Antony Flew vs. Thomas B. Warren Debate on the Existence of God

Since there is quite a buzz about Antony Flew's change of mind, maybe people would like to see him in his prime debating a Church of Christ professor. See here. You will need Quick Time Player to view it if you don't already have it.


IrishFarmer said...

Man, that's a long debate. I hate to admit it, but to this day I've never managed to make it through the entire debate. Watching Warren isn't so bad, but Flew was rather hard to pay attention to. As I remember it, he spoke rather slowly, and his words could be hard to follow at times.

I have to say, I wasn't too impressed with Flew. I didn't know who he was when I first saw the debate, but after finding out who he was, I was rather surprised to realize that he was the atheist I had seen in that debate.

IrishFarmer said...

Oh, I should probably finish my thought.

I was surprised that he was that atheist I had seen in that debate because I thought he did rather poorly. In the meantime, everyone had talked him up to be one of the greatest contemporary atheist philosophers.

John W. Loftus said...

Irish Farmer, let's say you ask a Christian ignoramus about the origin of the universe, okay? A theist might say something like this: "The Bible says God created it, and that settles it." A more informed theist might say, "Human beings cannot pop into existence out of nothing for no reason, therefore there must be a creator." A theistic philosopher might say, "The gaps in our knowledge about this present world cannot be bridged by chance, therefore it must be created." The same things can be said on the atheist side, from ignoramus to philosopher. Ignorant atheists will make simplistic statements to explain why there is a universe whereas philosophical atheists with make sophisticated statements.

Here's the problem. The philosophical atheist is much more of a skeptic than any ignorant theist. He sees both sides of the fence and because of this decides against affirming too much. But to a theist ignoramus, the very fact that an atheist philosopher does not affirm too much, must mean he is not confident in what he affirms. And without confident answers to some deep questions the theistic ignoramus will conclude the atheist philosopher lost the debate, even if he was debating an ignorant theist! I'm not saying this is so with you, but a theistic ignoramus will always judge the atheist philosopher to have lost any debate, sometimes by such a wide margin he'll wonder why that atheist philosopher is even considered a philosopher in the first place. Why? Because the atheist philosopher is first and foremost a skeptic. When faced with a question that he has doubts about because of a vast amount of study, he'll only be able to provide tentative answers. Did you notice Flew saying that from all that he's read he cannot give a complete justification of morality? Well, in order to properly judge that which he affirms here you'd have to read what he's read, wouldn't you? And if as an atheist he's trying to be fair and honest with the question itself, rather than use simplistic rhetoric to win the debate in front of ignoramuses, he will only be able to offer something tentative. The ignorant theist could clearly win such a debate on this issue by simply saying that morality is grounded in God and/or the Bible without also dealing with everything the atheist philosopher has read on the issue, which involves studying the Euthyphro dilemma in the same amount of depth.

I'm planning on writing more about this at a later time. That's the same reason, in my opinion, you can say some of the arguments in my book are "terrible." The problem is that you have not read what I have read on the issues I wrote about.

Shygetz said...

I'm watching it now, and Warren is AWFUL! I'm only on Warren't First Negative, and he's made so many logical fallacies (False Equivocations, Argument from Consequences, Poisoning the Well, etc.) It's really awful.

Shygetz said...

In fairness, Flew was a terrible public speaker. Thus far I agree with his arguments...once I can figure out what they are.

Spontaneous Order said...

I have watched the first two nights of the debate. I do not understand the issue raised around value. What is Warren's point when he says Flew said there was not value in the world until the first human. Can someone clarify?

John W. Loftus said...

I'm begining to listen to day two of this debate. And after having listened to Warren's first couple of times at the podium I'm no longer bothering to listen to what he says. I agree with Shygetz who thinks Warren's arguments are bad, although I understand that Christians might think he's doing well. If nothing else I've heard the Christian arguments too often that they bore me.

It seems to me that Flew has failed to understand that when speaking to people it's harder to follow a detailed argument that would be better read. In a debate one has to understand that what you say should be simplified somewhat.

I did have the opportunity to see a debate between Flew and Richard Swinburne on the campus of Bowling Green State University in 1989 and he had learned that lesson by then.

But I can't help but notice how polite Flew is. He was the leading atheist at the time and speaking for the minority. Now with the New Atheists the cultural climate sure has changed.

