and mathematically flawed, he then rejected those arguments. To atheists, that means ‘case closed.’

    It didn’t work that way. Flew was once a great intellect, and should have known that. But to Christians, there is apparently no “wrong way” to become a Christian.

  2. #2 Ecpyrosis
    November 4, 2007

    This is an offensive mutation of the typical “Deathbed confession” routine. Take someone who has died and is therefore conveniently unable to refute you, then claim he/she converted to whatever woo-woo you ascribe to right before moving on. For examples, look to Rimbaud (whose family even claimed he asked them to burn his unpublished poems, to society’s everlasting loss), Einstein, and g*d help us, even Darwin. Dawkins has said he’ll have to have a camcorder present in his final moments to prevent people trying it on him. It confirms a very weak sort of theology, one feels, since it seems like they’re saying people will be intellectually dishonest immediately before death for fear of eternal punishment.

    How much more odious to do the same thing to someone of diminished mental faculties through bullying and manipulation, and how much more a self-refutation of their avowed beliefs in charity, kindness, etc. If they truly believe their theology to be so convincing, why not try it against a young scholar specializing in Flew’s earlier work? It shouldn’t be too hard to find one in Oxford. Then lets see a replay of that debate.

  3. #3 Sastra
    November 4, 2007

    Ecpyrosis wrote:

    How much more odious to do the same thing to someone of diminished mental faculties through bullying and manipulation, and how much more a self-refutation of their avowed beliefs in charity, kindness, etc.

    As the article points out, there was probably little “bullying.” I’ve met Flew a couple times — he seemed a very courteous, gallant elderly gentleman. I suspect that as he aged he became increasingly responsive to kindness and the sort of polite flattery which makes for civility. The Christians were gracious. He of course was gracious in return. Maintaining gallantry in the face of declining faculties is one of the few dignities of old age. Perhaps he wanted to please, to feel valued and respected — and return the favor. No bullying.

    Knowing in their hearts that there really is a God, the Christians probably never saw themselves as “manipulating.” They were “prompting.”

  4. #4 Ichthyic
    November 4, 2007

    The assumption that any rich person got that way because they were ‘undeservedly lucky’ is troubling and overly populist for me.

    I think many of us think of DaveScott when considering the issue, who was just a patent reviewer for Dell and made his money simply because he was an early employee and managed to cash in on the value of stock options as the company moved up the ladder.

    He wasn’t the only one; I met quite a few in and around Silicon Valley who had no business sense (or much of anything resembling intelligence) who got rich off of the internet bubble for no other reason than the fact they were in on the ground floor of some overhyped IT business or another.

    A lot of smart people also lost their shirts.

    tell me about it.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    November 4, 2007

    It’s been observed many times before that Antony Flew was not and has never been “the world’s most notorious atheist”. I also find this superlative highly suspect:

    In his [sic] book, Flew calls Paul Davies “arguably the most influential contemporary expositor of modern science.”

    Paul Davies isn’t even good at spreading bad science, not compared to Michael Behe or Deepak Chopra. He’s a part of the Templeton crowd, among which he has no greater standing than, say, Freeman Dyson.

    And of the expositors who write good science, it’s not hard to spot a few who surpass Davies by any measure of notoriety or influence. Stephen Hawking, let’s say. Has Paul Davies ever guest-starred on The Simpsons?

  6. #6 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 4, 2007

    Sastra wrote:

    As the article points out, there was probably little “bullying.” I’ve met Flew a couple times — he seemed a very courteous, gallant elderly gentleman. I suspect that as he aged he became increasingly responsive to kindness and the sort of polite flattery which makes for civility. The Christians were gracious. He of course was gracious in return. Maintaining gallantry in the face of declining faculties is one of the few dignities of old age. Perhaps he wanted to please, to feel valued and respected — and return the favor. No bullying.

    Having read the article, I think that sounds likely to be the case.

    Knowing in their hearts that there really is a God, the Christians probably never saw themselves as “manipulating.” They were “prompting.”

    I agree that they probaby do not see themselves as being manipulative but I think it is manipulation nonetheless.

    Whether Flew has experienced a genuine conversion to whatever faith it is he now espouses or whether he is just an increasingly frail old man who was smooth-talked into it by plausible and pushy evangelical types is neither here nor there. It makes no difference to the question of whether or not God exists.

    To read so-called Christians crowing that they have claimed a major atheist ‘scalp’ in their war against ‘godlessness’ is a measure of how far they have been corrupted by their ambition for power.

    Flew is, by this and by other accounts, a kindly and gallant old gentleman who deserves to be allowed to live out his life in peace and in the company of his wife and cat. What is distateful, to put it mildly, is that his name and reputation have been dragged into the brawl over the political influence of conservative Christianity in the United States.

    He does not need this and those who call themselves Christians should know better.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    November 4, 2007

    He’s a god-soaked loon who pretends to be a scientific authority, yet he falls for the claim that bumblebees can’t fly and therefore there flight is evidence for a god.

