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  • « China Earthquake Relief | Main | Maintaining Certainty While Respecting Others »

    How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind

    Reformation21 has posted a review Dr. Sproul just finished of prominent atheist-turned-theist Antony Flew's new book There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

    Read the entire review here .

    Posted by John Samson on May 26, 2008 12:55 AM

    Comments

    Dr. Sproul likens the publication of Anthony Flew's book to "dropp[ing] a bomb on the playground of Western atheists." He wishes.

    Atheism rests on the strength of argument, not on the authority of the arguer. That any individual "converts"--one way or the other--matters not at all. What matters is the underlying reasoning.

    As I understand it, in explaining how he changed his mind, Flew offers nothing new, no new insight, no new argument, no new evidence. He simply voices some of the "old" arguments in favor of god(s) and accepts them. This raised some eyebrows, as all of these arguments have already been thoroughly addressed and rationally refuted in philosophical and atheist literature--some by Flew himself in his earlier works. Because Flew does not extend the analysis of these old arguments any further or otherwise offer reasons why these previously rejected arguments are now convincing to him, atheists and others moved more by the strength of an argument than the authority of the arguer have largely received Flew's book with a yawn and musings on psychological explanations for his otherwise unexplained turnabout, e.g., declining mental acuity, exploitation by others, etc.

    "Atheism rests on the strength of argument..."

    No, atheism rests on the "strength" of the presuppositions held by sinful man in suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness.

    "As I understand it, in explaining how he changed his mind, Flew offers nothing new, no new insight, no new argument, no new evidence."

    Simply because the atheist doesn't like the types of evidence offered by the theist is not a valid argument against said evidence. The atheist enters the arena of debate with a faith commitment made beforehand regarding the type of evidence he/she will deem as credible.

    "What matters is the underlying reasoning."

    On that we agree. Actually I believe you've hit the nail on the head more accurately than you realize.

    If he has not come to saving faith how does any of this matter?

    Greg,

    No doubt each and every one of us (theist as well as atheist) necessarily bases our thinking on at least some presuppositions. The presuppositions underlying my thinking are those necessary to ordinary reasoning of the sort that humans employ with considerable success in nearly every aspect of their lives--except religion. The sort of reasoning that has enabled humans to develop modern agriculture, automobiles, space shuttles, medicine, etc., etc.

    As such reasoning (with its underlying presuppositions) works so well in every other aspect of human endeavor, why toss it aside when the issue of god(s) arises?

    While society generally allows (and even encourages) people to engage in religious "thinking" (with its underlying presuppositions), it does so only as long as no real harm is done. So, for instance, if scientologist parents want to resort to prayer rather than medicine to treat a child's ailment, society will go along--unless and until the child's health or life is endangered. At that point, society basically says "get real" and turns to ordinary reasoning and its presuppositions. Some of us figure there's no good reason to turn away from such reasoning in the first place.

    Doug

    Thanks for your comments. I am personally, like you, not that impressed with Flew's change of mind because it did not lead him to Christian presuppositions, merely theistic ones, from age old arguments, which, you are right, do not prove that Jesus is the Christ.

    But I find your (following) statement to be rather interesting because it is entirely inconsistent with your own worldview.

    >>>>>if scientologist parents want to resort to prayer rather than medicine to treat a child's ailment, society will go along--unless and until the child's health or life is endangered. At that point, society basically says "get real" and turns to ordinary reasoning and its presuppositions. Some of us figure there's no good reason to turn away from such reasoning in the first place.

    Assuming you are an atheist, it seems a bit odd that you are describing absolutes in the moral/ethical arena or that you think the health of a scientologist child is someting society should be concerned about (good or bad). If your view is true then trajedy, morality, ethics and sorrow are equally evanescent. They are sensations created by the chemical reactions of the brain and thus all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena like foul-smelling water. If naturalism is true then all of your (societies') moralizing about the scientologists' treatment of their sick son are no more meaningful than the most absurd triffle - because in this world all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. My chemical reaction made me a theist and your particular chemical reaction made you an atheist. So ultimately you are not holding to atheism because it is true , but rather because of a series of chemical reactions. So your atheism destroys rationality and morality.

    Are we are nothing more than swamp gas? Fact is, you must borrow a Christian presupposition of inherent morality for your society to even run in the first place. For as soon as you even vision an "ought" for everyone, you are appealing to moral absolutes outside of yourself.

    JWH

    JWH,

    Thanks for the reply. I'm heading out the door for an out-of-town trip, so can't say much more for a time.

    I'll just note that my statement about society wasn't an expression of my worldview or my morality. It was an observation about our current society in the U.S., which is comprised largely of Christians and other theists. It is that society that will go along with Scientologists and others acting on their religious thinking only so far. If someone acting on such religious thinking may result in harm to others, particularly children, that society will take charge of the situation and resort to ordinary reasoning, e.g., modern medicine, to handle it.

    I make this observation to highlight that even a largely religious society, such as that in the U.S., ultimately relies on ordinary reasoning, rather than religious thinking, to deal with reality.

    As for materialism and the basis of morality, I'll have to leave that to another day.

    >>>>>If someone acting on such religious thinking may result in harm to others, particularly children, that society will take charge of the situation and resort to ordinary reasoning, e.g., modern medicine, to handle it.

