After spending a lifetime as a prominent atheist, Antony Flew apparently decided to change his mind later in life and declared himself a Christian. Since there’s nothing apologists like more than being seen to have their numbers swelled by those who previously disagreed with them, Flew’s name crops up alongside Lee Strobel on a regular basis.
The part apologists conveniently miss out, however, is that Flew didn’t authorise the book which was written in his name, in which he claimed to set out his reasons for becoming a Christian, while in possession of all his mental faculties.
Richard Carrier regularly corresponded with Flew in better times. Here he sets out the reasons why he believes Flew’s most controversial book was actually authored by someone else:
I don’t claim to have heard of Carrier before and I have no way of knowing the validity of his research. But I’ve written before about the dubiousness of claims from people who describe themselves a “former atheist”, and the responses to this have usually ended up begging more questions than they answer; by describing the conversion from position A to position D without expanding upon positions B and C and how they address the apparent non sequitur between positions C and D.
Position A: There is no evidence of a supernatural aspect.
Position B: New information suggests there is evidence of a supernatural aspect.
Position C: Position B is founded upon facts which can be objectively verified.
Position D: There is evidence for the existence of Yahweh.
I’ve seen various attempts to address position B, which mix and match appeal to authority fallacies with anecdotal and subjective opinion. I’ve also heard it argued that there is no such thing as the ‘objective verification’ demanded of position C, without a presuppositional belief in absolute authority. But I’m not asking for a rejigging of strict definitions, in order to suite a particular (and here’s that ridiculous phrase again) ‘worldview‘. I’m asking for a nuts and bolts, plain speaking breakdown of what the new information in position B was predicated upon, and how this inexorably leads to the conclusion that a particular god from a particular religion exists, while disproving the existence of any other gods from any other religion.
Note that position B is often reached by claiming “He spoke directly to me” and that this therefore invalidates the imperative of position C to ‘objectively verify’ the new evidence, since subjective experience cannot be objectively verified. But contrary to the position of many apologists, that this is true of both the atheist worldview and the religionist worldview, the former does not, in fact, require objective verification of position A in order for it to remain true.
Also note that arguing there is only one capitalised ‘G’ God, as a way to avoid the problem of disproving the existence of gods from other religions, doesn’t actually get us anywhere either, because in order to define the criteria for what that one ‘true’ God embodies, one must appeal to the presumed authority of Christian theology, over and above and the truth-claims which might be held by adherents of a religion with contradictory truth-claims to Christianity. You cannot borrow from theism to defend deism, or from deism to defend theism, without negating the imperative clause of position C, that the new information from position B is objectively verifiable.
Of course, the reason why there is so much resistance to this, among the apologist community, is that it essentially boils down to the perennial problem of asking the Christian to confront what, in fact, he or she cannot do; which is to accept that the bible is not an objectively verifiable proof that it is an inerrant proxy for Yahweh, while also making the contradictory claim that it is not the only proxy through which He is able to speak. Their claim, in the face of this, to be in possession of a ‘true understanding’ of what scripture actually means, as opposed to what it actually says, is a commitment the very same authority fallacy they’re charged with circumventing. Hence position D is a false statement — unless it is qualified by evidence that position A has been falsified.