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Famous Atheist Now Believes in God
Yahoo ^ | 12/9/04 | RICHARD N. OSTLING

Posted on 12/09/2004 1:15:38 PM PST by ZGuy

NEW YORK - A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God — more or less — based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article "Theology and Falsification," based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.

Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.

The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.

The letter commended arguments in Schroeder's "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Wonder of the World" by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.

This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his "God and Philosophy," scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Press.

Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a "minimal God" and believes in no afterlife.

Flew's "name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up," Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, "apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal."

Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.

Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.

Another landmark was his 1984 "The Presumption of Atheism," playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.

TOPICS: Skeptics/Seekers
KEYWORDS: antonyflew; atheism; atheist; morality
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Comment #121 Removed by Moderator

To: ZellsBells


And who might these gentlemen be?

122 posted on 12/10/2004 10:45:30 PM PST by little jeremiah (What would happen if everyone decided their own "right and wrong"?)
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To: ZellsBells

And I DID finish the 10th grade!

123 posted on 12/10/2004 10:46:13 PM PST by little jeremiah (What would happen if everyone decided their own "right and wrong"?)
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Comment #124 Removed by Moderator

To: ZellsBells

Hmmm, let me think about that.

(Will check my daily planner; one of my (numerous) faults is I'm always behind on stuff.)

125 posted on 12/10/2004 11:08:16 PM PST by little jeremiah (What would happen if everyone decided their own "right and wrong"?)
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To: ZellsBells; little jeremiah
Er, I hope you don't mind but I'd like to add something to what you said:

Maybe, just maybe, Flew jumped ship because "[his] whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

The article speaks of the first hint of Flew's turn in a letter he wrote which commends arguments raised by Gerald Schroeder, a physicist and orthodox Jew.

We've quoted Schroeder several times on evolution v intelligent design threads. If y'all - or perhaps Lurkers to your discussion - would care to read more about Schroeder's views, here are two of my personal favorites:

Rationality v Randomness (Evolution)

Age of the Universe

126 posted on 12/11/2004 9:23:08 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Alamo-Girl

Not only do I not mind, I'm happy!

127 posted on 12/11/2004 9:25:26 AM PST by little jeremiah (What would happen if everyone decided their own "right and wrong"?)
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To: little jeremiah
Great! Thank you so much for the encouragement!
128 posted on 12/11/2004 10:03:18 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Alamo-Girl

I've read some of your comments and stuff you post here and there, and compared to you I am a lightning bug and you are the moon.

I'm not being funny.

129 posted on 12/11/2004 10:12:36 AM PST by little jeremiah (What would happen if everyone decided their own "right and wrong"?)
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To: D-fendr
What a beautiful post, D-fendr. I can relate to what you say, for you describe a process that I myself have experienced. Indeed, there is a Compassion that suffuses the cosmos, and it is connected with our individual being. Though it might sound somewhat mystical to put it in these terms, I've come to understand the living process you describe as God in search of us, to "bring us home" into His love, peace, truth, and grace, in fulfillment of His desire to be reunited with His sons, the sons of man. From the human standpoint, this is a "re-binding" to Him in the fullness of His Truth, which is what is meant by salvation. IMHO FWIW.

Thank you so much for your gracious and beautiful post.

130 posted on 12/11/2004 10:22:27 AM PST by betty boop
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To: Alamo-Girl

Count me in, A-G! I'd welcome such a discussion.

131 posted on 12/11/2004 10:27:44 AM PST by betty boop
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To: ckilmer
". . . in order to make this clear you have to also make clear that evolution does not prove by means of the scientic method . . . "

I must respectfully disagree. First of all the use of the word "prove" is not in line with the way scientists approach any theory, because the ultimate goal of scientific observation is to eliminate alternative explanations through an inductive method. "Support" is really the term that applies. And evolutionary theory uses a body of observable evidence to support its hypotheses; including geologic stratigraphy, the fossil record, microbiology, taxonomy, field study, laboratory experiments that include observed instances of speciation, and more.

And on the issue of random mutations, that is a problem in evolutionary theory that has been called into question in a significant manner by evolutionary theorists themselves. Natural selection of random mutations seems to be insufficient as a singular explanation of evolutionary change, but that does not negate the overall theory, though it may force its revision to a form that is distinctly different from that which Darwin first proposed.
132 posted on 12/11/2004 10:51:19 AM PST by StJacques
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To: ZGuy
There's even a "Dial-a-Prayer" line for atheists, now.

When you call the number, nobody answers.

