More on Flew, and even more philosophy

Since the attempts to give Anthony Flew the brush-off will continue for a while, I thought passing along a link to his interview with Dr. Benjamin Wiker was appropriate. He certainly doesn’t seem senile in this interview. In response to a question about what motivated his rejection of atheism, Flew stated:

There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance.” If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.

Flew makes a couple of interesting points: One is that as the Universe gives the appearance of design, the burden of proof is on the atheists, not the other way around as he used to claim. He also made the point that scientists cannot speak to philosophical questions as scientists; they must address them as philosophers. This is a nice interview; I only wish it appeared on a site that didn’t seem so … odd. But, ignore the ads and the rest of the site and enjoy the interview.

As we’re on the topic of philosophy, I’ll direct you to a very nice post on epistemology (how we know what we know) by BarryA at Uncommon Descent, where he does a very nice job of explaining how philosophy and science differ in their approach to what we know and the limitations of what we can know. He uses Ptolemy’s cosmology as an example:

Ptolemy’s system was so good that it was the basis upon which celestial predictions were made for over a thousand years. Copernicus first published his theories in 1543. Forty years earlier, armed only with his knowledge of Ptolemy, Columbus was able to awe the Indians on present day Jamaica by predicting the lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504.

Importantly, note that Ptolemy’s system has every attribute of a sound scientific theory, and if the scientific method had been around in his day, scientific experiments would have supported his theory.

Ptolemy, as we now know, was wrong. However, BarryA already pointed out that we can never be 100% certain of anything:

Keep in mind that our beliefs can never be justified in an absolute sense. You have a justified belief that you are sitting at your computer reading this scintillating post. Even though this belief is highly justified and almost certainly true, you cannot rule out that you are dreaming or that you are in the Matrix are that you have been deceived by one of Descartes’ demons.

As he also explains, Berkeley’s proposal that nothing material really exists is irrefutable, and Samual Johnson’s stubbed toe could really have just been written into The Matrix. However, from a practical standpoint, Berkeley’s thinking is literally immaterial. As an old philosophy professor of mine once remarked about Berkeley’s proposition, “just because he was a philosopher doesn’t mean he wasn’t stupid.” If the scientific method results in theories that work whether in the real world or in The Matrix, what does it matter to us? Science is practical, and cannot by any stretch of the philosophical or scientific imagination answer the question of whether matter is real or not, or whether a non-material world exists. Unless, of course, you are given knowledge from outside the system.

BarryA’s overview of epistemology and his thoughts on our current state of “knowing” is well worth reading, and I believe the question of what we really know is important and, if nothing else, fun to think about.

But then, what do I know?

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2 Responses to More on Flew, and even more philosophy

  1. me says:

    Which video? I’ve watched a few, including the Strobel interview, and I would not call him incoherent. My goodness, he’s elderly, but he’s still sharp. Of course, if you’re looking for an excuse to discount any opinions he has, age is certainly convenient, although to do so amounts to an ad hominem argument.

    However, so what does it matter if Anthony Flew has changed his mind? It should only matter to you in the event his earlier opinions were wrong or something that he is now believing is correct.

  2. Steven Carr says:

    It is fascinating to read the articulate interview and then watch the video to see an almost incoherent Flew having to be prompted by the interviewer.

    I wonder how this ‘interview’ with Wiker was conducted…

    Wiker, of course, won’t tell anybody.

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