    If someones thinking whether it be secularist or religious causes harm to others the society has an obligation to do something about it. An atheistic worldview gives no warrant WHY society should do someting whereas a Christian worldwiew does. Just saying "ordinary reasoning" is not a reason. Why ought society to think that way? If naturalism then why not follow nature and live in light of survival of the fittest?

    Back for an hour before dashing out again.

    We're discussing two different aspects of this society point. You plainly are interested in what motivates society to do anything to protect children, etc. That's a big subject that is beside the observation I was making, which is:

    Regardless of what motivates our society to protect children, our society chooses to rely on ordinary reasoning, e.g., modern medicine, rather than religious thinking, e.g., prayer or voodoo, to do it. And if someone, out of religious belief, chooses to employ religious thinking rather than ordinary reasoning to handle a child's illness, for instance, society may hold that person civilly and/or criminally liable for any death or harm that may result. My point is simply to observe that even our religious society ultimately places its trust in the validity and efficacy of ordinary reasoning, rather than religious thinking.

    I recall C.S. Lewis was an avid atheist and began his sojourn toward Christianity along similar lines of thought as has Mr. Flew. We can all actively engage ourselves to prayer for Mr Flew's conversion to Christianity.

    "We're discussing two different aspects of this society point. You plainly are interested in what motivates society to do anything to protect children, etc. That's a big subject that is beside the observation I was making"

    Not meaning to speak for John, but the point he's raising to your post is inseparably related to yours as the one is dependent upon, and interrelated with, the other.

    "...our society chooses to rely on ordinary reasoning, e.g., modern medicine, rather than religious thinking."

    "Religious thinking" is a very broad and loose term encompassing a multitude of ideas. You chose Scientology for your particular example. I can't/won't defend it since it's not part of the Christian faith.

    Your assertion here, however, as applied to orthodox Christianity simply sets up a false dilemma. This line of reasoning assumes that the two (faith and reason) are mutually exclusive. And to insist that this is the case only begs the question.

    "Ordinary reasoning" has been mentioned a number of times already. What is ordinary reasoning? Modern medicine? That response only backs the question up a step. What basis or ultimate authority is this "ordinary reasoning" based upon by which men ought to heed?

    Why is anyone obligated to comply with this alleged "ordinary reasoning"?

    Let's not take things for granted here. An appeal to "ordinary reasoning" does this very thing.

    If you don't mind me asking, what do you believe concerning the existence of God? You come across as an atheist, but I may be wrong in assuming this and apologize if I'm wrong. So I hope you don't mind me asking.

    If you do believe in the existence of a "higher power" of some sort, what is it you believe?

    Here is an interview with Dr. Flew from a while back that was published on Biola's website: http://www.westerfunk.net/pdf/theology/Antony%20Flew%20Interview.pdf

    It may be helpful to some.

    HI Doug

    Thanks for your interest in the conversation

    You said >>> "our society chooses to rely on ordinary reasoning, e.g., modern medicine, rather than religious thinking"

    This statement strikes me as odd since you claim these things as your own. Why shold the atheist or secularist see these as the domain of non-religious thinking? There is nothing irreligious about reason or medicine. I could just as easily put these in the domain of godly thinking, for the Christian has warrant for using the skills God has given us to do good in the world (a world which God created and declared as very good). The world, the mind, skills are therefore in the realm of religious thinking. Using these skills for the good of society, actually, can ONLY be intelligibly said to be in the domain of religion, for an atheist has no warrant for "doing good", since he believes we are merely carbon units, no more valuable than swamp gas.

    I am arguing that you actually have to borrow from the Christian worldview to even use your "ordinary reasoning". Why? Because it is something you believe we 'ought" to do. As soon as the "ought" comes in you are talking ethics ... and yet you have no warrant for doing so. You are aruging that reason and medicine are non-religious but give no reason why they are. But we have given sufficient reason for showing why we utilitze them.

    JWH

    Greg,

    By "ordinary reasoning" and "religious thinking", I sought to address your point about presuppositions. I presumed that your point was that the presuppositions of reason preclude resort to supernatural explanations while the presuppositions of religion do not. If reason and faith are not to be distinguished in this regard (as you refer to a false dilemma), then I do not understand what you meant with respect to presuppositions. Unless the two are different in some basic respect, it's difficult to see how the presuppositions would be different.

    "What basis or ultimate authority is this "ordinary reasoning" based upon by which men ought to heed? Why is anyone obligated to comply with this alleged "ordinary reasoning"?"

    I haven't claimed that ordinary reasoning is based on some ultimate authority or that there is an obligation to follow it. I have merely noted that humans have employed it and found it efficacious in nearly every aspect of their lives except religion. My point has been to question why someone would abandon this successful mode of thinking and turn to faith (or religious thinking or supernaturalism) when the question of god(s) arises.

    I happily affirm that I do not have a belief in god(s).

    JWH,

    Certainly religious folks employ reasoning in much (indeed the vast majority) of their lives. I am hardly suggesting that reasoning is the exclusive domain of nonbelievers. I'm not thinking of claims or domains of this sort in any respect.

    My point, rather, has been to question whether religious folks really, really believe the supernaturalism they profess. To this end, I presented the example of society (a religious one), when pressed to protect the health or life of children, throws its lot in reasoning and chooses the efficacy of modern medicine over the efficacy of prayer or some other religious practice.

    In making these points, note that I have not injected my own notions of right or wrong--so discussion of my underlying basis for morality just isn't relevant here.

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