As for Islam, it is, I think, best described in a Marxian way as the
uniting and justifying ideology of Arab imperialism. Between the New Testament
and the Qur’an there is (as it is customary to say when making such
comparisons) no comparison. Whereas markets can be found for books on reading
the Bible as literature, to read the Qur’an is a penance rather than
a pleasure. There is no order or development in its subject matter. All the
chapters (the suras) are arranged in order of their length, with the longest
at the beginning. However, since the Qur’an consists in a collection
of bits and pieces of putative revelation delivered to the prophet Mohammad
by the Archangel Gabriel in classical Arab on many separate but unknown occasions,
it is difficult to suggest any superior principle of organization.
One point about the editing of the Qur’an is rarely made although it
would appear to be of very substantial theological significance. For every
sura is prefaced by the words “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the
Compassionate.” Yet there are references to Hell on at least 255 of
the 669 pages of Arberry’s rendering of the Qur’an (34) and quite often
pages have two such references.
Whereas St. Paul, who was the chief contributor to the New Testament,
knew all the three relevant languages and obviously possessed a first class
philosophical mind, the Prophet, though gifted in the arts of persuasion and
clearly a considerable military leader, was both doubtfully literate and certainly
ill-informed about the contents of the Old Testament and about several matters
of which God, if not even the least informed of the Prophet’s contemporaries,
must have been cognizant.
This raises the possibility of what my philosophical contemporaries
in the heyday of Gilbert Ryle would have described as a knock-down falsification
of Islam: something which is most certainly not possible in the case of Christianity.
If I do eventually produce such a paper it will obviously have to be published
HABERMAS: What do you think about the Bible?
FLEW: The Bible is a work which someone who had not the slightest concern
about the question of the truth or falsity of the Christian religion could
read as people read the novels of the best novelists. It is an eminently readable
HABERMAS: You and I have had three dialogues on the resurrection of
Jesus. Are you any closer to thinking that the resurrection could have been
a historical fact?
FLEW: No, I don’t think so. The evidence for the resurrection is better
than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly
different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for
the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events. But you must remember
that I approached it after considerable reading of reports of psychical research
and its criticisms. This showed me how quickly evidence of remarkable and
supposedly miraculous events can be discredited.
What the psychical researcher looks for is evidence from witnesses,
of the supposedly paranormal events, recorded as soon as possible after their
occurrence. What we do not have is evidence from anyone who was in Jerusalem
at the time, who witnessed one of the allegedly miraculous events, and recorded
his or her testimony immediately after the occurrence of that allegedly miraculous
event. In the 1950s and 1960s I heard several suggestions from hard-bitten
young Australian and American philosophers of conceivable miracles the actual
occurrence of which, it was contended, no one could have overlooked or denied.
Why, they asked, if God wanted to be recognized and worshipped, did God not
produce a miracle of this unignorable and undeniable kind?
HABERMAS: So you think that, for a miracle, the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection
is better than other miracle claims?
FLEW: Oh yes, I think so. It’s much better, for example, than that for
most if not of the, so to speak, run of the mill Roman Catholic miracles.
On this see, for instance, D. J. West. (35)
HABERMAS: You have made numerous comments over the years that Christians
are justified in their beliefs such as Jesus’ resurrection or other
major tenants of their faith. In our last two dialogues I think you even remarked
that for someone who is already a Christian there are many good reasons to
believe Jesus’ resurrection. Would you comment on that?
FLEW: Yes, certainly. This is an important matter about rationality
which I have fairly recently come to appreciate. What it is rational for any
individual to believe about some matter which is fresh to that individual’s
consideration depends on what he or she rationally believed before they were
confronted with this fresh situation. For suppose they rationally believed
in the existence of a God of any revelation, then it would be entirely reasonable
for them to see the fine tuning argument as providing substantial confirmation
of their belief in the existence of that God.
HABERMAS: You’ve told me that you have a very high regard for John and
Charles Wesley and their traditions. What accounts for your appreciation?
FLEW: The greatest thing is their tremendous achievement of creating
the Methodist movement mainly among the working class. Methodism made it impossible
to build a really substantial Communist Party in Britain and provided the
country with a generous supply of men and women of sterling moral character
from mainly working class families. Its decline is a substantial part of the
explosions both of unwanted motherhood and of crime in recent decades. There
is also the tremendous determination shown by John Wesley in spending year
after year riding for miles every day, preaching more than seven sermons a
week and so on. I have only recently been told of John Wesley’s great
controversy against predestination and in favor of the Arminian alternative.
Certainly John Wesley was one of my country’s many great sons and daughters.
One at least of the others was raised in a Methodist home with a father who
was a local preacher.
HABERMAS: Don’t you attribute some of your appreciations for the Wesleys
to your father’s ministry? Haven’t you said that your father was
the first non-Anglican to get a doctorate in theology from Oxford University?
FLEW: Yes to both questions. Of course it was because my family’s background
was that of Methodism. Yes, my father was also President of the Methodist
Conference for the usual single year term and he was the Methodist representative
of one or two other organizations. He was also concerned for the World Council
of Churches. Had my father lived to be active into the early 1970s he would
have wanted at least to consider the question of whether the Methodist Church
ought not to withdraw from the World Council of Churches. That had by that
time apparently been captured by agents of the USSR. (36)
HABERMAS: What do you think that Bertrand Russell, J. L. Mackie, and
A. J. Ayer would have thought about these theistic developments, had they
still been alive today?
FLEW: I think Russell certainly would have had to notice these things.
I’m sure Mackie would have been interested, too. I never knew Ayer very
well, beyond meeting him once or twice.
HABERMAS: Do you think any of them would have been impressed in the
direction of theism? I’m thinking here, for instance, about Russell’s
famous comments that God hasn’t produced sufficient evidence of his