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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Carrier on Flew's "bogus book"

Further to the controversy about the new book "by" philosopher Antony Flew (with "co-author" Roy Varghese), this lengthy analysis by Richard Carrier can be left (pretty much) to speak for itself.

Carrier was in the thick of things when Flew first publicly announced that he was becoming a deist, and had some initial success in talking the ageing philosopher out of it. He now argues, among other things, that Flew could not possibly have written a book in this form, or even signed off on it with any genuine understanding of its content, given the previous history of the whole affair. In particular, Carrier argues, Flew would surely have responded to issues that arose in their detailed correspondence over scientific arguments for deism. There are other indicators that Flew has had little to do with the book - it is, Carrier says, written in nothing like his usual style, and it gives no real indication of Flew's actual, publicly-expressed views about Christianity, which he still rejects (Flew rejects belief in a providential deity or an afterlife).

I'll just say that the claim that Flew is a genuine co-author of this book is currently looking even more incredible. Decide for yourself.

I don't mind this sort of thing so much when an ageing fiction writer lends his famous name to work written substantially or entirely by a younger, more energetic, "co-author", though there is of course an ethical issue involved even there. We all know it happens, unfortunately.

But when what is at stake is whether a renowned philosopher genuinely understands and endorses the arguments attributed to him, on an issue of enormous public interest, in a work aimed straight for best-sellerdom ... well, the implications are enormous if this volume is, in some sense, a fake. Ironically, and perhaps sadly, the controversy surrounding There Is a God will probably boost its sales. I suppose I need to read it myself.


Anonymous said...

As I said on your related thread, it's despicable. I will say however that we are not bound by authority. If an atheist becomes pope what does it matter? It doesn't change the veracity of theists claims. I know that theists try to co opt Einstein, Darwin and Flew, but so what. I don't argue that I'm an atheist because Einstein was a deist.....
I've probably missed an important point or something. I guess we're trying to frame the message and convince the doubting John Thomases.

John Pieret said...

This is, of course, as John Wilkins described it, "totem waving." And, if you are going to accept the NY Times article's description of Flew, it is only fair to accept its description of Carrier ... which does not encourage confidence in his objectivity. It may well be that Flew was taken advantage of by these people (though that video with Lee Strobel didn't suggest that Flew was completely dotty to me) but Carrier has to be taken with something more than a grain of salt.

Russell Blackford said...

By the way, Brian, I'm reading The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West by Mark Lilla ... and will finish it tonight.

I'm finding it a little bit disappointing, though. Maybe I just need to think about it some more, but it's not giving me quite what I felt I needed, whatever that was. I actually found J.Judd Owen's book more useful. To be fair, Lilla does say that he doesn't have solutions, which are probably what I'm looking for, even if I disagree with them.

Russell Blackford said...

John, I've actually hedged my bets slightly more in this post than in the earlier one. Carrier's personality obviously irritated Oppenheimer, and I get a small suggestion of why just from his long post. But the factual detail from Carrier is pretty impressive when it's added to what we've read from Oppenheimer. Moreover, the type of personality Carrier is showing is not a dishonest one. In my experience, people like that are usually very honest. They may not be the best at impression and sensitivity, but Carrier is not asking us to trust his judgment in that way.

Also, my impression of Flew from that interview is not that of a man with his full powers, even for an 84-y.o. Even when he shows flashes of intellect, which I concede he does, they are not sustained or focused.

All that said, I need to read the book to be really confident of what has happened. I just have a sense of the sort of thing going on here, and I do trust my own judgment of such things. I'll say more when a copy of the book gets into my hands and I find time to read it.

As I said in the earlier post, I don't care that Antony Flew has become a deist. Deism is actually a position that I consider arguable ... though not the one I take at the end of the day. I see no good basis, in the end, for conviction about the existence of the deist god. But I don't see that as the issue.

And whatever anyone else is doing, I'm certainly not totem waving. If I thought that Myers, Carrier, Dawkins, etc., were barking up the wrong tree, I'd say so. Look at how strongly I've criticised Christopher Hitchens and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on occasions when I've disagreed with them. I call these situations as I see them.

John Pieret said...

Just some random thoughts:

I was not implying I thought Carrier was dishonest. I tend to Oppenheimer's explanation that all these people are sincere ... which makes them all the more dangerous, by the way.

... when he shows flashes of intellect, which I concede he does, they are not sustained or focused.

This was an interview with someone with an agenda who didn't want the subject to be too focused on the wrong things. Flew saw the implications of all the questions and refused to be led into positions counter to a very determined deism. You may be viewing the video through your own colored glasses ... as I may be, of course.

Paul Thornton in the Los Angeles Times had it about right. The whole process of fighting over Flew is "to bolster your claim not by arguing its merits, but by pointing to others who happen to claim what you (or your opponents) claim." In other words, by totem waving. Even if Flew was more successfully manipulated by the theists than by the atheists, what difference does it make? Does the behavior of these few theists really logically bear on the behavior of all theists (as many of the comments at PZ's place already say) or bear at all on the truth or falsity of their beliefs?

Steven Carr said...

' Deism is actually a position that I consider arguable'

I wonder why Varghese (sorry, Flew) never gives a proper grounding in what deism is, in the book by Varghese (sorry, Flew) explaining why Flew became a deist.

Because Varghese didn't know that a reputable philosopher would never write a book explaining his conversion to deism, without explaining in some detail what deism is?

Steven Carr said...

The issue is that Varghese is selling a book claiming to be written by Flew when what he has is a book that was read by Flew.

It is a question of honesty.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics,...
I'm finding it a little bit disappointing,

I loved the first few chapters, but it became a bit of a challenge to sustain interest by the time the book was drawing to a close. I thought it was because of my prejudices. I don't give a rats about why theists want to tear down the wall unless I can use it to counter them. Which, by the way, I think you and others are doing OK at.

Russell Blackford said...

I'm about to read the last chapter. I really would have liked more analysis of how the sort of reasoning that led to the idea of a church/state separation applies in current circumstances. I'm sure the last chapter will touch on that, but it's not very long. I'd like to see some really concerted analysis backed up by a lot of scholarship ... and from a position that is not deferential to religion in a PC way. Susan Mendus has a pretty good book on related issues, but it is much too PC for my taste.

Anonymous said...

Here's a somewhat satyrical (or is it a recreation of a) conversation between a philosopher loosing his marbles and a evangelical person.

Tommy Coz said...

what scares me the most as I read some of these comments is the arrogant, stomping of the feet, childish tone masquerading as intellectual superiority, but I digress.
In the end we will all come face to face with reality and truth which, by the way, are one and the same. If I buy into your reality and it is also the truth, I'll be fine. However, if you buy into my reality as truth and it is also the truth, it will be too late because you deny the truth of the reality of the One Who died to save you.