Monday, January 07, 2008

Antony Flew: Is emotion really better than reason in religious matters?

Recently, I both reviewed Antony Flew's There IS a God and responded to claims that, at his advanced age and suffering a cognitive disorder(84), he either couldn't write the book or doesn't know what he thinks. I have dealt with those claims as well.

But another claim that surfaced was that Flew should have had an emotional religious experience rather than merely changing his mind for rational reasons. Those who think so might also want to look at the case of fellow philosopher (and atheist) A. J. Ayer, who actually had a near death experience (NDE) in 1988 - and see what happened. Here is a brief excerpt from The Spiritual Brain on that subject. During the experience, Ayer had encountered a painful red light that he took to be responsible for the government of the universe, and he thought it was his job to put things right. He remained an atheist until he died a year later, but according to a source close to him, he became much more interested in others (a classic outcome of a near death experience). And what of his philosophical views? Playwright William Cash, who staged a play based on Ayer’s account of his NDE at the Edinburgh Festival, was told by Ayer's doctor,
George recalls that Ayer told him, “I saw a Divine Being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to
revise all my various books and opinions.”
But he didn't. I must assume that he had reasons for not doing so that seemed good and reasonable to him, but the fact is that he didn't.

Perhaps this demonstrates that, in a person of philosophical temperament, reason is more critical than emotional experience.

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