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.
Darwin was English.
Nor does the theory of evolution attempt to do so. It attempts to explain what happened after the origin of life.
As was Huxley. America has its share of atheists but they don't seem to be taken, or take themselves, quite as seriously.
He seems to be coming around :-)
In Christianity, Hell of course exists but God clearly does not want you to end up there and disobedience does not automatically consign one there.
Er, what has this to do with anything?
Your post 57 in response to my post 48.
This is just a small, first step. He now needs to read The New Testament and accept God's grace and Jesus as his Lord and Saviour before he could be considered a 'believer'.
Every atheist believes in God: a split-second after death...
"Maybe he's a "Frisbee-tarian" When they die their souls fly up on the roof and nobody can get it down."
That's Frisbeeite. They also believe that you have a much better view from the roof.
I don't mean to pick on you. There is only one God. The question is what does this god want us to do? If he concludes the Hindus are right he will organize his life according to the tenets of Hinduism.
This question is infinitely the most relevant question a man can face if a god exists.
Yeah, at 81, I'd start believing there is a God. He has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature,
Darwin did try to explain the complexity of nature.
I wonder if he feels he deserves congratulations for making a breakthrough scientific discovery..
Nor does it imply that all things can be explained by science - or known by science alone - or even detected by science.
Science assumes that matter is the foundation everything that exists. This is an assumption, not proven (or capable of proof) by science. It is a worldview, a metaphysics. It is the essence of of scientism.
Some, perhaps like Flew, convert from scientism, most don't even know they're believers.
Thanks for the ping!
So long as he limits himself to rejecting abiogenesis, and not the patently obvious science of evolution, then whatever.
My attitude remains this: the burden of evidence is on those who claim that deities exist. I haven't any problem with the idea that there is something beyond the observable universe, but rather the idea that we have even remotely enough information (we have none whatsoever) to validly speculate what that might be.
That the universe is here is obvious. That it is complex is also obvious. To proclaim failure in the quest of understanding that complexity achieves nothing but to displace the exegetic mystery.
In other words, to follow this line of reasoning, if God 'must have' created the universe, then what created God? So, Flew falls prey to the god-of-the-gaps. He says: "I don't have the answer, so I'll just make one up!" Oh well.
PS. I also think most people are better off believing than not, so long as they don't interfere with scientific progress beyond the limitations they impose on their own rationality.
There is definitely no hope for me, though! If there is a God, then he clearly chose to create the universe such that I would never believe in him. Who am I to argue with God? =)
If all matter is made up of matter, what was there before the first matter?
We have the same problems with time as we do with matter. Yet matter exists, we can know it though our senses. Some things we can know exist that we cannot know using our senses alone. There are many such things for you. God is one of them, but it has not quantity, size or specific location. So seeking this knowledge with science alone is like trying to see the periphery with a telescope. It's the wrong method for the empirical knowledge sought.
there is something beyond the observable universe
Transcendent. Many things you know transcend your sense detectors. It is the unobservant one who clings to the illusion that all he knows about reality he knows by sense and reason.
Flew falls prey to the god-of-the-gaps.
I recognize the old reference, but my point is science has gaps as well. By design it limits what it can know. It limits it to those things detectable by the senses (and their extensions) that have simple location, size and quantity. That all of reality conforms to these restraints is a leap of philosophy, not science. And it's a leap made two centuries ago that fell upon it's own weight within a decade. Yet it lives on in the popular mind - and in the mind of some scientists who don't realize they are very poor philosophers and theologians.
The fault some make is to slide lazily to the false conclusion that if Science cannot know it, therefore it doesn't exist. Neither Science, nor reason, can prove this. It fails on it's on logic.
so long as they don't interfere with scientific progress beyond the limitations they impose on their own rationality.
Why interfere with your own progress by imposing the limits of rationality upon it? If you look closely, you will see you know a great deal more of reality that can known using science or reason alone.
You have all the equipment you need; observe yourself.
I think he created a you that doesn't believe in what you think others believe God is.
I also think you have experienced God, but it wasn't the same thing you thought others called God.
he clearly chose to create the universe such that I would never believe in him.
Sounds like that may be what he is starting to do
"There is hope for you guys yet. :-)"
Perhaps. Flew made a minor alteration in his views. He went from atheism to a sort of nebulous deism. He can't define this deity, but he can't figure out how life began without one. So, now he posits that there is some generic sort of deity that started it all up.
Hardly a revolutionary thought.
It's a pretty big change in one's thought processes
"It's a pretty big change in one's thought processes"
Not really. If you read the entire article, it's clear that the sort of deity Flew discusses is hardly the sort of deity of Judaism.
Deism and atheism are closely related. Deists just believe in one more deity than atheists do.
In my view, a deity which has no attributes or even sentience, as Flew posits, can hardly be defined as a deity. A mindless force, perhaps, but not a deity.
Flew may be somewhat senile.
"Alot of people believe in one more God then Atheists. Also just because you disagree with the guy is no reason to insult him and call him senile."
Yes, and atheists believe in one less deity than Christians.
I did not call Flew senile. I suggested it as a possibility. Please read more carefully.
Honestly, you are the only atheist that I have ever really conversed with and you aren't at all anything like what I assumed atheists are. You're actually a very well spoken and intelligent person and kinds nice to boot.
