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God & Philosophy Paperback – April 8, 2005
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About the Author
Antony Flew (1923 - 2010) was an emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University, England, and the author of God and Philosophy; Atheistic Humanism; God, Freedom, and Immortality; Thinking About Social Thinking; How to Think Straight; and many other books.
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This book was first published in 1966; in 2005, Prometheus Books reprinted the ORIGINAL edition, along with a new Introduction by Flew. (Famed secular Humanist Paul Kurtz dodges the issue in his Publisher’s Foreword, stating, “it is up to the readers of his final introduction published below to decide whether or not he has abandoned his earlier views.”)
Flew states in the [original] Preface, “This book is… an attempt to present and to examine the strongest possible case for belief in God… The book later goes on to consider the best warrant which might be offered for accepting the Christian candidate as an authentic and unique revelation from that God.” (Pg. 19) He begins the first chapter, “The main purpose of the present work is to develop and to examine a case for Christian theism; and in so doing to provide an introduction to the philosophy of religion, and thus to philosophy in general… for not only do arguments about God and immortality plan an often crucial part in the writings of most of the classical philosophers; but other arguments … seem to be much more frequent in religious apologetics and counter-apologetics than in other areas of controversy.” (1.1, pg. 23)
He states, “To say that the Christian God is the Creator is to say, not only that he brought the universe into being out of nothing, but also that he is the constant and essential sustaining cause of everything within it… This precisely means that absolutely nothing happens save by his ultimate undetermined determination and with his consenting ontological support. Everything means everything; and that includes every human thought, every human action, and every human choice. For we too are indisputably parts of the universe… of which he is supposed to be ‘the Maker, and Preserver.’” (2.34-2.35, pg. 56-57)
Discussing the existence of evil, he observes, “there are many evils which it scarcely seems either are or could be redeemed in this way: animal suffering, for instance, especially that occurring before… the human period…. such pain seems nevertheless plainly a fault. If we consider, as most of us do, that---say---failure to put a grievously suffering beast out of its misery constitutes a gross defect from human decency, then it is surely inconsistent to concede that a Creator neglecting to do the same could be perfectly good.” (2.53. pg. 66)
He argues, “there seems to be no contradiction in suggesting that [God] could have ensured that all his creation always, and freely, did what they should. Our actual wickedness therefore remains intractably a major part of the evil which has to be reconciled with the thesis of creation by an infinitely good Creator… The whole issue becomes immeasurably worse if you want Hell too… When also you are bound… to concede that your God creates some creatures intending to subject them to eternal torments, of whatever sort: then your apologetic tasks is hopeless from the beginning. It is, surely, degrading even to start.” (2.57-2.58, pg. 67-68) Much later, he adds, “The objection is to an eternal life sentence of unending suffering. Such an affliction would be a frightful outrage… viewed as a supposed penalty, it must necessarily be disproportionate to any possible temporal offense; and even without taking into account that it is to be inflicted by the putative Creator upon some of his creatures.” (9.18, pg. 190)
He states the “presumption of atheism”: “The present presumption was apparently first clearly formulated as such by Strato, next but one in succession to Aristotle as head of the Lyceum. It can be seen as the fulfillment of the naturalistic tendency in the founder’s own thinking. It was this ‘Stratonician atheism’ which was received by the young Hume as an emancipating revelation… we shall, in piety, follow Bayle and Hume in using the awkward form ‘Stratonician’ as the adjective.” (3.20, pg. 79)
He points out, “It is… frequently maintained that living organisms could not have developed naturally out of matter itself lifeless; or that consciousness and intelligence cannot be the attributes of purely material things; and so on. Yet, in fact, however great the present mystery of the mechanisms involved, all the evidence we have indicates that the only life we know did originate in just this way. It is the same again with intelligence, consciousness, and the like. So far from there being a certainty that these cannot appertain to material things, the question is whether they could significantly be attributed to anything else.” (3.26, pg. 82)
He says that the Ontological Argument for God is “ a luminously illegitimate attempt to deduce actual existence from the mere definition of a word.” (4.10, pg. 89) Of the notion of a First Cause, he observes, “For whatever right we have to start this progress imposes a corresponding obligation not to stop arbitrarily… The driving force of the whole argument is that initial insistence that ‘each member of the series of causes possesses being solely by the actual present operation of a superior cause.’ Yet no reason is give why the ‘first efficient cause’ postulated in the conclusion should be thus granted exemption: being privileged to be ‘itself uncaused.’” (4.41, pg. 104)
He comments on religious experience, “whereas questions about the existence of people can be answered by straightforward observational and other tests, not even those who claim to have enjoyed personal encounters with God would admit such tests to be appropriate here… Yet if… the epistemological question … cannot be met by reference to immediate observation or other commonplace tests; then the whole argument from religious experience must collapse into an argument from whatever other credentials may be offered to authenticate the revelation supposedly mediated by such experience. (6.28, pg. 144)
He says of divine revelation, “we do not immediately know that we are, immediately confronted by God. We do not literally hear God’s words, nor read sentences which God has literally written; and, of course, nobody really supposed that we do. We read words printed by human printers, or written by pens held in human hands, and we read them in corporeal books and in manuscripts in form like any others. Or, again, what we meet is the claims of an organization visibly composed of flesh-and-blood men and women.” (8.38, pg. 179)
He critiques Pascal’s “Wager”: “What is fundamentally but instructively wrong with the whole argument is that Pascal altogether fails to take the measure of the radical agnosticism of his first premise. If the conclusion is to follow we have to assume that there is only one Hell-consigning God to be considered… From the fact that several religious systems are all incompatible with one another you may infer, only that not more than one of them can, not that one of them must, be true. No reason whatever has so far been provided for believing that any religious system is true: all may be false… Now supposing there are several such systems, each threatening unbelievers with infinite torture… For [Pascal] assumes that the tally of possible mutually exclusive, Hell-threatening systems is finite.” (9.12-9.13, pg. 187)
He concludes, “the onus of proof in this case must rest upon the proposition. If the existence of God is a fact it is quite certainly not---as the men of the Bible seem to have mistaken it to be---the sort of blindingly obvious fact which no one but a fool could possibly doubt or deny… We therefore conclude… that the universe itself is ultimate… [to] be taken as the last words in any series of answers to questions as to why things are as they are. The principles of the world lie themselves ‘inside’ the world.” (9.29, pg. 195)
Although Flew famously changed in mind about God in 2004, his earlier arguments are still of great interest for anyone studying the philosophy of religion.
Flew's biggest fault is that he is a radical empiricist (at least when he was writing the book), which is a poor place to start as it eventually turns on itself. However he does raise still a number of salient points which the average theist should know how to answer.
The average theist and/or upper level philosophy undergrads, may have a tough time reading and taking Professor Flew's meaning. The biggest qualm I have with the book is that it is a difficult read. Flew tends to digress, and then digress in his digresson, and 15 pages will have gone by before you get to what the chapter was supposed to deal with. His sentence structure is also a bit difficult at times to understand. That's not to say it's un-readable at all. Just that the average reader will need to understand that this book will need to be read and re-read most likely to fully take his meaning.
Of course there also are issues involved in the by now the famous Flew arguments re theology and the possibility of falsification.
This little book is one of the better places to begin a "serious" reading of these and many other issues.
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Have you actually read the book or at least Flew's new introduction regarding his changed view on theism?Read more