133 posted on 12/11/2004 1:51:22 PM PST by marshmallow
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Comment #134 Removed by Moderator

To: blam; Ernest_at_the_Beach; FairOpinion; ValerieUSA

Here's a ping, and a similar link that will last longer:

Atheist Philosopher, 81, Now Believes in God
By Richard N. Ostling
Associated Press
posted: 10 December 2004
09:31 am ET

135 posted on 12/11/2004 10:17:17 PM PST by SunkenCiv ("All I have seen teaches me trust the Creator for all I have not seen." -- Emerson)
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To: little jeremiah
Thank you so much for the encouragement, but truly you give me waaaay too much credit!
136 posted on 12/12/2004 12:11:58 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: betty boop
I'm so glad to hear you wish to be a part of the discussion! If the others check in, we'll kick it off somewhere.
137 posted on 12/12/2004 12:13:40 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: betty boop

It would be interesting to find out how many former atheists there are, compared to believers turned atheist.

Of course, if someone believes in God and turns atheist, he generally either committed something really wrong which hardened his heart, or was not experiencing the reality of God's presence.

I would liken it (in a general sort of way) to being a conservative-who-used-to-be-a-liberal. There are many of us.

But how many liberals who used to be conservative? I don't think as many.

138 posted on 12/12/2004 12:23:28 PM PST by little jeremiah (What would happen if everyone decided their own "right and wrong"?)
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To: ZellsBells; StJacques; tortoise; Doctor Stochastic; betty boop; little jeremiah
Thank you so much for your reply!

Is it safe to assume that you accept some form of intelligent design?

Indeed. Very much so. IMHO, it is becoming untenable for scientists to cling to the original formulation "random mutations + natural selection > species". The problem is with the "random mutation" part of the equation because several lines of inquiry are converging against the notion of happenstance.

From the Intelligent Design theorists, taking the approach of looking backwards, the issue of "irreducible complexity" has been raised.

From mathematicians such as Marcel-Paul Schützenberger - taking the approach of looking forward, the issue of "functional complexity" has been raised. Gerald Schroeder takes a broad look at the functional complexity issue along with the issue of probability.

From mathematicians who are interested in the von Neumann challenge (Wolfram, Chaitin, Rocha, etc.) – “self-organizing complexity” or cellular automata has been raised (some links were provided above).

From the information theory corner of mathematics (Yockey, Schneider, etc.) the issue of information (successful communications paraphrased from Claude Shannon) has been raised, especially the question of origin of information in biological systems.

And now the Intelligent Design theorists have also raised the question of the origin of geometry in biological systems.

All of this is piling up on top of the underlying questions of randomness, e.g. whether it is an illusion of algorithm – an effect of a cause (Wolfram, Chaitin’s Omega) – and how complexity should be understood especially in algorithmic information theory (Kolmogorov, Solomonoff).

A great many of these mathematicians do not dispute that species have “evolved” as in changed gradually over time – but are raising issues that would point away from happenstance and towards a directed process, e.g. self-organizing complexity, emergence of functional complexity, reduction of uncertainty in the recipient in a molecular machine, etc.

IMHO, the “theory of evolution” is also subject to evolution. The “natural selection” part of the equation remains sound and is evidenced by even modern day extinctions of whole species. But the theory as it sits is out-of-step with mathematics.

139 posted on 12/12/2004 1:11:45 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Alamo-Girl; ZellsBells; tortoise; Doctor Stochastic; betty boop; little jeremiah
". . . it is becoming untenable for scientists to cling to the original formulation 'random mutations + natural selection > species' . . ."

Yes it is, and certain evolutionary theorists, such as Luis Rocha, who stress the need for "syntax" to explain evolutionary processes of communication are pointing this out:

". . . the feud between those who claim that natural selection is the sole explanation for evolution and those who stress that other aspects of evolutionary systems, such as developmental constraints, also play an important role. . . . the second group likes to think of the propensities of matter or historical contingencies as being of at least equal importance in evolution . . ."

Maintaining the emphasis upon random mutations and natural selection is only applicable to those evolutionary theorists who are attempting to cling to Darwin's original formulation, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. There is a real debate among evolutionary theorists that is outside of the problem stated in the first quote, since many "do not accept the notion of happenstance" as has been suggested.

". . . From the Intelligent Design theorists, taking the approach of looking backwards, the issue of "irreducible complexity" has been raised. . . ."

"Irreducible Complexity" is the cornerstone of the Intelligent Design theory, because it argues, or at least implies, that if you go back far enough in the evolutionary record you will come to a point at which you can go back no further and within which you still have a level of biological complexity that is advanced enough so as to negate any evolutionary ancestry. It is not a scientific theory because there is no attempt to define a starting point for evolution in real time or in taxonomy, which could be tested by scientists, and it is instead argued from mathematical probability.

"Functional Complexity" is a real issue in evolutionary theory, but my opinion of the arguments made by supporters of Intelligent Design theory or other scholars they cite, Schützenberger, e.g., is that they are guilty of either postulating that there is something basically undecipherable about microbiological/genetic processes or what Immunologist/Microbiologist Andrea Bottaro refers to as "how to lose one's way while looking for misdirection." The above-quoted link for the interview with the late mathematician Schützenberger is a case in point. Allow me to excerpt:

". . . Q: What do you mean by functional complexity?

