Antony Flew Goes to Heaven

Anthony Horvath is responding to my reviews with some flustery bluster. He’s insisting that you must buy his stories in order to have any credibility in questioning them, which is nonsense: I’m giving the gist of his fairy tales, and he could, for instance, clarify and expand on the themes of his story, explain what I’ve got wrong and where I’m actually seeing the True Christian™ message, but instead he chooses to run away and hide while flogging people to buy his stories.

He does throw out a hilarious complaint cloaked in his refusal to address anything I’ve written, like this:

As before, I have no interest in responding in any detail, although I might say some things when he is done. I will say: “PZ, what makes you think Antony awakes in a garden?”

Well, hey, how about the fact that the very first sentence of the story is:

When the man opened his eyes the first thing he beheld was a garden.

I’m looking forward to his denials that the Dawkins story isn’t torture porn tomorrow.

This is the weakest of Horvath’s trilogy of morbid tales of dead celebrities. It’s just not very interesting. One flaw is the protagonist: not to disparage Flew, who was an entirely respectable philosopher, but he wasn’t much of a star outside the world of academic philosophy. His sole claim to any kind of popular prominence was driven by the fact that evangelicals loved that he backed away from atheism to adopt a kind of fuzzy deism in his dotage.

He was a rational atheist until almost the end, though. He was best known for arguing that one should follow the evidence, and that until real evidence for any gods was disclosed, one ought to assume atheism as the default position. He later converted to deism, claiming (erroneously!) that the argument from design was persuasive.

Horvath’s story is mainly a tiresome exercise in mocking Flew’s arguments. The vehicle is that dead Flew wakes up in a garden, and a gardener comes along and has a boring dialogue with him.

That’s already peculiar. Horvath’s heaven is certainly inconsistent — unlike the last episode, there are no giant wooden gates, no angels made of lightning, no accountants perusing Flew’s permanent record. Instead, zap, straight into heaven for a little conversation with a gardener who turns out to be Jesus (don’t act surprised, I knew that was coming from the beginning.) I guess philosophers get a special dispensation.

Also, Flew wakes up in heaven in a state of befuddlement — he’s just in a garden with a wall and a fountain and fruit trees all around, and he stumbles around unknowing until he has his conversation with the gardner. And then it’s just babbling about the design argument.

“I suppose I leapt to a conclusion, didn’t I?” Tony began thinking aloud.

“In what way?” the man coaxed.

“Well, this brick wall here with ivy all the way up. I suppose if one allows that there is enough time and enough opportunity it is inevitable that the forces of nature will churn out a rock wall, somewhere.”

“And the fountain over yonder?” the man inquired, cocking his head in the direction of the previously undetected fountain.

Tony turned his gaze in that direction. Indeed, about thirty yards away, largely tucked away behind a bend in the path but visible when the breeze pushed aside the large leaves that concealed it, was a fountain. The breeze seemed to rise up for the task and Tony had a good look at it. A perfectly round and very large basin held what Tony knew without knowing why he knew was the fiercest cherubim he had ever seen. Water poured out of an elegant vase that the angel was holding and fell into the basin. Where it went after that, Tony couldn’t tell.

“I suppose that settles it, then,” said Tony.

“Settled it how?” the man asked.

“Obviously an artifact and something outside the natural order. We must be in a garden,” Tony reasoned.

“But what about your latent assumption a moment ago? Why shouldn’t the forces of nature be as likely to finally spit out an angelic water fountain as a vertical wall with interlocking rocks?” the man probed.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the whole story right there, with the gardener going on and on with this pointless debate. Horvath seems to think that he can refute the possibility that there are objects that aren’t the creation of intelligent design by pointing out the existence of human (or in this case, gardner) designed objects. It makes no sense, and his only rationale requires the presumption that there is a designer…and one who stands around in a garden in heaven taking credit for everything.


Then, suddenly, the gardener decides to invite Flew to meet the big man upstairs. I guess he found the babbling too boring, as well.

“Come,” said the man.