Shygetz said...

I may not have gotten quite as far as you have, spontaneous, but from what I've seen thus far, Warren is saying that:

1.) Flew claims that value did not exist before humans
2.) Flew claims that objective morality exists
3.) Morality requires the assignment of value, and therefore did not exist before humans
4.) Nothing objective can exist solely in the minds of humans
5.) Flew's position is inconsistent, and therefore incorrect

Where he fails is in proposition 4. For example, the color green does not exist outside of our minds. However, it is an objective fact that light of wavelength ~550 nm is green. Why is it objective? Because it is a definition agreed upon by a majority of humans based upon their shared subjective experiences. To argue otherwise would be mere semantics regarding the term "objective".

Similarly, based on our shared subjective experiences, it is an objective fact that the majority of modern humans consider infant rape to be wrong. So, objective facts can exist about subjective phenomena, including morality.

IrishFarmer said...

John, I don't see what the has to do with my comments. I never said Warren won, only that Flew did poorly.

Warren definitly had it over Flew when it came to presentation, but presentation does not win a debate (technically speaking).

I saw part of that debate so long ago, and didn't even finish it, so I wouldn't presume to judge who one. I don't remember enough about it.

I know Flew did stumble in the area of morality, contradicting his own beliefs. But I don't remember much beyond that.

magicshoemonkey said...

Long time reader, first time poster (ok, I won't do that again).

I watched all of Flew's speeches yesterday just to see what people meant by the comparison between then and now. I read large chunks of the debate in college, though, and also watched a lot of it before. I think I have to call the debate overall a draw. Each opponent had strengths in certain areas that are crucial to debate: Warren won in flair and presentation for sure (and pomp, as I aways thought he comes off a bit pompous).It does seem the Flew just doesn't really understand the form of a public debate, hence his tendency not to present his position very well in some areas.

Anyway, on the issues, it's kind of a tie, but only because Warren is good at making himself look right. I never could get past his ridiculous "life from rocks" junk and (spoiler alert!) his complete lack of understanding of evolution. Not to mention I would never bring evolution into a debate on the existence of God because it's too complex an issue to deal with in that context; I mean, the issue is already complex enough. Besides that, I just think evolution denial is silly.

Also, Warren loves to pretend not to understand what Flew is saying so he can twist his words. It's a common debate tactic, but I find it appallingly dishonest. He does it a lot when they're talking about Value and morality.

Shygetz said...

Besides that, I just think evolution denial is silly.

I've recently become fond of Stephen Gould's terminology--denial of evolution is perverse.

Also, Warren loves to pretend not to understand what Flew is saying so he can twist his words. It's a common debate tactic, but I find it appallingly dishonest.

It's the difference between debate as a competition and debate as a format for education. It's very clear which way Warren viewed it. I could hazard a guess as to why, but it would be insufficiently founded and unflattering, so I will abstain.

Irish, I think this is what John was talking about when he responded to your second comment. Flew seemed to have approached this debate as a discussion with a fellow philosopher with whom he disagreed, with the purpose of hashing out their disagreements and bringing them into focus. Warren seemed to come in with the idea to win and make Flew look like a buffoon. The differences in motivation would explain the differences in style, in which Flew was readily willing to admit ignorance about important questions rather than feign false certainty, while Warren was willing to make arguments that (I hope, considering his standing as an academic) he knew to be irrational and/or irrelavent.

Landgren said...

Why not also read Flew's recent book,There is a God. How the world's most notorious aheist changed his mind (New York, 2007) which now documents his own version of the quite brave change to a theistic position of an aristotelian character. Flew says he has always wanted to follow the evidences, wherever they lead. It is a truly fascinating reading and perhaps a threatening project for them, who have committed themselves to "debunking" theism.

johnny miller said...

As usual the Lord has something to say about this that sums up this discussion. I Corinthians 1:25
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
1 Corinthians 3:19
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"

johnny miller said...

I forgot this verse Psalm 14:1
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

cdawgpreacher said...

If there is no God: The Christian who dies after living an amazing life dies and turns into dirt, the athiest after living as an animal dies and turns into dirt
If there is a God: The Christian dies and spends eternity in Heaven, while the athiest dies and spends eternity in Hell.
The soul is to important to play games with, there is a God, and He desires you to come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Timothy 2:4)