Friday, July 31, 2009

Antony Flew on His Debate with Thomas B. Warren

Yuck! Raining again today. So for the afternoon, this big group of extended family I'm with is planning to get out and go shopping.

We did much the same thing yesterday. Packed up and went to the mall in Holyoke, Mass. Of course, once we were about halfway there, the sun came out and we knew we should have gone swimming. So on the way home, we consoled ourselves by stopping at a roadside stand that had freshly-picked ears of butter-and-sugar corn. That and burgers cooked on the grill. Mmm Umm.

At the mall, I finally wound up in the Borders Bookstore. I remembered that in a couple of weeks, I'm supposed to do a presentation on "The Existence of God." So I was looking through the Religion section and came to that book I'd heard so much about a year or two ago: There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, by Antony Flew.

I've read the first section so far. All along, I was hoping to find a section on Flew's debate with Thomas Warren of the Churches of Christ. Here's an excerpt:

The 1976 debate with Thomas Warren in Denton, Texas, had an audience, on different days, from five to seven thousand. . . .

Debates in the United Kingdom typically took place before small academic audiences. Thus my first exposure to a mass audience in the context of a debate was my encounter with the late Professor Thomas B. Warren, a Christian philosopher. The debate was held on the campus of the North Texas State University, now the University of North Texas, in Denton, on four consecutive nights starting on September 20, 1976, dates that coincided with the first of that year's U.S. presidential debates between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Before an enthusiastic audience, Dr. Warren wielded an impressive array of charts and slides.

Interestingly, a good part of his case was an attack on the theory of evolution, which at that time seemed to me to be a novel undertaking. When Dr. Warren asked if I believed there could be a being that is half ape and half human, I responded that this was sort of like determining whether someone is bald. My supervisor Gilbert Ryle was positively egglike, and there is no doubt that everyone must call that bald. But if we go one hair at a time, it is not easy to define who is bald and who is not.

However, given my current views, a few of my very declarative statements from that debate may be of interest in depicting the fervency of my atheist convictions at that point:

"I know there is no God."

"A system of belief about God" contains the same "sort of contradiction" as "unmarried husbands or round squares."

"I myself am inclined to believe that the universe was without beginning and will be without end. Indeed, I know of no good reasons for disputing either of these suggestions."

"I believe that living organisms evolved over an immeasurably long period from nonliving materials."

I was impressed with the hospitality of my hosts, but the debate ended with both Warren and I sticking to our guns
(pp. 67-69).

By the way, here's the homepage for the Warren-Flew debate on video.

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