But Tony, his head turned away from the man, was resolute: “I don’t wander about with strangers. Come to think of it, I don’t think you’ve even given me your name. I know I said I’d have trouble remembering it anyway, but it still seems a little rude not to have offered it.”

“I don’t think you’ll forget this name,” the man declared in a jovial yet solemn tenor.

Tony, still sitting, turned to look at the man more intently. The man was standing just a few feet away, his hand outstretched, offering to help Tony to his feet. Nothing seemed familiar about the man but he noticed right away that trees, flowers, and light could be seen through the man’s hands on account of the large holes that were in them about where the palm met the wrist. A jolt went through Tony at that moment. It was a realization, to be sure, and that wasn’t all of it. His army was being called to surrender, right there in the plush and gentle woods. Would he be treated well as a prison of war? Couldn’t he fight on? Could he suffer defeat? Was there any point in retreat?

Still he sat, stewing in his warring sentiments. Still the man stood with his wounded hands outstretched.

“Dearest Tony,” the Gardener gently inquired, “Will you? Will you really? Will you really follow the Evidence wherever He leads?”

How cheesy. Apparently, there is no healing in heaven, and Jesus gets to wander around for eternity with gaping great holes in his hands. I guess the old jokes about M&M’s1 and water-walking2 and his true identity3 must be valid. And apparently, all we need for a sign of divinity are perforated limbs. This must be more of that sophisticated theology I keep hearing about.

It’s also no refutation of the rational expectation of evidence. This is a story in which Horvath is imagining his Jesus actually breaking down and offering evidence to Flew in heaven…something he always seems to deny us residents of mundane planet Earth.

As with Mother Teresa, the lesson here is that it really doesn’t matter what you did or said or wrote or thought in life — it was all wrong and damns you to hell anyway — and all the Christian gods care about is that you surrender completely to them. I guess Tony gets to go to heaven after all, as long as he’s willing to shake that creepy punctured hand.

1Why can’t Jesus eat M&M’s?

They keep falling through his hands.

2Jesus and Moses were strolling by the Red Sea, when Moses nudged Jesus and said, “Psst. Hey, Jesus, I’ve still got it.”

Moses turned towards the Red Sea and lifted his staff on high. The angels began to sing, the gentle sea breeze turned into a raging gale, and the waters of the Red Sea were parted. Moses lowered his arms and, with a smug grin on his face, turned back to face Jesus.

Jesus scoffed. “Moses, my boy,” said the Messiah, “I have still got it.” And with a flourish of his robes, Jesus stepped onto the waters of the Red Sea and began to stride across without so much as a ripple.

But to Moses’ amazement, halfway across the water, Jesus suddenly began to sink. He splashed into the water and began to choke and flounder as the waves tossed him around. Moses grumbled at Jesus’ silliness and parted the water once more. Moses helped Jesus back to shore, as the Savior hacked up salt water.

When they had finally reached shore, Moses slapped a consoling hand on Jesus’ shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about it, Lord. Last time you tried it, you didn’t have holes in your feet.”

3Jesus dies and goes up to Heaven. The first thing he does is look for his father, as he has never met the man before and is curious as to what he looks like, and whether or not Jesus looks like his mother or father, etc. He looks high and low but cannot find him.

He asks St. Peter “Where is my father?” But St. Peter says he doesn’t know.

He asks the archangel Gabriel “Where is my father?” But Gabriel doesn’t know.

He asks John the Baptist “Where is my father?” But John does not know. So he wanders Heaven, impatiently searching.

Suddenly he sees out of the mist an old man coming toward him. The man is very old, with white hair, stooped over a little. “Stop!” Jesus yells. “Who are you?”

“Oh, please help me, I am an old man in search of my son.” Jesus is very curious. Could this be his father? “Tell me of your son, old man.”

“Oh, you would know him if you saw him. Holes in his hand where the nails used to be, he was nailed to a cross, you know…”

“Father!” Screams Jesus.

“Pinocchio!” yells the old man.