S: It is impossible to grasp the phenomenon of life without that concept, the two words each expressing a crucial and essential idea. The laboratory biologists' normal and unforced vernacular is almost always couched in functional terms: the function of an eye, the function of an enzyme, or a ribosome, or the fruit fly's antennae -- their function; the concept by which such language is animated is one perfectly adapted to reality. Physiologists see this better than anyone else. Within their world, everything is a matter of function, the various systems that they study -- circulatory, digestive, excretory, and the like -- all characterized in simple, ineliminable functional terms. At the level of molecular biology, functionality may seem to pose certain conceptual problems, perhaps because the very notion of an organ has disappeared when biological relationships are specified in biochemical terms; but appearances are misleading, certain functions remaining even in the absence of an organ or organ systems. Complexity is also a crucial concept. Even among unicellular organisms, the mechanisms involved in the separation and fusion of chromosomes during mitosis and meiosis are processes of unbelieveable complexity and subtlety. Organisms present themselves to us as a complex ensemble of functional interrelationships. If one is going to explain their evolution, one must at the same time explain their functionality and their complexity.

Schützenberger tells you on the one hand that "laboratory biologists" and others working "at the level of molecular biology" have trouble giving a defintion to the term "functional complexity" he can accept, but -- and read carefully what I have quoted above -- he does not offer a definition of his own -- which is something that scientists in those fields could take him to task for if they found it inadequate, except that there is nothing. And notice the language of undecipherability and misdirection I mentioned above: ". . . impossible to grasp the phenomenon of life without that concept . . ." and ". . . appearances are misleading . . ." and ". . . processes of unbelieveable complexity and subtlety . . ."

I submit that it is wholly unscientific to discuss "functional complexity" without proper scientific rigor, which requires that terms be stated and defined clearly. I encourage everyone to compare Schützenberger's response to the question "what do you mean by functional complexity?" above with the following definition given by Belgian evolutionary theorist Francis Heylighen, in his "The Growth of Structural and Functional Complexity during Evolution":

". . . Functional complexification follows from the need to increase the variety of actions in order to cope with more diverse environmental perturbations, and the need to integrate actions into higher-order complexes in order to minimize the difficulty of decision-making. . . ."

That is the kind of scientific rigor that makes the concept clear and is something we are not seeing from the Intelligent Design theorists, because you can take Heylighen on if your view of "functional complexity" is different than his. Or to put this another way, Heylighen is a "hard target," which is what a true scientist should be, not one who tells us that things are too difficult to understand, as Schützenberger continues in the next response he gave after the first question I quoted above:

". . . Q: What is it that makes functional complexity so difficult to comprehend?

S: The evolution of living creatures appears to require an essential ingredient, a specific form of organization. Whatever it is, it lies beyond anything that our present knowledge of physics or chemistry might suggest; it is a property upon which formal logic sheds absolutely no light. Whether gradualists or saltationists, Darwinians have too simple a conception of biology, rather like a locksmith improbably convinced that his handful of keys will open any lock. Darwinians, for example, tend to think of the gene rather as if it were the expression of a simple command: do this, get that done, drop that side chain. Walter Gehring's work on the regulatory genes controlling the development of the insect eye reflects this conception. The relevant genes may well function this way, but the story on this level is surely incomplete, and Darwinian theory is not apt to fill in the pieces. . . .

So, "functional complexity" "lies beyond anything that our present knowledge of physics or chemistry might suggest" does it? Well we can really take that one on in the lab can't we? What this all amounts to is that Intelligent Design theory must either be rethought to advance hard scientific proposals that can be tested or it must be rejected as a scientific explanation. Since the former requires action on the part of the supporters of Intelligent Design, the latter should be the attitude of the scientific community in response.

Some brief additional comments on the rest:

Von Neumann has presented a scientific challenge evolutionary theorists have yet to address fully. But I believe that the field of Biosemotics -- the quote I put up from Rocha above falls within this category -- is answering his challenge, though the discipline is still in its infancy and the response is not yet adequate to be qualified as an answer.

And "randomness" taken by itself is meaningless unless it is specifically applied to a scientific formulation of a theory that can be tested. Mathematicians have raised problems with "randomness" in general, some evolutionary theorists are dealing with it as it applies to natural selection, but we cannot use it as an alternative to either explanations for the origin of life on earth or problems within evolutionary theory unless it is attached to a specific theory whose applicability can be tested.

One way or another we are going to have to see something offered by Intelligent Design theorists or supporters of the theory, that attempts to make an argument based upon evidence, something like "result x has likely occured because of evidence y occuring at time z." It is not enough to simply challenge the body of scientific study to the contrary in an attempt to negate its hypotheses and/or conclusions and, as a result, leave Intelligent Design theory as the only possible alternative. That is not scientific under any criteria that are worthy of being considered as falling within "science."
140 posted on 12/12/2004 5:59:24 PM PST by StJacques
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