Threats to freedom: a view from Britain 11

Under the auspices of The Freedom Association in Britain, Theodore Dalrymple – author of many excellent books, two of them often praised and quoted by Thomas Sowell, Life at the Bottom and Our Culture, What’s Left Of It – gave the inaugural Annual Jillian Becker Lecture on March 23, 2018. 

The annual lecture is in celebration of Individual Freedom and/or The Nation-State. It is given by a person who has spoken or written consistently in defense of either or both. Beyond that, the ideas expressed by the lecturer need not conform to either Jillian Becker’s views or those of the Freedom Association. A wide variety of opinion and context is to be expected and welcomed.

The surprise here is that the lecture is introduced by a Christian priest, the Rev. Peter Mullen, who mentions, in good humor, that both Jillian Becker and Theodore Dalrymple (aka Anthony Daniels) are atheists.

The Freedom Association fought long and hard for Brexit, and was one of the organizations that contributed significantly to the victory of the Leave campaign.

The title of the lecture is: Threats to Freedom.

In Memoriam: Antony Flew, Philosopher of Atheism 8

[Photo: John Lawrence]

Antony Flew, the philosopher, atheist, and defender of freedom, died on April 8, 2010, at his home in Reading, England. I knew him, to my pride and delight, for many years. We would meet a few times a year (we both served on the Council of the Freedom Association, as I still do), and wrote to each other frequently about books, events, issues, campaigns, tactics. On politics and religion we saw eye to eye. We were both atheist conservatives. He was a classical scholar, more widely and deeply erudite than anyone else I’ve ever known. And he had the humility of true greatness. When I asked him to write the introduction to a new edition of a book I was editing on, and against, Karl Marx (The Red Prussian, by Leopold Schwarzschild) he told me that he was not the best person for the task, and gave me a short list of experts who, he insisted, knew more than he did and whose names would better grace the book. Only when they’d all declared themselves unable or unwilling, Antony said he would “do his best” to write a good introduction – and a very good introduction it is.

Obituaries on both sides of the Atlantic say that Antony Flew was the world’s most famous atheist, and that he suddenly changed his mind and declared that God exists after all.

It is true that he did say this. But he never said it when he was in his right mind.

It would have been unkind of me to write what I am about to write while he was alive. Yet I think it is absolutely right that I say it now, because it’s necessary to do him justice. So I declare that the reasoning by which he arrived at his certainty that God does not exist was never cancelled or reversed by the sloppy arguments of his senility.

Of his many books, the one that matters most for his reputation as an atheist is God & Philosophy. It was first published in 1966. Later editions appeared at intervals, the last in 2005. To judge by the new introduction he wrote, he was as sure of his atheism then as he had been in 1966.

In 2007 a new book appeared under his name titled There is a God. The subtitle crows: How the world’s most notorious [sic] atheist changed his mind. The authorship is ascribed to Antony Flew “with Roy Abraham Varghese”. But no one who has read God & Philosophy with attention could possible believe that There is a God was a product of the same intelligence. Either the powers of Antony Flew had faded away, or some other mind engendered this work. In fact, both those things happened. It has emerged that he did not write it. He had spoken, and other hands had written. He could not even remember what was in it. And of that failure of memory and general weakening of his mental faculties, the actual writers had taken advantage.

There is a God is distinctly written for an American readership. It refers, for instance, to the Red Sox. I’d have bet a mint that my friend Tony Flew had no idea who the Red Sox are – Chinese school-boys, he may have supposed.

According to Dr Richard Carrier, who tried to ascertain from Professor Flew himself whether he had really “found God”, the authors of There is a God are Roy Abraham Varghese who is known for his work on “the interface between science and religion”, and Pastor Bob Hostetler – two people with a big blunt axe to grind.

Carrier’s detailed account of how Flew claimed he was, but then again was not, converted to belief in a creator-God when certain scientific facts were brought to his attention, makes the whole sorry story plain. Carrier records that the philosopher admitted to finding the subject “too hard” to deal with; that he failed to remember anything about There is a God; that he repeatedly contradicted himself. He tells us about the bewildered old man being awarded a prize by an Evangelical Christian University. (The Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth, bestowed on him by the university of Biola at la Mirada, California.) The prodigal son returned! Much rejoicing in Christian circles. As if the willingness of a senile man to concede – on and off – the existence of a creator-God, were all the proof they needed to shout in the face of atheists and sceptics: “There, you see? If even he can see it now, you should not have the hubris to think you know better and continue to deny it!”

