Wednesday, 29 March 2017

God And Philosophy

God and Philosophy
Antony Flew

The British philosopher Professor Antony Flew, who was an exponent of atheism for six-decades, created a controversy in 2004 by declaring that he has discovered God. The subtitle of his 2007 book, “There is God,” in which he presents the reasons for changing his views on God, claims that he is the “world’s most notorious atheist.”

The atheistic ideas in Flew’s God and Philosophy, which was published in the 1961 when he was a vocal champion of atheism, is not of the “notorious” variety. He displays love-hate relationship with the theists. He rejects the religious doctrines, but he can’t keep away from the Christian religion. He is of the view that the Christian God merits a rigorous philosophical analysis.

Prof. Douglas B. Rasmussen says, "Flew's achievement in God and Philosophy must be appreciated. He carefully dismantles the arguments for the existence of God, and in many cases he does so not from a Humean perspective, which is skeptical about causality, but from an Aristotelian one that endorses causality.  His argumentative strategy at the start is not to prove that God does not exist, but to show that since all the arguments for God's existence fail, one ought not believe that God exists. The claim that one does not believe that God exists does not require proof, but only the realization that the evidence adduced for affirming that God exists is inadequate.  After doing that, then one can go on to consider whether one can show that "God does not exist" is true.  You do this by showing, for instance, that the divine attributes of all goodness and all power are contradictory.  Or you show that the notion of a divine Mind is senseless, etc."

The strategy that Flew adopts in God and Philosophy consists of ruling out natural theology by establishing that the religious doctrines are a philosophy. Then he proves that the philosophical system of the religions is not based on reality but on revelation. After establishing that revelation is the only possible foundation of a religious system, he refutes that foundation.

Through a series of systematic arguments he shows that the design, cosmological, and moral arguments for God’s existence are invalid. But he insists that the concept of God must be properly defined before the existence of God can be analyzed. He begins the second chapter, “Beginning From The Beginning,” with these lines:

“The problem therefore arises: ‘What is this God?’ It is as important as it is unusual that this should be put, as here, from right outside the system. Unless it is put in this external way some fundamental questions will go unasked, and some of the logical consequences derived from utterances about God are likely to be entirely misconstrued.”

In the Chapter 6, “The Credential of Revelations,” he proposes that revelation is the only possible source of knowledge of God. But revelation is an experience, which he says, contains a crucial ambiguity. “This ambiguity, which the generic term experience shares with many of its species labels, is that between, first, the sense in which it refers only to what the subject is undergoing and, second, a sense in which it implies that there must be an actual object as well.”

He deduces that to make the existence of God dependent upon human beliefs is to turn him into a sort of Tinker-bell—someone entirely a function of these beliefs. It is facts we require, he says, not beliefs. He asks: “How and when would we be justified in making inferences from the facts of the occurrence of religious experience, considered as a purely psychological phenomenon, to conclusions about the supposed objective religious truths?”

The problem, he points out, is logical. A belief in something does not necessarily mean that that thing actually exists or is true. A subjective experience may or may not correspond to an objective fact. Therefore a revelation, being a subjective experience, cannot be relied upon.

Flew argues against the key tenets of traditional religious beliefs. On the idea of eternal damnation, he says that the punishment is disproportional because no human crime can ever legitimize an everlasting punishment. He also points out that if the God gets pleasure from the pain and despair of the sinners then he is not benevolent, and that the concept of Hell cannot be reconciled with the concept of a loving divinity.

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