I guess I am just curious for the sake of curiosity and since you said before that you don't answer Freepmail, I thought I would ask you here. If you don't want to answer I understand.
Oh, you only suggested it, well in that case I suppose you meant no insult. I am sure then its okay to insult someone as long as you only "suggest" it. That makes everything alright then. I would also like to thank you for only "suggesting" that I have low reading compression as I was unable to decipher your last post.
Being an atheist doesn't make you a bad person. Fred Hoyle (Belief.net link but well written) was a devout atheist and creator of the steady-state theory of the universe. He pursued evidence, however, to where it went and came to conclude that there was an unseen intellegence guiding the universe.
He never joined a church or professed Christ but I think salvation is possible after death (probably puts me at odds with many here)
Atheists get stigmatized, often unfairly, because many proclaim this belief not because their questions aren't answered but because they never ask questions, or because they ignore the answers that might require them to make changes in their life.
But skepticism is not a bad thing.
I honestly don't understand how people can answer the question "where did it all come from" with "it came from God" and actually find any satisfaction in that. It's not so much that I don't accept that there's something outside of the universe - as a matter of fact, if I had to guess I would say that there must be some dimension of existence beyond and 'before' the universe - it is just that its nature strikes me as utterly indecipherable.
No, it's not satisfactory to me in the slightest that existence seems so ultimately unexplainable, but it gives me no satisfaction to explain it with something utterly beyond comprehension. For that matter, every religion basically gives the same answer: "First there was nothing, then there was God." How is that any better than: "First there was nothing, then there was existence"?
The whole thought process is just all very perplexing to me. When I consciously abandoned the faith - if I could even call it that - I recognized in hindsight that I never actually believed. It was something I did out of routine, or whatever, but the sense that there was anything 'out there' is totally foreign to me.
It's also not that I have a personal problem with God (unless it's some kind of repressed thing, like a problem with him being so deceptive and inscrutable, or whatever LOL). Quite the contrary, I would more than gladly believe if I could persuade myself to believe. I actually want to believe in God. I want the serenity that I imagine would follow. But, at the same token, I just cannot imagine myself ever believing.
Oh well. Even if there were a god, my view is that there cannot be an omnipotent, omniscient god without absolute predestination. So, que sera, sera!
I'll definitely read the link when I get back this afternoon. Thanks!
Check out my post #92 if you have a moment.
Sounds about right to me! Of course, his theology is still sub-par.... :^) (JMHO FWIW)
To believe that there is an unseen intellegence behind the universe where as you once believed there was not, is revolutionary.
The skeptics and beleivers in our audience need to understand that this is NOT a small change -- it is HUGE. One of the earliest logical forks in the road is the god/no god question; everything after that is dependent on it. If you move a flashlight an inch the light beam will shift huge distances out there somewhere. Flew just shifted his flashlight an inch.
It is amazing to me that so-called sophisitcated thinkers can even form the concept of a "minimal" god. What does that even mean? What is a "minimal" person? Does that mean we think we need a god to get it all moving but let's not let him be anything but a cosmic retard? Do these people not realize that once you open the door to a god of any type you have conceded that you must look for his own self-definition? That you no longer have any defense from the threat posed to reason by the concept of revelation? That what you must next do, logically, is sort among all the claims of competing revelations for the one that most answers the questions implied by the human experience?
A "minimal" god? Don't insult yourself. He either made, knows, and loves us or he is not. And if he loves us he entered our flesh, was crucified under Pontias Pilate, amd rose again on the third day.
Stop all the intellectual games and make an existential CHOICE, for pete's sake.
I agree; in your version, "god' is nothing more than a symbol for "everything".
Actually, though, this 180 degrees NOT what Christianity claims.
We claim there never was a nothing. We claim that first there was God, then there was something.
By definition, the effect cannot be greater than the cause, so the something is less than the God thing. Because it is second and therefore less, the second thing cannot comprehend the first thing.
The something is rational and comprehensible in its nature, because we are on its level, and comprehension is a species of circumscription. Hence, science. By definition, you can mentally circumscribe all that is not ontologically bigger.
But all beings equal to you or bigger than you, you cannot comprehend. You cannot fully comprehend another human, for example. Hence, supra (not anti) reason.
The God thing is also rational and comprehensible to every intelligence larger (of course, there are none.) To those smaller intelligences, He is partly comprehensible and infinitally not comprehensible. Not because He withholds, but because He existed first.
The method of thought is the same in all instances: we wonder so that we might know. We wonder at creation, then know it by science. We wonder at God, then know him by faith (which is NOT blind belief, but is a specific mode of knowledge.)
I don't comprehend that either. It's like trying to solve a riddle by reducing it to a greater enigma, as someone once said.
"First there was nothing, then there was existence"
Well, there never was nothing. Just because we can formulate this sentence doesn't mean it makes sense. So to say that nothing is, is just an artefact of our language since without anything a temporal dimension doesn't make sense.
So when one says "the universe always existed", always means all points in time which make sense. However, this period doesn't have to go infinitely far back. This is just the same with the latitudes on a globe: if you go north you can reach the north pole but that's it, there is no point which is north of the north pole.
No, it's not satisfactory to me in the slightest that existence seems so ultimately unexplainable, but it gives me no satisfaction to explain it with something utterly beyond comprehension.
Well said, but it seems that for most people any answer is better than no aswer at all or an honest "I don't know".