    Ahem.

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 4, 2007

    Prior to reading this, I figured the guy simply had “old atheist” syndrome. He was getting close to the end of his life, and what is the harm in hedging one’s bets?

    Like the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, you could wake up in a circle of gods that nasty-looking sticks and say “We’ll show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts”…

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 4, 2007

    Prior to reading this, I figured the guy simply had “old atheist” syndrome. He was getting close to the end of his life, and what is the harm in hedging one’s bets?

    Like the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, you could wake up in a circle of gods that nasty-looking sticks and say “We’ll show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts”…

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    November 4, 2007

    …that hold nasty-looking…

  11. #11 David Marjanovi?
    November 4, 2007

    …that hold nasty-looking…

  12. #12 JKisAwake
    January 3, 2008

    It looks to me like Mr. Meyers makes himself into the sort of person he claims Varghese is… but maybe we’re all better leaving off character assasination and looking at the facts.

    The first fact I note is that it is unreasonable to allege somone is a manipulator and misrepresenter of fact and not present adequate facts for your own case. Mr. Meyers has, I think failed to do this. We need claims in the book that differ quite substantially from Flew’s claims before the book. Talking about Varghese admitting to organizing notes as if it proved malfeasance is disingeuous.

    Flew, well before his loss of acuity had made at least one change of position. I don’t think this can be disputed. I doubt – though I haven’t read the Varghese-Flew book – that anyone is claiming Flew converted to Christianity. Have they? Does anyone claim that he clearly and distinctly changed to a position of a caring God (the opposite, IMO, of what Flew calls an “inactive” god). It seems to me that Mr. Meyer’s must show claims in the book that are substantially inconsistent with Flew’s statements before the book.

    If Mr. Meyers can provide examples of where Varghese’s work contains these claims, he will then only need to find indications that Varghese intentionally misrepresented Flew’s work. In the meantime, he opens himself to certain accusations which I will forebear from mentioning at this time. Let’s keep to the facts, and let’s start with the examples Mr. Meyers needs to present in order to back his claim.

    Mr. Meyers?

    *Marcus Ranum is – I hope – merely being naieve when he says atheism isn’t really a movement. Perhaps atheism per se is a point of view, just as Christian Aplogy is a point of view, but I think Mr. Ranum must define movement rather singularly to miss certain realities of atheism as it has existed for a good while now (I’m not much of a historian, but when was B. Russel alive?). Atheism as a point of view is not a movement any more than Christian aplogetics per se is evangelism. But it is disingenuous to fail to note atheists actively propogating their viewpoint as a movement; just as it would disingenuous to not to note that Christian apologetics, while a reasoned position, is also a tool of people propogating that viewpoint.

  13. #13 Steve_C
    January 3, 2008

    It’s MYERS asshole.

  14. #14 Bieljam
    January 29, 2008

    These are the facts:
    Antony Flew is no longer an atheist. This happened in 2004.
    Varghese helped Flew in writing his book. It is common practise, known as ghost writing. Oppenheimer interviewed Flew tree years after it became public that Flew changed his mind.

    There is absolutely no way that Oppenheimer can make any diagnosis of Flew’s mental capabilities at the time when he changed his mind based on his interview with him three years later!

    Similarly there is absolutely no proof that Varghese misrepresented Flew in any way.

    This is an ad hominem attack similar to Dawkins’ assertion that only stupid people believe in intelligent design of the universe. [Dawkins only shows his own lack of intellectual integrity (?ability) by making such claims.]

    In the USSR people who believed in God were put into mental institutions. The current argument that “if he believes in god, he must be demented” smacks of the same sort of totalitarian persecution.

  15. #15 Mathetes
    August 31, 2008

    Flew Speaks Out: Professor Antony Flew reviews The God Delusion

    Antony Flew was a lecturer at the Universities of Oxford and Aberdeen, before posts as Professor of Philosophy at the Universities of Keele and of Reading. He has now retired. He is renowned for his 1950 essay “Theology and Falsification” and his atheistic work, before announcing in 2004 his belief in a Creator God. View all resources by Antony Flew
    Print this Page Send comments Send to a friend Save PDF On 1st November 2007, Professor Antony Flew’s new book There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind was published by HarperOne. Professor Flew has been called ‘the world’s most influential philosophical atheist’, as well as ‘one of the most renowned atheists of the 20th Century’ (see Peter S. Williams’ bethinking.org article “A change of mind for Antony Flew”). In his book, Professor Flew recounts how he has come to believe in a Creator God as a result of the scientific evidence and philosophical argument.