How insecure these believers must be in their belief!

Carrier writes: “It is certainly possible that Flew looked at ten drafts [of There is a God]. I see no reason to believe Flew was able to understand or even recall what he read.” Flew admitted to having “a nominal aphasia”. But it was more than “nominal”. “Flew could not even recall the arguments of the book , not just who made them or what his sources were.”

Carrier found that whenever Professor Flew himself stated his position, it was always to reaffirm his atheism. Statements to the contrary were never made by him directly, though one at least, firmly insistent that he really had changed his mind, was put out by the publisher on his behalf.

However, I know it was not a total scam. I know that at times he did think he had changed his mind.

I saw him soon after the book appeared and asked him was it true he now believed in God.

“Yes,” he replied, “but not the Monster”.

I understood of course what he meant by “the Monster”. He had rejected the Christian God while still in his teens because he could not reconcile the evil in the world and hell after it with a beneficent deity. Such a deity could only be a Monster. His father, a Methodist minister, was distressed by young Antony’s rejection of his faith, but Antony said, as he was to repeat throughout his life, that he had to go “where the evidence leads”. Now he told me, only the existence of “an intelligence” can explain the nature of the universe. This intelligence, this non-monstrous god, made the laws of nature and then had nothing more to do with his creation – the theological position known as deism.

In God & Philosophy, there is a section on “Order and Design”, in which the author asks the question: “Does order in nature itself presuppose an Orderer?” Elegantly and fully he reasons over a few pages that it does not. (This is not the place to quote his reasons, but I hope to whet some appetites for seeking them in the book.) “So we conclude that order in the universe by itself provides no warrant whatsoever for trying to identify an Orderer.”

The meticulous arguments are abandoned as though they had never been made, in the later book There is a God. The reason given there for belief in a creator God, is that the author has learnt about DNA, about its “enormous complexity”, and sees that there must have been an Orderer who made the universe! He also sets out the “fine-tuning” argument. Both the arguments, from “irreducible complexity” and “fine-tuning” have been thoroughly refuted.

Then there is the “Stratonician presumption”, as Flew himself named it after the Greek philosopher Strato of Lampsacus, the third head of Aristotle’s Lyceum, who formulated it. The presumption is that in explaining the world you can do without entities that are not necessary for the completeness of the explanation. In God & Philosophy, Antony Flew does not find it necessary to call in God or gods.

But suddenly, in There is a God, such a supernatural being becomes essential to explain the world’s existence. *

From Antony’s point of view these pressing believers had not done him a disservice. He told me that there was to be a TV documentary about him and his conversion. He was innocently surprised at the attention he was getting, and the unexpected windfall it brought with it. He was paid what seemed to him a very large sum of money. He had never been a rich man, and he was happy for his wife and daughters that they would have this fund at their disposal. (This most generous-hearted of men was painstakingly frugal: every letter he posted was in a re-used envelope with a label stuck over the old address.)

So there’s the picture. A pair (or more?) of American Christian Evangelicals (and a Jewish theologian and physicist, Gerald Schroeder) had worked on him rather than with him, when he had become mentally frail, to produce this cancellation of a lifetime’s thought. In his dotage, these Evangelicals battened on to him, dazzled him with science that was utterly new to him – the big bang, DNA – and rewarded him like a Pavlov’s dog when he gave the response their spin elicited. He was subjected to intellectual seduction, much as Bertrand Russell was by Communists in his senile years.

What seems to me intolerably sad and wrong is that the reputation Antony Flew ought to have, as an atheist philosopher who brilliantly defended atheism throughout his long and distinguished professional life, is now to be replaced by a phony story that he who had been a convinced atheist changed his mind. Is the man who defended atheism better than anyone since David Hume, to be remembered as a deist?

Is this to be allowed to happen – that he be remembered as a man who saw the error of his atheist ways and became persuaded that there was a God – simply because he suffered a softening of the brain in his last years? The truth is that the Antony Flew who conceded the existence of a “creator-intelligence” was not “the Flew” – as he liked to allude to himself – that he had been at the peak of his powers. His faculties were deteriorating, his memory came and went unreliably, he was confused, bewildered and – because he was in a state of decline – taken advantage of.

