The argument from design

LI heard of Anthony Flew for the first time in an Emory U. philosophy class on God’s existence. The man who taught the class bore a striking resemblence to Chuck Barris, the mc of the gong show, although he spoke with an impeccable Oxbridgian accent, and threw himself into the appropriate Wittgensteinian gestures then fashionable for teaching a philosophy seminar (i.e., he spent much of the hour or two he talked facing a corner of the room, to which he seemed to be attracted as he muscularly exerted his brain over various ways that we might say things. Perhaps the corner gave him the illusion of privacy that was necessary to bring his conceptual struggles to fruition, but it did tend to muffle his message).

So we read, or were forced to read, a little Flew. The man did not make a large impression on yours truly.

However, he seems to have left an impression on the world at large. ABC tv news itself recently reported his sensational conversion to theism. Just in time for Christmas, too. Flew has now written a “calm down people” paper in which he disclaims any intention of spreading the good word among the heathen in the Hindu Cush.

A pity. We love conversion stories. Although we can’t say that Flew’s conversion had the cosmological zing of earlier conversions. Take St. Barbara. A perfectly ordinary girl, daughter of a rich merchant in Egypt, raised in a high tower to which nobody could gain access – you know, that Rapunzel upbringing so many girls had to endure in the days of yore. Daddy comes home one day and discovers his towerbound princess is going on and on about God the father and God the son. Yikes! She’s even put three windows in her tower to betoken the trinity. And she's defaced Dad's prize idol collection. The bills for glaziers in those days were unbelievably high, so her Dad was righteously p.o.-ed. As the Golden Legend says:

“Then he being replenished with furor, incontinent drew his sword to have slain her, but the holy virgin made her prayer and then marvellously she was taken in a stone and borne into a mountain on which two shepherds kept their sheep, the which saw her fly. And then her father, which pursued after her, went unto the shepherds and demanded after her. And that one, which would have preserved her, said that he had not seen her, but that other, which was an evil man, showed and pointed her with his finger, whom the holy Saint Barbara cursed, and anon his sheep became locusts, and he consumed into a stone.”

Of course, as any paterfamilias would, her dad, whose idolworshipping had been honored by the Alexandria Rotary club, wasn’t going to have any funny stuff from his daughter. Although the sheep becoming locusts must have made him pause a bit. Sheep into locusts, lead into gold -- could be onto something here, what? Still, a tower is a tower and a beautiful daughter who proposes to sit around flaunting her virginity was an expense he wasn’t about to shoulder. Instead, he did what so many Dads did back then, took her straight to be tortured by the town judge’s men. It was a slow torture day, not many customers, so the judge just gave her the quick torture treatment – he bade his guys “unclothe her and beat her with sinews of bulls, and frot her flesh with salt.” Well, that didn’t work. Barbara was firm in the faith, and (having evidently impressed herself with that sheep into locusts thing -- quite a switch from quiet days knitting sacrifices for the idols) (never mind the flight into the mountains via stone) refused. She probably figured on having another little flight. Such things do go to a virgin’s head.

However, this time, as the axeman raised his axe and Barbara raised her eyes piously skyward, nothing happened. And before she could say, let's talk about this fellas, down came the axe and off came her head. God, however, while not exactly being quick on the uptake during the execution, did the next best thing, and had some hitman angel sling a lightning bolt into her Dad.

This kind of thing can’t happen in Flew’s Oxford, however, as it would cause the neighbors to talk. So artists in ages to come will not be painting Oxford dons frotting Flew's skin with salt. Nowadays you have to go to a spa to get that done -- and they charge an arm and a leg!

Paul Craddick has noted the Flew story, and noted, also, that Flew was converted not by being filled with the holy spirit, but by pondering the argument from design. This, Paul thinks, is the most convincing evidence of God’s existence. LI disagrees. In an upcoming post, we are going to claim the authority of Epicurus for saying that the idea of God is an innate idea – which is also, of course, associated with Descartes -- and that 'idea', if it means a sort of overall sensation about experience (which it can be twisted into meaning) is the best evidence of God's existence.

We’ve had a few letters about posts last week. A friend of ours wrote to us about our Franz Rosenzweig post: “the most important inheritor of Rozensweig, to me, is Levinas, who makes much more implicit and explicit use of Rosensweig than does Heidegger. Don't you think? Although since Levinas makes so very much use of Heidegger, and greatly admired much of his work even until the end, the influences are nicely compounded. Anyway, in the hit parade of philosophers, EL should come in with more overall hits than R, despite his "star" which does make him one.”

Another of our far flung correspondents, T., in NYC, wrote in to comment about our meditation on the figure of the fanatic. He quotes this, from our post on the Alabama cretin who wants to banish books by Gay authors from Alabama libraries:

"This is a story of a type that Mencken liked to collect for the Smart Set: cretinous Americana. Both the right and the left, on the web, love to find stories that report some aberrant act or another and pass them around. It is a genre that has, as yet, not found its Barthes" -- and comments:

Indeed, I'm not sure that you realize how insightful that comment is. Not only has it not found its Barthes, it has not found its Deleuze & Guattari. The Barthes of what is known in Howard's translations as "Mythologies" would be fascinating and helpful. The Barthes of the "close reading" of Poe, even more so; the Barthes who contemplated the 'other-ache' , where is that one? But it is the D&G of the genre that I would love to meet, the one that could bring a very heavy dose of phenomenology to the fantasy and desiring 'machines' of the genre. Much aside from Zizek's attempts to bring Deleuze back into conformity with Hegelian types, I'd prefer to find more chat about cretinous blogging that is not always so rife with dialectical turns from those simple, singular "acts" so widely propagated. The blogosphere is riven with these analyses from anecdote, from a single keyboard to generalization. There is all too much miming of that peculiarly Chomskian rhetorical tic: "All the evidence is in the public record, so there really is no reason to restate it.....we can freely move on to the obvious conclusions....." In Noam's hands, such a tic is often enough deft; in the blogosphere, it is often enough daft.

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