Writing for townhall.com, Dinesh D’Souza, like so many others, wants to use Anthony Flew to promote his own agenda.
Flew now believes that the design of the universe requires a designer. He gives his reasons in a new book There Is a God which is co-authored with Roy Abraham Varghese.
In the book, Flew uses simple analogies to expose atheist illogic.
As has been documented elsewhere, Anthony Flew has admitted that he does not recognize what is written in much of the book being circulated under his name by Christian propagandist Roy Varghese. This implies that either Flew is not the author, or that he is no longer in command of his mental faculties. The “simple analogies to expose atheist illogic [sic]” stand in stark stylistic and analytical contrast to the incisive philosophical analysis for which Flew originally became famous, lending further weight to the conclusion that Flew, in his right mind, would not have written the Varghese book, and very likely didn’t.
Let’s look at D’Souza’s sample simple analogy to see how far short it falls from the kind of intelligent and insightful argument an Anthony Flew could have produced when he was at the top of his form.
For instance, leading atheists seek to prove that the mind is no more than the brain. If the brain is destroyed, they say, we can’t use our minds. Therefore there is nothing to minds excerpt circuits and neurons. Flew gives the example of a child raised on a remote island who finds a satellite phone. Voices come out of the machine. The child recognizes these voices as human and is thrilled by the discovery that she has found a way to interact with other humans. Perhaps there is life outside the island!
Then the elders of the tribe (if I may embellish Flew’s account, let’s call them Big Chief Dawkins, Grand Pooh Bah Dennett, and Witch Doctor Pinker) scorn the child and say, “Look, when we damage the instrument, the voices stop. So they’re obviously nothing more than sounds produced by the unique combination of metals and circuit boards. Forget about learning about other humans. From all the evidence we have, we are the only living creatures on earth. So go back to making sandcastles.”
D’Souza (or more likely Varghese) is trying to come up with an excuse for why all the identifiable functions of the “soul” can be observed to cease whenever the functions of the brain cease. The problem with the analogy, however, is twofold: first, it arbitrarily contrives a situation in which we know the voices exist outside of the immediate, local source; and secondly, it arbitrarily contrives a situation in which the lack of available information makes it impossible to draw a definitive conclusions. Real life is subject to neither constraint, and thus the analogy is not really analogous to what we find in the case of the alleged “soul.”
Let’s tweak the analogy to make it more like real life. For example, let’s not call them “satellite phones.” Let’s call them “devices.” The tribesmen, after all, are not supposed to know what they are. They might be phones, they might be radios, they might be See-And-Say toys that produce artificially synthesized speech. The tribesmen don’t know what they are, and neither do we. All they, or we, know is that when you break the device, the sounds stop. If we, too, have access to only this much information, can we say for sure that the voice made by the box is more than just the product of its electronic circuits? If we say “yes,” and the boxes in question turn out to be See-And-Say’s, have we just proven that a mechanical toy has as much “soul” as men?
Or let’s say that instead of finding one satellite phone, the tribe finds a whole shipment of them, enough for each member of the tribe to have two. If there are any scientifically-minded tribesmen, they can determine, by experimentation, that damaging the phones makes that phone incapable of producing the voices. The voices, however, can still be received by the other phones. This is consistent with the conclusion that the voices exist external to the phones, but it’s not conclusive. See-And-Say’s all have the same-sounding voice, for instance. So let’s make the analogy even closer to what we find in relation to the alleged “soul.”
In real life, the “soul” is supposed to speak to us with an intelligible voice, so let’s suppose that someone on the other end of the satellite phone recognizes the tribesmen’s dialect as being close enough to one he knows that he can communicate with them and identify himself. Each tribesman can contact Larry the Linguist on his own phone, and the scientific tribesmen can verify that Larry continues to speak, even when you destroy one of the phones he is speaking on. Furthermore, you can tell him something on one phone, and he can correctly repeat that information on another, thus proving that Larry’s ability to function is not limited to the functioning of any one phone.
Obviously, nothing like that is true with respect to the alleged human “soul.” Larry the Linguist continues to exist and function independently of the state of repair of the phone he’s talking on, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest that any function of the will, mind, or emotion, is operational when the functions of the brain are not. Christians, for example, cannot spiritually communicate information to some third-party deity and have the deity convey that information to other Christians the way the tribe can pass a message to Larry and have Larry relay it to a different phone.
Nor can Christians explain how an immaterial soul would go about interacting with a material brain, or what the connection would be between the two if they could interact. Is the brain supposed to be controlled by the soul, or is it merely a passive receiver/transmitter sort of thing? Does the soul somehow trigger the firing of neural synapses that produce bodily behaviors such as speech and action? If so, then how, and why can’t science verify empirically that there’s an external, non-biochemical influence that controls the firing of synapses? And do animals have souls, and if not then what causes their synapses to fire? And why can’t we find any detectable difference between how synapses fire in animals and how they fire in man?
D’Souza’s example actually proves the opposite of the point he’d like to make. For example, it would be theoretically possible to disassemble the satellite phone and determine from its circuitry that it was receiving signals from an outside source. (Even a simple tribesman could experiment with taking the phone into a cave or a heavily-forested area and draw similar conclusions.) But even more so, it is people like D’Souza who are the real tribal elders saying, “Don’t try to understand how it [the phone/brain] works. Just believe what we’ve always believed, and stop trying to understand the world better than your elders.”