His handwriting became shakier. He put letters to other people in envelopes that he addressed to me. (They probably got the letters I was supposed to receive.) When I sent him the print-out of an article I had written deploring the Islamization of Britain, he sent it back to me a few weeks later as an article of his own that he would like me to comment on. When he was to meet me and a few colleagues at a certain old club on Pall Mall (the famous street of clubs in the heart of London) which he must have visited dozens or even hundreds of times, he couldn’t find it. A search party rescued him and brought him to the meeting. He had become unsure of himself. He did not always remember, or possibly even grasp, points put to him in a discussion.

But what an enthusiast he forever was for ideas! His face would light up, his voice grow urgent with excitement. A passionate intellectual who was always gentle, always courteous even in the heat of argument, Antony Flew was the epitome of a reasonable man. Or I should say that is what he had been, and that is the way he should be remembered, this great philosopher and atheist. (His country bestowed no honors on him. I think he should have been made Companion of Honour, which is in the sole gift of the sovereign. England deserves her great men ever less!) Even those who disagree with his atheism must surely acknowledge in the name of justice and decency that his achievements, not his late and lamentable capitulations which seemed to cancel them, should be what he is remembered for.

Jillian Becker  April 18, 2010


*Here is a sample of the “reasoning” of these Christian ghosts, writing in the name of Professor Flew:

“I put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?’

Easy reply: manifest purpose.

They state in his name that the immaterial, ie mind, cannot come out of the material.

Reply: How can the material come out of the immaterial – ie matter out of “Mind” or “God”?

Britons awake, and have a cup of tea! 0

There could be no better symbol of old British common sense, kindness, friendliness, normality, sanity, good cheer and healing than a cup of tea. (Usually served with milk and sugar.) Any disaster can be faced, dealt with, overcome, remedied, survived, reduced, or eliminated once you’ve had a cup of good strong tea. In the Kingdom of the rainy islands, tea is a panacea.

Your spouse left you? Have a cup of tea.

Your horse came in last? Your bus was bombed and you lost a leg? Your TV’s on the blink? You trod on your glasses? Your Social Security benefit hasn’t come through? You’ve been told to wait two years for an urgent operation? The Labour Government’s bankrupted you and the whole country?

Never mind, have a cup of tea.

So however unsuitable it may seem to hold a Tea Party in imitation of the the American Tea Party Movement in the very country against which the first political Tea Party launched a Revolution, in another way the idea could not be more British.

Daniel Hannan, British Conservative Party member of the European Parliament, held a Tea Party in Brighton, UK, on Saturday, February 27, 2010, with only two days’ notice – chiefly through the Telegraph, where his columns appear. He spoke about the fiscal irresponsibility of the government.

It was a small beginning, but the idea might spread and a British Tea Party movement grow into a nation-wide protest against big government and high taxation.

Here Hannan thanks the 300 or so who attended:

Thanks to everyone who came to the Brighton Tea Party, and apologies to those who couldn’t get in. We opened and filled an adjoining room, but it was still quite a squash. The hotel manager told me afterwards that there had been more than 300 people present, not counting those who had had to be turned away. Not bad for a meeting organised with two days’ notice.

If you can run a tea-party in Brighton Pavilion – the constituency which the Greens are most hopeful of winning – you can run one anywhere. You don’t have to be a small-government Conservative to feel that taxation, spending and borrowing are currently too high.

Let me say it one more time. Gordon Brown has doubled the national debt. Every second, it rises by another 5,000 pounds. Our deficit is 12.6 per cent of GDP compared to Greece’s 12.7. All this despite the additional trillion pounds taken in taxation since 1997.

We can’t afford another month of this, let alone another five years.

Thanks to the Freedom Association for helping to put everything together …

The Freedom Association is our partner organization. We are once again proud of what it’s doing for the cause of freedom in socialist Britain.

The triumph of evil? 0

 From an email sent to us from Britain by Simon Richards, Director of The Freedom Association

We have come to take for granted the overwhelmingly benevolent power of the United States, which replaced the equally benevolent dominance Britain exerted throughout the 19th Century. Now, 200 years of leadership by these once great liberal, free market nations is drawing to a close and there will be no such benevolent overseer in future. Of course, even in these past two centuries, when the free world has shown feebleness, as in the 1930s, it has come close to destruction at the hands of evil. People have convinced themselves that the good guys always come out on top. There is no such guarantee. In my view, the will of one man, Winston Churchill, saved us from the triumph of evil in the Second World War. There is no guarantee we will be saved again next time.

We agree, sadly, with these pessimistic thoughts.