    Not surprisingly, his book caused quite a stir – as can be seen from the miscellaneous customer reviews on Amazon.co.uk. Some of those comments (and those elsewhere) implied that Flew was used by his co-author, Roy Varghese, and did not in fact know what was in the book. This is a serious charge to which Professor Flew responded and which he reiterated in a recent letter (dated 4th June 2008) to a friend of UCCF who has shown it to us. Professor Flew writes:

    I have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: “My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”

    Professor Flew has recently written his forthright views on Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. His article, reproduced below, shows Professor Flew’s key reasons for his belief in a Divine Intelligence. He also makes it clear in There is a God (page 213) that it is possible for an omnipotent being to choose to reveal himself to human beings, or to act in the world in other ways. Professor Flew’s article is offered here as testimony to the developing thinking of someone who is prepared to consider the evidence and follow its implications wherever it leads.

    Professor Antony Flew writes:

    The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as ‘an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view’).

    The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period in which he composed this book although he has since announced his intention to retire) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form. Thus we find in his index five references to Einstein. They are to the mask of Einstein and Einstein on morality; on a personal God; on the purpose of life (the human situation and on how man is here for the sake of other men and above all for those on whose well-being our own happiness depends); and finally on Einstein’s religious views. But (I find it hard to write with restraint about this obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins) he makes no mention of Einstein’s most relevant report: namely, that the integrated complexity of the world of physics has led him to believe that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind it. (I myself think it obvious that if this argument is applicable to the world of physics then it must be hugely more powerful if it is applied to the immeasurably more complicated world of biology.)

    Of course many physicists with the highest of reputations do not agree with Einstein in this matter. But an academic attacking some ideological position which s/he believes to be mistaken must of course attack that position in its strongest form. This Dawkins does not do in the case of Einstein and his failure is the crucial index of his insincerity of academic purpose and therefore warrants me in charging him with having become, what he has probably believed to be an impossibility, a secularist bigot.

    On page 82 of The God Delusion is a remarkable note. It reads ‘We might be seeing something similar today in the over-publicised tergiversation of the philosopher Antony Flew, who announced in his old age that he had been converted to belief in some sort of deity (triggering a frenzy of eager repetition all around the Internet).’

    What is important about this passage is not what Dawkins is saying about Flew but what he is showing here about Dawkins. For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed – I believe – eventually to reply to every letter.)

    This whole business makes all too clear that Dawkins is not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means. That would itself constitute sufficient reason for suspecting that the whole enterprise of The God Delusion was not, as it at least pretended to be, an attempt to discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God but rather an attempt – an extremely successful one – to spread the author’s own convictions in this area.

    A less important point which needs to be made in this piece is that although the index of The God Delusion notes six references to Deism it provides no definition of the word ‘deism’. This enables Dawkins in his references to Deism to suggest that Deists are a miscellany of believers in this and that. The truth, which Dawkins ought to have learned before this book went to the printers, is that Deists believe in the existence of a God but not the God of any revelation. In fact the first notable public appearance of the notion of Deism was in the American Revolution. The young man who drafted the Declaration of Independence and who later became President Jefferson was a Deist, as were several of the other founding fathers of that abidingly important institution, the United States.

    In that monster footnote to what I am inclined to describe as a monster book – The God Delusion – Dawkins reproaches me for what he calls my ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The awarding Institution is Biola, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Dawkins does not say outright that his objection to my decision is that Biola is a specifically Christian institution. He obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that this is incompatible with producing first class academic work in every department – not a thesis which would be acceptable in either my own university or Oxford or in Harvard.

    In my time at Oxford, in the years immediately succeeding the second world war, Gilbert Ryle (then Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy in the University of Oxford) published a hugely influential book The Concept of Mind. This book revealed by implication, but only by implication, that minds are not entities of a sort which could coherently be said to survive the death of those whose minds they were.

    Ryle felt responsible for the smooth pursuit of philosophical teaching and the publication of the findings of philosophical research in the university and knew that, at that time, there would have been uproar if he had published his own conclusion that the very idea of a second life after death was self-contradictory and incoherent. He was content for me to do this at a later time and in another place. I told him that if I were ever invited to give one of the Gifford Lecture series my subject would be The Logic of Mortality. When I was, I did and these Lectures were first published by Blackwell (Oxford) in 1987. They are still in print from Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY).

    Finally, as to the suggestion that I have been used by Biola University. If the way I was welcomed by the students and the members of faculty whom I met on my short stay in Biola amounted to being used then I can only express my regret that at the age of 85 I cannot reasonably hope for another visit to this institution.

    Note on Lord Gifford (Adam)
    The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Lord Gifford as ‘judge and benefactor’. He endowed lectureships at four Scottish universities ‘for promoting, advancing and diffusing natural theology, in the widest sense of that term, in other words the knowledge of God’ and ‘of the foundation of ethics.’ The first lectures were delivered in 1888.

    Antony Flew 2008

  16. #16 sohbet
    September 29, 2008

    This is the first time that I’ve heard of nominal aphasia. I swear I have that or something like it.

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