Sunday, December 12, 2004

Flew recants

Every now and then philosophers change their minds about a position they hold. To most of us it is no big deal. From time to time it makes a tiny little splash in an already small pool of philosophical gossip. I remember a year or two ago Frank Jackson changed his mind about the Colorblind Mary argument, and a few Philosophy of Mind geeks had something to talk about for a week. I assume that there are less than 1000 people in the world who actually know what I am talking about, and less than 10 who care.

But when Anthony Flew does it, I think it is a big deal. Anthony Flew's Theology and falsification has been anthologized about fifty times. It is probably one of the most widely read piece of philosophy. He put forward one of the most standard argument for atheism ever. (I taught his paper in my class last week.) He now claims to believe in God. This is really big philosophy gossip. (Hat tip to Julian Sanchez.) Anthony Flew's name is almost synonymous with atheism (and libertarianism too).

Apparently his reasons are that he is becoming convinced by some fine tuning arguments, which I never bought, and I never understand people who do. Those arguments are designed to answer the question of "Why does the universe exist" or "Why does this particular universe exist. Presumably only certain universes are possible. That is to say that only certain kinds of universes can be supported by physics. There are a few answers to this question. God is one of them, though as many point out, it is hard to see how God answers the question in any real way. (Others, for example, involve the "many universes" answer.)

I wonder how much clarifying Flew plans on doing about this. According to one source he has not really changed his mind at all.

Now, although what Flew thinks at any given time makes no difference, it is interesting. It is the philosopher's equivelant of celebrity gossip. Flew's opinion is about as interesting as anyone elses, except that he has probably given this a lot of thought, but it is only the content of that thought, only his ability to give us his well thought out reasons and arguments, that matter in the end.

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