Skip to comments.Famous Atheist Now Believes in God
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 www.infidels.org 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.
Nonsense. Hydrothermal systems that exhibit complex organic chemistry bootstrapping are known to exist today in some corners of the world.
b) even if it did, the various self-organizational schemes proposed to "explain" the origin of life still don't work
Nonsense. Significant biochemistry substructures are observed to be generated in the systems referenced above. However, the chemistry of this catalytic self-assembly is not fully understood.
c) life must be accepted as an axiom
Nonsense. Life is not even well-defined, and becomes very fuzzy under scrutiny in practice -- there is no such thing as a closed system. Regardless, "life" is an arbitrary categorization based on a set of system properties, not an axiom. (In a sense, this makes the above argument a circular definition.)
But, er, you have provided no evidence - source references we can use to explore what you have just said.
I'm particularly interested in evidence of "hydrothermal systems that exhibit complex organic chemistry bootstrapping" - providing of course that the chemistry evidences both autonomy and symbolization in support of successful communication. This is the quandary suggested at the end of Pattee's essay.
Also - if you have anything more up-to-date than Rocha's work with regard to possible mechanisms for the rise of self-organizing complexity in an RNA world, I'd love to read about it!
I do however dispute your conclusion that life is not yet well defined. It seems to me that the comparison between a live skin cell and a dead skin cell makes the point rather well. The live skin cell is communicating successfully (Shannon information theory) with itself and its environment. The DNA and chemistry, OTOH, is as good dead as alive.
What I should have done is put my request for source information and the response to the "what is life?" issue in context. Unlike ever so many other evolution related discussions on the forum, this one is seeking to explore the issue of complexity in biological life.
For that reason the overarching information theory (your expertise) is the main entree - hence the out-of-hand response about successful communication (information, Shannon) being peculiar to life. The chemistry is of course also very interesting, especially if we can see how self-organized complexity can be initiated in an RNA world.