Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Report:: There is a God by Anthony Flew

I first heard of There is a God from a post on pharyngula when the book first came out last fall. The original post was followed by a few others. I'd never heard of Anthony Flew and the consensus of opinion was that he was an aging philosopher who was being manipulated by an unscrupulous fundamentalist nut job - coauthor Roy Varghese (see links for post and interviews). I I read PZ's posts, figured the book wasn't worth my time and carried on with out a further thought. Then, my parents mentioned that they'd read the book and asked if I'd take a look at it.

At first I thought I'd just breeze through it and then disregard it based on the reviews I'd already seen, but after further consideration I realized that wasn't a good skeptical approach. To reject the book before even considering it would be as dogmatic as any fundamentalist. So instead I read it carefully and took pages of notes for the purpose of writing a little book report.

First off Anthony Flew was a philosopher. I'm completely unqualified to read and understand philosophy, so I'm sure I missed some subtleties. On the other hand the book was written for a general audience so hopefully what I was able to understand most of what was going on.

The preface was written by Roy Varghese. In my opinion he overstates Flew's significance. Yes, he was an atheist philosopher for a long time and wrote lots of books. He wrote more books than Bertrand Russell. Not a strong argument to my mind. He then proceeds to quote mine Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and uses those distortions question the quality of the reasoning employed by the "new atheists". He wraps up with two familiar assertions: Einstein believed in God and atheism is a religion. Of course what Einstein believed about a god is irrelevant. He had no special ability or information to base his belief on. And atheism is a religion like baldness is a hair style.

Section 1:
The first three chapters of the book deal with Flew's career and antitheological writings. He chooses to highlight three problems for theists. 1) How is god to be identified 2) How positive terms can be applied to god and 3) The problem of evil. He also asserts that the burden of proof for a deity is on the one making the positive claim - that there is a god. The theists should be the ones supplying evidence of god. Not expecting everyone to believe until proven otherwise. This is all pretty reasonable. Then things start to get a little off track. He finishes the section with a several familiar arguments against a naturalistic universe. DNA is complex therefore god. Monkeys with typewriters trying to duplicate Shakespeare. These are a result of flawed methods or poor understanding of biology.

Overall I found the first section rather dull. Lots of book titles and philosophical name dropping. No real discussions or arguments to be found.

Section 2:
Chapters 4-10 contain the arguments for theistic belief. They are built around "three dimensions of nature that point to god". These dimensions are 1) nature obeys laws 2) life exists and 3) there is something rather than nothing.

Flew begins by noting that the universe appears to obey laws, and claims that this requires an author of those laws. Related is that the universe and the laws of nature seem fine tuned for the kind of life we see in the universe. This is unconvincing. The fine tuning argument is dealt with nicely in this quote by Douglas Adams.

. . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.
From the 'fine tuning' issue Flew moves to abiogenisis. This is where the god of the gaps is in full force. His claim is that since science as yet has not developed a good theory for the origin of life, it must have been god that started it all. There is no evidence for this position and science is not static. It is impossible to predict the future of science, but odds are on science to fill the gap and force theist to find another gap for god to fill.

Finally we get to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. The discussion here is essentially personal incredulity. The origin of the universe may always be a mystery. There are ideas like quantum vacuums and zero net energy. But those don't don't seem like satisfactory explanations to Flew. He doesn't find it compelling or he doesn't understand it. This doesn't make it wrong. Since this is a place where science hasn't come to definite conclusions, Flew says that makes it a philosophical problem rather than a scientific one. I think that is a bunch of garbage. Philosophers can sit around all day and wonder about hard questions, but they won't gather any data to answer those questions without doing science.

From here the rest of the book is lots of philosophical talk that sort of didn't mean anything to me.

Overall there was nothing new in this book that I hadn't seen before. A few weak god of the gaps arguments, and a bit philosophical hand waving. Not the kind of thing you'd hope for in a book that is supposed to make a convincing stand for the existence of god. What would be convincing for me might be some physical evidence or hypothesized mechanisms for how a god could answer the questions posed in the book.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Crackergate Wrap Up

This was just to good to not repost on my own blog. The cracker has been desecrated.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Recent Thoughts on Bodybuilding

It has been almost 3 months since I walked out on stage in my underwear. Most of that time has been filled up with my outside the gym activities. I went to TAM6, and Alaskan cruise. I did my best to support my wife's Triathlon training by baby sitting. And I've traveled a bit for work. The end result is that I haven't spent that much time in the gym. Something like 3 days a week with several interruptions of about 7 days at a time.

The difficulty I've had getting a routine gym schedule going this summer makes me wonder how I managed to put in the time before my show. I'm sure part of it was the motivation of having a goal I was working toward. I've definitely felt a drop off in desire and intensity now that I don't have anything concrete I'm trying to achieve.

I've also not felt the urge to try another show lately. That means another show this fall is not in the cards. I'm sort of thinking that trying to diet twice in the same year isn't the healthiest choice either. I've put on about 28 lbs over the last three months, so I'm weighing in just a hair under 170 these days. I don't know if any of that is quality muscle mass or if I'm just packing on the body fat with the summer ice cream I'm eating.

I'm starting to open my mind to other fitness pursuits, though I won't ever give up on the weight lifting. Seeing Lori do her triathlon was very inspiring as was the whole atmosphere of the event. I could see myself trying that once, but I'm still terrified of the swimming. I'm not the leanest guy around but I don't really float without a wet suit on. I guess we'll see where I end up. For now I'm enjoying shorter workouts and I'm playing around with my training splits. I've split my leg training up so I lift legs twice a week. The idea is that big muscles stimulate the release of more HGH than small muscles. Theoretically the whole physique an benefit from the extra leg work. That might not work for me. My legs are pretty small.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Reverted has a new post. It is about time. He is a really excellent writer. Well worth the read. If he starts getting some comments he might post more often and that would be a good thing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Atheist Literature in the Waiting Area

Yesterday I found myself with some time to kill at one of Naval Base Kitsap's pass and ID offices. I have this habit that annoys my wife from time to time, where I find it impossible not to read something that is in front of me while I'm sitting around. I read cereal boxes over and over at breakfast or grocery store ads or Target receipts. So I was sitting in the waiting area flipping through mostly dull Navy magazines, when I discovered a fairly extensive set of American Atheist magazine in the rack. I have no idea who might have been responsible for getting the subscription there I was pretty happy. I'm used to hearing about the challenges of being and atheist in the military, primarily via the FFRF's Free Thought Radio podcast. I know the Northwest is supposed to be a very atheist friendly area, but I was still pleasantly surprised to see "a journal of atheist news and thought" on a military installation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spoon Science

While at TAM6, as part of Dr. Richard Wiseman's presentation, we got to participate in a mass spoon bending trick that was recorded for YouTube. That video is finally up at . This was very cool.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Links

I some times feel like the only thing this blog is good for is condensing pharygula down to the parts that are most interesting or entertaining to me. However, I do actually have a life of my own. I even managed to find out that Lucy was coming to the Pacific Science Center before PZ posted it
. I just happened to be at the PacSci last weekend, and saw the posters advertising the Lucy exhibit. So, I do do thing other than read blogs.

However, the last few days on pharyngula there has been some stuff too good not to shamelessly steal. I just can't pass up reposting the ongoing uproar over the communion crackers. Some one walked off with a wafer from a mass in Florida. And then PZ's post about it got some people very upset. I must say I'm very entertained by it all.