Monday, August 23, 2010

Apologist Interview: Matthew Flannagan

Today's interview is with Matthew Flannagan, philosopher and blogger at Matt talks about how he got into philosophy of religion, his blog posts on the Genocide of the Canaanites, his recent debate on morality with Raymond Bradley, morality, the benefit of public debate, and more.

Full Interview MP3 Audio here (33 min) 


(see also Matthew's contribution to the Is Christianity True? Essay Series)


K said...

Matthew Flannagan! I was recommended him by Francis Beckwith over in the US when I was there for a Summit Worldview conference. I asked Beckwith of any good Philosophers in Australia and Matthew Flannagan was the first name off his lips. I hope to meet him or sit under him one day in the future, especially since he is only next door (new zealand!).
Keep it up!

Ex N1hilo said...

In my view, Bradley utterly destroyed Flannagan in their debate. (Figuratively speaking, of course.) How did he manage this? By framing the debate as a criminal trial, with God as the defendant. Flannagan not only stepped into that trap, he jumped in with both feet and refused to leave. He seemed to relishing playing the role of God’s defense attorney.

Msu said...

You're kidding, right? Bradley was an incoherent mess.

Ex N1hilo said...


Bradley’s approach to the debate was very clever. The topic of the debate was "Is God the Source of Morality: Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?" Now, given the topic, one might expect Bradley to start by arguing directly that divine commands are not the basis of morality, building a case piece-by-piece: Here’s one reason God cannot be the source of morality. He’s another piece of evidence, etc.

But that is not what he did. Instead, he announced that he was prosecuting God for murder, for torturing innocent people, and for other evil acts in a criminal trial. By going with Bradley’s premise, and defending God against these charges, Flannagan gave implicit ascent to Bradley’s point—that God can and should be held to a standard of morality that is external to Him. Thus, God is not the source of morality.

Later in the debate, Flannagan did try to argue that God cannot be held to the same standard of morality as man, which may be a step in the right direction, but it implies that God’s commands to man are arbitrary and not a reflection of God’s own character.

Plus, Dr. Flannagan’s idea that God’s command to Israel to wipe out the Canaanites is dubious. His apparent implications that hell is temporary (at least it seemed to me that he was suggesting this), and his declaration that the Noahic flood is a “myth” dishonor the text of scripture, ignoring the plain meaning that Christ and the apostles attributed to these things.

Ex N1hilo said...

I meant to say, "Dr. Flannagan’s idea that God’s command to Israel to wipe out the Canaanites is an example of hyperbole is dubious."

Msu said...

Actually, Flannagan's decision to directly challenge Bradley's assault on God's character was reportedly deliberate. He was employing the best scholarship on ancient near-eastern literary genres and modes of speech to refute Bradley's erroneous but common atheistic tactic of attributing all sorts of cartoonish evil to God.

In any case, practically the very first thing he pointed out was that you couldn't construe God's moral qualities as duties, but rather aspects of God's nature. The very first thing he did was to establish morality as something that wasn't external to God, as if God had to follow someone else's rules.

The second thing he did in his reply to Bradley was the inapplicability of his "straightjacket" to God, since even if all the premises were true it wouldn't prove that the existence of morality necessitates some kind of God.

The third thing he did was to dispute whether the Bradley's listed crimes of God were indeed crimes if they are committed by such a being as God, who would hold the right of life and death over people.

These alone, I think, were enough to defeat Bradley's case. That he was able to so quickly dismiss these parts of Bradley's case, which alone invalidate it, that you didn't notice that he did merely speaks to Bradley's incompetence.

Only after establishing these three ideas did he take Bradley further to task on the historical issues of the slaughter of the canaanites and ANE literary conventions. Obviously, this was a big topic and the main emotional appeal of Bradley's speech, so in my opinion it was excellent debatecraft, winning the hearts as well as the minds of his audience. Even if Bradley's poor logic earlier was justified, his railing against God was still ignorant and reliant on an anachronistic and fundamentalist view of scripture, and Flannagan did a brilliant job of showing why this was so.

Of course, Flannagan didn't advance any positive argument relating God to morality, so I thought there was a bit of a missed opportunity there.

As to is comments implying that hel is temporary, I think Flannagan is an annihilationist, regarding the flames of judgment as symbols of utter destruction forever.

Roger said...

Thanks Brian,

Another great interview.

As you can see, a Kiwi sounds like an Aussie who is mispronouncing his vowels (gentle ribbing and two centuries of southern hemisphere rivalry).

Great to see southerners getting an international hearing.

ds said...

Ex N1hilo
I am left wondering whether you actually listened to the debate. You state that Flannagan went with Bradley’s premise that God “can and should be held to a standard of morality that is external to Him.” you maintain Flannagan implictly granted this premise. Only "later" in the debate did he “argue that God cannot be held to the same standard of morality as man” and that this is “implies that God’s commands to man are arbitrary and not a reflection of God’s own character”

It’s hard to see how anyone who heard the debate could say this. In fact the first point Flannagan made in his opening statement was that God is not subject to a standard external to himself and he argued that this did not entail that Gods commands are arbitrary but that they reflected Gods nature. Hence the issues you raise were all addressed in his first point, and Bradley never responded to them.

Moreover the second point made Flannagan in his opening statement was to attack the premise of Bradley’s you refer to, and reject it as begging the question, because it assumes (as you say it does) that God is not the source of morality. It was only after he had already addressed these issues first up in his opening statement, that he addressed the specific cases you mention. This is all very clear to any one who listens to the audio.

Your talk then of Flannagan conceding these premises, there being obvious arbitrariness objections to him he did not address and only come to address these issues late in the debate is clearly and simply false

Ex N1hilo said...


I listened to the debate on the day it was posted here. Perhaps I should listen to it again. I concede your points about Flannagan's opening statement. I'm sure your right about his argumentation in it. My memory failed on that point.

My comments reflect what really stood out for me in this debate: the charge of murder against God by Bradley, specifically in reference to the flood and the command to destroy the Canaanites, and Flannagan's defense of God against these charges.

Charge: God commanded the utter destruction of the Canaanites, and so is guilty of genocide.
Defense: God never commanded any such thing. He is innocent.

Charge: God killed millions of men, women, and children in the flood of Noah's day.
Defense: That flood is a myth. It never happened. God is innocent.

Charge: God will torture billions in hell forever. He is guilty.
Defense: Hell is temporary; therefore God is innocent.

This is the pattern in of accusation and response in which Dr. Flannagan implicitly validated Dr. Bradley's approach. If God is the source of morality, then He doesn't need anyone to excuse or attempt to explain away His behavior.

God acts justly always. He cannot do otherwise. His judgment against sin in the Flood, the Canaanite massacres, and everlasting condemnation is good and proper. Those who minimize or deny these expressions of God's holy wrath against sinners are doing nothing but holding God's justice up to ridicule.

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